Founded at a time of national crisis, The Birmingham Small Arms Company is an example of how history repeats itself, as it was directly owing to a shortage of munitions at the outbreak of the Crimean War (I854-56) that the Company had its inception. Those were days long before a Ministry of Munitions was thought of, and the situation being extremely serious the Government called on sixteen firms of small arms manufacturers in Birmingham to furnish a supply of arms. At this period the rifles were of the muzzle-loading pattern, and were entirely hand-made, but it was not long before the Government commenced the manufacture of rifles by machinery at the Enfield Works. This was shortly followed in 1861 by the members of the Birmingham small arms trade consolidating themselves under the title of The Birmingham Small Arms Company. The munition resources of Birmingham being thus co-ordinated, a factory was erected at Small Heath for the manufacture of small arms by machinery.
The year 1902, was an eventful one for the B.S.A. Company, for in that year the War Office adopted B.S.A. Fittings for Military Bicycles, and the majority of bicycles used by the War Office from that time onward were built of B.S.A. Fittings. No higher compliment could be paid to the B.S.A. Company than this adoption by the War Office of the productions of the Cycle Department, after their many years’ experience of the absolute reliability of the firm’s rifles.
In 1908, to meet the somewhat altered conditions of trade, it was considered advisable to manufacture complete B.S.A. Bicycles in the B.S.A. …There would be one grade of machine-the highest possible quality only.
Fittingly enough, this history, which commenced with the Crimean War, brings us to the days of the Great War, when once again the national demand is “Munitions and still more munitions,” but in far greater quantities than ever conceived possible in 1855.
Only with the passing of time will it be possible to obtain a full perspective of all the events now taking place. Suffice it to say that with the declaration of war, in August 1914, the B.S.A. Factories entered on a period of tremendous activity. Day and night, week-days and Sundays, without cessation, munitions were produced in quantities which even surprised the management. Being immediately forthcoming, the value of this aid can scarcely be overestimated; for it materially assisted our army to “keep up its wicket” in the early days of the War against an enemy of unprecedented strength and organization…
From the early days of the B.S.A., when Birmingham gun-makers co-operated to give their services to their Country in its hour of need, the products of the Company have steadily grown in popularity. However keen the competition, one high standard of quality is rigidly maintained, and on this policy is based the long record of success comprised in B.S.A. History.
– BSA History Booklet, 1914
BSA was formed during the Crimean War to provide arms for the British Government. With the declaration of War in 1914, the BSA factories were again turned over to full-time war production. However, civilian machines continued to be supplied. With cars and motorcycles requisitioned for the war effort, BSA needed to meet the increasing demand in Britain for bicycles to be used for everyday transportation.
1918 BSA All-Weather Bicycle
‘Model 14D’ – BSA three-speed hub and two BSA roller lever brakes
Brooks Model B66 saddle
BSA named handlebar grips
BSA 4 1/2″ rubber pedals
Rear carrier rack
Dunlop inflator pump
The BSA roadster with ‘All Weather’ mudguards was a popular option during the 1910s. The models stayed the same during the war: as you can see in the catalogue details reproduced here, the 1918 ‘All Weather’ is unchanged from the 1914 version. It’s hard to tell the exact age of a BSA as there are no factory records of the frame numbers (the factories were destroyed during WW2) and there’s no guarantee that frame numbers were sequential; they were often built in different factories and BSA sometimes sub-contracted other companies to help them keep up with demand.
However, close inspection of the BSA reveals a plate on the back of the oil bath chaincase showing it was supplied by Speedwell, with a patent date of 1918 (below). So it’s obviously not earlier. It could even be later, but my assumption is that BSA ran out of their own stock of components during the war – there was a countrywide shortage – and bought in oil bath chain cases from this supplier.
‘All Weather’ mudguards provide a unique appearance: as well as the valances on either side, the front mudguard is extended. It’s a very original machine: the pedals are old and worn, but they are original BSA rubber pedals in the longest size (see the illustration in the 1914 BSA catalogue extracts). The rear carrier is correct for the era. The BSA head transfer (decal) is intact. Though the original transfer means that the steering head has original paint, I don’t know if the rest of the paint is original or a very old repaint that’s now scratched and faded.
The handlebar grips with the BSA ‘three rifles’ logo are replacements, and though the Brooks B66 saddle looks correct for the era, it’s normal for saddles to be replaced over the lifetime of a 100-year-old bicycle. The rear mudguard has a repair at the lower end (I’ve marked it in one of the pictures); if bicycles are lifted by the rear mudguard they snap at this point; it’s a tidy oldtime repair with a small plate underneath riveted to the top. All the mudguard stays are BSA’s unique design. This is a wonderful survivor with great character. Once I fit new tyres it will be in full working order and ready to ride and display.
1918 BSA CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
1914 BSA CATALOGUE EXTRACTS