The Ormonde Bicycle Depot and the Lewis Cycle Works: 1893 - 1900

Detailed information about the early days of Vivian Lewis in Adelaide remains elusive, but he was said to have arrived here in 1889 from central Victoria. By 1890 he had found himself office space at 68 Grenfell Street in the city, where he conducted business as a "produce merchant". The earliest documentary link (so far!) between Vivian Lewis and the cycle industry is the entry in the Sands & McDougall's South Australian Directory for 1894:

LEWIS VIVIAN, importer and manufacturer of bicycles, office 68 Grenfell-st, showrooms Freeman-st; agent for Ormonde Cycle Co.

The exact date on which Lewis set up the Ormonde Bicycle Depot on Freeman Street is open for discussion. In later years Lewis always proclaimed 1892 as the year the business was established, but the directories and other sources (including his obituaries) suggest 1893 as more realistic. Much was made of the small size of the firm when originally establish, but given the reasonable size of the Freeman Street Works it was clear that Lewis meant business. Other than foreman Tom O'Grady - also a Victorian, and long Vivian Lewis's right hand man - the names of the original staff are not known.

Ormonde Bicycle Depot, 1895

Lewis had timed his entry into the cycle business to perfection, and his new firm was able to ride the cycle boom of the 1890s. By 1895, the Ormonde Bicycle Depot was advertising Ormonde, James and Allard bicycles, as well as the locally-built "Lewis". Courtesy of a theft from the shop and the subsequent police report, we learn that Rover bicycles were also part of the mix. To keep up with demand for "Lewis" machines, part of the old Dittmar Bakery stables on McHenry Street - conveniently accessed via the lane behind the Freeman Street building - was acquired and a new factory built. Prophetically, the new building, covering 3,000 square feet, was named "The Lewis Cycle Works".

By 1896, Vivian Lewis was keen to attract new capital into his rapidly-expanding business. In April that year a prospectus was launched for a new company "... for the purpose of acquiring at valuation the lucrative business of Cycle Importation and Manufacture, established by Mr Vivian Lewis..." The new company was to be called "Lewis Cycle Works, Limited". But despite the media hype ("I am asked to inform cyclists that shares are being rapidly applied for..."), it seems that the new company never got off the ground. Although the businesses of Vivian Lewis used the name Lewis Cycle Works, and from 1900 Lewis Cycle and Motor Works, there was no limited company of this name in the early days.

The failure to form a limited company does not seem to have unduly slowed the growth of the business. In 1897 the Ormonde Bicycle Depot was selling Lewis, Ormonde, Rudge Whitworth, Trent, White Flier and Tribune bicycles, and by degrees the Ormonde Bicycle Depot name gave way to Lewis Cycle Works. Although not big advertisers, Lewis maintained the public eye by sponsoring a successful team of cyclists and notes in the cycling press often listed Lewis successes: "Lewis gained 7 firsts, 6 seconds, 6 thirds with its machines last Saturday". Lewis also supplied pacing for cycle race meetings by way of two triplet cycles. These machines offered, for a time, the fastest pacing available in South Australia and were a feature of events across the state and in Broken Hill. So popular was cycling in Broken Hill, 500 km north east of Adelaide in outback New South Wales, that a branch of the Lewis Cycle Works was established there in 1897.

Lewis Cycle Works, May 1898

Events in May 1898 were to change the course of the Lewis Cycle Works. Visiting with her Gladiator motor tricycle, French racing cycliste Mlle Serpolette made her Adelaide base at the Lewis Cycle Works. When the motor tricycle wouldn't run, it was Works Manager Tom O'Grady who spent time first repairing then test riding it. Within ten months, O'Grady had obtained plans and built a small internal combustion engine, which was fitted to one of the pacing triplets and tested on Freeman Street in March 1899.

Although bicycles remained the focus through 1899, O'Grady's motor was developed further and fitted to a tandem, then removed from the tandem to be the power unit of the first Lewis car which took to the streets of Adelaide in November 1900.

From that date on the name of the business changed to reflect its new-found interests: Lewis Cycle Works became  Lewis Cycle and Motor Works.

Previous history | Lewis histories index | Next history

Copyright Leon Mitchell 2008

The Lewis Project Home | Leon's Vintage Motorcycle Page