1882/1883 Ellis & Co ‘Facile’ Lever-operated ‘Safety Bicycle’

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1878 Facile

The Facile is a Bicycle which any man who has the use of his members, regardless of age, can mount without fear…
– advertisement from M.M Wilcox, New York

The Facile was patented by John Beale on 25th January 1878. It was built under licence by Ellis & Co of 165 Fleet Street, London, E.C. It was considered a ‘safety’ because its front wheel was smaller (36″ – 42″) than the ‘ordinary’ or ‘penny farthing’ (usually 50″ – 56”) and the machine enjoyed considerable popularity and commercial success. A club composed purely of Facile riders flourished in South London. A geared Facile front-driver was subsequently introduced to compete with the chain-driven ‘safety bicycles’ that became popular from 1886.



1882/1883 Ellis & Co ‘Facile’ Lever-operated ‘Safety Bicycle’

40″ Front Wheel

Frame No 433

(Now sold)


















The ‘Facile’ was the first ‘safety bicycle’, having the advantage of a smaller front wheel, forks raked by 2″, and a saddle placed slightly further back. The forks were extended by 12 in. below the hub to carry the pedal levers whose motion described the arc of a circle. The pedal levers drove a fixed planet wheel on a larger sun wheel mounted on the hub. In 1887 a geared ‘Facile’ was introduced to compete with rear-driver chain safeties. It was built in sizes from 36″ to 48″ and priced at £15 10s in 1885 for the ‘Facile Special’ or £12 10s. for the standard ‘Facile’. Julius Wilcox of 19 Park Place, New York, had the exclusive American agency for the ‘Facile’ in 1884 and, it seems, M. M. Wilcox of 15 Park Place, earlier. A 40″ model weighed about 45 lb. The standard model had plain bearings to the front wheel and to the levers with cone bearings to the rear wheel. Tyres were 3⁄4” at the front and 5⁄8” at the back.
[Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia]