Technologically, Britain was still superior to America and turned out a better product, but a protectionist Congress had succeeded in subjecting foreign bicycles to a 35% tariff. In 1885, an American bicycle was patented, using a beveled shaft rather than a chain to power the rear wheel. Such innovations suggested America might be ready to overtake the British in technological supremacy. But then the British unveiled a new product, the Rover, which featured a triangular frame and rear wheel driven by a chain and sprocket. By removing the pedal from the axle, the British determined to make the chain drive the industry standard. By 1886, they were exporting the Rover to America.
Having dismissed the safety bicycle a few years earlier, Pope now raced to the head of the parade, introducing his Veloce in 1888 and, two years later, shutting down production of the high-wheeler.
– Colonel Albert Pope and His American Dream Machines
By the early 1880s, Albert Pope was acknowledged leader of America’s bicycle industry, but 300 other companies were nipping at his heels. In a move to stay ahead of the competition, Pope introduced in 1881 the Columbia Warrant, its name trumpeting the product guarantee it offered against defects in use.
Inventors on both sides of the Atlantic endeavoured to make lighter, safer and more comfortable bicycles. Colonel Pope knew it was essential to lighten his 70-pound product so that women could ride bicycles. By the 1890s, the age of the safety had finally arrived. In 1892, so heavy was the demand for safety bicycles in America that Albert Pope decided to gather all his component manufacturers under one roof.
Wooden bicycle tyres had given way to solid rubber, but when John Dunlop started producing pneumatic tyres in the late 1880s Pope understood its importance to riders comfort; he bought the Hartford Rubber Works so he could manufacture his own pneumatic tyres.
Borrowing British technology, he set up the Hartford Tube Co, with a capacity of a million linear feet of tubing a year. They turned out hollow but durable steel tubes to help bring his bicycle weights down to as low twenty-two pounds.
He purchased a steel company and the largest nickel-plating factory in the world, and his metallurgical lab staff developed new methods of pressing metal, ensured quality control, tested parts, and made their own ball-bearings.
1893 Columbia Century Roadster
Having ridden 1886-1895 English and French safety bikes, I expected, when I first jumped on this 1893 Columbia, a heavy frame with heavy steering. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to discover instead a lightweight bicycle easily steered and very comfortable to ride.
In fact, the lightness of the frame is comparable to a racing machine of the period. It amused me to observe that in the Century Columbia catalogue, on the page introducing the brake, it states: ‘…Although many will remove the brake and all connections to reduce weight…’
A point of interest in the 1892 catalogue is that the description (above) shows curved handlebars, while illustrations (below) all have straight handlebars. I expect this was the change-over year for the new style of handlebar; no doubt customers could choose which they preferred.
Likewise, pneumatic tyres: though advertised extensively, because they were a strong selling point when first introduced, pneumatics were an expensive option. Many customers chose solid tyres instead to keep the cost down.
The differences between this 1893 Columbia Century and my 1891 Columbia Light Roadster Safety (on a previous page) are frame design and weight. This 1893 model has a solid seat tube, and is an extremely lightweight machine. The 1891 model is much heavier and has no seat tube.
THE COLUMBIA BALL-PEDAL
THE KIRKPATRICK SADDLE
I’ve illustrated the Kirkpatrick saddle, above, as when I was researching it, I found nothing to help me on the internet. The saddle I’ve fitted to this Columbia Light Roadster is actually a more heavy-duty saddle, with replacement saddle-top. Although an original saddle looks excellent on a safety bike, 120-year-old leather has a nasty habit of splitting in half when you use it! I’ve ruined a few expensive original saddles lately by sitting on them, so I now use replacement saddle-tops on any bike I use regularly.
COLUMBIA LIGHT ROASTER BRAKE WORK
A novel feature on this bicycle, at a time when nearly every other safety bike only had a front (plunger-type) brake, is the rear brake.