The B.S. from George Broughtoblogo

by Shawn Downey

Viewing one of my favorite late-night movies from the confines of my comfy recliner, I suddenly burst forth from my languid pose to stand at attention in front of the television. Singing along with great zeal to the epilogue of the film Lawrence of Arabia I awaken every domestic animal in a five block radius as is evident by the horrendous howls echoing through the neighborhood.

Of Arabia,
He was an English guy,
Who came to fight the Turkish….

Some of you may disagree with the validity of the lyrics since the theme song is purely instrumental. But if there were lyrics, I am certain they would be:

Of Arabia,
He was an English guy,
Who came to fight the Turkish….

He was also a poet, writer, scholar, archaeologist, soldier, spy and famous dead guy. But most interesting of all, T.E. Lawrence was a biker. A loyal advocate of the Brough Superior from 1922 to his untimely death in 1935, T.E. fell in love with Brough Superior’s (abbreviated as ‘B.S.’) amazing speed and craftsmanship.

An English motorcycle assembled in Nottingham, the B.S. was quite unique when compared to the other motorcycle manufacturers. Whereas most factories produced and assembled motorcycles, B.S. only assembled.

The components were sourced from a variety of suppliers such as Matchless for engines, Sturmey Archer for gearboxes, Montgomery for forks, and carbs from anyone the customer fancied. The Brough Superior was almost the modern day equivalent of the Bimota, except the B.S did not sport an Italian heritage, a Japanese sourced engine, nor a monolithic mistake known as the V-Due. Okay, so the B.S. was nothing like the Bimota.tob_28

The Brough Superior was the brainchild of one George Brough who created the B.S. in response to his own personal need for a motorcycle that would deliver performance in a variety of speeds and terrain. He wanted a vehicle that would propel him over the banked Brooklands circuit at 100 m.p.h., a motorcycle capable of insane speeds on pebble roads and tree lined estates. Alternating between the J.A.P. and Matchless engines, G.B. ( as in George Brough) employed a 1000 cc side valved engine that proved to be the most powerful motor available for 40 years.

In addition to producing a superior (awful pun I know, but hey, it’s late) product, G.B. was also known as a gifted publicist/opportunist. When ‘The Motor Cycle’ magazine published the nomenclature “The Rolls-Royce of Motorcycles”, G.B. pounced on the opportunity and printed the slogan in every piece of marketing literature. The Rolls Royce company was quite disturbed that a motorcycle was being compared to the Grey Poupon transporter and sent a dispatch to discuss the potential copyright infringement of the advertising slogan.

When the emissary arrived, he found two assemblers dressed in white lab coats and cotton gloves fitting the artful stainless steel gas tank to the backbone of a Brough Superior. Satisfied that the B.S. company was adhering to Rolls Royce standards, the emissary returned to the factory recommending not to file suit.

George Brough never volunteered the fact that what the emissary witnessed was two assemblers readying a motorcycle for exhibition–not production.

A purveyor of exploits, George Broughs was well known for ostentatious showmanship. He charged a premium for his motorcycles and was not afraid to incorporate, buy, or steal a superior component design.

Harley-Davidson used to be involved with technology back in the mid-1920s and designed a set of superior forks. Since George’s customers expected the best, he did what all great entrepreneurs do–he stole them and gave them to his engineers to copy in great detail.

This philosophy insured that the Brough Superiors were truly superior and were capable of incredible feats. I am sure he would be proud knowing that certain manufacturers due east of us are still abiding by the same philosophy.

By 1935, Broughs Superior held the land speed record at 169.5 m.p.h. and the bikes were capable of 500 mile days with nary a breakdown. George was more than willing to meet any expectations of his elitist customers and even had one motorcycle silver plated for an Indian nobleman.

T.E. Lawrence owned seven of the motorcycles and even named them–George I, George II, etc. For an infamous wordsmith I expected a little more than I, II, III but hey I guess everybody has hangovers.

Mr. Lawrence was suspiciously killed on a Brough Superior in 1935 but not before he penned several letters to George expressing his extreme gratitude for such a powerful and reliable motorcycle. Often referring to the marquee as “Boanerges” which means “Son Of Thunder”, T.E. states, “…Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth.”


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