The Cycle Industry/Chapter 1

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In this introductory chapter it is not proposed to deal with the forerunners of the bicycle, such as the hobby horse and some of the more weird wooden machines with four wheels and lever motion, which were known to be in existence before the introduction into this country of the bicycle propelled by cranks attached to the axle of the front wheel, called a velocipede.

We will therefore begin with the velocipede, a type of machine which first attracted the attention of a Mr. Turner, who saw it being ridden and exploited at a Paris school of gymnastics.

At this period in the history of bicycles, about 1868, the city of Coventry had established, by the enterprise of a few Coventry gentlemen, a factory for the production of sewing machines. The firm was known as the Coventry Sewing Machine Company (afterwards The Coventry Machinists Co.), and was founded to find employment for people in the city who had been thrown out of work by the fierce competition of the foreign ribbons and watches which were admitted into the country, either free of duty or on conditions which left very little profit for Coventry ribbon and watch makers. Mr. Turner, who was an agent for the firm, had been asked to look out for something in the mechanical line, suitable for manufacture at the sewing machine factory, and having been much impressed by the novelty and possibilities of the new velocipede, immediately secured a sample of the machine and brought or sent it to Coventry. The directors and managers of the concern there, after a trial of the boneshaker sent over from Paris, decided to begin manufacturing and marketing the machine, and a dozen or so were put in hand at their workshops and proved a success. This bicycle was made with a cast-iron frame, the felloes and spokes of the wheels were of hickory, with steel tyres, and the saddle was a wooden one covered with leather, thinly padded, and supported on a long flat spring of steel; the bearings were plain journals, i.e. in place of steel ball bearings the axles of the wheels were of steel and they turned in chilled cast iron holes in the ends of the forks. The pedals were called "treadles" and were mostly of wood. A machine of this description, ready for the road, was sold in London for about £12, without accessories such as lamp, pocket oil can, shifting spanner, leather toolbag and brake cord, which cost about 25s. more.

The success of this machine made by the Coventry Machinists Company laid the foundation of the trade in Coventry, and it was not very long before quite a considerable business was done by the pioneer firm, and they found it necessary to import into the city mechanics who were more used to the running of heavier machinery than their first employees, engaged in the making of sewing machines.

Many of these men came from a firm of ships engine makers, Penn's, of Greenwich, now merged with other concerns. Among them were such well-known names as George Singer, James Starley, W. Hillman, etc. T. Bayliss and J. Thomas were pioneers in the trade; the former was a Birmingham gun maker, the latter came from a cutlery shop at Banbury.

Gradually these people started workshops of their own and with local capital and their own savings embarked themselves as manufacturers of bicycles.

The Cycle Industry (1921) p17.jpg

Fig. 1
A boneshaker built about 1868

Matters progressed rapidly, and like all new trades it attracted other mechanics and engineers to the city of Coventry. Names such as Haynes and Jeffries, Rudge, Warman, Laxon, Hazlewood, George Townend, Hosier, Hillman, Harrington, etc., are all associated with the early days of bicycle manufacture.

In other towns, Parr, at Leicester, Robinson and Price, at Liverpool, etc., were gaining a reputation. Gradually the design of the boneshaker was improved, wrought iron frames followed the cast ones, bearings were made adjustable, rims were covered with rubber instead of steel (the early rubber tyres were flat and secured to the felloe by nails), and steel spokes followed the wooden ones.

The great drawback to the boneshaker was its weight, and makers were constantly endeavouring to lighten their productions. Naturally, the saving of weight that first occurred to these pioneers was to make the parts hollow. Many keen practical minds were at work, and one part after another was reduced in weight until there were few parts of the machine that were not made either of hollow steel tube or stamped hollow; even spokes were tried of thin steel tube before the introduction of the suspension or wire wheel. The backbone of the bicycle which was evolved from the boneshaker was of steel tube, at first of flat steel folded and brazed and, lastly, drawn out from a solid steel block without a join, or weldless, as it is termed. The forksides or blades of the fork, the part in which the wheels revolved and which were used to connect the wheels to the backbone, on which the rider sat and propelled the machine, were made hollow in the same manner.

