Record-breaking, while a logical use of a rocket-assisted motorcycle, isn’t the only possible venue. In 1947 ‘Professor’ Archibald M. Low thought speedway racing in England could use a little boost, and arranged a demonstration at Wembley track, with 90,000 people watching. British motorcycle racer Bill Kitchen was protected by a steel shield over the top of the rocket bodies; the speedway JAP motorcycle used four solid-core rockets, angled downwards (to prevent lift-off, no doubt). Kitchen used switches on the handlebars to ignite the candles, and said ‘acceleration was absolutely terrific’ when the rockets lit off.

The rocket cycle in flight! A real crowd-pleaser for a night race crowd of 90,000 people. [Modern Mechanix]
The flamboyant demonstration of rocket power to speedway fans was an odd turn for ‘Archie’ Low, who was a far-sighted and pioneering scientist, whose inventions were ignored by his native British government, but whose work was taken very seriously in other countries. Low showed promise early on, as in 1904 when he was 16 years old, when he invented the first ‘pre-selector’ gearbox. In 1914, he invented an early form of television which he called TeleVista (seeing by wireless’).  He dropped his research on TV on the outbreak of WW1, when he joined the Royal Flying Corps, becoming a Captain and heading up the Experimental Works, where he explored building military drones with remote guidance systems.

Archibald Low and rider Bill Kitchen examine the rocket-boosted speedway machine. [Modern Mechanix, Feb. 1947]
In 1917 Low demonstrated the world’s first unmanned drone aircraft before military dignitaries, which was controlled from the ground by radio.  While the drone ultimately crashed, Low carried on research into self-guided aircraft, and developed a system of electrically-powered gyroscopes to keep his planes stable.  That same year, Low designed and built a radio-controlled rocket – the first cruise missile.  Low’s inventions were consistently rejected by his own government, but the Germans understood perfectly what he was up to, and attempted to assassinate him twice in 1915.  They also developed Low’s ideas from 1917 during WW2, including the V-1 self-guided cruise missile, the V-2 self-guided rocket, and electrically guided rockets used by the German Navy against British ships.  Low is rightly regarded as the ‘father of radio guidance systems.’ While the British military authorities thought him something of a crank, the Germans realized how dangerous his inventions could be… so after trying twice to kill him (first using an assassin with a gun, then a strychnine-laced cigarette), they used his research during the 1930’s to create their ‘V’ bombs.

Archibald Low during WW1, testing some of his radio equipment used to control unmanned aircraft. [Wikipedia]
Low was also very interested in motorcycles.  In 1916 he published his first book, The Two Stroke Engine A Manual of the Coming Form of the Internal Combustion Engine. In 1923, after filing many patents under the Low Engineering Company banner, he built the Low Motorcycle, a unique and very advanced machine with construction details covered by several patents in 1922/23.  The motorcycle used a monocoque chassis of pressed steel panels enclosing the motor, an air-cooled four-cylinder two stroke of 492cc – the first of its type ever used in a motorcycle.  The 3-speed gearbox used a shaft final drive within a telescoping housing.  Both wheels featured interchangeable wheels with generous 6″ brakes, the front fork was similar to a Montgomery, with a small-diameter tubing girder and leaf-spring suspension.

The Low experimental motorcycle, a remarkably advanced machine. [The Vintagent Archive]
The 2.5gal fuel tank was enclosed by the chassis behind the headstock, while the oil tank filler was beneath the saddle, which was also suspended by leaf springs.  A speedometer was driven direct from the shaft drive, and the bike featured electric lights front and rear, powered by a Rotax generator mounted on the gearbox – a very early application – which also powered the coil ignition.  With wide mudguards and totally enclosed mechanicals, the Low anticipated the Ascot-Pullin by 6 years, and the bike was akin to the Ner-A-Car in its unitary shape.  Low realized his motorcycle was not a practical proposition, and the lone machine built was purely experimental, but apparently was ridden for 1500 test miles, and was described as exceptionally smooth and a pleasure to ride.

The unique inline four-cylinder air-cooled two-stroke engine with integral gearbox for the Low motorcycle. [The Vintagent Archive]
Low was a regular habitué at the Brooklands speed bowl in the 1920s, and even gave a ‘Professor Low’ cup for a 3-wheeler handicap race on July 29, 1922.  He was also Chairman of the ACU (the sanctioning body for British motorcycle racing) for 24 years.  He has been recognized by later scientists for his pioneering work and far-sightedness, which includes not just wireless television but also digital television and digital image sensors, as used in all digital cameras today.  In 1937 he said, “The telephone may develop to a stage where it is unnecessary to enter a special call-box. We shall think no more of telephoning to our office from our cars or railway-carriages than we do today of telephoning from our homes.”  For better or worse, Archie was way out ahead.


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.
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