The Crypto Bantam is a gloriously eccentric Victorian machine, built to fill a niche market during the decade when independent wheeled transport first became an essential part of society. Its original ‘niche’ was an easily mountable and usable small-wheeled machine for gentlemen who had by now become too old to ride the Ordinary (‘penny farthing’) bicycle that had been prevalent in the previous decade.
However, competitive cyclists soon discovered that the high gearing combined with light weight made a Crypto suitable for road racing, though a small rear wheel took some getting used to. The famous racing cyclist Frank Shorland beat many records with his Crypto, on both road and track.
A Crypto was usually geared between 57 and 66 inches, with a large front wheel and smaller rear wheel. This example has a unique combination of wheel size – 28″ front and 26″ rear. Being similar to the wheel configuration of rear-driven safety bicycles of the era this is much more practical and comfortable for long-distance riding. Its particularly high gearing – 84 inches – means that this machine would have been specially set up for racing.
1897 Crypto Bantam Geared Ordinary
2-speed Model No 2
Geared to 84″
28″ Front Wheel
26″ Rear Wheel
35″ from the top of the saddle to the ground
Gear No 8273
This machine was restored in the 1980s by my friend Brian as a fast road bike. Cryptos originally used early pneumatic tyres; this example had westwood rims so modern pneumatic tyres may be used. Brian has short legs so he used a straight seat post; for someone with longer legs a ‘seven’ style seat post could be substituted so that the saddle could be mounted further back. With its unusual 28″ front wheel / 26″ rear wheel set up, this is an ideal touring bike and is ready to ride.
The Crypto company dates from 1883 so far as the gear is concerned. The company produced the two-speed epicyclic gear designed by William Thomas Shaw and William Sydenham in 1882 (patent 1882/3230) and called it the ‘Crypto Dynamic’. The hub was also used on the ‘Xtraordinary’ by Singer & Co in 1886.
The company introduced a small wheeled geared front driver at the Stanley Show in November 1893 called the ‘Crypto F.D. Safety No.3’. The name ‘Bantam’ was given to the machine in February 1894 to promote the fact that it could be mounted without using a step. It was available with two 24in wheels geared to 66in; two 23in wheels geared to 63in; or two 22in wheels geared to 60in. A roadster with brake and mudguards weighed 28 lbs.113 The cranks drove an axle which carried a pinion. On the inner circumference of the hub was a ring of teeth. Between these teeth and the pinion was a set of three small pinions revolving on studs and fixed to the hub flange. With the pinion in use a lower gear was obtained from the otherwise direct drive.
The 1895 model reverted to the original F. D. Safety style frame. There was the ‘Bantamette’ for ladies in 1896. In that year the company name changed to Crypto Works Co. Ltd.
The ‘Alpha Bantam’ was the final attempt, introduced in the Autumn of 1897, to maintain the popularity of the front-driver against the advance of the chain-driven rear wheeled safety. It appears there were two or possibly three variations of the ‘Alpha Bantam’. At the 1900 Stanley Show a wide selection of machines were shown varying in price from £10 10s. to £21 10s. for bicyles plus Racer and Roadster tandems at £23 and £24 10s. respectively. Also in 1900 it produced rear drivers with ‘Collier’ two-speed gear and ‘Gardner-Hearson’ brake and a ‘Flexor’ spring frame. The 1907 catalogue offered six bicycles, from £6 15s to £8 15s., two tandems, two tricycles and a tandem tricycle. The company was then trading from 14 Mortimer Street, London. The company became the Crypto Car and Cycle Co. and there was a brief flirtation with motor cycles and even a car, then motor car components under the leadership of W. G. James. Having started in 1898 to make an electric food mincing machine, and then a food mixing machine, using the epicyclic gear, eventually the company became Crypto Peerless, part of the Electrolux group.
Some other companies purchased licenses to use the Crypto geared drive in their machines, including Singer, who made the carrier tricycle illustrated in their catalogue below.
History of Crypto Bantam text with thanks to: An Encyclopaedia of Cycle Manufacturers: The Early Years up to 1918 (Second Edition), Compiled by Ray Miller