1884 PLECTOCYCLE Front-Steering Tricycle

1884 Plectocycle Front-Steering Tricycle (Reproduction)

Being some of the first vehicles fitted with a differential gear, high wheeler tricycles such as this were the forerunner of the automobile.

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This reproduction 19th century tricycle has been designed around the 1884 Plectocycle. It has been very well manufactured in the authentic style, with original components, is fully functional, and it’s hard to tell it apart from an original 1880s tricycle.

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It certainly gets a lot of attention wherever it goes (photographed here around the streets of Lewes).

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It has chain-driven rear wheels with rack-and-pinion steering to the front, contracting band-brake to the rear axle, direct spoke to ‘V’ rimmed solid tyre wheels, 20″ steerer and 44″ driver.

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The track is 30″

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The oil lamps are Lucas ‘Planet’

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Plectocycle

Bicycle & Tricycle Supply Association, Holborn Viaduct, London

I’ve reproduced details below from my 1885 Vade Mecum so you can compare the design. The original Plectocycle used a patent Singer telescopic axle, a remarkable device which allowed you to remove a screw and reduce the width of the tricycle from 38″ to 28″ so you could park it inside the house. My tricycle does not have a telescopic axle. Obviously an original machine would be worth a five-figure sum.

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Owning and Riding a ‘Plectocycle’

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Once you get used to the idea of steering a tricycle via a lever, you find it surprisingly easy to drive. You hold the left-hand lever and steer it with the right. Compared to the later conventional style of tricycle, I find it very well balanced.

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Lever drive tricycles were very popular with women because they did not interfere with their dresses. Modesty was very important in that era and cartoons of the day satirizing the new-fangled cycling craze often depicted women riders immodestly attired. In some parts of the world, the newly-formed lady cyclist clubs required male escorts when they went on runs to protect them from stone-throwing.

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SUMMARY

What I particularly like about this tricycle is its simple design, which means it’s easy to maintain. I have many obscure vehicles that are superb collectors items …but are so unusable they rarely see the light of day. We collectors do also enjoy being able to wheel out our rarities to ride them :)

Such is the quality of the workmanship on this tricycle that apparently it was previously purchased by a museum as genuine 19th century. Of course, when ‘antiques’ are made using identical methods to the originals, it can be hard to tell the difference.

ORIGINAL v REPRODUCTION: I hope you appreciate that the difference here is that original 19th century components are fitted, but the actual frame of the machine and the front forks have been re-manufactured. If you have a small length of the original frame but everything else is new it can be considered ‘original.’ On this one, there might be more of it from the 1800s than not, but if the actual frame is not the original one, it must be described as a reproduction.

At a practical level, it has sturdy framework and with its total rebuild should easily see out the next 125 years. Though its investment value is obvious, it would be a shame to treat it solely as such. The advantage of buying 19th century vehicles rather than trusting banks or the stock market with your savings is that while your investment appreciates you can have so much pleasure using them.

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I have a stand at Madeira Drive, Brighton for the (Sunbeam Club) Pioneer Run on 22nd March, and I’ll be taking this tricycle so I can ride along Madeira Drive to entertain fellow enthusiasts. You’re welcome to visit me there.


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PLECTOCYCLE CATALOGUE


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