Though by the early years of the 20th century cycle racing focussed more on two wheel machines, racing tricycles had been popular during the 1890s, and a lightweight tricycle such as this would have been designed as a result of the earlier demand for them in racing circles.
A Rudge-Whitworth gents’ tricycle was both prestigious and practical. Rudge-Whitworth were pioneers in the field of lightweight machines, with their ladies’ bicycles the lightest on the market. This gentlemen’s tricycle was of the type favoured by royalty: you can see both King Edward – who succeeded Queen Victoria in 1901 – and the Prince of Wales mentioned by name on the Rudge-Whitworth catalogue’s royal crest. Whereas Humber’s Beeston Gent’s Tricycle would have been the top heavyweight model available to the Royal Families of Europe, the Rudge-Whitworth was the leading lightweight three-wheeler on the market in Britain.
A particularly interesting aspect of the wheel set on the example featured here is that the rear wheels have wooden beaded edge rims and the front is a beaded edge hollow crescent rim, making this a very lightweight wheel option. Wooden bicycle wheels were covered by American patents – US companies introduced them on their own machines specifically to avoid the British patents for metal Westwood rims and ‘clincher’ pneumatic tyres. I wonder if this style of wooden rim that accepts a pneumatic (beaded edge) tyre – rather than the US style rim that can only accept a tubeless tyre – was designed to avoid the US patent?
1905 RUDGE-WHITWORTH CATALOGUE EXTRACT
1901 Rudge-Whitworth Light Roadster Tricycle
‘No 30 Special’
with Starley 1892 Patent Rear Axle
28″ Beaded Edge Front Wheel
26″ Beaded Edge Wooden Rear Wheels
Brooks ‘Model B28’ Saddle
Frame No 155054
Turn-of-the-century Gentlemen’s Tricycles are now rare; most tricycles sold at this time were loop-frame style used by women and older folks. Machines of this calibre were favoured by the middle-aged aristocracy, who still followed the traditions of the 1800s. They were much more expensive to buy than a bicycle. The tricycle frame style did not change from year to year: the details that did change were the handlebar (which became upturned rather than flat), front brake (from plunger to rim brake) and chainwheel.
The famous Starley axle on this Light Roadster Tricycle was patented by James Starley in 1877, and has a differential, with only one rear wheel driven. When you are riding at speed, you compensate for this when turning.
Rudge-Whitworth was one of the country’s leading cycle manufacturers of this era, and were the first large firm to start discounting prices. Their total sales between July 1901 and July 1902 were 29,000, and the following year 42,000. Tricycles accounted for only a very small proportion of overall sales, and often remained in stock for several years before being sold. From its frame number, it can be seen that this example might have been made at the end of 1901 or early 1902. But its silver head badge was made specially for 1901 Rudge-Whitworths to celebrate the first year of the new century. Its chainwheel is the pattern used until 1903. The front brake illustrated in the 1901 catalogue was a plunger-type onto the front wheel, though brake technology developed very fast at that time, so no doubt the rim brake on this machine was already in use by that year. Beaded edge wheel rims for tricycles are not mentioned in Rudge-Whitworth catalogues until 1904: so either this 1901 machine remained in stock for a few years before being sold, and was then fitted with the latest wheel set; they were updated after sale; or the wheels were available by special order in 1901 and 1902, but not fitted as standard until 1904. (They are only mentioned in the 1904 and 1905 catalogues).
This Rudge-Whitworth has been repainted sometime during its life, and the inserts in the (matching) Rudge patent pedals have been replaced. The rare Brooks ‘Model B28’ saddle has an interesting frame design. This lightweight tricycle is in good all-round condition and ready to ride.
To mount a large Gentlemen’s tricycle, you step onto the rear axle with your left foot (you can see the rear axle step-plate in the top left of the photo below). As your body starts to move onto the saddle, and before your right foot reaches the pedal, you grip the front brake with your right hand.
1902 RUDGE-WHITWORTH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
STARLEY’S 1892 PATENT REAR AXLE
The first axle was patented by James Starley, in 1877 for his ‘Royal Salvo Tricycle’.
His son, William, improved on this in 1892, and it is this differential that is used in the Abingdon axle.
There’s a brass badge on the diff housing that states ‘Starley’s Patent No 7752 1892‘ and ‘King Dick’ which was Abingdon’s trade mark name for their cycles, accessories and tools. Later axles have the brass badge, but it just states ‘Abingdon.’
1904 RUDGE-WHITWORTH CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
Photo location: Oast house, near Buxted, East Sussex