‘The Flying Zedoras’ were an extremely popular circus act in the late 1890s. The centrepiece of their show was ‘The Human Arrow’ who was fired from a giant crossbow toward a bullseye high above the stage. They were treated like stars in England, performing at the London Aquarium, and they toured America with Barnum and Bailey’s every year between 1895 and 1898. As a result of her performance, and no doubt aware that it may be imitated by others, the British Parliament passed a law known as the Dangerous Performances Act (1897).
Coincidentally, in 1897, in New York, Mary Jones, who performed as Alar, The Human Arrow, had a near fatal accident (see below) when the giant crossbow malfunctioned. She was knocked unconscious and narrowly avoided falling to her death. Luckily she suffered no serious injury and by the next night was back at work. The incident was widely reported by the New York press.
Various products cashed in on the popularity of the flying arrow idea, and it was obviously a good name for a bicycle too. This example was exported by a British company, the Arrow Cycle Co, to be assembled and sold from their depot in Perth, Western Australia.
1899 ‘Flying Arrow’ Gent’s Roadster
Made by Joseph Harrison & Son, England
Imported by Armstrong’s Cycle Agency, Perth, Western Australia
Up-Sloping Top Tube, 31″ to 36″
This Flying Arrow has an ‘upsloper’ style frame, popular between 1892 and 1895 as a heavyweight machine, and for several years later as a lightweight. It’s fitted with a plunger front brake and coaster rear brake. It was repainted many years ago, leaving the original transfers intact.
The wheels have been upgraded as the originals were wooden. The only tyres that fit wooden wheels are tubular tyres, which are are now unavailable.With the metal wheels now used, normal 28 x 1 1/2 tyres can be fitted, a much cheaper and more practical option for everyday use.
The frame is 20.5″ at its lowest point, giving a standover height of 31″ which rises to 36″ with the upsloping top tube. It is an impressive machine, all the more so that it, rather than being stuck in a museum, it can be ridden on a daily basis.
By 1899, this ‘upsloper’ style of bicycle was very much out-of-date in Europe and America. Bicycle companies were innovating so fast that each year’s models superseded the previous year’s in frame design and new fittings. Rudge-Whitworth had sold off 6,000 upslopers in France in 1895 because of the new diamond frame style introduced in 1896. In the following years, small companies were therefore able to buy such frames for little money and sell them in local areas of England that were not au fait with the latest fashions in the big cities …or, indeed, sell them cheaply in the British colonies which were always several years behind the fashions of London, Paris and New York.
Of course, retrospectively, were are now much keener on the older styles of bicycle; an 18th century upsloper is obviously much rarer to find in the 21st century. So, ironically, the ‘out-of-date’ situation that was an essential part of this bicycle’s history is now reversed …113 years later the bicycle has eventually come into its own.
Joseph Harrison & Son, Birmingham, England
AUSTRALIAN AGENT: ARMSTRONG’S CYCLE AGENCY
Great Eastern Highway, Perth, Western Australia
As you’ll observe from the newspaper adverts and article in various 1899 editions of the West Australia Sunday Times, the Flying Arrow was advertised on a par with top British bicycles such as Rover, Humber, Raleigh and New Hudson.
A few American bicycles were still being sold but, as mentioned in the article, they had, by 1899, become very unpopular as Australians realized that their country had become a ‘dumping ground’ for inferior American cycles.
The reputation of British bicycles was such that it was customary to include a reference to Birmingham or Coventry on their badges even if the cycles were manufactured abroad. This custom persisted in Asia even until the 1960s, with ‘British’ badges on bicycles that had nothing whatsoever to do with Great Britain.
The Flying Arrow model was manufactured from the early 1890s by Joseph Harrison & Son of Alcester, England, later of Birmingham; the company also made an ‘air’ saddle. The machine was exported to Australia initially as a complete bicycle, but subsequently in knock-down form to be assembled for the local market. Western Australia imposed a 15% tariff on imported bicycles …but ‘parts and accessories, rough and unfinished’ were free of duty. This also allowed the Australian agent to make more profit on sales (compared with selling a Humber, Raleigh, etc), even with the much cheaper sale price.
The ‘upsloper’ frame style was outdated in Europe by 1899, so such frames could be purchased cheaply and, with British proprietary components added, a bicycle could be made cheaply but still to a high standard. This was standard practice at the time both for small local cycle shops in England as well as in the Colonies. It’s rare for such machines to survive as they were made in small quantities and usually only for short periods of time.
I’ve included below a list of Australian cycle agents and manufacturers, and you can see listings for both Arrow Cycle Co and The Flying Arrow, as well as Armstrong Cycle Agency, who sold the bicycle. They were all based in Perth.
While a top-of-the-range imported Beeston Humber sold for £33, and an Imperial Rover £23, a locally made Flying Arrow was only £13 10/- for the Gent’s or £14 for the Ladies.