He was like that you know, he never wanted to ever make money; all he wanted was to be known as the man who made the best bicycle
– Florence Selbach in an interview with Derek Roberts in 1978
‘Selbach bicycles are considered one of the finest or even the best lightweights to come from the UK in the 1920’s and 1930’s,’ says Ben Sharp, Selbach marque specialist. ‘All the bicycles that came from Selbach’s workshop were built to the highest standard of quality and the workmanship was exceptional. They are possibly the best examples of the lightweight bicycle makers craft from that period. The frames were built from the best Reynolds tubing (Reynolds A Class, Reynolds High Tensile, Reynolds Taper Tubing, Reynolds H.M. and Reynolds 531) and the highest quality fittings available from BSA, Chater Lea, Constrictor, Brooks, and Pelissier etc were used. Selbach introduced many new innovations to their bicycles including Timken taper roller bearings in steering heads, wheel hubs and bottom bracket.’
Selbach tandems are rare beasts. I bought this fabulous unrestored original one from the marque specialist Ben Sharp.
1935 Selbach Peerless Tandem
Short Wheelbase Model
Frame No 04365
Sturmey-Archer Three-Speed ‘Model K6’ Gear
This SWB Selbach is wonderfully preserved despite quite regular use by its previous owner. The original Sturmey-Archer ‘K6’ hub shell was retained but its internals were replaced with those from a prewar ‘AW.’ The mudguards were also removed to make it a lighter faster machine. It was a state-of-the-art machine in 1935. With its short wheelbase frame and light weight it’s still a very practical fast touring tandem eighty years on.
COPYRIGHT: Ben Sharp, Selbach Marque Specialist
Maurice Gaetan Selbach was born in Paris, France on 12 August 1889, his father Oscar was born in the USA and was of German decent and his mother, Marguerite Kossakowska, was a Polish Countess. M.G. Selbach received an excellent education and was fluent in French, German and English. It was said he spoke English with no accent and people who didn’t know his background would never have guessed he wasn’t English. His father Oscar Selbach was a civil engineer who had business interests in automobile manufacturing and retailing and sold cars under the Selbach name. By 1901 the Selbach family had moved to London; by then, Oscar Selbach had a new wife, Louise. They also had a house at 28 Russell Square, Brighton.
Oscar Selbach sent Maurice to Pitmans to learn shorthand but Young Maurice went on to become an extremely successful racing cyclist who was to win many competitive events and broke many records. During World War 1, he served in The London OCA and, in 1917, he married a Dutch girl, Adele Nabarro. After the War he had a lot more success in cycle racing, and he turned professional in 1922 after The Anerley 12 Event. He was meant to be at work on the day of the race, but instead he took the day of to compete; unfortunately for him, his boss and the boss’s brother were also riding in the same event – so when Maurice overtook his employer in the race his boss shouted out to Maurice that he was now sacked from work.
He continued to be a very successful racing cyclist and top long distance time trailist, and was a member of the Unity CC. His racing career included several record-breaking rides and he successfully completed the Paris – Roubaix in 1923 for the French Louvet team.
After winning the 6 day race held at Olympia, London, on July 1923 – in which he raced a bicycle to his own design and build painted in red, white and blue – he used the prize money to start a business. It was his intention from the beginning to make the finest bicycles for the road as well as the best track racer, clubman and tourist. M.G. Selbach started his business around February 1924, at 337 Kennington Road, in south east London; this was both his showroom and works. By March 1924 Selfridges in Oxford Street was acting as his West End agent; they also offered Hire Purchase arrangements for Selbach. Gordon Selfridge, the American owner, offered Selbach a display window on Oxford Street for his 6 day winning racer and other Selbach machines with Stars and Stripes and Union Jack flags drapped around the display.
By March 1925 he had taken on another premises at 312 Kennington Road: business was becoming very good and his reputation for building the finest lightweight bicycle was growing. During the 1920s and 30s many key racing events were won and many records broken on Selbach machines. But in Easter 1927 – a very busy time for the cycle trade in those days – disaster struck.
He had just finished preparing his bicycles. They were all stored behind his new premises’ shop windows, waiting to be collected by customers and delivery companies. A fire started when a cigarette discarded into a stack of Bluemels celluloid mudguards caught alight. Maurice was outside the shop front at the time and he kicked in the front window pane in attempt to save his stock, but instead a piece of plate glass cut an artery in his leg and he passed out on the pavement. Luckily for him a Dr Elliot was over the road and sewed up his wound on the street.
Later, these new premises were re-arranged, and this became the new office and showroom and sole contact address for M.G. Selbach. It is not known if he kept on the other addresses. In 1927, shortly after the fire, M.G. Selbach met Florence Whiting and they married. The new Mrs Selbach started to work for Maurice managing the sales and administrative side of the business and at the 1927 Olympia Cycle and Motorcycle Show M.G. Selbach had the biggest island amongst the bicycle exhibitors to exhibit their machines (their display being even more substantial than Raleigh).
