“There are so many different makes of bicycles at the present time, all of which from the cheapest to the most expensive have no exclusive feature, or, in other words, are all much of a muchness, that the public are beginning to look for a bicycle with a structural feature, which no other bicycle possesses. That bicycle is the
constructed of Helical Tubing.”
In the first three decades of the safety bicycle, every top manufacturer worked constantly to improve the strength of their frames. As tubing became lighter, the public needed reassurance that this did not weaken the bicycle. The Raleigh X Frame was patented and introduced at the end of the nineteenth century, and became the most popular model of ‘unconventional’ frame design for the next 25 years.
Other companies also introduced crossframes, with Elswick and Centaur changing the crossframe style to try and avoid Raleigh’s patent. Royal Enfield had great success with their ‘girder’ frame, with added strength from an extra frame tube above the down tube.
With Premier’s ‘truss frame’ design, the extra tube is positioned from the front forks to the seat post, perhaps an attempt to combine the girder frame with the cross frame. This design enabled the company to produce a 28″ model with a strengthened frame that is dynamically illustrated for potential customers, indeed …a bicycle of such excellence and good taste that cannot be surpassed.
Since the 1880s, Premier had been in the forefront of tube design, with the world’s first successful crossframe, followed by the ‘trough-shaped or semi-circular steel’ on their ‘Model F’, and the invention of helical tubing in 1892. Helical tubing – similar to the design of a gun barrel – provided lightweight frames of extra strength. With both helical tubing and the company’s patent truss tube construction, this model certainly does embody the ultimate in strengthened frame design.
If you look closely, you’ll see the diagonal lines under this bicycle’s paint revealing its helical heritage.
1911 Gentlemen’s Royal Premier No 11 Helical Truss Frame
30 Wheels (original tyres, 30 x 1 1/2″)
Frame No 294218
1910 PREMIER CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
PREMIER HELICAL TUBING
‘The early 1890s were a time of enormous technical advancement in cycle design and manufacturing technology, a time when the basic form of the modem bicycle was perfected and set on course for the next century. One of the more surprising inventions at this time was a 19th century equivalent of Reynolds 531 frame tubing, Helical tubing, which was developed and patented not by a tube manufacturer but by a cycle manufacturer.
The inventors & patentees were The Premier Cycle Co Ltd, formerly Hillman Herbert and Cooper of Coventry, who claimed at the time to be the largest cycle manufacturers in the world. Founded in 1874, this company had been important innovators in the industry, introducing such advances as the DHF (double hollow fork) in 1878 (later licensed to Singer), the Kangaroo front driving safety in 1884, and the first true cross frame safety in 1886. The driving force was William Hillman, a talented and practical engineer who had been in cycle manufacture from the birth of the industry in this country.
Many inventive and unusual frame designs were made by Premier in the closing years of the solid tyre era. With the coming of the pneumatic tyre, the need arose for a light and responsive frame of thin walled steel tube, but there were limits to how thin and therefore how light ordinary tubing could be made, before its efficiency was impaired.
Helical tubing was developed and tested during 1891–2 and introduced in the autumn of 1892. These strange looking spirally wound tubes were the result of experiments to convert very high carbon bright rolled Swedish steel into tubes without reducing the carbon content. The chosen steel was non-ductile, in other words it was not capable of being drawn into steel tubes in the usual way without loss of strength. The solution found was to helically roll a thin sheet of steel varying from 0.008in to 0.017in thickness round a mandrel. A clamp was placed on one end to prevent its unwinding and the mandrel was withdrawn. A stout collar was then driven on the free end, and the whole tube brazed together. The brazing operation was carefully designed so that a complete film of brass was spread between the two layers of thin sheet making up the tube. Premier claimed that the brazing process was so perfect that every tube could be rung like a bell. In this way the tubes were tested and either rejected or passed fit for use.’ *
DUNLOP 30 x 1/2″ TYRES
It’s rare to find a bicycle with 30 inch Westwood rims and 30 inch tyres. An intact 30 inch pneumatic tyre is even less common – this is the only one I’ve seen. The front tyre was damaged, but the Dunlop on the rear was in reasonable condition and, after replacing the valve, it has inflated and holds air. Here you can see the wording on the tyre.