Charley Barden – pictured above, in the early 1890s – lived from 1874 to 1962. He was a British cyclist whose fame and looks led to his being mobbed wherever he went. He twice came second in the world professional sprint championship, and held the English title and several records. He rode a Pennell & Co racing machine in the early 1890s.
Barden’s career in Britain was ruined after he alleged that other riders rode dangerously and killed another rider. He was also caught up in a scandal that erupted in 1895 when manager Choppy Warburton was accused of doping his riders with cocaine.
Like most regional cycle shops throughout Britain, very little is now known about the local London cycle builders Pennell & Co, apart from the connection with Barden. The racing machine featured here uses top quality – expensive – components. The wheels alone, being early beaded edge Roman Rims made of aluminium, would have cost as much as a cheap bicycle of the era!
Cycle racing was at its peak in the late 1890s. However, there was a downturn in the cycle industry in Britain (and America) at this time due to overproduction, and a British share scandal where cycle manufacturers were floated on the stock market at vastly over-inflated prices. Though many British cycle makers had a keen export business to help them through these problems, many small makers of top quality machines such as Pennell & Co were not insulated against the economic downturn, and their businesses suffered. I would also speculate that their connection with Charley Barden provided them with plenty of orders in their early years, but when he became mired in controversy and gave up racing in Britain it could have affected their business adversely.
1898 Pennell & Co ‘Armstrong’ Path Racer
Sloping top tube. Standover height: 36″ reducing to 34″ = 2″ Drop
26″ Beaded Edge Aluminium ‘Roman Rims’
21″ Nickel Racing Handlebars with Centre-pull Stirrup Brake
BSA Pattern Rat Trap Racing Pedals (with toe clips)
This is a top quality racing machine that uses only the best components and state-of-the-art wheels. Its tall size (26″ frame with 36″ standover height) mean that it would have been a special order. With the company’s connection with cycle racers, it could have been owned by a well-known personality of the day. In those days, cycling champions were treated with the adulation reserved today for popular filmstars or musicians, so it’s a shame that bicycles can’t tell their tales.
The pedals look like BSA patent items, which were sold by Components Ltd, Brown Bros and Phillips. They are attached to a large Chater Lea style detachable chainwheel with half inch pitch.
This is the first set of 26″ beaded edge aluminium Roman Rims that I’ve come across: I believe they were issued by the Roman Rim company only in the first few years.
The pull-up front brake was not invented when this bicycle was made – and a brake was not commonly used at the time with a fixed wheel racing machine; so this item would have been added sometime after 1900.
The front fork has nickel crown and end; all the nickel parts are in good order.
This racer is an older restoration with scratches to the paintwork through being used. It’s in excellent overall condition and ready to ride.
PENNELL & Co
507 – 509 Harrow Road, London
Little is known of this maker. An entry in Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia states:
‘About 1890, Charley Barden, the track professional, rode this make. Located at 507 and 509 Harrow Road, London, in 1898 and maker of the ‘Pennell’.
The notice below appeared in the London Gazette in 1899. H.J Pennell is the fourth entry down the list.
Roman rims were introduced in 1897. They were invented by Dr Reinhard Isidore Roman, and are made of Romanium, which is a patent alloy of aluminium.
They became an option on Sunbeam and Dursley Pedersen bicycles after 1902; they could also be specially ordered by customers who bought quality bicycles from other top manufacturers.