Monday, February 12, 2018

Taking A Hand At... Racing & Records: Rudge Racing Cycles & Record Breakers 1936-39

Designed on the scientific Rudge "True-Poise" principles, these handsome new models have many refinements of specification, and will appeal strongly to the most discriminating Club and Racing men.
They are the outcome of experience as long as the history of the bicycle, for the House of Rudge has always been associated with Records on road and track. This rich experience and the results of untiring research work have effected all the improvements which make the Rudge to-day... BRITAIN'S BEST BICYCLE.
Rudge 1939 Super Sports Model brochure


Even after it had long since been sublimated into Raleigh Industries' "badge engineering," it was telling that Rudge's "Britain's Best Bicycle" slogan was still being used by the parent company. It was more of a statement of fact and less a boast for the close to 75 years Rudge designed and produced bicycles and, indeed, helped to introduce the safety bicycle, in Britain. Today, the name is probably better known for motorcycles than their bicycles and, among the latter, more associated with their elegant and enduring roadsters than racing bicycles and cycle sport.

At the very end of Rudge as an independent, but under new ownership and management, and aided by respected British cyclist and cycling engineer Jack Lauterwasser, Rudge introduced a new range of lightweights that were among the finest made by a large manufacturer. Moreover, the firm resumed sponsoring track and road competition and record breaking that thrust "The House of Rudge" back onto the winner's podium of cycle sport.

The early days of "The House of Rudge" as portrayed in the firm's 1939 brochure on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Dan Rudge's first bicycle although the corporate history is less direct as also charted above.  credit: V-CC on-line library.

The Rudge-Whitworth Company has a fascinating history and, like many other of the old bicycle manufacturing concerns, it sprang from the most unpromising of cradles. Dan Rudge, the father of the concern, was a Wolverhampton publican and, what was far more important, a first-class mechanic. In 1869 he was persuaded by Mr. Walter Phillips, a well-known cyclist, to commence building high bicycles at Wolverhampton. The machines were fitted with adjustable ball bearings, for which Rudge took out a patent in 1873. The Rudge bicycles were so well made that racing men who used them were usually handicapped in competition events! Unfortunately, Rudge died in 1880, leaving his growing business to his widow.

Mr. George Woodcock, a member of the old firm of Woodcock and Twist, the Coventry solicitors, who had retired, purchased the business and the ball bearing patents from Mrs. Rudge and soon became involved in ball-bearing litigation. This was settled amicably, and, after taking an ever-growing interest in the cycle business generally, Mr. Woodcock eventually formed the Rudge Cycle Company, Limited, in October 1887, with a capital of £200,000. Mr. H.J. Lawson and Mr. Walter Phillips were two famous cycle-boom personalities associated with the company at that time.

At that time Rudge bicycles held almost undisputed sway in the affections of racing men, and the new firm, in its huge new Coventry factory, enjoyed a period of great prosperity. 

28 March 1934 Coventry Evening Telegraph

Charles Terront's winning the inaugural Paris-Brest-Paris race in 1891 using Rudge hubs created an overnight sensation and garnered Rudge a major part of the top-end bicycle market in France which it enjoyed up to the First World War. 

Rudge's early technical innovations made their reputation, and from the onset, competitive cycling brought them to the fore. Whilst on a visit to London, the famous French racing cyclist Charles Terront called at the Rudge showroom there and, impressed by the quality and innovations of the cycles, purchased one on the spot. In 1891, Terront won the first Paris-Brest-Paris race on a machine using the Rudge patented axles and hubs and almost immediately Rudge enjoyed enormous renown and commercial success in France.

The history of Rudge Cycles in England and on the Continent is written in every famous track and road race, in nearly every great cycling event since the beginning of cycling... for many years Rudge Cycles held all the important world records.
Rudge advertisement, The Wheel and Cycling Trade Review, 1892

It was never easy, however, for the D. Rudge & Co. and in 1894 they were bought out by the Whitworth Cycle Co. Ltd. of Birmingham. Rudge's better-known name and dealer network gave their name pride of place in the combined Rudge-Whitworth enterprise. At the end of 1895, the firm's headquarters were moved to Coventry although for a time cycles were still made in Birmingham. Annual output reached 25,000 cycles by 1896. By 1906, Rudge had built a modern factory in Spon Street, Coventry, which became the main production centre. Indeed, the growing respect and market share of Rudge-Whitworth enhanced Coventry's standing as the nexus of Britain's motor and cycle industry in first half of the 20th Century.

"By Appointment to...." Rudge-Whitworth made much of its Royal patronage under King George V with catalogues featuring the popular Prince of Wales (later the Duke of Windsor) on his Rudge Aero Roadster in 1911 (left) in 1914 (right) and in 1912 (middle), the young Prince Henry, Princess Mary and Prince George. credit: V-CC on-line library.

The Edwardian Era was a halcyon period for Rudge-Whitworth when their machines were exemplars of British design, engineering and finish and carried with them a pride of ownership when a bicycle was a major consumer possession. At a time when such things meant something, The House of Rudge was favoured with Royal patronage, starting in 1903, being the bicycle of choice of H.M. King Edward VII, H.M. King George V and, most importantly, the popular and youthful H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor. By 1906, Rudge-Whitworth were producing 75,000 machines a year and arguably they and Sunbeam were Britain's premier cycle marques.

Rudge innovation continued to be renown, and the firm held patents on a pedal frame and back pedaling brake in 1900, while what became their hallmark, the sloping crown one-piece fork crown was patented in 1901 and improved nine years later. The equally-distinctive "Rudge Hand" chainring was first seen in 1910 with the first of the "Aero" lightweight roadsters. Rudge helped pioneer the use of celluloid-covered handlebars (1908) and alloy rims (1903).

The Edwardian Era was the acme of Rudge-Whitworth in competitive cycle sport with their wonderfully-named "Aero Special Speed Iron" the mount of choice for many of Britain's top racing cyclists, including RRA record breakers  G.A. Olley and T.A. Fisher in 1907-1909.

Like most cycle companies of its day, Rudge actively promoted their machines through sponsoring record breaking (the RRAs) long-distance individual time trials, when mass start racing was prohibited on British roads. Cycle sport assumed a major role in the promotion and marketing of a cycle brand and Rudge were amply rewarded by such famous riders as G.A. Olley and T.A. Fisher, who broke records for the 1000-mile and Land's End-John O'Groats RRA courses in 1908-1909, riding Rudge "Aero Special" Speed Iron machines. These single-speed machines weighed about 22 lbs and represented the last word in lightweight cycle design of the period. Indeed, the same model was in production from 1905 until 1931.

Almost the entire story of Rudge cycle racing-- from the turn of the century to 1937-- can be told through one model, the Rudge No. 5 Speed Iron which was produced from 1905 to 1931. This was first Rudge to introduce the "Aero Special" name. credit:

The last new club/racing cycle introduced by Rudge-Whitworth under the old management was the "Celerity" in 1931.  credit: V-CC on-line library

Company-sponsored cycle record breaking diminished after the First World War, certainly for Rudge, when developments were more centered on the gears rather than the machine, and favoured Raleigh, who owned Sturmey-Archer and other firms that embraced the early derailleurs. Then, too, the innovations that Rudge were known for came less frequently and less impressively, certainly in the field of lightweight racing and sports machines. Like many makers, they resisted building bicycles with outside supplier fitments and, as component technology was advanced by new firms, Rudge were left behind. 

Then, too, the firm's substantial interests in the motor field played an increasingly dominant role. This began in 1908 when John Pugh, son of Whitworth founder Charles Pugh, invented the quick-change wire wheel for motorcars which revolutionised motor racing and was one of the great sensations (and profit makers) for the firm going forward. In 1910, Rudge began to make motorcycles, creating the line for which they are probably best remembered today. These advancements also reinvigorated their sponsorship of professional racing with notable wins in the annual Isle of Man TT, European races, dirt-track racing, etc. In many ways, the inter-war years for Rudge motorcycles was comparable to the decade before the First World War for their bicycles in terms of competitive success and recognition. 


Halfway through the troubled 'thirties, the old Rudge was gone and a new company carried on the name and adopted a new advertising character, "Johnny Rudge," whose lighthearted enthusiasm was a tonic to bad times and a hopeful harbinger of better fortunes.

It's been said that whilst Great Britain never enjoyed the "Boom" of the 1920s as did America, it felt the full brunt of the "Bust" of the 1930s as the Great Depression bit worldwide.  Britain's world trade, the centerpiece of its imperial mercantile economy, was halved between 1929-33; industrial output was reduced by a third, and by mid 1932, unemployment reached 3.5 millions.  

The Depression hit all sectors of the domestic British consumer economy-- everything from gramophones and wireless sets to bicycles and motorbikes-- as business chased too few customers and indeed many were forced to sell possessions just to get by. As events proved with Rudge, the Depression really did conspire to combine gramophones, wireless sets and bicycles and motorbikes in an unexpected marriage of necessity during these grim years.

If there was a company that never enjoyed  the boom of the 1920s, it was Rudge-Whitworth, which seemed to have lost the plot after the First World War amid high labour costs, rampant price-cutting in the cycle trade and a marginal export trade. The quality of their cycles, both pedal and motor, remained exemplary, but the profit margins were so thin that for most of the decade the firm posted losses and paid its last dividend in 1921-22.  The onset of the Depression tipped the firm into a remarkably swift financial decline.  The Company's position was worsened by the sudden collapse of the motorcycle trade, brought on in part by the new fad in "bantam" lightweight and inexpensive motorcars. During the 1931 financial year ending that August,  Rudge-Whitworth incurred a loss of £38,502, whereas the previous year there had been a rare £14,685 profit. 

The press cuttings from the Coventry newspapers 1931-33 re. the fate and fortunes (or lack thereof) of  Rudge-Whitworth, long a linchpin of the local economy and source of enormous civic pride in building "Britain's Best Bicycle", made for dismal reading.  credit: British Newspaper

Things did not improve and a further loss of £33,666 was recorded in 1932. So dire was the situation that the Board  appointed an advisory committee "to make a full investigation into the Company's affairs, with a view to reorganisation wherever it is necessary." Joint Managing Director John V. Pugh surprisingly resigned at the beginning of 1933 leaving Frank G. Wollard as Managing Director amid staff cutbacks throughout the firm. At the end of March 1933 the Committee appointed a Receiver, who assumed control of the company. On 9 April 1934 at a meeting of shareholders, a resolution was voted approving of the voluntary liquidation of the Company. Creditors were paid 10 shllings on every Pound owed, but shareholders were left wanting. 

Edward Adolph Sinauer de Stein (1887-1965), one of the most prominent merchant bankers and venture capitalists of the 1930s, was largely responsible for reforming Rudge-Whitworth out of receivership. He sat on several Boards, including Electric and Musical Industries (EMI) and British Power & Light, when he assumed Directorship of the new Rudge-Whitworth, and raised most of the initial working capital. He conceived of the sharing of production capacity between Rudge in Coventry and HMV in Hayes that led to EMI's acquisition of Rudge in 1936 and eventual relocation to Hayes. de Stein (later Sir Edward) went on to play a pivotal role with EMI in fostering development of television before The War as well as the computer after it. 

Meanwhile, a group of outside investors with strong financial connections and backing of the merchant bankers had created a new company to carry on the business. Successors to Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd. was registered as a public company on 6 April 1934 with a working capital of £200,000. The new Director was Edward de Stein, prominent venture capitalist and merchant banker, who was also Chairman of Gallahers and a director of the British Power and Light Corporation as well as several important trust companies; Sir Herbert Blain, Deputy Director of the Avon India Rubber Company; and Frank G. Wollard, managing director of Rudge-Whitworth. 

The 1934 Rudge-Whitworth catalogue carried the name of the successor company to the old firm and its new leadership. credit: V-CC on-line library.

Edward de Stein was also on the Board of Directors of EMI which had been created in April 1931 out of the merger of H.M.V. (His Master's Voice) Gramophone Co. and Columbia Graphaphone. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) owned 27% of EMI's stock  and had a board seat along with John Broad, Marchese Guglielmo Marconi, Lord Marks, E. Trevor Williams and Edward de Stein, with Alfred Clark as Chairman. De Stein was a major international financier and took a leading role in divesting EMI's interests beyond its traditional radio and gramophone business. His position with EMI proved pivotal in coming years for the fortunes and fate of the reorganised Rudge-Whitworth firm.

Rudge-Whitworth Managing Director Frank G. Wollard said the new company has been "formed with ample resources to carry on the business with a progressive policy, ensuring that the company will maintain a position in the forefront of manufacturers of cycles, motor cycles, motor car wheels, etc. attaining the highest standard  of workmanship, and enhancing the world-wide reputation of Rudge-Whitworth products." And, in keeping with this credo, the firm took steps to improve and modernise its cycle range. Sales began to recover, so that on 11 January 1935, the first report of the new company showed trading profits of £2055 and a net loss (including £2157 incurred prior to incorporation), of £6025.  But in 1935 a loss of £25,513 was recorded.

All Change. The two full-page adverts in Cycling's Olympia Cycle Show numbers of 9 November 1934 (left) and 4 December 1935 (right) illustrate the company's image and product shifting from a sturdy Rustless All-Weather Rudge-Whitworth Roadster with Pedigree to a brace of new, light club machines, attractive young models and Johnny Rudge, the new lighthearted advertising mascot of what was now called just plain "Rudge" in advertising. credit: Cycling

For 1936, Rudge introduced a new series of club machines with "upright angles", one with chrome-molydendum tubing, and offered in both gents and ladies frames. credit: Cycling 1 April 1936 (from website)


This concern possesses a name which is, I need hardly say, a household word, not only in Great Britain but in many foreign countries. It is one of the oldest of the important bicycle manufacturers, and enjoys an enviable reputation as makers of motor cycles as well. Strange as it may seem, when one thinks in terms of gramophones and radio, there are many points in the manufacture of bicycles which are quite suitable for our own factories, and as the high season of cycle manufacture differs from that our other goods, it is expected that this addition will help to form a practical balance to our work and enable use to reach more nearly that even monthly factory output to which we aspire. When I add to this the fact that the outlet for bicycle goods in the trade is, in many instances, through dealers who distribute other of our products, you will appreciate the reasons which we had in mind when made this acquisition. EMI Chairman Alfred Clark.
                                                                                                   13 November 1937 Midland Telegraph

The new 1936 models were well received amid a general nationwide recovery and Rudge's fortunes began to improve by mid-year. Indeed, increased production and new models taxed the capacity of the factory in Coventry and there was a shortage of specific machined parts. Rudge had already used other suppliers and factories in Birmingham and Manchester, but now Rudge-Whitworth's Director Edward de Stein's position on the EMI Board came into play.

Far away from Spon End in Coventry was the modern factory of HMV in the suburbs of London in Hayes, Middlesex. Here, most of Britain's gramophones, wirelesses and phonograph records were produced in the epicenter of the infant electronics industry. Like most consumer goods, wireless and gramophone sales were cyclical, peaking in autumn and winter and falling off substantially in spring and summer. It was the reverse of the cycle trade and a happy coincidence that an astute Edward de Stein believed could work to the advantage of the two companies he represented. de Stein suggested to EMI that rather than lay-off employees during the "off season", they and excess factory capacity at the Hayes works could be used to manufacture cycle parts for Rudge. This was immediately agreed upon and began in late spring 1936. 

Frankly there was a time, and not so many years ago either, when the National Cycle Show was seriously of very little interest to the racing man whose mind wandered no further than stripped bicycles ready for speed; for there were precious few machines like that to be seen there. What a difference at the Show to-day!... Rudge-Whitworth's (stand 45) where there is a bicycle stripped for speed that weighs 20 lb. and is also priced at £11 11s.

"Racing Machines and Equipment at the Cycle Show" by "K.M.D." (pseudonym of editor Alex Josey). Cycling, 4 November 1936

The big event in the cycle trade was the annual National Cycle Show in London, held at Olympia in in October-November, to showcase the latest models and components for the coming model year. By the mid-1930s, interest in cycle sport and "club" cycling increased enormously and was reflected in a far greater emphasis on these machines. Rudge had already taken the first steps towards tapping this market with their new light roadsters and club models, but the  Cycle Show in November 1936 saw them unveil an astonishingly new range of  "real" lightweights and racing machines of a character and quality unheard of from Rudge since the turn of the century.

The new Rudge-Whitworth Aero series as introduced in Cycling 30 September 1936, credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

A trio of top-end lightweights-- all bearing the coveted "Aero" model name-- including one made of the new Reynolds 531 and featuring the latest Hiduminium components-- were the sensation of the Cycle Show. Designed in consultation with the famous former British Olympic cycle champion, Jack Lauterwasser, they marked a new departure for Rudge and will be examined in detail further in this article. But suffice it to say that their introduction envigourated the bicycle side of the Rudge enterprise, thrust it back into sponsoring cycle sport and record breaking and have even wider consequences going forward.

Cycling 4 November 1936

On 19 November 1936 the Birmingham Gazette confirmed that, as a result of the Rudge motorcycle teams' successes in the Six-Day Trials in Germany, record orders had been received and Rudge-Whitworth had "been compelled owing to this pressure on manufacturing resources, to seek outside help, particularly in the production of machine parts. In that section of the work Electric and Musical Industries had been making 100,000 sets of these parts at their works in Hayes."

"One of the few exceptions to the big upward tendency in the last six months has been the stickiness of the 10s shares of Electrical and Musical Industries. This week they have shown some little activity, recovering from 22s to a little over 24s on the news that the company was acquiring 100 per cent of Rudge-Whitworth. 

At the recent cycle show the latter company received very large orders with which its present organisation was not easily to cope. In consequence, the Board has adopted the logical course of linking up with an existing organisation which in its off-season has plant and labour available.  

