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British Industrial History

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Humber: Cycles

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Advertising sign.
1870/80s. 56 inch. Exhibit at the Snibston Discovery Museum.
Advertising sign.
Advertising sign.
1874. Early Price List.
1884. The First Humber Safety Bicycle.
1886. A. J. Wilson and G. P. Mills on a Humber Tandem Tricycle.
1887. Cripper Tricycle.
February 1888. Shown at the 1888 Stanley Cycle Show.
February 1888. Shown at the 1888 Stanley Cycle Show.
February 1888. Shown at the 1888 Stanley Cycle Show.
1889. 56-inch Humber racer. No. 17.
1890. Beeston Humber.
1890 February. Exhibit at the 1890 Stanley Cycle Show.
1890 February. Exhibit at the 1890 Stanley Cycle Show.
Humber Safety Bicycle. No. 38.
1892. Humber No 11
1892. 56-inch Humber racer. The last 'Ordinary' made by Thomas Humber. No. 18.
Humber racing 'Ordinary'.
1894. Humber Bicycle with Boudard Gear. From 'Bartleet's Bicycle Book' No. 42.
French advertising poster. Exhibit at the Musee Automobile de Vendee.
Circa 1895. Advertising poster.
1896. Lady's cycle.
1898. Tricycle.
1898. Ladies Tricycle.
August 1898.
July 1900.
July 1900.
March 1904.
April 1908. Advert in French.
October 1918.
February 1922. Humber Standard model.
May 1923. Humber Standard model.
July 1927
Oct 1927.
February 1931.
March 1931.
May 1931.
July 1931. The Sprite.
December 1931.
July 1931.
December 1931. The Sprite.
1935. Humber Cob.
October 1935.
November 1935.
April 1936
April 1936. Humber Sprite.
April 1936.
April 1936.
April 1936.

Note: This is a sub-section of the main Humber entry

For the early history see Thomas Humber

1878 Advert: Humber and Co: established 1878: manufacturers of the celebrated Humber cycles[1].

1884 First safety cycle.

1888 February. Stanley Exhibition of Cycles in Westminster. Humber and Co of Beeston are an amalgamation of Devey and Co, Coventry Cycle Co and Townsend and Co. Forty-five machines shown. Some items share a patent with Woodhead, Angois and Ellis. Also a tricycle exhibited. [2] [3]

1889 Jan/Feb. Stanley Exhibition. Cycle. [4]

1889 February. The Engineer. [5]

1890 Jan/Feb. The Stanley Exhibition of Cycles at the Crystal Palace. Bicycle. Illustrated. So easy it can be ridden without hands! [6]

1890 Diamond-framed Humber bicycle produced which was essentially the same as modern bicycles[7].

1892 Safety bicycle. Exhibit at Nottingham Industrial Museum.

1896/7 Directory: Listed under cycles. More details [8]

1898 Advert: Humber and Co: manufacturers of the celebrated Humber cycles; Beeston-Humber cycles are recognised as the best; first use of aluminium tubes; Wolverhampton-Humber cycles are exact copies of those made at Beeston; Coventry-Humber cycles at prices within the reach of all[9].

1906 Introduction of Humber-Cordner 3-speed gear[10].

1927 Stand 35 at the 1927 Motor Cycle and Cycle Show at Olympia.

1932 Raleigh Cycle Co acquired the cycle division of Humber

No. 17. [11]

56 inch Beeston Humber racing "ordinary," specially built for R. M. Wright, of Lincoln, about 1889, under the personal supervision of Thomas Humber: Wright won many prizes on this machine.

This exhibit shows the 'ordinary' at the zenith of its mechanical development. On identical machines — except in the matter of height — the 1 mile and 1 hour 'ordinary' records were made: these are still unbeaten: the time for the mile was 2 minutes 28.8 seconds by F. J. Osmond at Paddington track on 15th July, 1890 and the 1 hour, 21 miles 180 yards by B. W. Attlee at Herne Hill, 2nd September, 1891.

It has frequently been stated that Attlee used a pneumatic tyred machine: this is not correct; his Humber 'ordinary' was fitted with solid tyres. Accompanying this exhibit is a letter from B. W. Attlee in which he says: “It seems unlikely that these figures will ever be beaten. My mount was a 57 inch, and was fitted with solid tyres, not pneumatics as stated in some existing lists of records."

On this identical machine, G. D. Woodley won the 'ordinary' race for the Old Timers Cup at Herne Hill in 1923. Loaned by R. M. Wright. Weight 26 lbs.

No. 18. [12]

56 inch Beeston Humber racing 'ordinary.' This is probably the last example of the old high bicycle made by the Humber Co.: it was specially built for H. D. Faith, London Bicycle Club, for the last of the 'ordinary' championships, held in 1892, and on it Faith ran second to J. H. Adams in the 1 and 25 miles championships that year.

