Today in Motorcycle History

Bowden Motorcycles

British Motorcycle Manufacturers of the Edwardian Era

E. M. Bowden's Patents Syndicate Co

Bowden of Gray's Inn Road, Holborn, London.

Produced motorcycles from 1902 to 1905 built by Frank Bowden (the founder of Raleigh).

In the early 1920s they produced JD Motorcycles

1902 The earliest model had a 2hp Simms engine with magneto tucked in behind the seat tube, on top of the chain-stays. With a clutch and shock-absorber incorporated in the drive, the rear wheel was driven by silent chain and the pedals were placed ahead of the crankcase.

Report from the 1902 Stanley Show

Stand 101. E. M. Bowden's Patent Syndicate, Ltd., Brook Street. E.C., show a frame with a special cradle to take any design of engine. The pedals and chain wheel are placed ahead of the engine, thus making a lengthy wheel-base. The machine is driven by chain and Bowden clutch, with the ordinary form of conical faces, but thrown in and out of gear by the Bowden wire, which permits a free engine at will. The claim that this firm has a design of machine adaptable to every form of engine operated entirely from the handlebars by the well-known Bowden system is clearly evidenced, as they show the frame fitted with various well-known makes of motors.

A handy system of lubrication, which enables the rider to accurately measure the quantity of oil delivered to the crank chamber, is smart. It consists of a glass cylinder with a central rod or spindle having a valve at each end, and when screwed down the oil enters the chamber from the tank; when screwed up it shuts off the tank and opens the connection to the crank chamber. The action of applying the brake cuts off the current, and this can be graduated to suit the requirements of the rider.

Motor Cycling, 26th November 1902

1903 The engine, with coil ignition, was supported in a cradle and Bowden controls were fitted. Another version was fitted with a Belgian FN engine and some of the models were sold as the New Bowden. Also used his own engines. It was the name first used for the Bowden (1902 to 1905) using Simms and FN engines which were usually positioned behind the seat pillar with silent chain-drive including a clutch to the rear wheel. The use of the prefix to the name did not last long and the company went on to become better known for carburettors and control cables.

The New Bowdon Motor Cycle.[1]

We give an illustration of the new "Bowdon" motor cycle, which has several points of interest. As will be seen, the engine is placed low down in the frame, and rests on two arms on the back fork bridge. The transmission is by chain from an aluminium pulley on the motorshaft to a large sprocket or drum on the rear wheel. The chain is a Hans Renold silent one, which, we may explain to those of our readers who are unfamiliar with it, carries blunt flexible teeth on its bearing surface. There is also a rather new feature in the engine pulley; it is made of aluminium, and is grooved out so as to admit of a rawhide belt being shrunk on to it, which device gives a good bed for the teeth or corrugations of the belt to grip on.

The motor is a Sims 2 h.p. magneto ignition. There is also a clutch for converting the motor into a free engine at will. This is actuated by a lever on the crankshaft, one great advantage of this device being that the engine can be started on a stand, taken off this, and mounted on the road, when, the clutch being put into gear, a start can be effected without the hard pedalling which is necessary on motor cycles unprovided with an arrangement of this kind. The carburetter, the Forman spray, is automatic, and is not affected by bad weather.

The Motor Cycle, 8th April 1903

N.B. 1. "New Bowdon" is a misprint. It is not clear whether the name for this machine is "Bowden" or "New Bowden", but the name on the fuel tank appears to be one word.

Report from the Stanley Show, November 1903

1904 The FN engine was still used and moved ahead of the pedals. Two tricycles were listed along with a quadricycle powered by a 4hp water-cooled Daw engine with magneto ignition.

1905 This was the last year of manufacture. After that the company concentrated for many years on producing control cables, levers and, eventually, carburettors.

1932 Built commercial three-wheel vans under an agreement with the Stevens brothers.

1937 General light production engineers. "Bowdenex" Brake Cable Assemblies and "Bowdenite" Wire Mechanism and Fittings.

1961 Manufacturers of "Bowden" wire mechanisms and "Bowdenex" cable assemblies for vehicle handbrakes, "Bowdenflex" precision ball bearing remote control, high pressure flexible hydraulic hose units and fittings. 400 employees.

Note: There was further mention of the name in the early 1920s when there was a short-lived involvement with a lightweight motorcycle. It is thought that it was a method of promoting their existing product line as mentioned above.

Sources: Graces Guide; The Motor Cycle; Motor Cycling.