At the beginning, the French were in the forefront of bicycle design. But, by the 1890s, the British and Americans had forged ahead. Peugeot was already producing automobiles, so had less time for upgrading their bicycle designs, and other French companies were invariably a few stages behind Great Britain and the USA in their bicycle styles. This ‘upsloper’ safety bicycle design, generally considered the new style of 1893 and current in Great Britain until 1894, continued in France until 1896.
1895 Gladiator de Route
The three companies Gladiator, Clement and the French branch of Humber were merged when they were purchased by an English syndicate in 1896.
SOCIETE FRANCAISE DES CYCLES GLADIATOR
18 Boulevard Montmartre, Paris, France
The Gladiator name was better known in Great Britain as the marque of an early car manufacturer, although the company started as a bicycle company. What is particularly interesting is that, two centuries on, Gladiator bicycles are well known again because of the fabulous 19th century French posters that were designed by famous artists of the day.
Cycles Gladiator was formed by Alexandre Darracq and Jean Aucoc in 1891, and production started at a factory in the eastern outskirts of Paris at Pre-Saint-Gervais. Apparently their cheap prices caused problems for the British bicycle industry and, in 1896, an English financial syndicate that included Harry Lawson of Dunlop bought the cycle firms of Clement, Gladiator, and the French branch of Humber. The range of cycles was expanded to include tricycles and quadricycles, a motorized bicycle in 1902, and then motorcycles and cars.
Clement and Darracq initially joined the board of this conglomerate but Darracq soon departed to pursue car-making on his own account. Cars under the names of both Clement and Gladiator were on the market by 1900 although they were of different design, Clements being made in Adolphe’s own factory on the bank of the Seine at Levallois-Perret, whilst Gladiators came from the original Pre-Saint-Gervais establishment.
Gladiator’s first cars came in voiturette form with a 4hp single cylinder horizontal engine mounted in a tubular frame, with cycle wire wheels and handlebar steering. By 1899 the company was making front-engined and transversely-mounted 2 1/2 and 3 1/2hp Aster-engined cars with wheel steering. With pedal controls, a two-speed gearbox and chain drive to the rear axle, the Gladiator was one of the prettiest voiturettes available.
Stanley Edge of the Motor Power Company introduced the Gladiator to England in 1900. The cars sold at £183 15s/- and business was very successful: by 1902 production was over 1,000 cars per annum, with more than 800 sold in England. Edge moved to marketing Napiers in 1905, at which time Gladiator established its own London agency. Clement had resigned from the Clement-Gladiator concern at the end of 1903 but retained the Levallois-Perret factory to make Clement-Bayard motorcars (that were sold in England under the name Talbot) but Clement-Gladiator continued to use his name on the shaft-drive cars made at Pre-Saint-Gervais, whilst chain-driven products were marketed as Gladiators. The Gladiator name was dropped from cars in 1920.
During WW1, the Gladiator Cycles factory in Pre-Saint-Gervais manufactured the Mitrailleur Chauchat rifle for the French and American army (seen over the soldier’s back in the picture below).
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 –
This Gladiator safety bicycle is an older restoration, and is fully functional. The saddle has a new leather top: 115-year-old leather often breaks when the rider sits on it, so we usually have to replace our saddle tops if we want to ride bikes of this vintage.
The bike was repainted all over in black. I did find original nickel underneath (well protected by the paint), but I’ve not rubbed the paint back to reveal it as the bike looks good as it is.
CLOS MONTMARTRE & CYCLES GLADIATOR WINE
There’s an interesting footnote. Not far from the old Gladiator shop on Boulevard Montmartre, one of Paris’ most secret gardens is the city’s only remaining vineyard. Clos Montmartre was created in 1933.
Back in the Middle Ages, this vertiginous hill–like most hills in France–was covered with grapevines. The first vines had been planted by Adelaide de Savoie, the sister of the pope, in the first half of the 12th century. The Abbey of Montmartre, which became one of the richest in France, continued cultivating them and making wine for the profit of the Abbey. In the late 1400’s, ruined by war, the nuns were forced to sell off their land. Commercial winemakers took them over. In 1860, Paris annexed Montmartre. Pressures of urbanisation, together with the phylloxera blight on the vines, forced the vineyards (with the exception of a few trellises here and there) out of existence by the beginning of the twentieth century. Then, in the early 1920’s, a public hue and cry began against the urbanisation of the Butte Montmartre. The artist François Poulbot led an effort to save the garden of singer and comedian Aristide Bruant (best known as the man in the black hat and red scarf in the famous Toulouse-Lautrec poster) from a real estate development plan. As a result, the Clos Montmartre was estabished as public land, and planted in vines in 1933 to honor its heritage.
And to honour the ‘spirit of freedom’ of cycling’s 1890s heydey, a Californian wine was named ‘Cycles Gladiator’ – you can see them at http://www.cyclesgladiator.com/
For directions to CLOS MONTMARTRE: See http://www.frenchgardening.com/visitez.html?pid=1207244084166471