A Brief History
The Whippet was hand made in London, England, by C.M. Linley and J. Biggs. Apparently, they were Cycle Engineers of some repute! Whippets were very successful from 1885 to 1888, but all that changed with the invention of the Dunlop pneumatic tire in 1888. This new tire insulated the cyclist from much road shock, and the Whippet was suddenly obsolete. The Whippet design was exceptionally unique, and definitely ahead of its time. It did, however, have a design flaw, adjusting the chain caused the two head tubes to slowly become increasingly mis-aligned, resulting in the front “scissor linkage” gradually unable to work when the bars were turned. The Whippet has seven pivot points in its suspension design.
Here’s a few specifications:
Weight: 44 lbs
Tire diameter: 30″ (some Whippets had 27″ rear tires)
Final drive: Block chain and sprockets
Brake: Rear spoon brake
Pedals: Adjustable from 5.75 to 6.5” (crank length)
What was it like to ride?
I’m told it was a terrible bike to ride! First of all, solid rubber tires and the suspension had one spring with ZERO dampening, so every time you pedaled, it “bobbed”. Finally, the seat was mounted on a big coil spring, so you were bobbing on a seat that was bobbing on a frame. Yahoo!
Whippets are rare bicycles; there are probably less than ten surviving today, mostly in Museums and private collections. This 1888 Whippet was built by Paul Brodie, from the line drawing above, and photos of another Whippet in a Museum 3000 miles away.
Building The Whippet
When I taught a Framebuilding 101 class, my students would all have a project (their frames), and I wanted to say that I, too, had a project. I always have motorcycle projects, but I wanted a bicycle project.
I have a book by Archibald Sharp, first published in 1896, entitled Bicycles and Tricycles. In it are many drawings of early bicycles. They come in all shapes and sizes; some are noteworthy, and many are forgettable because they didn’t work very well. I was repeatedly drawn to the Whippet, I really liked the flow of the lines and it did seem to be ahead of it’s time. So, I enlarged the Whippet drawing on a photocopier, took it to class and announced to my students that I also had a project!
I made a full-scale drawing of the Whippet, decided on 29″ wheels as a starting point, and ordered rims and tires. I really knew nothing about the bike, so I planned on putting on an assortment of black parts and disc brakes, for fun! Months later someone emailed me and mentioned that the Ottawa Museum of Science and Technology had a Whippet, and provided me with a contact name. I sent an email and asked if they could please take some photos for me, and they did. I was a little shocked to see how elegant and sophisticated the Whippet really was! The idea of black parts and disc brakes was not possible now: I had to make it true to form, and I realized my task had grown significantly.
It was around this time that I started to think about NAHBS (North American Handbuilt Bicycle Show), and I had a few conversations with UFV (University of the Fraser Valley) regarding sponsorship to attend. UFV thought it was a great way to promote Framebuilding 101, so they registered us for the show. This would be my first time at NAHBS, I knew the Whippet would be on display in front of some of the best framebuilders in the world, and so I really had to do my very best work. That’s when the project really got out of control! The last 3 months before the show were spent working on the Whippet almost every day, and as the deadline loomed closer, the hours in the shop got longer and longer.
When the Whippet was finally assembled, it didn’t look like much. There was no Razzle Dazzle. I was too close to the project. I wondered what others would think. I really had no idea. As it turned out, the Whippet captured the public’s imagination, and we walked away with the People’s Choice award.
Here are links to the process of completion. I hope you enjoy them.
Crank & Bottom Bracket Right brake Lever
Chain Rings Crank Arms
Front Linkage Scissor Linkage
Seat Collar Seat Post
Full Suspension NAHBS Awards