1898 Stearns ‘Yellow Fellow’ Rear-Steering Combination Tandem
In its earliest and crudest form, the apparatus for controlling rear-steering tandems had consisted simply of a rod, next to the the right-hand grips, connecting the front and rear handlebars. In a society challenged by men and women associating without a chaperone, the tandem became a ‘courting bicycle’ and cycle manufacturers were keen to promote it and improve it. Bear in mind that tandems were the most expensive bicycles and the only independent form of transport apart from a horse carriage that could accommodate more than one person.
Stearns was one of the first to adopt the much-improved (partly concealed) rear-steering mechanism, and, co-inciding with the use of tandems in racing as pacing machines, the Yellow Fellow Tandem became a market leader in America. The company was also a ‘market leader’ in advertising, being one of the top three companies in terms of advertising revenue spent on promotion of their products. The ‘Yellow Fellow Yearbook’ of 1896, reproduced on the next page, is a masterful piece of public relations, and provides some interesting insights into aristocratic American life in the mid 1890s.
1898 Stearns ‘Yellow Fellow’ Rear-Steering Combination (Convertible) Tandem
with Single Tube tyres
At $150, the Stearns Yellow Fellow Rear-Steering Combination Tandem was one of the most expensive bicycles in 1898. Not only did this state-of-the-art machine feature the latest ‘steer-from-the-rear’ patent linkage (introduced in 1895), but it was a ‘combination’ model, ie it was convertible from a double gent’s to a ‘lady-front’ by removal of the front top bar.
With two men on a tandem, a machine could be ridden very fast; while removal of the convertible front top tube turned the machine into a ‘courting bicycle.’ A chap would now be able to convey his sweetheart at leisure without her needing to worry her head about minor details such as steering around obstacles and other road users. Such tandems actually helped change social attitudes, as normally a woman would require a chaperone when going out with a gent. But, unless the chaperone followed on another bicycle, a lady-front tandem provided young couples with uninterrupted time together.
Below, you can see the removable front top tube bar and steering linkage.
The day the bike was re-assembled after its journey from America, we had blizzards and heavy snowfall in the morning, and were snowed in. But hot sunshine in the afternoon enabled me to get my van out and take the Yellow Fellow down to the seafront for its inaugural ride on British soil.
The bike was restored many years ago in America, and rode well. The colour is an orangey yellow. It absolutely stands out in a crowd, so is not the type of bike for a shy, retiring sort of person.
The linkage is simple in design. There are sprockets fitted to the end of the steering tubes, which mate to a short length of (skiptooth; inch pitch) chain. A rigid bar joins the chain on both sides of the tandem. There are adjusters in the bars to take up the slack.
FROM THE YELLOW FELLOW YEARBOOK
REMOVE THE CONVERTIBLE BAR
TO MAKE IT A ‘LADY-FRONT’ TANDEM
The removable front portion of the top tube is held in position by the seat tube, as well as fixings at either end.