The wheels were at first copies of a light hand-cart wheel, the wood spokes were brought together by tapering the spoke ends and wedging them together at the nave or hub and inserting the other ends in slots in the felloe or wood rim. The whole was surrounded with a flat steel tyre shrunk on by heating the rim, dropping it over the felloe, and when it cooled it shrank and compressed the parts together. That is the principle of the compression wheel, and is used for all wood-wheeled carts and vans to-day. The cycle makers, in their search for lightness, first made similar compression wheels, with hollow steel spokes screwed into iron naves and rims. Then came the suspension wheel which had all the spokes in tension instead of compression. These were first constructed by heading the spokes, threading them through a steel

The Cycle Industry (1921) p19.jpg

Fig. 2
The wheel spokes were tensioned by levers

felloe or rim and inserting them into screwed nipples which were in their turn screwed into the flanges of the hub. Subsequently the spokes were screwed direct into the hub and tensioned by turning the spoke itself and not the nipples. Mention also must be made of the lever construction of Haynes and Jeffries, the precursors of the Rudge firm. This was an arrangement that tensioned the wheel by pulling a lever attached to the spokes so that they were strained in a direction tangential to their hub and held tight by locking the lever. Following the methods already described, the laced and tangent spoked wheels were introduced. This type of wheel is the modern one that has survived all the others, and reverses the process employed for straight spoked wheels in tension. The flanges of the hub are drilled at right angles, the headed spokes are bent close to the head, and threaded through the holes made in the hub flange. The rim ends of the spokes are screwed and inserted in brass or gunmetal nipples, which are passed through holes in the rim from the top or outside and have heads which prevent the tension on the spoke from pulling them through the rim; washers are also placed under the heads and fitted in the bed of the rim to strengthen the rim at the points where this tension strain occurs.

Having now outlined the design of the wheels from boneshaker days to the present time, a task which was necessary to enable other items in the process of evolution to be clearly understood, we can return to the machine itself.

The tendency, in the main, from the early days to the zenith of glory attained by the high bicycle, or "ordinary" (as it was latterly termed to distinguish it from other types which were introduced) was to increase the size of the front driven wheel and reduce the size of the trailing wheel. In the earliest models of 1868-70 the driven wheel was always the larger, but gradually the diameters of the two wheels became estranged until a driven wheel of 60 ins. was followed by a trailing wheel of 18 ins. There was only one reason why the large wheel stopped growing, and that was because the length of the rider's limb defined the size of wheel he could bestride. It will therefore be almost unnecessary to explain that the further a rider was split up or the longer his legs, the greater advantage
The Cycle Industry (1921) p21a.jpg

Fig. 3
One of the earliest examples of this type, said to have been produced about 1876

The Cycle Industry (1921) p21b.jpg

Fig. 4

he had over men of lesser stature who could only straddle a 52 in. wheel, which was the average size of high bicycle used in the late eighties. Tall men were almost always successful on the race track, although lightning pedallers sometimes made up in activity for what they lost in stature. In other words, those of a well-known “bookie” of the period, “I’d back a good big’ un against a good little ’un on a hordinary.”

The objections to the high bicycle were many, and among its chief drawbacks were that owing to the disparity in wheel diameters and the small weight of the backbone and trailing wheel, also to the rider’s position practically over the centre of the wheel, if the large front wheel hit a brick or large stone on the road, and the rider was unprepared, the sudden check to the wheel usually threw him over the handlebar. For this reason the machine was regarded as dangerous, and however enthusiastic one may have been about the ordinary—and I was an enthusiastic rider of it once—there is no denying that it was only possible for comparatively young and athletic men, and if it had remained the only bicycle obtainable, the pastime and the utility of cycling would never have reached its present state of popularity.

