'It's just a scrappy looking thing' says it's owner of the petite Velo, but even with the faded patina of eighty-year-old paint, the backyard simplicity of painted on race numbers and the tarnish of oil mist on the engine this bike is an extraordinarily good looking piece of history.
It comes from a time when motorcycles were made by blokes called Arthur and Cyril, who wore brown overalls and worked in smokey foundries and noisy factories in English Birmingham suburbs. They'd never heard of health and safety.
Back then the motorcycle was still young, and its debt to the bicycle design is still evident in the profile of the bike. But this machine has dad a direct influence on the bikes that we ride today.
It won the Junior TT in 1928 and became the first 350cc to lap the Isle of Man Mountain course at over 110 km/h. Remember that the TT course was much rougher then, and that this bike has no rear suspension and marginal brakes. Top speed is in excess of 145km/h. Race bikes were more versatile then though, or maybe the riders were tougher. We don't think Kevin Schwantz ever used the Suzuki RGV for nipping down to the shops.
The 1920s were when race bikes got reliable enough to think seriously about going faster, rather than just finishing. The TT lap record speed in the 350cc class rose from 80km/h at the start of the decade to 115km/h at the finish. Velocette produced an overhead camshaft engine in 1925, and the following year it helped Alec Bennett win the Junior TT by over ten minutes from the second place finisher, despite a crash on the final lap.
The breakthrough for 1928 was even more significant, Velocette engineer Harold Willis devised the positive stop foot change. Until then riders had to use a hand shift, normally with the lever one the right side of the tank. To change gear you had to take one hand off the bars, which isn't ideal if you are fighting to control a bike with no suspension on a badly surfaced track.
The foot shift saved whole minutes during a TT, and its benefits were so obvious that within five years it was the norm in the notoriously conservative motorcycle market. Willis was a rider as well as an engineer, and his reward for ingenuity was a second place finish in the 1928 Junior TT. He was beaten by Alec Bennet riding this bike. Production versions of the mechanism were more elegant than the bolt-on attachment fitted to the three Velocette racers in 1928.
We not need to say why we belief Velocette is one of the worlds master builders, the invention of the foot shift alone makes that a fact....