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British Industrial History

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Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co

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Bartleet on a 'Coventry Rotary' Tricycle of 1876. From 'Bartleet's Bicycle Book' No. 7.

of Ariel Works, Crowe Lane,

1878 The Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co Ltd, Spon Street, Coventry, introduced the No. 7 Coventry Rotary Tricycle, price £18, weight 107 lbs.

The Coventry Rotary Tricycle was the successor to James Starley's ‘Coventry Lever’ Tricycle, Patent No. 4478/1876, as depicted on the Starley Memorial in Coventry. The rotary action and chain drive were introduced by Harry Lawson, his patent No. 972/1877. Incidentally the ‘lever’ tricycle had evolved from Starley's first lady's bicycle, a lever-driven "ordinary" with wheels out of track.

1879 George Woodcock, a Coventry solicitor, having taken over the business of the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co, purchased the assets of the collapsed Haynes, Jefferis and Co [1].

1880 Woodcock relocated the combined business to Ariel Works, Trafalgar Street, Coventry [2].

1880 George Woodcock bought Dan Rudge's Wolverhampton business from his widow, amalgamated it with the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Co as D. Rudge and Co, moved the works to Coventry and installed Harry Lawson as sales manager. Other people recruited were Charles Vernon Pugh as Director, William H. Nelson as Works Manager, Victor A. Holroyd as sales manager and Sidney Smith as Accountant.

1880 On the amalgamation of the businesses, the ‘Rotary’ Tricycle was improved by the fitting of cranks, pedals, and a bottom bracket giving central chain drive to a sprocket fixed on an extension on the driving wheel spindle: the wheel was also geared up to about 56 inches. As the 'Rudge Rotary' it became very popular, and a great many were sold. It was ridden in races by Jack Morley of Manchester, and the redoubtable Matthew ("Jumbo") Lowndes of Congleton, who was beaten by Alfred Nixon in a memorable 100 miles match at the Crystal Palace track. After the race Lowndes demonstrated the controllability of the machine by riding it down the steps to the platform at the C.P. low level station.

When chain drive was fitted to this type of tricycle, James Starley stated that the new system of driving was not intended to supersede the older lever action, but was introduced to suit those riders who preferred the rotary motion of the feet.

The Coventry Rotary Tricycle was fitted with tangent spokes (James Starley's patent No. 3959/1874) and the system is well worth examination by modern cycle makers: it embodied the advantages of the tangent spoke without the drawback of a bend in the spoke itself.

Note the ‘garden’ seat; in later models the purchaser was given the option of seat or saddle. Ladies, of whom quite a number rode tricycles in the period 1876-1886, generally preferred the former. H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, afterwards Queen Alexandra, regularly used a Rudge-Rotary tricycle, having a machine specially built with pneumatic tyres long after the type had become obsolete.

In the specimen exhibited [3], which was ridden by J. W. Bartleet in the Lord Mayor's Show, 1927, the 48 inch driving wheel is geared down to about 42; the roller chain has gun-metal rollers. Note double steering, which enabled the tricycle to be turned in a very small circle. Note also the band brake, anticipating motor car practice of thirty years later.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Rudge Motorcycle History [1]
  2. Rudge Motorcycle History [2]
  3. Bartleet's Bicycle Book