RUDGE Four - The 'Intelligent' Legendary Bike

What we have here is not a Classic, its a Vintage Legend! Back in the 1920s to WW II, this was the motorcycle to own. This was the Rolls Royce of motorcycles. In 192os, this was the state of the art super sports bike with a fabulous 500cc 4-valve engine. Yes a 4 valve engine in 1924. Another dynamic thing was that the valves were arranged in parallel and were not radial. How does that sound? This legend is the RUDGE Four. This machine was something of a character that more than half a century later Japanese manufacturers took inspiration from when they sought out to seek the world. Rudge was such a perfect machinary that it was a machine of the time and that would have hold true even now. But the second WW destroyed all that. What I mean that it was not a machine ahead of its times, but even with the same machine, it would have have found its footmark half a century later. Rudge had always been an innovative factory known as a developer and refiner of cutting-edge technology. Rudge provided 4 gear ratios when the world was customized in three gears, its tanks, its looks were ultra modern, when motorcycle used to be a vehicle for commuting and occasional leisure, Rudge gave a stylish show-off piece and yet if you were well heeled, you could get one over the counter. It was not for only a selective few. that way, come to think about it, Rudge thought processes looked Japanese!
And for everything, you have to credit a certain Mr. George Hack, the driving force behind all the Rudge designs. Its said that more than a visionary, he was very intelligent engineer. At those times, all the engines were obviously iron-cast and the four valves hugely helped it in cooling down and also improved combustion. Mr. Hack was actually inspired by a creation of Sir Harry Ricardo who designed a 4 valve Triumph racing engine for Major Frank Hallord in 1921.
When the first engine, 88 x 85mm Rudge 4-valve was rolled out in 1924, the world took notice and all the maufacturers felt the heat.. As mentioned Mr. Hack was not a innovator, but a very intelligent engineer, he used conventional girder forks with enclosed springs on the front suspension, which were nothing new, but well done thought out changes. This gave the Rudge a better ride. Among other new 'thinking', the huge 8 inches brakes were linked, operating from the rear brake pedal, and had a simple anti-lock device. Anti lock devices became common only in the late 90s or later. And all this happened in 1920s. Also, the big end bearings were now fed oil through the crankshaft pin.
It was not meant to be a Sports bike, but it had 'Super Sports' performance. It was very very sophisticated. Take a look at the available pictures, you bet if parked in a parking lot, everyone and everyone will notice ut first and I mean, even now! It was flawless! The curves, the balance, the style showed the passion of the heart of an engineer who 'knew' what the people were least expecting, but would love to have. The concept of form and function is just perfect. No bike of its period is as beautiful or offers such an iconic design.
And then it had the performance to match the deadly looks. The gearbox is of course hand-change, the handling is just precise as the 500cc single cylinder cruises effortlessly to 115kmph.
Okay, this was about the Rudge Four, so how about a little history?
Founded in 1894, resulting from the merger of two bicycle manufacturers, one of which descended from the original bicycle company founded by Daniel Rudge, the Rudge Whitworth company built a reputation for quality, reliability, sporting prowess and innovation. Their sales motto was "Rudge it, do not trudge it." It started off selling re-badged Werners in 1909 then went on to produce their first which was a inlet over exhaust single-cylinder, also known as F-head, 500 cc bike.
In 1912, the belt drive 499 cc Rudge Multi was released, using variable groove-depth pulleys to gain 21 forward ratios, and a top gear as high as 2.75:1 and they introduced the 'Multi' with its variable gear ratios which provided the company with their first TT win in 1914. In 1913 a 750 cc Multi was released. In 1915 a 1000 cc using a Jardine four speed gearbox was released, followed by a 1000 cc Multi. In 1923, they introduced an in-house manufactured 4 speed gear box to replace the Jardine gearbox, and Multi production ended. It later worked on its 500cc engine decresing the capacity to 350cc but surprisingly with more power, thanks to the 4 speed gear box and the first four valve cylinder head. Of course this was in 1924 as mentioned and the great 'thinking' 'Linked Brakes' appeared in 1925. Stanley Glanfield designed a Rudge for dirt racing, marketed from 1928 as the Glanfield Rudge.
In 1929 Graham Walker won the Ulster Grand Prix averaging over 80 mph. This prompted the release of the Rudge Ulster, as well as a JAP engined 250 cc and parallel 4 valve 350 cc. The Ulster was one of their most famous models.
