ON SOUTH COAST LOOK-OUT DUTY AT ROTTINGDEAN SMOCK MILL
In 2012, I was approached by a publisher to write a book on the military bicycles used during World War One. I agreed on condtion they’d provide an editor and that it would be the history of military bicycles up to and including WW1. As my day job is the preparation and sale of vintage bicycles, I set about accumulating one of each of the military models used in the war. In the end, including earlier (1886-1914) military models, I prepared over 50 military bicycles, all photographed for the book. Most were 1910s civilian models ‘called up’ for war service by adding military fittings – that was what happened at the time, so it seemed appropriate to reproduce the experience.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I managed to do this for all the makers who documented their military models, except Sunbeam. There are no known surviving military Sunbeams, so I needed to set one up. There’s no shortage of 1914-1918 Sunbeams …but all were fitted with the Sunbeam oil bath chaincase which is an integral part of the frame. To complicate matters, the military model had no chaincase.
Only one Sunbeam from the correct era without a chaincase seemed to exist. It was a 1909 ‘Special Sunbeam Model J.P’ owned by Malcolm in Dorset who refused to sell it to me or swap it for another bike until he gave up cycling. It was not until 2019, several years after the book was published, that he eventually decided he was too old to ride it (aged 85) and passed it on to me.
The only structural work required on the bike to reproduce the military model was to reposition the brazed-on pump pegs from the seat tube to the down tube, and the only deviation from its catalogue illustration was to use Roman rims rather than steel, and a frame mounted toolbag (1942 Brooks) rather than one on the back of the saddle. I have no doubt that, in 1914, Sunbeam would have used whatever stock was available to them, including earlier machines such as this 1909 model if available, when called upon by the War Office to supply a large quantity of military machines.
Malcolm’s bike was originally fitted with a Villiers two-speed gear; this is now being fitted to a 1910 Sunbeam for Ian, who is researching and writing up a history of Villiers. After its photoshoot yesterday at the Smock Mill in Rottingdean, I’m delighted to at last be able to present …THE MILITARY SUNBEAM.
THE MILITARY SUNBEAM (WW1)
Brooks Military Saddle
Frame No 94423
1909 ‘Special Sunbeam Model J.P’ refitted as Sunbeam’s Military Model
Though the majority of Sunbeam’s military models were made for a French government contract, a limited quantity were also available in Britain. It was essentially the J.P. model, made without a fixed chaincase. The differences were as follows:
No oil bath or gears
Inflator pump brazed on to the down-tube.
Wider 28 x 1 3/4 wheels
Sharp’s Patent Divided Axle
Front carrier fitted as standard. (Rear carrier and Lucas rifle clips were extras)
Brooks Military Saddle
Black or Khaki Finish
1915 SUNBEAM CATALOGUE EXTRACTS: FRONT CARRIER RACK
1909 SUNBEAM CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
BROOKS MILITARY No 3 SADDLE
The photo above illustrates civilian Sunbeams on war duty. The picture is dated 1914, with the caption: ‘Soldier cyclist on Silent Sunbeams’. Compare these soldiers’ personal bicycles used for military purposes with ‘The Military Sunbeam’ featured here. Thanks to Robert Cordon Champ for use of the photo, from his superb book ‘The Illustrated History of Sunbeam Bicycles and Motorcycles’.