Mr. Edward de Stein, chairman of Rudge Whitworth, is also on the Board of Electrical and Musical Industries, and the arrangement is likely to be profitable to both concerns. Belfast knows Mr. Edward de Stein as one of the leading financiers behind the rapid progress of Gallaher Limited and the recent deal with Robinson & Cleavers. He has a very fine reputation in the City of London and, apart from any television prospects, this recent deal for and on behalf of Electrical and Musical Industries is, in my opinion, one of the best omens for the future.
Belfast News, 20 November 1936

On 1 December 1936 The Bicycle reported:

An announcement of interest recently appeared in the Financial Times to the effect that the Rudge Company were negotiating with the Electric and Musical Industries (makers of Marconi, Columbia, and H.M.V. radio and gramophones) for the manufacture of cycles at the works of the later company.

These negotiations have been prompted, it is said, by the volume of orders received by Messrs. Rudge-Whitworth at the recent Cycle Show at Olympia proving too heavy to be handled at the company's works at Coventry.

No official statement, however, has so far been obtained from either company, although the Rudge vice-chairman admits that Rudge parts are already being produced extraneously. He stated that the plans and lay-out for a new twenty-acre Rudge factory, to be used in additional to the Crow-lane works, have been completed. Production in this factory, said the chairman, will be planned for increased quantities, and the most up-to-date methods and machinery will be installed. The question of site and of the actual buildings have yet to been settled.

Building on the success of their co-operation that spring,  the HMV Board looked into a takeover of Rudge-Whitworth with the encouragement of the firm's merchant bankers. This was agreed to in December 1936, but backdated to August, the start of Rudge's financial year.  On the 5th the EMI Directors formally announced acquisition of the entire share capital (£151,000)  of Rudge-Whitworth Ltd. and added  "Rudge-Whitworth was established in 1870 and its products, both pedal and motor cycles, have an enviable reputation for quality. Everything will be done by the new owners to maintain this reputation and to develop the goodwill." In the end, as with so many independents swallowed up by corporate conglomerates, the fortunes of the House of Rudge now lay with others with no grounding in the cycle trade.

The new Board of Directors comprised Edward de Stein, Chairman; Alfred J. Denniss Vice Chairman and Managing Director; Major Gerald R. Ashton, The Hon, J. Mulholland, J.R. Govett.

Part of the rationale behind the acquisition was to consolidate the manufacturing and headquarters of both companies to further labour and production sharing. HMV would build a new, state-of-the-art cycle and motor cycle factory across the road from their own in Hayes, Middlesex, for which land was purchased in February 1937.

Press clippings of the EMi buy-out of Rudge-Whitworth December 1936. credit: British Newspaper Archives. 

Speaking at the annual meeting of EMI 12 November 1937, Chairman Alfred Clark gave more details of the new Rudge-Whitworth premises at Hayes:

At the present time we are constructing at Hayes additional building accommodation for that part of the work which will be carried on there. It is a fact that the bicycle trade. as a whole, is increasing. Its popularity is very great, and Rudge-Whitworth bicycles have maintained their position in the trade during the last year. Sales were larger than the previous year and reached the limit of the capacity of the Coventry factory to produce. The extension which we are constructing at Hayes is therefore necessary to cope with the growing demand, and until it is ready it will not be possible for them substantially to increase the output.  Building operations are proceeding as rapidly as conditions will allow, but unfortunately the delay which is being experienced generally throughout the building trades will prevent the completion of these buildings in anything like normal time. I doubt whether we will be able to enter into possession for another year. although, had expectations been fulfilled, they would have been occupied this year.
13 November 1937 Midland Telegraph

While work began on building the new factory, in December 1937 the Board agreed that the historic 70-year-old Rudge Hand logo of the firm prominently displaying its home city of Coventry would be changed to "Rudge Whitworth Limited". This was effected in September 1938 in time for the 1939 models.

By the time a contractor had been signed in April 1937, the size of the factory was increased from 160,000 sq. ft. to 260,000 sq. ft. In his Rudge-Whitworth-- The Complete Story (2014), Bryan Reynolds stated that this was due to HMV's expanding War Department contracts, specifically for the production of aircraft sound detection equipment, and the new Rudge factory provided a perfect "cover" for the extra capacity. Although not figuring in the official list of the so-called "Shadow Factories" scheme devised in 1935 to prepare British industry for potential wartime production, the new Rudge plant certainly was designed along these lines.  It did, however, delay completion of the new factory and, as events proved, figured materially in the fortunes of Rudge as war clouds gathered.

The revised logo and the new address of Rudge-Whitworth. credit: Bulgier bicycle catalogue archives.

All bicycle assembly machinery was shifted to Hayes in August-September 1938 (at the end of the 1938 model year) and production there began on 12 September so that all of the 1939 model year machines were Hayes-built. Most of the machinery and tools from the Coventry works were old and worn out and in keeping with the "most modern cycle factory" image, were replaced going into 1939. With the transfer of the Dispatch Department from Coventry effective in November 1938, the entire operation for both cycles and motorcycles was now situated at the new Hayes plant. The Birmingham Post reported on 19 January 1939 that Rudge Whitworth "had finally shut down its local factory and transferred its activities to Hayes, Middlesex, where it took up new interests and premises some eighteen months ago. The transfer has been effected gradually, and the firm closed its Coventry doors almost unnoticed. The premises are now untenanted." The building was eventually sold to GEC (General Electric Company) and the last parts of it pulled down as recently as 1990.

The new factory was prominently featured in the 1939 catalogue. credit: V-CC on-line library

Not just the modern buildings but the modern methods were also emphasised in Britain's "Most Modern Cycle Factory". credit: V-CC on-line library.


Cycling, 28 July 1937

Mention has been made of the remarkable trio of new Rudge lightweights introduced at the November 1936 Olympia National Cycle Show, the three new "Aero" models of a quality and specification hitherto unknown for marque since the turn of the century. And while, as the above clipping from Cycling attests, he did not formally join Rudge until that following July, it seems likely that Jack Lauterwasser had a hand in the design and specification of these initial models as well. 

EMI, no strangers to recognising and signing talent, could not have  done better than Jack Lauterwasser to conceive, design and promote an entirely new top quality lightweight range for Rudge-Whitworth. In doing so, they managed both the celebrity endorsement of one of the deans of British cycling and tapped a unique expertise in cycle design and engineering that quickly jumpstarted Rudge's re-entry in cycle racing and lightweight cycle production.

John Jacob Lauterwasser (pronounced by him as "Law-ter-woss-uh" as a true Cockney) was born in London in 1904 to a German father and a British mother who ran a pie shop near Oxford Street. At the onset of the First World War, his father was deported back to Germany and Jack and his mother moved to Highbury, North London. It was there that young Jack got a job at a grocery store and, at the same time, was introduced to cycling in the most prosaic of fashion: making deliveries on a heavy delivery cycle. He joined the Finsbury Park Cycling Club before the War was over and, aged only 13, entered his first race, the club's 25-mile novices time trial and -- won. If anything, all that trudging around London streets on that heavy delivery bike built the lad up to a remarkable level of fitness for his age and he soon displayed prowess at longer time trials, including 12-hour ones, that was astonishing for a boy.

In 1928, Lauterwasser came to national awareness as a member of the Britsh cycling team at the Amsterdam Olympic Games.  Britain was among the favourites for a medal. Nevertheless, cycling was very much a niche sport in Britain and the government had no plans to pay for the cyclists' travel to and from the Games. Lauterwasser, living on the money he earned from racing, had no alternative-- he rode to Amsterdam in the same bike on which he won a silver medal in the 160 km road race.

In the same year as the Olympics, Lauterwasser broke the Road Records Association 50-mile record by almost three minutes with l hr 54 m 47 s, and the 100-mile record by more than 18 minutes, in 4 hr 13 m 35s. 

1931 advertisement introducing the new "Lauterweight" model. credit: Graces Guide

Building his first cycle wheel at age 13, Lauterwasser took an early and intuitive interest in cycle components, design and framebuilding. After the war, he learned framebuilding from Don MacLean who started his cycle company in Holloway, North London, in 1922.  Seven years later, Lauterwasser followed suit with his own cycle shop in Holloway Road, specialising in high-end racing components, clothing and... a range of lightweight and racing cycles, including tandems. In 1931, he introduced the machine that established his prowess in cycle design and specification: the wonderfully-named "Lauterweight" which, combining a frame of the latest Molybdenum steel and the lightest Conloy components, tipped the scale at 16¾ lbs., which was extraordinary for the age or, indeed, now. It should be remembered that time trialing still dominated British road cycle sport, where low weight was a major criteria in a cycle. British designers and component makers made lightweight but strong and durable components and frames a specialty, and Lauterwasser's machines were brilliant combinations of both attributes.  Yet, he is best remembered today for his own "Lauterwasser" handlebar bend, a very shallow drop design with a enormous forward throw that favoured the short stems of the era and gave a good, comfortable, but efficient position.

A rare and beautiful example of a 1934 Lauterweight racing cycle, complete, of course, with Lauterwasser pattern 'bars. credit:, member thegeographicalnortherner

Original Lauterwasser handlebars; the unique shape has been recreated in a modern 'bar. 

At about the same time Rudge-Whitworth went into receivership, the hard economic climate also forced Lauterwasser to shutter his own store and frame- building business by 1936.  How he came to Rudge is unknown, but as a pre-eminent London area cyclist and cycle engineer, one suspects he came to the attention of Rudge Director (and Londoner) Edward de Stein just as the Company was reorienting its product line away  from roadsters to sports and racing models.

As the clipping of 20 January 1933 from the Coventry Telegraph indicates, "A recent production, which claimed the attention and admiration of the party of lightweight enthusiasts, was a fully equipped standard club machine, turning the scale at under 24 lbs.", Rudge-Whitworth was capable of designing and producing impressive lightweights on their own at least as prototypes. credit: British Newspaper Archives. 

The club and racing range Lauterwasser helped Rudge to develop was unique among the big cycle companies in its sheer variety from steel-tubed entry level club models to excellent chrome-molybdenum framed ones and the top-of-the-line models made of the new Reynolds 531 tubing and featuring the best components. Indeed, Rudge was the first of the big makers to offer a Reynolds 531 model, some ten years before Raleigh did, and was also unusual in offering models with outside- sourced superior components. All of this reflected on Lauterwasser's experience both as a frame maker and as a well-connected expert in wholesaling the best in cycle components.

Lauterwasser's first machines designed from scratch for Rudge were the track machines for Karel Kaers for the Six-Day races in 1937. A.J. Denniss, Rudge Managing Director, worked with Lauterwasser to standardise lightweight construction, using Chater-Lea lugs and a new standardised bottom bracket made by them for a completely new range for 1939. Building on the track designs, these machines had much more upright angles than the previous Rudge lightweights. 

With its completely new range of lightweights, Jack Lauterwasser, as well as the Rudges ridden to records by Menzies, Dovey, Kaers and Hill, the Rudge-Whitworth stand at the 1939 Cycle Show was a star attraction. credit: The Bicycle, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

In a 1997 interview for the Veteran Cycle-Club, Lauterwasser recalled his work with Rudge-Whitworth:

[Rudge-Whitworth] had slipped back a bit, their sports models had slipped badly... that was whole idea of getting hold of me, to design something. All those Rudges we made, that particular range, we called the 90 range, were all made with Chater-Lea lugs.  A.J. Dennis, the managing director of Rudge Whitworths then, did not want anything non standard. Chaters used a bracket with 5/16 bearings, not 1/4, and  Chater-Lea made a special  bracket for us, for those bicycles. I was very very pleased  when they got going;  they were very very reasonable  in price as well. 

Jack Lauterwasser, upon the discontinuation of Rudge's lightweight range at the onset of the Second World War, wound up with BSA where he helped to design the unique folding bicycle for the British Army's Parachute Regiment. After the war, he joined Raleigh for whom he worked for two decades as a sales rep. In 1965 Lauterwasser joined Alex Moulton at Bradford-on-Avon, designing and producing the firm's unique bicycles with suspension, and continued with them until his retirement.. at age 90. Britain lost one of its great deans of cycling and cycles, in all its myriad forms, in 2003 when Jack Lauterwasser passed away in Somerset on 2 February, aged 98.



There is, perhaps, only one complaint to be made about the Rudge-Whitworth policy, and that is its modesty. Few modern cyclists realize that this Coventry firm started making bicycles in 1869, only one year after the first velocipede had reached these shores from France.

That history and experience, however, are built into a fine, new range of speed machines which this firm has just announced for the 1937 season. But they bear a famous old Rudge trade name-- 'Aero'.

Cycling, 30 September 1936

Introduced in October 1936, the new Rudge-Whitworth "Aero Special" lightweight range represented the greatest change in the firm's bicycle range in many years.

There were three "Aero Specials" comprising two models with Chrome Molybdenum tubing (Nos. 74 and 75) mainly distinguished by components and better lugwork. The no. 74 cost £6. 15 s. and weighed 29 lbs and the no. 75 cost £7. 15s and weighed 25 lbs.

The Aero Special no. 76 was of an altogether different quality, with all Reynolds 531 butted tubing, the best components of the time, including Constrictor Conloy alloy rims, Williams Dureel alloy chainset, Hiduminium handlebars and seat pin, Brooks Champion Lightweight saddle with alloy undercarriage and Airlite hubs. It tipped the scales at an astonishing 20 lbs, making it the lightest, finest and most expensive racing bicycle of any of the major British manufacturers of the era, costing £12.

All of these models featured what Rudge referred to as "Sports" angles, or, as reviewed by The Bicycle "of the accepted English sports type, with 68 deg. head tube. This, with the well-raked forks, gives a slightly more sluggish steering at slow speeds than the 'upright' design of many modern bicycles, but when ridden fast control is perfect." Chater-Lea cut-away lugs were used on the machines which, at the time, came only in 68 deg. angles. This was perhaps the only aspect of these machines that was not as up-to-the-minute as desirable.

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 76

The new 'AERO-SPECIAL' No. 76 was built to an ideal and priced afterwards. Built by Rudge-- makers of high-grade bicycles since 1869-- for men who know what a good machine is. Maximum strength-- minimum weight-- individually adjusted-- read this brief specification, then see the machine for yourself-- no words can be so convincing.

The Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 76, the flagship of the new lightweight range for 1937, was among the star attractions at the National Cycle Show at Olympia, London, in November 1936. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain 

Rudge-Whitworth placed a full-page advertisement for the new model in Cycling's show number of 4 November 1936. credit: Cycling.

The Twenty-Pound Wonder of the 1937 season, the Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 76, which featured the latest lightweight Hiduminium components of the era. With this splendid machine, Rudge returned to the top echelons of lightweight racing cycles. credit: V-CC on-line library.

The Aero Special in one of two Rudge catalogues for 1937. Note that in this early edition of the catalogue, the only colour choice is "Blue translucent lacquer".  credit: V-CC on-line library.

And rather more impressively illustrated in the larger version of the 1937 catalogue. The slack angles are especially noticeable in this view. credit: V-CC on-line library.  

No. 76
Frame: 21", 23" Reynolds '531' butted tubing with tapered lugs and taper tube chain stays. Sports angles with brazed joins. Low bottom bracket.
Fork: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends and butted stem. All chromium finish. Rudge-Whitworth sloping fork crown.
Wheels: 27" or 26" Constrictor Conloy rims. Double butted spokes with cadminium finish.
Hubs: "Airlite" fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. Hiduminium wing nuts front and rear.
Types: Dunlop No. 3 cotton
Gears: 27" wheels, 46T chainwheels with 17T fix sprocket (72" gears) and 15T fixed sprocket(82-8' gears). 26" wheels, 48T chainwheel with 17T fixed sprocket (70-4") ad 15T sprocket (73-8" gear)
Chain: Coventry "Elite"
Chainwheel and Cranks: "Dureel" 3-pin fixing chainwheel and crank set. 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: Constictor "Conloy".
Handlebar: 17" Bailey bend, adjustable. Hiduminium fitted with rubber sleeves. Hiduminium extension and stem. Secured with ball head clip.
Brake: Rudge-Whitworth (patented) caliper fitted to front wheel. Operated by adjustable  lever with unobtrusive fastening.
Mudguards: With 27" wheels- spear-point only. With 26" wheels- quickly detachable white celluloid with separate spear-point extension.
Saddle: Brooks Champion lightweight on straight Hiduminium seat pillar.
Finish: Blue, Red, Orange or Green transluseant lacquer.
Lubrication: "Tecalemit" gun system.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oilgun and white pump carrier in detachable clips.
Weight: Less pump and tools, 20 lbs.

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 75

The Aero no. 75 as introduced in Cycling 30 September 1936. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

The Aero-Special no. 75 in the smaller of the two 1937 catalogues. credit: V-CC on-line library.

The No. 75 was afforded pride of place in the centre-fold of the large 1937 brochure. credit: V-CC on-line library.

No. 75
Frame: 21", 23". Chrome Molybdenum tubing with fishtail lugs and taper tube chainstays. Sports angles with brazed joints. Low bottom bracket. Brazed-on chain hook and pump pegs.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends and butted stem. Rudge-Whitworth sloping fork crown. Fork ends chromium plated. Brazed on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26 x 1¼" Dunlop special light steel rims with rustless double butted spokes.
Hubs: Quick release special racing pencil type fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. Hiduminium wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop high pressure
Gears: 46T chainwheel with 18T fixed sprocket (66-5" gear). 16T fixed sprocket (74-7" gears).
Chainwheel and Cranks: Williams 3-pin fixing chain wheel and crank set with 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: 4" Webb sold centre or Constrictor type.
Handlebar: Lauterwasser, adjustable Chrome molybdenum tubing chromium plated. Secured with ball head clip. Sponge grips
Brake: Rudge-Whitworth (patented) caliper on front wheel operated by adjustable lever with unobstrusive fastening.
Mudguards: White celluloid quickly detachable with spear point extension. Mudflap fitted to front guard. Rear guard  fitted with reflectors. Stays attached to frame and forks for easy wheel removal.
Saddle: Brooks B.17 on straight Hiduminium seat pillar.
Lubrication: "Tecalemint" gun system
Finish: Black enamel.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oilgun and white pump.
Weight: less pump and tools, 25 lbs.

