QUESTION: Can only a gentleman ride a ‘Royal Sunbeam for Gentlemen?’
Or does the act of owning and riding one automatically confer that status upon you?
ANSWER: In 1913, the question did not arise. In a very class-conscious Edwardian society, it was naturally assumed that only an aristocrat would be able to afford such an expensive bicycle.
The All-Black Sunbeams (Golden or Royal), with painted rather than plated parts, were the most expensive Sunbeams on offer.
This All-Black 3-Speed Royal Sunbeam for Gentleman was £15 4/- 6d.
The All-Black Golden Sunbeam for Gentlemen with epicyclic gears was 16 guineas (£16 16/-). The Golden only had two gears. Sunbeam maintained that their patent epicyclic two-speed system was the equal of a Sturmey-Archer or BSA Three-speed. They were right! Nevertheless, by 1913, with Sturmey-Archer’s extensive advertising for its three speed gears, the public was at last sold on the idea of gears, and Sunbeam was obliged to offer an in-house three-speed option. (Actually, Sunbeam’s own hub gear is a BSA gear with the BSA name removed).
These Sunbeams were some of the most expensive bicycles in the world. To compare other upmarket three-speed British bikes from 1913, a top-of-the-range Elswick was 15 guineas, Raleigh Superbe X-Frame 15 guineas, Beeston Humber £15 12/- 6d, Ariel (without gears) £15, Dursley-Pedersen £12 7/- 6d, Triumph 10 guineas, Royal Enfield Duplex Girder £9 17/- 6d, BSA £9 15/- and Rudge-Whitworth £9 12/- 7d. Centaur had gone out of business by 1913, but their 1909 Resilient was 17 guineas and their 1911 Lightweight £9 15/-.
John Marston retired from business on 6 May 1916 and died in 1918 aged 82. The company was then sold. 1900-1914 was the company’s heyday.
World War One changed life in Great Britain (and most of the world) forever, and the pre-war years were looked upon with much nostalgia. This Sunbeam was purchased by its first owner in March 1913. While only one year later the newspapers would be dominated by battles, death and destruction, the main event in the news in Great Britain in that month was a big storm that severely damaged Worthing Pier (below).
1913 All-Black Royal Sunbeam for Gentlemen
Sunbeam Three-Speed Gear
Sunbeam Patent (Back-Pedal) ‘Foot Brake’
Brooks ‘Model B10 No2’ Saddle
Frame No 117829
Most Sunbeams sold before World War One were the two-speed epicyclic versions. The company recommended them. Nowadays, the pre-war Sunbeam Three-Speed, with its unique and distinctive gear trigger, is a rare model.
This All-Black Royal Three-Speed is in very good condition. The cosmetics are original and well preserved, and the box lining is intact on much of the bike. The head transfer has been polished to oblivion, but the chaincase transfer has survived well. I can only criticise it on two minor points: slightly mismatched pedals (not noticeable); and the small bar for the head lock is missing. Otherwise every part on the bike is good, original and unrestored. The saddle is an appropriate Brooks ‘B10.’
This machine recently surfaced from long-term storage. The old tyres have some sidewall cracks, but are usable. The brake rubbers are very good. Judging from its condition, this Gentlemen’s Sunbeam appears to have had little use throughout its lifetime …though you never really know with a Sunbeam: they were built to be ridden a lot and built to last.
The three-speed gear functions well and, like all Sunbeams, this All-Black Royal is an absolute pleasure to ride.
1915 SUNBEAM CATALOGUE
THE ROYAL SUNBEAM: Rather than the All-Black Royal Sunbeam with painted parts, the catalogue entry below is for the Royal Sunbeam, which was one guinea cheaper because it used plated parts.
SUNBEAM THREE SPEED GEAR
I’ve not seen a 1913 Sunbeam catalogue. This 1915 catalogue mentions the war (below). Production of new three-speed gears was suspended during the war in order to concentrate on more important requirements; existing stock was used until it ran out. Sturmey Archer was still able to supply gears.
SUNBEAM PATENT BACK-PEDAL RIM BRAKE (‘FOOT BRAKE’)