T.E. Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia loved his motorcycling and his motorcycle. 'A skittish motorbike,' he said; 'with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed
untiring smoothness. Because Boa' - Boa was Lawrence's pet name for his Brough - 'loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.
TE Lawrence, immortalised as Lawrence of Arabia, had an unceasing passion for motorcycles
and, like so many other men of his generation, began riding during the First World
War. Following the publication of 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' Lawrence bought his
first Brough Superior, a 1922 Mark 1A, thus beginning a long association with the
marque and its owner, George Brough. Lawrence named his Broughs 'Boanerges', meaning
'sons of thunder', and called them George I, George II, and so on. George VIII was
under construction at the time of Lawrence's death.
Lawrence's last motorcycle (George VII aka GW 2275, built in 1932), was fitted with
all the best Brough Superior equipment of the day. In particular it was equipped
with the Bentley & Draper rear suspension system, Castle Brampton front forks,
Royal Enfield brakes and Lucas electrical equipment. Its engine number was 22000/S
and its frame number was 1041.S. The machine sported an Amal 1.25-inch carburettor
and a Jaeger 120mph speedometer. Lawrence was famed for giving that speedo plenty
of exercise in his high-speed dashes along the lanes of England - in fact he broke
it more than once!
'The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me,' he reported. 'Soon
my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind my battering head split
and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek while the air's coldness
streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes... The next mile of
road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched
my knees on the tank til its rubber grips goggled under my thighs... The bad ground
was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike.'
There can be no doubt that Lawrence was besotted with his Brough and the exhilaration
it afforded him. It was; 'the silkiest thing I have ever ridden' he said. 'At 50
she is a dream. She is extraordinarily fast, with a following wind and downhill
I got over the hundred on Easter Monday in the New Forest.' And yes - if you have
noticed - Lawrence initially referred to Boa in female terms but later switched
to calling the bike 'him' or 'it'.
The chrome and black Brough cost T E Lawrence £170 when he bought it in 1932 but
today it is priceless. Despite the 25,000 or more miles they covered together, and
a few dents - the legacy of that fatal crash near Clouds Hill in Dorset nearly 70
years ago - the Brough still looks impressive. All through the latter months of
1934 and the first part of 1935 Lawrence planned to take George VII back to Brough
for some much-needed maintenance, but he found it hard to make time for the trip.
The one early summer's day in May 1935, Lawrence was riding the Brough back home
from Bovington in Dorset to his nearby cottage at Clouds Hill. Suddenly he came
upon two boy cyclists, possibly obscured from view by a passing car; fatally swerving
to avoid them he pitched over the handlebars onto the road. Like most riders of
the time he was not wearing a helmet, and so sustained a serious head injury which
left him in a coma and claimed his life some six days later.
No one who knew TE Lawrence could have been too surprised by his end. George Bernard
Shaw, who contributed towards the Brough's cost as a present to Lawrence, commented
on his friend's mania for speed and is reported to have summed up his gift thus:
'It was like handing a pistol to a would-be suicide.'
The strength of the Brough protected it from major damage -- the footpegs were bent,
saddle grazed, the headlamp rim came off, the kickstarter and gearchange levers
were bent -- and following the accident it was repaired by George Brough himself.
If you look closely at the bike in the Museum then the damage done to the handlebars
and front mudguard can still clearly be seen to this day. Since the accident and
its subsequent repair, Lawrence's Boa has rarely been exhibited in public. Now visitors
to the National Motor Museum will be able to see this legendary bike for themselves
displayed in a special exhibition case, complete with other Lawrence memorabilia
within the Museum's Hall Of Fame.