1904-1907 BSA Fittings Light Roadster + 2010 Benson Veteran Cycle Rally

1907 Light Roadster Bicycle built from ‘B’ pattern BSA fittings

29th June 2010: I’ve spent the past 2 weeks setting up this bike. I intend riding it on the Benson Run in five days time. Today was my first ride out on it. It’s four inches too high for me, so the good news is that I can actually ride it. It also has 16 inch handlebars: if you’re the correct size for this bike (6ft) your knees would bang on the grips. I’m 5′ 8″ so I have to jump on and off, but at least the handlebars aren’t a problem.

This seems to be the debut of a BSA Fittings Machine on the internet. So, while working on the bike, I’ve also enjoyed researching it.

Now we can compare the components of this BSA Fittings bike with the relevant BSA Cycle Fittings catalogue entries.

Apart from Spring-Frame models, BSA did not make complete bicycles for the public at this time. If a member of the public wanted a BSA machine, they ordered a frame from a local supplier and had it fitted with BSA components. In the 1903 catalogue, BSA advised:

It should be noted that we do not make complete bicycles; but if any cyclist has a difficulty in finding a maker to accept his specification of BSA fittings, we will gladly furnish the address of a reliable maker in any district.

BSA recommenced the direct sale of complete bicycles in 1910.

Compare the BSA Fittings Machine in the 1903 catalogue, above, with the 1910 catalogue, below, depicting a ‘Light Roadster Bicycle built from ‘B’ pattern BSA fittings.’ The chainring used after 1908 is different (it included the BSA name), but otherwise they are similar. So both profiles are useful to compare to my machine.


Based at Small Heath, Birmingham, the company was originally a munitions manufacturer, formed from a coalition of sixteen firms in 1861.

It’s believed that BSA made the Delta around 1869. In 1880 BSA supplied 210 Otto Dicycles; a further 753 were subsequently made. In 1881 BSA started making their own machines, exhibiting at the 1881 Stanley Show. 200 Omnicycle tricycles were made for N. Salamon on behalf of the Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association. In February 1882 the company installed its own plating plant and made 200 Devon tricycles to order. The same year saw the manufacture of a folding tricycle.

It appears that the first complete bicycle, an Alpha high-wheeler, may have been produced as early as 1881-82. In 1884, following the production of two prototypes of a lady`s bicycle for H.J Lawson, the company went on to design and produce its own BSA Safety (patent 1884/15,342 of 24 November 1884) of which over 1,500 were made. They sold at £9.9s. Beta and Delta tricycles were made from 1880, and the Compressible tricycle from 1883.  The Devon tricycle was made for Maynard, Harrison & Co from 1882 and also the Rucker for M. D. Rucker & Co. from the same date. A licence to manufacture ball bearings was obtained in 1885.

In 1887, it was decided to discontinue cycle production, but a return was made in 1893 with the manufacture of bicycle parts to utilize redundant machinery. Components such as hubs, brackets, cranks, chain wheels, chains, pedals, and BSA spanners were made from 1894. By 1896 the factory had grown to cover ten acres.  The BSA cam chain adjuster was patented in 1897 (1897/29,980). Adjustment was effected by a volute cam on the inner side of the chainstay, with a variable-length pressure block abutting against the cam, so giving an initial adjustment of the chain. This was still being fitted to cycles in the 1920s. A folding bicycle was produced for military use in the Boer War (1899-1902), which was also used in the First World War (see below).


Chainrings up to 1899 had no more than 20 teeth and straight arms; from 1899 to 1903 the chainring was detachable and had `Y` arms; from 1904 to 1908 the arms took the form of an `X`, and from 1908 the letters BSA were included. (See the chainring chart further down the page).

A spring frame (invented by Dr. Mansell-Jones) was exhibited at the Stanley Show in 1900 and a considerable quantity were produced. The top tube and both seat stays were telescopic, containing coil springs with pivots at both ends of the top tube, at the top of the seat stays and at the bottom of the down and seat tubes. The BSA spring frame was ideal for mounting an engine. The 1904 spring frame pictured below, fitted with a 1903 Minerva engine, is a typical early motorcycle assembled in Australia.

