Were F.N. trying to disown their first-built motorcycle? The Spare Parts List: F.N. Motor Cycles issued in December 1913 by F.N. (England) Ltd., 106, Great Portland Street, London W. had this to say about the scope of their coverage:
The first machine listed in this parts list is the 1903 2-h.p. Single Cylinder (frame numbers 6,000 to 9,999). In 1920, A. Ernest Gelder, Managing Director F.N. (England), Ltd. wrote to Motor Cycling to clear up issues relating to the date of manufacture of F.N. motorcycles. The earliest machines he refers to - frame numbers 5,000 - 5,999 - are listed against the year "1902".
There are a number of surviving examples of this early 1 1/4-h.p. FN, which is really little more than a pedal-assisted bicycle. Jacques Maertens snapped this brass-tanked model at an F.N. show a year or two ago:
Except for the finish on the tank, and the position of the tank-top levers, this machine - basking in the Californian sun in the 1980s - seems to be built to much the same specification. Note the advanced lubrication system! The door for the battery-and-coil ignition system can just be seen at the front left of the tank.
The up-coming celebrations of 100 Years of FN Motorcycles 1902-2002 started me thinking about when the first model was actually produced. While it's probably true that the earliest powered machine to leave the F.N. works was called a "1902 model", there is evidence that manufacture was underway in 1901. Guy de Becker, in Quand la FN avait deux roues, gives October 1901 as the commencement of production of motorcycles. Harold Karslake - famous for his exploits on his "Dreadnought" motorcycle, and later a noted motorcycling historian - wrote a brief but interesting note to the Official Journal of the Vintage Motor Cycle Club (UK) many years ago that seems to support this date:
So there we have it. Assuming Harold had his facts straight (I don't have access to Bicycling News to check, but I have no reason to doubt), F.N. did manufacture motorcycles in 1901, even though they were most likely referred to a "1902 models". Supporting this idea, I do have 1902 advertisements for the "1903 2 h.p. F.N.".
Can anyone provide an earlier reference to F.N. motorcycles?
Finally a curiosity. In addition to manufacturing complete motorcycles, F.N. produced proprietary motors (similar to their 1903-pattern, but without the mounting flange at the rear as used on in-house machines) and lugs to other manufacturers. In Europe, makes like Vindec were large users, and even in Australia small manufacturers like Leitch produced F.N.-engined machines. The advertisement below is reproduced from the 25 March 1903 edition of The Motor, and while it purports to show a Whippet Motor Bicycle, the machine is clearly almost identical to a "1902-pattern" F.N. The "triple crown" front fork suggests that the the cycle parts were not sourced from F.N., so this was probably a very early example of F.N. supplying the motor trade with proprietary motors and accessories. Interestingly, the 2-speed gear is not attached to the motor but to the pedalling gear of the bicycle!