Rudge ruled the early 30s Isle of Man TT finishing first, second and third at the 1930 Junior TT using prototype radial 350 cc 4 valve engines. They also took first and second in the Senior TT. TT Replicas were available in 350 cc and 500 cc. The parallel valve 500 cc was also available in Special and Ulster models. They also took the first and second position in the 1931 Lightweight TT, and the second and third position in 1932.
Another distinctive Rudge feature appeared in 1932, the 'stand handle' allowing the machine to be placed on the centre stand with 'just one finger'. The 'semi-radial' aluminium bronze cylinder head appeared on a road machine in 1934. In the final year of manufacturein 1939, the cylinder head was cast from RR50 light alloy with iron valve seat inserts. Then came the bloody WW II and this beautiful piece of machinary was forever buried. Also finances were bad and Rudge was bought by EMI, and production was interrupted, being moved to Hayes, Hillingdon in Middlesex. A 250 cc 2 valve Sports was released in 1938, and for early 1939 the Ulster had an RR50 aluminium cylinder head. Production ceased in December 1939 in order to convert to radar production for WW II. Around 1700 machines of Rudge were made and finding one now would be difficult but then convincing the owner to give you a ride would solely be based on your PR skills.
Chronological listing of Rudge Models and innovations - Courtesy Rudge Enthusiast's Club
1911 - First Rudge motorcycles on sale to the public, single speed, single cylinder (499cc), belt drive, optional NSU or Mabon geared machines before the Multi
1912 - Multi gear introduced along with Brooklands and TT models
1913 - Larger 750cc Multi introduced
1914 - Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub available
1915 - A 'V' twin with Jardine 4 speed gearbox appeared before the Multwin, the 1000cc V twin 'Multi' was introduced
1921 - 3 speed gearbox introduced
1923 - 4 speed gearbox introduced on the 7/9hp V twin machine. Last Multi produced
1924 - New 4 valve 350cc model introduced with 4 speed gearbox, followed by 500cc version
1925 - Production 500cc as above and linked front and rear brakes. Big end now fed through crank pin
1926 - 350cc model dropped
1928 - First saddle tank machines fitted with internal expanding drum brakes. Dirt Track model introduced
1929 - Ulster model added to the range after Graham Walker (Murray's father) Ulster G.P. win, along with a JAP engined 250cc and parallel 4 valve 350cc
1930 - Dry sump lubrication introduced on road models. Last year of the JAP 250cc and parallel valve 350cc
TT Replica & The Ulster
1931 - TT Replica models introduced (350cc & 500cc). Fully radial Rudge engined 250cc introduced with coil ignition along side fully radial 350cc. Parallel valve 500cc road machines (Special & Ulster) now had the magneto mounted behind the cylinder. The 'Ulster' now came with an optional 100 mph guarantee
1932 - First and only year of the fully radial 500cc Ulster. 250cc TT Replica introduced. Road models gained a true oil bath chaincase
1933 - Last year the dirt track machines were catalogued. Last year of the 250cc, 350cc and 500cc TT Replica machines and fully radial 350cc. 500cc Ulster reverted to forward magneto mounting position with a semi radial cast iron cylinder head
1934 - Ulster now rear magneto with the newly introduced aluminium bronze semi-radial cylinder head. 250cc fully radial 4 valve Sports introduced
1935 - First 2 valve 250cc introduced - the Tourist. 500cc Competition model catalogued
1936 - Last year of the fully radial 4 valve 250cc (250cc Sports). 250cc 2 valve renamed Rapid. Round tubed forks introduced
1937 - 500cc engines redesigned with fully enclosed cylinder heads. SportsSpecial 500cc model introduced. E.M.I. takes over company and moves to Hayes, Middlesex. Bicycle production only recommenced in 1937, motorcycles not being produced until late 1938
1938 - 250cc 2 valve Sports introduced
1939 - 500cc Ulster fitted with RR50 aluminium cylinder head. Villiers engined Autocycle introduced
1940 - Factory closes to make room for radar production
Source of information & pics- Motorcycle USA, RUDGE Enthusiast's Club, RUDGE at Wikipedia
For a detailed image view of the different machines, visit Motorcycle Search Engine


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