Cycling review of the Rudge Aero Special, 9 June 1937. credit Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The specification list from the review. 

To recall that the name of Rudge-Whitworth was one to conjure with in the cycle world when I was a boy would leave the inference that I am still a boy, for this famous house has been making bicycles since 1869, and I certainly cannot go back that far! But I do remember trying one of their old "Speed Irons" and I marvelled then at its lightness and liveliness.

I have regretted since then, when thinking particularly of the name Rudge, that old days of keen trade interest and rivalry by the manufacturers in cycle racing, was no more. Rudge-Whitworth went on making bicycles, good bicycles, but less and less were the speed quality of their mounts emphasized in the catalogues issued year by year. Within the recollections of almost every clubman, however, came the new era of the out of doors which boomed the bicycle's popularity throughout the land and widened the influence of clubdom as the nursery for tens of thousands of new cyclists with athletic and speed ambitions.

Famous Name Revived

Rudge-Whitworth, during these past few years, have kept pace with this growth until, when their 1937 programme was announced last autumn, they revived another of their famous trade names "Aero", and announced under that heading a series of modern machines which I firmly believe surpass in design, quality, finish and performance anything that has emanated from their factory during the 68 years of their existence.

When I saw the "Aero Specials" Nos. 74 and 75 and the "Olympic  Aero" No. 76, I commissioned one for my personal test without reference even to mine Editor. Of the three models priced at £6 15s, £7 15s and £12 respectively I selected the middle priced machine as representative of this new class. Many months of winter and spring riding have confirmed the good opinion I formed of it on sight.

The specifications listed on this page tells the readers of its constituent parts, whilst the photograph confirms my opinion that it is a good looker. But a bicycle is just a bicycle until you get on to it and ride it. Then it is fittable to one's position or it isn't; it is responsive, or just a lump of metal; with character in its performance that can be appreciated, or it is just a frame with a couple of wheels and the usual etceteras. The "Aero Special" No. 75 is a good bicycle.

A General-purposes Mount.

There is nothing ultra in its design to make it good only for one purpose. The upright frame angles have not been exaggerated, so that the shortish wheelbase, which contributes to the compactness of the design, and the liveliness of the machine when it is driven at a fast pace along the open road, is not too short for town travel. The machine rolls well over the uneven surfaces, but what I like perhaps most all, and this may be because I am faddy about safe and easy steering,  it is the happily selected fork blades, the fairly shallow offset of which (that is the curved portion) is of suitable design to the 70-degree slope of the head. It has not been universally recognized yet that the steeper the frame angles the straighter should be the forks to ensure steering is not tricky. Riding the "Aero" hands off is simple, whilst the machine can be wheeled with a hand on the saddle only without having to jerk it from side to side to correct the steering. Both are reliable tests that forks and head rake have been scientifically matched.

The Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper brake fitted to this machine I have tried before in previous years, and it is efficient and smooth in action. The 1937 patterns of this brake have, however, been improved in detail, the latest models being very neat in appearance.

The machine weighs 25 lb.
Cycling, 9 June 1937

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 74

Priced at just £6 15s, the third of the Aero Specials represented an excellent value, still offering the same Chrome Molybdenum tubed frame as the no. 75, but with lesser components. Notably, the standard roadster Rudge "Hand" chainwheel, plain Endrick rims and generic "racing" pedals. The advertised weight was still an impressively reasonable 29 lb. 

The Aero Special no. 74 rounded out the range. credit: V-CC on-line library

Aero Special No. 74
Frame: 21", 23". Chrome Molybdenum tubing with fishtail lugs and taper tube chainstays and backstays. Sports angles with all joints brazed. Low bottom bracket. Brazed-on chain hook and pump pegs.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with chromium plated solid ends and butted stem. Rudge-Whitworth sloping fork crown. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼" Endrick, with rustless spokes.
Hubs: Quick release special pencil type fitted with ¼" diameter high quality ball bearings. Wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop Sprite
Gears: 46T chain wheel. 17T fixed sprocket (70-5" Gear), 18T freewheel sprocket (66-5" gear)
Cranks: 6½" chromium plated.
Pedals: Special Racing Type.
Handlebar: Lauterwasser adjustable. Chrome Molybdenium tubing chromium plated. Secured with ball head clip. White sponge grips.
Brakes: Rudge-Whitworth (patented) caliper front and rear, operated by adjustible levers with unobstrusive fastening.
Mudguards: White celluloid with mudflap on front guard. Spear-point front extensions. Rear guard fitted with reflector.
Saddle: Brooks B.15 on straight seat pillar.
Finish: Black enamel
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and white pump.
Weight: less pump and tools, 29 lbs.


The rear cover of the 1938 catalogue showed the new Rudge trademark, which retained the famous Red Hand of Ulster but deleted reference to Coventry or the new location at Hayes. Machines starting in the 1938 model year featured this revised headbadge and transfers. credit: V-CC on line library. 

The 1938 range was the truly the end of an era, being the last built in Coventry and ending 43 years of building Rudge-Whitworth cycles in the City of Three Spires. That year, the Board of Directors changed the historic Red Hand of Ulster company trademark to read "Rudge-Whitworth Limited", deleting reference to both Coventry and to its future home in Hayes.

For the cycle industry overall, 1938 (and indeed through the outbreak of war the following year) presented difficult trading conditions.  Cost of raw materials, especially steel, sharply increased and resulted in substantial re-pricing of cycles in all categories. This was, to large measure, anticipated, prompting record sales in 1937 to beat the increase (an inter-war peak of 2.5 mn. cycles being manufactured in Britain that year), only to bring about a serious contraction upon the introduction of the new higher priced 1938 models.  For the new Rudge lightweight range, the price increases were substantial:

                            1938 retail price                   1937 retail price
     no. 76             £13. 5s.                                 £12.
     no. 75             £8. 11 s.                                £7. 15s
     no. 74             £7. 9 s. 6 d.                           £6. 15s

Further, sales of lightweight club and racing machines were discouraged by the growing threat of European war, culminating in the September 1938 Munich Crisis. The primary market for this sector of the cycle trade-- young men aged 18-26-- was the most at risk of call-up for military service and less likely to invest in expensive new machines amid the uncertainty. It was, therefore, no accident, that promotion of such cycles increased in 1938 not only by advertising but sponsorship of cycle sport and riders. This was certainly true for Rudge-Whitworth under its new and aggressive management. 

The new era of quality lightweights expanded that year from three models to five-- no. 74 Aero Special, no. 84 Aero Special (with three-speed derailleur), no. 83 Aero Special (with three-speed Sturmey-Archer close-ratio hub gear), no. 75 Aero Special and No. 76 Olympic-Aero" (Reynolds 531 tubing) and marking the first time gears were standard on those models so-fitted.  Rudge wisely chose not to pick a side in the still-evolving "battle" between derailleur and hub gears and left the choice to the customer. Further, the newly expanded line-up offered a wide price range between  £7-9-6 for the no. 74 to £13-5-0 for the no. 76, the latter being the lightest (20 lb.) and costliest factory-made lightweight of the era. Further, colour choices for most models was expanded and there was even a new Jack Lauterwasser-designed handlebar bend-- the Rudge bend -- a racing bar of fairly deep flaired and good forward extension.

Whilst everyone knows the famous handlebar shape that bears his name, Jack Lauterwasser also designed the "Rudge Bend" for the 1938 season, which was a more modern "mass start" style shape.

The Bicycle, 8 February 1938, extensively reviewed the Rudge Aero Special model 83 for that year as well as gave detailed specifications for no. 74 and 75 models.

Rudge-Whitworth  Olympic-Aero No. 76

Arguably the best (and most expensive) Rudge racing bicycle ever was the 1938 rendition of the No. 76 which was renamed that year the Olympic Aero, quite likely as a nod to Rudge's technical advisor Jack Lauterwasser. Its specification was augmented that year with a Hiduminium stem and chromed rear triangle ends. The cost rose to £13.5.0 and again it held the distinction of being the heaviest on the purse and lightest (20 lbs) on the scales of any lightweight built by a major cycle firm. 

No. 76
Frame: 21", 23". Reynolds "531" butted tubing with tapered tube chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed. Oil bath low bottom bracket.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends and fitted with Rudge-Whitworth sloping crown. All chromium finish, Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 27" or 26" Constrictor Conloy rims. Double butted spokes with cadmium best finish.
Hubs: "Airlite" fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. Hiduminium wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop cotton racing tyres No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 8 at option
Gears: 27" wheels, 46T chain wheel with 17T fixed sprocket (73" gear) and 15T fixed sprocket (82.8" gear). 26" wheels, 46T chain wheel with 17T fixed sprocket (70.4" gear) and 15T fixed sprocket (79.8" gear).
Chain: Coventry "Elite"
Chainwheel and Cranks: detachable "Dureel" 5-pin fixing chain wheel with 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: Constrictor "Conloy"
Handlebar: Hiduminium tubing. 17" Bailey, Lauterwasser, Shallow Highgate or Rudge bend fitted with rubber sleeves. Hiduminium extension and stem. The bar is adjustable and the stem secured with ball head clip.
Brake: Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper brake (patent No. 388207) to front wheel. The neat handlebar lever with its unobtrusive fastening is adjustable, adding comfort with efficiency.
Mudguards: With 27" wheels- spear-point extension only. With 26" wheels- quick detachable white celluloid, with separate spear-point extension.
Saddle: Brooks Champion lightweight on straight Hiduminium seat pillar.
Finish: Rudge best quality high gloss multi coat Black, Blue, Maroon or Ivory enamel or Blue, Red, Orange or Green translucent lacquer.
Lubrication: Tecalemit gun system.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oil gun and white pump carrier in detachable clips.
Weight: 20 lbs.- less pump and tools.

The 1938 Rudge Olympic Aero showing the chromed rear triangle ends it featured that year. credit: V-CC on-line library. 

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 83

No. 83
Frame: 21", 23". High tensile Chrome-Molybdenum tubing with fish tail lugs and round taper chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed. Oil bath low bottom bracket. Brazed-on chain hook and pump pegs.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends, and Rudge-Whitworth sloping crown. Fork ends chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼" Dunlop special light steel rims with rustless double butted spokes.
Hubs: Quick release special racing type fitted with 1/4" diameter high duty ball bearings. Hiduminium wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop high pressure.
Gears: 46T chain wheel with 17T sprocket with Sturmey-Archer AR close-ratio three-speed hub, giving gears of 75.6", 70.5" and 65.7".
Chainwheel and Cranks: Detachable 3-pin fixing chain wheel with 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: 4" Webb solid centre or Constrictor Boa.
Handlebar: Chrome-Molybdenum tubing. Lauterwasser, Bailey, Shallow Highgate or Rudge bend. Bar is adjustable and the stem is secured with ball head clip. Sponge grips.
Brake: Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper brake (patent no. 388207) to front wheel. The neat handlebar lever with its unobstrusive fastening is adjustable, adding comfort with efficiency.
Mudguards: White celluloid quickly detachable, Spearpoint extension. Mudflap fitted to front guard. Rear guard fitted with reflector. Stays attached to frame and forks for easy wheel removal.
Saddle: Brooks B.17 on straight Hiduminium seat pillar.
Lubrication: Tecalemit gun system.
Finish: Rudge best quality high gloss multi-coat black enamel. Blue, Maroon or Ivory enamel- 5s. extra. Blue, Red, Orange or Green translucent lacquer- 15s. extra.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oil gun and white pump.

From The Bicycle review of 8 February 1938. 

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 84

No. 84
Frame: 21", 23". High tensile Chrome-Molybdenum tubing with fish tail lugs and round taper chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed. Oil bath low bottom bracket. Neat brazed-on chain hook, pump pegs and derailleur lug.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends, and Rudge-Whitworth sloping crown. Fork ends chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼" Endrick rims with rustless double butted spokes.
Hubs: Rudge-Whitworth quick release special pencil type fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. This advanced design combines great strength with low weight. Wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop Sprite.
Gear: Derailleur three-speed. 46T chain wheel and 14T, 18T and 22T sprockets, giving gears of 85", 66.5" and 54".
Cranks: 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: Special Racing type.
Handlebar: Chrome-Molybdenum tubing. Lauterwasser, Bailey, Shallow Highgate or Rudge bend. Bar is adjustable and the stem is secured with ball head clip. Sponge grips.
Brakes: Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper brakes (patent no. 388207) front and rear. The neat handlebar lever with its unobstrusive fastening is adjustable, adding comfort with efficiency.
Mudguards: White celluloid quickly detachable, Spearpoint extension. Mudflap fitted to front guard. Rear guard fitted with reflector. Stays attached to frame and forks for easy wheel removal.
Saddle: Brooks B.15 on straight seat pillar.
Finish: Rudge  high gloss multi-coat black enamel.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and white pump.

Rudge-Whitworth  Aero Special No. 75

No. 75
Frame: 21", 23". High tensile Chrome-Molybdenum tubing with fish tail lugs and round taper chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed. The oil bath low bottom bracket is a completely sealed chamber; not a drop of moisture or a speck of grit can enter. Brazed-on chain hook and pump pegs.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends. Super-butted stem specially strengthened where strain is greatest. Fitted with Rudge-Whitworth sloping crown. Scientifically shaped socket distributes load evenly and brazing of all joints ensures absolute soundness. Fitted with special reinforcing bottom plate to ensure rigid location of tubular members. Fork ends chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼" Dunlop special light steel rims with rustless double butted spokes.
Hubs: Quick release special pencil type fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. Hiduminium wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop high pressure.
Gear:  46T chain wheel with 18T fixed sprocket (66.5" gear) 16T fixed sprocket (74.5" gear).
Chainwheel & Cranks: Detachable 3-pin fixing chain wheel with 6 1/2" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: 4" Webb solid centre or Constrictor Boa.
Handlebar: Chrome-Molybdenum tubing. Lauterwasser, Bailey, Shallow Highgate or Rudge bend. Bar is adjustable and the stem is secured with ball head clip. Sponge grips.
Brake: Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper brakes (patent no. 388207) to front wheel. Scientifically designed, this brake is immensely strong yet light in weight.  The beautifully balanced action with the least effort provides even braking on both sides of the wheel simultaneously. The neat handlebar lever with its unobstrusive fastening is adjustable, adding comfort with efficiency.
Mudguards: White celluloid quickly detachable, Spearpoint extension. Mudflap fitted to front guard. Rear guard fitted with reflector. Stays attached to frame and forks for easy wheel removal.
Saddle: Brooks B.17 on straight Hiduminium seat pillar.
Finish: Rudge  best quality high gloss multi-coat black black enamel. Blue, Maroon, or Ivory enamel- 5s. extra. Blue, Red, Orange or Green translucent lacquer- 15s extra.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and white pump.
Weight: 25 lbs- less pump and tools

Advert for the Aero-Special no. 75 23 July 1938 in The Bicycle touting its use in Rene Menzies' Year Record ride. 

A detail from a Rudge advert, 25 May Cycling, for the Rudge Aero-Special, tying it in with both Menzies' record ride and, rather more creatively, with Kaers' recent records at the Wembley Six-Day Race. credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special No. 74

No. 74
Frame: 21", 23". High tensile Chrome-Molybdenum tubing with fish tail lugs and round taper chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed. Oil bath low bottom bracket. Brazed-on chain hook and pump pegs.
Forks: Resilient racing pattern with solid ends, and fitted with Rudge-Whitworth sloping crown. Fork ends chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼" Endrick rims with rustless spokes.
Hubs: Rudge-Whitworth quick release special pencil type fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. This advanced design combines great strength with low weight. Wing nuts front and rear.
Tyres: Dunlop Sprite.
Gears: 46T chainwheel. 17T fixed sprocket (70.5" gear). 18T freewheel (66.5" gear).
Cranks: 6½" chromium plated cranks.
Pedals: Special Racing type.
Handlebar:  Lauterwasser, Bailey, Shallow Highgate or Rudge bend, adjustable. Chrome-Molybdenum tubing. Secured with ball head clip. Sponge grips.
Brakes: Rudge-Whitworth patented caliper (patent no. 388207) front and rear. The neat handlebar lever with its unobtrusive fastening is adjustable, adding comfort with efficiency.
Mudguards: White celluloid quickly detachable, Spearpoint extension. Mudflap fitted to front guard. Rear guard fitted with reflector. Stays attached to frame and forks for easy wheel removal.
Saddle: Brooks B.15 on straight seat pillar.
Finish: Rudge best quality high gloss multi-coat black enamel.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and white pump.
Weight: less pump and tools, 29 lbs.

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special Track Machines

Rudge-Whitworth had not offered a track machine as a general catalogue model since the early 1920s, so that when it decided to co-sponsor the Belgian riders in the 1938 Wembley Six-Day Race as well as Harry Hill that same year, the machines used were all custom designed and built from scratch by Jack Lauterwasser.  

Construction details on these are sketchy and were not released to the public, but Rudge stressed they were "the same as models available to any clubman except for their angles". When these models were reworked and released as a general catalogue offering the following year as the Aero Path model, the angles were a 75˚ head and 72˚ seat, wheelbase of 40¾" and specially-designed track fork with 1½" offset.  But visually, the 1938 models at least appear to have parallel angles and sharper seat angles. They were built entirely of butted Reynolds and most likely had Chater-Lea lugs and bottom bracket fittings as Lauterwasser favoured those with his past designs and incorporated them in his new line-up for Rudge in 1939. 

