Historic Motorcycle Brands
Dating from 1894, Rudge Whitworth Cycles was a British bicycle, bicycle saddle, motorcycle and wheel manufacturer. Rudge motorcycles were produced from 1911 to 1946. The firm was known for its innovations in engine and transmission design, and its racing successes.
1904 Werner 230 cc – Piero
The company produced the first detachable wire wheel in 1907 and was known for its knock-off wheels for sports cars that continued well into the 1960s.
After selling re-badged Werners in the early1900s, the company went on to produce the first Rudge motorcycle in 1911, powered by a single-cylinder, inlet-over-exhaust (F-head) 500cc engine.
The company’s sales motto was: “Rudge it, do not trudge it.”
1915 Rudge Multi – Science Museum Collection
In 1912, the belt-driven 499cc ‘Multigear’ was released. It was known as a ‘Multi’ because it had ‘Gradua’ variable-speed gearing that was patented by Zenith Motorcycles’ Freddie Barnes in 1905 – preceding the modern CVT by around 60 years.
Variable-size pulleys on the engine shaft and on the rear wheel – one expanded as the other contracted – ensured that a gradual change of drive ratio from the engine to the rear wheel was obtained.
1919 Rudge Multi – National Motorcycle Museum
These variable-groove-depth pulleys provided ‘stump-pulling first gear’, with top gear as high as 2.75:1.
In 1913, a 750cc Multigear was released and, in 1914, Cyril Pullin won the Isle of Man TT on a Rudge Multigear. It was the first machine of its capacity to cover more than 60 miles in an hour on the Brooklands track.
These achievements ensured the ‘reliable Rudge’ was not overlooked by the War Office and several Rudge models including the Multigear were used by the British Army in the Great War.
In 1915, a 1000cc bike, using a Jardine four-speed gearbox, was released, followed by a 1000cc Multigear.
In 1923, Rudge introduced an in-house manufactured four-speed gearbox to replace the Jardine unit and Multigear production ended.
The single-cylinder 350cc Rudge Four was so named because it had four speeds and four valves. It showed markedly superior performance to the competition on release, having more power than its 500cc predecessor.
1927 Rudge 500cc TV – Lars-Goran Lindgren
Rudge engineer George Hack is said to have taken his design idea from the four-valve Triumph Ricardo that was produced from 1921 until 1928). In 1924 Rudge produced its first four-valve cylinder head, with the valves arranged in parallel, not radially.
In 1925, a 500cc version with pressurised, oil-fed main bearings and linked front and rear brakes appeared, replacing the 350cc model.
For 1928, Rudge motorcycles were fitted with saddle tanks, and eight-inch internally-expanding drum brakes. Stanley Glanfield designed a Rudge for dirt racing, marketed from 1928 as the Glanfield Rudge.
Rudge – Lars-Goran Lindgren
In 1928, Graham Walker – father or the late Murray Walker, of F1 commentary fame – won the Ulster Grand Prix, averaging more than 80mph. This prompted the release of the Rudge Ulster model, as well as JAP-engined 250cc and parallel-four-valve 350cc models.
The Ulster became one of the most famous Rudge models. Originally developed as a racing prototype, the production model was essentially a race replica. Various modifications and improvements were made over 10 years of production.
Early models had a ‘pentroof’, four-valve head, with two pairs of parallel valves, but that was replaced in 1932 with a four-valve, radial-layout, hemispherical head.
The Rudge also had a foot-operated gear change option. A foot pedal operated both the front and rear brakes, with a hand lever operating the front brake only.
With a top speed of over 90mph, the Rudge Ulster was advertised as: “Probably the fastest 500cc motorcycle in production”.
1936 Rudge Ulster 500cc Racer – Lars-Goran Lindgren
During the 1920s and early 1930s, Rudge motorcycles were also popular in Motorcycle speedway. Those who rode them included 1938 World Champion Bluey Wilkinson of Australia, who started his speedway career in 1928 on a battered, belt-driven Rudge.
Rudge bikes finished first, second and third at the 1930 Junior TT, using prototype 350cc, radial-layout, four-valve engines. They also took first and second in the Senior TT. Production engines were changed to dry sump lubrication.
Rudge 350cc engine with radial valve layout – Rudge Enthusiasts Club
The JAP 250 and the parallel four-valve 350 cc ended production in 1930, when Rudge released its first 250cc and 350cc road machines with radial-valve layouts. TT Replicas were available with 350cc and 500cc engines.
The parallel-valve, 500cc engine was also available in Special and Ulster models and the Ulster came with a 100mph guarantee.
First and second places went to Rudges in the 1931 Lightweight TT and in 1932, second and third.
1938 Rudge Ulster Sport 500cc – Lothar Spurzem
A radial-head, 500cc engine was produced for 1932 only. Also in 1932, a 250cc TT Replica was built.
Rudge road bikes scored proper, oil-bath, primary chains and a stand that could be operated “with just one finger”.
This was the era of the Great Depression and Rudge struggled with sales needed to maintain product development. In 1933, production of dirt-track bikes and the TT Replicas ended and a troubled Rudge went into receivership, but continued trading
The Ulster 500cc was fitted with a ‘semi-radial’ – parallel valves with radial ports – cast-iron head and for 1934 the head was cast in aluminium-bronze. Also, a radial four-valve 250cc Sport model was released.
Rudge motorcycles took the first three places in the 1934 Lightweight TT.
A two-valve, 250cc bike was produced in 1935 and, in 1936, the last of the radial four-valve 250 cc models were produced, while round-tube forks were introduced on other models.
In 1936 EMI, who was a major creditor, took over the company and resurrected the Rudge Ulster models.
Rudge Ulster Racer – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The Rudge valve gear, which had traditionally been exposed to the elements, was sorted out in 1937, when a cast alloy cover was added. However, the aluminium-bronze cylinder head remained until it was replaced by an RR50 aluminium-alloy casting in 1939.
A 250 cc two-valve Sports was released in 1938, but all Rudge production ended with the outbreak of the Second World War, in late-1939.
After that, EMI had to put all its resources into the manufacture of Radar and electronic equipment for the War effort, but some remaining pre-War Rudge models were sold off in 1946.