1923 ‘Special Sunbeam’ Light Roadster
(with Free Wheel)
Frame No 141748
For many years, this ‘Special Sunbeam’ has been the favourite in my friend Ben’s bicycle collection. Its story began in 1992, when he decided he wanted to buy a Curly Hetchins. So he went to Ripley Cycle Jumble and asked Hilary Stone where he could find a Hetchins. Hilary pointed to a stall and said ‘there’s a frame under there.’ Ben looked at it and discovered the frame number was his date of birth! So obviously he bought it immediately. While he was buying it, someone else came over and offered him a 1937 Straight Hetchins frame, and he bought that too. In 1993 he took the Straight Hetchins to Les Rigden in Brighton to be restored. In the depths of Les’s workshop, covered in dust, he found this 1923 Special Sunbeam and added that to his collection too. I saw it a few years ago when he decided to rationalize his collection and sold me his other Sunbeams, and I’ve eventually ended up with this one too.
This is a historic Sunbeam model. The company had dropped the ‘Special’ model name in 1910, with the introduction of the cheaper ‘Royal.’ The name reappeared in 1923 with this model, made in fixed wheel and free wheel versions. The gearcase disc and rims were lined in red, which you can still see this on this very original machine. The 1923 Specials do not have a head lock; they were fitted from 1924.
This Special is not fitted with mudguards, as this is how Ben rode it over the past twenty years, but I will put 26″ Sunbeam mudguards on it in due course.
LES RIGDEN CYCLES
1st Floor, 3&4 Upper Gardner St,
Brighton, BN1 4AN
Les Rigden built and restored classic lightweights from his ‘workshop’ above a shop in Upper Gardner Street close to an historic area of Brighton known as the lanes and close to the station. Entrance was through a small green door with a 49d crank as a handle, up some rickety wooden stairs with a rope for a hand rail and a bell under one of them to warn Les of your presence.
Once upstairs the whole workshop was full of interesting items as well as frames and bikes Les was always busy but still had time for a chat, his work was faultless and to a very high standard.
He had been a member of Camberley wheelers when he was younger and was friends with Frank Colden, BAR winner in 1962. In early life Les had been a printer but his love of bikes won him over and he decided on a career shift in 1973. Initially he specialised in restoring classic frames to a very high standard and soon earned a reputation for high quality work which was worth waiting for as these things couldn’t be rushed in his eyes.
After some eight to nine years restoring and selling bikes he got the framebuilding itch and started to create a small number of very personalised frames for customers.
I took a photo, below, of Les Rigden’s old workshop, with the 1937 Hetchins outside.
1923 SUNBEAM CATALOGUE