980m a week but is boss ‘Drastic’ Dave Lewis off to Unilever? DAILY First command investments login: Gatwick Airport saw passenger numbers increase by 2. As part of Financial Mail’s regular look at alternative investments, Toby Walne asks whether it’s worth backing vintage bicyles. They are a far cry from today’s high-tech, multi-geared, sleek machines, but the 19th Century ‘boneshaker’ and penny-farthing bicycles have come out of the shed, shaken off the rust and are now fetching thousands of pounds.
It’s only recently that their historic value has been reflected in soaring prices,’ says Tony Pickering of the National Association of Veteran Cycle Clubs. These iconic bikes were built with a level of skill that has long been lost. They are also lots of fun to ride. Tony, 69, who lives in Leicester, has a collection of late 19th Century bicycles that he enjoys both as investments and vehicles that are regularly taken out for a ride. The first ‘bike’, a wooden two-wheeler in 1817 nicknamed the hobby-horse, was invented by Karl von Drais, a German baron. This was followed in Britain by the boneshaker, a derivation of the pedal-driven ‘velocipede’ invented by Frenchman Pierre Michaux in 1863.
The boneshaker earned its name thanks to its sturdy wooden wheels with iron tyres. It was only when the penny-farthing arrived in 1870 that cycling as a sport began – though back then it was more a daredevil activity for the wealthy rather than a leisurely pursuit,’ he says. The curious design is because the larger the diameter of the front wheel, the easier it is to propel. This led to front-wheel diameters of five feet on penny-farthings able to travel at 30mph. The penny-farthing is a majestic ride, but it can be dangerous,’ says Tony. It was made by many manufacturers until its demise with the invention of the chain-driven bike. Cooper and Singer, which turned its skills at creating pedal-driven sewing machines into bikes.
In 1879 the first commercially successful, chain-driven Lawson Bicyclette – ‘The Crocodile’ – was sold. These were known as ‘safety bicycles’ as they offered a less hair-raising cycling experience. The Rover Safety bicycle of 1884 took the cycling revolution further. 6,440 at auction a couple of years ago. However, Tony warns that an expert eye is often necessary to spot vintage bike fakes. It wasn’t until the birth of the air-filled tyre in 1888, developed by John Boyd Dunlop, that interest exploded and the UK became a nation of bike lovers.
The 20th Century saw the advent of ‘classic lightweights’ from manufacturers such as Hetchins, Bates, Baines, Moorson and Paris Galibier. 700 or more if it has been well looked-after. Key to their booming appeal is they are not just great investments, but are practical for modern roads. The Raleigh Chopper remains a collectible Seventies icon. Famed for its ‘glam rock’ appeal, it has Harley- Davidson-style handlebars, a central gear stick and a long padded seat ideal for dangerous ‘backies’ – carrying a friend behind you. Some special editions fetch double this amount.