Classic Lightweights UK
Higgins CyclesBy Peter Underwood
T. Higgins & Son Ltd of 214 Portland Road, South Norwood, London, SE25, were established c.1933 as Higgins Cycles and worked hard to develop a reputation as high-class frame builders using 'Quality First' as their motto. They proudly proclaimed that they employed no piece-work (paid by results) frame builders and that they used only the best materials. The son was F J Higgins. They are known primarily for their tricycles and the Higgins Ultralight, widely thought of as bronze-welded. Most assume that the latter model was only made in this format but lugged versions were also available. In 1952 Higgins launched a rear-axle differential unit for use on their tricycles which gave improved drive and control over the system of driving the rear wheels through one axle only. This would create problems when the 'drive' side of the rear wheels lifted on corners.
In the early 1950s their range was listed as:
The Higgins 'Ultralite', bronze-welded frame weighing approximately 22lbs when built as a complete machine for time-trialling, slightly more as a touring/clubmans machine. Price £10 17s 6d. Higgins recommended 73/71º frame angles for their road machines but would build to customers specification.
The Ultralite was also offered as a mass start frame with 72/72º angles. Frame at £12 17s 6d but also offered with the top road-racing specification of the day as a complete machine for £55 15s 10d including sprints on Gnutti QR hubs, Stella chainset, Alp or GB brakes, and Simplex Tour de France 10-speed gears. A cheaper 5-speed model was also available.
The Higgins 'El Continenta', lugged frame to same angles as Ultralite with cut-away Brampton lugs offered for all-round work or as a path machine. £14 for a frame with lining, braze-ons and curves seat stay bridge extra.
The above machines had script down-tube transfers giving both the maker and the model, such as 'Higgins El Continenta' or 'Higgins Ultralite'.
The Higgins Path frame, either lugged or welded, 73/73º, round fork with twin-plate fork crown, offered with close clearance for sprints or for 27" HPs. Bronze-welded £12 7s 6d or lugged at £15 10s 0d. This model was supplied with 'HIGGINS' block down-tube transfers. The lettering cascading rather than upright.
The 'Plus Parfait by Higgins' with Italian lugwork, giving the machine a 'Continental character'. It was offered at 72/72º, again supplied to a specification similar to the Ultralite Mass Start.
Lugwork and fork crown of a Higgins Ultralite 'Plus Parfait'
(listed in Readers' Bikes)
Top tube transfer for 'Plus Parfait'
The Higgins Road and Path Super SWB tandem frame, with a curved rear seat 'tube' to enable short wheelbase. Different in this case as the curved component of the 'tube' was in fact flat plate as shown below. Offered as a double-diamond frame or with twin tubes from the front seat cluster to the rear ends in place of the rear down tube for an extra pound.
Flat short wheelbase rear seat 'tube' on tandem
Last but by no means least:
The Higgins Trike, bronze-welded, with eccentric bottom bracket to allow for chain adjustment when using fixed-wheel as the axles are in a fixed position with no means of adjusting the chain. At this time the drive was through a steel alloy axle to the near-side wheel. The basic trike frame price was £18 18s 0d with extras available at extra cost. Later trikes were built using Nervex Professional lugs. Tricycles coould have a lower bottom bracket as the pedal height was always constant unless a wheel was lifted giving extra ground clearance.
Higgins also produced a lugged stem in Reynolds 531 tubing and strangely steel shoeplates. Along with many other builders they offered a repair and enamelling service boasting of five layers of enamel.
Dunster Special, In 1951 Higgins produced a few frames listed as the Dunster Special. It is hard to describe the layout of the tubing so here is an image of one (listed in Readers' Bikes):
Apologies for background - I had to snatch the picture where I could
I have a Higgins Ultralite built up as a fixed-wheel machine and it rides like a thoroughbred with a very light and lively feel, I have also spoken to a few collectors who own one and they all rate them very highly.
"Catalogue images and research courtesy of National Cycle Library"
Higgins ceased trading in 1966, it is said that they produced some 5000 cycle, tricycle and tandem frames during their years in business.
© 2011 Classic Lightweights