Humber Cross Frame Model No.13 – c.1923

This wonderful Humber Cross Frame belonged to a friend of mine who sadly passed away a few years ago, at an untimely age. He had a collection of well over 100 bicycles of all types, but this was a particular favourite of his. It lived inside the house rather than with the other machines. I felt a particular responsibility to preserve this Humber carefully in his memory, and for future custodians.

Thomas Humber was a particularly important figure in the history of the bicycle, both as manufacturer and innovator. He founded his company around 1868 in Beeston, Nottingham, initially making boneshaker velocipedes. He was a prolific maker of high quality Ordinaries (penny farthings), and many racers rode Humber mounts. His 1884 safety bicycle was one of the very first to adopt a ‘diamond’ frame. Later on, factories were opened in Coventry and Wolverhampton. Humber had a reputation for high quality and this led to the Royal family of this country as well as many international royalty adopting his machines. In the 1890’s he designed a demountable bicycle, which could be dismantled for storage or transport. The Beeston factory was closed in 1908 but the ‘Beeston Humber’ name was continued and attached to the highest quality machines, even whilst made in Coventry. Agencies in Europe and around the world sold their products (see French poster below).The Humber company was bought by Raleigh in 1932.

This is a particularly beautiful machine, primarily because of the unusual and beautiful thick green lining originally edged in gold. Much of the gold has worn off, but fragments can still be seen. The fittings are all original, including the Sturmey Archer 3-speed K series gear, number K178481. A Brooks rear carrier holds a canvas and leather bag which I custom made to hold tools, food and clothing for forays into the countryside. It is completed by a correct period Lucas Silver King front lamp and Lucas Warna rear lamp.

I approach a very original and rare bicycle like this as I would a museum piece, with conservation and preservation in mind, and using materials that will protect the original finishes, and not release any chemicals which might attack and degrade them.

It took me approximately 18 hours to clean, preserve, and service the bike, taking great care to not damage the lining, transfers, or plentiful patina. The forks are nickel plated beneath the enamel and some areas of paint had flaked off. This looked rather ugly, was distracting, and inconsistent with the overall look of the machine, so I touched in some of the areas with a thin coat of satin black acrylic paint. This has the effect of unifying the finish and draws the eye away from the damage. The chain case was removed and very carefully straightened so that it closed correctly. Some silver overpainting was removed from the handlebars using cellulose thinners, and a chrome cotter pin was changed for a correct nickel plated one! When thoroughly clean, the enamel was protected with a few coats of Renaissance wax, a museum grade material, which buffs up to a nice original looking lustre.

The perished tyres and inner tubes were replaced. These lovely cream tyres were produced in Korea for the Dutch Oude Fiets bicycle club some years ago. They are of very nice correct period pattern, but were too ‘new’ looking, so I distressed them a little using a mixture of black and brown boot polish.

Trying out a Lucas bundle carrier on the handlebars

The resulting machine is very handsome, I think. I’ve owned several cross frames and have always found them very nice to ride. The upright riding position is akin to sitting on a sofa, and encourages long distances at modest speeds. I’m looking forward to putting some fair weather miles into it…..just as soon as we are released from this disabling and distressing C19 virus lockdown!

Sources:

Veteran-Cycle Club Library

An Encyclopedia of Cycle Manufacturers, by Ray Miller

Beeston Humber Aluminium Special Light Roadster c.1899

Humber first used aluminium tubing in cycle construction in 1898. Of course there was no means of welding the tubes at that time so it suited perfectly their ‘detachable joint’ method of construction which was patented in 1896. The frame is demountable, being held together with finned cotter pins through the steel lugs ( see 1898 Humber catalogue extracts below ) Humber’s claim that the detachable joint method of frame construction was ‘the most important development in cycle construction since the introduction of the Pneumatic Tyre in 1888′ was somewhat overstating the case ( to say the least! ), but it is nonetheless a very interesting novelty. When the machine was disassembled it could be stored in a tailor-made wicker basket for storage or travel purposes. Priced at £33, the aluminium version of this bicycle was probably the most expensive bicycle on the market at the time.

Made to special order with a double top tube 28 inch frame, my machine is largely original, and is fitted with the patent Humber adjustable length cranks facilitated by rotating the circular insert in the crank end on which the pedal axle is eccentrically located. Thus 5/8 inch of length adjustment can be obtained. Handlebars are incredibly narrow at 13 inches. The drive train is in 5/8 pitch, a Humber speciality. The wheels are 28 x 1 3/8 inches, a size for which tyres are now completely obsolete. NOS tyres are fitted but this is the only pair in this size I have been able to obtain in the last 10 years. The rare Brooks B28 saddle has a replacement cover made by me.

An intriguing feature of this machine is that there are quite a lot of traces of nickel plating on the steel parts of the frame and also on the aluminium tubes. Was it possible to nickel plate aluminium at that time? Can you imagine what this bicycle must have looked like if it was entirely nickel-plated?

Although a number of demountable Humber’s survive, only two other aluminium tubed machines are known of, one in the Coventry Museum of Transport, Bartleet Collection, and the other (from c.1908) in a private collection.

Click on photo’s to enlarge