The Cycle Industry/Chapter 6

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There are several ways of producing bicycles and all makers do not work on the same lines, in fact, possibly there is no trade where so much diversity exists in production methods as in the manufacture of bicycles.

Omitting the small local assembler who makes up an odd machine or two from finished parts purchased from the big factoring houses, we have, in order of size and importance, the small maker, who builds a bicycle throughout from the raw material; the medium-sized factory owner, who makes most of the parts himself but purchases a number of finished or partly finished components from outside sources; and the very large and complete factory owners, nearly always limited liability companies, who go in for mass production and do all the various preliminary processes on their own premises.

Mass production in the cycle trade is now a very highly organized branch of mechanical engineering. To make a success of cycle building from raw materials a big works has an expert drawing office staff, not only for the designing of bicycles but for scheming the tools which are to produce the parts at the lowest cost. Under this staff work a specialized branch of the engineering trade, who are the tool makers; this staff produces the jigs, templates, dies, etc., used in the departments which are the production shops proper.

Another works staff looks after the progress of the work through the various shops and keeps account of the numbers of parts produced each week, so that an equal number of front forks and handle-bars, to name only two parts, are available when they are wanted. Without their aid chaos would reign, and there might be 1,000 bicycles ready for delivery in a given week and no handle-bars forthcoming at the last moment. Such has been known to occur in factories where the organization is weak.

In a very large factory, where everything is made on the premises, the directors arrange for a production of, say, 1,000 machines a week for six months. The requisitions for material go through the buying department, the designs go from the drawing office and in a reasonable time, if the organization is complete, the parts commence to collect in the various stores throughout the factory. When the stock is sufficiently forward to ensure a regular supply to the various shops; the stores begin to issue the orders to build and assemble, paint and finish, and so the process goes on.

The production of bicycles in very large quantities has brought about a difference in some of the processes of making such parts as frame lugs, handle-bar lugs, fork crowns, crank brackets, fork ends, etc. What are known as pressings are largely replacing stampings and castings. The latter are made in one pair of dies from red-hot steel by stamping the plastic metal into the die or moulding red-hot iron in a mould made of compressed sand; the pressings are formed from sheet steel between dies, but the metal is treated cold and usually has to pass through more than one pair of dies before it assumes the desired shape.

The multiplicity of dies is necessary to allow the cold sheet metal to be gradually formed; if it were attempted to bend it suddenly to a sharp radius, it would break or spring back, so the sheet is coaxed, so to speak, to assume the form desired.

The Cycle Industry (1921) p61.jpg

Fig. 16
It is probably the most important department of the non-productive side of a cycle factory

Dies of this description are very expensive, but when their cost is spread over thousands of parts and the reduced amount of machining is taken into account, then they become remunerative. While the design of bicycles was changing from year to year, the cost of such tools for mass production was almost prohibitive, but the stagnation in pattern has permitted their use to-day with the result that thousands of bicycles are produced, if not wholly, partly from pressings.

Labour has undergone a vast change in the cycle industry during thirty years. About 1890 female labour in the cycle trade was rather rare. A few Midland firms, specializing in parts, employed women and girls in some departments, but on the whole bicycle processes were chiefly done by men and youths. Nowadays there are few large factories where girls and women are not found in practically every department. There are female polishers, enamellers, wheel builders, press minders, platers, in fact every process, with the exception of the skilled mechanical work, can be and is done by women, and well done, too.

The above is a rough outline of what constitutes mass production, as apart from the small makers' efforts, which are on different lines.

The small maker depends very largely on components makers for his output. He buys a frame from one place, or the tubes and lugs ready to build the frame, the wheels complete, minus tyres, come from another specialist; handlebars and seat pillars from another, and so on. The work in the factory consists largely of polishing, enamelling, plating, and assembling, or as it is more often described in the trade, finishing. Such a factory does not require a plant of machine tools, a designing and progress staff, or much of the organizing ability referred to above. The drawback to the latter method is that the bicycle so produced loses much of its individuality because what the parts manufacturer sells to A is also bought by B, and, unless extremely large orders are placed with the parts makers, they cannot depart from a standardized product. The bicycles produced in this manner are seldom classed in the same category as the better known articles sent out by firms with a high-class reputation and certain distinctive features, although good bicycles doubtless emanate from factories where little of the actual manufacturing is done.

The manufacture of boys’ and girls’ bicycles has been widely developed of late. At one time the firm of Townend Bros., Ltd., held almost a monopoly in this particular type of machine. Now several firms specialize in the production of high-grade juvenile bicycles, among them are Humber, Ltd., The Mascot Cycle Co., etc., etc.