Sunbeam Motorcycles

Tom Sheard Motorcycle Racer

SUNBEAM T.T. RIDER TOM SHEARD - 'THE MODEST MANXMAN'

The early T.T. races

Sunbeam's reputation, in common with that of its rivals, was gained through sporting success. From the on-set of the motoring age a particular maker's pedigree rested on a combination of speed and reliability. For motorcycle manufacturers the Isle of Man 'Tourist Trophy' (T.T.) races were regarded as the supreme test. Throughout the 1920s Wolverhampton-made Sunbeams and their local rival AJS were pre-eminent in road racing.

Success was not , however, simply a question of a machine's capabilities. The un-made, pot-holed roads with their twists, bends, climbs and descents tested the physical abilities of the riders who needed every muscle to maintain control of their machine in often hazardous conditions over a number of laps of the 37½ mile course. Add to this the effect of the weather, which was frequently damp and misty, and the flying debris from the road surface and you get an idea of the character of the early T.T. competitors. 'I guess this ain't no tea party!' exclaimed the American rider Jack de Rosier when the 37½ mile course was first announced in 1911. The hard-earned victories for the manufacturers were in no small part the result of the effort put in by a tough breed of racing motorcyclist who pushed themselves to exhaustion.

Tom Sheard

One such T.T. rider of the period was Tom Sheard who competed on both Sunbeam and local rival AJS machines. Unusually, he was a Isle of Man resident, who lived on Victoria Road in Douglas. Tom's story is one of remarkable success in the early T.T. races.

Thankfully, his story has been committed to print by his grand-daughter Ruth Sheard who, like her grand-father, is a resident on the island. Ruth has researched, written and self-published Tom's story in 'T M Sheard - the Modest Manxman'. The book is 147 pages long and illustrated with photographs from the period. It tells of Tom's racing career.

T.T. achievements

Between 1913 and 1925 Tom competed in eleven junior and senior races. His only entry on a Sunbeam was in the 1921 Senior race, when he finished in a respectable ninth place. He was entered by the local Mylchreest family who were pioneers of the island's motor vehicle businesses, opening their Athol Street Motor Garage about this time. That year Sunbeam were unable to repeat their 1920 victory in the Senior. Alec Bennett came in fourth and George Dance eighth ahead of Tom in ninth place.

Four of Tom's T.T. entries were on machines from Sunbeam's local rival AJS. In 1920 with the commencement of the T.T. races after the Great War Tom, like many of the other riders of the day, chose the 350 c.c. AJS as his mount for the Junior race. Although he was forced to retire, he returned the next year in 1921 for the Junior with his AJS and came in third; one of the team of AJS riders who swept the board with first, second, third and fourth places that year.

Tom was to exceed this the following year in 1922 when his AJS came in first in the Junior race . The first Manxman to win a T.T. race!

He did not restrict himself to Wolverhampton-made machines. He also rode a Rudge in pre-war T.T. races, and Douglas and New Hudson machines between 1923-25. It was on a Douglas that he won the Senior race in 1923, adding to his earlier victory in the Junior. The Douglas has been on display on the island.

The article above may be found in its original format at sunbeamsidevalve.com


The 1922 Junior TT race was won by Sheard riding an AJS at an average speed of 54.75 mph, running Hutchison tyres. A Hutchinson advertisement from 1922 reads:

A T.T. winner is Tom Sheard
(Heavens! How the natives cheered!)
Now Manx cats have a 'Tail' to tell
The 'Tyre with nine lives' did so well.

Douglas won their first Senior TT in 1923, with Sheard at the helm. The machine was equipped with a disc brake.