In the last two deca.des of the 19th century, cycling in Ireland progressed from bemg a relatively exclusIve pursuit restricted to young, middle-class men, to a popular sport and pastime which appealed allke to young, mddle- aged and elderly members of the middle class, including large numbers of women.
According to the ‘Belfast Newsletter’ in 1894, “In future it is probable the trams will have only the aged and infirm of both sexes to carry, as the younger members will be found rushing about on the improved tyres as lightly and noiselessly as butterflies in a flower garden.” Two years later, the same newspaper claimed that “at the present day nearly everyone has taken to wheels as a mode of locomotion. Bicycle manufacturers cannot turn out machines in sufficient numbers to meet the demand.” It added that “Perhaps one of the most significant facts of the fin de siecle is the run on cycles by the fair sex. For every single or married lady who ventured on wheels, shall we say of fortune, in the past year, hundreds are to be encountered at the present time.”
Such was the large number of Irish cyclists during the latter part of the 1890s that the ‘Irish Wheelman’ stated in August 1897 that “…if cycling advances with the same rapid progress of the past ten years, it would be necessary for pedestrians to organise themselves into clubs for their own protection”.
– Making and Selling Bicycles in Ireland 1880-90
As you can see from the late 1880s Humber advertisement above, The R.I.C (Royal Irish Constabulary) was acknowledged as a valuable trade customer for bicycles. This was recognised by Irish companies too. The ‘Irish Cyclist’ of 23 Sept, 1891, reported that “Alexander Mecredy, nicknamed ‘The Energetic’, whose Clare Street business built ‘Energetic’ bicycles, were especially aimed at R.I.C. customers.”
Around the turn of the century, the Premier Cycle Co opened a cycle depot in Belfast, supplying the ‘Shamrock’ Premier. A few years later this company introduced a truss frame with an extra tube between the bottom of the steering tube and the top of the seat tube. This extra bracing was particularly useful when they received a special order for a bicycle with a taller frame size.
Sparkbrook subsequently used the same design (presumably under license from Premier) when they brought out their reinforced ‘R.I.C Roadster’. Presumably they had landed an order with the Royal Irish Constabulary. Some cycle companies named certain of their advertised models ‘military’ or constabulary’ as a public relations exercise: it was well-known that army or police bicycles needed to be well-built, and cycle firms were obliged to focus on the strength of their models because unscrupulous local dealers passed off cheap ‘gas-pipe’ cycles that were very poorly constructed and fell apart soon after purchase. The adverese publicity had started to affect trade.
The Royal Irish Constabulary was the police force in Ireland from the early nineteenth century until 1922. The R.I.C’s successful system of policing influenced the armed Canadian North-West Mounted Police (predecessor of the RCMP), the armed Victoria Police force in Australia, and the armed Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. (Newfoundland was a separate British colony until 1907, and joined Canada in 1949). As a result of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the RIC was disbanded in 1922.*
THE IRISH WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, 1919-1921
Cyclists of the Royal Irish Cobnstabulary and 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, preparing for a joint patrol. © IWM
1910s Sparkbrook R.I.C Roadster
as supplied to The Royal Irish Constabulary
The bicycle presented here looks almost identical to the Sparkbrook R.I.C Roadster illustrated in the 1913 and 1914 Sparkbrook catalogues (below). I have no other Sparkbrook catalogues to reference in order to clarify the differences, which are that the cycle uses BSA Fittings and that it has a handlebar with pull up front brakes rather than a handlebar with roller brake levers.
There was a shortage of new bicycles after war was declared in August, 1914, because most bicycles were supplied for military use. In my opinion (I have no proof), this example was built by an Irish cycle firm as an R.I.C model, using parts that were available at the time, in order to keep up the supply to the Royal Irish Constabulary …which would have been under extra stress to mobilise men as a result of the war. BSA Fittings were top quality components, but could be purchased through the cycle trade at much cheaper prices than that of a finished bicycle, allowing an Irish cycle shop to make a decent profit margin while the regular R.I.C model was unavailable from Sparkbrook Mfg Co in England. As the R.I.C was disbanded in 1922, I assume the model was discontinued.
This R.I.C Roadster is in good condition all round, and ready to ride.
1913 SPARKBROOK CATALOGUE EXTRACTS
PREMIER TRUSS FRAME
advertised by J.J KELLY of DUBLIN
1914 SPARKBROOK CATALOGUE EXTRACTS