ALL IN THE FAMILY | He did what?
It was inevitable that one of the Meller brothers would win Australia’s first grand prix
James Empson, the manufacturer of IRIS bicycles, installed a 3½hp Precision two-stroke into one of his well-tested frames in early 1910 and entered the ‘Two Mile Scratch Race’ at Sydney Sports Ground. Empson was unplaced, but his effort did not pass unnoticed by two of his most prominent customers, Edgar and James Meller, who along with elder brother William and younger brothers Frank and Arthur dominated NSW cycle racing at the time.
As the Meller brothers expanded their cycling careers, it was a rarity to not see at least one of them on the podium of any event held within cooee of Sydney. James was awarded a gold pocket watch by the NSW Cyclists Union for his achievements and Edgar won the prestigious Butchers Shield.
While the clan continued to dominate all forms of pedal power, it was Edgar who became the first of the brothers to compete on a motorcycle, riding a 3hp IRIS in a local hillclimb.
Edgar then took on the Sydney Bicycle and Motor Cycle Club’s 1913 Reliability Trial from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to Yetholme. Riding a 6hp JAP-powered IRIS, he finished his maiden trial just a single point behind the leading quartet.
Following Edgar’s success, James joined the motorcycling fraternity, campaigning a 3½hp Precision-powered IRIS. Then, only months later, 18-year-old Frank made an impressive debut, dominating the Zenith Cup, a series of three trials held in close succession. It appears Edgar and James were the only competitors unsurprised by Frank’s accomplishment, though they were both impressed by the performance of his 2¾hp Douglas.
Over the following months the trio maintained a hectic schedule; track racing at Sydney Cricket Ground and Penrith Showground, hillclimbs, handicap events across the Breadalbane Plains, and a 24-hour trial out to the old gold mining town at Hill End. But 1913 belonged to Frank, winning the solid-silver Zenith Trophy followed by a gold medal in the Sydney to Melbourne Trial.
Fortunes were reversed at the 1914 Australian Tourist Trophy meeting, James winning the Sydney to Goulburn Trial on his new 6hp Matchless while Edgar’s JAP-powered IRIS failed in the Members Handicap and Frank retired on the third lap of the TT. However, the brothers were all set to outdo one another in Australia’s inaugural grand prix to be held in October.
In late August the NSW Douglas distributor, Williams Bros, loaned Edgar a new 2¾hp Douglas and he immediately challenged Frank to a drag race. The resulting ‘acceleration tests’ held in Centennial Park proved Edgar’s machine quicker.
Nine days before the grand prix, Edgar picked up his newly serviced, sponsored bike from Williams Bros’ workshop, only to find Frank was now in possession of a ‘works’ Douglas.
This provided an excellent reason for a solid day’s ride up to Yetholme just past Bathurst, followed by three quick laps of the proposed GP circuit, during which Edgar confirmed his mount was the equal of Frank’s. Only days later the two brothers were back in Yetholme, winners of the Interclub Teams Trophy in the pre-GP Kookaburra Trial. A quick de-coke and valve grind, another practice lap, and Edgar was ready for the next day’s grand prix.
Edgar was victorious, though The Motorist magazine indicated his win was due more to a puncture-free race and good luck rather than outright speed.
While it was true that Edgar was one of the few competitors not to suffer a puncture or two, he did suffer a fall that put his brake out of action, forcing him to slow with his foot on the flywheel.
Frank suffered worse luck with terminal wheel-bearing problems on the second lap while James finished fourth on his Matchless, on which he won the 1915 GP before World War I intervened.
As for the other brothers, William left motorcycling to his brothers after crashing his Matchless on debut while young Arthur competed the same afternoon on William’s bike and continued racing for another decade.
WORDS Peter Whitaker