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Cyclists in Pollenca, Majorca 1898. Cycle Notes Michael Staines


I implied, rather rashly, in recent notes that the later period of cycle production resulted in bicycles being rather boring, although I should have added that alongside production of such roadsters, of the sort made by Singers, there were plenty of people out there who were into cycle production of a more exciting pattern, albeit in a small way, and, many of the companies into quantity production were producing such machines; an example one might cite Armstrong – original made by Henry Fearn starting in 1918, and always hand built until he retired - in the 50s I understand – and who was a maker of a high quality sports machine (The Moth); taken over by The British Cycle Corporation they continued producing well regarded lightweights, one of which I have had for several years, together with one of the rathermundane prewar roadsters which has been my regular hack for going down to the shops, and on various Veteran-Club rides. From ‘The Singer Story’ I find George Singer first


went into the cycle business in 1869, and then started up with others in Paragon Cycles, which, being a financial disaster, went into production under his own name in 1874; first ‘production’machines were various models of ‘Challenge’, the style of machine most of us would call a ‘penny farthing’; nothing particularly unusual except for good quality workmanship. Developments were rapid in this fledgling industry and by 1876 Singers were offering brakes for their machines ! Somewhat surprisingly another model was produced - for disabled people – The Velociman, and various designs of these seem to have been made down the years. The same year, 1876, saw the production of the first attempt to make a safer machine, with wheels smaller


in size, which meant the rider was closer to the ground when he fell off; I might have put ‘if’ in that sentence but I guess all cyclists, especially, penny farthing riders, have fallen off more than once. The first I remember was an ‘over the handlebars job’ when the bracket holding the frontmudguard on the forks broke; moral: do check this danger fitting ! There is, however, something which needs to be


said about cycling history – which applies equally to car and motorcycle, and lots of other production histories: things don’t go together but works something like this: a maker invents something which will go into production as soon as the current stock has been sold, if not before; catalogues are printed towards the end of a calendar year for whatever is planned for the new year; between the two, because of any time difference, whatever is in the catalogue may bear little resemblance to what is actually available: the moral is it is dangerous to give gospel truth to something printed in the catalogue – it may already be superceded, or plain wishful thinking. George Brough might be described as a master of this with machines seemingly produced for the Show, rather than with production in mind. The outstanding example of this was the 1929 Straight Four, exhibited in a glass case, for the engine had been blown up whilst on test and the crankcase was a wooden replica; a brave club member is in the throes of a rebuild ! It never went into production, though ten of the Austin Seven engined ones did. (Described by T.E.Lawrence as ‘potter buses’.) In just 2 years Singers had made two models, but,


being hand-built I doubt if any two were identical. So, there we are, in 1876, just three models, The


Challenge, albeit in several forms, The Velociman, and, very exciting, the beginnings of a Safety Cycle on which the rider sat just behind the small front wheel and with the driving wheel behind, which was lever


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