Judging from the elaborate chainwheel bearing the name of the manufacturer, this was not a cheaply made bicycle. A bicycle whose maker’s name is forged into the chainwheel was definitely made to stand out from the crowd. Ford & Co was one of thousands of small British cycle-makers, and were located in Surbiton Rd, Hampton Wick, in the affluent suburbs of Kingston-on-Thames.
Most small cycle manufacturers used bought-in components, and many made their bicycles to look like the best-selling models of the day (which is why the top manufacturers made all their own components, and made them hard to copy). Such ‘knock-off’ bicycles would not have had a distinctive chainwheel like this.
The small manufacturers were able to compete with top-selling brands by supplying local customers, and offering a good follow-up service. They had agencies to supply most of the bigger name machines, but also offered customers a bespoke service. Their shop overheads were reasonably low, and if they could take a advance deposit before they completed a machine for a customer, bicycles they made themselves could also be sold at lower prices than name brands.
Photographed in 1894 (below) is Henry Ford with a bicycle.
1919 Ford Gents Roadster
28 x 1 3/4″ Wheels
1932 FORD MODEL B TUDOR
In the 1980s and early 90s I restored vintage cars and motorcycles for a living, and my work and hobby revolved around cars such as this 1932 Ford Model B. I’ve owned this car since 2004.
British Model B’s differ from their American counterpart in a few ways (suicide doors, windscreen, sidelights). The Model B launch of 1932 was veiled in secrecy, as was Schwinn’s first balloon tyre bicycle model launched in the same year. Ford’s new V8 engine was revolutionary in design (mine has a 24hp flathead, rather than the V8). In the following decades hot-rodders bought up most Model B’s, so a stock saloon such as this is now very rare. The Dagenham police cars, below, were the last few Model B’s to roll off the production line.
These days, vintage bicycles take up most of my time. I jumped at the chance to own a Ford bicycle when I first saw it several years ago. Though obviously not a product of Henry Ford, I thought it would look good strapped to the back of the car when I take it to shows.
Unlike many car manufacturers, Henry Ford did not start out making bicycles; but he certainly studied Col Albert Pope’s mass-production techniques, and learned from them. They subsequently fought over the Selden patent, with Ford the eventual winner.
If the history of mass-production intrigues you, Glen Norcliffe’s study ‘Popeism and Fordism’ is interesting to read on this subject. As he states: ‘Mass producers of bicycles paved the way for the automobile era, and among these pioneers of mass production Albert Pope stands out for the breadth of his vision of what mass production was all about.’ But what particularly piqued my interest was a small paragraph at the end of the study that points out that the inspiration for mass-production was most likely the huge meat-packing industries of 19th century Chicago, and also in Lyon, France, where there was an urban complex complete with a Ford-like disassembly line.
This museum more-or-less started with one of Pope’s most successful bicycles, the 1891 Columbia. It was the bike I was riding when I started this website, and features in two of the videos. So, if you will allow me a little creative license, with Albert passing the mantle to Henry, this Ford page could be an appropriate final entry.