1900 The Ladies’ Golden Sunbeam

RIDE VINTAGE online magazine 1

Where Helen sits, the darkness is so deep,

No Golden Sunbeam strikes athwart the gloom;

No mother’s smile, no glance of loving eyes,

Lightens the shadow of the lonely room.


Yet the clear whiteness of her radiant soul

Decks the dim walls, like angel vestments shed.

The lvoely light of holy inoocence

Shines like a halo round her bended head,

Where Helen sits.


Where Helen sits, the stillness is so deep,

No children’s laughter comes, no song of bird.

The great world storms along its noisy way,

But in this place no sound is ever heard.


Yet do her gentle thoughts make melody

Sweeter than aught from harp or viol flung;

And Love and Beauty, quiring each to each,

Sing as the stars of Eden’s morning sung,

Where Helen sits.

– Laura Elizabeth Richards, 1900 *

 Women were on the move. Stepping from the shadows of their menfolk, the new century promised freedom from the constraints of Victorian culture. The ‘humble’ bicycle seems less than humble when viewed through the eyes of a woman in 1900. The line No Golden Sunbeam strikes athwart the gloom in Laura Elizabeth Richards’ 1900 poem describes a blind person, but maybe also symbolises the experience of women in the Victorian era, with the rest of the poem inspiring women’s accomplishments despite being restricted by the things we now take for granted.

Independent travel is one thing most of us take for granted in the 21st century. Until we lose it, we may forget its empowerment. Riding a bike with wind in the hair is an exhilarating experience. And, if that is your first taste of travel alone, without a chaperone, just imagine that wonderful feeling of freedom. In the 1890s bicycles were fixed wheel and hard to ride. By comparison, with the advent of free-wheel hubs from 1898, this Golden Sunbeam was a totally state-of-the-art machine and its new back-pedal rim brake and front rim brake provided the ultimate in braking efficiency.

Sunbeam also encouraged women to service their own bikes. By owning a bicycle, a woman not only learned to ride, but could also master basic maintenance skills, such as replenishing the Sunbeam gear case. Observe the illustration above, and consider how that picture might have challenged a male-dominated society. Not necessarily encouraged by society to ride bicycles – female emancipation was a threat to the average man – a bicycle that was well-built and easy to maintain would have been a considerable advantage to a female rider. Judging by the proportion of ladies’ bicycles to gents’ bicycles that have survived in excellent original condition a century later, we can see that female riders did not use their bikes as much as men. Ownership was often as important as use, and women took much greater care of their machines, the bicycles often being passed down through their families as a symbol of their independence and achievements to inspire younger generations. What tales this 1900 Ladies Golden Sunbeam might tell if she could talk…

1900 The Ladies’ Golden Sunbeam

23″ frame

28″ Wheels (28 x 1 1/2″ tyres)

Frame No 40975

Sunbeam Back-pedal Rim Brake

Brooks B85 Lady’s Saddle

with Sunbeam’s Patent Saddle Pin



A 1900 Golden Sunbeam is easily identified by its ornate metal headbadge, instead of the transfer (decal) found on the headstock of later models.




I had never seen a Sunbeam as old as this before I received the photo below.

My good friend Howie Cohen worked for his dad in the 1950s, running a cycle shop in Los Angeles. They collected old bikes and put them into storage in case they needed the parts. This Golden Sunbeam remained in storage until he opened its crate in 2012. It was in remarkably well-preserved condition for a bicycle of this vintage. As you can see by comparing the photos, I’ve retained the original tyres but replaced the leather saddle top (which was built by the renowned English saddler Tony Colegrave).












  Sunbeams of this year were fitted with the company’s unique saddle pin. The illustration above shows the saddle fitted to the Gentlemens Golden Sunbeam, while below you can see the B85 Ladies saddle used on the Ladies’ model.

The saddle pin required a special saddle clamp.

The replacement leather saddle top was built by Tony Colegrave.





Classified advert for Brooks B85 saddle, The Star newspaper, New Zealand, 19th December, 1900









































PHOTO LOCATIONS: Under Brighton Pier; St. Ann’s Well Gardens, Hove


“I would rather read poetry than eat my dinner any day. It has been so all my life.”

* Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed (1833-1908). An American Anthology, 1787-1900. 1900, Where Helen Sits

Laura Elizabeth Richards was born February 27, 1850, at 74 Mount Vernon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, to distinguished parents and a home life that would early introduce her to the delights of language and fine arts as well as to a range of people and experiences. Her father, Samuel Gridley Howe, was the practical founder … of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind in 1832. Howe’s star pupil — and Laura’s namesake — was Laura Bridgman, a child who had been left blind and deaf after a bout with scarlet fever at age two. When Bridgman was seven, Howe met her and brought her to Perkins, where she became the first blind and deaf person to learn language and ‘finger spell.’ (Another Perkins student, Anne Sullivan, later taught Helen Keller.) Richards’s mother, the poet Julia Ward Howe, is perhaps best known as the author of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Info with thanks to – http://www.readseries.com/auth-oz/richardsbio.html