Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bits of Imitation: American and English Roadsters- Westfield and Raleigh

It is said that "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and perhaps that is true. When we talk about imitation in the realm of "lightweight" or "light roadster" or "utility" bicycles, we talk about other makers imitating English designs.

The English established the basic formula for the early modern "roadster" and "light roadster" bicycles: a diamond frame with solid coloring, box stripe detailing, fenders/mudguards, and an upright riding position.

The English reached a very high level of utility bicycle design by the 1910s, and by the 1930s, had set the gold standard for basic cycle transportation in the form of bicycles like the Raleigh DL-1 and the Raleigh Sports. Hercules and Phillips, among others, also made high quality utility bicycles.

As you may recall from the post about Early Modern American Roadsters, the American bicycle market for adult cycles had been decimated early in the 20th century, with very little adult cycling activity even into the late 1930s. When makers like Schwinn, Westfield, Manton & Smith, and Cleveland Welding looked for an adult bicycle, they immediately were drawn to English design.

Why reinvent the wheel, or in this case the entire bicycle, when you could use English design as a starting point. After all, the Raleigh or Hercules light roadster was a proven machine.

Here we see a rough comparison of American and English design, though separated by about 18 years. The Westfield is a 1940 Westfield Sports Roadster, a light roadster combining American and English features. The Raleigh is a 1958 Raleigh Sports, the most well-known of the Raleigh roadster models.

The similarities are apparent: diamond frame, white tail on the rear fender with a reflector, upright riding position, and 26 inch wheels with 1-3/8 inch tires. However, the Raleigh proves the more versatile bicycle. It has a multi-speed hub, two hand brakes, and a lamp bracket for a headlight.

In terms of ride, the Westfield is certainly the more primitive feeling, while the Raleigh has a more "solid" feel as well as more comfortable pedaling from its multiple gears. The Raleigh's loose bearings run smoother than the Westfield's caged bearings. The Westfield's frame material seems a bit softer and more pliable in terms of straightening bends.

Most importantly, the frame angles are very different- American roadsters tend to have more relaxed frame angles overall.

That said, the Westfield's Torrington #10 Pedals are smoother and their large rubber blocks grip better than the Raleigh pedals. The Raleigh has an externally lugged frame, while the Westfield has internal joints.

In the end, the comparison really isn't fair. The Westfield is 18 years older and represents a very early effort at what we might call a "modern" adult bicycle. By 1958, Raleigh was at the height of its quality. But this rough comparison gives us a look at how English bicycles, especially tried and true roadster designs, inspired American companies to build bicycles for teenagers, students, and adults starting in the late 1930s.