1896 was an exciting year in bicycle design: the diamond frame was introduced and, of course, this style prevails today. 1886 had seen the introduction of the crossframe and, each year through that decade, the crossframe developed more (and bigger) strengthening stays until it took on the appearance of a conventional bicycle. The crossframe was superseded by the upsloper, whose design prevailed until 1895, when advances in tube design allowed for the manufacture of more lightweight frames. Probably to help differentiate these from the earlier styles, but also to create frame manufacture standardization within the industry, the new bicycles had level top tubes. Almost overnight the old upslopers were obsolete, destined to be sold in parts of the world where the latest fashions of London, Paris and New York were not yet known.
6000 solid-tyred Rudge-Whitworth upslopers were sold off at half price by H. O. Duncan when he was in charge of the Paris Depot. Rural France was a typical marketplace for obsolete bicycle models.
Although pneumatic tyres were introduced by 1890, in the first few years they were an expensive option, so they were available more in principle than practise. Most bikes had solid tyres. The freewheel was not introduced until 1898, so 1896 bicycles were still fixed wheel. But 1896 Rudge-Whitworths had detachable chainwheels (patented by Raleigh in 1889) allowing for inter-changeability. The 1896 Rudge-Whitworth catalogue also introduced ‘a new principle in bottom bracket design, being adjustable, dust-proof and oil-containing’ and a ‘ball head adjustment of novel design.’ Seat tubes were wider (the same as modern bicycles) and pedals no longer had slotted cranks.
Eleven decades after the event, it’s not the new 1896 style of bicycle we value most, but the previous ‘dinosaur’ style of cycle: these represent the first decade of the safety bicycle.
However, the Rudge-Whitworth No 3 Road racer you see here is a very interesting model. Although it’s an upsloper of the old style, it already has a few features that herald the new designs of the following year: the pedals are conventional screw-fit rather than slotted cranks, and the seat post is of a wider diameter, the same as post-1900 machines. It would appear that Rudge-Whitworth, with agencies in the major capitals, good sales results and innovative design personnel, was in a good position to capitalize on the new inventions and introduce them immediately to their bicycles, even before the end of the 1895 sales year.
1895 Rudge-Whitworth No 3 Road Racer
22″ Upsloper Frame
This 1895 Rudge-Whitworth is a remarkably well-preserved example. Transfers (decals) are made of gilt and very delicate so it’s very rare for a bicycle of this era to retain them intact. Although they are faded, the headstock transfer (top of the page) and the top tube transfer with its model name ‘The Rudge’ are still readable. The shop transfer, below, is harder to transcribe, but it can be seen that it is from a French cycle agency.
The bicycle has been sympathetically restored in our workshops, retaining its cosmetic originality. Road Racers were the lightest of the sales range, achieved by removing all extra parts and accessories; this included mudguards, front brake and, in this case, headlamp bracket. This lighter weight not only made them faster, but also easier to push up hills.
However, I came to cycling from motorcycling and I’m used to having a front brake for my hand to hover over. I like a brake even on a fixed-wheel machine. So I replaced the front brake. This was, of course, optional at the time too.
This No 3 Road racer is fully functional and ready to ride: you can see me riding it around the seafront in Hove.
FROM THE 1895 RUDGE WHITWORTH CATALOGUE
Thanks to our Rudge Whitworth marque specialist (Mike) for these two illustrations. He explains that Whitworth had already merged with Rudge by 1895, so both marques were illustrated in that year’s catalogue. The machines on offer were actually Whitworths, as the Rudges were heavy and not such good quality.
WHITWORTH CYCLE Co
Whitworth Works, Rea St, Birmingham 9
Charles H. Pugh Ltd was the company behind Atco, the leading manufacturer of lawnmowers. The name Atco came from the Atlas Chain Co. Pugh’s companies also manufactured ironmonger’s supplies, and developed from that into making bicycle components. By 1891, the Whitworth Cycle Co was formed to manufacture the company’s own bicycles. The famous Rudge-Whitworth insignia – an open hand with a cycle wheel behind – was actually Whitworth’s logo.
