Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 3 – Complete and ready to ride!

The Kangaroo is now finished and has completed its shake-down ride. New grey tyres were fitted and some small engineering jobs were necessary, including making a new foot rest where the original had been broken off. A couple of incorrect nuts were re-made to correct pattern. Quite a lot of work was required in carefully straightening the chain guards, and the trouser guard. All ball bearings were replaced, and reproduction pedal rubbers fitted. I have kept the original saddle as it is, to be retained with the machine, whilst for riding I have fitted a new pan saddle almost identical in design to the Brooks original. The pan was beautifully made by Tony Huntington. The white painted section on the backbone of the frame was retained. This was clearly added during the last War, suggesting that rather amusingly the bike was used on occasions during that period! (A white painted section was required by law on the rear of bicycles used during war-time blackouts in the UK)

The Kangaroo was an attempt to make the Ordinary bicycle safer, but it was a flawed design. Although you sit lower than on an Ordinary, it’s still possible to do a ‘header’ and the additional weight of the chainwheels and chains add very significantly to the weight of the machine, which does feels heavy. Worst of all is the vertical drive train. As Archibald Sharp noted in ‘Bicycles and Tricycles’ (1896) ‘In pressing the pedals downwards the front side of the chain is tight, but when the pedal is ascending, since it cannot be lifted direct by the rider, it is pulled up by the chain, the rear side of which gets tightened. This reversal, taking place twice every revolution throws a serious jar on the gear. This defect cannot,..be overcome by skilful pedalling.’ The chains are poorly designed, having solid sections in contact with the chainwheels, instead of rollers, and when this is combined with the design defect it leads to premature wear and stretching of the chains. Slack in the chains makes the ‘jar’ worse, of course. The chains can only be adjusted by the same amount each side, otherwise the wheel would be thrown out of line in the fork.

Of course the advent of the rear-drive Safety Bicycle in 1885, caused the Kangaroo to decline in popularity, having enjoyed a brief success.

Despite the shortcomings of the design it is a fun machine to ride. It may not be much safer, but it feels like it is. It is stable, with the relatively large rear wheel, and it bowls along very nicely. The beautifully made saddle spring gives good comfort, and I was surprised to find that it climbed hills well, despite the jarring of the chains being more pronounced under load. It’s interesting to compare it to the Rover which rendered it obsolete. The Rover is undoubtedly a finer riding machine, but the Kangaroo has a quirky charm about it.

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George Moore’s drawing above, from ‘Cycling’ magazine of 1885, shows a race between the Kangaroo and the Rover. In September 1884 George Smith broke the 100 mile record on a Kangaroo, taking 7 hours 11 minutes and 10 seconds to cover the distance. Almost exactly a year later he broke the same record on a Rover Safety Bicycle by just over 6 minutes. The drawing in fact represents an imaginary race between the machines, since the rider of both is the same man, George Smith. Being lucky enough to own examples of both machines, I intend to re-create this drawing in a photograph. First I need to find another rider that looks like me…. Watch this space!

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Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 2 – Preservation process

The first step in the preservation process was to photograph the bicycle many times in great detail from all angles. This was to ensure everything was replaced in the correct position. The bike was then very carefully disassembled and all the parts placed in plastic bags, labelled as to their location, left or right side etc.. I also use a notebook to record details of each part, which way round bolts were fitted, assembly order, washer locations etc.., making drawings where necessary.

As with most top quality machines, such as my Rover, virtually all the parts were stamped with the frame number (23467) Even the chains had the frame number stamped on the ends of the rivets! Presumably each machine was assembled and components adjusted for best fit, before the stamping. The various parts then went for nickel plating and enameling, and were then re-united for final assembly.

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The corrosion on the parts of the machine was not at all bad, so I decided to make the cleaning process quite minimal, removing dirt and loose surface rust, whilst retaining patina by light cleaning only. The bearings were soaked in cellulose thinners overnight to remove the encrusted hard grease. The parts cleaning was largely done manually using paraffin, brass brushes, and three grades of steel wool, finishing by polishing with 0000 grade. Doing this by hand takes a long time, and results in blisters, but it is the only way of carefully controlling the amount of surface removal, to retain the patina.

Turning to the enameled parts, I masked the area of the transfer then cleaned the frame with paraffin. 0000 steel wool was used on stubborn dirt, as this does not scratch the enamel. Following cleaning, the enamel was then polished with Renaissance Pre-Lim to remove any remaining surface grime and to lightly revive the enamel. This was also used in the area around the transfer, very carefully and lightly! Finally all parts of the machine were polished with Renaissance Wax. Several coats were applied to protect the surfaces.

Here are some ‘before and after’ photographs:

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The ball bearings in the main bearings are in two rows, fitted in brass cages. All ball bearings were replaced. As you can see, bearing adjustment is a bit primitive simply relying on the movement of the lower section of the bearing housing, locked in place by a set-screw.