Maurice was a great fan of American cars and motor cycles, particularly Buicks and Chryslers, and he often used these cars for delivery of his bicycles around London. His interest in the cars and motorbikes included taking them apart and, much to his maid’s annoyance, he sometimes used the front room at home as a workshop to strip down and rebuild the large car engines. He was also interested in wireless as a hobby and worked on many wireless projects: in an interview with Derek Roberts, Mrs Selbach always wondered what he would have done with television!
M.G. Selbach invested some cash into the development of the Taper Main Tubing for cycle frames. W.E. Ewings, P.J. Dean and H.B. Harris of Granby Cycle Works who were working on this idea with Reynolds Tubing and, in October 1926, their patent was accepted and given the Patent number 259026. Selbach taper tubing became an option on most models: at the beginning all three main tubes were tapered (top tube 1” to 1 1/8” down tube 1 1/8” and seat tube 1 1/8” to 1 1/3”) but, by the early 1930s, just the down tube and seat tube were tapered. Selbach went on to develop The Taper Tube Tandem which went on sale in 1929. It was described as having Selbach’s Patent (pat no 259026) Large Diameter Reynolds High Tensile Taper Tubing which was later made from Reynolds H.M. Large Diameter Taper Tubing and Selbach’s Patent Head Clip (which was a three piece headclip consisting of the head race and adjusting head race with a serrated edge which interlocked with the serrated edge of the separate head clip) and Timken Taper Roller Bearing bottom steering bearing. (Selbach, in his 1932 catalogue, introduced his Timken Roller bearing bottom bracket and front and rear hubs including a rear hub that could be divided. When its centre draw bolt was removed from its hollow axle the sprocket assembly was left on the frame when the wheel was removed so that the chain needn’t be disturbed. It was developed for his Business Model with a full chain case). It was also fitted with the Selbach Forward Facing Novel Seat Lug Assembly which had a cut out cotter pin which went through a hole cut forward of the seat pin through the seat lug where the top tube is brazed in. M.G. Selbach had the design registered on the 18 October 1928 and it expired in 18 October 1933 (Regd design 741223). Later Taper Tube Tandems had conventional seat lugs.
In 1928 M.G.Selbach exhibited at the Science Museum, London a Selbach F.H.W. Aero Special Path Model. Which only weighed 14 ½ lbs! (It is now in their transport store but it is catalogued in The H.M.S.O. Cycles, history and development part 1 and 2.) It was built with Selbach Super Fittings, Duralumin cranks, chain wheel, hubs, pedals, seat pillar and saddle mountings. Brooks saddle and Reynolds high tensile tubing. All bright parts were Chromium plated. Maurice Selbach introduced Chromium plating on all the steel fittings like hubs and chainsets on his bikes in the 1928 catalogue for 30/- extra and was the first cycle manufacturer to do so. Some Selbach bicycles had both chrome and nickel plated parts on them including nickel plated fork crowns and ends and rear stays with chrome fittings into the 1930s – so if you come across a tatty original Selbach with a mix of nickel and chrome parts you will have some serious detective work ahead of you to determine which part was originally fitted and what was fitted later in the bikes life.
Another Selbach bicycle is in the Henry Ford Museum, U.S.A. It was presented to Henry Ford when he visited the U.K in the late 1920s. He wanted the best bicycle Britain could build to take home with him, so a Selbach with all Duralumin parts and flat upturned handle bars was chosen. In the museum it is described as a B.S.A! This confusion may be because B.S.A wanted M.G. Selbach to make a special range of racing cycles for them to be sold under their own name (1978 interview between Mrs Selbach and Derek Roberts).
[This previously unpublished article with thanks to Ben Sharp]
COPYRIGHT: Ben Sharp, Selbach Marque Specialist
1935: DEATH OF M.G SELBACH
On Thursday 26th September 1935 Maurice G Selbach left Leander Road, Thornton Heath on one of his own cycles for the relatively short journey to his business premises in Kennington Road. He was not due to go to work on this day but, being the conscientiousn sort, wanted to make sure all was okay. At around 10.30, just under 4 mile into his journey, he made a manoeuvre past a truck and whilst returning to the near side of the road encountered some particularly badly laid tram rails that caused him to fall from the cycle under the wheel of the truck. He died en route to hospital. His funeral was attended by over 150 well-known cyclists and representatives of cycle manufacturing firms together with family and friends. The service was held at Streatham Park Cemetery. At the inquest the coroner recored accidental death by the cycling press felt the poor state of the installation and repair fo the tram lines had played a big part in the accident. Mrs Selbach had a special headstone made which showed a photograph of Maurice edged in gold. Below the picture was a sculpted bicycle leaning against a milestone. Above this were the words “He died as he lived. A cyclist”. In order to preserve it, the headstone was moved in 2004 to the National Cycle Museum in Powys where it is now on display.