1897 Triumph Rear-steering Tandem

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As the illustration above (from the 22 August 1896 issue of ‘The Lady Cyclist’) will attest, while lovers in 1696 had to sit on a horse with the female pillion sidesaddle, and lovers in 1796 could trot along side by side in a two-wheeled carriage, the lovers of 1896 required no equine assistance whatsoever. Because they had a courting tandem. The lady sat at the front, with billowing skirt and feather in cap, while the chap (in matching hat and breeches) steered the contraption from behind.

A ‘rear-steering’ tandem combined a loop frame with a diamond frame, and was the dominant pattern of tandem from 1895 until the end of the century. Steering rods connected the rear handlebar to the steering head so that the gentleman retained control. Bearing in mind the necessity of a chaperone in conservative society, such adventures would undoubtedly have contributed to changing attitudes in Victorian times.

In his autobiography It’s Too Late Now, published in 1939, A.A. Milne recorded memories of riding a (rear-steering) tandem tricycle with his brother Ken when he was eight and Ken was ten:

‘We had a tandem tricycle. Ken sat behind, and had the steering, the bell and the brake under his control; I sat in front, and had the accident. Sharing a bed is really nothing compared with sharing a tandem. Bent double against a head-wind or a hill, the one in front feels, with every labouring breath, more and more certain that the one behind is hanging his feet over the handlebars and looking at the scenery; and the one behind (according to Ken) is just as convinced that he is doing all the work himself, and that the one in front is merely going through the motions of an entirely unfounded exhaustion.’

An Uncle promised the boys that if they rode up Limpsfield Hill he would give them sixpence each. ‘So early one morning, after a period of training, we started out to win this great reward. Even today it must be a fairly steep hill, but to us then it seemed almost unscaleable.There were times when we were in danger of going backwards, and Ken had to jam on the brake and give us a moment’s easy; times when we had to stand on the pedals in order to force them round. Slowly we went up, not straight but in serpentine fashion, crossing and re-crossing the road, puffing and blowing, resting again with the brake on (but of course not dismounting), and then putting all of our strength into ‘twenty good ones’, so as to work up a little momentum for the extra steep corner that was coming … And we did it. We lay on the common at the top of the hill, still panting but profoundly happy, and made plans to spend our shilling. A whole shilling; what a day! What an uncle! Luxuriously we coasted back to the house, put the tricycle away, and went into breakfast. ‘We’ve done it!’’

But sadly the boys were disqualified, the Uncle saying the rules did not allow them to rest: ‘suppose it had been a hill-climbing competition for bicycle, then you couldn’t stop and rest.’


1897 Triumph Rear-steering Tandem

22.5″ Frame, front and rear

28″ Wheels

Frame No 19026

Ladies’ & Gents’ Christy saddles

This is an extremely rare tandem. The rear-steering style of tandem was used in Britain and America from 1895 onwards. The lady sat at the front while the gentleman steered from behind, with a linkage from the rear handlebar to the top of front fork.

It was only current for a few years before Triumph redesigned it so that the lady could sit behind the gentleman.

It’s in very good condition, having been restored and repainted at some time during its previous ownership by a private museum in Alston, Northumberland (now Cumbria). I noticed a few small dents on the rear top tube. When it arrived, the slotted pedals were missing. The spindle which passes through the pedal crank has a smaller diameter than normal, so I had some re-fabricated. Its handlebar grips were also missing, so I fitted reproduction grips. I installed ladies’ and gents’ Christy saddles. The illustration below is the only one that survives to show this model of Triumph tandem.









FRAME No 19026

I’m sure the frame number is also stamped on the frame, but I’m not absolutely sure of its location as the tandem differs from my 1897 Ladies’ and Gents’ cycles. However, the number is stamped on components, in this case underneath the rear-steering joint. The photo below shows the same part from above.




























































My friend Brian had worked at this garage in Alston in the past and remembered the Triumph tandem hanging up in The Hub Museum. He helped me buy it.

The Triumph had previously been owned and sold by Kirsopp Cycle Shop of Market Place, Alston, and had apparently been in this area throughout its lifetime.