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Readers ride to rescue in motorcycle mystery

By rob taylor  |  Posted: January 25, 2013

The full view of the Rudge Multi's logo.

The full view of the Rudge Multi's logo.

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IN OUR last edition but one (1063, 10th January) we featured photographs taken by the late George Bedworth in the 1950s, at the motorcycle Tour of Birmingham.

Amongst the locally-made vintage machines such as AJS and Sunbeam, there was a mystery bike, whose name was partially obscured by the rider's knee, with only the last few letters; 'lti', visible.

We wondered if this was an Italian name, though we couldn't think of one which fit the bill. But thankfully, several Bugle readers have come to our aid. Paul Gibbons, via email, writes: "You refer to the name on the petrol tank of the motorcycle ending in 'lti'. These are the last letters of 'Rudge Multi'. Rudge were well known motorbike manufacturers based in Coventry, and starting like so many with the manufacture of bicycles. I believe that the founder, Daniel Rudge, was a Wolverhampton man. Multi was short for 'Multigear'.

Another reader, who signs his letter only as 'D Day Dodger, Desert Rat of Wednesfield', writes: "With regard to the recent article, the mystery bike in one of the photos happens to be a 1913 Rudge Multi, 750cc. I enclose a photo."

Hot on their heels was Mike Pearson of Dudley Wood, who called to identify the Rudge Multi, and told us that a friend of his once had one.

"Instead of a normal gate it had about 18 notches," Mike explained, "so it was literally multi-geared. It was good for 45 miles an hour with a following wind. And I can vouch for the fact that when the belt broke it smacked you in the behind."

The Rudge Multi, as we can now see from Desert Rat's helpful photo, was quite clearly based on a pedal cycle with a small engine and fuel tank fitted into the spaces in the frame. It was after all, designed and built a hundred years ago this year, at a time when, as Paul points out, motorcycles were in the main designed and built by bicycle makers.

The company's origins did indeed lie, like so many of the leading bicycle and motorcycle names, in Wolverhampton, with bicycle maker Daniel Rudge, who made his name in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, before inflated rubber tyres came into being.

After some success, Daniel Rudge died young in 1880, and his company merged with a small Coventry firm. In 1894 the firm was renamed Rudge Whitworth Cycles, and it was in 1912 that the first Rudge Multigear, abbreviated to Rudge Multi, was put on the market.

Eventually, in the economic slump of the 1930s, Rudge Whitworth hit on hard times, and were swallowed up by an unlikely saviour in the form of EMI, best known as a music company, who produced pedal bikes until just before the Second World War, when they sold the Rudge name to one of cycling's biggest names of old, Raleigh of Nottingham.

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