Karel Kaers' Rudge Aero Special track machine for the May 1938 Wembley Six Day. Components appear to be Williams inch-pinch chainring and of special interest, the brand new BH Airlite Continental hubs in anodised finish (possibly red) that were introduced that January. Rims were Constrictor with special Dunlop green tyres for the event. The saddle was Brooks (as it was for all the machines used in that year's race). It is believed all of these special-build Aeros were usually finished in Rudge's traditional maroon racing livery. The "By Appointment To..." crest appeared on the seat tube.

A close-up of Robert Naeye's Rudge Aero Special during the May 1938 Wembley Six Day. credit: Gettyimages.

Harry Hill's Rudge Aero Special track machine, Herne Hill, 22 June 1938. This differs from Kaers' machine in having chromed rear triangle ends and a fully-chromed front fork. Low-flange hubs (possibly Airlites) are fitted and the crankset appears to be the rare and beautiful Chater-Lea three-pin (one pin being on the crank) fluted model. In the words of the man who designed and built it, Jack Lauterwasser, "a pukka job" indeed!


1939 marked the firm's 70th anniversary, a brand new factory and a revised and expanded range of lightweights and sporting machines all on the eve of a War that Rudge would not survive as an independent and that would curtail its promising new foray into quality lightweight cycles. credit: V-CC on-line library.

Rudge announce an entirely new range of the famous "Aero-Special" Speed machine whose specification is based on the experience gained by Rudge in their long line of successes on road and track. Every model is a "True Poise" model incorporating Rudge exclusive features and patents
Rudge advertisement, 12 November 1938

Celebrating the 70th anniversary of Dan Rudge's first bicycle, the 1939 Rudge line-up looked more to the future than the past, being the first constructed in the new Hayes factory and featuring a new dedicated "Super Sports" range of lightweights reflecting the full influence of Jack Lauterwasser in their design and specification while being rationalised for better production and marketing. For the first time, Rudge printed a special brochure just for the lightweight range, highlighting the achievements in cycle sport and record breaking achieved on Rudge machines since 1937.

Jack Lauterwasser was at the Rudge stand at that year's National Cycle Show in November 1938, introducing the new range with a beautiful matched set of the Olympic Road model in black contrasting with the sensational new Aero Path in "tango", which was designed after the machines Lauterwasser built for Karel Kaers' records. Additionally, the Rudge stand featured the bicycles ridden to records in 1938 by Rene Menzies, Billie Dovey, Karel Kaers and Harry Hill, making it one of the "must sees" of the last Cycle Show for a decade.

Reflecting the modern production methods at the new Hayes factory, Lauterwasser completely reworked the specifications of the lightweight range to rationalise frame building through standardisation and to give more up-to-date angles, handling and features at a more competitive price range. Cycle sales in general lagged in 1938 owing to higher prices, a general downturn in the economy and uncertainty over the European situation. To spur sales, it was essential to reduce the cost of the machines whilst maintaining quality and streamline and rationalise the whole range, including the lightweights.

All of the new "90 series" frames (except the Aero Path) had the Cyclo pattern braze-on rear derailleur hanger on the drive side chainstay irrespective of what gears, if any, were fitted and all, except the Aero Path, had the same all-Reynolds 531 bladed and fully-chromed front forks. The Tecalmit grease nipples in the head races and bottom bracket, which featured on the top models, were deleted on the '39s. The now slightly old-fashioned cable/stirrup Rudge pattern caliper brakes gave way to a simpler conventional side-pull caliper design. Finally, the frame angles were significantly tightened up to more contemporary upright geometry. This was part of Rudge's "True Poise" advertising slogan adopted that year and reflecting reworking of many of the frame angles and design throughout the range for a more efficient yet comfortable riding stance.

Chater-Lea provided the new lugs for the tighter angles and, at the request of Rudge Managing Director A.J. Denniss, who insisted that Rudge standardise its fittings to industry standards, designed an entirely new bottom bracket (the CL 1601) that took standard 1/4 bearings instead of Chater-Lea previous non-conforming 5/16th. This bottom bracket continued in production after the war for C-L. Chater-Lea fork ends were also fitted to the 90 series.

Cycling, 12 October 1938. credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain

The New Rudge Range: Innovations for 1939 Season

The introduction of eight new models and numerous improvement in specification of existing machine are the most interesting features of the Rudge Whitworth announcement of the new season's range. Several of the "Aero" and other types have been dropped from the range.

Others described as 'new speed models' are of the sports type. The most ambitious of the new models in the class is the 'Aero Path' costing £12 10s., built of '531' butted tubing and Constrictor, Conloy, or wooden wheels and weight 20 lb. The is wheelbase is 40½ in. Silk tyres can be fitted if desired.

New Speed Models

Then come the new speed models, introduced this season for the first time. No. 90 is the Aero Special Club. The frame is precision built, of high-grade steels, with sports angles, "V" tapered chain stays, pencil-taper seat stays, sliced seat lug cluster, and forward drop-out fork ends. Wheels are Endrick 26 in. by 1¼ in., with rustless spokes; brakes are Rudge side-pull caliper with Rudge levers, and the finish is high gloss multicoat enamel in 'magpie" blue or green, with bold box lining. All usual bright parts are heavily chromium plated. Wheelbase is 41 in, weight 28 lb 13 oz., and price  £6 19s 6d. 

The other two new models are the "Aerotour" priced at £8 12s. and the Aero Path" costing £12 10s.

Better-Grade Machines

The first-named is built of high tensile chrome molybdenum tubing, with fish-tail lugs and round taper tube chain and back stays. The cycle is built on upright lines and all joints are brazed. Forks are of the resilient racing pattern with solid ends. High pressures are on 26 in. by 1¼ in. wheels with double butted rustless spokes.

A 20 lb. Machine

The 'Aero Path' is built with Reynolds '531' butted tubing with 72 degrees seat and 75 degrees head. Lugs are cutaway and neatly filed. There are special taper gauge fork blades with 1½ in. offset. Wheels are 27 in. Constrictor Conloy, or best type wood; tyres are Dunlop, and Constrictor Path, (or at extra cost) silk tyres can be fitted. The weight of this machine is 20 lb., wheelbase is 40½ in. £12 10s. is the price of this model. 
The Bicycle, 15 October 1938

Cycling, 3 November 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The new Rudge line-up for 1939 introduced in The Bicycle Cycle Show number 12 November 1938 introducing the "True-Poise" concept for 1939. Note that the Company address is still listed as... Coventry!

For the first time, Rudge printed a special brochure just on its "Super-Sports" range of racing machines and club bicycles. And even advertised it as above in The Bicycle, 1 March 1939 

Karel Kaers "on his Rudge" had pride of place on the cover of the 1939 Rudge Super-Sports brochure. credit: V-CC on-line library

The inside spread featured some of the records won on Rudge machines in 1937-38, "The Champion's Choice". credit: V-CC on-line library.

The last printing of the brochure (and the last to feature the lightweight range) in summer 1939 was updated with overprinting, heralding Kaers' and Debruycker's winning the Wembley Six-Day that May. credit:

The new entry-level Aero Special Club models could be had as single speed fixed/free, three-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gear or 3-speed Cyclo derailleur versions. credit: V-CC on-line library

The best of the road racing Rudges was the Olympic Road, which was available as a stock three-speed Cyclo derailleur-fitted model or, alternately, with Sturmey-Archer hub gear. credit: V-CC on-line library

credit: V-CC on-line library

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Path No. 95

Of particular interest to the racing man will be the Aero Path model on Stand no. 28 by Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd. (Coventry). This machine is designed in conjunction with Karel Kaers and Harry Hill and is equipped with all the best fittings for path racing.

Cycling, 2 November 1938 Show Number

"The Aero Path, in three frame sizes, with 72-degree seat and 75-degree head, is a really tip-top machine for the job. Conloy sprint rims on Airlite track hubs comprise the wheels, with either Dunlop or Constrictor path tubulars".  Cycling 12 October 1938

The Aero Path was the first Rudge track/path machine to be featured in a catalogue in many years and the first and only one to represent the absolute top of the range in design, quality, components and... price. This was a classic Lauterwasser creation and derived from the machines he built for the Rudge Six-Day team and Harry Hill in 1938. The angles were predictably tight with a 75˚ head and 72˚ seat, wheelbase of 40¾" and specially-designed track fork with 1½" offset. Entirely made of butted Reynolds 531, it tipped the scales at 20 lb. with Constrictor Conloy sprints or wood sprints. Although it was available in red, blue, green or black enamel, its most distinctive colour was the wonderfully named "tango" contrasting with bold black RUDGE transfers and dramatic box lining to make for a most splendid looking and performing machine indeed. And one of the star attractions of the new 1939 season. 

No. 95
Frame: 21", 22" and 23". 72˚ Seat-- 75˚ Head. Reynolds "531" butted tubing. Cutaway lugs. Neatly filed. Drawn-back fork ends and adjusters.
Forks: Resilient pattern. "531" Blades with solid ends, and Rudge sloping crown.
Wheels: 27" Constrictor Conloy, or best type wood.
Tyres: Dunlop and Constrictor Path.
Hubs: Airlite single hub track hubs and nuts.
Gears: 24T 3-pin chainwheel (23 or 26T optional) 1 x 3/16", 6½" cranks (7" optional). 7T fixed cog.
Handlebars: Bailey or Continental Bends, steel, brazed up to 3" extension or adjustable stem. Chromium plated. Flexible celluloid grips.
Pedals: Light alloy or Boa.
Saddle: Brooks Champion Flyweight narrow or B.17 Sprinter.
Finish: Rudge high gloss enamel multicoat enamel in black, blue, orange, red or green with gold box lining.
Equipment: toolbag, tools, oiler and pump.
Weight: 20 lbs.
Wheelbase: 40¾"

An unidentified rider about to be pushed off on his 1939 Rudge Aero Path at a meet. credit: V-CC online library. 

Rudge-Whitworth Olympic Road No. 92/93

Worthy descendant of the long line of Rudge high-speed machines which on road and track have built the unsurpassed records of successes enjoyed by Rudge, this new "True-Poise" model is one of an entirely new range incorporating every modern feature that scientific research has made possible.
It is the ace of clubmen's mounts-- a thoroughbred of Rudge quality.
Rudge advertisement for the the Olympic Road, Cycling 21 January 1939

The last of the "real" Rudge road lightweights, the Olympic Road model for 1939, replaced the Aero-Olympic model as the top-of-the-line road model. It introduced "upright angles" (71˚ parallel) and a reworked specification to drop its price down to £9. 15s from the £13 of the Aero-Olympic.  This entailed replacing the costlier and lighter alloy chainwheel, stem and 'bars with steel ones. This was the first Rudge built to take either the 26" or 27" Dunlop HP rims. The chainset was a Williams C1000 with Constrictor Boa pedals.  The built-up weight for the standard model with fixed/free single-speed gearing was 24 lbs. 14 ozs. vs. 20 lbs. for the Aero-Olympic. In addition to 21" and 23" frame sizes offered with the Aero-Olympic, the Olympic Road also had a 22" option.

Not by coincidence, the new Rudge Olympic Road cost the same as the Raleigh Record Ace, yet it was both lighter (24 lbs. 14 ozs. vs 25 lbs. 4 ozs.), boasted all-Reynolds butted 531 frame triangle and forks (the RRA was built with older HM tubing in the rear triangle and fork blades and Chrome Molybdenum main triangle), had more modern upright "mass start" geometry and the more contemporary Dunlop high pressure 27" rims and tyres and came in fixed/free, hub or derailleur gear options. By any standard, it was among the best high-end, well spec'd factory-made lightweight of the year for the money and represented a remarkable value. Its main competition at the same price point was the comparable Carlton Mass Start model and the Royal Enfield Continental.

The main frame triangle was butted Reynolds 531 (and the rear triangle straight gauge 531), but advertisements at the time of the Cycle Show in mid-November 1938 spec'd the front fork as "A&P [Accles & Pollock] resilient racing type", but this was changed to Reynolds 531 in the main brochure. The colours, too, changed with "Magpie", blue or green first advertised in November 1938, then black, blue, green or "Tango" in the main 1939 brochure, and finally, black and white, blue or green in the final "Super Sports" leaflet printed in spring 1939. 

Reviewing the 1939 Rudge models, Cycling of 12 October 1938 said "At £9 15s., the Olympic Road is an ideal mount for the connoisseur, with a really high-quality specification, including a frame of '531' tubing, A. and P. resilient racing-type chromium-plated forks, Dunlop high pressure rims and tyres, Airlite hubs, a choice of handlebars, Brooks B17 Champion saddle and an attractive finish."

No. 92
Frame: 21", 22" and 23". Reynolds "531" butted tubing, with tapered lugs and tapered tube chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed.
Forks: Resilient type, with Rudge sloping crown. "531" blades with sold ends. All chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" or 27" x 1¼", High Pressure Endrick rums with rustless spokes.
Tyres: High pressure.
Hubs: Airlite fitted with ¼" diameter high duty ball bearings. Wing nuts front and rear.
Gears: 6½" 3-pin lightweight set, 46T (44 or 48T optional).
Cranks: 6½" chromium plated.
Pedals: Boa
Handlebars:  Steel, chromium plated, with long flexible celluloid grips to match frame. Rudge, Bailey, Continental or Lauterwasser bends optional. Adjustable on 2" or 3" forward extension.
Brakes: Rudge side-pull caliper with Rudge-Whitworth levers
Mudguards: "V" section celluloid, quickly detachable.
Saddle: B.17 Champion
Finish: Rudge high gloss multicoat enamel in "Magpie", blue or green with bold box lining. All usual bright parts heavily chromium plated.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and pump. Rear reflector (approved by National Physical Lab).
Weight: (model 92) 24 lbs. 14 ozs.
Wheelbase: 41½"
With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.W. 21/- extra. With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed A.M. 23/- extra. With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.R. 25/3 extra

No. 93 (as above but fitted with Derailleur 3-speed gear).

The new Olympic Road model as introduced in Cycling's 16 November 1938 National Cycle Show number. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

The top-of-the-line road model of the Rudge 1939 line-up, the Olympic Road, was described as "the ace of clubmen's mounts-- a thoroughbred of Rudge quality." 21 January 1939 Cycling

Rudge-Whitworth Aerotour No. 94

One of the entirely new "True-Poise" range of Clubman's AERO-SPECIAL machines. Rudge bicycles in this range have been ridden during the season by world champion Karel Kaers, Endurance Champion Rene Menzies and "Keep-Fit" Ambassador Mrs. "Billie" Dovey.
High tensile CHROME MOLYBDENUM tubing with fish-tail ligs and round taper tube chain and backstays. Sports angles with all joints brazed and low-built oil bath bottom bracket are incorporated. 
Rudge advertisement for the Aerotour, Cycling 21 January 1939

This was the only model in the 1939 line-up with Chrome Molybdenum tubing which, combined with the now standard Reynolds 531 fork blades, gave an excellent general club mount weighing 26 lbs. 8 oz. for only £8. 12s. 

No. 94
Frame: 21", 22" and 23". High tensile Chrome Molybdenum tubing, with fish tail lugs and round taper tube chain and back stays. Sports angles. All joints brazed.
Forks: Resilient type, with Rudge sloping crown. "531" blades with sold ends. All chromium plated. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates.
Wheels: 26" x 1¼", High Pressure with double-butted rustless spokes.
Tyres: High pressure.
Hubs: Bayliss Wiley 9 and 10. Quick release. Wing nuts front and rear.
Gears: 46T 3-pin chainwheel. (44 and 48T optional). 16T fixed sprocket. 18T freewheel sprocket.
Cranks: 6½" chromium plated.
Pedals: Webb Racing type.
Handlebars:  Steel, chromium plated, with long flexible celluloid grips to match frame. Rudge, Bailey, Continental or Lauterwasser bends optional. Adjustable on 2" or 3" forward extension.
Brakes: Rudge side-pull caliper with Rudge-Whitworth levers
Mudguards: "V" section celluloid, quickly detachable.
Saddle: B.17 18 or 66.
Finish: Rudge high gloss multicoat enamel in Tango with black lines. All usual bright parts heavily chromium plated.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and pump. Rear reflector (approved by National Physical Lab).
Weight: 26 lbs. 8 ozs.
Wheelbase: 41¼"
With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.W. 21/- extra. With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed A.M. 23/- extra. With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.R. 25/3 extra

The new Rudge Aerotour as introduced in Cycling 23 November 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Rudge-Whitworth Aero Club No. 90/91

For 1939, the lowest priced of the "Super Sports" line-up was an interesting rework of the previous bottom-tier lightweight in that its frame was made of "high-grade" steel instead of Chrome Molybdenum, but it boasted fork blades of Reynolds 531 so that its weight of 28 lbs. 12 ozs. was actually 4 oz. less than the 1938 no. 74 it replaced. This switch helped to rationalise production in that all the Super Sports machines, except the Aero Path, used the same Reynolds 531 forks.

The model name seems to have evolved from Aero "Special" Club as introduced in autumn 1939 for the Cycle Show to Aero Club by the time the main 1939 brochure was released.