In 1902, the War Office adopted BSA Fittings for Military Bicycles, and the majority of bicycles used by the War Office from that time onward were built of BSA Fittings. No higher compliment could be paid than this adoption by the War Office of the productions of the Cycle Department, after their many years’ experience of the absolute reliability of the firm’s rifles.


BSA CYCLE FITTINGS: During the first decade of the 20th century, BSA sold frames and fittings through the trade to cycle agents who could add their own transfers for resale to the public. Such a bicycle is now commonly described as a BSA Fittings Machine. If the bike included a BSA frame and was assembled by BSA themselves, it could be fitted with a BSA Piled Arms transfer. If all components were BSA except the frame it might have a transfer (fitted to the top of the seat tube) stating: ‘Guaranteed built with a set of B.S.A. fittings.’

BSA Fittings were the ideal arrangement for bike builders abroad. In fact, BSA Fittings completely revolutionized the bicycle trade in Australia. The high standard and perfect standardization of the BSA components allowed bike manufacturers to provide an endless supply of bespoke cycles to their customers: ‘As a result, the importation of complete bicycles gradually dwindled down, until it finally disappeared altogether, and, in reversed ratio, the name B.S.A. and the trade mark of the Three Piled Rifles became recognised as the hallmark of quality, as applied to bicycles. Nothing better was wanted, nothing so good was obtainable, and to-day the locally-built B.S.A. machine stands supreme as the only bicycle really worth having for Australian conditions.’*

You can see the BSA fittings on the machine pictured below at Lewis Cycle and Motor Works in McHenry St Adelaide, around 1904. (Photo courtesy Leon Mitchell**).

The speed limit in Great Britain had been set at 14mph in 1896. In 1904, thanks to campaigning by the recently formed RAC and other bodies, it was raised to 20mph. But Australia had quite good roads extending through thinly populated districts, and the authorities did not object to speedy travelling. According to Bicycling News of 11th February 1903: “according to this state of affairs, the world’s record of 460 miles in 24 hours on a motor bicycle has been set up by Mr. H.B. James of Melbourne” riding a machine designed and made by local bicycle maker Ernest Beauchamp.

In 1907 there was an amalgamation with the Eadie Manufacturing Co. In the same year, BSA re-organized their advertising dept, with the appointment of a new manager Edward Louis Maxwell (who had been the advertising manager at Gamages). According to Cycling magazine (November 1907), Maxwell had worked in advertising for 15 years in America and England: this was essentially the most fascinating time for both the cycle and advertising industry, establishing both into the form in which we know them today. Maxwell wrote a book entitled Modern Advertising. BSA’s advertising style for the 1907 Stanley Show is certainly impressive (see below).

But, despite a superb advertising campaign, BSA had a big public relations problem at this time. Some cycle agents had been installing cheap parts but selling their bicycles as genuine BSAs, and BSA had taken quite a few to court to try and prevent the practice. However, genuine BSAs also had a good secondhand value, and unscrupulous dealers made a good living selling as-new ‘knock-off’ machines in classified ads from rented accommodation and moving house promptly afterward, making them difficult to prosecute.

BSA exhibited a full range of machines at the November 1909 Cycle Show and, in 1910, new BSAs were at last available again to the public.

I’ve had some fun accessorizing this BSA. As this is my personal mount, and the impending Benson Run is the major veteran British bicycle gathering in the world, it has been a challenge to create something unique. I chose this bike because it was a ‘custom built’ machine when it was new, which allowed me to be creative and authentic at the same time.

I was lucky to find an early 20th century battery lighting set. Then I had some transfers made*** from the illustration in the catalogue. With no paint on the frame, a transfer would have looked out of place. So I renewed my poetic license and fitted them to the battery box.





The handlebars look like a No. 1 set. The BSA seat pillar can be seen in other photos.

The Miller No. Five-20 brass bell has a lovely tone. The No. Five-20 is shown in the 1939 Kirk & Merrifield catalogue below: by then it was no longer brass but black or chrome.


As you can see when you compare the front brake on the bike with the 1903 catalogue below, the brake is attached to the stem rather than the handlebar. The pull up lever type brake was a new pattern for 1903.

