…Simpson offered ten-to-one odds that riders with his chain would beat cyclists with regular chains. Later known as the Chain Matches, these races at the Catford track in London attracted huge crowds estimated between twelve and twenty thousand in June 1896. Simpson’s team not only included the top racers – Tom Linton, Jimmy Michael, and Constant Huret – but also the Gladiator pacing team brought over from Paris. Pacers enabled a racer to ride faster by shielding him from air resistance. Although Simpson won the Chain Matches, they only proved that the Gladiator pacers were superior to their English rivals. Crowds up to 20,000 attended the Chain Races and “Simpson v …” was an argument to be heard where cyclists foregathered.
– Prior Dodge
The Simpson Chain was invented and developed at a time when bicycles used inch pitch block chains with fixed wheel hubs. After its debut in 1895, the company went to great lengths to publicise it as an improvement on existing chain technology, employing famous racing cyclists of the day to promote it.
It was sold as a kit for the customer to fit to their own bicycle, and the company also sold bicycles ready fitted. These were supplied to them by Humber, specially adapted to accept the larger rear sprocket.
Because the rear hub was considerably larger than usual, a BSA Fittings Machine, with its unique design of flat section at the rear of the chain stay, was an ideal frame to use.
However, within a few years, the freewheel hub came onto the market and that, along with the lightweight half inch chain, made the Simpson Lever Chain obsolete. It was never proven to have an advantage over conventional chain, but it remains an interesting novelty of the day that has entertained cycling enthusiasts ever since.
Though there are now few surviving Simpson chain sets, the Simpson Lever Chain is still well known in the 21st century because of the poster designed by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec in 1896. It illustrates Constant Huret pacing with a Simpson chain behind the Gladiator tandem at the Vélodrome de la Seine. The rider shown on the tandem is Lisette Marton, the women’s European Champion who was also sponsored by Simpson.
1897 BSA Fittings Machine with Simpson Lever Chain
I’ve spent the winter developing replica sets of Simpson Chain and sprockets. I’ve had 3 sets made. The first one you can see here, fitted to my 1897 BSA Fittings Machine (above). I’ve been road testing it – we’ll need to remove one of the links to tighten it. I’ve photographed it alongside my stock 1897 BSA for comparison (bottom of the page).
I have two more sets: one fitted to a similar 1897 BSA Fittings Machine currently being restored (now sold); and the last one I’ll either fit to a bicycle or sell separately (below).
1897 SIMPSON CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
FEMALE RACING CYCLISTS ADVERTISING SIMPSON
1897 BSA ROAD RACER with SIMPSON LEVER CHAIN v 1898 BSA ROADSTER
TO SEE THE
1898 BSA FITTINGS ROADSTER
PLEASE CLICK HERE