1918 BSA Empire ‘Machine Folding, General Service’

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THEN  ..and NOW

In January, 2016, I met up with my friend Anthony Cleal at Kempton Park autojumble and we did a photoshoot for my book at a location I’d scouted nearby. My idea was to reproduce the B&W pictures of the folding BSA military bicycles published by BSA in their catalogues of that era.


BSA ‘Empire’ bicycle

‘Machine Folding, General Service’

22″ Frame

26 x 1 1/2″ Wheels

Weight 38lbs

ex-WW1 service model resold after the War

Rare accessory: Folding rear carrier

The official name for this style of folding military bicycle, according to the War Office description, was ‘Machine, Folding, General Service.’ They were made in large quantities for WW1. This example was presumably made by BSA toward the end of the war and re-sold as a civilian model after the war ended. ‘Empire’ was one of BSA’s secondary brands.

This ‘Empire’ has a 22″ frame and 26″ wheels, and weighs 38lbs (17kg). It’s fitted with a Perry Coaster.

There are reports of trials of the various types of folding military bicycles taking place in the early years of WW2. Because the WW1 pattern was a heavy machine, the Ministry stipulated that any new folding bike needed to weigh under 23lbs so it could be used by paratroopers.

I first came across the ‘Empire’ in 2011. After buying it and riding it for a while I sold it to my friend Tony. Recently he gave up vintage cycling and I bought it back. The original paintwork and steering head transfer are in good condition. I added a BSA saddle and very rare accessory, a folding rear carrier rack.

It’s in good mechanical order and ready to ride – I used it today (17 May, 2023) to ride from Rottingdean to Hove Lagoon and back along the coastal path (12 miles) and it was a pleasure to ride. The photos at the beach were taken today, the others are from 2012. Note that the bike and especially the tyres are chalky – the chalk cliffs are crumbling and parts of the path are covered in chalk.



You can see below why a coaster brake was fitted to the folding bicycles – with only one brake lever, the handlebar fits more easily over the saddle.




Empire Military Folding Bike 05











B.S.A. BICYCLES AND MOTOR BICYCLES IN WARFARE: ‘In addition to the large quantities of Service Rifles required for the New Army, there has been a constant demand for B.S.A. Bicycles and Motor Bicycles, huge numbers of these being supplied both to the British and Allied Governments. A special type of Military Bicycle which can be folded and carried on the back when necessary has also been supplied. On almost every Front B.S.A. machines are to be found, and have won great appreciation for their reliability.’ (From BSA’s history booklet, published by BSA in 1918)

This photo was in Cycling magazine dated 15th May 1915.