The Aero Special Club is available with 21-in., 22-in., and 23-in. frames, with sports angles, choice of Dunlop tyres, Bayliss-Wiley hubs, choice of chromium-plated handlebars, and either a leather racing saddle or spring-top saddle. Rudge high-gloss multi-coat enamel, in 'Magpie', blue or green, makes an attractive finish to the frame, and, with the front forks chromium plated all over, the Aero Special Club is indeed a smart mount.
Cycling, 12 October 1938

No. 90/91
Frame: 21", 22" and 23". Precision built from high grade steel. Sports angles. "V" tapered chain stays. Pencil tapered seat stays. Forward drop-out fork ends
Forks: Resilient pattern, with Rudge sloping crown. "531" blades with solid ends. Brazed-on lamp bracket lug and mudguard plates. All chromium plated.
Wheels: 26 x 1¼" Endrick rims with rustless spokes.
Tyres: Sprite. Speed tyres optional.
Hubs: Baylis Wiley (9) quick release. Wing nuts front and rear.
Gears: 46T 3-pin chainwheel. 44 and 48T optional. 16T fixed sprocket. 18T freewheel sprocket.
Cranks: 6½" Chromium plated.
Pedals: Racing pattern.
Handlebar: Steel, chromium plated with long flexible celluloid or rubber racing grips to match frame. Rudge, Bailey, Continental or Lauterwasser Bends optional. Adjustable on 2" or 3" forward extension.
Brakes: Rudge side-pull caliper with Rudge-Whitworth Levers.
Mudguards: "V" section celluloid, quickly detachable.
Saddle: Brooks C32 or Springtop.
Finish: Rudge high gloss multicoat enamel in "Magpie", blue or green with bold box lining. All usual bright parts heavily chromium plated.
Equipment: Toolbag, tools, oiler and pump. Rear reflector (approved by National Physical Lab).
Weight (Model 90) 28 lbs 12 ozs.
Wheelbase: 41¼"
With derailleur 3-speed gear 17/6 extra. With Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.W. 21/- extra. with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.R. 25/3 extra

Model 91 as 90 but fitted with Sturmey-Archer 3-speed Gear A.M.


Nothing sold racing and sports bicycles more than their actually being used "for real" in cycle sport and competition and if "By Appointment To...." was perhaps a sufficient endorsement for the roadster trade, Rudge early on made their lasting reputation through cycle (and motorcycle) sport. Their bona fides in the former were severely diminished by the mid 1930s and, in step with their new emphasis on sports machines, Rudge resumed sponsorship of competitive cycling.

British cycle sport before the Second World War was dominated by road racing records (the established point-to-point or timed courses set out by the Road Records Association) which reflected the dominance of the road time trial (at a time when mass start racing on public roads was prohibited) and track racing. There were also more informal records, sponsored by cycle clubs or newspapers or magazines, for the greatest number of miles ridden in a year, originally defined as the number of "centuries" (100-mile rides) ridden in 12 months. In Britain, this was formalized by Cycling magazine and first formally won in 1911 by a 20-year-old Marcel Planes who tallied 34,366 miles. He rode unsponsored and his record remained unbroken until 1932. 

Coming out of the Depression, the cycle trade became more competitive, as did the battle between the relative merits of the hub gear and various derailleur systems, reinvigorating rivalry not only among the manufacturers but in cycle sport. The long-dormant Year Record appealed to cycle companies in that, if nothing else, it gave a year's fodder for the advertising and promotion around the effort. So, starting in 1932, with Hercules and Dunlop sponsoring Arthur Humbles, who broke Planes' record with 36,007 miles, the Year Record was revived with a vengeance. And in 1933, it became an international or more correctly, an imperial affair when Australian Ossie Nicholson broke the record with 43,966 miles. Like "The Ashes" in cricket, the Anglo-Australian sporting rivalry added a new frisson to the endeavour. Walter Greaves became a minor national hero, if an unlikely one, being a Communist and handicapped (having lost his left arm in a childhood accident), when he brought the Year Record "home" with 45,383 miles in 1936.

RENÉ MENZIES (1889-1959)

1 January-29 September 1937
Year Mileage Record 61,561 miles
1 January 1937-24 August 1938
100,000 miles in 585 days 

It will be recalled how important the National Cycle Show at Olympia, London, in November 1936, proved to be in the fate and fortunes of the revived Rudge-Whitworth firm-- introducing the new Aero range of lightweights and eliciting record sales of their new bicycles (and motorcycles) prompting its eventual taking over by EMI and move to Hayes-- but it also had one other effect. The hero of the show that year was Walter Greaves, who was a month away from breaking the Year Record with 45,383 miles.  His sponsors, Three Spires Cycles of Coventry, invited former winners Marcel Planes and Arthur Humbles to appear with Greaves at the Show.  That same day, a French cyclist, Rene Menzies, was competing in a rollers match with Sturmey-Archer-Raleigh record holder Sid Ferris. It was perhaps here that Menzies, already an accomplished cyclist both in his native country and in his adopted home, got the idea to attack the Year Record in 1937. In any event, Menzies formally announced his intention to do just that the following month.

Rene Menzies was, unlike some of the previous Year Record riders, a professional cyclist of considerable experience and ability both in his native France and his adopted Britain. Born in Caen in 1889, he was cycling by the tender age of six. From 1906 to 1909 Menzies was champion of Normandy and in 1910 won the Velodrome d'Hiver-Paris Cup. During the Great War, he served in the French Army Cyclist Corps. In England by 1931, Menzies became an established long-distance time triallist in 100-mile and 12-hour events and belonged to the Westerly Road Club.

Menzies was but one of three competitors for the Year Record that memorable 1937, joining Bernard Bennett of Birmingham and Ossie Nicholson, intent on winning back the title for himself and Australia and fully sponsored by Malvern Star Cycles. Of the three, Menzies was perhaps the more unlikely if by his age alone which, at 48, was about double that of previous Year Record competitors.  As it was, he begin run for the record on 1 January 1937 from the National Cycle Union headquarters in London with nary a sponsor and on a cobbled together Weaver bicycle. Sponsors wanted to back a winner, or at least one with prospects, and Menzies laboured through the winter with neither. But he pressed on and by 14 May had ridden over 19,000 miles, 1,000 more than Bennett, but slightly in arrears of Nicholson who was up to 22,695 by the 28th, 1,124 more than the Frenchman.

'Rene Menzies, the 48-year-old French professional, started out from the N.C.U. offices at 7 a.m. on January 1, garbed in pukka road-racing costume. Menzies, who is riding a Weaver (of Leyton) bicycle, equipped with a Smith's speedometer, had not adopted Cycling's checking system at the start, but he proposes to do this week. Cards he has posted to us from various points during the first three days make claim to 462 miles, ridden up to Sunday night. '
Cycling, 6 January 1937

By mid-year, Menzies had chalked up 23,950 miles vs. Nicholson's 25,044 miles while Bennett lagged behind. Here, with the better weather and a real contest in the offing, Menzies finally attracted the vital sponsors to not only support him financially, but also ensure his effort was at last being told with advertising and planted articles in the cycling press. He was first endorsed by Ellimans Athletic Rub, then a staple of racing cyclists. When he attracted the sponsorship of Rudge-Whitworth is less clear, but is indicated by the sudden plethora of press stories and promotional appearances that appeared towards the end of June. On 23 June Cycling reported that "Rene Menzies who, riding a Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, is endevouring to set up a new world's record."

After cycling in relative obscurity for six months, Rene Menzies was suddenly thrust into the world of publicity, events and promotional appearances concurrent with Rudge-Whitworth's sponsorship in June 1937. On 30 June, the Midland Telegraph (Coventry) featured an introductory article on him and his new mount, a Rudge Aero, while Cycling of the 23rd presented Menzies with former champion C.H. Bartlett

That bunch of muscle, modesty, and sinew, Rene Menzies, who is attacking the world endurance record in fine style on a Rudge-Whitworth bicycle, strolled into the Rudge Spon End offices the other day and astounded us all by saying that he'd just completed a 160-mile 'spin.'

Astounded is the word. Rene looked completely cool and unruffled, as though he was at the start of a ride instead of the end, and yet is 48 years old, and had been riding his42 of them. Not that he looks his age-- he is bronzed, the picture of health, and a grand advertisement for our health creating recreation.

That 160 miles is his every day, and since January 1 he has covered 26,600 miles, and allowed himself one day's read. The record set up by Walter Greaves, the one-armed vegetarian rider, on a Coventry-made cycle last year, is doomed if the Frenchman maintains his present average, and there is every prospect of his doing so.

I rashly asked him what diet he relied on, and he laughed the diet to scorn. He is not a vegetarian, and has no fads in the food line to crease his brow at meal-times. On the bars of his machine he has fixed a can, and from this he occasionally revives himself with a drink of sugar and water…

The beginning of his attempt this year was made difficult by wet weather, and in the severity of the winter he experienced storms of snow, hail, and rain, in plenty.

But Rene is cheerful. The bad days are behind him, and on the Rudge machine he is  piling up the mileage in a confident manner, and already has a lead of 3,000 miles over Greaves mileage at this date.

The machine he rides is a standard type Rudge 'Aero Special,' fitted with a 'Cyclo' three-speed derailleur gear. It has Dunlop special light steel rims, the Lauterwasser handlebar, and is smartly finished in black enamel. Rene attributes his success to date to the model, which he says is particularly free in action.

All Coventry cyclists will join with me in wishing Rene Menzies a record-breaking year, for it would be a tribute to cycles made in the city he established a new record, as it was a tribute when Greaves broke the record on a "Coventry Cycle" machine. 

The Midland Telegraph, 30 June 1937

Cycling's 4 August 1937 featured a three-page spread on Menzies accompanied by some fine photos of him riding on the Epping Road. A road scout signs his daily mileage card (right). Some fine details, too, of his black Rudge Aero Special no. 45, completely stock except for the Conloy sprint rims and tubular tyres. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Menzies posting his "checking card" to Cycling (which supervised the Year Record rides) and (right), fixing a puncture. Unusually for the Year Record, Menzies rode on tubular tyres. The disc for his Smith's cyclometer is visible on the front hub. His machine was fitted with Constrictor Boa pedals. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Cycling published a multi-page feature on Menzies' effort on 4 August 1937, which included details on his machine, riding position and routine:

Menzies is riding a Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special standard bicycle equipped with a Cyclo three-speed derailleur gear with a ratio of 59, 65 and 73. Sprint wheels and Constrictor tubulars are fitted and, for the purpose of recording the mileage, there is a Smith speedometer. 

Although speed is not of primary importance, Menzies usually cruises along at about 15 miles per hour, but he uses his Cyclo three-speed gear to good advantage when wind or gradient is favourable. His position on the bicycle is similar to that used by Continental riders with saddle well behind the bottom bracket. The flat country of Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire are his favourite roads and it is in this direction that he goes when aiming for the high peaks of his mileage. 

Mechanical trouble has not retarded his progress to any great extent, but early in the year he was involved in a collision with a motorcar which completely smashed up the bicycle he was then riding. Since selecting his Rudge-Whitworth bicycle he has had no mechanical trouble of any description, but it is not surprising that riding in all weathers and over all types of roads he has had occasional punctures. However this does not usually constitute a very lengthy delay as he has mastered the art of rapid tyre changing and can manage the operation in two minutes. Such quick work has not always been possible though, for in a particularly bad stretch on Salisbury Plain he was held up for two hours repairing tyres after a wholesale collection of deflations. 

Rudge-Whitworth's exhibit at the National Cycle Show, September 1937, featured an up-to-the-minute tally of Menzie's mileage as well as an Aero Sports identical to one he was using. Cycling, 29 September 1937. credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Menzies, who was still some 1,600 miles in arrears against Nicholson, renewed his effort with remarkable vigour, chalking up an astonishing 37 double centuries between 3 August-11 September and regularly riding for 17 hours each day. By 24 September, his gap with the Australian was down to 84 miles when, the following day, disaster struck and he collided with a lorry at Biggleswade, breaking his wrist and damaging his machine. Although Rudge sponsored him, he had no assistance en route and had to call his brother from a public call box, who rushed him to the hospital, got Rudge's London depot to provide him with a replacement cycle and, incredibly, with his arm in cast and with a spare tubular tyre as a sling, left the hospital and resumed his ride. He still clocked 163 miles for the day even having to ride one-armed rather like Greaves had throughout his ride. Rudge repaired his original machine and Menzies carried on, his plucky drive and determination adding more drama to the see-saw battle.  Rudge arranged to have Jack Lauterwasser, its Technical Advisor, accompany Menzies for the remaining five days it was estimated would determine who would break the record first.

Both Menzies and Nicholson surpassed Greaves record on 29 September and the drama of who would do so first carried through to the last moment. Taking no chances, Menzies rode 20 straight hours the previous day to record an amazing 247 miles. In the end, both riders claimed to have broken Greeves record: Nicholson doing so in 271 days and 15 hours but Menzies in 271 days 13 hours and 40 minutes.

from Cycling, 6 October 1937. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Rudge and Cyclo Gears arranged an elaborate reception at Alexandra Palace, London, for Menzies after he beat the record at 1.40 p.m. on the 29 September 1937.  There, Walter Greaves and Arthur Humbles were on hand, as was veteran record breaker S.F. Edge, who presented the Frenchman with a trophy with Union Flag and Tri-Colour sashes, with Rudge-Whitworth Managing Director A.J. Denniss and L. Camillis of Cyclo adding their congratulations. As a nod to Rudge's parent firm, EMI, which had pioneered television, Menzies was interviewed on the BBC programme Picture Page in the Alexandra Palace television studios.

Press cuttings on 30 September 1937 announcing Menzies' (and Nicholson's) besting Greaves' record by both recording 45,384 miles since 1 January. The photo shows Greaves congratulating Menzies at Alexandra Palace. credit: British Newspaper Archives.

The full-page Rudge advert in Cycling 6 October 1937 heralding Menzies' achievement "Riding a Standard Rudge-Whitworth 'Aero Special'". credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

And, of course, the next day Menzies and Nicholson were "back at it" still competing to see which of them would set the new Year Mileage Record. By 29 October, Menzies had totaled 50,319  miles vs. Nicholson's 50,482, with both riders battling poor weather, Nicholson a bad crash and Menzies' wrist and a series of colds dogged him On 10 November, Cycling reported Menzies was only a day's riding behind the Australian and on the 27th, for the first time in the contest, Menzie's mileage exceeded Nicholson's with a total of 55,567 or 21 more miles. 

Cycling 10 November 1937 "In 39 weeks Rene Menzies has ridden over 50,000 miles on a Rudge-Whitworth Aero Special, a greater distance than the average cyclist covers in 20 years. No trouble-- no replacements-- no difficulties. Menzies took his machine 'straight off the hook'-- beyond the fact that it is a Rudge there is nothing special about it." Menzies also displays his one-arm riding style while his arm was in cast following his accident in September. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

In the end, Menzies total for 1937 was 61,561 miles and Nicholson's 62,855. Both were tremendous achievements, although there was some resentment that the Australians had been tardy, perhaps purposefully, in submitting Nicholson's daily mileage figures as the contest entered its final days ,making it impossible for Menzies to make up any deficiency in mileage. For Nicholson, it was a tremendous achievement, not only regaining the record for himself but for Australia. He remains the only two-time winner of the Year Record. For Menzies, Rudge and British cycling, Menzies close second place was afforded the laurels of an outright victory certainly in the pages of the British sports and cycling press. 

Cycling 29 December 1937. credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain.

On 31 December 1937, Menzies cycled up to Westminster's Horicultural Hall to a tremendous reception for he and for the almost forgotten Bernard Bennett, who managed 45,801 miles without any sponsors or support. Indeed, he and Menzies rode from Birmingham to London together earlier that day.  

To celebrate Menzies' one-year record and to see him off as he continued to ride towards his goal of 100,000 miles, Claud Butler arranged a "monster club run" at Hyde Park on 2 January 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdan. 

Cycling, 5 January 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Cycling 12 January 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Rudge-Whitworth signed a formal contract with Menzies for 1938 to support him to carry on riding to reach the mythical 100,000-mile mark.  He spent the winter running up the miles in the South of France where the weather was more favourable, even if the hillier terrain was not, and by April 1938 he was back in England to carry on. The following month he was struck by a Royal Air Force car near Hitchin, which infamously sped from the scene without stopping, leaving Menzies injured . However, with his now accustomed grit and determination, he continued his day's riding and still put in 186 miles. The 100,000th mile did not register on his Smith's speedometer on 18 August since these only went to 99,999, so it was back to 00,000 by time he arrived at Rudge-Whitworth's sales room in Tottingham Court Road from Welwyn Garden City. He had done it 587 days, the best time to date to achieve it. 

Rene Menzies, the French-Scots-Londoner, completed his big self-appointed task of riding 100,000 miles on Thursday last when he was welcomed at the Rudge-Whitworth London Depot by a host of club boys.
Now his first job is to learn how to walk again!
Since Menzies started his attempt on the Year's Mileage Record on January 1, 1937, and went on to set up the shortest time for 100,000 miles he has walked less than 10 miles! His cycling leg muscles are like whip-cord; his walking muscles are almost out of action.
Menzies covered 61,561 miles during 1937, beating W.W. Greaves previous world's record of 45,383.7 miles. There was, however, a race for the big mileage honour during last year, and Ossie Nicholson in Australia won by a short head, riding 62,855 miles in the year.
But Menzies went on pedalling and maintaining the amazing average of over 170 miles a day  and actually completed the 100,000 miles in 585 days (Monday, August 8). At his official reception on Thursday last his total was 100,291.5 miles.
Menzies has ridden the same Rudge-Whitworth machine throughout equipped with a Cyclo gear, Brooks saddle, Smith's speedometer, Constrictor tubular tyres and Conloy rims.
By way of relaxation before taking up a post as representative for the Cyclo Gear Co., Menzies crossed to France at the weekend and on Monday last was due to compete in the Paris-Dieppe Veteran's Race!
credit: Cycling, 17 August 1938, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

Cycling, 24 August 1938. credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain.

from Cycling 24 August 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

BILLIE DOVEY (1914-2014)

1 January - 31 December 1938
World's Mileage Record (female)  29,603 miles

The last two years of peace proved a halcyon period for sponsored British time trialing as Raleigh, Rudge, Hercules, Sturmey-Archer, Cyclo, Cadburys, Ellimans and others vied for attaching their names and products to the efforts of true cyclist-thletes whose achievements, stripped of the advertising banalities, were no less remarkable. Indeed, it was the heyday of long-distance time trialing-- cyclist and cycle against time and distance-- that was the essence of classic pre-war British road cycle sport.

