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Machinery used over the last 75 years

Modern Speedway bikes look very much alike now, but this wasn’t the case with the early dirt bikes.  Basically any powerful road going bike was stripped down, tuned up, tinkered with, for racing on the dirt tracks.  It was common then to see the great British bike marks, in dirt track form.  Famous names like John Alfred Prestwich (JAP), BSA, Royal Enfield, Rudge and Douglas from factories the length and breadth of Great Britain once graced the tracks. Now speedway is dominated by Jawas from the Czech Republic and the Italian GM's.  Other bikes have come and gone but the Jawa still remains as ideally suited to going sideways at speed!

Above: This could be the worlds oldest surviving Dirt Track Bike.  Used in Australia in 1926 by Tony Batros, it has to be older than any British based bikes as our tracks didn't get under way until 1928.  It is a 350cc AJS Special Racing GR7 Big Port.  350cc bikes were quite common on dirt tracks then, another 350cc was the Harley Peashooter Vee-Twin.

Above: a BSA 500cc Speedway Bike (Very affordable. The poor mans speedway machine!)

Above: The Rudge 500...

This example looks very potent even by modern bike standards.  (Four valve technology is not modern apparently?) 

American Riders 1930's at the Richmond Raceway, (Picture courtesy of Carrick Watson)

These riders are obviously mounted on an Indian (left) and a Harley Davidson.  These bikes were both V-Twins.  The Indian became a popular mount for Wall of Death riders.  They don't appear to be wearing much body protection.  I assume therefore that they are simply posing for pictures but who knows maybe they raced in their long johns in 1930's, Richmond USA!

Tyneside newspaper clipping from 1929.

It invites wannabe riders to take part.  At the bottom of the clipping is "advice" on stripping down your road bike to race on the cinders.


It says: -

"Lightweight" Machines."

For the benefit of those not familiar therewith, the following regulations must be observed: -

Nearside footrests must be removed, together with front number plates, lamps, speedometers, horns and other similar accessories.  Brakes must, for the period of the racing be made ineffective.


To amplify the point I have shown 2 Rudge Ulster's above.  One street-legal but "heavy" and the other track-legal and "lightweight".

Some amateur riders from the pre-war years actually rode their bikes to a speedway track then stripped it down, did their racing and then refitted the number plate and lamps, reconnected the brakes etc and rode it back home.  

So, in the late 1920's and early 1930's the pioneers quickly discovered which bikes to use to be a winner.

The long wheel base Douglas was the first choice of the "leg trailing winners" with the shorter wheel base Rudge giving the foot forward riders the edge.  Then came the JAP in 1931 and the older bikes gradually gave way until all riders were mounted on the mighty JAP.


A 500cc Douglas Dirt Bike. 

Alex Kynoch shows how it was done in 1929. No, he is not falling off! These long wheel-base bikes had a very low centre of gravity because the engines were horizontally opposed flat twins.  The Leg Trailers were usually mounted on a bike like this.


The shorter wheel base and higher centre of gravity of the Rudge did not suit some of the old leg trailers although many adapted to the foot forward style of riding

Dawn of the JAP. 

This early machine probably dates from around 1931? The Jap engine in a variety of frames reigned the world for decades, modern speedway was born.