Throughout the 1890s the cycle industry enjoyed a high mark up on their cycles, but by 1898 the ‘bicycle boom’ was waning in Britain. It affected the US cycle industry the year before, and Rudge-Whitworth would no doubt have observed that American cycle companies dropped their prices as a result, particularly as increased cheap American bicycles exported to Britain started to affect our home market.
I suppose they assumed that a similar tactic might be applied in Britain, but their competitors were still still shocked by the announcement by Rudge-Whitworth in 1898 that their prices would drop. The strategy worked particularly well for the company because their bicycles were of top quality manufacture and, with the best machines now at the most competitive prices, Rudge-Whitworth became the leader in both the home and export market.
One of their top selling points was the lightness of their ‘Special’ range of bicycles: “The difference accounting for the higher price of the ‘Specials’ lies in the fact that every luxury in equipment and finish is embodied in their specification. These include extreme lightness – a very costly feature to attain without loss of strength.”
Only Triumph bicycles competed in lightness, and that company was not geared up for a major production battle with Rudge, particularly as, by 1901, Triumph had started building motor bicycles. Rudge-Whitworth, meanwhile, put all their efforts into dominating the cycle market throughout the first decade of the 20th century and did not start motorcycle production until 1911.
Within two years, fitted with the new sloping fork crown and other unique Rudge-Whitworth features, the ‘Special’ Lady’s Bicycle was re-launched as the ‘Aero-Special’ and became the best-selling lady’s bicycle in Britain.
As it was only built for a few years before its transformation into the Aero model, the lightweight ‘Special Lady’s Bicycle’ is a rare survivor and is interesting for its 19th century components and set up, such as 28″ front wheel and 26″ rear wheel; slotted pedal cranks; earlier chainset; and 1899 eccentric rear chain adjustment.
As some of its fittings are not the latest pattern for its time of sale, it was probably sold through Rudge Wedge & Co, owned by Harry Rudge, Daniel Rudge’s son. He was supplied with outdated Rudge-Whitworth stock so they did not directly compete with the company’s sales of new bicycles. Most were exported to the Colonies. The only difference in appearance was a transfer (decal) on the steering head rather than a headbadge.
1900 Rudge-Whitworth No 23 Special Lady’s Bicycle
(Maybe sold as a Rudge Wedge)
28″ Front wheel. 26″ Rear wheels
Frame No 123911
Though the frame number 123911 reveals this Rudge to be of 1900 manufacture, the front rim brake on it was an optional extra in 1901, fitted for no extra charge. As it was the first year the company offered it, I assume this example was sold in 1901 rather than 1900. Earlier models had fixed wheel with a front plunger brake that acted directly onto the front tyre.
The machine is in excellent all round condition and ready to ride.
1901 RUDGE-WHITWORTH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
CYCLING MAGAZINE, 27th May, 1908:
‘WELL-KNOWN ACTRESSES WHO CYCLE’
Rudge-Whitworth was one of the few British cycle manufacturers c1900 that used head badges rather than transfers (decals). As this bicycle has no head badge or holes for one, it may have been sold as a Rudge-Wedge. Cycles sold by that company were bona fide Rudge-Whitworths but either built up with older Rudge fittings or were the company’s out-of-date stock. Most were exported to the various South African colonies.
Harry Rudge was the eldest son of Daniel Rudge, who founded Rudge cycles. In 1891, he joined Mr. C. Wedge to form Rudge Wedge & Co. They set up a cycle works at Pelham Street, and in 1902 moved to new works in Mander Street. They also built a few motorcycles, but decided to concentrate solely on building pedal bicycles. Many of their products were supplied to the trade with their own or customer’s transfers and large numbers of their machines were exported to the colonies.
The following article is from an edition of the South Staffordshire Illustrated, and includes an excellent description of the company.
RUDGE, WEDGE & CO., LIMITED,
Manufacturers of “RUDGE-WEDGE CYCLES,”
Registered Office: Pelham Street, WOLVERHAMPTON.
LONDON DEPOT : 52 Fore Street, E.C.
Telegrams-” RUDGE-WEDGE, WOLVERHAMPTON.” Telephone-7,266, Wolverhampton.
“OBLIQUELY, LONDON” London, 5,541 (Bank).
There are few names that have achieved a higher standing in the cycle trade than that of the Rudge family, whose members have for years past been prominently identified with most of the improvements in construction of the celebrated cycles, which have attained such world wide popularity. One of the founders of the business to which our notice applies, Mr. H. Rudge, is the eldest son of the late Dan Rudge – inventor and patentee of the now universal ball bearings, and maker of the original ” Rudge ” bicycles – and in conjunction with some well-known local gentlemen of influence established the firm of Rudge, Wedge & Co., Limited, in 1891.