Leon Meredith (or Jack as he was mostly known) was one of the most versatile riders I ever saw, winning races from a quarter-mile to six hours. Usually when thinking of motor-paced riders, we regard them as ‘specialists’ who, once they have adopted the little front wheel, reversed forks and big gears, are somehow never able to show good form in normal competition. Meredith was an exception. He mixed his racing most successfully, and in 1910, when he had already been world champion five times, astounded the cycling world by becoming the first rider ever to beat five hours for an unlaced, out-and-home ‘100’ on the road.
…As a younger man, Jack used to work for an uncle, William Boyer, a building contractor with a canal wharf in Praed St, Paddington. He started work very early in the morning and, after calling at the wharf, would then ride his bike all over London visiting building sites; winter and summer he would do this, and it must have helped his racing.
In the early days of cycling there were Cycling Academies, where cycling was taught, like a motoring driving school but indoors, and a relative of Jack’s ran one at the Porchester Hall, off Queensway, London. When interest dropped off, this relative asked Mrs Meredith to take it over for her son, Jack. She did – and just at that time the roller skating boom started. Jack was ready for it, and never looked back. Three sessions a day, packed every time. He could not take money fast enough. Later, in partnership with Bill Skuse, who used to be one of his pacemakers on the motors, he built and opened another rink at Cricklewood.
Jack was a good roller-skater himself, winning the national one-mile title in record time at the Holland Parl Rink (now a motor showroom) and the five-mile at the Maida Vale Rink (now a Carlton Ballroom). I used to roller-skate a bit myself, but not seriously. One night when ambling around the Porchester Hall Rink, Jack came up to me and said: “Bill, I’ve just bought a tyre company for a hundred quid.” I nearly fell on my back.
It appeared that Jack had a skating instructor by the name of Bain, whose brother Joseph was with the Constrictor Tyre Co, and Meredith was approached for financial assistance. Before long, Jack was installed as managing director in place of Mr Hubbard, the inventor of the original Constrictor tyre, and Joe Bain remained in charge of production.
…After a while, Jack Meredith turned his attention to cycles, and imported Bastide machines. Bastide at that period was ‘the’ maker of France, and all his bicycles were made with BSA fittings. The rear hub, a standard narrow flanged one, did not suit his requirements, so he removed the flange on the opposite side to the cog and fitted another one at the end of the hub. This built up into a much more rigid wheel.
Another French builder, Caminade, just knocked the flange outwards, which was cheaper, not so good and rather crude.
Meredith found that to re-import these converted BSA hubs was too costly, so he approached the BSA company to make them. They eventually came to terms on Jack giving them an order for 1000 rear hubs stamped ‘Constrictor.’ This move by Jack made the wide flange hub available to the public.
– ‘Leon by Bill’ article in ‘Sporting Cyclist, March 1964, by W.J Bailey
Leon Meredith introduced the innovative French bicycle made by E. Bastide to the British public before World War One, and inspired a generation of British frame builders in the 1920s to incorporate its design features in their own machines.
Meredith used Bastides when he raced, and he broke the Road Racing Association’s 50 mile record in 1922 on the actual machine featured here, with a time of 2 hours 32 seconds.
1922 Bastide ‘Meredith’ Road-Racing Model
with BSA Fittings
26″ Wheels: Fairbanks rims with tubular tyres and c1938 Airlite hubs
This historic Meredith Bastide was owned for many years by long-time collector Les Bowerman, who sadly passed away recently. Its wheelset has later hubs and it appears to be an old-time restoration. The racing saddle is a Brown and the front brake is a Jeay.
1912 BASTIDE CATALOGUE
1929 BASTIDE CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
BASTIDES: 1913 STAYER TRACK RACER v 1922 ROAD RACER
CONSTRICTOR TYRE CO
Nursery Lane, Forest Gate, London
WHEEL & TYRE PATENT WARS
In 1896, the patents for metal ‘Westwood’ wheel rims and for the machinery that made them were purchased by Irish businessman Harvey du Cros. He already owned the patent for Clincher and Dunlop pneumatic tyres. They were all brought under the umbrella of the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co.
1897 onwards was an extremely litigous period for the company, as it fought fiercely to protect its patents. As a result, American cycle manufacturers had to find alternative ways to motivate their bicycles. The only alternative was tubular tyres and wooden rims.
American bikes were cheap compared to British cycles because the US companies sold them for low prices, but made extra profit when a purchaser had to replace the wheels and tyres. Customers found those costs exorbitant compared to the value of the bicycle itself; by the early 1900s, this contributed to the failure of the US cycle industry.
WOODEN WHEEL HISTORY
The wooden bicycle wheel was introduced by A.C Fairbanks, with patents 1893-1897. He was an American banjo maker, and the rim was actually a variation of the wooden rim used inside a banjo’s metal outer casing. You can see it below on the inside of my 1886 Fairbanks & Cole banjo.
A.C Fairbanks set up a cycle company ‘Fairbanks, Sanford & Cole’ in 1890, becoming the East Coast agent for the British manufacturer John Marston to sell his Sunbeam bicycles in the USA. He also enjoyed cycle racing. He subsequently sold his banjo business to focus on bicycles and his wooden rims.
With backing raised by Harry Lawson and Ernest Hooley, Fairbanks Wood Rim Co also established a British factory. This was at Draycott Mills in Derbyshire, where the Simpson Lever Chain & Cycle Co was located. The market value of these and other cycle companies were vastly inflated and floated on the stock exchange in an enterprise created by Lawson and Hooley. Other companies drawn into the scheme included Dunlop, Raleigh, Swift, Humber, Clement-Gladiator, Singer, Schweppes, Bovril, The Great Horseless Carriage Co and Trafford Park Estates (Hooley created the world’s first industrial park there). However, the ‘cycle boom’ of the early to mid 1890s then started to slump and share prices collapsed. Many companies were liquidated. Frank Bowden of Raleigh Cycle Co was one of many investors who lost money by backing Fairbanks Wood Rim Co, badly affecting Raleigh output in the late 1890s.
As the French cycle market grew in 1890s, there were not enough French cycle builders to meet demand, so the US cycle industry established an export market for cycles and components in France to compete with British firms. Fairbanks wheels were sold there as ‘Franco-Americain’ rims.
After his success with the Constrictor Tyre Co, founded in 1906, Leon Meredith obtained a patent for racing tyres. Rather than a tubular tyre, his was sewn with diagonal threads that made the inner tube accessible at the base of the tyre. He also sold the Fairbanks wooden rim in the UK, where it was marketed (like all his products) as Constrictor.