Motorcycles in the Molton Street works, c1905-6

Now that the we understand the floor plan of the white garage in Molton Street, we can move on to have a look in detail at some of the machines shown in the photographs 4 and 5 from the Lewis Album.

I'm going to stick to safe territory and tackle the motorcycles first – what a pity that the photographer captured all of them from the rear! Not to worry, we'll make do with what we have.

Let's begin with the machine being attended to in the left foreground of photograph 04. This bike is not new, but is a Lewis using a clip-on engine, in all probability a Minerva. I can’t entirely figure out what’s going on at the time of the photo, but I fancy I see a rather large piston in the man’s hand, so I guess he’s juggling the barrel-less motor – either taking it out or putting it back. You can see the scuffed paint on the front down tube near the bottom bracket where the motor clamps to the frame. The wheels look large – perhaps 28x2" – and note the skip-tooth chain and non-Chater Lea chain wheel and lugs. Let’s call it a 1904 model, although by then clip-on motors were on the way out, and a 1903 date would not be out of the question. The frame set is possibly BSA.

04 clipon.jpg (42385 bytes)

The machine is similar to thousands built by bicycle manufacturers the world over using "the Minerva kit", so it is impossible to say who actually assembled the machine. The Lewis Cycle works were clearly capable, as were half a dozen other works in Adelaide at the time. One unusual feature of the machine is the rather flat handlebars. Vivian Lewis had a set of similar bars fitted to the Lewis Minerva he rode in October 1903, although his machine was fitted with two Bowden brakes, whereas this bike has a solid linkage to the front brake.

To the right of the clip-on Minerva we come to a newly-constructed Lewis Minerva which would be typical of the battery-and-coil ignition machines being manufactured by Lewis in 1905. The bike is not quite complete (the Bowden rear rim brake that was typical of the period is not yet fitted) nor exactly "to catalogue" as it is fitted with an unusual spoked chain ring rather than the usual Chater Lea item. These days we'd call it "supply chain problems". The unusual chain ring provides this bike with a signature of sorts: in photograph 06 we see the same bike (or at least a bike with an identical chain ring) on the showroom floor, by which time its rear brake is in place. The bike at the rear of the showroom is wearing its standard Chater Lea chain ring.

04 minerva.jpg (65420 bytes)

In the background behind the two Lewis Minervas we see a pair of water cooled machines. The machine on the left is typical of a 1905-06 "production" model (see the portrait in photograph 09) and is possibly freshly manufactured. Like the air-cooled Minerva in the foreground, it seems to be missing its Bowden rear rim brake.

04 wcdetail.jpg (48619 bytes)

The machine on the right is fitted with lamps and a motor horn, suggesting it has already been out on the road. It features the earlier-style radiator - wider and shorter, with curved edges and round cooling tubes - that was seen on the earliest water cooled machines, so it may have been a well-used machine by the time the photo was taken.

Elsewhere we have detailed the story of the Imperial Rover undergoing renovation at the rear of the workbench, while the machine being assemble in the foreground is a newer-style Lewis Minerva featuring Eisemann low-tension magneto ignition with the unique eccentric-and-rod drive first used by Minerva in 1905.

minerva.jpg (31208 bytes)

A glimpse of the complete Imperial Rover in the far left of photograph 05 tells us that it was not taken at the same time as photograph 04, but since it takes only an hour or two to dismantle an early machine and array its entrails on the bench it may have been snapped only a short while earlier, or even a week or so later after the renovation was complete. Yes the cars are arranged differently, so we'd have to imagine a roll-in-roll-out scenario to impress the photographer if the photos were taken on the same day. Then we'd have to explain the ladder and the "Smoking Strictly Prohibited" sign present in photo 05 but not in 04. Confused? So am I. Let's just say that they're taken around the same time.

The Rover aside, there are five motorcycles in photograph 05, but four are clustered into a jumble from which they are hard to identify.

The machine at left has cycle parts very similar to the Lewis Kelecom in photograph 02   – note the very similar unbraced front fork, and the similar spoke pattern on the chain wheel. I assume this is a BSA frame set c1903 – confirmation please! I’ve spent some time pondering the motor, and I’m now 99% sure it’s a 1903 2 HP (75 x 75 mm) Minerva clip on. While the smaller Minerva clip on had mechanical valves in 1903, the big motor had atmospheric inlet and rear-facing exhaust. In the photo you can make out the “double cylinder” of the Minerva-Longuemare carburettor and fuel bowl, and follow the curve of the inlet manifold to the atmospheric inlet valve at the top of the cylinder. The exhaust does a masterful snake job from the rear-facing exhaust port, around the seat tube and into the vertical cylinder of the muffler behind the chain wheel. A typical BSA frame bifurcates behind the pedal bracket, presumably leaving enough room for the pipe to sneak through.

05 bikedetail.jpg (63701 bytes)

A wicked thought is that with a coat of paint, some nickelling, a pair of mudguards, and some sporty handlebars it could look mighty like the Lewis-Minerva clip at the top of the page! Notice the very similar rear stands on the two bikes?

The bike on the right is a real enigma. Have a look at that motor – the very sparse fins (I count only 5 spaced along the whole barrel) makes it very unusual for the period. As I stare at the highest resolution image I can extract, I can see what might be a thin, nickel plated flywheel on the timing side of the motor. The only thing that I can think of with sparse finning and a flywheel on each side is a c1898 Werner motor. Surely not. However there were early Werners in Adelaide, and press reports of the time have them being modernised (for example to replace the hot tube ignition with electric). Did the modifications go as far as building a “modern” bike around the modified early motor? I guess playing with an old motor would be easier than making your own? I’m sure someone will come up with a more likely explanation.

As for the other two bikes – very difficult. I can say that the next one back is not a known Lewis model – it has a vertical muffler at the front of the vertical engine. The man has the tank door open – does it have a pistol grip tank, or is the bit hanging down a flap that goes underneath? Beyond that…

The water-cooled Lewis outfit is simply beautiful.

05 wcoutfit.jpg (60381 bytes)

I suspect if a restorer lavished this much nickel plating onto an early machine he would be accused of over-restoration. An interesting point for restorers is the finish on the Longuemare carburettor: it is not nickelled but instead had a lovely dark lustre. It would be worth trying to reproduce that effect in your next restoration. Note also the rear stand, just like the one on the Minerva engined bike above, and once again the the lack of the Bowden rear brake. I hope the clipper ship was making good speed out there on the Roaring 40s.

Given some of the goings-on in these photos, I wonder was the Lewis Cycle Works in 1905 as much a modifier of old bikes as it was a builder of new?

Previous article | Article index | Next article

Copyright Leon Mitchell 2007

The Lewis Project Home | Leon's Vintage Motorcycle Page