Unlike Raleigh or Hercules, Rudge did not have the resources to field multi-rider teams to systemically attack the RRA records, but they did enjoy co-sponsorship with Cyclo Gears and in 1938, they managed to have two record riders in their stable-- the grizzled, bronzed veteran Rene Menzies for the 100,000-mile-mark and a quiet, unknown bespectacled 23-year-old typist who was the first woman to set a Year Record.

Lilian Irene Bartram, better known as "Billie", seemed a unlikely record breaking cyclist who only discovered cycling at age 18 thanks to chance meeting with a boy at a youth club meeting who taught her both the joys of cycling and its finer points. If the romantic relationship did not stand the test of time, her newfound love of cycling burgeoned with her membership in the Women's League of Health and Beauty which championed fitness and a healthy life as an exemplar by women toward's improving not only their own lives but the world as a whole. It embraced cycling as an ideal fitness activity one that could be enjoyed in blissful  solitude or as a group endeavour and whose health benefits were gained by participation in any level of the sport. Miss Bartram quickly rose to the top form of the game, riding 25,000 miles a year, and in 1935 she married Frederick Dovey, who was also a keen cyclist. With his encouragement and that of her cycling club, the North-Western Road Club, Billie Dovey began to actively lobby cycle companies to support her to promote cycling and fitness in general by attempting to win Year's Record by a woman in 1938.

Rudge-Whitworth, then enjoying the full bloom of their sponsorship of Rene Menzies and appreciating the enormous women's market for their new range of ladies light sports models, responded favourably to Mrs. Dovey's proposal and signed on the 23-year-old to not only go for the mileage record in 1938, but oblige her to include regular visits en route to Rudge dealers, cycle clubs and civic groups throughout the country. In many ways, it was a far more onerous task than that undertaken by Menzies and the other male competitors for the record in that it obligated an often difficult due role of athlete and ambassador and on the same day. Her originally intended mileage target was 25,000 which was well within her already demonstrated capabilities, but throughout her endeavour, her personal goal was not record breaking, but promoting the health and fitness benefits of cycling, healthy eating and cycling and road safety.

Fittingly, Dovey began her run for the record just past midnight 1 January 1938, after a send-off from the celebration organised by Claud Butler at the New Horticultural Hall, London, to honour Rene Menzies and Bennett for their year's record efforts. She set off a new Rudge ladies Fast Sports Model, no. 82, fitted with a three-speed Cyclo derailleur gears (giving gears of 60, 66 and 74 inches) and, except for some details, a stock model in the traditional black with a bronze head tube. Whereas most woman champion cyclists of the classic era (including Eileen Sheridan) used men's frames, Dovey rode a ladies model and one with a regular steel frame. Her machine was fitted with the optional steel rat-trap pedals and with lighter white celluloid mudguards than the stock steel ones. These machines were fitted with inverted North Road handlebars, which gave a shallow drop 'bar effect. The 26x1¼" chromed Dunlop light Endrick rims were shod with Dunlop Sprite tyres and it was claimed Dovey had but a single puncture during the entire year she was on the road and nary a mechanical issue.

Billie's Bicycle? Most likely, she rode a 1938 model Rudge no. 82 Fast Sports as above which was the best model available with a ladies frame and fitted with a three-speed Cyclo derailleur. Photos of her machine during her record ride indicate this was, however, fitted with lighter celluloid mudguards rather than steel and with an all-chromed fork and quite possibly one of the Reynolds 531 ones used for the Aero Olympic. The main frame of the Fast Sports was of plain steel, not Chrome Molybdenum or Reynolds. credit: V-CC on-line library.

Her first week's mileage of 459 was not especially impressive except if one considers it was the dead of winter, and on 6 February she recorded her first century, 106 miles, and in keeping with her contract, managed time to call at Rudge dealers, attended cycle club events and even pen a full-page article in Cycling extolling not her personal exploits but rather promoting cycling as a great boon to fitness. And to sell Rudge-Whitworth bicycles to "100,000 new woman cyclists".  For the winter, which was fortunately a mild if wet one, Dovey stuck to the Home Counties and by 23 March she had averaged 73 miles a day and recorded three centuries. 

A wonderful Cycling photo of Mrs. Dovey obviously enjoying fine weather on another day on the road and showing off the details of her Rudge-Whitworth Fast Sports machine, including the non- standard celluloid mudguards and an all-chromed front fork which may have been one of the Reynolds 531 ones from the Aero models. She rides with rat-trap pedals and toe-straps. Note, too, the characteristic Rudge pattern front brake. credit: Cycling

With finer weather and longer days, Dovey ventured further afield and in April toured the West Country and managed two back-to-back centuries on 15 and 16 April. Her daily average was now up to 80 miles. Her commitment as "ambassador" for cycling in general and Rudge-Whitworth in particular saw her next commence an ambitious National Tour in May, starting with Hampshire and ending most long days in the saddle with an evening appearance at a local Rudge dealer, cycle club or social club. On 12 May her Smith's speedometer clicked over to 10,000 miles, ahead of her original schedule. This was real cycling yet many of the cycling journals and newspapers which dutifully reported on her progress (and sold much advertising space around it) often referred to her as "roving ambassador" on a "publicity" mission rather than the now-accomplished record-breaking cyclist she was proving to be. Halfway through her ride, Dovey reached 12,500 miles on 9 June. 

Astonishingly, Mrs. Dovey suffered but a single puncture and not one mechanical issue in the whole of her ride. This photo of her mending that one flat gives another great shot of her inverted machine with the small kit bag and cape she always rode with and the large bell on the end the handlebar drop. She usually rode with 26 x 1 " Dunlop Sprite wired-on tyres. 

The next phase of her National Tour took her north to Yorkshire in July. If nothing else, it relieved the boredom of taking the same routes every day and enabled Dovey to test her hill-climbing abilities in Yorkshire, but not until she fitted a smaller chainring to her Rudge Fast Sports to give her gears of 54, 63 and 70. The first three weeks of August found her riding through much of Scotland and she was joined on this leg by her husband. On 1 September her mileage was 20,000. October brought dismal, rainy weather and Mrs. Dovey stayed close to home but still reached her originally-intended 25,000-mile mark on the 28th and obviously well ahead of schedule. 

Cycling recorded Dovey's "National Tour" in summer-autumn 1938: top: Scotland, 3 August,  middle: Clydebank, 17 August, bottom: Lancashire, 28 September. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

"A Day with Mrs. Dovey", Cycling 12 October 1938 featured a typical day on her record ride, including posting one of her three mandated "checking cards" to Cycling, which supervised all of the Year Record rides. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

And after 70-80 miles in the saddle, there was always the promotional visits and presentations that were part of her contract with Rudge-Whitworth. Here, on 10 May 1938, Mrs. Dovey and another enthusiastic Rudge cyclist get acquainted outside of Weston & Phillips, The Broadway, Guilford, Surrey. 

A sampling of the tremendous press coverage and advertising arising from Billie Dovey's ride as "Rudge-Whitworth's Keep Fit Girl".  credit: Britsh Newspaper Archives.

Cycling, 2 November 1938. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

That November, Dovey spent almost an entire week putting in appearances at the National Cycle Show at its new Earls Court venue whilst still putting in a full day's cycling. The 1938 show was terrific for Rudge, not only having Miss Dovey as their ambassador but also in helping to introduce an exciting and largely new range of cycles for the 1939 season. That month, she was often joined on her rides by another champion English female cyclist, Lilian Dredge, who in July set a new mark for the classic Land's End to John  O' Groats run. By the end of month, Dovey recorded 27,733 miles. The last month of her effort, however, was beset by poor weather and her daily mileage deteriorated so that the prospect of meeting her self-imposed goal of 30,000 miles was not going to be realised.

3 January 1939, Ipswich Evening Dispatch. credit: British Newspaper Archives

Billie Dovey ended her remarkable years' riding where it began a year-- and a total of 29,603 miles-- earlier: at Claud Butler's New Years party, "Claud's 'Do'", at London's New Horticulture Hall on 31 December 1938. Rene Menzies was among those to offer his congratulations. Fittingly, Billie rang in the New Year early the following morning by sending off Tommy Godwin on his epic Year's Record ride. 

For Rudge-Whitworth and the greater cause of women's cycling and cycling in general, Billie Dovey was a champion par excellence. She passed away in 2014 at the age 100, the very last of the great pre-war British long-distance cycling champions.  

Rudge advert extolling the record rides of Billie Dovey, Rene Menzies and Karel Kaers during a memorable 1938. 

KAREL KAERS (1914-1972)

1-7 May 1938 Wembley Six-Day
1 Mile World's Record 1 min. 50.3.5 secs.
1 Mile Time Trial in 1 min 52.2.8 secs. (European Record)
1 Lap Time Trial (176 yards) 9.3.5 secs. (European Record)
2 miles Team Trial. Standing start with George Ronsse in 3 mins. 51.4.5 secs. (European Record)
10 September 1938 Herne Hill Meet
One Kilometer Standing Start 1 min. 13 secs. (English Record)

The Year Record was a triumph of the cycle and of the fortitude and determination of the cyclist, but it was not by any means a spectator sport. When mass start road racing was still banned, the chief spectator cycle sport was confined to track racing, both indoor and open, velodrome or grass "path" racing. Here were the crowds, the excitement, the carnival atmosphere, the professionals and the big sponsors that gave cycle sport its place in the public spotlight and consciousness, and the "big money" that eluded it in other forms. Most of the major British cycle companies, both the makers of bicycles and their components, actively sponsored the big national and regional meets such as at Herne Hill, and a rider could attract the patronage of many different firms.

The centrepiece for Velodrome racing was the classic Six-Day which whilst originating in Britain in 1878, found its fame and fortune in the United States (where it came to known as Madison Racing after its major venue of Madison Square Garden) and Weimar-era Germany where its unique combination of cycling and carnival, sport and star power, created its own magic. The Six Day was revived in Great Britain in 1936 at Wembley's Empire Pool (built in 1934 for the Empire Games and now called the Wembley Arena), and while the British riders had rather a bad time of it, it was a successful revival. 

For Rudge, the Wembley Six was a natural venue for its renewed interest in sponsoring cycle sport through the kind of "star" power that came naturally to its new owners, HMV. In 1938, it arranged with Dunlop, then the leading British corporate sponsor of cycle sport both at home and on the Continent, to have Dunlop professionals ride Rudge machines in competition.  For the Wembley Six Day for 1938, 1-7 May, the Belgians-- Karel Kaers, George Ronsse, Robert Naeye and Roger Deneef-- rode Rudge Aero Special track bikes which were specially designed by Jack Lauterwasser and the first he wholly designed for the firm. 

Karel Kaers (3 June 1914–20 December 1972) was, by any standards, one of the great Flemish cyclists of all time. Few began real racing at so young an age (14) and before his 16th birthday, Kaers had won 37 races, including the Belgian Boys Championship. He became a junior in 1931 and won the National Sprint Championship and turned professional in 1932, riding mainly on the track until 1934.

Karel Kaers upon winning the Belgian National Championship 13 June 1937.

Road cycling figured more prominently by 1934 and that year Kaers became the youngest (just 20) to win the World Championship at Leipzig-- and on the first time he ran the race!  But it was on the track that Kaers continued to excel. In winter 1934 at Paris' VĂ©lodrome d'Hiver he clocked 1 min. 9.6 sec.s for for a standing-start kilometre and, another track record, 1 min. 48 secs. for the flying-start kilometre. Riding for Alcyon-Dunlop, Kaers won the 320 km Circuit of Paris road race in 1937, then rode the track again in the winter and equaled Jeff Scherens' record of 29.6s for 500 metres.  That June Kaers won the Belgian National Championship.

Wembley (London) Six-Day Race 2-7 May 1938

Described in the Wembley programme as "the greatest all-round cyclist in the world to-day", it was hard to argue otherwise, and Karel Kaers was the star attraction of the event. That he competed as a Rudge-Whitworth professional was a huge coup for the firm, capping a truly remarkable season of Rudge record breakers-- Menzies, Dovey, Hill and now Kaers-- that announced to the cycling world that the Coventry firm was very much back in the competitive cycle trade at the highest level.

One of the early coups of Rudge-Whitworth to get back into top echelons of cycle sport was the signing of Karel Kaers for the 1938 Wembley Six Day. Here, he poses in his "Rudge-Whitworth-Coventry" embroidered jersey with his brand new Jack Lauterwasser-designed-and-built Rudge Aero Special track bike. 

A thrilling Cycling action photo taken early in the race showing the crash of Rudge rider Robert Naeye, who suffered concussion and facial lacerations but continued in the competition. Notice the prominent Rudge advertising panel painted on the track proclaiming the old firm was very much back to competitive cycle sport. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

A press photo of Rudge rider Robert Naeye showing the effects of his horrific crash five minutes into the Wembley Six-Day. Naeye was able to continue in the race despite a concussion and facial lacerations and, partnered with Roger Daneef, formed the second of the two Rudge teams. credit: Getty Images. 

This superb action photo of Karel Kaers during the Wembley Six-Day '38 was widely used by Rudge for advertising and catalogues. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Tuesday night's racing proved the best up to that time, the highlight of a great evening's sport being Karel Kaer's sensational mile team time trial. The time was 10.35 p.m. Zims and Goebel, of Germany, had just completed their miles, giving languid displays with times in the region of 2.6. Then up on to the track came 6 ft. 3 ins., fifteen stone of energy, Kaers, holder of many amazing indoor-track records. For 10 laps, amid terrific cheering, this super-speedman hurled around the wooden bowl, and when the gun signalized the completion of his ride, he had taken only 1 minute 52 4-5 seconds-- more than 32 m.p.h., and a new record for Wembley by more than two seconds. Buysse did 1.55 in 1937. Kaers covered one lap in 9 3-5 seconds.

The crowd liked it-- and Kaers had to ride three laps of honour. So well had he timed his mile ride that, on completing the third lap, he almost fell from his machine with exhaustion! Kaers rode a gear of 88.9 ins.  (Cycling, 11 May 1938)

Kaers provided yet another sensation on Wednesday afternoon. This occurred when he and Ronsse rode their two miles time trial against Christensen and Stieler. Kaers was doing most of the work, leading for about three in four laps, and they caught the Danes well before the finish. Continuing, Kaers and Ronsse finally finished the two miles in 3 mins. 51 2-5 secs.!

Presentations were made earlier in the evening to Kaers-- a cheque of £5 for his brilliant mile ride, by Mr. A.J. Denniss, managing director of Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd., and Rene Menzies, the year's mileage rider, who was given £3 by Mrs. Ewing. The first 1,000 miles of the races were covered in 73 1/2 hours-- by 1.30 a.m. Thursday.

Another large crowd, numbering about 8,000, saw unquestionably the fastest rider on the track, Kaers, put up another great ride on Thursday. On this occasion it was in the lap time trial, and Kaers, after having been stopped at his first attempt by a referee for putting on extra-light tyres, became the first and only rider to get inside 10 seconds by recording 9 3-5 seconds! This broke Van Kempen's track record by one-fifth of a second. Although in long jams Kaers and his partner Ronsse were having difficulty in holding their own, there was no doubt as to who was on top when the money was about (there were prizes for all time trials). 

Super-speedman Kaers gave another wonderful mile ride earlier in the session [Friday], putting up the the wonderful figures from a flying start, of 1 min. 50 3-5 secs. After five days' riding once again he rode a lap in 9 3-5 secs., and the consistency of his is to be noted in the following lap times-- 1st, 10 1-5 secs.; 2nd 9 3-5 secs.; 3rd. 10 secs.; 4th 10 2-5 secs.; 5th 11 2-5 secs.; 6th to 10th laps 11 4-5 secs. The first half mile too 54 3-5 seconds. 

For this latest performance Kaers received just reward in the form of a 25 from Mr. A.J. Denniss, managing director of Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd. Kaer's gear on this occasion was 91 inches. 

Cycling, 11 May 1938

Kaers earned £97. 14s. 8½ d. in prize money and his promotional value to Rudge was of course far greater. 

Last week we dared to print editorially our fancy for Kaers and Ronsse. They did not win; indeed, Ronsse did not stay the course. But Kaers was even more magnificent in failure, for his rides against the watch during the week confirmed him as the greatest unpaced rider of the whole field. His sprinting was always spectacular and in the trials he was breath-taking. Unfortunately, Ronsse was a sick man, and in the jams for laps, when Kaers, by repeated magnificent efforts, improved their position on the score board, Ronsse was not strong enough to consolidate the gain. Even so, Kaers, partnered for the last session with Buckley, who had also lost his partner, finished fifth in the race with the fourth highest total of points.
(Cycling, 11 May 1938)

"The bicycle was 'special' only in as much as the lugs were of a different angle from standard practice. In every other respect the machine was of standard materials exactly the same as are used in the Rudge any clubman can buy. Once again the record-breaking tradition of Rudge on road and track is maintained." Cycling, 18 May 1938. courtesy: Peter Jourdain

Cycling, 11 May 1938. courtesy Peter Jourdain

Daily Herald, 5 May 1938. credit: British Newspaper Archives

Herne Hill Meet (London) 10 September 1938

Cycling (7 September 1938) asked the big question surrounding the 10 September Herne Hill Meet, pitting the two Rudge champions against each other for the first and only time. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Herne Hill, 10 September 1938, provided a unique "Rudge vs. Rudge" matchup on the famous outdoor track between Karel Kaers and Harry Hill, which headlined the day's racing with an omnium match between the two sensations. In the event, Hill was not at his best and Kaers beat him in all three contests, beating him by 130 yards in the 10-minute pursuit and by half a lap in the five-mile motor-paced race.  Moreover, the event saw Kaers add to his (and Rudge's) laurels by racing the fastest standing start kilometer yet recorded in England: 1000 metres in 1 min. 13 secs. 

