1898 Columbia Ladies Chainless (Shaft drive)

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1898 Pope Mfg Columbia Chainless (Shaft drive)

(Now sold)

This Chainless is so effortless in its design that most people do not notice right away that it has a shaft instead of a chain. But once you do start to appreciate that dynamic design feature, another conundrum hits your brain. For it starts to dawn on you how amazing a machine this is, being a bicycle made in 1898 …112 years ago.

A bicycle such as this Lady’s Columbia Chainless has an interesting historical perspective. Advertising at this time was undergoing a revolution: mass production influenced mass marketing. Professional advertising agents made their debut, and advertisers promoted mass consumption of branded goods as the solution to a whole range of real and imagined problems as well as using national pride to influence purchasing habits. Observe the glorious advertising text in the poster below:


A woman is as much entitled to the best bicycle as is a man.

COLUMBIA bevel gear chainless bicycles are built upon lines which contribute to the graceful appearance of the rider.


The bicycle, followed a decade later by the motorcycle and the car, were prime candidates for such promotion. Bicycle ads used a competitive element, as well as other new ideas, such as celebrity endorsement and sponsoring racing teams.

Bicycle advertising also helped boost a new mass media: the magazine. Most of the Pope ads on this page are taken from magazines of the period.

From the 1890s, the American advertising industry started to use images of athletic women to endorse products; this was, in no small part, due to cycling. For the first time, bicycles provided women with a relatively cheap and easy means of transport, and contributed greatly to female emancipation. The Chainless was designed with female riders in mind, as it was cleaner than a chain driven bike and there was no chain to snag a rider’s skirt.

To quote WOMAN & THE BICYCLE by Marguerite Merington:

‘The collocation of woman and the bicycle has not wholly outgrown controversy, but if the woman’s taste be for the royal pleasure of glowing exercise in sunlit air, she will do well quietly but firmly to override argument with the best model of a wheel to which she may lay hand.

Never did an athletic pleasure from which the other half is not disbarred come into popularity at a more fitting time than cycling has to-day, when a heavy burden of work is laid on all the sisterhood, whether to do good, earn bread, or squander leisure; no outdoor pastime can be more independently pursued, and few are as practicable as many days in a year. The one who fain would ride, and to whom a horse is a wistful dream, at least may hope to realize as wheel. Once purchased, it needs only to be stabled in a passageway, and fed on oil and air.’


Having bought out or merged with most of their main competitors, Pope Mfg Co was now America’s number one cycle manufacturer. With their advertising budget providing both financial and creative stimulus, ads for Pope bicycles were among the best of the era.


The horses in the field behind the Columbia made a great backdrop for my photoshoot. However, one of them – I was later told his name is Ronnie, and he’s five years old – was particularly curious about the bike …and started eating it.

Columbia ‘Model C’ Carbide Bicycle Lamp


Its patent dates are 10th Oct 1899, 12th Dec 1899 and 27th Nov 1900. The red and green side jewels illuminate when lit.

As you can see, this ornate saddle from around the turn of the century is made by Columbia.

I found it at an auction. I had to buy a box with ten other saddles in order to get it, and they were very expensive. At the time I thought I’d sell the rest to get my money back, but I’ve become quite attached to them.

Leather saddles are an essential part of our attraction to vintage vehicles. The olfactory glands are next to our memory, and there’s undoubtedly an unconscious ‘memory’ regarding the smell and patina of leather.






…makes hill climbing easy


Pope Manufacturing Co heavily promoted their Chainless bicycles, as you can see in the 1901 advertisement above: the rider of the Columbia crests the hill effortlessly, while the poor fellow with a chain-driven cycle has to walk.


The shaft drive had been available in Europe since the early 1890s, most of the development being carried out by the French company L’Acatane. Pope launched their Columbia Chainless in October 1897. It was driven by a shaft connecting two bevelled gears.


The Chainless was very successful in those early boom years of American cycling, mainly because chain-driven bikes were still, at that time, rough and noisy. But, by 1900, the design of chains and sprockets had improved sufficiently to relegate the chainless to ‘novelty’ status.


SHAFT v CHAIN: Shaft-drive machines did prevent ladies’ skirts getting caught in chains, but the shaft mechanism created considerable friction so wore out more quickly. It was also more expensive. Meanwhile, a chain guard and a skirt guard fitted to a chain-driven bicycle provided the same level of skirt protection at a much cheaper cost.

Normal lady’s bicycles were lightweight machines, while a shaft-drive made bicycles heavier. Another disadvantage was that the rear wheel was harder to remove to change a flat tyre.



Bicycles of the 1890s were still gearless. The first hub gears required gear selection while stationary but, by the late 1890s, they had improved sufficiently for gear-changing in motion. By 1900 gears were generally available and, by 1904, as you can see from the advert below, Pope bicycles were equipped with two-speed gears.




This tyre pump is a saddle pump, made to fit inside a bicycle saddle bag. It was made around the turn of the century and, as you can see in the close up pictures below, around the pump it says ‘The Welch-Dunlop Tyre.’ Welch was an inventor who patented the ‘wired-on’ tyre; this is the tyre still used today, rather the previous design known as the beaded-edge or Clincher tyre (which was Bartlett’s patent).





To visit the Columbia Museum



 (Now sold)