1896 Crypto Bantam

1896 Crypto Bantam

The Crypto Bantam occupies a very important place in the history of cycling. Its revolutionary epicyclic hub was a superb feat of engineering, enabling the machine to bridge the gap between Penny Farthings and safety bicycles …ie the design we know as bicycles today. The Bantam was the very last of the original style of bicycle.

The Ordinary (also known as the High Wheeler or Penny Farthing) was a machine for athletic young men. It was considered dangerous by the general public and, as a result, cycling was perceived as an exclusive pursuit.

As the first solid-tyred safeties were developed in the early 1890s, an effort was made to retain the front-drive concept but to reduce the size of the front wheel to make control of the bicycle manageable.

Some manufacturers used complex lever mechanisms to gear up the drive or chain drives on either side of the forks, as in the Kangaroo cycle. But the use of an epicyclic hub gear provided the neatest solution. The resulting machine, the Crypto Bantam, used a gearing from +50% to 3:1, allowing a front wheel to be used which was very much smaller than the Ordinary.

It was described by its makers as ‘meeting the requirements of two classes of riders: those wanting a highly geared yet very light machine for racing on road or path (track), and those preferring a machine which could be easily mounted without having to use a step.’

The first machine, the Bantam FD (Front Driving) Safety, was introduced at the 1893 Stanley Cycle Show. Various models appeared in the following years, but production of all front-driven machines had ceased by the end of the 1890s, by which time the pneumatic tyred safety bicycle had become the dominant design.






Clerkenwell Rd, London E.C









Paul Adams, clerk of the course for the famous Knutsford Great Race, tells me that of the many Ordinaries attending such events, there are very few Cryptos, such is their rarity 115 years after their production.

This particular example has been well restored, and was rallied regularly by its previous owners. I’ve ridden it and it handles very well.



The Madeira Drive lift is a unique example of Victorian engineering.

In the early 1870s a new seawall was built for Brighton beach, extending the esplanade wall built for the Chain Pier. The facing of the wall used stone from the first Blackfriars Bridge in London which was demolished in 1863. It was on this new seawall that a new road, Madeira Road, was laid out. It’s name was later changed to Madeira Drive.


The Madeira Terrace Development was built in 1890, with the Lift and Shelter Hall (above) as its focal point. It was originally powered by water pressure, with the current electro-mechanical lifting mechanism fitted in 1930.

The Shelter Hall, housing the lower access to the Lift, is now the Concorde 2 Club, and the Lift is manned by the Club’s staff in the summer months.

Can you think of a better ‘vintage’ way to travel down to the beach?

Brighton’s Madeira Drive is steeped in motoring history. In 1896, the Government repealed the law forcing ‘horseless carriages’ (cars) to proceed only with a man walking in front with a red flag. That year therefore saw the first celebratory run from London to Madeira Drive, Brighton, won by a steam car. By 1905, Madeira Drive was resurfaced with tarmac to become the venue for a Motor Race Week. Its success led to the annual National Speed Trials, which still takes place every September.









If you wish to place an order for a Crypto Bantam, please complete the form below…






(Now sold)

Published on December 13, 2010 at 6:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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