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The Singer pedals had just two original rubbers remaining. Reproduction rubbers are available for these pedals, from Doug Pinkerton, although they are not quite accurate and are very difficult to fit!

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The rear step is a beautiful thing!

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The beautiful etched Hillman, Herbert and Cooper name and ‘Kangaroo Patent’ was revealed on the seat spring. This was completely invisible before cleaning.

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Remains of the maker’s transfer on the backbone, before and after cleaning and waxing. A very rare survivor.

I didn’t want to radically alter the appearance of the bike, as it was so original, and I was very satisfied with the result of the cleaning and preservation. The Kangaroo will look better once it has been used a bit, but is now properly protected as it embarks on the next 130 years of its life!

The next post will be of the machine in its completed state.

Hillman, Herbert and Cooper ‘Kangaroo’ No.1 Roadster c.1885/6 – Part 1

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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 which sold Singer bicycles amongst others, 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.

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Early Pneumatic Tyres and W. & A.Bates Ltd. of Leicester

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In the early days of Pneumatic tyres there were numerous manufacturers. Often the tyres were made to fit a specific rim, which no other product would fit. For example, the tyres originally fitted to my Starley Brothers ‘Psycho’ Road Racer c.1893/4 were Starley patent tyres, and the rims were Starley rims specific to those tyres. Stiff wires which ran through the beaded edge exited through holes in the rim and a locking device held them securely in place at four positions around the circumference. Other manufacturers tyres did not fit these rims, and it was only by chance that I was able to find a modern cover to fit.

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Similarly, the rims fitted to my very early pneumatic tyred safety bicycle c.1890/91 were Bartlett Clincher rims, the tyres being Bartlett patent tyres. Despite the invention of the pneumatic tyre in 1888, it was not until 1891/2 that pneumatics became really practical, as methods for easy fitting, removal and repair became more sophisticated. The Bartlett tyre, patented in 1890/1, is thought to be the very first practical detachable tyre ever made.

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The tyre, as in the exceedingly rare original survivor pictured here, was of ‘beaded edge’ construction without a wire through the bead. The inner tube was of rubber impregnated canvas. When the tyre was inflated the bead was pushed securely into the edge of the rim and it was not possible for the tyre to expand beyond the size of the canvas tube. Thus the tyre was not forced off the rim as it assumed its correct shape. The large valve was one-way only, deflation not being possible except by puncture!

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Tyres like this soon became obsolete, as tyre and rim manufacture improved and became standardized, and probably led to the scrapping of most very early pneumatic bicycles, which were worthless unless the rims were changed. It is a fact that very early pneumatic tyred bicycles are MUCH more rare than solid tyred safeties, for which tyres have always been available.

Similarly, many 1890’s pneumatic safeties had 30 inch front wheels, and 28 inch rears. 30 inch became largely obsolete by around 1900 leading to the demise of many of these machines too, such as those pictured below at the start of a road race in the mid nineties. Since no 30 inch covers are available, these machines are sadly no longer usable, or alternatively people have fitted a 28 inch wheel, leaving an unsightly gap below the fork crown and altered geometry.

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A friend kindly gave me this publication from the Bates Tyre Company ( W. & A. Bates Ltd. ) of Leicester, dating from around 1910, which prompted this posting. Established in 1863 as manufacturers of rubber thread, they later turned to tyres around 1882, being one of the earliest makers of solid tyring for Ordinaries and later Safeties. They became quite a large company, exporting internationally, as evidenced by the copy of their poster for Japan seen below. Later they were swallowed up by Dunlop who dominated the market in the early decades of the twentieth century. I particularly like the photo demonstrating how flexible their rubber inner tubes are, being ‘..made from a mixing of the finest Brazilian Para Rubber’.

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Cyclists Whistles

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In the early days of cycling a bell was the most common means to warn pedestrians, horse riders and carriages of the approach of a cyclist. The earliest forms were simply globe-shaped rumble bells attached to the handlebars by a leather strap. They rang continuously as the machine rattled over the roadway. Later came a bell with a sprung lever to sound it only when required. If you were riding an Ordinary (penny farthing or high bicycle) this was very necessary to ensure that the horses were prepared for this strange beast passing by, often taller than the horse. As we know, horses are highly strung, and their reaction to bicycles, particularly high ones, can be unpredictable. There were many disasters in the early days with carriages running out of control, the horses having been spooked by cyclists, and there were many serious injuries to bike riders. As reports in cycling journals and many court cases evidence, there was quite a bit of animosity between horse and carriage owners and cyclists in the early days.

There were other means of making noise for cyclists. A small bugle, often made by Henry Keat and Sons of Stoke Newington, London, was used by Clubs as a rallying call. A number of the Clubs even had their own specific bugle calls. There were various other types of pocket horns and sirens.

