Sporting Achievements

Almost as soon as motorcycle manufacture began at Sunbeamland, the company’s motorcycles and riders regularly took part in sporting events. John Greenwood, the chief designer, was a competition man himself, who must have actively encouraged participation in trials and competitions, realising the benefits to be had from such activities. Sunbeam riders rapidly made a name for themselves as a result of their many sporting successes which were regularly reported in the motorcycle press. Sunbeam soon became a household name, and members of the works team such as Tommy de la Hay, George Dance, and Alec Bennett became well-known public figures.

The riders took part in all kinds of events, both large and small, at home and abroad. The works team, and a number of amateur riders, took part in the greatest British race of all, the Isle of Man T.T.

During the years of motorcycle production at Wolverhampton, a works team took part every year from 1914 until 1930, excluding the war years when the event did not take place. From 1931 until 1937 a number of Sunbeam machines were entered by private individuals. Sunbeam also won the team prize on many occasions.

The Isle of Man
T.T. results


Other achievements in
trials and competitions

After 1930 Sunbeam continued to take part in trials events but racing was discontinued. George Dance left the company and moved to Diamond Motors, later going into market gardening.

The company was still successful in trials events with the Works Trials Team consisting of Norman Hooton, Peter Bradley, Bert Tetsall, and Frank Williams. One of their most successful riders, Peter Bradley had many triumphs in 1934 including a gold medal in the International Six Days Trial, the Westonian Shield in the Colmore Cup Trial, the Teddington Cup in the Bemrose Trial, the “John Bull” Cup in the Cotswold Trial, the unlimited sidecar class in the Mitchel Memorial Trial, and the Merideth Cup in the Trader’s Cup Trial.

An article from ‘The Motor Cycle’ 8th November, 1928

A Racing Rider Talks

 An “Ace of the Road” C. J. P. Dodson, on his nine years of speed work in Britain and on the Continent.


Perhaps it would be advisable at the beginning to point out, before it becomes too obvious, the fact that I was never endowed with journalistic talent, and I only hope the readers of the "Blue 'Un" will appreciate this and make allowances before reading farther.

And now, having made my apology, let me get on with my subject. Perhaps it would be of some interest if I related how I became interested in the racing game. Back in 1920, when belt drive and single gears were in fashion, I began to wonder what all this racing business was about, and in consequence took a trip over to Axe Edge to watch the boys perform, and became, there and then, infected with the speed lure.

Early Efforts as an Amateur

Having decided that it was a real he-man's game, I purchased my first racing machine, and when I look back on its specification I smile, and yet marvel at the strides made by the industry within the last nine years. For four years I rode regularly at Axe Edge and at Southport, and met with occasional successes and not a few disappointments. After a time I became more ambitious, and decided to enter the Amateur Road Race of 1924.

To relate my experiences in this race would require more space than 1 am allotted, but I will say that race taught me a great deal, and the experience gained was invaluable to me in the more important races in which I competed. (I use the word "important" purely from the point of view of a trade rider, and do not wish in any way to detract from the merits of the Amateur Road Race, which is, of course, and rightly so, the most important race from an amateur rider's point of view.

At the outset I realised that if I had to cover 200 miles of the T.T. course at speed, it would be necessary for me to be in perfect physical condition. Therefore, I began to turn in early at nights, get up early, in the morning, and do a 50 mile ride before breakfast. I figured it in this way: in the Island one has to be up for practice at 5 a.m., and there is something strangely different in early morning riding, which, if one is not used to it, is liable for a time to restrict one's capabilities.

Even now, for two months prior to the T.T. races, a motor cycle can be heard touring (I dare not say blinding) through a certain section of Derbyshire at 5 a.m., and no doubt many of you would lie in bed and wonder who the poor mutt was! Nevertheless, past events have proved to me that this preparation is invaluable to a rider, if he wishes to figure well up in the list of finishers when "Der Tag" arrives.

Man and Machine Must be Fit 

Having, I hope, stressed the necessity for perfect physical fitness, and preliminary training, let us turn for a moment to the preparation of the machine. When riding a factory bus there is of course, very little a rider can do to it, beyond detail work such as centre-popping all nuts, etc. But one thing I consider most important - the adjustment of saddle; footrests and handle-bars to suit one's individual requirements.

