The Cycle Industry/Chapter 20

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To write of the future one becomes a kind of prophet, and the forecasting of events is a dangerous thing to undertake. However, this being the final chapter of my book on the cycle industry, I will risk it on the assumption that if I prophesy what does not materialize, I shall not be alone in having stated what did not subsequently prove true.

The cycle industry of the future is assured, because no matter what happens there always must be a big demand for the cheapest form of locomotion known. Aye, even cheaper than walking. Is not leather more costly than rubber and does not a bicycle tyre cover outlast several boot soles, besides being a quicker means of getting about, either for work or pleasure?

We can therefore safely assume that bicycles will always be with us, because if a very cheap form of power were ultimately devised for propelling a bicycle on present motor cycle lines, no machine so fitted could be produced and sold at the cost of a bicycle that is propelled by human power.

The industry, however, may not remain on its present lines. Like the gun trade and some other industries it may ultimately become so sub-divided that no manufacturer will be able to afford to make a complete bicycle on his own premises. Taking the gun trade as an example, Birmingham is or was, before the war, the centre of the gun making industry. Gun makers date back centuries, whereas cycle makers have hardly attained their fiftieth year. Now the gun trade is so sub-divided that, apart from a few notable examples, a gun assembler can buy every part of a gun from specialists, and the price of the finished article depends on the amount and quality of workmanship that is put into it.

The bicycle trade, with some exceptions, was leaning in the same direction in 1914, and at the time of going to press has hardly recovered from the after effects of the war. It must, however, tend to develop more and more into a specialized form of trade where manufacturers will concentrate on one part, and so reduce prices and competition to such a level that no maker who attempts to make all the machine under one roof can hope to withstand.

At the time these pages went to press there existed a protective tariff on bicycles imported from abroad of 33 ⅓ per cent., which held back imports from Germany, U.S.A., and Japan.

Japan has long threatened to export bicycles to this country, Germany could do so with advantage to herself owing to the rate of exchange, and U.S.A. could possibly do a certain amount of trade here. All are at present prevented by a wise tariff from competing with British makers while the latter labour under present difficulties.

No one can tell exactly what will occur, but I think the British cycle maker eventually will be able to survive all forms of competition from abroad, but that will hardly suffice to keep him going on full time if he be barred out of other countries and only has home demands to fill.

The cycle trade has a well organized Union to conduct its annual exhibition, frame regulations for the conduct of its membership in trading with the agents, to watch its interests in Parliament and generally safeguard the industry, the members of which are practically all in the Union.

The full title of this organization is The Cycle and Motor Cycle Manufacturers' and Traders' Union, and its headquarters are The Towers, Coventry; the manager being Major Watling and the secretary Mr. Timerick.

In conclusion, those who imagine the cycle industry has anything left of its old time sporting glamour, when to be connected with it was regarded by some as a pleasant means of existence hovering between work and play, with a big proportion of the latter, should at once disabuse their minds of any such ideas. The cycle industry is now one of Britain's staple trades, and has settled down on industrial lines of great magnitude. Enormous sums of money are locked up in plant and machinery at its various factories and works which produce the subsidiary articles that go to make up that portion of the trade known as accessories. It is quite impossible to give an accurate figure as to the amount of this capital or the number of employees, partly because a good portion of the capital is in private concerns and also on account of the cycle and motor industries being interconnected to so great an extent that it is difficult to say where one begins and the other ends.