Sunday, 22 March 2015

A Vintage Mystery: Kerry Bicycle Company

What is it?


The LSTF-funded Travel Choices project in our area is coming to an end this summer. One very successful initiative (largely run by Adam) over the past year has been the bicycle workshops. This has included people bringing in their own bikes for free-at-point-of-service checks and then having it serviced/repaired by one of the project's mechanics, or learning how to service/repair their own bicycle themselves using the workshop's tools and having a mechanic on hand to assist and answer questions. 

The other aspect of this Travel Choices initiative, run through the workshops, was a donation scheme: bring in your old bicycle and donate it, then choose another one that suits you better from the ever-growing stock of bicycles donated by others. This effectively recycled a number of bicycles through the community. Each donated bike got checked over, serviced and repaired to the extent needed to make it road-worthy. Any bicycle that could not be made safe to ride would become a donor, 'cannabilised' for any useful parts. 

With the project coming to an end, the two local councils are working on transitioning their resources into "legacy" projects that can be run by local volunteers. The Luton and Dunstable Cycling Forum has been a key partner throughout the Travel Choices project, so it is the obvious contender to take over some of the activities that the Travel Choices project had run. And so the Forum finds itself the recipient of a lot of the cycling-related stock and inventory. 

And thus it came to pass that a van-load of donated bicycles (and boxes of components) was disgorged on our driveway this week!

All of the bicycles are children's bicycles. Most of them are very poor quality "bike shaped objects" and most of these are likely beyond repair. (This is a particular pet peeve for Adam; that the mainstream market for children's bicycles consists of clumsy, heavy, over-sized "toys" that are difficult and unpleasant to ride and, even if possible to assemble into acceptable running order when new, usually impossible to service, repair or otherwise maintain.)

Much to our surprise however, nestled amongst all the "junk" was THIS. 

The Reveal 

The first thing that struck me was of course the rod-actuated brakes.

A frame pump is present, although we don't know if this is the one that the bike would have left the dealer with.

The chainset is mucky but has been kept well-oiled, with only very small amounts of surface rust. The gearing is 29 x 14 singlespeed, quite sensible for a child.

The frame number is on the offside (right) chainstay in front of the rear-facing horizontal dropout.

The Michelin 16 x 1-3/8 (37-349) tyres are in very good condition which makes me think they're not original. 

The vinyl saddle seems to be unbranded. I've checked the underside and all the metal work for markings but found nothing.

The bicycle frame measures 16 inches from centre of the cranks to top of the seatpost and the effective top tube length appears to be approximately 16 inches as well. I like the symmetry in those numbers, along with the 16 inch tyres. The crank arms are just over 4 inches long, at 105mm.

Overall the bicycle is in remarkable condition. It would benefit from a good clean and service but everything is in good working order, so we anticipate only rubbing down the frame lightly and applying a coat of polish, cleaning the chain ring and rear sprocket and adjusting the brake cables slightly. 

I find myself utterly entranced by this bicycle, partly of course due to its age but also because it is such a perfect miniature of a fully-fledged adult roadster bicycle of the same period -- whatever period that may be!

Its History and Its Future

As to what to do with it, I wonder if it belongs in a museum? I think this must be quite rare but have no idea if Kerry bicycles have any particular value. If they were sought after or desirable, I would expect to find references to the brand on cycling forums, but so far searching the Internet has failed to turn up anything at all about them. In the past 10 years, there have been a couple of "calls for information" (here and here) but so far no one has posted replies or comments that move the enquiry any further along. Following up the reference made to ELRCO in the second of those links led to a website called the Museum of Trademans Delivery Bikes, which provides an undated ELRCO catalogue featuring a few Kerry-branded items, such as a children's sidecar and a tandem frame, but little information of substance and no further hints or leads to follow to try and find more. 

Once I know a little more about this bicycle, I will make enquiries of a few collectors to see if this bicycle is something that ought to be preserved or restored. Assuming that it is not, I would love to see it put back into use by a family that appreciates and uses vintage machines.

If any readers have any information that may shed some light on the age of this bicycle or the history of its manufacturer, I would very much like to hear from you! 


  1. Cottered cranks and rod brakes, I'm assuming it has to be ~1970s. It is very much like a miniature adult bike, very intriguing find!

    1. I've not been able to get a fix on what years/decades rod brakes were commonly in use in the UK. Certainly all the 1970s bikes I've had had caliper brakes. Even my 1950s Puch Rugby Sport (UK market) had caliper brakes. I associate rod brakes with bikes older than that but have not found anything definitive. The search goes on!

    2. The Avon I have has rod brakes, maybe this was an India-export? I think I've seen an old Raleigh or two that used them, but I'm not sure.

