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Bike at Bedtime: Pope Manufacturing Co. Columbia Century

Tonight's Bike at Bedtime takes us way back to the late 19th century, and a relic produced by one of America's first bike manufacturers...

After we reported on a huge auction of vintage bikes and cycling memorabilia that took place earlier this week, we thought it was only right to feature one of the items that went under the hammer for a special edition of Bike at Bedtime... so without further ado, let's delve into the details of the Columbia Century, with this particular 1894 model pictured above selling for £1,300 in The Saleroom's online auction

> Bike(s) at bedtime: Italian tradesmen's bikes

1892 Century Columbia - via the online bicycle museum

Although it's described as a 'Columbia Model 38' in the auction listing, looking at this poster uploaded to The Online Bicycle Museum, and browsing the heritage section of the Columbia Bicycles website, it appears to be a Columbia Century, which debuted in 1892. Columbia was the name given to bikes made by Pope Manufacturing Co, who started out importing bicycles from Britain in the 1870s. Developing its own high-wheeler soon after, Colonel Albert Augustus Pope moved to producing safety bicycles at the start of the 1890s, and purchased the Hartford Rubber Works so he could manufacture pneumatic tyres, invented by John Boyd Dunlop a few years earlier. 

Pope MFG advert - via Online Bicycle Museum.PNG

As you can see in this poster, the Century was built around 28 inch wheels, with a 25t chainring up front and an 8t sprocket on the rear (an 87.5 inch gear). 

Pope MFG model 38 3 - via the saleroom

Heavily restored with a blue-enamelled paint job and modern Continental Contact tyres (see this eBay listing for an example of a Century in proper antique condition) the bike that sold in The Saleroom's auction retains components that would have appeared on the bike as it was originally sold, such as the double-roller chain, leather saddle and American style rat trap pedals.

The auctioneers say that the bike originally came with 'cushioned tyres' (solids that were stuck to the rims). According to Online Bicycle Museum, many customers still chose solid tyres because pneumatics were a very expensive option in the 1890s, even though Pope Manufacturing would have offered this bike with pneumatics in 1894. 

Pope MFG model 38 2 - via the saleroom

The 18-inch curved handlebars are an early take on drops, suggesting the bike would have been used for racing. Other illustrations from the time show the Century with flat bars; but like the tyres, customers would likely have just chosen which one they preferred when ordering. 

Another neat feature is the Lucas LSD bell (not hallucinogenic, as far as we know), the ideal accessory for Victorian hoodlums to alert pedestrians of their presence as they tore through the streets. 

Pope MFG model 38 4 - via the saleroom
The saddle has seen better days

So, what became of Pope Manufacturing? Well Colonel Pope met his maker in 1909, and his company continued but went bust in 1915. It rose from the ashes as the Westfield Manufacturing Company soon after, a name that stood until 1961 when it was renamed Columbia Manufacturing Company. That went bust in 1991 but resurfaced as Columbia in 1993, manufacturing a reproduction of the 1941 Columbia Superb at its plant in Westfield, Massachusetts, and also selling a range of Columbia-badged imported bikes too. 

Columbia Hampton.PNG

Today Columbia Manufacturing's Westfield plant is one of the biggest producers of school and 'institutional' furniture in the US, and the Columbia bike brand lives on as a subsidiary of Ballard Pacific: "Throughout all of the bankruptcies and name changes, Columbia has never ceased production for long periods and the company that exists today is a direct descendant of the original Pope Manufacturing Co.", says Columbia... although at the time of writing Columbia's online store is down, and bikes are only available in the US through Amazon, Target and Dick's Sporting Goods. 

Arriving at road.cc in 2017 via 220 Triathlon Magazine, Jack dipped his toe in most jobs on the site and over at eBikeTips before being named the new editor of road.cc in 2020, much to his surprise. His cycling life began during his students days, when he cobbled together a few hundred quid off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story) and bought his first road bike - a Trek 1.1 that was quickly relegated to winter steed, before it was sadly pinched a few years later. Creatively replacing it with a Trek 1.2, Jack mostly rides this bike around local cycle paths nowadays, but when he wants to get the racer out and be competitive his preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking - the latter being another long story.  

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