I’ve enlarged part of the scan of the c1900 BSA Fittings Bike so you can see its front brake in greater detail; it also fits to the handlebar stem.

A close up of the C1904 Australian photo, below, also shows the brake fitting to the stem.



BSA amalgamated with Eadie Manufacturing Co in 1907. Eadie Coaster hubs were then offered in the BSA catalogue as an option to BSA hubs (see 1910 catalogue, below). These fitments, together with the B.S.A. Three-speed Hub, B.S.A. Chains, and B.S.A. Free Wheels, gave the Company by far the largest range of coasters, variable gears, free wheels, etc., possessed by any company.


Compare the fork ends on the bike with these extracts from the 1903 catalogue.


I  don’t know anything about this saddle manufacturer, but I fitted this saddle to the bike as it’s very comfortable. It’s soft enough to dip in the middle when I sit on it, so provides my rear suspension.


I’ve ordered Peter Card’s book Early Cycle Lighting, as I was told that this lighting set is illustrated in it. I’ll add more details when it arrives.



5th July 2010: As you can see, I made it around the Benson Run. The only casualty was my boater, which blew off near the end of the course, necessitating a stop to retrieve it before it was run over by the high wheelers behind me. I finished the ride with it strapped to the saddle.

The course direction was reversed this year. With fifty boneshakers taking part, a separate short course was added, and I assume it was easier for them to branch off from the reverse direction. For the rest of us, it meant that this year there were more hills to puff up on our machines. The majority of our bikes were manufactured before the advent of geared hubs.

Some of my friends rode ordinaries (‘penny farthings’ or ‘high wheelers’) or velocipedes (‘boneshakers’). Most riders in the Run were much older than me. My bike, by comparison, therefore seemed quite a luxurious mount, and I must admit to overtaking (‘scorching’).

Period saddlebags are expensive and extremely hard to find. So I decided on a cheaper option for carrying my stuff – an old school satchel. As you can see, it fits neatly over the crossbar.

In the cycle jumble before the Run, I was lucky enough to find a turn-of-the-century Halfords accessory leather iphone case, which I mounted on the handlebars. It was amusing when the phone rang and I could describe the ride to my partner while pedalling.

In the old days, riders didn’t worry about the phone ringing – but they did have to contend with urchins throwing sticks into their bicycle wheels, and were also often attacked by dogs. So I packed my early 1900s dog-scaring pistol too.

For this special occasion, Yours Truly removed a few decades from his usual appearance.


50th ANNIVERSARY RALLY: Sunday, 4th July, 2010

I had great intentions to take lots of photos of the Benson. But photography requires an observer’s perspective. Riding a century-old bicycle in costume through silent, beautiful Oxfordshire lanes is, as you’ll appreciate, a somewhat subjective experience. I didn’t want to spoil the magic.

Then the pub stop and pint of Guinness sidetracked me again. The Benson is a very sociable run.

Fabian rode the Boneshaker I used to own, above. It’s in superb condition, and Fabian is very fit, but it’s still hard going on a 140-year-old machine over 15 miles, especially up hills.

So, rather than a photojournal, just a few snippets to set the mood. If you ride a pre-1928 bicycle, I heartily recommend booking for next year’s event.

Anthony C was undoubtedly the best turned-out, below, with his interesting 1915 Phillips Military bike with BSA fittings.

See you all next year…


* From the BSA Handbook 3rd Australasian Edition, 1915

** Leon Mitchell’s website – http://users.senet.com.au/~mitchell/lewis/album/html/photo02.htm

*** Transfers made from scratch by Nick at H. Lloyd Cycles, using the illustration in my BSA catalogue. Thanks Nick! http://www.hlloydcycles.com/

My costume for the Benson Veteran Cycle Rally hired from www.masquerade-costumes.co.uk

Thanks to the excellent VCC website for the BSA catalogues.

At the Benson cycle jumble I found an interesting French BSA Cycle Fittings catalogue from 1900, which I’ll scan and add to this website in due course.

Published on June 17, 2010 at 5:15 am  Leave a Comment  

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