What type of machine is most suitable for a cyclist soldier?
The Ordinary bicycle, though an excellent touring machine, is not well-adapted for military purposes. Compared with the safety bicycle, the height is greater and the rider more conspicuous; the weight is high up and almost over the centre of the front wheel, so when the machine strikes an obstacle there is a tendency to throw the rider forward; difficulties arise as regards carrying arms, ammunition and kit; the labour of mounting and dismounting is greater; and I am not sure of any compensating advantages.
All tricycles possess the advantage of stable equilibrium: the rider can halt without dismounting, and can turn about easily. The single tricycle is therefore, in some respects, suitable for use by an officer. Being, however, a three-track machine, its progress on rough and rutty roads is much impeded, and it could only be taken off roads with much difficulty.
The safety bicycle appears from all points of view to be the best all-round machine. It has two equal-sized wheels, the rear wheel being driven by a chain. The rider sits above and between the two wheels, and his feet are raised only a few inches from the ground. The machine runs easily over considerable obstacles, and is practically safe down any hill. All that a soldier wants to carry on service can be easily packed on the machine. Its speed, acquired by gearing, is great as that of the Ordinary bicycle. The same machine can be ridden by both a tall and a short man. For convenience of mounting, dismounting, stowing for transport, and handling, the safety bicycle has no equal.
– Military Cycling, 1888
1887 ‘The Singer Safety’ (Semi-Diamond Cross Frame)
First Pattern, with Open Steering
30″ Equal Wheels
Singer was one of the world’s leading cycle manufacturers by the time the Safety Bicycle was introduced in 1886. The ‘Singer Safety’ went through many incarnations in its first few years, with updated versions being introduced as soon as the company was able to add further innovations (though its model name remained the same).
This, the first pattern with this frame style, features open steering, more commonly associated with 1886. This was superseded by socket steering by the time the company issued their main 1887 catalogue, though their 1887 ‘Apollo No 2’ still had open steering. Singer had to bring out extra catalogues during the year to accommodate the new variations – the catalogue reproduced below is the 4th edition in 1887.
A particularly interesting feature of 1887 Singer Safeties is the semi-diamond rear end; Singer was one of the first to strengthen their bicycles in this way. Another point is the unique seat post on this model. A year later, Singer followed the lead of Rover and Swift, and the seat post was extended horizontally to the headstock to create a diamond frame bicycle.
With extra fittings, the ‘Singer Safety’ was also supplied to H.M Government as a military bicycle.
1887 SINGER CATALOGUE (4th EDITION)
Compare the Apollo No 2, below – it’s the very basic previous year’s model, i.e. the first pattern of cross frame. As well as open steering, it has a normal cross frame rear end rather than the semi-diamond. The company sold it for £17 as against £18 for the Singer Safety and Apollo Safety, and remarked that ‘…it is not as rigid as either of them, nor is the chain adjustment so good, but it may be relied upon as being better than any other machine of this style.’
The Apollo Safety open diamond frame design influenced American styles. Folks were used to curved tubing because of the Ordinary bicycle, the curves being considered aesthetically pleasing by following the curves of the wheels. It was not until 1890 that straight tubing dominated.
EXTRACTS FROM 1891 SINGER CATALOGUE