Today in Motorcycle History

Hercules Motorcycles of Birmingham

The Hercules Cycle and Motor Company Limited

1910 The company was founded on 9 September 1910 by the brothers Harry and Edward Crane in Coventry Street, Birmingham initially producing only 25 bicycles a week

1910 Private company.

1912 They began advertising Hercules sidecars with the address given as Britannia Works, Coventry Street. Bicycle production had more the doubled, and the company moved to larger premises in Conybere Street, Highgate where the workforce was increased.

Motorcycles were built from 1912 to 1914 and used MMC, Minerva and White and Poppe engines. The company offered two models of 3½ hp and 4½ hp, fitted with Precision and Sarolea engines. Fitted with Saxon forks, there was also the option of a two-speed gear. Both Precision and JAP were fitted for 1914, and the 6hp JAP unit had a three-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox.

By 1914 they were producing 10,000 bicycles per year. Sidecar production ceased in 1916, the last advertisement appearing in The Motorcycle of December 21st.

WWI They made armaments, particularly artillery shells

1921 The company produced around 20,000 cycles.

1923/4 A third move was made to an ex-Dunlop factory in Aston. This became known as 'Britannia Works', and grew until it occupied thirteen acres, and was the site of the company's offices.

1927 Hercules made 250,000 cycles

1929 Six years later another Dunlop works was acquired, this time less than a mile to the north-west in Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham. This second site was named 'Manor Mills'

During this period, Birmingham had been home to a very large number of cycle manufacturers, most of which did not prosper. The success of Hercules was attributed to a number of factors, including the name. The production methods used by the company (after 1923, Hercules produced the majority of the components of their bicycles, apart from the inner tubes and tyres) on site. The factories were run using principles of mass-production, allowing the production of over a thousand cycles per day (each taking less than 10 minutes from start-to-finish to assemble).

Hercules also exported a significant percentage of their production - by the time Sir Malcolm Campbell was invited to see the three millionth bicycle completed in 1933, over half the production had been sent overseas, earning the country £6 million and letters of congratulation from the King and the Prince of Wales.

Production continued apace, and by the end of the thirties, Hercules had produced over six million bicycles, and could claim to be the biggest manufacturer of cycles in the world.

A third factory was added in the 1950s in Plume Street, Long Acre, a short distance from Manor Mills. By this time, Hercules had became one of the largest businesses in Aston, and was said to have helped to give the area much of its character.

In 1946 Sir Edward Crane sold Hercules to Tube Investments for £3.35 million. TI had been the main supplier to Hercules, providing the company with the tubing from which the bicycle frames were made. They combined the company with the Norman, Phillips and Sun brands to form the new British Cycle Corporation.

In 1952 Eileen Sheridan became involved with Hercules. Eileen broke a large number of cycling records riding for Hercules between 1952 and 1954.

1956 Tube Investments were forced to make 1,250 employees of the British Cycle Corporation redundant, following a disagreement with the unions. Many of the workers were from Hercules factories.

1956 The firm produced a moped fitted with a 49cc JAP engine, which, to begin with, sold as the Grey Wolf. Soon this name was changed to Her-cu-motor. The two-speed gearbox and bevel box with chain final-drive had an engine with the crankshaft set along the machine. The unit hung from a spine frame with leading-link front forks. The overall effect was quite sleek.

1958 Production of the moped came to a close when supplies of the JAP engine dried up.

1958 Tube Investments bought the Nottingham-based Raleigh Cycle Company in 1958 to form TI Raleigh Industries. Combined, they controlled 80% of the British bicycle market.

1960 A new moped model was introduced. Fitted with a 49cc French Lavalette engine in a simple, rigid frame with telescopic forks, it was known as the Corvette.

1961 Moped production came to an end.

1961 Manufacturers of Hercules cycles.

Management of the British Cycle Corporation was handed to the Raleigh management, as that company with its greater domestic focus, was now the larger and better known. Raleigh quickly decided to cut the number of brands, and move to using Raleigh designs and standards.

Production was concentrated in Nottingham in 1960, and by 1963 there was little left of a distinctive Hercules.

2003 The original company - still part of Raleigh - was eventually dissolved on 2 December 2003


The Hercules


By courtesy of George Grose, Ltd, of New Bridge Street, E.C.4, we were recently able to make a short test of the new British Herc-u-motor, the machine that was shewn at Earl's Court as the "Grey Wolf".

It will be remembered that this mo-ped has a number of unusual design features, notably that the J.A.P. 50 c.c. engine is set across the frame and drives by shaft to a Burman 2-speed gearbox. Final drive is by chain which also serves for the pedal gear.

Compared with the current trend in appearances, the new mo-ped retains much of the bicycle looking much lighter and slimmer than most of its contemporaries. There is something of this characteristic in the feel of the machine on the road also. Controls are conventional in layout and the machine handled easily from the first pedal-off in dense City traffic.

With a new engine no attempt was made to try out speed but the feel suggested that performance would be quite lively with acceleration as a strong point. The engine could definitely be felt all along the rev range, but silencing was good apart from a little mechanical noise. Steering and braking appeared to be well up to standard and general performance. Equal to any similar machine in its class.

The Herc-u-motor has been long awaited and we look forward to seeing it on the roads in numbers.

Power and Pedal, 1956

pnekstein at
1957 Hercules uk moped
I have a 1958 registered Hercules in original condition. No engine but most other parts are ok. Could you let me know about the current state of the market for this moped. Thanks Paul
paul nigel ekstein

For valuations see the page on Vintage Motorcycle Prices

Source: Graces Guide