The Coventry based firm of Hillman, Herbert and Cooper introduced the ‘Kangaroo’ patent bicycle in 1884. Although chain drive had been experimented with before on bicycles and tricycles, this was the first bicycle of this pattern, with a much smaller front wheel than the ordinary bicycle, at just 36 inches, geared up to 54 inches by way of the chains and chainwheels on each side of the machine. The rider was thus considerably closer to the ground, the centre of gravity was lower and biased a little towards the rear, and therefore the machine was (theoretically) safer. The Kangaroo was one of the first bicycles referred to as a ‘safety bicycle’, and was also known as a dwarf safety due to its diminutive size.
The design was widely copied by other manufacturers such as Rudge and Coventry Machinists, but as Hillman, Herbert and Cooper had patented the chain adjustment method of sliding the upper chainwheel bracket up the fork, the others had to come up with different methods of taking up chain slack, with varying success. Other gear sizes were available to order, and the front wheel was also available in 34, 35 and 38 inch diameters. The wheel/gear size is stamped on top of the steering head… 36=54 in the case of this machine.
A lightweight machine was also available, the No.2 which the 1886 catalogue stated was suitable for ‘racing or Ordinary Riding on very good roads’. This version had no step, chain guards or footrests, and narrower tyres. The design of the Kangaroo was somewhat flawed (more of that later!) and the arrival of the Rover safety bicycle in 1885 led to an early demise, although it was still in the H.H. and C. catalogue in 1888. In the first year or two of production, however, bicycles of this type gained considerable popularity.
This particular machine was purchased in 1885/6 by the proprietor of a bicycle shop, G.F.Nash at 155 Goldhawk Road in West London, and has been in the same family from then until I acquired it recently. It is almost totally original, except for the tyres and the pedals, which are Singer items. It is perfectly possible that the owner, having a bike shop, decided to change the pedals in period to Singer ones, as they are very handsome and comfortable. Although the nickel plating to the bright parts has largely gone, the enamel is very well preserved and the backbone transfer is largely preserved.
In the next few posts I will look at the preservation of this remarkable bicycle, an investigation of some of the failings of the design, and some riding impressions.
There is a very comprehensive article about the the history of the Kangaroo here.