Historic Motorcycle Brands
The Dot Cycle and Motor Manufacturing Company was established by Harry Reed near Manchester, in 1903. By 1906 Dot had built its first motorcycle, using a Peugeot engine and scale production was interrupted by the Great Depression and finally ended in 1966.
1911 Dot 1000cc JAP-twin – National Automotive Museum of Tasmania
Dot Motorcycles was founded by Harry Reed, whose background was the manufacture and sale of pedal cycles in Salford. He also rode early motorcycles and won an international motorcycle sprint at Blackpool in 1906 on a Swallow-Peugeot and also rode a Dreadnought.
Dot motorcycles were born in 1907, in larger premises in nearby Manchester. It was on a Dot motorcycle that Reed competed in the first motorcycle races at Brooklands in 1908 and, in September 1908, won the Twin Cylinder Class in the Isle of Man TT, beating international competition from larger and better-established manufacturers.
Although Dot never repeated that TT win, there was considerable success in the TT and other road racing events over the next 20 years. he was building and selling five different models to the public by 1911. Incidentally, Reed’s wife, Hannah, was also an avid rider in her own right.
Reed actively rode in top level competition until 1924, when he took part in the sidecar event at the Isle of Man TT meeting. He left the company in 1925.
In 1920 Thomas Sawyer had joined the business. After Reed’s departure from the company, Sawyer oversaw further success for the Dot marque in competition, but, with the onset of the 1930s Great Depression, production slowed and then ceased in 1932.
Sawyer passed control of the company to a young Burnard Scott Wade, who kept the company going through the 1930s with production of a line of pedal-powered three-wheel delivery trucks, developed for the niche markets of milk-delivery and ice cream vending.
After the outbreak of World War II the government awarded Dot a contract for the production of these economical delivery vehicles, which were shipped around the world.
During the tedious ‘fire watching’ duty during the Manchester Blitz, Wade sketched out ideas for a similar vehicle, but powered by a small two-stroke engine.
The Dot Motor Truck was developed by a reborn Dot Company and could be produced in various guises to meet the market for cheap, powered delivery vehicles.
The Dot motor truck was essentially the rear half of a Dot motorcycle with a modified front section. The vehicle was powered by a 197cc Villiers two-stroke engine that provided power to the back wheel via a chain.
The company became profitable once more and was able to re-enter the motorcycle market in 1949, with a utilitarian two-stroke machine, powered by a 200 cc Villiers engine. This bike sold well in export markets and there are survivors in Scandinavia, Canada, and Australia.
Wade also developed a small, cheap two-stroke machine that could be ridden on the road, but, with minor alternations such as removing the lights, could compete in scrambles and trials events.
This Trials Scrambler was introduced in 1951 and in a short time riders of the calibre of Bill Barugh and Terry Cheshire realised that such nimble lightweight machines could beat the larger machines previously predominant in the sport. Hundreds of club riders followed suit and ushered in the era of modern lightweight competition bikes.
In 1951, Dot founder Harry Reed died.
Dot also put effort into developing a lightweight road racing machine and entered it in the TT. Dot won the team award in the 1951 Ultra Lightweight 125 cc TT – the only such win by a British manufacturer.
However, the real demand was for Dot trials and scrambles bikes, and throughout the fifties and into the early sixties Dot was a considerable force in scrambles and trials events.
Helping with Dot’s success were leading link front forks, but with fork legs that were almost vertical and spring/damper units mounted ahead of the fork legs.
Dot was dominant in top events, with works riders including Eric Adcock, Jonnie Griffiths, Ernie Greer and Pat Lamper, and in many local events, where the ordinary clubman could afford to ride similar machines to those campaigned by the factory team.
1953 Dot Scrambler SCH 197cc
However, by the late 1960s, Dot found it increasingly difficult to compete with the larger motorcycle manufacturers and the increasing number of foreign imports.
The final straw was the end of Villiers as an independent supplier of motor cycle engines. By 1965, Manganese Bronze owned 20-percent of Villiers shares and made an offer for the rest. When this was accepted the new directors combined Villiers with the Norton AMC company they already owned and formed Norton Villiers Triumph.
NVT announced that it would no longer supply Villiers engines to other motor cycle builders and would fit them into their AJS bikes.
To keep a seriously downsized Dot Motorcycle Company afloat, Burnard Wade developed and marketed motor cycle suspension units, sold spares and undertook general engineering work to keep the company viable, but always hoped to return to motorcycle manufacture.
In 1978 he revealed a new bike design for clubman use, but few were built, as the time had passed when a small factory like Dot could compete against the large Japanese mass producers.
The Dot Motorcycle Club caters for owners and enthusiasts, publishes a magazine and attends most major classic motorcycle events in the UK. Much of the material for this article comes from Devoid of Trouble, the history of Dot Motorcycles written by the official Dot historian, Ted Hardy.
Michael Scott Wade died on 14 September 2010 and so ended the Scott Wade era of Dot Motorcycles that had started in 1932.
In modern times, Dot Motorcycles was a project of Dr Anthony Keating, in direct consultation with Guy Martin and others. The bikes were UK-engineered and largely hand-built at the National Centre for Motorsport Engineering, which is a school at the University of Bolton in the greater Manchester area.