Motor Cycling, November 19 & December 3, 1919

(Although we do not approve of tests which are not officially observed, as a newspaper we are bound to give prominence to every happening of interest. Some readers have expressed doubts as to whether the Levis covered the entire distance by road. A collection of postcards sent to us by Kuhn from many outlandish spots during his ride prove his claims to be true. – Ed )

Gus watches as the representative from Motor Cycling seals the engine.

On Thursday November 13th Gus Kuhn, the Levis rider who has been so successful during the past trials season, set out on a more arduous task than any trial held during this year, not excepting the Six Days. This was nothing less than to ride from Birmingham to John O'Groats, thence to Land's End and finally to Olympia, London on a standard Levis.

It has the 2¼ hp Levis two-stroke engine and is single-geared, and it is with the object of demonstrating the ability of the machine to stand up to continuous hard work that its manufacturers have arranged the trial.

At the request of Messrs. Butterfield Motor Cycling have arranged to report the progress of the trial and on Wednesday we accordingly proceeded to the Levis works to examine the machine. This we found to be a standard Popular model, identical in every way with the machines supplied to the public. The equipment included Dunlop tyres and belt, a Lycett a Grande pan saddle and Lucas lamps and generator. The standard Amac carburettor and EIC magneto are used, and no additional mudguards, magneto shield, etc. have been fitted. Having satisfied ourselves that the machine was standard in every way we proceeded to seal the engine, etc., in order that no replacements may be made without the seals being broken. The seals, incidentally, being intact at the finish.

The Route

The route was originally arranged through Edinburgh, Perth, Inverness, Tain, Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale, Lybster, Wick and Thurso, but telegraphic advices from Alexander of Edinburgh were so serious as to render a change of route advisable. The last telegram described the roads as impassable and advised that Kuhn should not start. A council of war being held, Kuhn's keenness won the day and it was decided that after Edinburgh he should follow the lower road along the coast, passing through Dundee, Aberdeen, Elgin, Inverness and Golspie. The weather in the Midlands was far from promising and snow was falling from time to time in sufficient quantities to set the boys of Stechford busily snowballing.

The full story of the plucky rider's fight against incredibly severe conditions.

During the progress of the run, the nature of the surfaces encountered presented such difficulties that no one could have been accused of lack of grit if a decision to abandon the attempt had been come to. At various portions of the route the glass-like surface not only threw the rider, but prevented an easy restart, the only method possible being by jacking the machine up on the stand, starting the engine, and pushing off, which more often than not resulted in the machine turning completely round in the road.

The Start

The start took place on November 13th and at about 6.45am he was accordingly despatched on the first stage of his long 2,000 mile journey. His time-table being worked out to a speed of 20mph, he was due to arrive in Edinburgh at 10 pm the same day. Actually owing to the deep snow met with on Shap, which gave a foretaste of what was to come, Kuhn got no farther than Carlisle, a distance of 206 miles, which place was reached about 9.30pm. Over Shap, the snow caused serious delays, clogging of the belt rim throwing the belt off repeatedly. Kuhn reported that two motor lorries and five Ford chassis were stuck in the snow drifts on this portion of the route, which gives some idea of the difficulties encountered owing to the road surface, to say nothing of the trouble due to the snow clogging the belt ring and running the belt off.

On the second day the conditions were slightly worse, deep snow being encountered over the Cheviot Hills. To have covered the 204 miles to Aberdeen in spite of this delay is an indication of what the machine would be capable of over good roads.

As might be expected, Kuhn was by this time beginning to feel the strain, and the restart from Aberdeen did not take place until about 11 o'clock on the third day, as a good night's rest was felt to be imperative in view of the reports that had been received concerning the weather and road conditions over the next portion of the route.

Up to Huntly the going was, to use Kuhn's own words, “comparatively good,” that is to say, the snow had frozen and the passage of other traffic had made ruts where it was at any rate possible to make some sort of progress. After Huntly, the snow became deeper and deeper to Elgin, and as no signs of improvement were indicated at Inverness (104 miles for the day's run) the plucky rider decided to call a halt.

Kuhn had not stopped for food all day, and in view of his experience next day it was perhaps as well that he pulled up where he did.

