Thursday, July 7, 2016

1921 - 1930 Sunbeam Royal Sunbeam

(We did not write the comments which accompany each picture)

1921 - 1930 Sunbeam Royal Sunbeam Hello there,
I felt as a Sunbeam owner I really ought to do something about your
current Sunbeam entry, which suggests that the famous Sunbeam "Little
Oilbath" was "a really bad idea that only lasted a few years" whereas
it was an excellent idea that was introduced in 1892 and remained the
hallmark of Sunbeams through the remaining 65 years of their 70-year
history. I can testify to the fact that having a constantly lubricated
chain that is fully protected from dirt and grit makes a significant
difference to riding, particularly up hills. My 3 speed has a bottom
gear of 56" and will go up hills that my other bikes will not look at except in much lower gears.

The significance of the Sunbeam in bicycle history is well expressed by
Robert Cordon Champ in his Illustrated History of Sunbeam bicycles and

"An example of a product made deliberately to the highest standards, the pre-1918 Sunbeam is undoubtedly the finest production cycle ever made."

One hundred years ago, in 1908, you could buy a six speed Golden Sunbeam
(two speeds in the front bracket married to Sunbeam's own 3 speed hub)
with "Romanium" aluminium alloy rims for the princely sum of 19 guineas
(£19-19s-0d) the equivalent of around £1060/$2120 at today's prices.

My own machine falls just outside that golden age of 1887-1918 when the
firm was owned and run by the Marston family. However, the quality was
maintained under the ownership of Nobel industries (later ICI) for at
least a decade, and it was only from 1928 onwards that there were
significant attempts at cost-cutting, though even as late as 1934 an
internal memo complained that "one of Marston's problems is that they
make too good a product". The bicycle and motorcycle operation was sold
to AMC (Associated Motor Cycles) around 1936-7 and manufacture was
gradually transferred from Wolverhampton to London. However, it moved back to the Midlands when the firm was taken over by BSA in 1943 who
continued manufacture until Raleigh took over and effectively killed off
the Sunbeam name in 1957. (For a fine online history of Sunbeam, see

My bike dates from around 1923 and is a Royal Sunbeam, frame no 141812,
fitted with a three-speed hub. (from 1913 Sunbeam used a version of the
BSA hub that was in turn the Sturmey Archer X-type made under licence.

This hub has several distinct advantages over the standard S-A hub,
being in constant mesh so it does not have the groin-threatening no-gear
positions that bedevil the standard S-A article. In addition, it is
designed to fail in bottom gear rather than top - with the lever full
forward and the wire slack, it is in low gear, the reverse of the
standard S-A hub. (for the low-down on this, see Tony Hadland's excellent site at ).

You can see more of my machine at

and you are welcome
to use the picture. I hope to post others soon.
All the best and thanks for a great site.