Then there were whistles. These were commonly kept in the top pocket of one’s jacket, attached by a chain with a T-bar through the lapel buttonhole, or sometimes with a lanyard around the neck, so they could quickly be whipped out for use. Whistles specific to cycling are now very rare. The earliest and rarest whistle here is marked ‘The Kings Own’ and T.B.L.W. The latter stood for Thomas Bowling Lamp Works, after the Joseph Lucas works in Little King Street, Birmingham. ‘The Kings Own’ was used as a trade name for Lucas TBLW lamps as well. It dates from the early to mid 1880’s. It has two holes and consequently two tones. You can hear it being blown here!.

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The second is an ACME whistle with a rider on an Ordinary on each side. I’ve never been able to establish if this whistle is from the time of the high bicycle, or made later as a decorative item. Still, its a rare and lovely beast. You can hear it being blown here!

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The next whistle is marked ‘The Cyclist’s Road Clearer H.A.K. & Co.’ It was made by J.Stevens and Son of London and Glasgow, and probably dates from the 1890’s. You can hear it being blown here!

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The other whistles pictured here are not necessarily related to cycling but I like to imagine they were the sort of items used by early pioneers of the road. I particularly like the Acme Siren, which you can hear in operation here.

Searchlight Bicycle Oil Lamps – Bridgeport Brass Company

The Bridgeport Brass Company of Connecticut U.S.A. made a series of the most attractive bicycle oil lamps. Pictured below are five different examples, I believe representing all the different variations of this lamp, although I stand to be corrected. The earliest versions are the plain ones, both patented in Feb-April 1894, and certainly still for sale in 1896. The model with the sprung bracket has rectangular jewel windows, whilst the other has the more familiar faceted jewels. The ornate version with the fancy embossing seems to be a later development with a latest patent date of November 1896 for the version with the hole through the oil reservoir. The emergence of this decorated version is borne out by the advert below stating ‘In a new dress for ’97’. This lamp is marked Model C. The 1896/7 date coincides nicely with the short-lived Golden Age of the bicycle at that time. The hole through the reservoir, presumably to provide updraft for the flame, was deemed unnecessary for the later versions, the first of which has largely the same embossing as the Model C, but is marked Model D. The last lamp has no patent dates. It looks superficially the same but in fact there are numerous detail changes. The embossing is reduced, for instance nothing at all around the junction of the body with the projector, and the top embossing is completely different. The fineness of detail is lacking in this lamp, and the construction is not so good as the other versions, so I am assuming this was the latest version before the lamps were discontinued most likely before the turn of the century.

There is some lovely detail in these items, for instance a match striker is concealed at the side of the jeweled window (see detail below) and even the bracket is decorated on the fancy models. The wick is fed diagonally, increasing the size of the flame. The quality of the nickel plating was very good, and this, coupled with the visual attractiveness of the item, has led to many being preserved in good condition. In my experience the plain versions are much rarer.

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Veteran Weekend – London to Brighton on an 1896 Raleigh Bicycle

Fantastic weekend! The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run was first held in 1896 to celebrate their being no longer the need for a man to walk in front of a car with a red flag, which was the law before that date! Traditionally held on the first Sunday of November, the cars have to be pre-1904 to enter, and there were over 500 of them, powered by petrol, steam and electricity. The event is preceded on Saturday by a concours in Regent Street, central London, and this year there was a focus on eco-cars with various new hybrid, electric and hydrogen powered vehicles shown alongside the veterans. One of the most interesting Veterans this year was the 1900 Lohner-Porsche. This extraordinary Austrian car has huge electric motors in the front wheels, which are charged by the petrol driven engine, being effectively the first hybrid car. The electric motors provide short bursts of extra power when needed.

My friend Alan Nelmes encouraged me to ride down to Brighton with him and the cars, so we set off with them from Hyde Park at 7am, Alan mounted on his Edwardian Raleigh X-frame and me on my 1896 Raleigh safety bicycle with 66 inch fixed gear. On the way we were constantly passed by these wonderful veteran cars and felt like we were very much part of the event. At a welcome feed stop we tucked into bacon rolls and coffee, before pressing on to the half way stop at Crawley, where we could examine the wonderful machinery closely and find out more about them from the owners. A little later we stopped in Handcross at the great Vintage Motorcycle emporium of Brian Verrall where we saw the most extraordinarily original and wonderful c.1919 Indian Powerplus motorcycle pictured below. On the hills of Sussex we found ourselves passing some of the cars on the uphill sections where we were able to chat to the drivers as we were riding along.

After some 62 miles we arrived at Madeira Drive, on the Brighton seafront and watched the remainder of the cars coming in. We’d made better time than about half the field! All in all a most splendid day, with many memorable sights, sounds and smells. I hadn’t ridden the Raleigh for a while and was reminded what delight it is to ride… great riding position, light and fast, just the right machine for this wonderful ride. Then it was back to reality with the train journey back to London on First Capital Connect trains which have absolutely no provision for bicycles on their trains, so they have to be placed blocking the entrance doors.