Yorkshire Post, 12 September 1938. credit: British Newspaper Archives

Cycling 21 September 1938

Wembley (London) Six-Day Race 28 May-3 June 1939

The team most expected to be defeat last year's winner is that Karel Kaers and O. Debruycker, another Belgian combination. The qualities of Kaers we all know; he holds the track record for one lap (176 yards), which he covered in 9 3/5th secs., and also for the mile. Remember his magnificent 1.50 3/5 last year? Debruycker has a splendid record as a madison and six-day rider, and has won many races in partnership with Kaers, and they should be the team to fight out the last thrilling hour with Buysse and Billiet.

Rather in the unknown category are the two teams in which Scherens and Van Vliet are featured. Both have experienced partners; Scherens, riding with C. Dekuysscher, has a partner who could take his place in any six-day field with credit....
Cycling, 24 May 1939

The Wembley Six-Day Cycle Race for 1939 (28 May-3 June) was the last for the duration and the last time for Rudge-sponsored riders. Among the special prizes for the event was "The Rudge-Whitworth World's Mile Record Prize" as described in the official programme above. "Messrs. Rudge-Whitworth, makers of the Aero Special Bicycle on which Kaers lowered the World's Mile Record, are sportingly offering a Prize of 10 10s. 0d. cash and a 5 5s. 0d. Gold Medal to the rider who beats Kaers by 1/5th of a second or more." credit:

Biographies of the 1st Rudge Team for the 1938 Wembley Six-day: Karel Kaers (no. 21) and Omer Debruycker (no. 22) from the official Programme. credit:

The 2nd Rudge team... Camille de Kuysschere (no. 23) and Jeff Scherens (no. 24). credit:

Wembley 6-Day 1939 Programme. 

Although Karel Kaers did not match his personal record breaking (or prize purse) of the 1938 event, the 1939 Six-Day was one of the most competitive and evenly matched, with a superb performance put in by both Rudge teams.

With a large crowd voicing their very evident approval, the riders plunged into a fierce jam, and laps were gained with amazing rapidity. The lead changed hands several times, and at 9.20 p.m. Kaers and Debruycker were one lap ahead of the field. They were later caught up by Vllet and Wals, who then lead the race on points. After a few more minutes, however, the indomitable Belgians, Buysse and Billiet, were away and gained a lap on the field to take the lead. But the struggle between the three teams of Buysse-Billiet, Vliet-Wals and Kaers-Debruycker continued, and within three minutes the lead interchanged between these three teams. When the jam finished at 9.45 p.m., Kaers and Debruycker had a lap lead from Vliet and Wals and Buysse and Billiet, with Buckley and Ignat, a further lap behind. (Cycling 7 June 1939 reporting on Wednesday evening's race.)

Karel Kaers during a languid moment during the Wembley Six-Day '39 showing details of No. 90 Rudge Aero Path including the all-chromed fork, the bolder "RUDGE" transfers on the down tube and the large-flange red anodised Airlite Continental hubs. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

When the afternoon session started, Benny Clare had not returned, but Syd Cozens, his partner, came out to ride several of the sprints on his own. In the 1,000- metre time trials, C. Dekuysschere clocked the fastest time to date, with 1 mon. 14 secs., while Jef Scherens, his partner, was only 1-5th sec. slower. The evening session provided a well-filled hall with some fast and interesting racing. Shortly after the session opened Benny Clare, showing some signs of wear, but still full of pluck, returned to the track and was greeted by a burst of cheering. Early in the evening, Kaers, Debruycker, Buysse and Billiet made their attempts on the 'Flying Furlong' and giant Belgian, Kaers recorded the fastest time of 12 2-5 secs, but 1-5th sec. slower than world champion Van Vliet's ride on the Monday. At 9 o'clock, Kaers and Debruycker, who leading the field by a lap, set out to consolidate their position, and to to gain a £5 prime, started a jam. Shortly after these two had gained a lap and their prize money, last year's winners, Buysse and Billiet, who were in second position, also caught the tail of the field and therefore the two leaders were back in the same position as at the beginning of the evening. Two crashes followed close on one another during this jam. First Benny Clare took another tumble, and shortly after Karel Kaers punctured and landed with a real 15-stone bump on the boards, temporarily knocking himself unconscious. He was out of the race for a quarter of an hours, while Clare was away for half an hour, longer. Jef Scherens treated the crowd to a fine exhibition of machine handling when his front wheel collapsed while he was travelling at over 35 m.p.h. In spite of the fact that his machine was jumping about beneath him like a maddened bull, Scherens held it upright until he came to a standstill... During the evening Mrs. "Billie" Dovey, the Rudge-Whitworth "Keep Fit" girl cyclist, rode a lap of honour. (Cycling 7 June 1939 reporting on Thursday's race)

Karel Kaers was given a round of applause when the loud-speakers announced that to-day was his 25th birthday. The band promptly struck up 'When I Grow Too Old to Dream". (Cycling 7 June 1939 reporting on Friday's race)

The other Rudge riders "in action" in the '39 Six-Day: top: Camille Dekuysschiere (no. 23) in full flight during his flying furlong "a picture of rhythmic speed" (Cycling); bottom left: Omer Debruyker (no. 22) leading C. Walis and Buysse round a banking; and bottom right: Jef Scherens at the end of his fastest (and fastest of the race) flying furlong of 11 1.5 secs. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

.. following this the final of the 'Flying Furlong' was held between Van Vliet, Scherens and Dekuysschere. These three riders had all dead-heated at 12 1-5 secs. in their first attempt, but this time there was no mistake. Dekuysschere was the first, and he clocked 12 3-5 secs. Then came ex-world champion Jef Scherens, with wonderful effort of 11 4-5 secs. Could Van Vliet, Scherens's only conquerer in six years beat that? The bespectacled Dutchman tried hard, but five days of hard riding told its fate, and he could only equal his previous time of 12 1-5 secs. The positions at the beginning of the evening showed Van Vliet and Wals to be leading on points from Kaers and Debrucker, and Buysse and Billiet. These three teams rode close to another all evening, each waiting for the other to break away. However, at 8.25, Kaers managed to gain a lead, and, quickly changing with Debruycker, the vital lap was gained and the two giant Belgians led the race by a lap. In the jam that followed, Wals and Vliet also gained a lap, but Kaers and Debruckyer were there and at 8.30 Kaers and Debruycker were leading by a lap from Wals and Vliet with Buysse and Billiet a further lap behind. Another jam, that lasted until 9 p.m., did not alter the leader's positions. 

Right to the end of the race it was jamming all the way. The two French sailors, Letourneur and Gumbrettiere, rode well to reduce some of their arrears, but the real interest of the last hours was between the three leaders, who were on one another's wheels all the time. With one hour 16 to go, Kaers and Debruycker still held their lap lead from Vliet and Wals, while Buysse and Billiet were still two laps back. Then away went Buysse, changed to Bulliet-- half a lap gained, another perfect change and they were almost there. Back to Buysse again, and the last few yards were covered and the tail of the field caught. Buysse and Billiet, last year's winners, were now only one lap behind, but still in third position, because of the large number of points thay Vliet and Wals had piled up. Could they gain another lap? Could Wals and Vliet also gain another lap on Kaers and Debrucker and steal the race? Van Vliet was tiring fast, but was game to the last. Wals kept jumping away, but always one of other of the two Belgian teams would be there on his tail. Could Kaers and Debrucker hang on till the finish? They could, and did, and Harry Leat fired the three pistol shots to signal the end of the 143rd hour, the two yellow-clad figures were the winners of Wembley's fourth six-day race by one lap from world champion Van Vliet and Wals and Buysse and Billiet. (Cycling 7 June 1939 reporting on Saturday's race)

The Finish.... and The End. Saturday 3 June 1939. Rudge riders Dekuysschiere and Kaers placed third and fourth in the final sprint and Kaers and Debruycker won the overall race. It was the last Six-Day Race in Britain for 11 years and the last competition for Rudge-Whitworth-sponsored riders ever for the firm as an independent. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

After 143 hours, 1,812.5 miles the last Six-Day for many years was won by Karel Kaers and Debrucker by a lap with the second Rudge pair of Scherens and Dekuysschiere placing fourth while Scherens claimed the fasted in the Flying Furlong competition

The Bicycle, 11 June 1939

Press cutting heralding the final triumph for Rudge in competitive cycling: Karel Kaers and Omer Debruycker winning the 1939 Wembley Six-Day. credit: British Newspaper Archives. 

Birmingham Post, 3 August 1939. credit: British Newspaper Archives

HARRY HILL (1916-2009)

21 June 1938
Hour Road Record (25 miles in 59 min. 57 1/5 sec.)
19 July 1938
British One Hour Record (26 miles 879 yards in 60 mins.)

This is not only yet another record captured by Rudge, but further proof of Rudge's superiority in every class of riding. Harry Hill joins the cream of the world's crack riders-- Rene Menzies and Karel Kaers-- who are carrying on the 70-year-old Rudge success in every field of riding.
Rudge advertisement, Cycling, 3 August 1938

Harry Heaton Hill (8 May 1916 – 31 January 2009) was, among his many cycling laurels, the most accomplished of the 1930s British Rudge racing cyclists and recordbreakers and the only one to win records for the firm in both road and track cycling.

Hill was born on 8 May 1916 in Padiham, near Burnley, in Lancashire, whilst his father was serving in the British Army in East Africa. The elder Hill died of a tropical disease there and father and son never met. After the war, Harry and his family moved to Sheffield where he caught the cycling bug as a young teenager. In 1933 he joined the Sheffield Phoenix CC and plunged into the heyday of classic British time trialing. His first event-- a 72-in gear 25-miler-- he rode in 1 hr. 12 mins. 48 secs and his second '25" he did in 1 hr. 4 mins. 19 secs. His first year, Hill competed in his first and only '100', done in 4 hrs. 58 mins. 26 secs. At age 17, young Hill was a lad in a hurry and already destined for greatness in a sport then at the top of its form.

His first national meet was at Herne Hill, on Good Friday 1936 and he won the Australian pursuit race.

In 1936, Hill's prowess and early promise saw him selected for the British cycling team at the Berlin Olympic Games. Too poor to pay for his own railway ticket from Sheffield to London to join the team en route to Berlin, Hill cycled the 200 miles there on the machine he was to compete on. He won the Bronze Medal on the 4000 metre Team Pursuit along with Ernest Mills, Ernest Johnson and Charles King. Upon returning to London, he again cycled home to Sheffield, almost penniless after spending his last remaining pocket money on an Olympic souvenir jacket. Weak from hunger, he hitched a ride for the remaining 30 miles.

Harry Hill, British Olympic Team Bronze Winner, Berlin Games 1936

1936 also saw Hill win six open "25s" in as many successive weekends, an amazing feat.  1937 saw more laurels, winning 10 open road trials and several 10-minute Australian Pursuit Matches at Herne Hill, including a record-breaking one of 4 miles 1,016 yards.

Harry Hill's greatest moment as a cyclist was probably when he, along with E.V. Mills, W.G. Paul and F. Slemen, formed a British squad, organised by a fund raised by Cycling, to go to Milano to attack the hour and other records in October 1937. There, at the Vel Vigorelli on 14 October, Hill broke the Hour Record with 27 miles 1,137 yards. In addition, he broke no fewer than six other records, previously held by the French professional Richard: 6 miles (12 m. 49 2-5 s.), 7 miles (14 m. 59 4-5 s.), 8 miles (17 m. 9 4-5 s.), 9 miles (19 m. 19 2-5 s.), 10 miles (21 m. 28 3-5 s.) and 20 miles (43 m. 13 3-5 s.). In all, the British team broke 31 world records between them and Hill became an instant sensation in the cycling world.

Cycling, 3 November 1937. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain

Hill's last race as an amateur was at the 1938 Good Friday Meet at Herne Hill Track when he won the Australian Pursuit Race.

Dunlop Jubilee International Herne Hill (London) 11 June 1938

On 9 May 1938 Dunlop scored a major coup by signing Harry Hill as a professional and immediately entered him to compete at Herne Hill for the Dunlop Jubilee International Meeting on 11 June.

Harry Hill, the Lancashire-born holder of the world's hour amateur record, has accepted an invitation to ride as a professional at the big Dunlop Meeting at Herne Hill Track, London, on June 11. The invitation was extended to him by Mr. H. Goodwin, the hon. organiser of the Dunlop Meeting, which is part of the celebrations of the Dunlop Company to commemorate the invention of the pneumatic tyre 50 years ago.

Harry Hill is 22 years of age and made his debut on the track at Herne Hill in 1936, when he won the 5-mile race at the Good Friday Meeting. That year he was awarded the Dunlop Novice's Cup as the best novice of the year. By then, of course, he had already made a name for himself as a crack 25-miler on the road. The following year he put up several sterling performances on the track, in 5-mile races and in unpaced pursuit matches, and he was one of the three riders invited by Cycling's Milan Fund to journey to Italy specially to attack world's records. Prior to his departure Hill rode 25 miles 1,430 yds. in the hour, unpaced, at Herne Hill, in weather far from ideal, and it therefore came as no surprise when he broke the world's unpaced amateur record on the Milan track by setting up new figures of 27 miles 1,137 yds. shortly afterwards.

We understand that his opponent at the Dunlop Meeting has not yet been selected, but that he will be a famous Continental rider. Hill is already training hard and last week-end clocked 1.0.40 3/4 secs. in a private time trial which was timed by Mr. Maurice Gibson. Hill intends to attack the British hour unpaced record at present held by Frank Southall with a distance of 26 miles 838 yds. when the conditions are favourable.
Cycling, 11 May 1938

Harry Hill signing his first professional contract (left) on 9 May 1938 as announced in the press (top right) just in time for the big Dunlop Jubilee Meeting at Herne Hill on 11 June. By 18 May (bottom right) the star riders were announced, with Hill competing against E. Meulenberg of Belgium, then the Professional Road Champion of the World. credit: Cycling and British Newspaper Archives. 

Hill contributed his own article "Why I Turned Pro'" in the same 11 May issue of Cycling which read in part:

For two days I considered the offer and all that it meant. My mother advised me to stick to my trade--I am a mechanical engineer-- but when in the end I told her that I decided to accept Mr. Goodwin's invitation she said that she felt sure I would make a success at the professional racing game and wished me the best of fortune in my new career.

Turning professional means a lot to a young cyclist who is a keen clubman. No more fun up the road the night before an open road trial; no more tights and alpacas. No more of any of that. It is a bit of a wrench to leave it all. But for me it is going to be worth it.

My plans are yet very hazy, but I know what I want. I want to be able to get astride a British-made bicycle, and to wander with it round the tracks of the Continent. I want to try to show the foreigners that we have someone who is prepared to come in among them to see he can do; someone who is prepared to ride hard and fair. Someone who is not afraid of beginning at the bottom, who is willing to rough it at first if it means that there is a chance of showing that British boys can still ride bicycles.

And the British bicycle Hill would ride his first season as a professional would be a Rudge-Whitworth, the company signing him on at the time he was contracted by Dunlop. At the time, Dunlop riders all rode Rudge machines, as did Karel Kaers whose professional team at the time was Alcyon-Dunlop on the Continent.

On 18 May 1938 Cycling reported that Hill would compete in his first professional race against Eloi Meulenberg, the Belgian holder of the world's professional road championship, "the man who has beaten Karel Kaers, Speicher, Magne and hosts of other famous riders whose names are household words in the world of racing. Here is Harry Hill's great opportunity. If he beats the world's champion his entry into the professional ranks will be the greatest thing that has happened in British cycle racing sports for many years."

Harry Hill, at Herne Hill, 11 June 1938 before his first race as a Dunlop-Rudge professional with his Rudge-Whitworth Aero track machine.  credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain.

The Dunlop Jubilee Meet at Herne Hill on 11 June 1938 was generally regarded as one of the greats of the 1930s, attracting a record crowd in fine weather, including a "who's who" in cycle manufacture, racing and press, including Rudge-Whitworth Managing Director A.J. Denniss. Everyone agreed that the highlight of the day was the Hill-Meulenberg match, including the reporter for Cycling (15 June 1938):

" was Harry Hill's magnificent professional debut against the professional road champion of the world, Eloi Meulenberg, that most thrilled the crowd at the greatest cycle race meeting that has ever been held in England. Hill's was a worthy display; against a Meulenberg who, unfortunately, did not appear to be in the best form, the young Englishman scintillated. For months he had trained hard for this race, and right from the start he rode with a determination seldom seen in an Englishman, with the result that after 8½ laps he had caught Meulenberg. 

Harry Hill's victory over Meulenberg needs little description. It was just overwhelming. Hill led from the first lap, getting nearer and nearer to Meulenberg, finally catching him, to the roars of the crowd, in eight laps."

A splendid action photo of H.H. Hill during his memorable professional debut at Herne Hill 11 June 1938 on his Jack Lauterwasser-designed Rudge Aero track machine. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

My First Pro' Race by H.H. Hill, Cycling 22 June 1938

If confidence could win a race, then I had beaten Meulenberg before I got down to the track at Herne Hill for the Dunlop Jubilee Meet. I don't want to give you the impression that I felt boastful or that I held the view that Meulenberg was going to be easy.

But I just had to win.