The next day's run was the worst of the series, as snow was falling heavily at the start at 10am, and continued to do so as far as Golspie. Anyone who has ever ridden in heavy snow will realise what this meant to a rider already very tired and not equipped with snow goggles. The astounded spectators en route all advised Kuhn to abandon the attempt, but having gone so far he decided to keep going until definitely brought to a standstill, so, armed with a shovel supplied by a cottager, which he strapped on his back, he continued to force his way through the snow drifts.

One hill alone (which Kuhn believes to be Helmsdale, but in view of his exhausted state is not certain of) took fully an hour to ascent, the surface being such that riding and pushing were alike almost impossible.

Eventually, machine and rider ran into a heavy snow drift, which completely covered up the former, and a kindly cottager offered shelter, of which Kuhn felt much in need.

The day's journey finished at Lybster (103 miles), but it is impossible to measure the achievement by a mere statement as to the mileage covered. Snow drifts were succeeded by good stretches which had been swept clear by the wind, and on rounding a corner it was nothing unusual to run direct into a deep wall of snow, from which Kuhn had to extricate himself and his machine, and find a way through by skirting the edge of the drift or by digging a path by means of his shovel.

The ferry on this day's run was avoided by traversing the road via Beauly, which increased the distance, but obviated a possible delay if the times of the departure of the ferry and the arrival of the rider did not happen to synchronise.

Feeling the Effects of the Cold.

Naturally, Kuhn was by this time thoroughly exhausted, the bitter cold making things worse. Starting at 11am from Lybster in a rain storm, which caused the ice-bound roads to become incredibly treacherous, Kuhn soon realised that the previous day's efforts had drawn so heavily on his reserve vitality that to attempt to go far was to court disaster.

After numerous falls, which bent the footrest so that the aid of a blacksmith had to be requisitioned, the plucky rider decided to go no further than John O'Groats, a distance of 30 miles only, and spend a few hours in getting back his strength.

On the evening of the fifth day, Gus Kuhn found himself at John O'Groats, a distance of about 647 miles out of the 1,800 odd which he had set out to cover. Leaving John O'Groats on the 6th day, Kuhn rode in a rain storm over frozen roads, as before, back to Tain, and being now in better fettle, succeeded in cramming 90 adventurous miles into the day's itinerary before calling a halt.

The Hill at Helmsdale again caused trouble, the incessant rain having by now flooded the surface with the result that huge frozen lumps made progress difficult.

The Hardships of the Trip.

Fatigued almost to the point of collapse, wet through, chilled to the bone, and often without food for hours at a stretch, it is difficult to realise that a combination of all these circumstances failed to make Gus Kuhn withdraw from his task. The mileage covered on the next two days (Tain to Aberdeen, 147 miles – Aberdeen to Edinburgh, 111 miles) indicates that the conditions were becoming slightly easier. Rain and ice were still troublesome, but in view of what he had already gone through, Kuhn felt that the straightforward portion to follow over English roads was an additional incentive to keep going. Owing to missing the ferry the train had to be made use of, and Kuhn arrived at Edinburgh about 8 o'clock.

The next day he arrived at Newport (about 36 miles from Birmingham) at about 11.30pm. Here unexpected trouble with the generator was met with, and the indomitable Gus had the misfortune to lose his way, and did not arrive at Birmingham till 7.30 next morning. The 10th day was devoted to rest, the machine, of course, remaining untouched.

The remainder of the journey, from Birmingham to Land's End (287 miles) and Land's End to Olympia (290 miles) occupied two days, the little Levis engine developing splendid power, and simply devouring all the hills met with en route. Kuhn actually arrived at Olympia very late at night and finding no one to receive him, went to his quarters and enjoyed a well-earned rest, returning to Olympia in the afternoon in full war paint so as to be received by the photographers and other members of our staff waiting to welcome and congratulate him.

This ride will rank as a classic, carried out in the face of overwhelming difficulties. One does not know which to praise more, the machine and its accessories or the pluck and grit with which the rider was able to triumph over all obstacles. Kuhn has reason to congratulate himself on the fact that his Dunlop tyres carried him through without a puncture or other trouble.

The little Levis on which the trip was made has been bought by the well-known Gloucester agent, Mr W Gibb, but before he takes delivery the machine will be sent to Birmingham, where the seals will be broken and the engine dismantled.

Page updated 16-Feb-2011