Humber Motorcycles

Bert Yates, Humber 1902

Bert Yates

Egbert Yates (1869-1923)

Born on the 29th January 1869 at Clee Hills, Shropshire

Age 14 he started cycling

1890s Joined Humber

Married Ruth Francis and had three children

Became a motorcycle rider for Humber, and on the 10th July 1899 he won a motorcycle race in Coventry, which he said was the first motorcycle race ever held on a track.

1906 Emigrated to Canada

1909 Returned to UK and Humber

Very many motorcycle race victories

1923 Died age 54


MEETING Bert Yates in Coventry one day last week looking the picture of health after his recent success in the Scottish Six Days' Trials, we were reminded that he is one of the oldest exponents of the motor cycle in England. Thinking that a few reminiscences and comparisons between past, and present competitions would interest our readers, we invited Mr. Yates to give us a few particulars of his career. He commenced by saying :

"My experience has always been gained on Humber motor cycles, and I won the first motor bicycle race that was ever held on the track on July 10th, 1899. This medal, as you see, bears the inscription "Presented to Mr. Bert Yates by the Hexagon C.G. for winning the first amateur motor cycle race ever run in England." The race was held on the Coventry track, licences being then issued for motor cycle races by the National Cyclists' Union."

"We remember seeing the machine," we remarked to Mr. Yates, " and recall the trouble that you, and some other riders had with it by reason of the lamp ignition blowing out. If we remember rightly the machine was gear driven?"

"Yes it was an early gear-driven Humber with the engine fitted on the right side of the rear wheel. The engine drove the rear wheel through an epicyclic gear which was fitted in the hub shell with the flywheel on the left side, the axle being a live one. Electric ignition was afterwards fitted to this machine, but you are quite correct with regard to the early attempts with lamp ignition giving trouble. Humbers sold fifteen to twenty of these machines, one of the purchasers being the well-known motorist. Mr. Chas. Jarrott."

"What was the next type of motor bicycle the Humber Co. exploited?"

"The firm decided to fit the Minerva engine, and built about fifty motor bicycles with inclined engines slung beneath the down tube in an inclined position."

"Did you compete on these?"

"No, the next event of any importance in which I competed was the Automobile Club's 650 Miles Trial of 1902. I rode an entirely new model Humber chain-driven motor bicycle, which subsequently became very popular."

"Did you not surprise some of the car owners and competitors in this event?"

"I should think I did. On River and Westerham Hills I beat all the car times by 30s. and 45s. respectively. In addition to The Autocar and other motor papers, nearly all the daily press commented on the remarkable speed of my machine on hills."

"How many other motor cyclists were there in the 1902 Trials?" we queried.

"As well as I can remember, about seven or eight. I won a gold medal, which was the highest award, and made non-stop runs throughout. I entered the same machine at Bexhill and Welbeck Races and won gold medals at both, and in conversation with a well-known Birmingham time-keeper only a few days ago I was informed that I still hold the quarter-mile Aston track record which was made on the same machine."

"It is strange no rider with a modern built motor bicycle has succeeded in beating this old record?" we observed.

"It may appear strange, but I attribute it to the fact that the boards which form the edging between the grass and the cement assisted me to keep my machine on the track at very high speed. I found that at anything like fast speed the wheels were bound to scrape or touch this edging, and I think that other aspirants to record fame found themselves driven on to these boards at certain speeds and instinctively slowed down, I allowed my machine to skim along the side and touch the boards, and I found I could do this without coming off."

"What about early road trials when spring forks and other similar shock absorbers were unknown?"

"The severest road trial I can remember was the Automobile Club's Reliability Run from Glasgow to London in May, 1903. My machine had rigid forks, almost a springless saddle, no spring seat-pillar, and rather small tyres. I suffered frightfully from vibration, and could not sleep for two nights after the run. You must remember it was not exactly a crawl, as one was allowed to 'get there' as soon as one liked. The dust made by some of the competing cars was terrible, I hung on to Mr, Chas. Jarrott's car, and must have looked somewhat travel-stained when I arrived in town. The difference between machines then and now can hardly be realised by modern riders who have had no experience of early types,"

"We suppose you had to move about the country rather smartly in those days?" was our next question,

"I should think I did. On arrival in London after the Glasgow Run I found a wire waiting for me to proceed to Glasgow via Coventry, to pick up my racing motor bicycle on the way, and compete in a series of matches in Glasgow against Han(?)y Martin. Martin beat me on the Saturday, but I turned the tables on him on the Monday, beating the record he made on the Saturday and winning the match and the handicap. Five miles in 6m. 13s. on a small track was not bad going for 1903."

"We heard very little about the Humber motor bicycle after 1906. How was that?"

"I competed in other races from 1903 until 1906 when Humbers decided to drop the motor bicycle, as they had no room to spare in their old factory, where all available space was required for the manufacture of motor cars, I well remember competing in the first team trial for The Motor Cycle Cup in 1904, driving a Humber Olympia tandem. Humbers revived their interest in motor cycles because the firm found there was ample room in their new works to tackle almost anything, so they designed and built the models which were exhibited at the Stanley Show in 1908. With very few modifications these were of the same type as the machine on which I have just won a gold medal in the Scottish Trials."

"These trials were rather more than a tour, weren't they?"

"On some of the severe hills I ran the engine for miles on the low gear and full throttle without experiencing over-heating, and in many places the roads were so bad that they were impassable for some of the accompanying cars, which were often compelled to take short cuts."

Wishing Mr. Yates good day and good luck in the A.C.U. End-to-end Trials, we shook hands, and he left to superintend the final preparation of his two-speed-geared Humber.

The Motor Cycle, An Interview with Bert Yates, 7th July 1910, p628

Sources: Graces Guide, et al.