1904 Dennis Bros ‘Speed King’ Light Roadster

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John Dennis (1871–1939) and Raymond Dennis (1878–1939) were brought up in Huntshaw in Devon. John moved to Guildford and got a job with ironmonger Filmer & Masons. He started building bicycles in his spare time from bought-in parts and selling them at a profit. Realising that this was a lucrative occupation, in 1895 he set up his own business, the ‘Universal Athletic Stores’ in Guildford High Street [above], selling his cycles under the ‘Speed King’ and ‘Speed Queen’ brand name, along with other sporting goods.
After John was joined by his brother Raymond, the business expanded. The guidebook for the National Cycle Show at Crystal Palace in December 1897 lists Dennis Bros as showing complete bicycles at Stand No 232 and accessories at Stand No 351. In the 1897 guide they called all their machines ‘Speed-Kings’ and ‘Speed-Queens’.
The first motorised vehicle, built in 1898, was a tricycle fitted with a single cylinder De Dion engine, which they exhibited at the National Cycle Show. In 1899, the first proper Dennis car appeared, the Speed-King Light Doctors’ Car, a four-wheeler with a 3.5hp a rear-mounted de Dion engine and three-speed gearbox. Intended for use on unpaved roads by the likes of doctors, surveyors, or travelling salesmen, it had a price of £135. Although it was displayed at the National Cycle Show, it did not go into production. At the 1900 National Cycle Show, Dennis Bros displayed only their ‘Speed-King’ motor tricycle (below) and quadricycle, with the tricycles claimed to be capable of a (then-remarkable) 30 mph, three times Britain’s speed limit. After the company’s new automobile business was established, cycle production ceased.

1904 Dennis Bros ‘Speed King’ Light Roadster

Truss frame (strut from the back of the seat tube down to the rear fork bridge)

Osmond’s patent back fork end and chain adjustment

BSA Fittings

25″ Frame

28″ Wheels

Middlemore & Lamplugh Saddle

Frame No 12007

(Now sold)

The Dennis Speed King has many interesting design innovations. A novel feature is the brace from the lower seat tube to the chainstay bridge that creates a small diamond. A license for this feature was purchased by the Rover Cycle Co (though apparently they didn’t use it) and the same feature was seen again in 1940 on the Sun Manx TT lightweight racer.

The chainwheel is a BSA ‘Y pattern’, introduced in 1899 for inch pitch chain; this version uses standard half inch chain. The design was superseded in 1904, when the BSA ‘X pattern’ chainwheel came into use. I bought this machine from Les Bowerman, who explained:

Only two Dennis Bros Speed King bicycles are known to have survived, in spite of the fact that the company claimed in an advert of 1897, two years after they were founded, that they had the ‘LARGEST and BEST equipped Cycle Factory in the South of England’.
One Dennis bicycle (frame no 13068) was bought at auction some years ago by John Dennis, grandson of the founder John Dennis, and that is in Guildford Museum. You can see photos of it at the bottom of this page. The other survivor is this one, a Light Roadster with frame no 12007.
Both machines have similar features, such as the short strut from the back of the seat tube down to the rear fork bridge (introduced in 1899), the very streamlined seat cluster, and the concealed rear ends covered by a thin plated and scrolled metal cover. There are also faint monogrammed initials ‘DB’ in a few places.

Though it appears to be an 1899 model, I dated this machine as 1904 by the patent date on the steering lock. I assume that it was kept in stock and built up some years after manufacture.

The machine itself is in excellent all round condition. It comes from a long-time collector, and is an older repaint. The original nickel has been protected – a friend who also owns one of his bikes told me that “what looks like silver paint is in fact a preservative and has protected the nickel plating really well over the years. Probably been on there for many years and has hardened off. I had to use the buffing mop on it.”

I replaced the tyres, grips and saddle, and now, after many years of hibernation, this fabulous lightweight road racer is ready to ride again.

This very rare bicycle is in excellent all round condition and is a pleasure to ride.

The hollow chain stays on the Dennis have a unique back fork end and chain adjustment, which is an improved version of the Osmond’s D-section back stays, lapped over the chain stays and incorporating concealed chain adjusters. The 1900 Osmond catalogue illustrates it below.

 

STEERING LOCK with 1904 PATENT DATE

At first I thought this was a BSA steering lock. But the BSA one is engraved with the words ‘Smith’s patent’ (see its patent illustration below).

This steering lock is similar, but not the same. The suffix on the patent number – /04 – suggests a 1904 patent date, and I’ve used that to decide the age of this early 1900s machine.

DIMPLED STEERING HEAD BOLT & SEATPOST BOLT

Of many unique features on this machine, the dimpled bolts stand out…

 

HOLLOW CHAINSTAY + PATENT BACK FORK END & CHAIN ADJUSTMENT

I was intrigued by the rear end, so I took the following photos when we stripped the Dennis to service it.

 

 

 

 

 

TRUSS & CROSS FRAMES

In the early 1900s, X frames were the latest fashion in bicycles. However, every permutation of cross tubing had soon been patented, and other cycle companies struggled to find ways to create a novel appearance of extra rigidity in order to compete. Premier added an extra tube from the top of the down tube to the back of the top tube to create their unique design for the ‘Royal’ (below) while the extra tube on the Royal Enfield ‘Girder’ went from the top of the down tube to the lower end of the seat tube (the photo under the Premier).

The Royal Enfield ‘Girder’ also had an extra brace behind the seat tube, to the chainstay bridge, and that’s what is used on this Osmond. It did not stand out as much as their competitors, but at least it avoided all the other patents and included their machine among the various braced designs on the market.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DENNIS: 100 YEARS OF INNOVATION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE OTHER SURVIVING DESMOND BICYCLE #13068