No Room for Watermelons – Book Review
The strange title of this book refers to kindness extended to the co-author, in Iran, during an almost unbelievable odyssey. Ron Fellowes’ already overloaded 1910 FN motorcycle just could not accommodate a donated watermelon!
If we didn’t know that Ron Fellowes actually did this journey, we’d rate Ron’s and Lynne’s report as fanciful. The very thought of riding a 100-year-old motorcycle halfway around the world, over roads in many countries that were little better than goat tracks, stretches credibility.
At one point in the trek, Ron had a shotgun muzzle pressed into his temple!
But, with the help of many people he encountered along the way and unfailing logistical and moral support from wife, Lynne, Ron Fellowes managed to ride his ancient FN from Nepal to Belgium – back to the factory where it was made 100 years before.
The Fabrique Nationale bike history has been covered in our Motorcycle Brands section, but it’s interesting to note what faced Ron Fellowes in his 14,000+ kilometre journey. The 1910 FN was very advanced for its time, featuring an in-line, air-cooled four-cylinder engine and bevel gear shaft drive, at a time when most bikes had single-cylinder engines and belt drive.
However, the four-stroke engine displaced only 362cc and produced a claimed 3.45bhp (2.6kW) at 1800rpm. It also had bicycle-pedal engine start, no gearbox and and optional clutch. (Ron retro-fitted a clutch to his machine, before the big trip.)
It’s difficult to imagine what the lack of a gearbox meant to Ron, trying to get his loaded bike up and down some of the gradients on his journey. The book is full of situations where he had to push it uphill himself, or rely on a tow from friendly a passer-by. Steep descents with no engine braking and a tiny rear-wheel drum brake were ‘interesting’!
Those of us unfamiliar with ‘atmospheric inlet valves’ need to understand that, while the exhaust valves were camshaft-driven, the inlet valves sat in the inlet manifold, controlled only by atmospheric pressure and lightweight coil springs. When a descending piston lowered cylinder pressure, atmospheric pressure exceeded the seating pressure of the spring and the valve opened. When the piston moved back up the cylinder the pressure differential ended and the spring closed the valve once more.
The valve springs needed constant maintenance en route and on top of that were incidents with flat tyres, broken spokes, fuel and oil supplies, and actions by well-meaning helpers who sometimes made problems worse.
In the background and leapfrogging Ron’s on-road travels was wife, Lynne, who did all the logistical work and met up with him at several destinations en route.
The book is available on-line, or in printed format and should be in every touring motorcyclist’s library.