Events moved fast for Auto-Wheels Ltd as soon as the Wall Autowheel was made available for sale in August 1912. Demand soon outstripped supply, BSA took over manufacture in 1914, and then the Great War started.
BSA turned their factories over to war production, but bicycles and motorcycles were needed for the war effort – as well as for mobility at home – so Auto-wheel manufacture continued. An engine-within-a- wheel cycle attachment was a novel concept and also a very practical one. Auto-wheels were sold to the fledgling Automobile Association and were also made available to various military units. ‘Motor-bicycles’ (motorcycles) were still a new idea when war broke out, and most soldiers had not ridden one; Auto-wheels were available for soldiers to help them learn how to ride a motorised bicycle.
1913 First Pattern Wall Auto-wheel fitted to
1915 BSA Gent’s Tourist ‘Model 12’ Bicycle with Military Fittings
BSA Three-Speed Gears
Brooks Frame Bag, Toolbag, Rear Carrier, Rifle Mounts
This Auto-wheel is one of Wall’s first batch, made between 1912 and 1913. When it came onto the market it was very well-received. But increased production was beyond the capacity of Auto-Wheels Ltd so BSA took over its manufacture and, from 1914 onward, all Auto-wheels had a BSA badge.
The Auto-wheel was restored in the early 1980s, and is in running order. The BSA bicycle is set up for military use, with inflator pump, bell, tool bags, rifle mounts and rifle (1916 Lee Enfield SMLE No.1 Mk.III). The matching kit bags bear the name of an officer who served in WW1, H.S Sharp. Attached to the kit bag mounted over the handlebars is a WW1 leather map case, made by Sifton Praed & Co Ltd, and sold by ‘The Map House’ in St. James St, London.
This machine is ready for war.
Observe HRH Prince George of Battenberg, below, demonstrating the latest Auto-wheel in the Birmingham Small Arms Co Ltd 1914 sales brochure…
…But who is HRH Prince George of Battenberg?
(The answer is further down the page)
1914 BSA CATALOGUE & GAMAGES ADVERT
This bicycle is a Gent’s Tourist ‘Model 12 ‘ with 28″ wheels. But BSA also made a BSA ‘Model 15’ – with a slightly extended frame – specifically for use with the Auto-wheel. The 26″ wheels were fitted with wider (1 3/4″) tyres. Having purchased Eadie Ltd in 1907, BSA fitted Eadie coaster hubs to a high proportion of their bikes; this was useful on a motorised bicycle as a rider’s fingers and thumbs already have extra work to contend with.
The BSA catalogue extract below reveals a price of £9 5/- for the BSA ‘Standard’ bicycle; and the Gamages advert shows the price when fitted with an Auto-wheel: 16 guineas. It includes a royal endorsement:
‘HRH Prince George of Battenberg and HRH Prince Henry of Prussia ride and recommend Wall Auto-wheels.’
HRH Prince henry of Prussia was the German Emperor’s younger brother, and Queen Victoria’s grandson. He became Commander-in-Chief of Prussia’s Baltic fleet during WW1. His royal endorsement was therefore removed from BSA’s brochures once war was declared.
HRH Prince George of Battenberg, who illustrated his Auto-wheeling skills in BSA catalogues, was none other than George Mountbatten.
His sister was Princess Alice, mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and his brother was Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Prince George’s father, Louis, was the first Sea Lord of the Royal Navy. The family was embarrassed about their German ancestry, and Louis resigned as Sea Lord after the outbreak of war; he also relinquished his Battenberg title in 1917, changing the family name to Mountbatten.
RUSSELL RD, KENSINGTON, LONDON W
1913 WALL AUTOWHEEEL CATALOGUE