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., and the machine enjoyed considerable popularity and commercial success.
It was the first ‘safety bicycle’, having the advantage of a smaller front wheel (36″ – 42″) than the ‘ordinary’ or ‘penny farthing’ (usually 50″ – 56”). The forks were raked by 2″, and its 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. [Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia]
1884 Ellis & Co ‘Facile’ Lever-operated ‘Safety Bicycle’
38″ Front Wheel
Lamplugh & Brown ‘Long Distance’ Saddle
Frame No 808
The Facile appears to be an older restoration. There’s a repair to the rear fork – you can see it in some of the photos. And I think the front part of the brake has been re-fabricated. Minor repairs are obviously par for the course with a 137-year-old bicycle that has seen regular use during its lifetime. I had a new saddle made for it by Paul Watson, the world’s leading saddle-master.
Whenever I’ve taken it out, it attracts a lot of attention. I think the fact that it’s smaller than most penny farthings catches peoples’ eye …and then of course they spot the treadles and a mad curiosity draws them in. This rare machine is in good overall condition and ready to ride.
THE FACILE BICYCLE CLUB
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.