1904-1907 BSA Fittings Bicycle
1904-1907 Light Roadster Bicycle built from ‘B’ pattern BSA fittings
The BSA Fittings Bike is my daily rider. This page shows my research of the model and my preparation for riding it in the 2010 Benson Run. It’s because I’ve so enjoyed riding it and learning more about the early history of BSA that this website came into being.
INTRODUCTION: BSA FITTINGS MACHINES
During the first decade of the 20th century, BSA sold frames and fittings through the trade to cycle agents who could add their own transfers for resale to the public. Such a bicycle is now commonly described as a BSA Fittings Machine. If the bike included a BSA frame and was assembled by BSA themselves, it could be fitted with a BSA Piled Arms transfer. If all components were BSA except the frame it might have a transfer (fitted to the top of the seat tube) stating: ‘Guaranteed built with a set of B.S.A. fittings.’
BSA Fittings represent a very important part of cycling history – rarely acknowledged these days – because of their high standard and perfect standardization. In fact, BSA used the same high standards as in their arms manufacture when machining bicycle components.
A bicycle such as mine would have been ordered from a local frame builder, who would supply a set of parts from BSA according to the customer’s requirements.
This was an ideal arrangement for bike builders abroad, especially as components were cheaper to import than complete machines. In fact, BSA Fittings completely revolutionized the bicycle trade in Australia. The fittings allowed bike manufacturers to provide an endless supply of bespoke cycles to their customers:
‘As a result, the importation of complete bicycles gradually dwindled down, until it finally disappeared altogether, and, in reversed ratio, the name B.S.A. and the trade mark of the Three Piled Rifles became recognised as the hallmark of quality, as applied to bicycles. Nothing better was wanted, nothing so good was obtainable, and to-day the locally-built B.S.A. machine stands supreme as the only bicycle really worth having for Australian conditions.’* You can see the BSA fittings on the machine pictured below at Lewis Cycle and Motor Works in McHenry St Adelaide, around 1904. (Photo courtesy Leon Mitchell**).
The speed limit in Great Britain had been set at 14mph in 1896. In 1904, thanks to campaigning by the recently formed RAC and other bodies, it was raised to 20mph. But Australia had quite good roads extending through thinly populated districts, and the authorities did not object to speedy travelling. Bicycling News of 11th February 1903 reports: “According to this state of affairs, the world’s record of 460 miles in 24 hours on a motor bicycle has been set up by Mr. H.B. James of Melbourne” riding a machine designed and made by local bicycle maker Ernest Beauchamp.
What I particularly like about this bike is its irony: it’s distinctive as an early BSA, yet I’m unlikely to ever discover the frame manufacturer or its exact age. I spend an inordinate amount of time researching bicycles and dating them. So, like a stallion that refuses to be broken in, a machine that retains an air of mystery has my respect.
29th June 2010: I’ve spent the past 2 weeks setting up this bike. I intend riding it on the Benson Run in five days time. Today was my first ride out on it. It’s four inches too high for me, so the good news is that I can actually ride it. It also has 16 inch handlebars: if you’re the correct size for this bike (6ft) your knees would bang on the grips. I’m 5′ 8″ so I have to jump on via the rear step …but at least the handlebars aren’t a problem.
This seems to be the debut of comprehensive BSA Fittings Machine details on the internet. So, while working on the bike, I’ve also enjoyed researching it.
Now we can compare the components of this BSA Fittings bike with the relevant BSA Cycle Fittings catalogue entries.
Apart from Spring-Frame models, BSA did not make complete bicycles for the public at this time. If a member of the public wanted a BSA machine, they ordered a frame from a local supplier and had it fitted with BSA components. In the 1903 catalogue, BSA advised:
It should be noted that we do not make complete bicycles; but if any cyclist has a difficulty in finding a maker to accept his specification of BSA fittings, we will gladly furnish the address of a reliable maker in any district.
BSA recommenced the direct sale of complete bicycles in 1910.
Compare the BSA Fittings Machine in the 1903 catalogue, above, with the 1910 catalogue, below, depicting a ‘Light Roadster Bicycle built from ‘B’ pattern BSA fittings.’ The chainring used after 1908 is different (it included the BSA name), but otherwise they are similar. So both profiles are useful to compare to my machine.
I’ve had some fun accessorizing this BSA. As this is my personal mount, and the impending Benson Run is the major veteran British bicycle gathering in the world, it has been a challenge to create something unique. I chose this bike because it was a ‘custom built’ machine when it was new, which allowed me to be creative and authentic at the same time.
I was lucky to find an early 20th century battery lighting set. Then I had some transfers made*** from the illustration in the catalogue. With no paint on the frame, a transfer would have looked out of place. So I renewed my poetic license and fitted them to the battery box.
BSA CHAINRING and PEDALS
Chainrings up to 1899 had no more than 20 teeth and straight arms.
From 1899 to 1903 the chainring was detachable and had `Y` arms.
From 1904 to 1907 the arms took the form of an `X`(as on this bicycle).
From 1908 the letters BSA were included.
