This is the grandaddy sartorialist sportsman in all of motorcycling; George Brough.  He’s photographed here on his own creation, the famous Brough-Superior derisively called ‘Spit & Polish’, so-called because of the always-immaculate finish he kept, but George called it ‘Old Bill’ after the WW1 comic book character.  His racer was the prototype of the upcoming Super Sports 80 (SS80) model he would introduce in 1922, only three years after commencing production in 1919 using J.A.P. ’90 Bore’ and Motosacoche engines.   Old Bill used a newly-introduced J.A.P. sidevalve racing engine of 980cc, on which George and his development team (Harold ‘Oily’ Karslake and Ike Webb) worked considerable magic.  The flywheels were lightened down to their outer rims and a single ‘spoke’ connecting the main bearings to the flywheel rims.  It was the first sidevalve-powered motorcycle to clock 100mph in competition.

George Brough in 1922 aboard his hotshot Brough Superior racer ‘Old Bill’, the prototype of the SS80 model.  Note the dummy rim brakes, open exhaust, and gorgeous nickel-plated saddle tank. [The Vintagent Archive]
George Brough was famous not only as a manufacturer of fine motorcycles, but as a competition rider second to none in his day. He only retired from racing competition when Old Bill crossed the finish line ahead of its rider at Clipstone, and George spent 8 months in the hospital receiving skin grafts. Prior to that, George had won every single even he entered, a remarkable run of 51 wins.  The SS80, of course, would go on to earn an enviable reputation as a very fast sports-tourer, with more emphasis on the touring side as time went on – the SS80 was produced until 1940, and by then was strictly a fast touring machine, and a lovely one at that.

George Brough aboard one of his original MkI series Brough Superior, with an OHV ’90 Bore’ J.A.P. V-twin motor. His outfit is fantastic; fur gloves, woolen riding suit, white shawl scarf, and his signature cocked cap of his own design. He made a series of these asymmetric caps over the course of his life. [The Vintagent Archive]
What is George wearing to race Old Bill? The classic collegiate racer getup of the day; an Oxford sweater, with shirt and tie (plus obligatory tiebar), wool jodhpurs, and proper calf-high laceup boots, which were rare at the time. Gloves were rare too, but George sports some lightweight leather items with what looks like the fingertips cut off. As all the controls on the motorcycle were levers (twistgrip throttles were very rare until the late 1920s), fingertip control might have been important to George. He certainly wouldn’t have been caught dead with worn-out gloves. He’s also wearing a fur-lined aviator’s ‘helmet’, which would have done nothing but keep his head warm. Useful helmets, made of layered fabric held together with varnish (‘dope’), and lined with cork and leather, had begun to appear by this date, so George has made his choice of protective headgear.

Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.