It will be noted that the front wheel has tangent spokes; and old-timers who recall Thomas Humber's antipathy to that system of spoking will guess that "thereby hangs a tale." This is the tale. Faith, being a very heavy man, found the original direct-spoked wheel "give" slightly on the banking of Paddington track: he therefore had the wheel rebuilt, with tangent spokes, by Pollard Brothers, the West London cycle makers, who also replaced the original Humber cranks with "Southard" patent twisted cranks.

Mr. Humber was very annoyed at this interference with his design, and asked Faith to return the machine, offering to refund the price paid for it. The request was not complied with, and on his retirement from racing, Faith presented the bicycle to the Bartleet Museum. Weight, 30.5 lbs.

The cranks on this 'Humber' are worth noting: they were specially fitted by H. D. Faith's order when the front wheel was rebuilt with tangent spokes. Known as 'Southard's Twisted Cranks,' they were an invention of a Southampton man of that name, under his patent No. 17408/1889, and embody an extremely clever principle. Each crank was forcibly twisted exactly half a turn when cold, the claim being that, after this treatment, the metal would not twist any more on violent pedal pressure being applied to it. Obviously right and left cranks were twisted in different directions and were not interchangeable.

Southard's cranks were stated to weigh only 7 ounces the pair, against 16 ounces, the alleged weight of the standard cranks of the period. For some years after their introduction they enjoyed considerable popularity.

No. 38. [13]

'Humber' safety bicycle, 1891. Made at the Beeston Works of Messrs. T. Humber and Co., vide original transfer on down tube. 28 inch back wheel, 30 inch front: solid tyres. Features to note: swinging bottom bracket for adjusting tension of chain; lamp bracket and head clip combined; steering centres in front of line of forks. Presented by G. W. Mann, F.O.T.C.

No. 42. [14]

Humber bicycle, fitted with 'Boudard' gear. Weight complete 36.25 lbs. Wheels 28 inch back, 30 inch front. Presented by William Armstrong, Middlesbrough.

The 'Boudard' gear was invented by Marcel Boudard and Cornelius Henry Crawley, Peveril Works, Peveril Street, Nottingham. Date of patent application, 26th January, 1893, No. 1779.

The operation of the mechanism is easy to follow but hard to explain: its advantages are even more difficult to appreciate. Instead of the usual chain-wheel on the right side, the bracket-spindle carried an internally-toothed cog-wheel on the left side; this engaged with a small cog-wheel on a spindle which revolved in supplementary bearings placed immediately behind the main bracket. The other end of this second spindle carried a small chain-wheel, from which a chain ran to a larger chain-ring on the hub of the rear wheel. It will be seen that part of this complicated mechanism geared the road wheel up to an enormous extent, the chain and its two sprockets promptly reducing the gear to about normal proportions.

The Gear was taken up by Humber and Co., Ltd., and in 1894 G. P. Mills, then Works Manager at Humber's Beeston factory, beat the Land's End to John O'Groats record on a Humber bicycle fitted with the Boudard gear, his time being 3 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, beating R. H. Carlisle's record by 8 hours 26 minutes. He used a gear of 66. This time still stands as paced record: it was beaten under unpaced conditions by G. A. Olley in 1908, his figures being 3 days 5 hours 20 minutes.

A letter from G. P. Mills is attached to the exhibit in the Bartleet Collection: in this he says: “My pacemakers, who rode the spare machine, christened it the “Pushard Gear“!

In October, 1894, a company was floated, with a capital of £45,000, to purchase the Boudard Gear patent. It had a brief and somewhat hectic career, and came to an untimely end.

Note the “Fairbanks” laminated wood rims, covered with thin canvas, and varnished— "to keep out the wet." Also Humber system of spoking, with direct spokes in the front wheel and on the left side of the rear wheel, and tangents on the driven side of the rear wheel.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, 9 February 1898
  2. The Engineer of 10th February 1888 p118 and p161
  3. The Engineer of 15th February 1888 p131
  4. 1889 Jan/Feb. Stanley Exhibition
  5. The Engineer of 22nd Feb 1889 p158
  6. The Engineer of 7th February 1890 p107 and p138-9
  7. The Story of the Bicycle, by John Woodforde, 1970
  8. Peck's Trades Directory of Birmingham, 1896-97: Cycles
  9. The Times, 9 February 1898
  10. The Times, 6 April, 1906
  11. Bartleet's Bicycle Book
  12. Bartleet's Bicycle Book
  13. Bartleet's Bicycle Book
  14. Bartleet's Bicycle Book