1896 W. BEARD CYCLE FITTINGS
1896 was the peak of the cycle boom. Various innovations were introduced in 1895 that were taken up by the entire cycle industry, including a new universal size of saddle post and saddle clamp, parallel top tube (replacing the ‘upsloper’ style), and cottered pedal crank to replace the previous slotted crank.
Cycling was still an aristocratic pleasure, priced way beyond the means of the working class – bear in mind a very wide gulf between the two in Victorian England. High-prices top quality machines were built by the likes of Triumph, Humber, Rover, Premier, Centaur, Rudge-Whitworth, and many dozens of other companies that did not survive past the Victorian era.
But it was also possible to buy a cheaper bicycle that was still well-made. Dozens of companies offered cycle fittings: these were only sold through the cycle trade, to enable small companies – particularly those springing up around the country to cater to their local market – to offer a bespoke machine to suit an individual customer.
Thus a gentleman could wander in to his local cycle shop and ask about the price of a bicycle to suit himself. The shopkeeper would note his height and inside leg measurement and (most important) his budget, and take a deposit for a bicycle to be delivered within the next few weeks.
How did the shopkeeper keep down the price of the bicycle so he could make a profit but still charge the customer much less than a well-known brand of bicycle? – By buying cycle fittings to assemble himself. But if he needed to be even more economical with the price, he would buy cycle fittings that were older than the latest available. Thus the customer’s machine would include components that were of high quality, but not the latest innovations.
Top quality cycle fittings companies – such as BSA, Eadie, Components Ltd and others – supplied the latest innovations, so were more expensive. But there were many other smaller fittings companies who used older styles of fittings, often purchased in bulk from the quality manufacturers as more up-to-date items were introduced. W. Beard was one of the latter cycle fittings suppliers.
Many of these smaller companies were not well-known in England, but were able to make a very good living by landing contracts overseas. Tariffs had been introduced by most countries on the importation of complete bicycles, but importing a bicycle in knock-down form often bypassed customs duties, allowing the foreign cycle shop to make their profit by building it and adding their own name plate.
The bicycle featured here is a classic example of a well-built safety bicycle retailed by a local shop using fittings that were a few years out of date. Ironically, in the 21st century, we are much more interested in the older styles of bicycle than the more up-to-date version. So a solid-tyre safety bicycle with slotted cranks is exactly what we would order if we were able to step back into 1896 to visit one of those local shops ourself.
THE FITTINGS ON THIS BICYCLE
WHEELS & TYRES: The most obvious saving in 1896 would be wheels and tyres. Pneumatic tyres were all the rage, but they were still expensive. They were promoted in all the top companies’ catalogues, but if a customer wanted to reduce the sale price by around a quarter he could opt for solid tyres. The customer who bought this bicycle did just that.
SLOTTED PEDAL CRANKS: The cycle shop that built this machine also economised by using slotted pedal cranks rather than the latest cottered cranks: examine the illustrations of the 1896 advert above and the 1897 advert below to compare the two styles. The earlier slotted pedal is secured by a nut and so must be slotted to secure it in the crank; whereas the newer type of pedal is threaded into the crank and tightened by the cottered nut and bolt on its extremity.
SEAT POST: The seat post is the ‘seven’ shape shown in Beard’s 1897 advert below (though it was introduced in the cycle trade in 1895).
HANDLEBAR & BRAKE: Fixed wheel bicycles of this era did not have rear brakes, only a front plunger brake. This bicycle has the later style of handlebar and brake, illustrated below. Again, these were already in general use by 1895.
A major advantage to both the retailer and the fittings supplier was that while catalogues were produced and consulted, supplies of fittings might vary by the time the catalogue had come out. As the customer was more interested in price than components, this was less likely to affect the order.
1897 W. BEARD CYCLE FITTINGS
1896/1897 Solid Tyre Safety
‘No 5 Frame’
Supplied by W. Beard & Sons, Fittings Supplier
28″ Equal Wheels, Solid Tyres
Christy Anatomical Men’s Saddle
This fixed-wheel W. Beard Solid-Tyre Safety is a bit of a dinosaur. It provides an upright ride that is not unpleasant, but takes a bit of getting used to. The solid tyres are fine on a good surface, but slippery on gravel. It’s interesting to experience the old way of riding …until 1898 and the introduction of the freewheel all bicycles were solid machines such as this with fixed wheel and, until the mid-1890s, the majority had solid tyres. The plunger front brake works very well. I jumped on it and rode three or four miles without any problem, but it has just come out of long-term storage, so if it is to be used on a regular basis, I’d recommend a basic service.
SHORT VIDEO: RIDING ‘THE BEARD’
W. BEARD & SON
Universal Cycle Works, Frederick St, Heath Town, Wolverhampton
TOMES & BEARD: Established 1878. Made the ‘Original Universal’ from the Universal Cycle Works, Heath Town, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, before 1892. According to Sturmey in 1887, Tomes & Beard acquired the business of Griffiths & Sons. It is not clear what this means as Griffiths & Sons seems to have continued making safeties (perhaps just the high wheeler business was acquired). The ‘Reynard’ of 1887 had the chain wheel on the left-hand side. It seems the partnership was dissolved late 1889 and Thomas Beard continued to operate the business on his own account.
…Following the dissolution of the Tomes & Beard partnership in late 1889, Thomas Beard continued to operate the business on his own account, subsequently becoming Beard & Son. Located at Universal Cycle Works, Heath Town, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire and offered the ‘Reynard’. Taken over by the Midland Cycle & Tyre Co. Ltd with effect from 1896.
The above info was taken from Ray Miller’s Encyclopaedia. In addition, I found in the 1898 Cyclist Year Book that Beard’s Cycle Fittings Ltd was registered on 26th June 1897. As the notice states ‘to acquire business as cycle and component manufacturer’ it might mean it purchased the stock of the previous company W Beard & Son. (Both addresses are in Frederick St).
The company’s 1898 advert, below, shows the new name Beard’s Cycle Fittings Ltd.
The London Gazette of 6th February, 1900, reports the winding up of Beard’s Cycle Fittings Ltd.
The advert below is from 1920, and shows W. Beard & Son as a locksmith, still at Heath Town, Wolverhampton.
THE CHRISTY ANATOMICAL SADDLE
In 1896, men throughout Victorian England were struck by a sudden panic of paranoia.
What if their womenfolk went off riding these new-fangled safety bicycles not because of some new need for freedom but because they were getting sexual satisfaction from ‘pressure on the perineum and soft parts under the pubic arch?’
Doctors asserted thesis and discussion on the subject in newspapers, and the cycle industry had to respond immediately – their livelihood was at stake. The Christy Anatomical saddle was duly launched upon the riding public, and any worried gentlemen were able to insist…
‘STOP RIDING OR USE THE CHRISTY SADDLE’
A.G Spalding, a major American sports equipment retailer, made a trip to Europe in 1897 to search for new products for his catalogue. He snapped up the rights to the new Christy saddle, and immediately used the adverse publicity to wonderful effect to advertise a range of Christy saddles throughout the world. They were very popular in England, France and America, and Spalding opened a British office at 54 Holborn Viaduct, London E.C.
1937 BEARD CARRIER TRICYCLE