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Lawrence Of Arabia And His Post-WW1 Motorcycles

The Story Of Lawrence's Motorcycle vs Aircraft Race

After WW1, Colonel T E Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, decided to join the RAF under the assumed name of T E Shaw, in part to escape some of the fanfare surrounding his wartime activities in the Middle East. Leading Aircraftsman Shaw soon developed a penchant for fast motorcycles, and over a period of around ten years he owned a succession of eight Brough Superior motorcycles.

Dave Lochead re-creates one of Lawrence's high speed motocycle rides on an original 1920's Brough Superior.  Photo: © Historical Aviation Film Unit

Shortly after his death, Lawrence's second book, The Mint was published. In this autobiographical account of his time in the Royal Air Force, Lawrence describes an impromptu race he had on his Brough with a Bristol Fighter F.2b aircraft:

Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine's final development is fifty-two horse-power. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand......

.....Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slip-stream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare.....

Unfortunately the Brough was to eventually become Lawrence's downfall and in 1935 at the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, he was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles and as he swerved to avoid them, he lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935.

It was decided at the Classic Fighters airshow to re-create Lawrence's motocycle race by using an original Brough motorcycle and the The Vintage Aviator Collection's Bristol F.2b Fighter aircraft.

George Brough began building motorcycles in 1921, and quickly built up a business with a reputation for excellence. To many, the Brough Superior is to the motorcycle what the Rolls Royce is to the automobile, although it's probably more fair to equate the Brough with the Bently automobile. In their day, each of these manufacturers produced a hand crafted vehicle with enormous performance.

Between 1921 and 1939 Brough built some 3000 hand crafted motorcycles, which had a well deserved reputation for excellent quality and performance. At Arpajon in France in 1928, he recorded the land speed record of 210 kilometers per hour on one of his own machines.

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