Motorcycles in the Lewis Cycle WOrks, McHenry Street, c1904

The series of photographs taken in the McHenry Street works give us a marvellous insight into the daily business of the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works c1904. In the front right corner of the factory we see the motorcycle shop in full swing, with workmen tending to the needs of a couple of earlier bikes and manufacturing a latest-pattern Lewis Minerva.

The motorcycle Shop, Lewis Cycle and Motor Works 1904

In fact the Lewis Minerva under construction on the bench gives us a good handle on the date. The vertical Minerva motor was new for the 1904 season, replacing the "clip-on" style units of 1903, and the curved frame tube indicates the earlier pattern frame used by Lewis for their vertical-engined machines. More details of the Lewis Minerva can be found in the Lewis motorcycle section.

Kelelcom and Mitchell (or Thomas Auto Bi?) motorcycles 1904

Turning to the older bikes, let's look first at the machine resting against the bench. It's certainly American and dates from around 1902. At first I had no hesitation in identifying it as a Mitchell, but I recently came across some information on early Thomas Auto-Bi and now I'm not quite sure...

1902 Thomas motorcycle 1902-3 Mitchell motorcycle

There is not much to choose between the Thomas Auto-Bi "Design Number Two" (above left) and the Mitchell (above right) around 1901-02 - not only is the general lay-out similar, but the identical detail of the tank and coil mounting points to some form of collusion. In his book The Motorcycle Industry in New York State, Geoffrey Stein tells us that in 1901 Thomas were able to supply the trade with either parts or complete motorcycles, so it is likely that Mitchell began with significant input from Thomas. Both machines used the "bed plate" design of engine mount, where the crankcase bolted onto a bed plate which was fixed to the front down tube of the frame. In addition the cylinder head was clamped to the head tube. If pressed, I'd say the bike in the Lewis workshop is a Mitchell: the four-plate fork crown was a prominent feature of early Mitchells, and the headbadge - although not completely legible - suggests Mitchell rather than Auto-Bi. Comments welcome.

It might seem a little strange that an American machine found its way to Adelaide so early on, but the Mitchell/Thomas was not alone. Several other early American machines have surfaced in Australia, including my 1903 California (found in Melbourne, about 700 km east of Adelaide) and the remains of a 1903 machine (a Columbia or one of its brethren) made by the American Cycle Manufacturing Company. Clearly imports from the US were not that uncommon in Australia in the first years of the 20th century.

c1903 Lewis Kelecom Bill CourtneyWhile the machine against the bench is undoubtedly American, the other early bike in the motorcycle shop has a more multi-national background.

The motor - clamped behind the front down tube of the loop frame - is a Kelecom, originating in Belgium. This one is a decent size for the period (let's guess the 2 1/4 HP model), with atmospheric inlet valve and the exhaust exiting to the rear. Kelecom motors were used by a number of pioneer makes, perhaps most notably by Ormonde (predecessor to the Velocette) in the UK.

The cycle parts are, I believe, BSA, who produced frame kits for motorcycles many years before they took to manufacturing their own complete motorcycles in 1910. This frame has some familiar BSA features - notably the fork crown and the adjustable steering damper - and some that are not so familiar. The additional bracing tube for the steering head, forming a triangle forward of the fuel tank, is unusual. The only place I've seen this before is on a 1903 New Hudson - perhaps they also used the same frame set. Does anyone have a period illustration of BSA frame lugs like these?

If we study the photo at the highest resolution, it becomes clear that the machine is wearing a Lewis steering head transfer. At the Opening Run of the Automobile Club in October 1903, Lewis employee Bill Courtney (right) was riding either this machine or an identical one, which was referred to in the period press as a "Lewis". Clearly we are looking at a machine that could be described as a "1903 Lewis Kelecom".

But was the machine built at the Lewis Cycle and Motor Works? Although it certainly could have been, I doubt that it was.

In October 1902 the Adelaide firm of James Hill and Sons were advertising "Kelecom Motors" in the local newspaper (appropriately named The Advertiser). In the earliest advertisements, 1 3/4 and 2 1/4 H.P. models were offered, and a line drawing showed a machine with the motor clamped behind the seat tube driving the rear wheel by belt. Other advertisements offered “... Kelecom motors and complete Kelecom motor bicycles". It seems that the loop frame entered the scene in 1903, but it is an advertisement from early 1904 that might be of most relevance here. Illustrated by a line drawing of a loop-framed "Kelecom" Motor Cycle, the advertisement offered machines in four sizes between 1 3/4 and 3 1/4 HP   “Just unpacked 1904 models. Inspection invited”. It then listed various frame sets, including BSA, and continued: “Complete Cycles built from the above parts for the trade only, with their own name and transfer”.

Whether Hills were offering to build motorcycles or pedal bicycles, or whether the motorcycles were complete or in parts when "unpacked" is not made quite clear, but I don't think it matters. What is clear is that Hills were wholesalers actively supplying the local trade with whatever product they could sell: motors, frame sets, or complete machines. Most likely the Kelecom-engined Lewis seen in our photo came to Lewis via James Hill and Sons, in one form or another.

Elsewhere in the workshop we get a glimpse of what we might consider the "ordinary" Lewis of the day. In the background of photograph 11, behind the lad's left elbow, we see a 1903-pattern Lewis Minerva featuring a clip-on engine with full mechanical side valves and a spray carburettor. For orientation, the bike is sitting in front of the motorcycle shop, hiding the Lewis-Kelecom and the Mitchell/Thomas from our view.

A 1903 Lewis Minerva motorcycle lurking in the background

This machine would be to the same specification as those ridden by Messrs Lewis and Lykke in the October 1903 event.

And what's that visible underneath the bed of the lathe? It looks like the front wheel of another machine, but it's impossible to say whether there is a machine attached to it or not. If loose, it could be the partner for the rear wheel leaning against a post in photograph 14, in which case the pair are probably set aside for the Lewis Minerva under construction in the motorcycle shop, visible in this shot above the lad's right shoulder.

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