Inside the factory illustrated opposite, no common bicycles are made – this can hardly be said of any other large cycle factory.
Yet IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to make common bicycles in the same factory, where of necessity they pass through the same hands of the SAME workmen, the SAME processes, and the SAME supervision.
Experienced cyclists regard with suspicion many so-called ‘best quality’ bicycles on this account – They consider them to be merely the common quality with a few extra fittings, a little extra finish, and a good deal extra profit.
Sunbeams alone are free from this suspicion, for this list will demonstrate that the lowest-priced Sunbeam Bicycle is sold at £12 12/- nett.
– Sunbeam Sales Catalogue, 1915
The above statement was designed to harp on the fact that, by 1915, all Sunbeam’s competitors except Dursley Pedersen had introduced a range of cheap models alongside their top quality machines and were having difficulty justifying the prices of their top models.
All-Black Sunbeams – the title denoting painted rather than plated parts – were the most expensive Sunbeams on offer. This All-Black Royal Sunbeam for Gentleman with two-speed epicyclic gear was £14 guineas. Sunbeam maintained that their patent epicyclic two-speed system was the equal of a Sturmey-Archer or BSA Three-speed. They were right!
Up to the Great War, Britain supplied most of the world with quality bicycles (America, France and Germany made their own cheaper bicycles), and these Sunbeams were among the most expensive bicycles on offer. Though price was less important than quality at this level of the market, the two-speed Royal at 14 guineas competed directly with the top three-speeds and took a lot of business from Sunbeam’s competitors. A top-of-the-range Elswick was 15 guineas, Raleigh Superbe X Frame 15 guineas, Beeston Humber £15 12/- 6d, Ariel (without gears) £15, Dursley-Pedersen £12 7/- 6d, Triumph 10 guineas, Royal Enfield Duplex Girder £9 17/- 6d, BSA £9 15/- and Rudge-Whitworth £9 12/- 7d. Centaur had gone out of business by now, but their 1909 Resilient was 17 guineas and their 1911 Lightweight £9 15/-.
The first few years of the Great War were the last years that company founder John Marston was directly involved with bicycle production. As explained by the book Sunbeam Cycles: The Story from the Catalogues: ‘By 1908, the firm was in a strong position …A 2 3/4hp gentleman’s motor-bicycle appeared for the first time in the 1913 cycle catalogue, nine years after John Marston’s decision that there should be none. But in his eyes the Sunbeam bicycles and tricycles were by then as near perfection as could be obtained – the last design patent had been granted in 1910 – and perhaps design work at Sunbeamland had shifted to the motorcycle, as had happened with other famous cycle-firms such as BSA, Centaur, Humber, James, New Hudson, New Imperial, Premier, Quadrant, Rudge-Whitworth, Singer, Sparkbrook and Triumph.’ In 1916, at the age of eighty, John Marston relinquished daily control of the factory, and died two years later. The company was sold to a consortium soon after.
1914 All-Black Royal Sunbeam for Gentlemen
Two-Speed Epicyclic Gear
Frame No 129531
This All-Black Royal is in very good original unrestored cosmetic condition, retaining its Sunbeam oil bath transfer (decal) on the chaincase and its ‘Royal Sunbeam’ transfer on both the headstock and down tube. Though the paintwork is faded in parts, the box lining is still present.
As you can see from the photos, this is a machine that has been well-used through its lifetime: the chaincase shows the results of such usage and the wheel rims have surface rust. Nevertheless, the mudguards and handlebar grips are the originals, in good condition, a sign that this machine has been cared for by its previous owners: Sunbeam bicycles are invariably treated like royalty by their families, afforded the same status as a Rolls Royce.
Since it was last used twenty years ago, this machine was dry-stored until I acquired it and fitted new tyres and tubes. Every part on the bike is original except the pedals: I’ve ordered a replacement pair of split rubber Sunbeam pedals which will be fitted before dispatch to its new keeper. Though it has been serviced mechanically, the Royal could do with a polish. Like all Sunbeams, this All-Black Royal is an absolute pleasure to ride.
1915 SUNBEAM CATALOGUE
THE ROYAL SUNBEAM (PLATED PARTS)
This catalogue entry is for the Royal Sunbeam, rather than the ‘All-Black’ Royal Sunbeam
SUNBEAM PATENT OIL BATH GEAR CASE