In 1891 Rover patented a ‘Rational’ tandem bicycle. The only surviving example can be seen in the photo above, on display at ‘Thinktank’ in Birmingham (previousy known as the Science & Industry Museum).
The tandem featured here is a replica of that historic Rover Rational tandem. It is believed to have been built around the turn of the century, using components from the correct era – what looks like a Swift crossframe safety bicycle at the rear mated to an early penny farthing. As you can see, the penny farthing has a pivot head, suggesting earlier manufacture than the Rover tandem.
In the photo below you can see John and Doug Pinkerton riding the original Rational tandem, borrowed from the Birmingham Science Museum in 1985 for the Rover Centenary Ride.
1890s Rover Rational tandem
A unique replica of the sole surviving original at Birmingham Museum
Front wheel 53″
Rear wheel 29″
It is not known how many Rover Rational Tandems were originally built. My friend Doug rode the original with his father in 1985 (photo below) and he reported that it was difficult to ride as the two wheels did not completely synchronise. So it’s likely that Rover did not make many of them.
I don’t know when this replica was built. As it is made from original old parts – the rear end appears to be a c1891 Coventry Machinists’ Co ‘Swift’ semi-diamond cross-frame safety bicycle – it could have been built in the late 1890s or early 1900s. It’s a unique concept, and would make a wonderful museum display.
Inspiration for Rover’s Rational could have been taken from Lawson’s Bicyclette, considered to be the first safety (chain-driven) bicycle (above). Or the Gwinnet, below, a design that is identical to the Rational. It is not know whether the Gwinnet predates the Rational, is contemporary with it, or replicated its idea.
THE EVOLUTION OF TANDEMS
“The first practical tandem bicycle : designed by A. J. Wilson (” Faed “) in 1886, after a series of experiments in collaboration with Dan Albone, of Biggleswade, in whose Works the machine was constructed. This machine was quite successful, but the inventor did not persevere with it, and it was not till a couple of years later, after the ” Lightning” tandem (Hall’s patent) had appeared on the market, that Albone started to manufacture it commercially. On 23rd May, 1888, Albone and E. J. Willis rode 20 miles on Paddington track in 1 hr. 5 mins. 551⁄4 sees. on an improved model, the connected steering having been found to be a mistake.”
– Bartleet’s Bicycle Book (published 1931), page 70/71
Illustration of an 1869 tandem tricycle. Pedal front wheel, with additional propulsion via levers and eccentric rear axle.
Velocipede tandem tricycle with Felix Millet’s motorised front wheel. Note also the rear stoker’s reverse seat position.
1889 COVENTRY MACHINISTS’ CO SWIFT CROSSFRAME SAFETY
I don’t have a semi-diamond Swift crossframe for comparison; mine (above) is an earlier version. But you can see similarities with the rear end of the Rover Rational replica (below) and the same chainwheel design.