Old Bike Australasia - - ZENITH GRADUA -


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...

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