Crypto Bantam c.1895/6 – De-restoration

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The Crypto Bantam is a curious machine. It looks like it should belong to the age of Ordinaries and early attempts at safety bicycles, but was actually introduced in 1893, after the demise of the Ordinary, and other front driven safeties.

Based in Clerkenwell Road in central London, the Crypto Cycle Works Co.Ltd. patented an epicyclic gear for the front hub of their bicycles with the purpose of gearing it up. They had some success in racing and records in the early 90’s particularly when piloted by the great Frank Shorland, but the bicycles used for these records had much bigger front wheels, around 36 inches in diameter (see below), fitted with pneumatic tyres. My machine has a 24 inch front wheel geared to 66 inches.

The marketing of these unique bicycles was aimed at older riders, some of whom still enjoyed the characteristics of a front-driver. It is also believed that they enjoyed some popularity with women riders. Crypto advertisements even featured an elderly gentleman riding one of their machines, as a selling point. The qualities of the bicycle were said to be safety, ease of mounting, speed and lightness, and no chain.

It’s true that these bicycles are very light, and are easy to mount. However, they are not easy to ride! The front forks are vertical, which leads to the front end feeling unstable, particularly going down hill on bumpy surfaces. There is also a feeling of lightness of the back end, and it is not unusual for the rear wheel to lift under braking…very disconcerting! I find it considerably more difficult to ride than an Ordinary, and even taking one hand off the handlebars is difficult at first. The side to side motion of a front driver seems to me more apparent with the Crypto, and leads to greater torque on the handlebars. However, on a smooth, level road you can make fast progress, with the high gearing coupled to the lightness of the machine.

When I bought this bicycle many years ago, it had been ‘restored’ some years previously, but had almost all it’s original parts, including the rarely surviving patent Boothroyd wheel rims. On most Bantams these have been changed for modern rims. The mudguards and stays are also original, as are the pedals.

The whole machine had been over-painted in matt black. To bring it ‘back to life’ a bit I decided to strip the parts originally nickelled. I used an environmentally friendly citrus based paint stripper gel (good stuff!) so that the metal beneath was unaffected. The handlebars, headset, gear, pedals and some other items were stripped and then polished a little with very fine steel wool. This adds ‘highlights’ to the machine, making it more appealing than a drab uniform matt black, and giving it a more original look. The reproduction transfers were distressed a little by rubbing with very fine steel wool. The heavy sprung saddle was replaced with a more suitable lightweight saddle, for which I made a new leather cover in period pattern. Tyres and inner tubes were replaced, not so much of a problem on Crypto’s with 24/20 inch wheel sizes, since they are a common size. As there is no original finish on the machine, it got the ‘oily rag’ treatment. I hope you agree with me that the result is a significant improvement.

Before:

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After:

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Frank Shorland with Crypto front driver and the 1892 Cuca Cup

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