The Cycle Industry/Chapter 2

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The tricycle was undoubtedly introduced to combat the danger of riding the high bicycle. Riders of the early models of these machines will, however, confirm my opinion that they were far from safe, and if one did get a spill from one it was almost certain to result in a mix up with the wheel spokes and other mechanism, because one was seldom thrown clear of the machine as in the case of a fall from a bicycle.

The tricycle did, however, provide a means of cycling for those who could not manage a high bicycle and, of course, ladies were enabled to indulge in the pastime for the first time since they had ridden pillion fashion behind their squires on the old hobby horses.

The type of tricycle that first made a name in the industry was the machine invented in 1877 by the late Mr. James Starley, uncle of the Mr. J. K. Starley who subsequently made the name of Rover a household word throughout the kingdom and far beyond.

This machine was named the Coventry Lever Tricycle, and was driven by pedals and levers. It had a single driven wheel and two steering wheels, the latter being moved to and fro by a side handle like that of a spade, rods and a rack and pinion. The latter form of mechanism consists of teeth on a small wheel engaging with similar teeth on a flat strip; the small wheel or pinion is attached to the actuating rod and by turning it the rack is moved to and fro. The same mechanism is used to-day for the steering of very low-priced small motor-cars, and the movement of the wheels is thereby geared down. It was used on early tricycles for the same reason, viz., that a relatively large movement of the spade handle only diverted the steering wheel of the tricycle a small amount, which gave the rider more control over the steering and prevented the wheel from

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Fig. 10
A two-wheeled machine which required to be balanced in the fore and aft directions

being twisted out of his hand. Among the well-known tricycles that followed the original of James Starley were the Challenge (Singer & Co.), the Salvo (Starley & Sutton), etc. James Starley was the first to use a balance geared axle on a tricycle; this is a piece of mechanism that is embodied in the axle and divides the shaft into two parts. It will be readily seen that, when a tricycle is turned, the outer wheel that describes
The Cycle Industry (1921) p33.jpg

Fig. 11
The Rudge Rotary tricycle was introduced to enable the machine to enter narrow doorways, the storage difficulty in the case of ordinary tricycles being always a problem

the biggest radius or curve must travel further than the inner, which remains practically stationary or turns very slowly, according to the sharpness of the curve.

Starley overcame this by fitting a balance gear which enabled one wheel to over-run the other when the tricycle was deflected from a straight course, and yet allowed both wheels to take their equal share of the driving power. Previously, only one wheel was driven—the other running loose on the axle.

Whether Starley actually invented the device or adapted it from Aveling and Porter’s road traction engine is obscure; in any case he should have the credit of being the first to recognize its importance. It may be added at this point that practically every motor car is provided with a balance geared axle.

The designs of tricycles went through several stages. There were rear driven tricycles with one wheel at the rear and two front steering wheels, double driving tricycles with two rear wheels and one front steering wheel, both having three tracks. The advocates of two tracks made machines with two rear driving wheels and the front steering wheel in a line with one side driving wheel (usually the off side)—the Royal Mail was one of this type. Then came a most ingenious machine, the Rudge Rotary. Haynes and Jeffries, who preceded D. Rudge and the Rudge Co., had made a machine on these lines, but when the storage of a tricycle was tackled by the makers it was found that to enable a tricycle to be wheeled through narrow doorways it must not exceed about 2 ft. in width. The ordinary tricycle was about 3 ft. wide.

The ingenious Rotary was made with one large driving wheel, so dispensing with the differential or balance geared axle. The rider sat on a saddle perched over a frame that extended fore and aft with its centre about 18 ins. away from the big driving wheel. The side tube of the fore and aft frame had a small steering wheel at each end, carried in forks, and the two were interconnected by a rack and pinion, so that one steering handle of the spade type turned both wheels simultaneously to the correct degree to allow one to follow the path of the other when turning.

This machine had a big vogue and was fast and fairly light. It certainly made the reputation of the Rudge Co. in those days.

Another type of tricycle that was much favoured was the Humber front steerer. This was made with a backbone and trailing wheel like a bicycle, the axle was balance geared and ran in bearings connected to a frame that sprang upward to form the steering head and downward and rearward to carry the crank axle and its bearings. It was steered by moving the two driving wheels by a handlebar just like a bicycle. Its one disadvantage was that owing to the construction the machine had approximately to fit the rider’s length of reach.

Following this type of tricycle it was natural that the advent of the rear driving, front steering safety bicycle should have turned designers’ thoughts to make a tricycle like a safety, only with two rear wheels in place of one. Humbers were one of the first to make a tricycle with a front steering wheel in a fork like a safety, and they named it “The Cripper” after the name of a professional rider, Mr. Robert Cripps, who won many races on it on road and track. Bob Cripps, as he was known to track frequenters, is alive to-day and runs a motor garage business at Nottingham.

From the days of the Humber Cripper tricycle this type of machine has advanced along very similar lines to the safety bicycle. Gradually the size of steering wheels increased, and driving wheels, once about 44 ins., decreased till they became all one size, 28 ins., then 26 ins., where they remain to-day. The side elevation of a modern tricycle is exactly the same as a safety bicycle, and the weight of the road racing tricycle is sometimes no more than an average roadster safety.

There are cyclists, like Mr. F. T. Bidlake, who prefer a tricycle to a safety, and to such men a long ride on a tricycle is no more fatiguing than a safety bicycle ride of the same distance.

Very few large manufacturers, however, cater for the tricycle trade as the demand is so limited, and tricyclists mostly obtain their machines from local assemblers, who are much aided in their work by the beautiful tricycle balance geared axles made by the Abingdon firm of Tyseley, near Birmingham. This concern was one of the pioneers in the industry and originally were small arms makers in the gun making quarter of Birmingham.

Tandem tricycles and sociable tricycles are machines of the past. The latter were ponderous affairs weighing over 1 cwt. and mostly made by taking a front steering tricycle or a Rotary and coupling another wheel, crank axle and chain to the existing frame and extending it outwards to accommodate the seat or saddle of the companion rider.

Tandems were rather a different affair. The Olympia tandem of Marriott and Cooper and the Beeston Humber tandem were fast reliable machines. The former had a single rear driving wheel and two steering wheels actuated like the steering wheels of a motor car, i.e. each wheel was separately pivoted. The saddle for the front rider was carried on an extension of the frame and the handle-bar was bent to pass behind the rider’s back. Chains were used to convey the transmission and the later models had equal sized wheels and pneumatic tyres. The Beeston Humber tandem tricycle was exactly the same as the solo machine already described; it had a saddle for the front rider on the swivelling portion of the frame that carried the combined

The Cycle Industry (1921) p37.jpg

Fig. 12

driving and steering wheels. Owing to the way the weight of the two riders was distributed, one in front of and the other behind the axle, the machine was well balanced and much faster than any other machine of the tricycle tandem type—until the introduction of the tandems made on the lines of the modern tandem safety, only with a pair of double driving rear wheels in place of a single wheel.