Introduction of the Ball Bearing. Among the improvements made to the ordinary high bicycle the most important was the patenting of the ball bearing. The actual patent was the subject of litigation at a later date, but I believe the credit for the screw-adjusting type should be given either to William Bown, of Birmingham, or to an engineer named Green of the same city. Previously to the ball bearing a bicycle had either plain bearings or roller bearings. The former required constant oiling, the latter were not easily adjustable for wear and entailed a heavier construction than ball bearings. Bown then, or Green, brought out a bearing which consisted of a grooved cone and two cups, the grooves in all three being slightly wider in radius than the diameter of the ball. When wear took place the cups or one cup were screwed inwards and relocked. These were separate proprietary articles and were attached to the fork of a bicycle by cotters and nuts. The rear wheel was provided with a slightly different type of ball bearing, the adjustment being effected by screwing the cones or one cone inwards instead of the cup or cups. Subsequently ball bearings were applied to the steering and the pedals, but an indication of their importance may be gained by the fact that for a long time the manufacturers catalogued their machines with plain bearing pedals and charged 30s. extra for ball pedals.

We have now arrived at the stage when a high bicycle was regarded as dangerous, and, if the front wheel were too small, it detracted from the rider’s speed owing to the shorter distance covered by each turn of the wheel. What was the next move? The engineer’s mind turned towards a method of gearing by cogs or chains, by which one turn of the crank axle would cause the driven wheel to turn more than once. That is where we get our method of describing the ratio of gearing between the crank and the wheel of a modern safety bicycle. The previous machines had wheels, say, from 50 ins. to 60 ins. in diameter or height from the ground. Now supposing you took a 25-in. and a 30-in. wheel and by means of gearing made them turn twice to each turn of the pedals and cranks, they would be equal to 50-in. and 60-in. wheels—without gearing—that is why we still speak of a bicycle with 28-in. wheel being geared up to, say, 56 ins. when it travels as far for one turn of the cranks as a wheel of 56 ins. does in one revolution.

Various devices were tried for rendering the high bicycle safer to ride, but none was commercially successful except, perhaps, the Facile.

The Facile was introduced primarily to enable the rider to sit further back along the backbone, and, instead of the pedals being attached direct to the cranks, the ends of the cranks were connected to levers pivoted on extensions of the forksides and having a bearing for attachment of the connecting rod about one-third of the distance along the lever from the pedal end. The rider, therefore, pedalled by pushing the levers down alternately and releasing the pressure at the end of the strokes. The Facile was followed at a later date by the Geared Facile, which was the same design as the Facile and had the same lever motion for pedalling, but included a sun and planet gear on the hub. Briefly, this consisted of a large toothed wheel on the axle and a crank extending beyond the edge of the wheel. Working in a bearing on the crank end was a small planet pinion, or toothed wheel, which meshed with the larger toothed wheel. Pressure on the pedal caused the planet wheel to travel around the larger sun wheel and the road wheel was geared up to the extent of the added diameter of the planet wheel. Thus, if the planet wheel were one-fourth the size of the sun wheel, it geared up the road wheel of 45 ins. to 56¼ ins. or thereabouts.

Then, with a bound came the geared up front driver; the first was the Kangaroo, produced by Hillman, Herbert and Cooper. This machine had wheels of about 36 and 24 ins., the front (of 36 ins.) being driven. To gear up the wheel the fork blades were extended beyond the centre of the wheel, towards the ground, and bent slightly backward. At each end was a bearing for a separate crank, and attached to the crank shaft, which ran on a ball bearing and was very short, was a chain wheel. This wheel was slightly larger than a similar wheel on the hub and the two wheels were connected by a chain. The arrangement was duplicated the other side of the main driven wheel and, as already

The Cycle Industry (1921) p25.jpg

Fig. 5

explained, owing to the gearing up the wheel was turned about 1½ times for one complete turn of the crank axles. Many hundreds were sold, but owing to the short crank bearings and the difficulty in keeping the chains equally adjusted, the vogue was comparatively short lived.

The Kangaroo was followed by the geared ordinary and the Bantam, Boothroyd’s patents. The first was a dwarf ordinary with a gearing in the front hub, which had the same effect as the chains and sprockets of the Kangaroo, but employed spur wheels with teeth all enclosed in a casing formed by the hub shell. The "Bantam" had smaller wheels and a similar gearing.

