1896-1898 Humber Standard Special Roadster
American Export Model
28″ Metal Wheels with Coaster Brake
With an excellent chairman, and a sound board of directors, the business of the company went forward to success, whilst Mr. Humber saw that only the best work was put into the machines whether they were ‘Beestons of Beeston’ or second grade Humbers of Wolverhampton, or were turned out of the Coventry Works as wholesale orders for firms who had no manufactory of their own. Thus it was that by combined talent and perseverance, conscientiousness and business ability backed up by capital, the Humber Cycles have become and remain among the first of the day.
– The Life of Thomas Humber, compiled by P.B. Hamilton, 1894
Although I did not start out as a bicycle historian or expert, the volume of vintage bicycles that I’ve been researching and restoring in the past five years has forced me to learn a lot in a short space of time. With an impressive database of period magazines for reference and good friends who share my interest, I’ve managed to identify and date various mysterious machines over the years. This Humber has a frame number and also a head-stock transfer that states its model. However, neither quite correspond to the known British Humber records. The conclusion that various experts have reached is that it’s an American Humber that has returned here to visit its roots. Unfortunately, there are no records of Humbers from the American factory either. So, although, it can be identified as having been manufactured in 1896 (frame number, front brake and handlebars) it has an 1898 model name ‘Standard Special’ and coaster brake. If only bikes could talk…
Either way, this Export Model Humber is a rare and impressive machine. Its attractive 19th century design features are combined with late Victorian practicalities, viz a free-wheel hub, front spoon brake and rear coaster brake.
It’s a great bike to ride and display, easy to maintain despite being 106 years old, and offers excellent investment potential.
Being a sturdy frame built by one of the top quality manufacturers of the day, it was a very practical machine for regular cycling. And, amazingly, it is just as practical today, two centuries and 116 years later!
It was mechanically restored in the 1980s. It looks like the green paint was touched up; and later metal wheels were fitted to replace the wooden wheels so that modern 28 x 1 1/2 tyres can be used. (I fitted new tyres recently).
The paint is now faded and the rear mudguard is a bit battered, but you can still read the original Humber transfer on the headstock, and even the Humber transfer on the rear mudguard is still visible (with the words ‘1896’ also apparent).
This historic machine is ready to jump on and ride …and there’s no reason why it should not continue to see service into yet another century.
Humber’s Beeston factory produced machines fit for a King. They were some of the best quality bicycles available in Great Britain, and therefore the world. But, as remarked upon in the introduction at the top of the page, the leading cycle companies were not selling enough of their expensive machines to maintain profitability. So most of them established or purchased additional factories to make secondary lines which they could sell more cheaply without compromising their top brands. Humber had factories at Wolverhampton and Coventry for this purpose. Humber head-badges reveal which factory produced the Humber in question, as well as the model name. This Humber ‘Standard’ was still a top quality machine, but did not include the more expensive Beeston options such as duplex front forks and duplex chain stays. With the Beeston priced at £23 and this ‘Special Standard’ at £13 this made a difference of £10, an enormous saving.
The designation ‘Special’ means that it’s a lightweight frame. Heavyweight bicycles, typically ‘upsloper’ safety bikes, were the fashion up to 1895; by 1896 tube manufacture had evolved sufficiently to produce frames that did not depend on weight for strength. Each subsequent year produced frames of less weight, which became an important sales feature. Even a company’s heaviest machines were invariably described as ‘light roadsters.’
The weight issue had been particularly relevant prior to the introduction of the free wheel hub in 1898: it was necessary to push fixed-wheel bicycles uphill, and it was dangerous coasting downhill.
Every year through the 1890s new innovations came onto the market. By the end of the century, front ‘spoon’ brakes were standard to improve stopping power. Humber charged an extra £1 to fit this state-of-the-art brake to one of their bicycles. (It would be another six years before brakes were developed that acted on the side of the wheel-rim, the design still in use today).
Coaster brakes were introduced in 1898, and this bicycle features a rare early coaster free-wheel hub with a clutch. Being an export model – most likely from the American factory – we assume that this frame was updated with a coaster hub in 1898 to bring it in line with other American machines.
Humbers manufactured at international locations still sported the original British Humber headstock transfers. Not only was a British manufacturer’s badge essential for successful sales abroad, with the different Humber factories producing different ‘classes’ of machine, it was important for all to see the relevant model.
It has a front lamp bracket fitted to the nearside front fork, whereas a British bicycle would have one fitted to the offside.
As you can see in the 1898 catalogue below, Humber factories were situated in:
Westborough, Mass, USA (it was previously The White Cycle Co); Moscow, Russia; Lisbon, Portugal; Copenhagen, Denmark; Malma, Sweden.
The American factory was in operation until 1903.
1896 HUMBER CATALOGUE
REAR MUDGUARD HUMBER EMBLEM
1896: HUMBER FACTORY WORKERS,
WESTBOROUGH, MA, USA
1898 HUMBER CATALOGUE
These pages from the 1898 Humber catalogue illustrate the Coventry made Light Roadster, above, and the more expensive Beeston and Wolverhampton made machines, below.
1896 HUMBER EIFFEL SAFETY