BSA BOTTOM BRACKET
BSA STEERING HEAD & STEERING LOCK
BSA No 1 HANDLEBARS
The handlebars look like a No. 1 set. The BSA seat pillar can be seen in other photos.
The Miller No. Five-20 brass bell has a lovely tone. The No. Five-20 is shown in the 1939 Kirk & Merrifield catalogue below: by then it was no longer brass but black or chrome.
BSA FRONT RIM BRAKE with PULL UP LEVER
As you can see when you compare the front brake on the bike with the 1903 catalogue below, the brake is attached to the stem rather than the handlebar. The pull up lever type brake was a new pattern for 1903.
I’ve enlarged part of the scan of the c1900 BSA Fittings Bike so you can see its front brake in greater detail; it also fits to the handlebar stem.
A close up of the C1904 Australian photo, below, also shows the brake fitting to the stem.
BSA FRONT HUB
EADIE COASTER REAR HUB
BSA amalgamated with Eadie Manufacturing Co in 1907. Eadie Coaster hubs were then offered in the BSA catalogue as an option to BSA hubs (see 1910 catalogue, below). These fitments, together with the B.S.A. Three-speed Hub, B.S.A. Chains, and B.S.A. Free Wheels, gave the Company by far the largest range of coasters, variable gears, free wheels, etc., possessed by any company.
BSA FORK ENDS
Compare the fork ends on the bike with these extracts from the 1903 catalogue.
I don’t know anything about this saddle manufacturer, but I fitted this saddle to the bike as it’s very comfortable. It’s soft enough to dip in the middle when I sit on it, so provides my rear suspension.
EARLY 1900s ELECTRIC BICYCLE LIGHTS
I’ve ordered Peter Card’s book Early Cycle Lighting, as I was told that this lighting set is illustrated in it. I’ll add more details when it arrives.
1903 BSA CYCLE FITTINGS CATALOGUE
2010 BENSON VETERAN CYCLE RUN
5th July 2010: As you can see, I made it around the Benson Run. The only casualty was my boater, which blew off near the end of the course, necessitating a stop to retrieve it before it was run over by the high wheelers behind me. I finished the ride with it strapped to the saddle.
The course direction was reversed this year. With fifty boneshakers taking part, a separate short course was added, and I assume it was easier for them to branch off from the reverse direction. For the rest of us, it meant that this year there were more hills to puff up on our machines. The majority of our bikes were manufactured before the advent of geared hubs.
Some of my friends rode ordinaries (‘penny farthings’ or ‘high wheelers’) or velocipedes (‘boneshakers’). Most riders in the Run were much older than me. My bike, by comparison, therefore seemed quite a luxurious mount, and I must admit to overtaking (‘scorching’).
Period saddlebags are expensive and extremely hard to find. So I decided on a cheaper option for carrying my stuff – an old school satchel. As you can see, it fits neatly over the crossbar.
In the cycle jumble before the Run, I was lucky enough to find a turn-of-the-century Halfords accessory leather iphone case, which I mounted on the handlebars. It was amusing when the phone rang and I could describe the ride to my partner while pedalling.
In the old days, riders didn’t worry about the phone ringing – but they did have to contend with urchins throwing sticks into their bicycle wheels, and were also often attacked by dogs. So I packed my early 1900s dog-scaring pistol too.
For this special occasion, Yours Truly removed a few decades from his usual appearance.
A FEW PHOTOS FROM THE BENSON VETERAN CYCLE CLUB
50th ANNIVERSARY RALLY: Sunday, 4th July, 2010
I had great intentions to take lots of photos of the Benson. But photography requires an observer’s perspective. Riding a century-old bicycle in costume through silent, beautiful Oxfordshire lanes is, as you’ll appreciate, a somewhat subjective experience. I didn’t want to spoil the magic.
Then the pub stop and pint of Guinness sidetracked me again. The Benson is a very sociable run.
Fabian rode the Boneshaker I used to own, above. It’s in superb condition, and Fabian is very fit, but it’s still hard going on a 140-year-old machine over 15 miles, especially up hills.
So, rather than a photojournal, just a few snippets to set the mood. If you ride a pre-1928 bicycle, I heartily recommend booking for next year’s event.
Anthony C was undoubtedly the best turned-out, below, with his interesting 1915 Phillips Military bike with BSA fittings.
See you all next year…
BSA FITTINGS PAGE CREDITS
* From the BSA Handbook 3rd Australasian Edition, 1915
** Leon Mitchell’s website – http://users.senet.com.au/~mitchell/lewis/album/html/photo02.htm
*** Transfers made from scratch by Nick at H. Lloyd Cycles, using the illustration in my BSA catalogue. Thanks Nick! http://www.hlloydcycles.com/
My costume for the Benson Veteran Cycle Rally hired from www.masquerade-costumes.co.uk
Thanks to the excellent VCC website for the BSA catalogues.
At the Benson cycle jumble I found an interesting French BSA Cycle Fittings catalogue from 1900, which I’ll scan and add to this website in due course.