1912 Braithwaite Over head valve Motorcycle

1912 Braithwaite Over head valve Motorcycle

The only surviving Braithwaite motorcycle of around 20 built by engineering brothers Bert and Jack Braithwaite, in their works at Staveley north of Kendal. The brothers designed and built what must be one of the world’s first over head valved motorcycle engines in 1906, changing the pushrods to a crossover design in 1912 which greatly improved its power output and efficiency. The motorcycle was constantly updated following motorcycle fashion to the early 1950’s and is displayed as a fitting reminder of the skill and inventiveness of the Braithwaite brothers

More About Braithwaite

H. Braithwaite and Sons of Staveley near Kendal were founded in 1903 selling fuel, bicycles and undertaking engineering work for local Bobbin Mills. When Harry’s sons Bert and Jack joined the firm, thoughts turned to making their own motorcycles and in 1906 they completed their first machine. The motorcycle was powered by an engine entirely produced within their workshop, it featured an overhead valve engine, with parallel pushrods, at a time when most other manufacturers were making do with less efficient side valve designs. An example of the 1906 engine can be seen on the stand behind the front wheel. The engines were fitted to bought-in frames, with the other cycle parts following fashion – for example rectangular tanks being replaced by circular ones.

By 1912 the engine had been re-designed to feature an improved combustion chamber design. Angling the two pushrods to cross over each other allowed the intake and exhaust valves to be inclined, allowing improved gas flow which gave both more power and better efficiency. As power output increased, with more fuel being burnt, the engine produced more heat and to dissipate this heat various barrels were produced featuring larger, more numerous cooling fins, and increasingly enclosing the pushrods themselves – see the three barrels displayed behind the front wheel.

The brothers used the motorcycles in various Lakeland Hill climbs, but struggled to sell many as they couldn’t compete on price with the major manufacturers. By the time WW1 started fewer than 20 machines had been built and when the brothers returned from war the company concentrated on precision engineering for local mills, finally closing in 1966.

The example shown here is believed to be the sole survivor. EC981 was used by Bert Braithwaite for many years, with regular updates to the motorcycle. New girder forks and electric lighting, then removing the engine and fitting into a 1920s Brough-Superior frame, with a 4 speed gearbox, chain drive and pneumatic (compressed air) telescopic forks.

Key Facts
Year of Manufacture 1912
Registration EC981
Engine 490cc OHV single
Body Brough Superior frame and cycle parts
Built by Bert and Jack Braithwaite, in Staveley, Cumbria
Location in Museum In entry to 1930’s garage, downstairs

Interesting Fact

When the Braithwaite workshops were being cleared following the closure of the company, the family presented this motorcycle to the Westmorland Motor Cycle Club (WMCC) for preservation. Mr Paul Duff, son of The WMCC President restored the machine to full working and Bert’s son John Braithwaite rode it to open the Barbon Hill climb in 1972.

Following display in the Museum of Lakeland Life for many years, the motorcycle was brought back to working order by Mr Paul Duff in time to celebrate 100 years of the WMCC at the Barbon Hillclimb in 2011, and forms a fitting reminder of the outstanding inventiveness and engineering skill of the Braithwaite engineering company in developing an overhead valve engine in a small Lakeland workshop more than 100 years ago – it was 1922 before Norton sold an overhead valve engined motorcycle.


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