There are perhaps some few firms in the trade who occupy larger factories than the Centaur Company, and turn out a larger number of machines per annum, but there is not one which has done more towards the development of the modern bicycle, or which has consistently held its place in the very front of the industry.
– R.J. Macready, in The Irish Cyclist magazine
The Centaur was a mythological creature, half man half horse, and the Centaur company has achieved a similar sort of mythological status in the 21st century due to the rarity, quality and unique features of their bicycles.
Formerly Thos. Townsend & Sons, the Centaur Bicycle Co, of West Orchard, Coventry, was established in 1876 under the direction of Edmund Mushing and George Gilbert, the latter formerly of the Coventry Machinists Co. Mushing was responsible for marketing and administration (later Managing Director); Gilbert was the design engineer. With many innovative design features, the company was one of the pioneers of the cycle industry and they started developing motorcycles and cars by the turn of the century (although the cars did not go into production).
Below you can see Edward Mushing driving a 1904 prototype Centaur car. His wife is sitting behind, and next to Mr. Mushing is Henry Tricket, the car’s designer. They are passing the Shoulder of Mutton public house, in Grandborough, about 15 miles from Centaur’s Coventry factory.
Edward Mushing died in 1910, and the company was taken over by Humber, who discontinued the Centaur name in 1915. However, the Centaur name was brought back after the War for a cheaper range of Humber bicycles.
1912 Popular Centaur Light Roadster
with Sloping Top Tube with 2 inch drop (34″ to 32″ standover height)
Frame No 178912
Centaur’s cycle department went out of business in 1910: the vast expenditure required to set up car and motorcycle production did not bring profits back into the company fast enough to maintain cashflow. This was a common problem for cycle manufacturers who had diversified. Centaur enjoyed a close relationship with Humber, sharing their factory to keeep costs down, and Humber bought the company and continued to sell Centaurs under that badge.
The Lightweight range was introduced in 1909 as cheap commuter bicycles without all the extra features used on the top-of-the-range machines. Because it has 26″ wheels rather than the normal 28″, the bottom bracket was lower, which made it much easier to put your foot to the ground when you had to stop in traffic. So the owner could use it during the week to get to work, and at weekends remove the mudguards and accessories, and race it at one of the many club events throughout the country.
This model may have less of the typical Centaur features, but very few early Centaurs with a sloping top tube have survived. Centaur already covered the top end of the market with their Featherwieght, one of the most superb bicycles ever built. It was hoped that lightweight roadsters like this would help the company capture sales at the lower end of the market. But it was too little too late …and frankly, other companies did the same thing better. For example, the Rudge-Whitworth No 27 Crescent road racer was the leader in this field, was cheaper at £6, and also lighter and faster.
This Centaur is in very good condition all round, retaining original paint and steering head transfer (decal), as well as its original box lining. The sporting handlebar grips are Britannias, which are nice though a later addition. It has a period rear carrier rack with Lea Francis patent rear reflector. The nickel is tarnished. It’s ready to ride.
1909 CENTAUR CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
The difference between the ‘Popular’ (above) and the ‘Special’ (below) is the colour. The cheaper (£6 10/-) Popular featured here was black, while the more upmarket Special (£8 10/-) was finished in green enamel.
1913 CENTAUR CATALOGUE EXTRACTS