Lewis Cycle Works Limited: A brief history 1924 - 1975

From 1907 until 1923, Vivian Lewis Limited ran all of the Lewis businesses: bicycle, motor cycle and motor car. But during 1923 F.S. Mann and his company Mann's Motors Limited gained a controlling interest and shifted the focus to importing and selling cars - Oldsmobiles in particular. By 1924 the company had public announced a new direction, and began to divest itself of all non-Oldsmobile activities, including motorcycles activities such as they were. Production of Lewis motorcycles had likely ended towards the end of 1922.

Lewis Cycle Works advertisement This advertisement appeared in the program for the Motor Cycle Speed Carnival at Cheltenham Racecourse, Adelaide, on Easter Saturday 19 April 1924. At this time, the cycle and motorcycle side of Vivian Lewis Limited had reverted to trading under the Lewis Cycle Works name, although the limited company was not incorporated until the end of May.

A period of confusion followed in which Vivian Lewis Limited (using the Gawler Place South address) or a group trading under the name of Lewis Cycle Works (using the original premises at 111 Gawler Place) acquired agencies or sub-agencies for a range of imported motorcycles including Ace, Triumph, Levis and Douglas to supplement the existing Beardmore Precision agency. At the end of May 1924, a new company Lewis Cycle Works Limited was formed to carry on all of the non-Oldsmobile activities of Vivian Lewis Limited. The new company operated from the original Lewis building at 111 Gawler Place, with branches at Port Adelaide, Port Pirie and Broken Hill.

Lewis Cycle Works Limited could be described as a second generation company. Not only was it formed to run a range of well-established business activities, but the people involved were, largely, the next generation of the Lewis family. While Vivian and his brothers Percy and Archibald were signatories to the articles of Association of Vivian Lewis Limited in 1907, it was Vivian's sons Vivian James, Cyril and Stanley whose names appeared on the equivalent documents for Lewis Cycle Works Limited in May 1924.

Motorcycles were clearly on the agenda of the new company, and at the Chamber of Manufactures Exhibition in Adelaide in 1925 they exhibited an imported Beardmore Precision together with a 2 3/4 h.p. (350 cc) "Lewis Sports", described as "possibly the only locally produced 2 3/4 h.p. four stroke motor cycle". It might just as accurately have been described as "the last Lewis motorcycle", because after 1925 the new company returned to its roots as a manufacturer and retailer of bicycles. There was diversification into radio receivers and invalid carriages, the latter going on to become an important arm of the business.

Actually motorcycles didn't disappear completely from the Lewis Cycle Works. The Port Pirie branch continued to supply a range of motorcycles - notably Ariel, BSA and Royal Enfield - through the post war period, and possibly as late as the 1970s. Although the branch was wholly-owned by LCW Ltd, it obviously was allowed some latitude to follow interests a little removed from the parent company.

In Adelaide, Lewis Cycle Works Limited continued to produce and sell bicycles and wheelchairs from the original Ormonde Bicycle Depot building at 111 Gawler Place until 1956, when it moved across town to 91 Gouger Street. Much of the original plant made the move to Gouger Street: for example the stove enamelling ovens seen in use in 1905 in photograph 36 of the Lewis album were relocated to Gouger Street. At least one Lewis motorcycle restored in the 1960s was able to have fresh enamel applied in the same oven it was painted in when new!

Lewis Cycle Works Limited was voluntarily wound up in 1975, ending a continuous involvement of 93 years in the bicycle industry.

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