Dating Identifying Pre-1900 British Bikes


IDENTIFICATION IMPOSSIBLE? – 1886-1900 is my favourite era of bicycle manufacture and I’ve spent many years learning about the various features introduced at this time.

1890-1898 was the ‘bicycle boom’ era. So many British companies made bicycles that if a survivor has no obvious identification, it’s usually impossible to find its maker. Most cycle firms of this time went out of business, or were taken over. Illustrated catalogues or ads exist for less than 10% of them.

The most we can usually do is calculate the age of an unidentifed 1886-1900 bicycle by its frame design and components.


WHAT AGE? – For example, I reckon the bicycle in this French postcard is of 1896 manufacture.

1. Screw-in pedals were introduced in 1895, replacing ‘slotted’ versions that bolted on the outside.

2. Upward sloping top-tubes were mostly replaced by the horizontal top tube by 1895 though some were still made in 1896.

3. It’s a studio photo with cloth background, I assume taken some years later: it looks like the bicycle has an owner’s plaque attached to the bottom of the steering head; these were introduced in France in 1899.

4. This style of wide flat handlebar was popular mid-decade.

5. Westwood rims with pneumatic tyres were more commonly used from 1895 onwards.

6. The rear stays are straight (early style), but have a bridge (later style) to provide a mudguard fixing.

7. The front fork has a headlamp bracket on the left side, so the bicycle was ridden on the right of the road, as in France. But I think the bicycle might be British.

8. The chainwheel is detachable. Raleigh intorduced this in 1890, but it was more commonly used from 1895 onwards.

9. The open fork crown and headset don’t help tie down a more exact date; would be in use c1896. Freewheel and coaster brakes introduced in 1898, this predates it.

My conclusion: the bicycle is a studio prop (also used by the owner for riding on the road); the photo was made into a postcard. The woman’s outfit is ‘racy’ but not outrageous, so maybe she was the studio’s customer rather than a model and had the postcards made for her own use (as well as being sold by the studio?)

All of this is my ‘best guess’ but nothing is guaranteed. I could be wrong 🙂


It’s fun learning about early bicycles and sharing what we learn. Please post any pre-1900 bicycle pictures and let’s practice.

And if you have an unidentified bicycle from this era, leave its picture on our facebook page ( and if we spot something similar in future, we can add comments to your post.