The Rudge Bicycle: Overturning a myth

When I first began serious long distance cycling, some 25 years ago, I would often turn up at my parents’ place after a long ride. Each time, my father would wax forth about the bicycle he left behind in the Netherlands when he emigrated to Australia in the late 1950s. He had bought it – a Rudge with metric dimensions – ten years before he left and he told me about its gearing, the oil bath for the chain, the long rides he had taken on it. When he emigrated, he gave it to his brother, and claimed – every time – that his brother was still riding it. Being a skeptical sort, especially with tall stories, I was not persuaded. Who would still ride a bicycle 50, even 60, years old? I also wondered why he never rode much in Australia.

So I was stunned when one of my cousins in the Netherlands told me he still has the Rudge and that he still rides it. His father – the uncle to whom my father first gave the bicycle – had given it to him. And just to prove that the Rudge is a myth no longer:

Rudge 01a

Rudge 02a

Note the lever-brake system, the drum brakes, and the locking device.

Rudge 04a


25 thoughts on “The Rudge Bicycle: Overturning a myth

  1. It’s interesting, how durable bicycles are. (Steel framed ones, that is.) My everyday bike is a 1980’s Raleigh Record Sprint. I bought it second hand in about 1985. Eight years ago I converted it to a fixed wheel.

    Now what would be really useful is if, the next time you visit Russia, you could investigate Soviet bikes from the 1920s and 1930s.

    1. The best I can manage is a 1991 light tourer, which I still use. It’s due for a bit of an overhaul soon, but the frame is chromoly steel – good flex on a long haul of a thousand kms or more.

  2. That’s a beautiful story, Roland.

    I have nothing to match it, but in light of George’s question I’ll just resort to bathos. Here’s a joke which includes a bicycle, and which was told in the CCCP in the 1930s:

    The Stakhanovite milkmaids of a certain town were assembled on stage for a prize-giving ceremony. The first-placed milkmaid, who had raised productivity the most for the local farm collective, was presented with a radio receiver. The second-placed milkmaid received a gramophone, and the third-placed milkmaid received a bicycle.

    Then the fourth-placed milkmaid was called to the centre of the podium, for her services as “leading pig-tender” of the kolkhoz, to whom, with much emotion, the kolkhoz director presents “the complete works of our beloved comrade Stalin”. Awed silence ensues. Then a voice is heard from the back: “Just what the bitch deserves”.

    1. As told, this story cannot date from the 1930s.

      The publication of Stain’s collected works did not start until after the War. Only the first thirteen volumes had been published when Khrushchev cancelled the programme. The last volume only when up to 1934.

      Material from 1935 to 1953 were published in the United States in the 1960s by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

    2. Na – that joke is a legitimate 1930s joke.

      And c’mon George, the complete works of Stalin still existed in the 1930s, even if they weren’t as extensive as when he finally died. That would be like saying that in AD 54 you couldn’t go down to your local Christian house church store and pick up a copy of the Complete Epistles of Paul, because he hadn’t yet written Galatians, Second Corinthians, or Romans.

      1. My point was that they were not published as such.

        And that’s not the only discrepancy in your story.

        You have been found out, so stop complaining.

      1. Most probably a General Electric design.

        “By far the most significant factor in the development of the Soviet economy has been its absorption of Western technology and skills.”
        – Antony C. Sutton, Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development

      2. Deane, you miss the point entirely. Unlike capitalism with its built-in obsolescence (how long does a smart phone last?) and desire to toss out stuff for the sake of the latest fashion or gizmo, there was a tendency to use and fix things for as long as possible in the USSR.

      3. You are fooling yourself if you think that, Comrade Professor of Liberal Arts.

        There was just as much a tendency to make things so that they lasted in 1950s capitalist Netherlands, the USA, or UK. Take that Rudge bicycle of yours for instance…

        Rather, it is times of rapid technological change that bring about “built-in” obsolescence, not the capitalist mode of production per se. Why make a Rudge Bicycle last for decades if it’s going to be chucked out when the Rudge Bicycle 2.0 comes out next year?

      4. Ah, the technologist error: the invention of iron brought on the changes of the first millennium BC, the invention of steam brought on the mythic “industrial” revolution …

      5. Pseudo-Idealist! Even Stalin appreciated the value of steelworks technology for the transition out of feudalism.

        I got quite excited when I finally tracked down a video store that had a copy of Children of the Revolution on DVD. The person I phoned said she would put it aside for me. But no sooner had I walked up the path and got in the car than she rang me back with the news that it went missing in late 2012.

  3. Deane – that’s been true of everyone for the last 150 years. Countries absorb more from the leading edges then they contribute (America absorbed railways, steam engines, electricity, chemical engineering….). Since the general pool is larger than any country, everyone takes more than they get. But the Soviets contributed quite a lot to the pool.

      1. I agree – it wasn’t just Western technology that brought Russia out of its feudal backwardness. Ideas drove change as well. Or as Lenin said, “Communism equals Soviet power plus electrification”.

  4. Perhaps it is time to take Dad serious after all. And may be your descendants will do the same for you. Mum

      1. Thank you Deane, enjoyed your comment. It is interesting to note the wise old minister who was Roland’s mentor, preached at Roland’s ordination on 1 Peter 5:6.

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