A Bradbury pre-history

1913 Bradbury advertisement

Bradbury & Co., Wellington Works, Oldham, were well known in veteran days for building some very sturdy motorcycles with a rather extraordinary feature: the crankcase of the motor was brazed into the frame! This feature dates back to the early days of the company's motorcycles, but not back to the absolute beginning.

When was the beginning? The first Bradbury motorcycle advertisement I have seen appeared in The Cycle Trader on 10th January 1902, and given that it featured detailed artwork of the machine, it must have been some weeks in preparation. Part of the advertisement read "Liberal terms to agents. A few smart agents wanted." suggesting that the drive was on to market the new machine. From this information we can assume that Bradbury & Co. had a running motorcycle in late 1901, but it would most likely have been referred to as "the 1902 model". In many ways the development was almost synchronised with that of the first FN and the first California motorcycles. On March 19, 1902 Motor Cycling contained one of the earliest press references on its News page:

The "Bradbury"

Recently we had the opportunity of inspecting one of the first motor-bicycles turned out of the Wellington Works, by Bradbury and Co. The machine was fitted with the new 1 1/2 h.p. Minerva engine. Special attention has been given to the length of the wheel base and other important features in connection with the frame.

This machine was pretty much the standard Minerva unit of the day, not dis-similar to many other machines being produced around the country based on the excellent Minerva clip-on motor set. This motor used an atmospheric inlet valve, a surface carburettor located in the front of the fuel tank, and battery and coil ignition. The advertisement that appeared in Motor Cycling March 5, 1902 was almost identical to the Cycle Trader one from January, and indeed most of the advertising during 1902.

1902 Bradbury Minerva

This Minerva-engined machine carried Bradbury & Co. sales through the better part of 1902, during which time the general specification would have been:

The 1902 "Bradbury" Specification

Frame - Specially strengthened, built with Tandem Hubs, back stays, chain stays, and specially designed bridge.
Wheels - 28 in. high tension spokes.
Rims - Jointless hollow motorcycle rims, plated all over,
Tyres - Clincher A-Won motor cycle tyres 2 in.
Handlebars - Straight or to order.
Cranks - 7 in. toughened steel.
Gear - 67 1-5th in,. 24 x 10, or to order.
Chain - Appleby or Renold's 1/2 in. roller.
Pedals - Full size, fitted with best rubber blocks.
Mudguards - Extra width, strongly fitted, free from rattle.
Saddle - Brooks' B 28 or B 90.
Free-Wheel - Bradbury.
Motor - Minerva 1 1/2 h.p. new pattern engine, automatic oiling apparatus, and enlarged exhaust valve.
Brakes - Bradbury front rim and Bowden inverted lever back rim.
Finish - Usual parts heavily plated, frame, tank, and carburettor enamelled black, tanks and carburator (sic) lined.
Price - 50 Nett.

While selling their Minerva machine through 1902, Bradbury were busy developing an entirely new machine: the Bradbury "Peerless". One of the earliest references to the vertical-engine machine is in an advertisement carried by Motor Cycling on 5th November 1902. Although illustrated with the Minerva-engined machine, the advertisement invited readers to visit Bradbury at Stand 76 at the Stanley Show to view "A Novelty in Motor Cycles". The new machine was based on Birch's Patent (or more correctly Birch's registered design 380701), in which the base of the motor was firmly brazed into the frame in the "New Werner" position. Think of a saucepan brazed into the frame forming the outer ring and timing side of the crankcase and you have some idea. The drive side was closed with an alloy plate, through which the engine internals were fed on assembly. The illustration below was used in the press throughout 1903, but interestingly in very late 1902 (for example in Motor Cycling, 10th December 1902) the same machine was shown with a "pistol grip" tank, which extended to fill the space behind the cylinder down to about the top fin.

1903 Bradbury Peerless

In the form shown here, the 1903 model is fitted with a surface carburettor in the tank, but a spray carburettor was optional. Two models were offered: 2 HP (70 x 76 mm 292 cc with the option of a fixed - no throttle or air adjustment - FN carburettor) or 2 1/2 HP (79 x 76 mm 373 cc with the option of a Longuemare carburettor). Ignition was by battery and trembler coil. This model was well respected at the time, and did well in a range of reliability trials.

In addition to the two "Bradbury Peerless" models, a third machine was offered in late 1902 - early 1903, fitted with all chain drive and a two-speed gear. The press of the day referred to this machine as being fitted throughout "with the Clement-Garrard engine and equipment". This machine was most likely a rebadged Clement-Garrard, but it is possible that it was built by Bradbury using the French Clement clip-on engine and two-speed gear, which were at the time imported into England by The Garrard Manufacturing Co., Birmingham.

When the for 1904 model was announced for the Stanley Show in November 1903, it was clear that the Peerless machine was developing. The surface carburettor had gone, and both engines (the larger now referred to as 2 3/4 HP) were fitted with the Longuemare carburettor. The pistol grip style tank had returned, with greatly increased width giving petrol capacity of "no less than 2 gallons".

1904 Bradbury Peerless

Also available was "the Peerless motor fore-carriage". Believe it or not, most manufacturers offered a forecar around 1904, but the craze was thankfully very short lived. Bradbury's machine featured a 4 1/2 HP water-cooled motor with mechanically operated valves, a two-speed gear and chain drive.

1904 Bradbury forecar

The forecar was not Bradbury's first foray in to passenger carriage: earlier they had they had pushed their "Detachable Tandem Back Seat" onto an unsuspecting public. I'll spare you the illustration, but basically it involved another seat, mounted at the same height as the rider but fully 12 inches behind the rear axle, with footrests mounted on the rear spindle. "It gives pleasure to a friend, and is useful for teaching a novice to motor". I doubt it.

By the time the Stanley Show came around in November 1904, we see the Bradbury at the end of its "pre-history". Larger crank cases - now with the alloy plate now on the timing side - held larger flywheels for the motor now rated at a full 3 HP. The tank now held fuel and oil only, and the carburettor had reached the "standard position" behind the cylinder. A wooden (yes, wooden) box on the seat tube held the batteries and coil. The whole machine was longer and lower, to follow the fashion.

1905 Bradbury

1905 signalled the beginning of a quiet time for the British motorcycle industry. The initial flush of novelty-induced enthusiasm had worn off, and the harsh realities of riding a generally unreliable powered cycle on unmade roads often in atrocious weather had caused speculation about whether there was any future for the motorcycle. At Bradbury, as at other manufacturers around the country, development ceased while the future of the market was decided. In 1908, Bradbury were still selling motorcycles, but they were exactly the models illustrated above: the 2 1/2 HP and 3 HP models identical with the 1904 models offered at "clearance prices", and the Bradbury 3 1/2 HP 1908 Model identical with the 1905 Model.

Unlike some other makers, Bradbury did decide to stick with motorcycle production, and introduced entirely new models for 1909 and, particularly, 1910. These bikes launched them into a rather successful phase leading up to the First War. Of course, for better or worse, the motor was still firmly brazed into the frame.

Informtation about later Bradbury motorcycles can be found on David Best's Bradbury website.

Copyright Leon Mitchell 2007-8


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