Nothing can have such an adverse effect on riding as a cramped position; only once have I ever experienced any discomfort in this respect, but, believe me, once was quite sufficient. How I finished the race on that occasion I do not know, but of this I am certain, that it is impossible to make the lightning decisions necessary in a road race unless one can devote all faculties to the job in hand. With an uncomfortable machine that is impossible.

     Two men win races, the designer and the rider.
     C. J. P. Dodson on his winning T.T. Sunbeam and
     J. E. Greenwood, the designer of the machine.
Having then disposed of (a) physical fitness and training, and (b) preparation of the machine, let us deal with temperament.

Only those who have experienced it, can know what it is like sitting on the squares on the morning of the race. It seems as if the crowd on the stands are looking only at you and smiling cynically at your chances. You wonder whether you tightened up your gear box nuts, put the right jet back after that last morning's practice, whether that plug oiled up when the engine last fired, and a thousand things.

For myself, after the weighing in, I prefer to forget all about the machine and the T. T. until it is my turn to move up into the starting square, when I turn on the petrol, and offer up a prayer to the gods that she will fire immediately at the word "Go." For there is nothing more exhausting physically nor disturbing to the nerves than starting difficultly; a long and perhaps fruitless push, the making of adjustments when the fingers are "all thumbs," with thousands of spectators looking on, may easily destroy one's confidence for several laps, if not far a whole race.

One's first inclination is to turn on all the taps and tear off down Bray Hill or wherever the race may be. But after the first few hundred yards or so, common sense asserts itself, and you turn back your throttle just that little bit, which makes all the difference between victory or defeat. I always adopt this procedure, unless I am hard pressed, when obviously I use all I have got, and trust to luck and a good engine.

When “Expensive Noises" Arise

Sometimes you get through, and then again sometimes you don't, that is the glorious uncertainty of the game, but I am afraid when we hear an "expensive noise," and have to retire, we are inclined to view it from a different angle!

One point that always occurs to me is the time some riders lose at the pits. Many times, as a spectator, I have seen men lose seconds at the pits that they have gained through sheer good riding on the corners. The next time you are in the Island notice the organisation at the pits of the old hands. The rider comes in, opens his oil tank, fills it with oil, while his assistant fills his petrol tanks. All is done calmly and methodically, he is away again inside 20 seconds, and he has still had time to snatch a drink, and a clean pair of goggles. It is often at the pits that a race is won or lost; and I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for good organisation here.

This point is very much in evidence in the Continental races in which our riders are so often successful. It has been said that our boys are far superior to our foreign rivals, but I am not in agreement on this point. True, we do go over and figure prominently in the final placings, but I feel sure if some of the Continental riders were on machines of the same calibre as our own, we should have to ride very, very hard to beat them; not that it is easy as it is; far from it. And I should like to say here, any English rider who enters for any of the big Continental events, is sure of a warm welcome, and every courtesy. I have yet to find a finer body of sportsmen than those I have had the pleasure of meeting on my various Continental visits, and I am looking forward to renewing next season the many acquaintances I have been fortunate enough to make amongst the racing motorcyclists of other countries.

Valuable Lessons from Racing

One often hears the opinion expressed that road racing has no beneficial effect on the standard production model; that the machines, are specially built, and the races themselves only used as a publicity medium for the manufacturers. Nothing is farther from the truth! True, the machines are specially built, and the successful entrants do advertise their successes; why shouldn't they?

No doubt the average rider does not require a machine capable of 90 m.p.h., but he does require a strong, reliable engine and first-class brakes, and I am fully convinced that the wonderful value offered to the public today is the direct outcome of racing experience. If our manufacturers are to maintain this high standard of production, road racing must continue. We cannot afford to let our foreign competitors get ahead of us, even though they are, as we know, making every effort. We have earned our pride of place. Let us keep it.

An advert from May 1921.

The winning 1929 Sunbeam Senior T.T. Team. A. Simcock, Charlie Dodson, and Alec Bennett.

An advert from January 1930.

Arthur Simcock and his model 90 that he rode in the 1929 Austrian Grand Prix.

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