1903 Humber No. 14 Gent’s Roadster with Double-Action Backpedal Band Brake

The growth of the cycle industry has been such that, according to the Census of Production for 1907, some 590,000 machines, exclusive of motor-cycles, were produced in that year in British factories. From the social and economic aspect, the bicycle has proved probably, next to education, the best asset the people possess. This is shown by its now being chiefly regarded as a commonplace of our civilization, just as the motor vehicle is becoming.

Regarded mechanically, the merit of the cycle is chiefly that it has transformed the conception among engineers and physicists of the relations of strength to weight and quality of material. In so doing it prepared the course for the motor-car. The motor industry began much as did the cycle trade with unwieldy and heavy vehicles. Every great branch of mechanical industry at home has similarly developed at the hands of the British engineer.

Strength at the expense of symmetry and lightness at the outset, followed by the paring of weight and re-modelling on simple lines, are a tradition which seems destined to continue. The millions of capital and the multi-thousands of persons today employed in the allied industries are the evidence and outcome of Mr. Humber’s prompt recognition of the value underlying a crude French design, depicted in a weekly mechanical paper. His memory is perpetuated in the business that bears his name, but it has a wider claim to the regard of all who serve in the joint industries, as one who did more than any other to permanently base an industry among latter-day developments.

– Extract from an appreciation by the Motor Cycle & Cycle Trader, appearing soon after the death of Thomas Humber in 1910

With their bicycles patronised by the royal families of Europe, and a product range including top quality bicycles, tandems and tricycles, by 1903 Humber had consolidated their position as one of the world’s leading cycle manufacturers. In 1902, they had also successfully launched a new division making motor bicycles, to be followed by the Humber Olympia Motor Tandem and Tri-car – three-wheeled ‘fore-cars’ with the passenger seated at the front – as well as a range of four-wheeled cars (See bottom of page). Despite this diversity, they still incorporated the latest designs into their bicycles, which were among the best in the world.

This Humber is a ‘Standard’ model, meaning it was manufactured in Humber’s Coventry factory rather than the Beeston factory in Nottinghamshire. With a frame number of 127900 the marque specialist has confirmed it was built in 1903. Though there’s no absolute record of Standard machines, he knows of a machine with a frame number of 139257 with shop ledgers that record it being sold on 27th January 1904.

5/8th pitch roller chain was adopted throughout the Humber range from 1901, while Humber’s distinctive ‘Wheel of Life’ chainwheel was introduced on the Beeston Humbers in 1902 and extended to the rest of the range for the 1904 season. By 1905, the Humber Patent Double-Action Back-pedal Band Brake fitted to this machine was no longer offered as standard, although it could be fitted for no extra cost.


1903 Humber Standard Special Freewheel No. 14 Gent’s Roadster

Humber Patent Double-Action Back-pedal Band Brake

Narrow 15″ handlebars

Frame No 127900

24″ Frame

28″ Wheels

(Now sold)


This glorious relic of a past age is a lightweight frame sporting the latest technological advance of the turn of the century – a back-pedal band brake.

The band brake was a state-of-the-art wonder when it was adopted by the cycle manufacturers around 1900 (although it had actually been introduced in 1893). Some were back-pedal operated and others were activated by rods or bowden cable from inverted levers.

But within just three years, rim brakes became the industry standard and only Triumph and a few other manufacturers continued to offer band brakes on their bicycles. So it’s now unusual to see a bicycle fitted with a band brake.

This machine is in good unrestored original condition, although it has been restored mechanically. I enjoyed riding it. The back-pedal band brake works well, though you don’t notice that it’s any different in operation than a coaster brake.






Brighton Depot

67 & 68 Preston St Brighton

Telephone Brighton 05962


The illustration of the ‘No 14’ above is from the 1901 Humber catalogue (hence the earlier pattern chainwheel).

You can see the specification for the No 14 Standard Gent’s Roadster The 1903 Trade List below.

1904 Humber CTC Gazette











The band brake on this Humber is of special interest to me, and was the reason I bought the bicycle. Around the turn of the century, many patents were filed for cycle improvements. Frame design having been standardized by this time, the most important innovations were now for geared hubs and brakes. By 1910, hubs and brakes were standardized too. But, in the first few years of the century, there were many interesting designs, most of which are no longer seen. This ‘double action band brake’ – ie a back-pedal band brake – is one of the more interesting examples I’ve encountered.

We had to insert a side plate onto the band brake to stop the band slipping sideways (above).






















humber tandem tricar