The metamorphosis of bicycle design from the Ordinary (‘Penny Farthing’) into the Safety Bicycle involved constant improvement of frame structure and components. Many of the first safeties of 1886 were essentially a new style of bicycle frame using as many fittings as possible available for building an Ordinary; this obviously made it easier for a builder to get a machine onto the market without having to make new fittings from scratch. As the first machines were exhibited, their frames were copied by other builders.
The development of the steering head is an interesting example of fittings development. Safety bike steering heads were initially of the pivot type, ie pivoting inside the headstock like an Ordinary, and providing very little travel to left or right. By 1887/1888 centre steering had been developed, where the steering head pivoted outside the headstock to provide far greater travel. By 1890 the steering head was again inside the headstock, but now used ball bearings (the method still employed in bicycles today).
Chain adjustment is another area where existing ideas were used on the new safety bicycles; this time the designs came not from the Ordinary, but from the tricycle. Various styles of Drawbolt chain adjuster were used in 1887 and 1888, but this concept was soon superseded by ‘eccentric’ chain adjustment in the bottom bracket and, later, by chain adjusters on the rear stays. These days finding a bicycle with an example of the drawbolt system is like digging up a dinosaur!
with Joseph Bates Drawbolt Chain Adjuster
30″ Equal Wheels
This 1888 crossframe is remarkably well-preserved.
As well as the centre steering typical of its year of manufacture, it has some interesting features, including brazed-on mudguard stays and Drawbolt chain adjuster that show it was an expensive machine of its day.
Compare the photo of this 1888 crossframe (with centre steering) with the illustration below showing the similar 1887 Torpedo with very basic pivot steering.
The Drawbolt chain adjuster can be compared with the Torpedo above and the Hunter tricycle made by the same company a year later.
Tempest St, Wolverhampton
Joseph Bates was listed in a 1896 directory as a bicycle manufacturer at Scarbro’ Works, Temple Street, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, and is known to have made ‘Tempest’ high-wheelers from around 1887. Sturmey’s Guide for 1887 illustrates his ‘Torpedo’ crossframe. In 1888 the ‘Hunter’ tricycle was introduced; at the end of its axle was a fork holding a vertical shaft bearing a stub axle and extension for the steering rod. The aim was to provide better steering over rough roads.
His company also made the ‘Swallow’ diamond frame safety and ‘Phono’ lady’s tricycle in 1889 and the ‘International’, ‘Scarboro’, ‘Swallow’ and ‘Torpedo’ before 1892. In 1889 the safety bicycles were priced from £13 and tricycles started at £27. In 1891 the catalogue presented diamond and cross-frame safeties, four types of high-wheeler, two tricycles, a tandem, a juvenile high-wheeler and juvenile tricycle.35 The firm carried out its own nickel plating and japanning.