Various attempts had been made, about 1876–79, to design an absolutely safe bicycle. H. J. Lawson produced a machine, in 1876, which was practically

The Cycle Industry (1921) p26.jpg

Fig. 6
A similar machine was brought to Coventry as a model for The Coventry Machinists Co. to develop

equivalent to enlarging the rear wheel of a high bicycle, leaving the front wheel the same size and driving the rear wheel by a lever motion. The lever motion, as distinct from the rotary crank, was the first form of driving medium used on wood four-wheelers prior to the velocipede or boneshaker. Briefly, when brought out on Lawson's rear driven bicycle, it comprised a crank on each side of the hub and keyed to the axle, a continuation of the frame carrying a bearing for the foot lever. At a point along the foot lever, varying

The Cycle Industry (1921) p27a.jpg

Fig. 7
This model preceded the chain-driven type by about two years

The Cycle Industry (1921) p27b.jpg

Fig. 8

with the type of machine, was a bearing for a connecting rod which connected the crank on the hub axle to the foot lever, in a similar way to the Facile already described.

The Singer Xtraordinary Challenge was another model that was introduced to put the rider further back and down the backbone and yet to leave him in a position where he could exercise power over the cranks. The machine resembled an ordinary, but had an abnormally raked fork at an angle of nearly 30°. The cranks were driven by levers pivoted to bearings on the fork-sides about half way between the wheel centre and the periphery.

There are various claimants to the credit of introducing the first rear driven safety bicycle, where the wheels were practically of equal size and the gearing up of the driven wheel being effected by a pair of chain wheels and a chain. Commercially—and it is the object of this book to show the growth of the industry from a business view point—the honour is due to the late J. K. Starley, nephew of the original James Starley. Mr. Starley was in partnership with a Mr. Sutton in Coventry as a bicycle maker, and in 1885–86 designed the “Rover” safety bicycle which has “set the fashion to the world,” as, say, The New Rover Cycle Co.’s advertisements. The original “Rover” was the forerunner of many famous safety bicycles, and numerous and ingenious were the designs brought out to obviate infringement of the original registered design and yet produce a safety bicycle with similar characteristics.

Starley’s frame connected the two wheels by forks, but there was no tube connecting the saddle and the bottom bracket as was afterwards done by Thos. Humber, at Beeston, Notts. An inspection of the illustration of the original Rover frame is the only way to understand what is meant by the above description. The Rover safety bicycle sounded the death knell of the “ordinary” and gave an immense impetus to the industry.

Humbers produced an open diamond frame with all the tubes straight, which was, of course, the correct method from an engineer’s view point. The Raleigh Co., at Nottingham (then Woodhead, Angois and Ellis) made a similar machine. Makers sprang up all over the Midlands and in the London district. A famous road racing cyclist, Dan Albone of Biggleswade, designed the cross frame safety bicycle, and this was largely copied by others too numerous to mention.

The Cycle Industry (1921) p29.jpg

Fig. 9

Later the designers of the famous Humber firm at Beeston, near Nottingham, introduced the Beeston Humber frame. This was the forerunner of the present day safety bicycle and has been little altered to this day. Originally, the Beeston Humber had equal wheels of 28 ins., a straight tube diamond frame with a fairly long steering head and the top tube sloped slightly upwards. Naturally, the model was copied by almost every manufacturer.

Other models, of course, had a big run. A firm in London, G. L. Morris & Co., designed a popular machine about 1886–87; this was named the Referee and may be said to be a pioneer pattern much favoured by London club riders. The makers of the Premier, at Coventry, brought out the Catford Premier about the same time. None, however, survived the original Beeston Humber design and although Coventry and Birmingham makers adhered for long to their pet patterns they had to admit, one by one, the soundness of the original Humber model, and introduce something as near to it as possible without infringing the parts of it that were registered or patented.

The modern safety bicycle differs very little from the Humber frame, the steering head is shorter, the top tube is horizontal, the tread (width over the cranks) is, perhaps, narrower and there are other modifications in parts, dealt with elsewhere, but the broad outline is still with us.