The appearance of a City of Cardiff bicycle hire rack in City Road inspired me to have visions of the past – velocipedes (boneshakers) and ordinaries (penny farthing bicycles) hurtling up and down Heol y Plwca or Castle Road (as it later became known in the 1870’s), on a road surface that was little more than a dirt track with ruts. Most of these cyclists would have been members of the middle class and very few of them women. To ride a Penny Farthing one needed to be fit, active and male and not encumbered by long heavy skirts and layers of petticoats. The middle aged rode tricycles and quadricycles and from 1881 to 1886 more tricycles were built in the United Kingdom than bicycles. They were more expensive, perceived as more genteel and were thought to be more suitable for women from middle class families. With the emergence of the safety bicycle more women began to participate in cycling. It was seen as part of the struggle for their social independence and critics were concerned by the risqué clothing they wore, such as divided skirts or bloomers. Cycling was not embraced by the working class until after World War 1 when it was a means of travel to work (to the docks?) and an alternative to public transport.
The earliest known cycle dealers in Castle Road (now City Road) were Wheeler and Company trading at 10 Castle Road in 1889. By now James Starley’s Rover safety bicycle had evolved to the extent that it had the appearance of a modern bicycle and was no doubt available from Wheelers’ cycle depot, complete with such refinements as Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres (1889) and the Silver King oil cycle lamp produced by Joseph Lucas of Birmingham (1879). Electric batteries appeared after 1890.
Tandem cycles made their appearance in 1886 and the Cyclists Touring Club announced that ‘ladies, like luggage are wisely consigned to the rear’. The Kennard Cycle Company followed in 1894 at 20 City Road at least until 1924. By 1937 they had moved to 195 – 201 Richmond Road where they advertised themselves as agents for Raleigh bicycles. The Raleigh Bicycle Company of Nottingham had been founded in 1888 and became the largest cycle manufacturer in the United Kingdom. They probably also sold bicycles manufactured by the Hercules Cycle and Motor Cycle Company, founded in 1910. The business prospered and by 1935 the company produced 40% of the total output of the United Kingdom, largely due to the adoption of mass production methods.
By the decade beginning in 1910 there were three cycle dealers including the Worrell brothers who took over the former Wheeler premises at no. 10. Expansion really came in the 1920’s, when there were 10 outlets in what was by now City Road. This included a branch of the Halfords Cycle Co. Ltd. founded in Birmingham in 1892. The City Road branch opened in 1929 at 210 City Road and closed in 1972. They were of course agents for Raleigh bicycles including the Raleigh Chopper in 1970’s. The Moulton folding bicycle had been developed in 1960 and the patent rights were sold to Raleigh in 1967.
Halfords was the last recorded cycle shop in City Road.