It was a beautiful Sunday, so we cleaned up the Coventry Eagle that we bought at Eroica Britannia last year, fixed the flat and got it running again. It’s a Coventry-built Coventry Eagle. Modern diamond-frame bicycles were invented here in Coventry (see my earlier post on this at James Starley), and the firm that became Coventry Eagle was founded in 1897, at the height of the bicycling boom. The company soon shifted to motor powered cycles, and is best known now for its motorcycles. After converting to war production, that part of the business didn’t survive the War.
The bike part of the company became Falcon, but these bikes were no longer made in Coventry. The Coventry Eagle name was occasionally revived, however, and used to badge bicycles from the Tandem Group. However, our step-over frame bike (women specific) was built before the war, and therefore is a direct link to Coventry’s history of bicycle manufacturing. We’re not entirely sure when it was built; It’s got a Sturmey-Archer AW hub, and these hubs often can be used to approximately date the bicycle. Our hub is labelled “Patent Applied For” which would suggest it was made about 1937, when the AW hubs were introduced. There’s a faint 0 on the hub, which one source suggests might make it a 1940 hub, though it’s not in the place that date stamps were later placed, so more confusion, less light.
The bike also has a three speed quadrant shifter, a GC1, which was a precursor to the trigger shifter, and was typically used with an earlier manufactured K series hub. It has marked positions, “Low”, “N” (for “Normal”) and “High.” This also suggests an earlier date for the bike. Under the seat, the frame is numbered A31989, but we can’t find any listing of Coventry Eagle frame numbers.
It’s a heavy bike, about 16.8 kg (37 pounds), but it has a number of very pretty touches. The best of these is the chromed lug with a CE cut-out. It seems to have had red highlights on black frame; it’s got a classic Coventry Eagle badge, though the decals elsewhere are now very faint. It’s fitted with rod brakes, which I’ve never worked with before. The brake pads press upward on the inner surface of the rim, fairly close to the spokes. I had to remove a brake pad in order to remove the wheel to repair the flat, making a routine job fiddly and slow. In spite of being nearly 80 years old though, it has very little rust and, except for the tyres, tubes and handlebar grips, it seems to be as originally manufactured. The chain (a half-link design) shows considerable stretch, but, to keep the bike as much as possible as original, I’m not inclined to change it.
I rode it around the War Memorial Park to meet my goal of riding six or more miles every day this year, and to check our repairs and cleaning. It isn’t my size, and it’s heavy. I rode three or four times around the Park at a stately 9.4 mph to make my distance; the Park is flat as a bowling alley, with only 410 feet of climb in 8 miles (125 meters in 12.9 km), but I was exhausted from the ride. I’d considered riding it at Eroica Britannia this year, but, although I’ve seen people on delivery bikes and other unwieldy rides, I don’t think I could make even the short distance on this bike.
It still is amazing to me that an 80-year old bike could be in such good condition, fully rideable. If anyone has any clues on dating it, I’d love to hear them.