It meant so much to me. And so, not for a moment would I permit myself to think that I could do anything but win. I trained to win; it was the last thing I thought about at night and the first thing that entered my mind in the morning.

For weeks before the great day I had trained strenuously on the road, clocking on one occasion 1.0.29 for an out and home '25', and three days to go I rounded off my training with an evening's hard riding on the track. I felt satisfied. My legs were in fine form, my breathing was excellent; I had carefully watched my diet (I am very fond of bread and butter and marmalade and milk) and my position on my new Rudge bicycle was such that I was assured that nothing could stop me from winning my first professional race.

An hour before the race I met the champion, Meulenberg, for the first time and although neither of us could speak much of the other's language we both made ourselves sufficiently understandable to express the hope that the best man would win. I had my last gentle massage and went out to the track.

I was not nervous when the gun went. I was just determined. My plan was to go flat out right from the very beginning and to catch the man who had started the other side of the track as soon as possible. Almost at once I saw that I had gained on him. It was just a matter of time after that.

The first mile went up after 2 min., 5-5 secs. and I was yards ahead. After eight and a half laps I had caught him after riding for 5 mins., 13 3-5 secs. I had won my first professional race-- I had beaten the champion of the world. Was I pleased? They told me afterwards that my speed had been 27.88 miles an hour, and that made me even more pleased because I felt when I finished I could have carried on for many more laps at that speed.

Well, that was my professional debut. My new career lays in front of me; I have no idea what there is in store. But come what may I shall never forget my first professional race. It is not the fact that I won which has burnt itself in my memory, so much as the echo of those cheers you gave me to help me on my way. They did a lot and my main concern now is to justify the decent send-off you gave me. I shan't forget.

"Out and Home 25-mile" 21 July 1938

After several unsuccessful attempts to bear the hour on an out-and-home 25-mile course, H.H. Hill succeeded on Tuesday of last week [21 July 1938], clocking 59 mins 57½ secs. on the fast course on the Yorkshire-Notts. border. A fortnight ago Hill clocked 1.0.29 ¾, and in the Mansfield Vic. '25' H. Earnshaw clocked 1.0.40 ¾ on the same course, which has long had the reputation of being one of the fastest in England, being gently undulating and with only one bad corner. For his latest ride Hill used the course in the reverse direction to that used for 'opens,' and this took advantage of a wind slightly increasing in force. At 5⅞ miles he was clocking 24 mins. 9 secs., and took 17 mins, 7 secs. over the next 6½ miles. Turning he obtained the advantage of the wind and covered 6¾ miles in 15 mins., 22 secs. The remaining 5⅞ miles he covered in 13.16, and this achieved one of his greatest ambitions. Mr. M. Gibson, one of the most reputable timekeepers in the north, timed the ride, and Mr. A.F. Butterworth, a well-known local Association official, observed throughout. Hill rode his Rudge bicycle. He used 6¾-in. cranks, a gear of 84.8 inches and Dunlop tyres. 
Cycling 29 June 1938

Birmingham Gazette, 25 June 1938. credit: British Newspaper Archives

Cycling, 29 June 1938 credit: courtesy Peter Jourdain

Cycling 29 June 1938, courtesy Peter Jourdain

One-Hour Record, Paddington Track (London) 19 July 1938

On 19 July 1938 Harry Hill set a new British one-hour professional record on Paddington Track which was initially measured at 26 miles 1008 yards. This was subject to some dispute over the measurement of the course and referred to the Records Committee of the National Cyclists' Union which had surveyors measure the course. On 21 September Cycling reported that they had set the record at 26 miles 879 yards, still besting Frank Southall's previous record by 41 yards which had stood for 12 years.

The Daily Herald, 20 July 1938. credit: British Newspaper Archives.

Short Track Robs Cyclist of Record

Harry 'Hard Luck' Hill, we shall have to call him. Sheffield's crack cyclist, now a professional, thought he had broken the 12 years' old British unpaced hour record yesterday on the Paddington track.

He went away, elated at having bettered Frank Southall's figures. After he had gone, the formal measuring up of the track revealed a shortage of about a foot, compared with the accepted length of the lap.

The difference was just enough to turn triumph into failure. If you want the cold figures, here they are.

Frank Southall's record is 26 miles 838 yards. When Hill left the track he thought he had covered 26 miles 967 1/2 yards. His actual distance was 26 miles 709 yards. Pretty tough.


Especially as Harry rode well within himself towards the finish and could obviously had squeezed a few more years into the 60 minutes.

Quite a little sporting drama. Consternation among the officials and the few enthusiasts who had gathered at Paddington in the cool calm of a summer morning.

It was a couple of hours before they could trace Hill and break the bad news. He took it philosophically enough, and plans to have another crack at the record shortly.

Again I had a glimpse into this queer business of cycling records. You might have thought that an attempt of this kind would have been made a big meeting with cheering onlookers and all the usual trappings.

Lone Figure

Instead, a practically deserted track at seven o'clock in the morning, with a lean, lone, stream-lined figure tearing silently around for lap after lap.

Why seven o'clock in the morning? Well, as far as it was possible to forecast, wind resistance would at its lowest at that hour.

And, anyway, long experience in 'fifties' an 'hundreds' which are always decided at the crack of dawn, or thereabout, seems to breed cyclists who are at their best before breakfast.

This hour's unpaced record has defied many of the best wheelers. It is a much more difficult feat than it appears to be on paper.

Riders on the road record attempts have been known to cover more than 25 hours in a given hour in the course of their ride. Southall once went very close to the 26 mark shortly after leaving Land's End on one of his record rides.

Yet it is so difficult to exceed 26 miles on a banked track, with everything in the rider's favour.

His Milan Feat

Hill Himself has covered 25 miles in just under an hour on the road, and is, of course, holder of the world's hour record for amateurs, made on the fast, up-to-date Milan track this year, before he went over to the paid ranks.

Hill also has designs on the world's professional house record of 28 miles 851 yards, which he is likely to attack on one of the continental tracks this summer.

You may remember he first crashed the headlines by beating all of the southern 'stars' in a 'fifty' after driving a car through the night from Sheffield in order to be in time for the start.

These cycling 'fliers' are getting well into their stride with the return of the reasonably good weather.

Clifford Web, Daily Herald, 20 July 1938

Midland (Coventry) Gazette, 20 July 1938. credit: British Newspaper Archives. 

On 30 July 1938 the N.C.U. finally certified Hills' record, besting Southall's one-hour record by... 50 yards. credit: Daily Herald 30 July 1938, British Newspaper Archives. 

The Bicycle, 3 August 1938 showing the originally measured distance of 26 miles, 1008 yards.

An advertisement for Dunlop also on 3 August in Cycling lists Hill's one-hour run at 26 miles, 868 yards. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Harry Hill's contract with Dunlop/Rudge was not renewed and early autumn he appears to have signed on with Royal Enfield and/or John Bull for on 4 November 1938 he set a new record for the 50-mile RRA course riding a Royal Enfield "Continental" model shod with wired-on John Bull high-pressure tyres.

Rudge-Whitworth and Dunlop probably had reason to regret not retaining Harry Hill as a professional for no sooner had he signed with Royal Enfield and John Bull, he broke the 50-mile RRA record on 4 November 1938 riding a new Royal Enfield Continental, fixed gear, with John Bull wired-on high-pressure tyres. credit: Cycling, courtesy Peter Jourdain. 

Hill was to have competed at the 1939 world track championships in Italy, but they were cancelled due to the imminent outbreak of the Second World War. He was employed during the War by Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness, building submarines for the Royal Navy and afterwards he ran a motor garage in Radcliffe, outside Manchester. He never lost his passion for cycling and aged 60, Hill cycled across America and claimed to have cycled every day since he was 13. Sadly, Hill's cycling days ended in 2004 after he broke his hip. On 23 March 2005, Hill attended a reception honouring the Centenary of the British Olympic Association, attended by H.M.Queen Elizabeth II, as the oldest surviving British Olympian.

Harry Hill died of pneumonia on 31 January 2009 aged 92. He more than proved that "British boys can still ride bicycles".


The bicycle side of the business-- through the Company's interest in Rudge-Whitworth-- would, according to general experience, appear to have better prospects, but the Chairman did not seem over confident. In any case, the factory was not yet in full swing following its move from Coventry to Hayes last January. Thus Mr. Clark left the impression that the gramophone record business is the Company's best line at the moment. In any case, he said it was impossible to predict the future course of earnings. Government orders, he added, had not overcome losses on normal work.
Birmingham Gazette, 7 December 1939

1938 proved Rudge's final Golden Year with racing and record laurels aplenty, and, at years end, a new modern factory and headquarters and an exciting new range to see in 1939. Like most British cycling firms, they enjoyed increased sales amid surge in interest in leisure and sport cycling reflected in a remarkable output of new club and racing machines. It all, of course, came to a sudden end in September with the outbreak of the Second World War, but for Rudge-Whitworth the run-up to that war proved no less pivotal and abruptly cut short the firm's lightweight cycle range and production.

Midland Telegraph, 15 May 1939

On 15 May 1939 came the unexpected (and unexplained in the general press) resignation of  Rudge-Whitworth Vice Chairman and Managing Director A.J. Denniss. Denniss had been in that role since 1935 and press reports said he "was  largely responsible for its sale to the EMI group the following year." That same month Hercules had made an offer to purchase the bicycle side of Rudge's business but this was refused (Reynolds, Rudge-Whitworth, The Complete Story). However, whereas Rudge had been acquired initially to balance out the cyclical business and production cycle of EMI, the prospect of war resulted in it receiving enormous orders from H.M. Government. It was now the epicenter of critical fabrication of the new (and then very secret) radar and aircraft sound detection equipment.  Consequently, there was no more "off season" for HMV's core business and production at Hayes. The run-up to war meant Rudge, the group's two-wheeled business, was suddenly more of a fifth wheel when it came fast-evolving war production requirements.

As has already been mentioned, the new Rudge factory was already being used by HMV for war production, specifically aircraft sound detection equipment, and this occupied some of the motorcycle building. By summer 1939, with war imminent, it was desirable to disperse critical facilities and resources  of the sprawling factory complex at Hayes to lessen the impact of potential bomb damage on one specific building. Towards this end, the all-important tool room was moved from the big HMV multi-storey main factory to the less-conspicuous Rudge plant. This displaced the motorcycle production facility entirely as of 26 July, although completion of contracts saw the final machines not finished until 18 December.  It proved to be the end an era for Rudge motorcycles at the end of 1939 model year production.

Cycle manufacture, however, continued briskly with some 2,000 machines built every month. With the prospect of war, the entire Super Sports range of lightweights and all Reynolds and Chrome Molybdenum framed machines were withdrawn from production while the existing range of roadsters and light sports machine was severely curtailed and simplified. There was no National Cycle Show that autumn and no initial catalogues or plans announced for the 1940 year, so the lightweight range was effectively withdrawn in late July-August at about the same time motorcycle production was curtailed.

For 1940, Rudge-Whitworth simplified its cycle range and stressed exports, especially to the then- neutral U.S.A., where its main dealer was Hans Ohrt who ran "the bike shop to the stars" in Beverly Hills. Thanks to his promotional efforts, "Britain's Best Bicycle" appeared in a series of Hollywood "cheesecake" photos featuring Lairaine Day (left) and Mary Martin (right).

There was, however, a whole new product introduced during these uncertain times, Rudge's first light 98cc "autocycle".  This was announced late in 1939 and was said to be the result of "two years development work" when, in reality, the two models were little different from Villiers' own autocycles, and built in the cycle shop, but with Villiers motors. Production was not curtailed upon the outbreak of war, as autocycles were among the few motorised vehicles authorised for production for civilian use. As it was, the first models were not completed until February 1940.

Even if motorcycle production was an early casualty of war, Rudge "carried on" with bicycles even to the extent of featuring Jack Warner, star of the BBC comedy radio show "Garrison Theatre" as its new spokesman (top left, 13 April 1940) and advertising the few remaining steel-framed club machines left in the range (top and bottom right, 20 April 1940 and 25 May 1940). However, the last advert for "Britain's Best Bicycle" in the cycling press was 28 December 1940 (bottom left) "we wish all our Cyclist friends the best of luck and an early return to 'Cycling-as-Usual'..." credit:

While the Battle of Britain raged, production of the essential radar and aircraft detection equipment that helped to win it assumed absolute priority at the HMV Hayes factory. Cycle production was severely curtailed as a result and stocks dried up as announced in a brace of grim "statements" in the cycling press (left 27 July 1940) and (right 31 August 1940) credit:

However, by mid 1941, HMV needed every inch of factory space and capability for its urgent war work and the whole of the Rudge factory was now turned over to war production. It was arranged to continue building Rudge cycles and autocycles at Norman Cycles Ltd.'s modern (1935) Beaver Road works in Ashford, Kent. Jigs, tools and parts were efficiently transferred from Hayes to Ashford and production was little disrupted. The manufacture of autocycles was soon curtailed owing to shortages of the motors, but Rudge bicycles were still made at Ashford from mid-1941 to mid-1943.

The last Rudge cycles and autocycles produced by the firm as an independent from mid-1941 to mid-1943 were made at Norman Cycles' modern factory in Ashford, Kent. Norman ended its own motorcycle production in autumn 1940 owing to the war and Rudge occupied the unused space. credit:

By the beginning of 1943, EMI had lost interest in owning a bicycle and motorcycle company that at the time was not making motorcycles and what it was producing was being done by an outside firm. Already post-war planning was underway, a future Britain where television, super calculating machines (i.e. computers), long-play phonograph records and new technologies more in keeping with the company's core industries had far more promise and potential profit. As early as May 1939, EMI had rebuffed Hercules' overtures to purchase Rudge-Whitworth, but a few years of war and the wholesale changes it brought about, probably made them regret doing so.

A "Memorandum for the Board regarding Rudge Whitworth Limited" dated 16 March 1943 presented discouraging prospects for EMI retaining the firm. This was owing to the government not offering any incentives to restore cycle production at Hayes, the Ministry of Production lobbying for concentrating post-war cycle manufacture in the Midlands and the generally poor anticipated profit from resuming cycle and motorcycle production. The Board accepted the Memorandum's analysis and immediately began to look for a buyer for Rudge-Whitworth.

Despite its past interest, Hercules did not make an offer for Rudge, but its great rival in Nottingham did so almost at once. In May 1943, Raleigh's Managing Director George Wilson informed the Raleigh Board of Directors that the Rudge-Whitworth trade mark was on the market, and negotiations began with Sir Robert McClean, HMV Managing Director. For Raleigh, Rudge was an attractive additional "badge" to go with Humber and make up the Raleigh-Rudge-Humber top-end brand trio of the post-war era as well as augmenting their UK dealer network. Wilson obtained a "short option" to purchase the share capital of Rudge-Whitworth, and to take over the trademarks and business.

News cuttings (left Birmingham Post, 11 June 1943 and right Nottingham Journal, 11 June 1943) announcing Raleigh's purchase of Rudge-Whitworth. In the centre is the first advertisement showing Rudge's address as "Lenton, Nottingham", 25 June Daily Herald

The sale,  announced on 10 June 1943, was reported in the Birmingham Post the following day:

Some surprise was caused by the decision of the Board of Electric and Musical Industries, Ltd. to take over the Rudge Whitworth undertaking, as the manufacture of gramophones, records and wireless receiving sets has very little connection with production of cycles and motor-cycles. The official view, however, was that by utilising resources not immediately required in the main business, the Rudge Whitworth undertaking could be turned into a profitable sideline. It does not necessarily follow from the re-sale that the acquisition was a failure. Circumstances have changed. All the resources of the Electric and Musical Industries, Ltd., are now fully employed, and developments after the war, notably in television, will make large demands on the organisation. At the same time, war-time restrictions on travel facilities have greatly increased the demand for cycles, and the manufacturing industry is enjoying a boom. Under its new owners, Rudge-Whitworth, Ltd., will probably be provided with better opportunities for expansion. 

By June Raleigh had paid 95 per cent of the purchase price of £180,000, and the sale was completed in November. The deal involved the purchase of trademarks, goodwill, stock and the Rudge-Whitworth plant at Hayes. In the event, Raleigh sold off most of the machinery and equipment as Rudge bicycle production was almost immediately shifted to Nottingham. The sale did not include rights to the Rudge Autocycle which were assumed by Norman, who produced a post-war version of the machine under their name. Jaguar assumed Rudge's wire wheel rights and production.

Rudge-Whitworth got a revised trademark to go with their new owners in 1944 and their first new post-war brochure of 1947-8 paid homage to its history. For another two decades, the Rudge name continued to be carried on with fine British-made cycles, including Rudge variants of the Raleigh Lenton, Clubman and Super Lenton. But an era of a proud, pioneering independent British cycle firm came to an end in June 1943.

As with so much, the outbreak of the Second World War abruptly ended a Golden Era for British cycle sport and racing cycling. As events proved, the War was especially cruel for Rudge, not only curtailing their just-introduced lightweight range and co-opting their new factory, but, before it was over, ending their independence. For 75 years, the name Rudge-Whitworth had figured prominently in British cycle design, innovation and prowess in cycle sport. Whilst it carried on for another quarter of a century as a brand and a badge, the years just before the War presented a final heyday.



Raleigh and the British Bicycle Industry: An Economic and Business History, 1870–1960, Roger Lloyd-Jones, M. J. Lewis, 2017
Rudge-Whitworth: The Complete Story, Bryan Reynolds, 2014
The Year: Reawakening the Legend of Cycling's Hardest Endurance Records, Dave Barter, 2015


The Bicycle


Special thanks to Peter Jourdain who unstintingly and painstakingly reviewed his complete set of Cycling magazines c. 1936-39 and supplied scans which were invaluable in the research and illustration of this article.

© Peter C. Kohler