Bicycle, dwarf safety, 'Facile Special', metal, made by Ellis & Co. Ltd, London, England, 1880-1890, designed by John Beale and Straw, England, 1869
The Facile 'Special' dwarf safety bicycle has a front wheel which is not as big as that of a penny farthing and the seat is located further back. Because of these features it was safer and easier to ride than the taller penny farthing and was called a dwarf safety bicycle. To enable the Facile to be ridden as fast as a penny farthing it was fitted with pedals with lever extensions.
The Facile is an important step in the evolution of the bicycle between the penny farthing and the safety bicycle with two equal-sized wheels and a rear chain drive. It was designed in England by John Beale and Straw in 1869 and manufactured in London by Ellis & Co. Ltd between 1881 and 1890. This model Facile, called the "Special", came in several front wheel sizes, from 36 inches (91.4 cm) to 48 inches (121.3 cm) but 42 inches (106.7 cm) was the average.
The Facile broke numerous road and endurance races and hill climbs which were organised and then advertised by the manufacturers. With the Facile, the pedalling action was closer to 'up and down' rather circular and was said to be better on hills but apparently took some getting used to. The various Faciles retailed in England at the time at between 13 and 18 pounds Sterling. This one cost 15 pounds 10 shillings.
By the early 1880s the design of the ordinary and dwarf examples had reached its limit. It was not long before a new approach to cycle design was devised by John Starley with his rear-driven safety bicycle introduced in 1885, not long after the Facile. It is thought that today only about 30 to 50 Faciles survive around the world.
Beeley, Serena. "A History of Bicycles", Wellfleet Books, New Jersey, USA, 1992.
Clayton, Nick. "Early Bicycles", Shire Publications Ltd, Princes Risbrough, Buckinghamshire, England, 1986.
Information provided by Paul and Charlie Farren.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry
From 1869 efforts were made by bicycle manufacturers and designers to produce a bicycle which was safer to ride. This became more imperative as the Ordinary or penny farthing became more precarious. The first successful ones were the "Xtraordinary', made by Singer & Co. Ltd of Coventry, and the "Facile". The Facile was patented by John Beale and Straw in 1869 but was not manufactured until 1878. Initially, for the first three years, Faciles were sold privately but from 1881 they were made by the London firm of Ellis & Co. Ltd, of 165 Fleet Street, London, and later 47 Farringdon Road, London EC, who introduced the Facile at the fourth Stanley show. Contemporary advertising noted that the "Facile safety bicycle for General Road Work, Up Hill, Down Hill, or on the Level; over Dry or Muddy, Good, Bad, or Indifferent Roads, the "Facile" is altogether unequalled, combining in the highest degree the essentials of SAFETY, SPEED and COMFORT".
The Facile's riding position was safer and easier than that of other bicycles, with the rider behind the front forks. It was said to make cycling accessible for older riders and their advertising noted that a few of their riders were 60 years of age and several over 70. In fact one contributor to the January 1888 edition of the "Cyclists' Touring Club Gazette" wrote a glowing endorsement for the Facile: "I brought a 42 inch Facile over six years since Â? and have ridden it each year some thousands of miles with much pleasure. I am over 70 years of age, and there is not a mark or scratch on my person arising from riding".
A Facile bicycle club developed in South London with races for Facile-riders only. These were organised by the manufacturers, Ellis & Co., who also promoted their bicycle with endurance races including a 24-hour road race which covered a distance of 214.5 miles (345 km). A Facile also halved the 1880 record for a ride the length of Britain, 924 miles from Land's End to John o'Groats, which took just under seven days in 1884.
Ellis & Co. went on to develop the higher geared "Geared Facile" followed by the "Crypto-Geared Front Driver" Facile. The front driving machine used a sun and planet gearing marketed by the Crypto Cycle Co. This Facile was fitted with pneumatic tyres in 1891 which helped to extend the life of the Facile in the face of the rear-driven safety bicycle which had arrived in 1885.
The bicycle was purchased by the Museum in 1954. It was one of nine bicycles and tricycles from the collection of Richard G. J. Nash of Weybridge, Surrey, England. Richard Grainger Jeune Nash (1910-1966) was born in Ireland but grew up in Weybridge, Surrey. During the 1920s he became an automobile engineer at the famous Brooklands racetrack nearby. Brooklands was the world's first purpose-built motor racing circuit and opened in 1907. It was also the venue for early bicycle racing and soon attracted pioneering aviation manufacturing companies as well. In 1932 Nash established a hill climb record in his Frazer Nash, "The Terror", up the Brooklands test hill. During the 1930s he was actively building up a collection of old aircraft, automobiles and bicycles which was known as the International Horseless Carriage Corporation. In 1939 motor racing ceased at Brooklands and during the Second World War the site was taken over for military aircraft production. The collection was even bombed during 1940.
In 1952 Nash offered to sell his entire collection of some 23 veteran cars, 46 pre-1900 bicycles and seven pre-1918 aircraft to the Museum for the "interest and education of future generation(s)" Â? "the Empire or Commonwealth". At that time his address was noted as The Beeches, Hangar Hill, Weybridge, Surrey. Nash had family members in Australia and apparently felt his collection would be of value to show the history of technology in the colonies. Because of the prohibitive transport costs from England to Australia, the Museum was only in a position to purchase 9 bicycles from the Nash collection. The Museum's Director, Mr A.R. Penfold, inspected the bicycles in a hangar/store at Brooklands while visiting England in 1953. The bicycles were subsequently shipped to Australia on board the "SS Orion". Unfortunately, the bicycles came with no provenance. Much of the remainder of the Nash collection appears to have been dispersed to museums throughout Britain.
After the War civilian aviation continued at Brooklands with several Concordes later built on the site. After the British Aerospace factory closed in 1986 the Brooklands Museum Trust was formed and a museum of the site opened in 1991.