Rudge motorcycle history

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Daniel Rudge had been the landlord of the Tiger's Head public house in Wolverhampton. His close friend was Henry Clarke, who started a wagon wheel building business and then ran the Cogent Cycle Co. Daniel was interested in racing, and with Henry's help he began to build his own racing machines at 19 Church Street, Wolverhampton, which included an improved form of wheel bearing. Many people wanted his bicycles, and in 1870 he started building and selling racing machines. He made many improvements to his bicycles and they soon became the best racing machines that were available at the time.

He started to take part in the races that were held in the grounds of the Molineux Hotel, Wolverhampton. He won the very first cycle race to be held there in 1869, and was very successful. He started producing high wheelers in 1874 and, for a short while in the late 1870's, Dan was producing Humber bicycles for Marriott and Cooper after they had parted company with Humber, although they had the use of the name. In 1878 he was awarded a gold medal for his exhibit at the London Cycle Show. Dan Rudge died on 26 June 1880, having formed the Rudge business, and his widow continued to run it until November 1880 when it was sold to George Woodcock and amalgamated with the bankrupt business of Haynes & Jefferis to form the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Company.

Woodcock had also purchased the assets of the collapsed Haynes & Jefferis firm in 1879 and relocated the combined business to Ariel Works, Trafalgar Street, Coventry in 1880 having taken over the business of the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Company. In 1885 the business was transferred into a private limited company called D. Rudge & Co. Ltd. It became the Rudge Cycle Co Ltd, Coventry, on 21 October, 1887, a public company with capital of £200,000. Walter Philips was the renowned works manager and Lawson, H. J., the sales manager. Stoddard & Lovering of Boston, Mass. were the US agents.

Maker of the Ariel, Emperor, Mechanic's, Rudge's Swiftsure and Tangent high wheelers. The No.2 Ordinary was one of the best known competitive machines of its era which pioneered adjustable ball races on wheels and pedals. Other competitive features pioneered by the company were hollow backbones and lighter tangentially spoked wheels.

Although Rudge took over manufacture of the Coventry Rotary from Starley & Sutton from 1885, the name Coventry Rotary was retained through to 1892 in Rudge catalogues, when production ceased. The Triplet Tandem Quadricycle Direct Steering Roadster was produced from 1888.

The Royal Crescent tricycle was made for about three years from 1886. It was introduced in Roadster, Ladies and Racer forms. Also the Royal Crescent tandem tricycle. A Parcels Carrier and Parcels Express were made before 1892 as well as the Roadsculler and Triplet. The Rudge cross-frame safety was patented in 1887 and sold as the Rocket. By 1889 the company was making safety bicycles with diamond pattern frames but with halved tubes for lightness named the Bicyclette. The company produced the Déesse brand for sale in France. In 1894 it built the Giraffe safety, along with Starley, J. K. & Co., under licence from Humber & Co. Ltd.

In May 1891 George Woodcock died. This coincided with a reduction in trade. The company was rescued by the Whitworth Cycle Co. in 1894 to form Rudge Whitworth Ltd.

A little-known fact (that ties in with the history of Cyclemaster) is that after Rudge Whitworth fell on hard times in the Great Depression, the music company EMI bought the Rudge name. EMI produced bicycles under the Rudge name from 1935 until 1943 when they sold the name to Raleigh.

In 1938 EMI centralized production in Hayes: Rudge's Coventry factory closed and re-opened next to EMI. 1939 saw the prestigious Rudge name associated for the first time with a motorized bicycle - the 98cc Rudge Autocycle. It was short-lived though: the Rudge factory was taken over by EMI for the manufacture of radar equipment during the War, and the remaining autocycles were passed on to the Norman company.

Ulster Grand Prix[edit]

In 1929 Graham Walker won the Ulster Grand Prix averaging over 80mph. This prompted the release of the Rudge Ulster, as well as a JAP engined 250cc and parallel 4 valve 350cc. The Rudge Ulster was one of their most famous models.

1930s Isle of Man TT victories[edit]

Rudge bikes finished first, second and third at the 1930 Junior TT using prototype radial 350cc 4 valve engines. They also took first and second in the Senior TT. The road bike engines were changed to dry sump lubrication. The JAP 250 and the parallel four valve 350cc ended production in this year.

In 1931 Rudge released its first 250cc and 350cc road machines with the radial valve layout. TT Replicas were available in 350cc and 500cc. The parallel valve 500cc was also available in Special and Ulster models, the Ulster now having a 100 mph guarantee. First and second were taken in the 1931 Lightweight TT, and in 1932, second and third. A radial head 500cc was produced for 1932 only. A 250cc TT Replica was built, and the road bikes were fitted with proper oil bath primary chains, and a stand that could be operated "with just one finger".


With the depression biting, 1933 was the last year of production for dirt track bikes, and the TT Replicas. The Ulster 500cc was fitted with a semi-radial (parallel valves with radial ports) cast iron head. For 1934 the Ulster had its head cast in aluminum bronze, and a radial 4 valve 250cc Sports was released. Rudge motorcycles took the first three places in the

1934 Lightweight TT[edit]

A two valve 250cc was produced in 1935, and in 1936 the last of the radial 4 valve 250cc model were produced, while round tube forks were introduced on other models. In 1937 the valve gear became fully enclosed on the 500cc models, but finances were bad and Rudge was bought by EMI, and production was interrupted, being moved to Hayes, Hillingdon in Middlesex.

A 250cc 2 valve Sports was released in 1938, and for early 1939 the Ulster had an RR50 aluminum cylinder head. Production ceased in December 1939 in order to convert to radar production for the war effort.

Today, the Rudge is a sought after collector's motorcycle.