ZENITH GRADUA (CIRCA 1912)
: OLD BIKE AUSTRALASIA
Spring Tail Zenith Gradua Just when the Gradua Gear seemed complex enough, in 1916 Freddie had developed a spring tail Gradua. A journalist’s road test included Freddie in an attached sidecar. Freddie’s instruction was for the rider to target every pothole in the road which he obediently did. The published story included “it was the best sprung tail motor bicycle that I have ever ridden”. This particular model was developed for the Russian market and included labels in both English and Russian. The springs both sides of the rear wheel were a laminated semi-elliptic type with one end bolted to the rigid frame while the other coupled to the rear wheel sliding tubes. Amazingly, while the front half of the rear frame was rigid, Freddie still managed to have the rear wheel move backward and forward while pivoting up and down. The mudguard and the rear carrier were now attached to the sliding rear wheel assembly. This meant that the mudguard shape now hugged the tyre and was much better to look at.
The Final Gradua Countershaft gearboxes and full chain drive became more mainstream year by year. Designs improved and component prices dropped, making them more affordable. Zenith resisted the trend but by 1921 they relented and also offered a full chain drive model with a Sturmey Archer 3 speed gearbox. Production of Zenith Graduas ceased in 1924 and the model range offered only countershaft gearboxes from then on.
Aussie Graduas The earliest information of a dealer-imported machine lists two Graduas that arrived in Australia in June 1912. John King (Champion Cycle and Motor Works) of Launceston advertised “ZENITH GRADUA MOTOR CYCLE JUST ARRIVED. One machine No.14378 has obtained the Brooklands Test Hill Certificate.” The advertisement ended with the slogan “This is the Motor Cycle for Hilly Tasmania”. Other Australian agents included: Great Western Cycle & Motor Works (NSW 1913), Bullocks (Adelaide and Gawler 1913), Douglas & Co. (sole Victorian agents 1913), Arthur Smith (Bathurst 1914) T.W. Henderson Ltd. (sole agent Sydney 1914) Advertising from Bullocks (printed 1913) stated: “Patented Gradua Gear giving 20 speeds” and a price of “77 pounds 10 shillings”. In 1914 they printed, “During the past season Zenith Graduas had successes in 84 reliability trials, 129 firsts in Hill Climbs, 78 firsts in Speed Events, 31 Records – a record in itself, total of 322 – A grand total Proof of Speed and Reliability”. In 1915 they printed, “Barred from all competition, fitted with Twin or Single cylinder J.A.P. engines from 75 pounds”.
I found one article pre-dating the official dealer imports. It was from a member of the public reporting that during an event he witnessed, officials had failed to record rider R.W. Allen (late of Halifax, Yorkshire) on a Zenith Gradua who had climbed Cave Hill without LPA. The article was in the Sydney Morning Herald on December 21, 1911. Cave Hill was quoted as being 2.5 miles of zigzag road rising 1,700 feet. It appears to be in the Blue Mountains, NSW as Katoomba gets a mention.
A Recent Restoration Ian Mould acquired a Zenith in bad shape in December of 2011. The earliest knowledge of the origins of this bike was from the previous owner who purchased it from a seller in Ipswich Qld. Despite its condition, most of it was there. The father and son team had restored some components before it was sold to Ian who finished the project. Ian is a craftsman and his attention to detail amazing, so it was just a matter of time, effort and cash, as his ability was never in question. The Gradua Gear mechanism proved to be the major challenge. It was broken and badly worn so needed to be remade. Finding someone able to make the complex 2 and 4 start threads, was especially difficult. In the end the result is a treasure and one I admire greatly from a technical and aesthetic point of view. Ian speaks very highly of the way it rides and says “the Gradua Gear is a joy to use”. Best Ian can work out is that it is a 1912 model. The Gradua’s baptism of fire was at the 2013 Veteran Rally at Parkes NSW. Despite barely running 20km after completion, it was in the trailer and off to the event. It performed faultlessly for the 500km of that week and has done well over 800km since. I arranged to meet with Ian for a few photos. Ian dressed appropriately and I witnessed first-hand the bump start and hurried mount as the Zenith started and away they sped. Having to ride up and down a busy road, U turn and back again seemed so easy and testament to the Gradua’s flexibility. The drive ratios on Ian’s Gradua are adjustable from 3.5 to 6:1. The Coffee grinder needs to rotate approximately three full turns and the rear wheel moves about 50mm over the full range. Clockwise decreases speed and vice versa. Ian tells me that with the engine stopped, the coffee grinder can be rotated to open the sheaths (low speed) but you must be in motion to be able to close the sheaths.
One other interesting Zenith feature is the combined tool box and (circular) spare tube box. Its design was described in the 1910 UK Motor Cycle Show catalogue. Ian has faithfully made a replica and added it to the rear carrier. The restoration also includes a copy of a special fitting made for sidecar use. The fitting was apparently developed to prevent frame breakages around the head stock. The result was a sturdy bracket which bridged between a lug above and one below the headstock. The bracket was available at the time for the princely sum of 12 shillings and 6 pence.
A fascinating bike and an exceptional restoration. It’s thankfully more often on the road than in the shed – which is how it should be.
Special fitting made for sidecar use. The fitting was developed to prevent frame breakages around the head stock by bolting to lugs above and below the headstock to share the load. Winding back the gear ratio for the hill. Lower part of the belt has a...