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1896 was the height of the society cycling boom and the year that Premier gained the royal appointment, when the Princesses Victoria and Maud of Wales acquired Premier bicycles. For 1897 the company changed its name to the New Premier Cycle Co, adopting the Prince of Wales plumes as its crest, proudly displayed on catalogues and on the gold filigree head transfers. The catalogues carried a huge list of very blue-blooded patrons in descending order, beginning with royalty. The 1898 catalogue states that 40,000 machines were sold in 1897.
Helical tubing was not the only Premier oddity. Before the turn of the century Premier cycles also had left-hand drive. That is to say, the chain was on the left side of the machine. This sort of eccentricity was understandable during the development phase of the safety bicycle prior to 1895. Sparkbrook was one, but by 1895 left-hand drive was an anachronism and by 1896 positively archaic.
Having the drive on the left side of the machine leaves the rider vulnerable to suffering soiled clothing or worse when wheeling the machine. This could be a matter of some importance in the society cycling era when the bicycle was to many a mere fashion accessory, bare ankles infra dig amongst female riders and dresses very long.
This feature may also have made the make unpopular with racing cyclists who frequently need to change gearing. Interchangeable chainwheels made the Raleigh popular with racers, so it might follow that non-standard drive on a particular make would have the opposite effect. Although Premier had taken the initiative in developing an ultra light high tensile tubing ideally suited to racing machines, they certainly failed to promote its qualities to the racing fraternity or take other obvious steps to make the machines more suitable for road or path racing. Left-hand drive unaccountably persisted on Premier bicycles until the end of 1899 when the growing popularity of the freewheel, and the drive for standardisation in the industry seem to have prompted a change. The reason for hanging on to left-hand drive is difficult to fathom. Here we have a company calling itself the ‘Largest Cycle Maker in the World’ with factories not only in Coventry but also in Germany & Austria. There were depots in France, Switzerland, Australia, Finland, India, Russia and Belgium. An international company of high repute, an innovator as we have seen, patronised by royalty and winner of many design and manufacturing awards, yet they clung to an obsolete design feature for at least seven years after its time had passed. Whatever the reason, left hand drive is now one of the features that particularly appeal to me as a collector and historian, though the survival rate of pre-1900 Premiers is not high.
– Roger Armstrong, published in ‘Boneshaker’ magazine #167, Spring 2005
1899 Helical Premier Ladies’ Tricycle
Left-side chain drive
‘Helical’ Premiers, with their distinctive spiral frame tubing, are not so common these days. But a helical tricycle is an especially rare breed: I believe this is the only surviving ladies’ model. In addition to its helical tubing, it also has a ‘left-hand drive’ which was apparently phased out by the end of 1899. The 1898 catalogue illustration, below, shows it with a conventional right-hand drive chainwheel; tricycles were not big sellers, so perhaps this example was built earlier and then fitted up when a customer ordered it. I noticed that a metal chaincase was optional – an extra £2 5/-.
This tricycle has been repainted but is otherwise in good original condition and ready to ride.
1910 PREMIER CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
1914 PREMIER CATALOGUE EXTRACTS