"I had a dream" Inspiration for the

Round Kurland Rally

A From-the-Saddle Report on the 2003 London - Brighton Pioneer Run

It all started back in 1976 when I came across a 1903 Russia/Fafnir De Luxe Motorbicycle. There was the original frame, the engine and even the rear wheel. Later, research and detective work produced some of the missing items; a petrol/oil tank was replicated; front rim and tyres were bought from Britain; yet I could not find out what those 2 lugs on the frame were for until recently I came across a 1903 photo of a similar German-made machine and it revealed what these two lugs were for: a clutch/belt tensioner device with a toothed rod which could be pulled up to tension the belt or let down to slacken it. A very useful device in traffic if you do not want to start the engine anew at every traffic light!


The machine had survived through the wars more or less intact although some enterprising guys had tried to use its engine to propel a glider airplane in true pioneering spirit before WW1. Which explains why the original engine pulley was missing and the mainshaft was much longer than standard. I shortened the mainshaft and had a new pulley made up…

Around 1978 I learned from the Vintage Motorcycle Club magazine, and from an original Programme, about the Pioneer Run. This was the beginning of my dreams - if I could only participate in this Run… My machine was eligible no doubt, but there was the Iron Curtain problem, my bike was a belt--driven small capacity machine which would be impossible to restart at every traffic light, especially near Brighton and last, but not least, I had to first obtain a Pioneer Certificate for the machine in order to qualify as a participant. I had started up the Russia/Fafnir machine on several occasions and even completed an 8 km run with it in 1988 during the Riga Motormuseum Inauguration Rally; but that was all on flat or almost flat ground. Additionally, it had been in warm summer weather with no carburation problems.

At the end of year 2002 I decided that I should do something about the 100th birthday of my machine: I would enter it for the Pioneer Run! Then I would organize an International Motorcycle Rally in Kurland, Latvia's westernmost region, to mark 100 years of the only preserved Russia/Fafnir motorcycle - which had originally been made in Riga, our capital city.

The Iron Curtain had disappeared, I had bought a special no-stretch leather/polyamide sandwich transmission belt (from a 200-year-old belt manufacturing company near Stuttgart) and fixed the belt tensioner problem as part of the fine-tuning programme; all that was left was to do some paperwork. I applied for a proper motorcycle registration number and was granted one, thanks to the efforts of the Antique Automobile Club of Latvia. Some eybrows were raised when I turned up for the MoT test with the machine: What?? 100 years old and no lights?? No rear view mirrors?? Flimsy brakes?? Flat belt drive??! Some frantic phone calls were made to the head office of the Department of Vehicle Licencing in Riga and finally the permission was given - the vehicle could pass the test! The next thing was to fill in all the necessary forms and to send them off together with all photographs and other proof plus a cheque for GBP15.00 to the Sunbeam Club Dating Committee. Pioneer Certificate # 1629 was granted to my 1903 Russia/Fafnir 205 c.c. four stroke i.o.e. automatic intake valve machine - we were eligible for the Pioneer Run! Entry forms were downloaded from the Sunbeam Motorcycle Club, duly filled in and sent off with another cheque to the value of GBP41.00. Two weeks before the event I received detailed instructions, vehicle start No 11, route card, car passes, enclosure passes, a programme etc. There was one entra

Man and machine in perfect harmony

Russia at rest Journey's end: Madeira Drive, Brighton



1. A small capacity veteran machine, even if it is in perfect mechanical condition, is not very suitable for the Pioneer Run - unless it is equipped with proper gearing, has pedal assistance and a very fit pedaller. I did not qualify in the latter sense at all.
2. The main idea why I wanted to participate in the Pioneer Run was to experience the pioneering spirit and to share it with riders of other unique preserved machines of bygone era. In this I succeeded.
3. Driving on the left hand side of the road is not a big problem. Actually after spending a week in Britain, driving on the left hand side of the road, when you get off the ferry in Denmark you are so well accustomed to it that for a moment you have to get used to driving on the right hand side!
4. I still regard my first Brighton Run as a success - I did what I did fairly well without any previous experience of longer routes on much steeper gradients than usual.
5. No great damage has been done to my veteran machine. All I need is to make a smaller belt pulley, to shorten the belt and to sort out the mainbearing bush on the drive side and we could give it an other try - maybe next year.
6. The most difficult part of the Pioneer Run is the last 5 miles when you get into Brighton: the traffic congestion is appalling!


Alexander Leutner
1864 - 1923

Alexander Leutner, 1864 - 1923


The International Round Kurland Rally for Historic Motorcycles is dedicated to the memory of Alexander Leutner -- a German-descended (born 1864) engineer and founder of "Alexander Leutner's Cycle Manufactory" in Riga in 1886. Alexander Leutner was born in Kurland, Latvia and can be regarded as one of the first motorcycling and motoring pioneers of the time. He took part in the first motor race in St. Petersburg, Tsarist Russia, before the turn of the century. Alexander Leutner test-drove the world's first production motorcycle: the "Hildebrand and Wolfmueller". He was a friend of Gottlieb Daimler - the German automobile genius - and hosted Daimler's visit to Riga.

Alexander Leutner was a truly great man with international connections and associations. He studied bicycle production and trade in Coventry, England; in Lyon, France; and in Aachen, Germany. His factory tooling was of American origin. His dealerships were in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Warsaw and Paris. He used French De Dion Bouton and German Fafnir engines in his machines. With World War I menacing Riga, A.Leutner's Cycle Manufactory was evacuated to Kharkov in the Ukraine. Alexander Leutner died in 1923 in Italy at a health resort.