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Bike Review - Posted 21st December 2015
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Ivel Motor Cycles

Neil Cairns looks back at one of the pioneer motor bicycle machines: a cross between a pedal cycle and what would become the classic bikes we know and love...

In 1901 a Dan Albone of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, who was a bicycle manufacturer of some repute, adapted one of his diamond-type cycle frames to take a Mineva four-stroke petrol engine. Many others at that time were also fitting proprietary engines to their own frames to produce a motorcycle. Dan’s 1.5hp machine followed closely the Minerva itself and the contemporary Excelsior. He strengthened one of his best products with heavier tubing and hung the Minerva 1.5hp air-cooled engine on the front down-tube just ahead of the pedal bottom-bracket.

The engine drove the rear wheel directly (there was no clutch or gearbox) using a raw-hide belt to an extra ‘rim’ clipped to the rear wheel spokes. This was normal engineering practice for the day. The cycle retained its rod-operated rim-brakes which must have caused the odd missed heart-beat of its rider in the wet. The Ivel motorcycle weighed 70lb. To start the machine, the rider just pedalled away after flooding the simple float-feed carburettor.

Ivel Motor Cycles

The engine had ‘automatic oiling’ though it is not stated if this was just a splash system where the big-end dipped into the oil on each revolution, or a pumped system. The valve gear that required regular oiling by the rider was open to the air with an ‘automatic’ inlet valve (the descending piston ‘sucked’ it open, not very efficiently.) There was electric trembler-coil ignition from an accumulator but no method in those days of the machine re-charging it itself, so the accumulator would need regular re-charging up again upon returning home. In those days, chemists would carry out this task, as they did after WW1 for those who had a radio but no electricity at home.

Dunlop pneumatic tyres were fitted to the 30 inch straight-spoked wheels (as opposed to tangential spokes of today). The machine was single-speed only and could be ridden from a walking pace up to a claimed 25mph. But every time the motorcycle was stopped, so was its engine, requiring re-starting by pedalling upon setting off again. This would not have been a problem in 1901 as there were no traffic lights or other road furniture to impede the ride. The normal cycle pedals with a free-wheel were still fitted for starting and in case the engine broke down or you ran out of fuel (no petrol stations either back then, you needed to find a chemist...) Dan did start to keep benzine in his cycle shop to supply regular customers.

Ivel Motor Cycles (This is a Minerva rather than an Ivel, but it's from the right period)
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The hide belt could be removed easily and the machine pedalled home. Belts often broke in those days on all motorcycles, so pedalling home was common. The normal cycle chain was enclosed to keep it clean and oiled. There was no suspension as we know it, though the saddle was well sprung (and an extra for the normal pedal-cycle). To assist starting and to stop the engine an exhaust-valve lifter was fitted.

In 1902 bigger inlet and exhaust valves were fitted and the engine became a 1.75hp. Dan’s workshops were on the Great North Road (the A1) in Biggleswade and he also ran a public house as well as his busy cycle works in the back garden. As soon as his Ivel motorcycle was available for sale at £45 (about £4000 today) he produced a ‘Ladies’ model using a ladies cycle frame suitably reinforced, but otherwise as the male version. As this Ladies Ivel motorcycle had extra covers over the engine, drive belt and rear wheel to protect the long skirts of the era, it retailed at £47. The Ivel was built from 1901 to 1903. By then Dan had produced his first car using a twin-cylinder engine. This was not a great success and he went on to use the same engine in the very first ‘light tractor’ for agricultural use and that was a storming commercial success, so well that he gave up motorcycles and cars!

Ivel Motor Cycles

Quite a few ladies of repute purchased the Ivel and it may well have been one of the first machines especially built for women. None are known to have survived. A tricycle version of the motorcycle was offered but it is not known if any were ever sold. About 100 Ivel motorcycles were made in total.


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