Bicycle Diaries: How Brit bikes came to the States

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How Brit bikes came to the States

from Time Magazine,
5 July 1954

Outside a busy factory in Birmingham, England last week, "Help Wanted" signs went up for 200 workers. The Hercules Cycle & Motor Co., one of the Big Three of Britain's thriving bicycle industry, was adding a new assembly line to feed the hungry export demand for British bikes. The hungriest customer is the U.S. Before the war, Britain shipped only 4,000 bikes a year to the U.S. This year imports rose to 110,000 during the first four months (usually the slow season) ...

Fad & Fancy. The fad for British bikes got a big boost from the 5,000,000 U.S. servicemen who served in Britain during the war and became acquainted with the trim, lightweight British bicycle (28-33 Ibs., v. the typical 55 Ibs. in the U.S.). The bikes also caught the fancy of U.S. youngsters, who liked such grown-up refinements as generator-operated lights, hand brakes and three-speed gear systems. On top of that, the British aggressively advertised and ballyhooed their product, e.g., an 8,000-mile U.S. tour by a London bus covered with advertising placards ...

Says Hercules Boss Arthur Chamberlain*: "We feel sure there is a parallel demand for both American and British machines in the American market . . . Older teen-agers ... are learning that cycling can be a form of sport and healthy recreation." The American market has also taught Bikemaker Chamberlain a lesson about selling in Britain. For the U.S. market, the company made a bike called The New Yorker, with more glitter, chrome and gadgets than was considered good taste in Britain. The model has caught on so fast in England that it is becoming the company's best seller.

* Cousin of onetime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

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