Old-Time Motorcycle Racers And Their Equipment

Time Trials, The Boards, Dirt Track, Road Racing

By Fred Ludlow, Photography by Fred Ludlow

As a result of that ride I was to work with Balky as mechanic and it might be opportune at this point to discuss the equipment we used in those days. Wheelbase was 56 inches, tires 28” x 2”, spring forks, direct drive from sprocket to wheel with a compensator on the rear wheel, wide open carburetor with no throttle control, open ports which were great for burning up your leggings and legs about half way between your ankles and knees, eight valves-four valves to a cylinder, and of course the big base or the crankcase of enormous size holding huge fly wheels which were very successful on board tracks. Incidentally in those days we had steel pistons which rang like bells and the piston pin was held in place by a boss which came down from the roof of the piston head, it not being anchored in the side of the piston.

The crowning achievement of my experience with Balky came one day when I was trying out a job on the Del Rey boards. A fire had consumed one portion of the track. This had been rebuilt for a width of seven feet. I had worked up to a speed of 96 m.p.h. and was dividing my attention between the noises of my mount and the problem of staying on the seven narrow feet through the burned portion when something happened. It seemed at the time like the whole world had suddenly been blotted out. Actually I had hit a sea gull, taking him full in my face. Luckily it did not knock me out, but the gull was not so fortunate. I never saw a sea gull cover so much territory before or since. I was covered with sea gull-and more sea gull.

Any guy who could take sea gulls on the nose like that was supposed to be good, so the factory entrusted me with an eight valve of my own to use in coast events. It was No. 48 and was destined in one way and another to become fairly well known to the fans in the West Coast territory.

Along about ‘16 we changed this motor over to closed port barrels. This developed to be an improvement as it made all the Indians run better and with less heat. Before this development could be carried far the war came along and by ‘17 many of the racers, including myself, found ourselves in France riding against time with shells and trying to dodge shell holes in the dark. This is a story in itself, so we will skip it, coming back to this country in the latter part of ‘19.

Perhaps receiving an entry blank in Coblenz, Germany, for a 200-mile event at Ascot on the same day the event was to run at Ascot speeded my return. There was an odd feature about Ascot. There you rode fast, and straight, in order to stay up. At most tracks you rode and slid so as to make time on the turns. Reviewing the peculiarities made me homesick, especially when later I heard that my old friend Ralph Hepburn had taken the event.

Upon my arrival in the U.S. I was given a place on the Harley-Davidson team, my first participation in an event being on Ascot late in the year. Burns had left the Harley-Davidson team, going with Indian, and I was selected to fill in.

At this point it might be well to describe the team as it was at that time.

By Fred Ludlow
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