My friend Bob worked for Bonhams, a company that often auctions vintage bike collections as a result of the death of the collector. Some years ago he asked what would happen to my collection when that time came. Despite the morbidity, it’s a valid question since my collection represents both my pension fund and life insurance policy. Nevertheless, I would not be going the Bonhams route. Consequently I asked him whether he would choose me to auction his own collection if similar circumstances transpired. (I did already sell his prototype Mochet Velocar). A degree of friendly rivalry exists between all collectors, and I duly received the following email from Bob:
‘Colin, You may have seen the item in today’s online Daily Mail about a dead biker being buried, on his Harley and in a glass coffin. I announced to my wife that I would opt to go like that, on a Velocar. But she remarked that it would be pointless – since I would instantly be dug up by Colin.’
This rare 6-Speed Golden Sunbeam comes from Bob’s collection and, below, you can read the circumstances of its acquisition.
The Six-Speed Sunbeam – ‘Model A6′ – was not a popular bicycle, and Sunbeam dropped it from their catalogue in 1911, after only three years. The quote from their 1910 catalogue, reproduced above, mentions the relative weight of a Six-Speed. Because of various comments in the cycling press, we believe that the public did not take to the Six-Speed at the time because they felt it weighed more.
But bear in mind also that, in 1908-1910, gears were still a novelty: the general opinion was that a ‘real man’ should ride a bicycle without gears.
It was not until four or five years later, by which time gears were a standard feature, that Sunbeam enthusiasts reconsidered the idea of a Six-Speed, and some owners combined the two-speed epicyclic with a three-speed rear hub to re-create their own version of the Sunbeam Six-Speed …although without the special six speed gears, these later ones were actually only a ‘five-speed.’
This example is a real Six Speed, and one of only three known survivors. The external differences are easily spotted: two brazed-on lugs for the trigger mountings on the top tube, and also for the gear fittings at the top of the seat tube.
1912 Golden Sunbeam Six Speed
‘Model A6’ (ie Genuine Six Speed)
Frame No 117748
A year later, thanks to Doug Pinkerton buying the remains of a Gent’s Sunbeam for me at an auction to provide the necessary two-speed gear parts, and many hours spent on it by Tony, the ‘Sunbeam Doctor’, this historic Six-Speed Sunbeam was rideable with operational gears.
Above and below: close ups of the external identifying features of a Six Speed Model A6.