A Brief History of Rudge Motorcycles
Daniel Rudge was the landlord of the Tiger’s Head Inn in Wolverhampton.
In a small workshop behind the inn, Daniel designed and built bicycles.
He designed and patented the ball bearing wheel spindle.
Daniel was interested in bicycle racing, and with help from his friend, Henry Clarke, he began to build his own racing machines in Church Street, Wolverhampton.
By 1870, he started selling the racing bicycles which soon became the best racing machines available at the time.
In the late 1870s, Dan was producing Humber bicycles for Marriott and Cooper after they had parted company with Humber.
They still had the use of the Humber name.
In 1878 he was awarded a gold medal for his exhibit at the London Cycle Show.
Dan Rudge died on 26 June 1880. His widow continued to run the Rudge business until November 1880 when it was sold to Coventry businessman, George Woodcock.
Woodcock had also purchased the assets of the Haynes & Jefferies firm after they collapsed in 1879.
He also had interests in Smith and Starley who were making Ariel cycles at that time.
He relocated the business to Ariel Works, Trafalgar Street, Coventry in 1880 having taken over the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle Company.
In 1885 the business was transferred into a private limited company called D. Rudge & Co. Ltd.
It became the Rudge Cycle Co Ltd, Coventry in late 1887.
Walter Philips was the works manager and Harry Lawson was the sales manager.
George Woodcock died in May 1891 and shortly after, Rudge were facing financial difficulty.
The company was rescued in 1894 by Charles Pugh and John Pugh who owned the Whitworth Cycle Company. Rudge Whitworth Ltd. was formed.
The headquarters of the newly formed company was at Crow Lane, Coventry.
In 1911, the first Rudge motorcycle went on sale to the public. This was a 499cc single cylinder, single speed, belt drive with optional NSU or Mabon gears.
In 1911, a Rudge motorcycle ridden by Victor Surridge achieved a new lap record of 66.47 mph around the Brooklands circuit and became the first 500cc motorcycle to cover sixty miles in less than one hour.
Sadly in the same year, Victor Surridge was the first rider to be killed in the Isle of Man TT Races when he crashed at Glen Helen during practice.
In 1912, the Rudge Multi was introduced. This was basically the same as the model from the previous year but with the addition of a multiple gear ratio system.
Brooklands and TT models were also introduced in 1912.
In 1913, a 750cc version of the Multi was introduced.
In 1914, a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub became available.
During World War I, the Rudge factory was used for various military contracts.
Rudge bicycles were produced for the army whereas motorcycle production more or less came to a halt.
John Pugh had been developing a 998cc V-twin, however this was not introduced until 1919.
When equipped with the Multi gearbox, this V-twin was was known as the Multwin.
By this time, it was apparent that belt drive and the Rudge Multi was becoming outdated. In 1921, a new 3 speed gearbox was introduced.
In 1924, a 4 speed gearbox was introduced on the 7 / 9hp V-twin machine and the last Multi was produced.
Also in 1924, a new single cylinder four valve 350cc model was introduced with a four speed gearbox. This machine was known as the Rudge Four and became an instant success.
In 1925, a 500cc version of the Rudge Four had linked front and rear brakes.
In 1926, production of the 350cc model ceased.
In 1927, the Rudge racing machines were fitted with saddle tanks and internal expanding drum brakes.
In 1928, Graham Walker (father of Murray Walker) joined Rudge as sales manager.
In the same year, Graham Walker rode a Rudge machine in the Isle of Man TT and almost won the race when a big end bearing seized with only nine miles to go.
He went on to win the Ulster Grand Prix in the same year averaging 80.078mph.
In 1929 Graham Walker won the Ulster Grand Prix again.
This prompted the introduction of the Rudge Ulster.
The Ulster was one of Rudge’s most famous models.
In the 1930 Junior TT, Rudge motorcycles finished first, second and third using prototype 350cc radial four valve engines.
They also took first and second in the Senior TT. The road bike engines were changed to dry sump lubrication. Production of the JAP 250 and the parallel four valve 350cc ended in 1930.
In 1931 Rudge released its first 250cc and 350cc road machines with the radial valve layout with coil ignition.
TT Replica models were available in 350cc and 500cc versions. The parallel valve 500cc was also available in Special and Ulster models, the Ulster now having a 100mph guarantee.
Rudge took first and second places in the 1931 Lightweight TT.
In 1932, second and third places were achieved in the Lightweight TT.
A radial valve head 500cc was produced for 1932 only. A 250cc TT Replica was built, and the road bikes were fitted with oil bath primary chains and a centre stand that was easily operated by a long hand lever.
1933 was the era of the Great Depression and Rudge were struggling.
The company went into receivership, however the receiver attempted to make the company viable.
This was the last year of production for dirt track bikes and the TT Replicas. The Ulster 500cc was fitted with a ‘semi-radial’ cast iron head.
For 1934, the Ulster was fitted with a rear magneto and had the cylinder head cast in aluminium bronze.
A 250cc fully radial four valve Sports model was introduced.
Rudge motorcycles took the first three places in the 1934 Lightweight TT Race.
In 1935, the first two valve 250cc model, known as the Tourist, was introduced.
A 500cc Competition model was catalogued.
In 1936 the last of the radial four valve 250cc models were produced.
The two valve 250cc Tourist was renamed the Rapid.
Round tube forks were introduced in this year.
Also in 1936, John Pugh died, and Gramophone Co. Ltd., who later became HMV and then EMI, took over the business.
They moved production to Hayes, Middlesex in 1937.
In 1937, the valve gear became fully enclosed by a cast alloy cover on the 500cc models.
The bronze cylinder head remained until replaced with a light alloy version in 1939.
In 1938, a two valve 250cc machine was developed for use by the army.
Not many were sold.
Early in 1939, the Ulster was fitted with an RR50 aluminium cylinder head.
Also this year, the Villiers engined Autocycle was introduced.
Rudge motorcycle production ceased in December 1939 as EMI concentrated on the manufacture of radar and electronic equipment for the war effort.