  2. This is going to seem a little wide, but I suspect it's no younger than 1950. Rod brakes, rear horizontal drop puts, frame pump, tourist styling on a kids bicycle scream just one side of WWII or the other.

    Judging by the wear on the brake pads (I suspect it wasn't ridden much), I suspect the tires could be original. You'd be surprised how long tires can last when not used.

    Though I don't work on kids bicycles, most likely it was a house brand (hardware store/department store/catalog) manufacture was probably done by any number of manufacturers, though I doubt Raleigh. I don't ever recall seeing a bolt through the lugs (at the head tube) on a Raleigh rebranded bicycle. Phillips is likely the manufacturer just based on odds and production numbers.

    Is it a nice old bicycle, yes. Is it valuable...probably not. Find a guy like me that likes old 3 speeds with kids that the bike will fit, and you'll make more on it. ---My kids are too big for that bicycle now.

    1. I agree 1950s at the latest. In fact, I think it's quite a lot 'younger' than that. I had expected to find there was a period of shift from rods to cables, but it seems even now some designers/manufacturers have continued to use rod brakes, so that's not definitive.

      It's not a Raleigh or Phillips - it's from Kerry's, who apparently made their own bikes. Raleighs and Phillips are certainly more graceful and elegant in shape and overall line!

      The key question with regard to age is when Kerry's shut down shop. I haven't found any info on that.

    2. As to the bike's future, I have no plans to sell it. We know two families who are "into" vintage machines, one with a small boy just getting going with a balance bike and the other with a girl of just 4 months (!) so I am happy to hold onto it for a little while and see if it will be useful to someone for an extended loan in the future.

    3. well, threw my back out at work today and being layed out with nothing else to do. I came across this which may or may not apply.

      You can't overlook manufacturers of other "things" when looking for information on old bicycles. This goes double for motorcycles and automobile manufacturers.

    4. Thanks, Rick. I was aware of the Kerry / Sarolea / Abingdon motorbikes, as those productions have more documentation than the bicycles. The queries other people have made over the years about the bicycles (linked to in my post) all reference the motorbikes.

      And being an Olds and coincidentally also a huge Puch fan, I am well aware that most of the early 'players' in the bicycle world morphed into and out of the manufacture of automobiles and/or motorcycles, often two at once, sometimes even all three even if only fo very short periods of time.

      Go back a little further and you'll find them making horse-drawn carriages and/or working as blacksmiths -- basically, your engineers of the industrial revolution. What a fast-moving world it was!

  3. kerry is an good vintage bikes, thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

  4. I had a bike with handle bars like that that I regret having got rid of. It was purchased in the 1968 in Manila, All fittings and brake system look the same. Now I'm looking for handle bars in the same shape.

  5. There are 8 downloadable East London Rubber Company catalogues from 1890 to 1938 courtesy of the Veteran Cycle Club :

    Check out the cute 'Cherub' children's bike from 1924 !

    According to the Museum of Tradesman's Delivery Bikes the Kerry name comes into use in 1903. It appears that ELRCO changed their name to Kerry post WW2. There were at least 4 different head badge designs - some with a simple 'K'. The most recent picture I found was a 'Shopper' style Kerry's bike that was likely a response to either the Dawes Kingpin (introduced 1964) or the Raleigh Shopper (1968).

  6. A discussion on the Sheffield Forum reveals that Kerry's had a large shop on St Mary's Gate Sheffield in the 1960's selling bicycles, tools and accessories. A Google image search 'Kerry's shop St Mary's Gate Sheffield' provides an image from Picture Sheffield - this can be enlarged. The picture appears to have been taken May 1968 but it's possible the business might not have lasted much longer - it was suggested that Kerry's were importing mopeds until 1968 then ran into difficulties.

    So, what became of this company ? It really is a mystery, but I found something very interesting along the way. There is a strong connection between Kerry's and Marlboro... The Kerry 'shopper' (often called the Cob) was later manufactured by Marlboro under the Amega or Woodstock model names. Had Kerry's re-branded themselves Marlboro ? Was there a Marlboro takeover, or perhaps they had bought up tooling and intellectual design rights ?

    Marlboro strategy followed Kerry's but without their own retail outlets - affordable bikes supplied to catalogues, large retail chains such as Halfords as well as smaller outlets. It's strange how little is known of these two companies given the years of high volume production.

  7. Correction : The Marlboro shoppers were called Amega / Amega Deluxe and Belaire. The Woodstock models were more conventional bicycles for men and women.

  8. Great bike. I have a Kerry from approx 1930. It has the same brakes etc.

  9. To all, I had a Kerry Classic Racing cycle brand new in about 1969. It was a good cycle and I loved it.I wish I still had it. It had 5 speed Huret gears and was Orange in colour

  10. This is very interesting content! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your points and have come to the conclusion that you are right about many of them. You are great.Elia & Ponto


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