Page 1: A Year of Great Optimism…

Welcome to the World of Cyclemasters. But first, let’s set the scene. What else was going on in transport circles in 1951?


What, you may well ask, is this?

– It is one of many home-built vehicles that was road-tested after the War.

When a country goes to war, manufacture of vehicles for civilian use is halted and resources diverted to the war machine. Many areas of production receive more funding than might be viable in the private sector, and advances are made with new innovations and inventions.

During and after World War 2, members of the public also invented vehicles. Everywhere new innovations in personal transport were tried out, and the Public watched with great interest to see the new styles that were being rolled out in every area of vehicle production. Needless to say, this particular machine did not make it into the shops. And neither did the one below…


The cyclemotor – an engine attached to a bicycle – is the predecessor of the modern motorcycle.

Maybe because cyclemotors are eccentric-looking creatures anyway, they do lend themselves to experimentation and innovation. It’s encouraging to know that the art of customized cyclemotors is alive and well. I photographed the one below at the VMCC Founders Day Rally recently.



Epitome of the Fifties
Before the war, only Flash gordon would have had a vehicle sporting the sleek, bulbous, streamlined styles introduced postwar.


To us, now, that shape epitomizes the fifties.

Think of the new styles of British cars that were introduced around this time, scaled-down versions of the new bulbous American designs.

The Morris Minor is an obvious example: by 1949 it had replaced the pre-war styling of the Morris 8E with a totally new body-shape, a shape that remained in production for 20 years.


Daily Transport


Motorcycles developed uprated suspension; they were now comfortable to ride and did not throw oil at your legs.

To 21st century eyes, a prewar bike looks great with its girder forks; it’s fine for the occasional spin and taking to shows. But for regular daily transport in the 21st century a late 40’s or 1950’s offers practicality and comfort.

The Triumph 5T Speedtwin pictured, made between 1946 and 1949, is a typical example.


Weekend Show-offs
New innovations in two-wheelers were most prevalent among cyclemotor and scooter designs.

Cyclemotors and scooters were first introduced early in the 20th century, but with competition from cheap mass-produced cars in the twenties, both styles went out of fashion.


1923 Micromoteur:

This 1923 Labinal Micromoteur was expensive in its day and not particularly easy to ride: the front end is quite heavy, and the engine is quirky; even making allowances for its age, it seems to me that they were not made for long enough for its basic design to be refined into a user-friendly machine.

In its day, it was the type of machine that rich parisiens would have ridden at the weekend to show off. It reminds me of the pioneer days of cycling, before the advent of the Rover Safety Cycle suddenly meant that bicycles were easier and safer for ordinary people to ride. 1920’s cyclemotors such as the Micromoteur were not so different from their postwar descendents in style, but in terms of usability there’s a big difference when you ride one.


A Cyclemotoring Heyday
With a shortage of cars for home consumption, and advances in engineering, design and production, in the late 1940’s scooters and cyclemotors made a comeback. The government allowed purchase tax concessions for engines that could be attached to a bicycle: cyclemotors were therefore very affordable and so became extremely popular as a means of transport.

Small engineering workshops all over the country started making, testing and supplying engine attachments. This scene was repeated across Europe.


In France, cyclemotors were an acknowledged part of national motoring history and a vital ingredient of the French psyche. It helped that no licence or registration was necessary for a vehicle under 50cc.

The owner of Citroen famously declared: “Every child’s first words should be ‘Papa’ ‘Mama’ et ‘Citroen.'” Velosolex followed their example. It was not the best cyclemotor on the market, but the Velosolex factory had creches and baby-changing facilities on site, they made Velosolex toys, and their publicity was superb. It didn’t take long for the Velosolex to become part of French folklore and its popularity as the world market leader among cyclemotors encouraged other manufacturers to develop and market similar devices.

This is a 1949 le Poulain Model A. As you can see, like the Micromoteur of the early twenties, it mounts over the front wheel, which it turns with a roller.


1951 Festival of Britain


Great Britain entered the fifties with great optimism.

The 1951 Festival of Britain marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851 and its purpose was to show Britain’s contribution to civilisation, past, present, and future, in the arts, science, technology, and industrial design.

After a special service attended by King George VI, on 3rd May 1951, along with Queen Elizabeth, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and other senior members of the royal family, the festival was declared open in a broadcast from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral. Cheering and flag-waving crowds lined the route taken by the King and Queen to St Paul’s from Buckingham Palace.

Exhibitions took place all over the country.


The Powerpak
Sinclair Goddard’s Powerpak cycle attachment was chosen by the Council of Industrial Design to represent cyclemotors in its exhibition.

It featured in both the Festival’s travelling exhibition and in the main area at the South Bank.

This model is the ‘Synchromatic’ version, an improvement introduced the following year. Instead of having to lift the engine roller off the wheel, it now had the luxury of a clutch operated by turning the throttle control back towards you. It made the Powerpak much easier to ride in traffic.

The Powerpak was one of the more popular cycle-attachment designs of its day.


1951 Earls Court Motorcycle Show
Because so many of the new British models were exported, many motorists at home had to make do with secondhand prewar models. It is hard in the comfort of the 21st century to appreciate how much interest there was in 1951 in new vehicles. The publicity machine had been diverted to war propaganda for many years, many of our cities were still being rebuilt, we’d had to put up with a lot while the country got back on its feet through the late 1940’s. By 1951 we wanted to buy everything that was new.

Remember also that motorcycles were not a luxury as they may often be today – people depended on them as daily transport. The Earls Court Motorcycle Show had all the ingredients for a dynamic show in 1951, and it did not disappoint.



Make your own Cyclemotor


You could even manufacture your own cycle-attachment engine!

The ‘Busy Bee’ was a rear-mounted cycle-attachment that you could manufacture on your Myford lathe thanks to a series of articles in the ‘Model Engineer’ magazine, a periodical that helped you make all sorts of engines to fit into model applaications.

The series introducing the ‘Busy Bee’ started with issue dated 29th March 1951 (the relevant articles are reproduced below), and continued in alternate issues throughout 1951 (volumes 104 and 105).

Quite a few of these home-built clip-on engines were manufactured and – perhaps surprisingly – some of are still around today.







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