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Sunbeam Model 90

1928 Sunbeam Model 90

Such were the fine qualities of Sunbeam's roadster models that they were dubbed 'gentleman's motorcycles' , but the Model 90, Sunbeam's most sporting bike of the 1920s, was more than capable of holding its own against allcomers.

John Marston & Company, the firm that built Sunbeams, was founded in Wolverhampton , as makers of saucepans. In 1890 they began to make bicycles, which gained a reputation for fine finish and durability, as well as a chain enclosure - 'the little oilbath'. Marston's first motorcycle was built in 1912 and was a sound design produced almost entirely in-house. The range expanded and although not cheap, Sunbeams had a reputation for quality and reliability. After World War 1, during which Sunbeams were used by the Russians and French, production of both singles and V-twin models continued.

The firm began entering reliability trials straight after the war and re-entered racing soon after. Riding side-valve 500cc bikes, Tommy de la Hay won the 1920 TT with teammate George Dance taking the lap record. In 1922 Alec Bennett won again on a similar bike. Sunbeam had to wait until 1928 for another win, but this time it was their latest overhead-valve model ridden by the diminutive Charlie Dodson that secured them the honours. Although the company had experimented with an overhead-cam design in 1925, the winning bike was Model 90 works-prepared version. Dodson repeated the performance in 1929, with Alec Bennett second on a similar bike.

Early Model 90s followed the classic flat-tank styling and sported Sunbeam's renowned black and gold finish. They were distinguished by the workmanship and immaculate finish, rather than the ingenuity of the design. The engineering was simple. Large, well-balanced flywheels and a short, stiff conrod characterised the bottom end while the high compression piston and combustion chamber were the only secret of the top end. The Sunbeam Model 90 was made until 1933 and variants under differing model numbers until 1935, shortly before the company was taken over and motorcycle production ceased with World War 2.