By 1900, Great Britain’s top manufacturers were faced with a dilemma of their own making. The 1890s had seen fortunes made in the cycle industry: cheap labour costs and the latest factory machinery from America provided a handsome profit for the finished bicycle. Even when increased competition forced prices down, the leading companies still had their export markets to sustain them. But high selling prices did mean that they were losing out on an increasingly important part of the market.
All businesses have the same problem, then and now. To provide a top professional service, we must gear up for being busy; so when seasonal or market forces include quiet times, what should we do?
The essential problem for cycle manufacturers was that if they made cheaper bicycles alongside their expensive ones, it would decrease the value of the expensive models. Even if they put in cheaper parts, they were still made with the factory’s high quality control standards.
So all the leading companies bought up (or set up) extra factories to build cheaper models under different names. This way they could still take advantage of their well-established supply and distribution networks. In effect, they competed with themselves. After 1900, the export trade was their most important income. As bicycles became increasingly popular worldwide, as well as their top-of-the-range models being sold to ex-patriates, more of their cheaper bikes were supplying the general population of Commonwealth countries around the world.
Coventry Royal was one of Humber’s ‘cheap’ companies: it was still a quality bike, but a quality bike made secretly at a cheaper price!
1920s Coventry Royal (Humber) Gent’s Roadster
28 x 1 1/2″ Wheels
Brooks Mattress Saddle
This Coventry Royal was restored by Dave Williams around ten years ago. The paint is scratched here and there but it is still in good condition. It recently has new tyre and tubes fitted and it’s ready to ride.
Compare the chainwheel of the Coventry Royal with the Humber Olympia, another economical Humber model.