A company that made their own components was at a considerable advantage, as quality control was easier to guarantee. In 1893, with increasing demand for their bicycles, Whitworth became a limited company and had to look for larger premises. The takeover of Rudge the following year was a logical progression, with the Pugh family providing the necessary management structure to see the combined company of Rudge-Whitworth develop into one of Great Britain’s leading manufacturers of bicycles and motorcycles.
HISTORY of DANIEL RUDGE
and RUDGE CYCLE Co Ltd COVENTRY
Daniel Rudge was born in January 1841. After serving with the 38th Regiment of Foot he returned to Wolverhampton and opened a public house called the Tiger Inn in Church Street near to St John’s Church. At the same time an army colleague Henry Clarke started a wheel building business called the Temple Street Wheel Works.
Rudge was a skilled engineer who became interested in bicycles through his friend Walter Phillips who rode bicycles and Henry Clarke who in 1868 began the Cogent Cycle Company.
In 1869 Walter Phillips and George Price became interested in the new cycle industry. Price was primarily interested in the business end of cycle manufacture, whereas Phillips was interested in the actual making of cycles. The two realised that to successfully manufacture cycles they would need a skilled engineer to design and sort out any mechanical problems.
Daniel Rudge was approached about manufacturing a velocipede designed by Phillips. A deal was struck and Rudge was soon producing cycles in a small workshop located at the rear of the Tiger Inn, with Henry Clarke supplying the wheels.
By the end of 1874 Daniel Rudge had manufactured a small number of high bicycles. His first machines were nothing out of the ordinary as they ran on regular plain bearings.
Around this time a Frenchman who had met Henry Clarke during his army service called on him riding a French velocipede. Both Daniel Rudge and Henry Clarke were taken on how the French velocipede ran with ease. They determined to find out the mechanical advantage of the French machine. It is said that that they got the Frenchman drunk. Then dismantled his machine to find that it ran on ball bearings instead of the more traditional plain bearings common on the cycles of the day.
By 1878 Rudge was established as a manufacturer of High quality bicycles. Never satisfied with other makers’ designs and construction Rudge invented numerous innovations. In 1878 Rudge took out British Patent No 526 for his adjustable ball bearings.
Daniel Rudge visited the famous French cyclist Terront in his London hotel while on a visit to England. Rudge proceeded to demonstrate to Terront a set of his patent adjustable ball bearings. Terront was impressed enough to purchase a racing machine built by Rudge. Daniel Rudge also travelled to Paris and Lyons to observe the French cycling scene and to take part in some of the races.
By 1878, the company was based in Bishop Street with 100 employees. Unfortunately, increased company responsibility plus various other cycle activities had a detrimental effect on Rudge’s health. In the early summer of 1880 Daniel Rudge fell ill for the last time and died on 26th June 1880 of cancer at the age of 39.
Rudge cycle sales remained excellent for several months after his death, but there was nobody to run the company. So Walter Phillips helped Rudge’s widow Mary to sell the company to George Woodcock of Coventry. Woodcock thus acquired the famous adjustable ball bearing patent 526 and the services of some of Rudge’s former employees.
He merged the company with The Tangent & Coventry Tricycle Company and in 1885 formed D. Rudge & Co Ltd based in Coventry. It became the Rudge Cycle Co Ltd, Coventry, on 21 October, 1887, a public company with capital of £200,000. Walter Philips was the renowned works manager and Lawson, H. J., the sales manager. Stoddard & Lovering of Boston, Mass. were the US agents.
In May 1891 George Woodcock died. This coincided with a reduction in trade. The company was rescued by the Whitworth Cycle Co. in 1894 to form Rudge Whitworth Ltd.
[text with thanks to Derek Beddows and Ray Miller:http://www.localhistory.scit.wlv.ac.uk/Museum/Transport/bicycles/Rudge.htm]