Take a close look at this 1909 Royal Pioneer and you might think you’d need four hands to ride it. Or maybe five.
After all, there are four separate twistgrips on the handlebars-two on each side. Plus, there’s a hand pump on the tank for supplying oil to the motor.
But the Royal Pioneer, made for only one year by the Royal Motor Works in Worcester, Massachusetts, wasn’t designed for contortionists, says owner Bruce Linsday of Cleveland.
In fact, he says, “It was a gentleman’s touring bike, built for reliability and smoothness.”
It’s just that, at the time, the familiar pattern we know for a motorcycle’s controls hadn’t been set. So individual manufacturers experimented with a variety of arrangements.
On the Pioneer, for example, that plethora of twistgrips controls four separate functions. One governs the supply of gasoline, while another adjusts the amount of air getting to the engine, essentially allowing you to change carburetor jetting while you ride. A third twistgrip advances the ignition timing, while the fourth operates a compression release.
Meanwhile, on the left side of the combination gas/oil tank, you’ll find a hand-operated, plunger-style oil pump. From time to time while riding, you give it a few pumps to keep the engine lubricated.
All in all, it had to keep a rider pretty busy. But as much as its unusual controls stand out, the Royal Pioneer was notable for some interesting technology, too.
For example, the overhead valves on the 600cc-class motor are set at 90 degrees to the single cylinder. And that unusual placement also means that they are actuated by pullrods instead of the more familiar pushrods.
Even among Royal’s line of motorcycles, only the Pioneer had pullrods, Linsday says. And even he doesn’t know why the company chose that approach.
Mostly, though, the Royal Pioneer is an example of the elegance that marked high-end motorcycles in that early era. From its nickel-plated tank to the leather link drive belt, every piece reflects the hand-built quality.
Royal Pioneers were rare machines even in their day. Now, more than 90 years later, they are true museum pieces. Linsday says that to the best of his knowledge, there are only three Pioneers left worldwide.