Mlle Serpolette's Gladiator motor tricycle: a technical description

Unfortunately only one photograph of Mlle. Serpolette's tricycle has come to light, as published in the Town and Country Journal of June 25, 1898 during her visit to Sydney, and reproduced here by courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.

The caption on the photograph is "Mdlle. Serpolette on a Motor Tricycle", leaving open the possibility that the photograph was not taken in Sydney. It may have been taken earlier and distributed for publicity purposes. From the photograph and potted technical details that appeared in papers in Perth, Adelaide and Sydney, we can assemble the following technical description of the machine which was variously referred to as a "motor tricycle", "motor cycle" or even "motor car".

Maker Gladiator Cycle Co.
(The Clement, Gladiator and Humber (France) Limited)
Motor Not stated, but looks to be De Dion - Bouton
Frame "Ordinary diamond frame tricycle". Photo shows duplicated front fork.
Transmission Small pinion on shaft of motor engages with large pinion on back axle. Assume no clutch.
Controls Levers on top frame rail: front pair for mixing air and "oil" (fuel), rear lever for regulating "speed" (ignition advance/retard). Rotating handlebar grip to interrupt ignition.
Ignition Battery and coil, fitted in box suspended under crossbar
Carburettor Combined fuel tank and surface carburettor, capacity about 2 quarts, fitted under seat. "Specially prepared petroleum", sufficient for 80 miles.
Tyres 2" (50 mm)
Brakes "Ordinary" (spoon-on-tyre) brake on front wheel operated by left handlebar lever; single band brake on back axle operated by rods from right handlebar lever
Starting By pedals and chain to back axle, with freewheel
Weight 168 lb. (76 kg)
Speed 22 - 30 m.p.h. (35 - 50 kmh). Said to be capable of 40 m.p.h. (65 kmh), but did not come close to this in any Australian demonstration.

Other than the dual-blade front fork, the specification of the tricycle is very close to the De Dion Bouton tricycle of the period. The genuine De Dion Bouton was fitted with a girder front fork in 1898.

[Since writing this in 2008, I have had on-going doubts about the tricycle on which Serpolette is pictured at the top of this page. I have found various Gladiator advertisements from the era, and none show the same front fork as the one on the tricycle in the photo. To me, the double bladed fork is more readily identified with the French Comoit motor ticycle. I will continue to worry until something becomes clear!]

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