Rudge Ulster GP Special

The Scottish Classic Motorcycle Show takes place in Ayr at the end of June, and the indoor halls are usually packed full of eye-catching classic bikes. Last year, this 1932 Rudge was one among them, showing off its famous bronze-head and four-valve top end arrangement…

In the late 1920s and early 30s Rudge were one of the top teams competing at the TT. Graham Walker (Murray Walker’s dad) famously won the Ulster GP in 1928, leading to the launch of the Rudge Ulster production racer the following year. By 1930 the Ulster GP was available and could be specified to do 90mph guaranteed for £75, or the owner could choose a 100mpg guarantee at £85. Depending on its state of tune, the twin-port Ulster 499cc single cylinder engine output around 40bhp at 6000rpm. Initially the valves were arranged in a full radial layout, then rejigged into semi-radial form in 1934.


While some motorcycles of the era were (just like now) built to a standard that suited a low price, Rudge was run by engineers who aimed for technical accomplishment. Hence the front wheel is rather interestingly spoked off centre, to one side, to add strength on the brake drum side. Where many other manufacturers used bronze bushes for bearings, Rudge used needle roller bearings everywhere. If you take a Rudge to bits and are lucky (having remembered to place a tray under the engine at the start), there’s a ping and you hopefully end up with a tray of all different sizes of rollers. Of course this means you then have to figure out where they all go and how you’re going to get them back in….


John’s friend bought this Rudge Ulster GP Special at auction at the Stafford Show twenty years ago. With no kickstart fitted, push starts were initially a struggle. With a lot of encouragement from fellow members of the Ayr Classic Motorcycle Club, steep hills were sought out and the Rudge enthusiastically pushed as fast as they could manage downhill. It spat, went bang and left long streaks of rubber down the road. This continued with increasingly steep hills, tireless participation and poor reward until John finally decided it might benefit from the fitting of a decompressor… he claims it’s now a pussy cat rather than a snarling beast.

Since he took ownership of the Rudge about five years ago, John has come to the conclusion that it’s a bit of a mongrel rather than a pure production Ulster. The motor’s slightly older than the frame but it has been built to a very high standard, with some very good bits both in and on it. Fins were added to the front wheel to strengthen the drums and aid with cooling – even so, you can still see the paint blistering from the heat. The top end was last removed about 10 years ago, and the gearbox has been apart just for minor adjustment.


The Rudge has linked brakes as standard, with the front operated along with the rear by the foot pedal. Braking force can be topped up by the front brake lever. Given the bike’s potential performance, Rudge wisely equipped the Ulster with a supersize (for the time) eight-inch front stopper. For gear-changing, John finds it easiest to use his toes on the heel and toe arrangement.

The Rudge has been released on a few track days, where it comes into its own. The Rudge really likes the track, which is exactly what it was built for. It’s still a very, very quick bike. It’s noisy, it’s fast and everyone who has a shot on it comes back with the biggest, daftest grin on their face. It’ll get up to and beyond 100mph; pretty good going for a 1932 machine. It’s different and definitely fun.


When John visited Derry on it, he opened his hotel room door to find a plastic bag sitting outside with the mufflers in it. The locals had removed them because they wanted to hear the Rudge Ulster, as they felt it should be: undiluted!

As John says ‘You wouldn’t go on a camping weekend or touring holiday on it but it’s a great bike to jump on and head off for a day’s fun.’


The 2018 Scottish Classic Motorcycle Show is on Saturday 30th June 2018, from 10am to 4pm at Ayr Racecourse. Here’s all the info about it

Words and photos by Marion Thirsk


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