The Pioneer Run is organised by The Sunbeam Motor Cycle Club and in 2013 it will celebrate the 75th year of the run from London to Brighton. To take part in the Pioneer Run you have to have a motorcycle, tricycle, or bike and sidecar that 'left the factory' before 1st Jan 1915, and your claim to have one has to be verified by the Club experts, who will issue you with a registration certificate. More than 300 entrants take part in the event each year, so obviously a good many bikes pass the test.
(By the way, bikes made after 1st Jan 1915 are known as Vintage.)
The Pioneer Run is a must-see. It is a walk into a living museum for the day. More than 300 machines and their 'careful owners' are there for your amazement and enjoyment. The atmosphere is very friendly and relaxed. And although most of the riders have a veteran look about them, the spectators are of all ages. In fact, there are a few younger riders, and even one or two young, woman riders.
This huge museum-for-a-day gives a fascinating insight into the very early history of the motorbike, as it evolved from the bicycle. It's very easy to see that transition, since some of these early specimens are little more than a bicycle with some sort of motor strapped on.
The bikes have a staggered start off from Epsom Downs from 8 a.m onwards. Many bikers must wonder whether their ancient machines will last the course. Breakdown is always a possibility, and running repairs are apparently a common feature of the Pioneer Run and to be expected. Another feature of the veteran motorbike is the perpendicular upright posture which the rider has to take - a posture otherwise known as 'Sit Up and Beg' or the 'Piano Player'. Some of the runs to the Drive attract a large market stall element - the Mini run in particular - but the Pioneer Run is I suspect more about the exchange of anecdote, tips and history on how you came to acquire your veteran machine and how you keep it roadworthy.
2007 was the the centenary of the foundation of the Douglas motorcycle company, and Bill Douglas, the grandson of one of the company's founders, attended the event. The Douglas company continued to make motorbikes until the 1950s.
Any open air event is at the mercy of the weather, and Brighton is famous for its dirty weekends, by which I mean wet and windy, of course. The Pioneer Run is scheduled for the third Sunday in March which could easily be a washout, but for the last few years they've been lucky.
The Pioneer Run is a fascinating event. Although it is for pre-1915 motorcycles, it also attracts a lot of 'outriders', other riders who follow the event on their bikes from start to finish. Some say it's the only way to see the run - on the move!
Here's an interesting account from the wheels of an accompanying motorbike by Roy Workman, published on the RealClassic website. It's his experience of the 66th Pioneer Run in 2004.
Because the total number of veteran bikes taking part in the event is by its nature quite small (300 plus) there's plenty of additional parking space along the Drive. Consequently many other vintage and beloved bikes turn out for the day. Ariel Arrows, Greaves, Velocettes, and James are noted by Workman.
But in the ranks of the veteran bikes themselves you can find one of the most iconic motorcycle names of them all: Harley-Davidson.
In 1914 all machines taking part in the Pioneer Run are 100 or more years old! Amazing!
2014 Event: Pioneer Run, Sunday, 13 April
Pioneer Photo Galleries