Neither Rolls-Royce nor Bentley ever produced a motorcycle, which allowed another marque to benefit from the comparison

Neither Rolls-Royce nor Bentley ever produced a motorcycle, which allowed another marque to benefit from the comparison

I was, as usual, looking at an online auction catalogue when I should have been working. I had employed a time-saving tactic and searched for the terms BENTLEY and ROLLS-ROYCE, but I was surprised when the latter search produced a motorcycle. It was, of course, a Brough Superior. The search had picked up the first line in the description: ‘So often known as the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles…’ Comparisons of this sort have been used on everything from speedboats to sofa-beds, but this one has been particularly persistent. Coined, says the re-incarnated Brough’s website, by a journalist working for The Motor Cycle in the 1920s, it’s also claimed in various places that George Brough used the phrase to advertise these large, powerful, well-engineered machines with Rolls-Royce’s consent, granted after evaluating one of the bikes. Can anyone confirm this generous attitude?


It inspired me to look for a genuine Rolls-Royce motorcycle. Or even a one-off Royce, or a unique Rolls. No luck, so far. F.H. Royce’s early engineering life was spent on the railways and as an electrical engineer, before his attempts to improve on feeble De Dion and Decauville cars led him down a four-wheeled path. Although a photo exists of the Hon. Charles Rolls on a Bollée motor tricycle, his twin obsessions were cars and aircraft, such as the Wright Flyer in which he lost his life. Turn to Bentley, though, and you find much more two-wheeled action.

Walter Owen Bentley bought a primitive motorcycle when still an apprentice in 1907, then infected his brothers Arthur and Horace with the same enthusiasm and all three began to enter arduous long-distance trials. Arthur Bentley survived a comically gruelling John o’ Groats to Land’s End trip on his Triumph in 1908, setting a record for the fastest trip at that point – 41h 28m. Eventually W.O. gave serious thought to a career as a motorcycle racer instead of continuing his apprenticeship, like Royce, in the railway industry. There’s a super photo of W.O. in what looks to be a white cricket jumper, pictured before the Tourist Trophy race at Brooklands in 1910 as a member of the three-man Indian team – they took a 1-2-3 finish, with W.O. in second.

Yet W.O. never seems to have been tempted to build motorcycles under his own name. You can find other people’s imaginings of a Bentley two-wheeler on the internet, and there really is at least one firm producing motorcycles with Rolls-Royce engines: Marine Turbine Technologies and their Y2K Superbike, which uses a 420hp 250-C20B turboshaft engine from a helicopter. Sir Henry may have shuddered, but I suspect W.O would have been intrigued.


Neither Rolls-Royce nor Bentley ever produced a motorcycle, which allowed another marque to benefit from the comparison

George Brough's bikes were widely regarded as such W.O. in his cricket jumper, left, at the 1910 Brooklands TT.


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