Used for the sport of motor-paced cycling, this unusual Barb pace bicycle was probably a custom design of Bob Finlay’s. Its owner relates the interesting history of it coming to him with the story of having been ridden by “Fatty” Lamb in 1933.
Motor-paced cycling involves a cyclist riding very close to the rear of a motorcycle so as to gain an increase in speed by riding in the wind shadow or slipstream created by the motorcycle and its rider. Both racing against competitors and solo record setting attempts have been a part of this sport.
This Barb bicycle has features which distinguish it as a pace bicycle – a smaller front wheel and modified front forks – which allow the cyclist to be tucked in closer to the rear of the motorcycle thereby gaining increases in speed. The owner also describes this bike as having a BSA 30 tooth chain ring with a 1” pitch, which when used with a 6 tooth rear cog gives an equivalent to a 135” gear. In comparison, a more usual combination for track cycling in 1” pitch might be an 81” gear, and it is thought that most pace bicycles of the 1930’s tended to have 110-120” gearings.1 Therefore this bicycle is certainly unusual and one-of-a-kind in style.
In 1933, the Australian motor-paced cycling scene experienced a swell of riders attempting record setting rides, with one suggestion being that cyclist Fred Armfield planned his series of rides on hearing that the Melbourne Motordrome (a motor-paced cycling hub of the era) was unfortunately to be dug up - for an enlargement of the football field already inside the centre of the track.2
Subsequent newspaper reporting and Finlay Brothers advertising during early 1933 noted that “Fatty” Lamb set a new professional one-hour paced record,3 and that Fred Armfield set a new one-hour4 and 10 mile paced record,5 with both riders actually being paced by Bob Finlay and possibly using the one particular Barb bicycle for these rides.6 7
It therefore must be assumed that the Barb bicycle (to be used by both riders) was distinctive in its design. This is supported by Jack Hephner and John Drummond’s book Goulburn to Sydney – a narrative of ninety years of a cycling classic 1902-1992, in which they describe the bicycle ridden by Lamb during his 1933 one-hour motor-paced record:
“a specially built pacing bicycle of an unorthodox variety, built by Bob Finlay. The head of the machine, with its special outrigger and supports, was claimed to make the steering much easier. Lamb rode a gear of 173 inch…” 8
With regard to the gearing, it has also been noted by a different author – Cecil Cripps - in his book Racing the Wind!, that for Armfield’s one-hour paced ride, he rode with a 166” gearing.9 The owner of the photographed Barb pace bicycle feels that both of these different gearings would be quite achievable on it.
Although it is interesting to speculate that the Barb pace bicycle shown in these photographs may actually be the bicycle used by Lamb and Armfield in the record setting rides that have been discussed above, it is not known for sure. However, certainly this Barb pace bicycle is unusual enough in its design to have been one of very few of its kind, and carries with it the distinctive history of its use by “Fatty” Lamb in 1933.
In conclusion, this Barb pace bicycle is a strong illustration of the fascinating sorts of design modifications being made to the early pace bicycles, and also a reminder of the prominent involvement of Bob Finlay in pushing the boundaries of the sport of motor-paced cycling in Australia.
With many thanks to the owner of this bicycle for help in preparing the description and providing the great photographs.
1. Cecil Cripps, Racing the wind! (Victoria: Vetsport Promotions), 72.
2. Cecil Cripps, Racing the wind! (Victoria: Vetsport Promotions), 71.
3. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 9, 1933, 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4524025
4. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), November 6, 1933, 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11708473
5. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 16, 1933, 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4525332
6. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 14, 1933, 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4524812
7. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 21, 1933, 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4526224
8. Jack Hephner and John Drummond, Goulburn to Sydney – a narrative of ninety years of a cycling classic 1902-1992 (Queenstown Tasmania: Penghana Press, 2007), 82.
9. See note 1 above.