Weekend C&V: 1951 Hercules Tourist

I saw this while up in Auburn, CA outside a vintage shop, the name of which i failed to note. However, i do know, thanks to Google street view that it is located at 1021 Lincoln Way. I'm not completely sure how much of this one is original to the model. As you can see on the tag it has been "revived", which could mean many things. The grips, cable housing, and certainly the saddle look new. Sixty year old pedals rarely look that good, and though i am not sure what type would have come on a model like this, i would suggest they are replacements. The frame is in superb condition, as is the componentry; interesting dual top tubes and bend to the down tube.

Hercules (Hercules Cycle and Motor Company) was founded in Aston, England in September 1910 by Harry and Edmund Crane, who chose the name Hercules for its imagery of durability and strength. A twenty-five bicycle per week production increased to seventy within the first six months, then one hundred forty after a few more. At that point the brothers employed ten people who assembled bikes out of a house. By 1914 production had risen to 10,000 bicycles per year. In 1923 the company moved into an old Dunlop factory in Aston, which grew into the thirteen acre "Britannia Works" and site of the company offices. By 1928 Hercules bicycles accounted for one in five of all British bikes exported and necessitated the acquisition of another Dunlop factory, this one in nearby Nechells. Six years later (1935) that twenty percent of the export market had risen to forty percent, and in 1939 the company produced its six-millionth bicycle.

At the time the company moved into the first former Dunlop factory, Hercules was producing most of the components, baring tubes and tires, installed on their bikes. This, it has been suggested, was among the primary reasons for their great success during those years, a time when many other British bicycle manufactures were in decline. Their mass production methods resulted in an output of ten thousand bikes per day, each taking less than ten minutes to assemble. By 1939 they could claim to be the worlds largest manufacturer of bicycles.

In 1946 Hercules was sold to Tube Investments, who manufactured most of the steel tubing used in the bikes, but by the 1950s the company had lost sight of innovation and change within the bicycle industry. For instance, they continued to use steel rather than alloy for the handlebars on their racing models, rather than shifting to lighter Reynolds 531 tubing for their frames, they continued to use heavier steel, and stuck with five speed gearing rather than the more common ten. Regardless of this, the company opened a third factory during the 1950s near to the second.

During the 1950s the company took increased interest in the sport side of cycling. In 1952 they sponsored Eileen Sheridan who set every record set (twenty-one total) and kept by the British Women's Road Record Association during the 1950s. Five of those still stand to this day, most notably the London to Edinburgh, which she set in 1954 in a time of twenty hours, eleven minutes, thirty-five seconds (incidentally, she was featured in a 1952 documentary entitled Spinning Wheels: Cycle Sport 50's Style. I have to think that would be a fascinating watch). The problem, of course, is that though the bikes she used were branded by Hercules, they were often manufactured by someone else because the Hercules frames were so heavy.

In 1958 Tube Investments purchased the Raleigh Company, from which union the well-known TI Raleigh Industries name derives. Being much larger and well regarded Raleigh took control and almost immediately began to cut out weaker brands and instituting their methods and standards of design and manufacture. By 1963 Hercules had all but ceased to exist, though it was not until 2003 that the original company, lost for years within the domain of Raleigh, was officially dissolved.

Eileen Sheridan - she seems like a fascinating person, and there is a terrific interview from 2013 (Eileen Sheridan: The Mighty Atom) in which (at aged 88) she recounts her ride from Land's End to John O'Groats, as well as other record setting rides.