1904 Columbia 28″ Frame
Arch Bar (Truss-frame)
Bevel Gear Chainless Roadster
with ‘Hartford Tire Coaster Brake’
This imposing machine is a tall-frame Columbia that sports every one of the company’s innovations. It was not offered as a catalogue model, but the cushion frame was introduced in 1901. By adding the cushion option to the Columbia Model 81 (Men’s) or Model 82 (Women’s) Bevel Gear Chainless, they became a Model 87 or Model 88 accordingly.
According to Ken Kowal, the Columbia expert, Columbia did not make an ‘Arch Bar’ at this time. He explains:
1917 was the first year that a Columbia Arch Bar was produced but that was chain drive. By 1917 the cushion frame was no longer available on any bike. Personally I think your bike is early 1900’s and was a factory experiment of some kind, never put into production.
[We have now dated this bicycle as 1904 because the shaftdrive inspection cover (behind the pedals) is a push-fit type, which was introduced in that year; previous versions were threaded]
In Great Britain, tall frames such as this 28″ model were only available to special order. So it’s possible that, in similar fashion, a customer might have ordered this size of bicycle and it was made as an arch bar to add extra strength to the larger frame.
Iver Johnson had the patent on this style of frame, introduced around 1897 and, by the turn of the century, it was starting to become very popular. In an increasingly competitive industry, an arch bar frame stood out from the crowd and gave an immediate impression of strong construction.
So it’s also conceivable that Colonel Pope, never one to miss an opportunity and seriously competitive within the industry, made some truss-frame models either to test the market, or to see how Iver Johnson would respond with patent infringement litigation. All the large cycle manufacturers had a considerable legal budget for patent claims and counter-claims.
Whether or not this machine was made for a particular customer to special order, it would certainly have been used for promotional purposes, demonstrating:
1. The latest chainless technology, which was improved over the previous year. Columbia was the market leader in shaft-drive technology. With the massive investment required, Colonel Pope had an active interest in prolonging the active life of the Chainless. It was more expensive to produce than a chain-driven machine, and was not possible for the customer to repair once it began to wear after extensive use. Presumably Colonel Pope knew that a chainless had a ‘shelf-life’ and that chain-driven machines would obviously be the dominant style.
2. Cushion frame, comprising the ‘plunger’ rear fork and pivoting hinge above the crank bracket. Sprung-frame technology was developed with motorcycles in mind. Columbia subsequently introduced a sprung front fork too on their cushion frame models.
3. The Hartford Tire Coaster Brake, which is a very simple mechanical brake mechanism acting on the rear tyre and reminiscent of the 1891 Columbia brake set-up. At the turn of the century, many styles of brake were being trialled, and nobody knew which type would prevail. Within the following few years, coaster brake technology had improved sufficiently to become dominant in the USA; and, in Great Britain, the band brake, coaster brake, plunger front brake and Bowden brake had given way to the rod brake system, connected to levers on the handlebars.
This bicycle is interesting not just for its innovations, but also because within a year the motorcycle took the place in the public imagination previously occupied by the bicycle. And in a few more years the automobile displaced the motorcycle. There would no longer be a reason for producing a bicycle with such a combination of features.
This machine needs a new front wheel rim, correct pedals and handlebar grips. I’ve assembled it as is in order to photograph and assess it. The gears are functional and the brake works very well. I’m looking forward to finding the parts and seeing how it rides.
In keeping with its ‘over-the-top’ nature, I’ve accessorised it with not one but two Columbia tool-bags, a Columbia saddle, ornate Searchlight front lamp and US flag bell with 13 stars and seven stripes.
I’ve also fitted solid tyres to the metal wheels …and a Clipper tyre inflator pump.
The Columbia headbadge fitted is of the right period, but is not for this model …as its actual model number is unknown and it does not appear in any Columbia catalogue.
The frame number, visible under the bottom bracket, appears to be 16942.
BRIDGEPORT BRASS Co ‘SEARCHLIGHT’ FRONT LAMP
THE HARTFORD TIRE COASTER BRAKE
1902 COLUMBIA CATALOGUE