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La Ronde

The History of a Family of Odd-men-out

by C F Hurford

Strange, the way things run in families, isn't it?  Although they do say, "Like father, like son."  I was thinking of the Polkinghornes - a name which deserves to be better known among motor cyclists.  The Polkinghornes are, and have been since the early days of the movement, designers of motor cycles.

The first member of the family to concern us, Polkinghorne I, became interested in horseless carriages at the very start of the century.  However; being poor, he pushed a bicycle, which he found hard work at times.  Then an idea struck him.  "Horseless carriages?" he thought.  "Why not, then, a pushless bicycle?"

It occurred to him that if one attached a small petrol engine and a few fittings to the bicycle, the result would provide a means of transport, still light, still handleable but not requiring any hard work to provide the motive power.  He' put his plan into execution, and the result, although painfully unreliable, was just about what he had intended to produce - a very light, handy machine which took the push out of cycling.

But things did not end there.  Other designers cast eyes on this early production and decided it could be improved.  They added a more powerful engine which needed a larger fuel tank - which required a stouter frame and larger tyres.  Et cetera, et cetera.  So that by the time World War I was upon us Polkinghorne I's pushless bicycle was no longer recognizable.

When the war ended, the son, Polkinghorne II, began designing.  Casting an eye around at the then-available models, he decided there was a need for something ultra-light and extremely easy to handle - something like a bicycle with an engine added.  So he set to and produced a machine with just those qualities, although Polkinghorne II's effort, in fact, looked more like a scooter than a bicycle.  Other designers looked at it and said behind their hands, "Too slow - more power needed.  Uncomfortable - bigger tyres wanted."  They set to work on it and improved it tremendousiy, until it had become a real motor cycle, of more than double its original power and weight.

And so, around the middle thirties, Polkinghorne III came on the scene, looked at the weighty two-strokes buzzing about, and thought he spied a need for something which would be very light and easily handled, something little more than a bicycle with ... yes, that's right.  The result, which became known as the autocycle, achieved considerable popularity.

Before long, other designers decided it would be more comfortable with spring forks and bigger tyres and mudguards; would have a better performance with a choice of gears; would have a greater range with a bigger fuel tank.  By the time World War II broke out, Polkinghorne III's autocycle had become more than one woman could lift.

Peace returned, and with it Polkinghorne IV appeared on the scene.  He examined the available models and thought there was a gap at the bottom of the scale for something like a bicycle with a little motor ... something ultralight and ...

It caught on.  People called it the motorized bicycle.  Then some other designers got the idea that it would be improved by a bigger ... a larger ... and a stronger ...  And so they began to design special heavier and stronger bicycles with these little motors fitted to them.  So that by 1960, when Polkinghorne V arrived on the scene ...

But what am I saying now?  Of course, I was forgetting.  We have some years to go yet to 1960, and who am I to prophesy?

This article was first published in The Motor Cycle, 17 December 1953
A slightly shortened version was printed in the East Anglian Cyclemotor Club's magazine, Buzzing, in Spring 1983.

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