Our ‘Berceuse’ is the greatest improvement to the bicycle since the invention of the pneumatic tyre. It is the most comfortable and smooth bike you could imagine. Even on the worst roads, you will never be tired.
– 1929 Gladiator catalogue
Gladiator introduced their ‘Berceuse’ suspension bicycle in 1922 (the extract below is from a magazine article ‘Au Salon de 1922’). The company was experimenting with various forms of suspension to use on motorcycles and, like other manufacturers of the time, used bicycles to test them. Not many of these prototype machines have survived.
The word ‘Berceuse’ means lullaby, the suggestion being that suspension in a bicycle or motorcycle would provide a rocking action to send you to sleep. During my own riding of the Gladiator (and also other bicycles with suspension), I’ve found the opposite to be true – the extra suspension definitely keeps me awake 🙂 But I must say that the machine is extremely well-built, and I can see how further development of this principle led to the types of suspension that were subsequently used on motorcycles.
1928 ‘Berceuse’ Gladiator
with Front & Rear Suspension
GLADIATOR BERCEUESE SUSPENSION
SOCIETE FRANCAISE DES CYCLES GLADIATOR
18 Boulevard Montmartre, Paris, France
…Well worthy are ‘Gladiators’ to take their place by the side of Humber and Clement cycles. Wonderful, indeed, has been the rise of the Societe Francaise des Cycles Galdiator. In 1891 this now famous mark was the property of MM J. Aucoc and Darracq, the last named of whom is a familiar figure at all the race meetings. The renown obtained by the Gladiator Company is very largely due to the persistent efforts and great engineering and mechanical skill of M. Darracq, who has brought triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets to the highest point of perfection. Hardly had the Gladiator Company completed two years of existence ere it was compelled to increase its plant and the number of its hands in proportion, while at its manufactory at Nantes, it was simultaneously producing the excellent ‘Phebus’ machine.
– The Illustrated London News, 10th October, 1896
During the 1890s, the Gladiator bicycle was one of France’s most prestigious machines and the company was a French market leader. What is particularly interesting is that, two centuries on, Gladiator bicycles are well known again because of their fabulous 19th century posters, designed by famous French artists of the day.
The 1896 merger of three of the leading French cycle companies – Gladiator, Clement and French Humber – was a turning point in the world of automobile manufacture, and The Gladiator became a top-selling car in Great Britain after the turn of the century.
Clement-Gladiator revised their motorcycle line during the 1920s and introduced frames that also featured front and rear suspension, so were also known as ‘Berceuse.’
Cycles Gladiator’s Paris address at 18 Boulevard Montmartre is now a Starbucks coffee shop. Perhaps a better memory of it is Camille Pissarro’s 1897 painting of Boulevard Montmartre –