We’ve all heard of the skeleton in the closet, but what we found in our back shed was rather more pleasant. One of the rusty old bicycles we had bought over from the Cape Town Science Centre was shoved in a corner and forgotten about after its arrival, until we noticed a badge on the front reading Rudge Whitworth. We did some digging and finally identified the rusty husk as a Aero-Special Rudge-Whitworth Light Roadster from 1908. This dated the bike to a good 30 years earlier than we had previously thought it was built, making it far more valuable… if we could get it cleaned up and respectable again.
Call number one, David Mercer, Cape Town based steel bike builder extraordinaire, to fix a hole in the frame. Hole fixed, our next port of call was Jared at the Bicycle Maintenance Company (because nobody does a better paint job) to give this noble steed a fresh coat of paint. He and Mel, his wife, a wizard at sourcing rare bike components, did a stellar job, not only on repainting the frame, but countless other finicky restoration steps which we wouldn’t have known where to start. A few weeks later the bicycle that rolled back into the Trail’s End Bicycle Museum was a completely different bike to the one we had forgotten in the back corner of the shed!
What we learned about this bike while taking it apart, cleaning it up and putting it back together:
It has a fascinating free-wheel hub (that is very hard to put back together) that was designed to work silently, with small half-moon bearings that oscillate as the teeth of the outer hub housing run over them to ensure one-directional rotation.
The wheels had patent aluminium rims, the frame was built with patent flush joints, the bike boasted patent cotterless oval cranks and a patent celluloid wrap over the handle grips as several accidents had taken place from the hand grips sliding off the bars mid-ride. All of these features made this one of the most popular and sought after Roadsters of its time, hailed as Britain’s best bicycle, and the Prince of Wales’ personal bicycle of choice.