A Lea-Francis was a ‘dream bicycle’ in its day and, such is its rarity over a century later, it remains so today.
But which quality three-speed gent’s bicycle might you buy in 1910 if money were no object?
A cheap option for a quality bicycle would be a machine built with BSA Fittings. For example, John Piggott Ltd advertised the same in Cycling magazine of June 1908, for 7 guineas.
The Imperial Triumph with three speed was £13 10/-.
A Gentleman’s Elswick Special Cross Truss with Sturmey-Archer three speed was £13 15/- 6d, and the Royal Premier was 14 guineas.
The basic Dursley Pedersen Cantilever was £12 17/- 6d; extras were another 22/- 6d.
Rudge-Whitworth’s most expensive machine (a No 6 Aero-Special de Luxe Featherweight with Sturmey-Archer Tri-Coaster hub brake) was £14 12/-.
The Golden Sunbeam with two-speed epicyclic gears was 15 guineas, and with three speed it was 16 guineas.
As you can see from the 1907 Lea Francis catalogue illustration below, the Lea-Francis Men’s Bicycle with Sturmey-Archer three speed was 16 guineas.
Raleigh’s top of the range Modele Superbe X Frame was £17 10/- with no extra cost if paid in 12 monthly instalments.
Prices are approximate because some were taken from previous year’s catalogues and some from year later. Prices fluctuated from year to year, and cash purchases were often cheaper than advertised in the catalogues. But we can see from this comparison that Lea-Francis prices were toward the upper end of the quality market. A Lea-Francis machine was built to such a high standard the company enjoyed almost cult status.
Like their competitors in the top end of the market, their components were made in their own factory in order to guarantee supply and also to prevent unscrupulous companies making cheap copies of their machines. The company proclaimed in its catalogue that their front brake was ‘the most expensive fitted to any bicycle in the world’ and that it was ‘produced literally regardless of cost.’
The handlebar has the Lea Francis patent concealed roller lever brakes. The rod operated mechanism for the front brake is concealed within the steering tube, and connected to a stirrup to pull up the brake blocks onto the rim. This brake is both elegant and efficient and was much admired at the time. Another superb Lea Francis patent feature is the unique LEAF aluminium pedals.
1910 Lea-Francis Men’s Cycle
with Lea Francis Three-Speed Hub & Gear Trigger
Concealed Roller Lever Brakes
‘LEAF’ Aluminium Pedals
Frame No 23016
SHORT VIDEO: RIDING THE 1910 LEA FRANCIS
My friend Ed visited me and we took a ride along the seafront from Rottingdean to Brighton.
To see a short video of Ed riding the Lea Francis, view below or PLEASE CLICK HERE
HOUSING FOR OILER
The oiler is housed in the handlebar stem, accessed by a removable cap engraved with the company’s name.
LEA FRANCIS PATENT HEAD LOCK
LEA FRANCIS PATENT CONCEALED ROLLER LEVER BRAKES
LEA FRANCIS PATENT BRAMPTON ‘LEAF’ ALUMINIUM PEDALS
Lea Francis patented this special design, a ‘Leaf’ pedal. They were also used on Dursley Pedersen machines.
Observe that the pedal name LEAF relates to LEA Francis, as well as being in the shape of a leaf.
1907 LEA-FRANCIS CATALOGUE
FROM ROGER S. THORNE’S LEA-FRANCIS ARCHIVE
Roger S. Thorne was a Lea-Francis bicycle owner in the 1960s. His Lea-Francis was also a 1908 model though, from the description on the display board he used when taking his bicycle to shows (reproduced below), it was slightly different from the machine featured here.
He knew A.G. Wilson, who worked for the Lea-Francis from 1897 to 1908, and he corresponded with Peter Pringle of the Lea-Francis Owner’s Club.
I bought these letters at an auction in 2010 (along with the original 1901 Lea-Francis catalogue referred to in the letters) and am pleased to be able to publish them to be shared by fellow enthusiasts of this fascinating marque.