Historic Motorcycle Brands
The ‘Clyno’ brand was contraction of the variable-ratio, ‘inclined’ pulley that cousins Frank and Ailwyn Smith developed and manufactured from 1909. Initially, the pulley became successful operating belt-driven machinery and, logically, belt-driven early motorcycles.
The first Clyno 2.75hp – Chris Smith
The cousins stepped up to motorcycle manufacture in 1910 and the variable-ratio pulley helped the brand to trials successes and a full order book.
The cousins’ original workshop was in their home town of Thrapston, Northamptonshire, but in 1910 the opportunity arose for Clyno to purchase a factory in Wolverhampton. The factory belonged to the Stevens Brothers, who had supplied engines to Clyno previously, but had entered voluntary liquidation in 1910, leading to the sale.
The company exhibited for the first time at the 1910 motorcycle show at Olympia, displaying a motorcycle model powered by a 350cc Stevens engine, fitted into a Chater Lea frame. Later in 1910 came a more powerful machine, using a 5-6hp V-twin Stevens engine.
1912 Clyno 6hp V-twin – Chris Smith
Clyno continued to exhibit at every possible trials attracting attention by taking on hills previously thought unclimbable. This attention brought business to the company with orders in excess of manufacturing capacity in 1912. The same year the company took over the unoccupied Humber cycle factory.
Clyno’s success proved to be something of a double-edged sword, because the constant pressure to perform at trials required product development that pushed the company beyond its financial means.
It was decided that Clyno needed to produce an affordable motorcycle, which it did in 1913, releasing a 250cc, two-stroke machine that featured unit construction of engine and two-speed gearbox. Exhibited at the 1913 motorcycle show, it was a major success.
In its Camelot-like, ‘one brief shining moment’, Clyno produced some 15,000 motorcycles and close to 40,000 passenger cars.
The First World War brought prosperity to Clyno. Together with Vickers, the company created a sidecar motorcycle with machine-gun attachment that was produced in large numbers. The choice of Clyno over its competitors, as supplier of the standard motorcycle combination outfit for the Motor Machine Gun Service, was made in 1915 and was said to have been a decision taken by Winston Churchill.
In 1916, the relationship between Frank and Ailwyn became strained and Ailwyn departed the company in June.
Clyno continued to supply the War effort, providing mobile machine gun units, ammunition carriers and ABC Motors-designed Dragonfly aircraft engines. (The Dragonfly was chosen as the AFC’s main engine in 1918, despite its disastrous 35-hour failure rate, so War’s end came at the right time for the Brits, who would have had very few serviceable aircraft for 1919!)
During the War, Clyno company also designed a new motorcycle, the Spring 8 that had a top speed of 50mph, although it was two years before it went into production.
When the Armistice was called in 1918, there were 1792 Clyno motorcycles serving with the British armed forces: 1150 at home, and 642 overseas, including 478 in France. Clyno also signed an agreement with the Russian war commission to supply their army.
After the War, Clyno’s works manager, Henry Meadows, departed the company to found what became a famous engine-manufacturing company.
1919 Clyno Spring 8 – Chris Smith
A large number of cheap motor cycles, no longer needed by the Army, were sold, undercutting the prices of Clyno’s new machines. On top of that, there was a shortage of materials with which to produce new models. That sent the new-motorcycle business into rapid decline.
It got even worse for Clyno when, following the October 1917 Revolution, the new Russian Government failed to pay for the motorcycles they received during the War.
In 1920 the Clyno Engineering Company hit a solid financial wall and went into liquidation.
In 1922 Frank Smith decided to resurrect the company, under the name Clyno Engineering Company (1922) Ltd. Frank decided to focus more on car production than on motorcycle production and by 1923 bike production had ended.
1917 Vickers Clyno Combination – National Motor Museum Trust UK