1904 Columbia Model 138 Cushion Chainless 2-Speed Spring-fork


1904 Columbia Model 138 Cushion Chainless 2-Speed Spring-fork

(Now sold)




In 1902, Colonel Pope introduced some remarkable innovations to the Columbia line:

1. A sprung front fork

2. A shock absorber on the rear

3. A 2-speed gear for the Chainless model.

Bicycles could be equipped with any or all of these options. This one has all three.

The rear coaster brake does not work, so the plan was to fit a fixed wheel sprocket and ride it like that. I have ridden this bike without brakes, and it handles well …once you get used to the front and rear springing, which feels quite unusual for a bicycle.


The springing in the front forks is well-designed, as the exterior housing hides the actual mechanism, making the appearance very neat.

With the solid tyres on this bicycle, the front spring fork is a useful extra.

The rear shock-absorber on the Columbia frame first came out in 1902. The housing of the shocker was the same for all, but one could get different length springs inside for different weight riders. Adapting a bicycle to this extent for different riders was a novel idea at that time: bear in mind that the first bicycle ‘boom’ years were over by 1902, and manufacturers now had to work harder for their customers.

This is a 22″ bicycle, so its default fitting would have been a No 2 spring, to reflect the assumed weight of a rider with a height around 5′ 8″

Normal tyres at this time were ‘tubeless’ or solid and gave a hard ride. A bicycle with spring suspension was a major selling point and, as a result of the positive publicity, Columbia remained a top-selling brand despite hardships in the rest of the bicycle industry.

In the following years, cars and motorcycles competed with bicycles as popular modes of transportation. It’s interesting to note that both shaft-drive and spring-frames were a major influence on motorcycle design, both inventions no doubt inspired by the new-fangled motorized bicycles that had started to find their way onto the market …essentially beefed-up bicycles with engines attached.

As soon as mass-production entered the powered-vehicle industry – Colonel Pope was, of course, the pioneer who influenced Henry Ford in this respect – bicycle ownership would be relegated to the youth market, and bicycle manufacturers turned to motorized vehicle production for their income.

It can be interesting examining bicycles from over a hundred years ago to see their weak points. The shaft drive on this bicycle is in excellent condition. But we discovered that the suspension on this model of Columbia created a weak point on the pivot above the bottom bracket. I’ve marked it with an arrow above and below. We found a lot of play in the bearing. I assume this model was not in production for long enough for the company to deal with the issue. We rebushed it with a bronze bush and fitted a grease nipple (below) for lubrication.