1895 was the high point of the 1890s ‘cycle boom’. By now, the supply of cycle components was well-established, with the result that it became much easier for new businesses to enter the lucrative cycle market. Another factor favouring small cycle firms was that the top British manufacturers had been ploughing all their profits from the lucrative cycle trade back into their businesses, buying the latest factory machinery from the USA and refining cycle components to such a degree that new innovations were regularly introduced each year to make previous bicycle models outdated.
While the leading cycle makers were conscious of the latest ‘fashions’ in design and components – their patents and ‘novelties’ greatly helped their sales in an ever more competitive market – most customers of the smaller local firms did not need to buy the latest – most expensive – bicycles; they were more than happy with previous years’ models at a cheaper price.
The top companies did not normally sell outdated styles of bicycles themselves on the home market: they either sold them to their export markets in the British Colonies – where last year’s Rudge-Whitworth, Raleigh, Humber etc would be eagerly snapped up by government officials, army officers, rich businessmen and the like – or sold the frames and parts wholesale to the cycle trade in Britain. Along with the many other firms supplying frames and parts direct to the trade, this created a ready supply of parts for small cycle companies to buy in and assemble for customers in their local areas. Thousands of local businesses operated in this way, and usually the only difference that could be seen in the bicycles they supplied was the local company’s transfer (decal) on the steering head. (Unlike American cycle companies, those in Britain rarely used metal badges). These days, cycle historians find it very difficult to identify a bicycle of this era that has no distinguishing features and whose transfer has long gone – gilt transfers are very delicate and simple polishing of the bicycle is enough to remove it; repainting the bicycle obviously destroys it too.
The bicycle featured here is one of many of the generic ‘upsloper’ style. I can date it because of the combination of its components: it has conventional screw-in pedals, so it is post-1894. It’s an ‘upsloper’ model, so it was made pre-1896. The T-shaped seat post is unusual in that it allows the fitting of either the earlier narrow seat clamp (it’s actually fitted with that early type of saddle and clamp) or the new style of seat clamp patented by Brooks in 1895. A small company would invariably offer this model for a longer period than the leading manufacturers. Though the ‘upsloper’ frame is of the style that was generally replaced by horizontal top tube bicycles in 1895, based on the above, I estimate its age as being 1895 or 1896. Without a maker’s transfer, I can not absolutely confirm its manufacturer, but it matches the key points illustrated in the Bard Roadster catalogue profile picture.
1895/1896 Bard Roadster
(Attributed to Hands & Cake ‘Bard Cycle Co’)
This machine is in good all-round condition. It is fitted with replacement handlebar grips. My inspection reveals only one anomaly: the rat trap pedals are similar but not 100% matching. The flat handlebar is 1895/1896 style (the illustration below shows 1893/1894 style handlebar). With mudguards and front plunger brake, it is considered a ‘roadster’ model (with those items removed, it becomes a road racer), and it is functional and ready to use.
BARD CYCLE MFG Co Ltd
Bard Cycle Works, Adderley Street, Birmingham
Manufacturer of the ‘Bard’ cycle from Bard Cycle Works, Adderley Street, Birmingham and 16 Digbeth in 1895. Later at Barn Street, Deritend, Birmingham, Warwickshire. The proprietors appear to have been Hands and Cake. Three models were offered in 1895, one of them with the option of chocolate paint with lining. The Bard Cycle Co. was floated in October 1896 with capital of £50,000. Four models were offered at the 1900 Stanley Show all priced at 10 guineas. The firm was a supplier to the Government in 1902.*
* Info on Bard Cycle Co with thanks to Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia; catalogue with thanks to the V-CC Archive