Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Components  

Holdsworth Trike conversion set

Author Martin Vincent

Trike 1For cyclists who might occasionally want to use a trike but who could not justify either the cost of one or who had insufficient space to store it, London cycle maker Holdsworth had the answer. From the 1930s right up until the 1970s the Holdsworth company marketed a well engineered trike conversion that bolted on to an existing solo machine and turned it from a solo to a trike. It could be fitted in minutes, and because it could be used on all sizes of frame, even tandems, it could easily be swapped from one bike to another.


The Holdsworth trike conversion was simple, cheap, well-made, light-weight and remarkably effective. It even looked good. In fact it was so effective that many time-trial and long-distance records were won on these machines.

As a youngster I can recall my father building his Holdsworth solo machine into a trike using the Holdsworth conversion. He often used this for time-trials with the racing section of the South Bucks CTC (he also raced solos and tandems too) but, in the depths of winter in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he would use the trike in icy or snowy conditions for his daily commute from High Wycombe to Amersham. The journey involved steep hills but a trike of course has the great advantage that a slide on the ice or snow need not end in disaster.

Not so long ago I acquired a Holdworth racing trike conversion myself purely out of curiosity (and possibly to satisfy the mildly eccentric side to my personality). I fitted it to my fixed-gear 1953 Claud Butler (image below) and it proved to be a highly entertaining mode of cycling and always drew attention (and often mild disbelief) from other cyclists and road users. Riding a trike does take some getting used to especially on cambered roads where it feels as if you might topple over. Cornering is definitely an acquired art. Going uphill is harder work than with a solo because of the extra weight but at least there's no danger of toppling over. My fixed-wheel trike has now been sold to a fellow enthusiast but I'm currently on the lookout for another one - this time with gears.

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Few products are of such good design that they remain virtually unchanged for decades but the trike conversion produced by Holdsworth from 1935 up until the 1970s proves that they got it right. 

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Detail of hub showing securing clamp, greaser and bottom end of stay
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 Detail of top end of stay bolted with seat bolt and also adjustable stay

Production history

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The success of the Holdsworth trike conversion is largely due to its simplicity, low cost (compared to a complete trike) and adaptability. The design is credited to Bill Rann, who joined Holdsworth (from FH Grubb) as works foreman at the Quill Lane factory in 1935. By December 1935 the Holdsworth tricycle conversion was advertised in Cycling magazine. Rann also designed the 'la Quelda' frameset at about this time. Both were of lugless (fillet-brazed or welded) construction.

The trike conversion consisted of a complete axle unit that attached to the cycle frame at the rear dropouts in the same way as a rear wheel. A telescopic bracing strut at each side provided support. Each strut was bolted at the lower end to a lug on the axle tube and at the top to the seatpin lug bolt. The great advantage of this design was that the cycle frame required no modification. You simply removed the rear wheel and bolted on the axle conversion, using the existing chain (usually shortened by a few links) to drive the rear sprocket and inner axle. This ran on cartridge type bearings and it drove the left wheel only - the other wheel ran free. The kit cost  £5 6s 6d (including wheels) in 1936, which was about the same price as a good quality frameset. At 28in wide the completed machine was narrow enough to fit inside most doorways.

In 1936 a Holdsworth trike conversion was tested by 'Nimrod' in Cycling magazine and he gave a positive review, but noted the long wheelbase. Interestingly, the machine featured derailleur gears.


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The conversion set advertised in 1939

Although the initial design of the Holdsworth trike conversion was generally well received, it was not taken up by the racing fraternity because of the fairly long wheelbase compared to purpose-built trikes, which made it less agile. As a result, Bill Rann redesigned the Holdsworth conversion so that it shortened the wheelbase by about 1.5in and lowered the rear of the machine by about an inch. The revised version was on sale in the late 1930s and by 1939 its racing successes were mentioned in the Holdsworth sales catalogue. It also stated that the conversion (with sprints and tubs) added just 7lb to the weight of a solo machine. It could be supplied for fixed-wheel, single freewheel or for multiple freewheel and could be supplied in any colour enamel or lustre. The cost was now £6 10s with sprints or £6 2s 6p with 'pressures'.


After the war, Holdsworth restarted frame production with a limited range, but the trike conversion kit did eventually make an appearance. The first catalogue was in 1951 (now listed at £12 10s) and here it was pictured in a slightly different style. Before the war the two halves of the axle were linked by an angular fabrication of steel tubes, but on this later version the left and right side were linked by a single U-shaped tube, all fillet brazed. This was a far more elegant design and this style remained until the end of production.

For 1952 Holdsworth had standardised the colour to gold lustre enamel (other colours to order at extra cost). In the 1955 catalogue it was stated that two brakes were now required by law for a free-wheeled tricycle and a rear hub brake was available at extra cost. It is worth noting that Holdsworth at this time were advertising complete tricycle frames using a similar axle design to their conversion kit. This trike model must be quite a rarity.

By 1961 the trike conversion cost £13 7s 6d and it now came in a standard white finish instead of gold. This remained the standard colour for the remainder of the production life. Cost options included a gear hanger, mudguards and stays, and a choice of colours. No other significant changes were made and the last catalogue to include the tricycle conversion was published in 1972. It was mentioned in the 1975 catalogue that the production of Holdsworth tricycle kits was temporarily discontinued but in fact no more were ever produced.


Note: Much of the information used from Holdsworth catalogues was sourced from Norman Kilgariff's Holdsworth site.


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Peter Underwood adds:

Many people trying to ride a trike for the first time soon come to grief as the trike veers off, usually to the left, in spite of frantic attempts to make it go straight,  There is a simple reason for this related to way we ride a normal two-wheeler.  It has to be realised that when we appear to be riding in a straight line we are actually making small adjustments to the steering as we go along to keep us upright. The pattern is thus.  As we begin to fall to the left, we steer subconciously to the left to put the bike back underneath us again, later we perhaps begin to fall to the right and so steer to the right to put the bike back where it belongs, under us. We are doing this as we ride along in what appears to be a straight line.  You can detect this if you look at the bar ends of the bike in front when riding in a group, some have an exagerrated action compared with others.


Now imagine that you have got onto a trike for the first time, usually on a normal road with camber. You don't notice a slight lean to the left until you start to move. Immediately your subconcious detects this lean and you steer to the left to put yourself back where you feel you belong.  But no, the lean is still there so you steer more. No avail and you are still leaning left so more steering goes on.  By now you are either on the verge, in a ditch or maybe a hedge. You must have seen images of red-faced experienced cyclits in these embarrasing situations having failed to ride a trike ten yards down the road.  If you are offered a ride on a trike, try to do it on a level car park or the like. Otherwise it is a case of mind over matter and you must ignore the lean at all costs - it isn't easy! 


Trike 7As Martin says above, a trike not running on fixed-wheel has to have two brakes. Holdsworth offered a hub brake conversion but this didn't suit most serious racers. Ingenious owners have come up with several solutions, some mount a brake either side of the fork crown, one to the front and one to the rear (see image left (on the only known Mercian trike)).  Others devise a 'cradle' allowing two brakes, one in front of the other in
Trike 8tandem on the front of the fork. Another 'dodge' was to use one cantilever brake with a conventional side or centre-pull. Those who did use use the front hub brake supplemented it with a conventional front brake.

Right: Image of another dual-brake set-up, this time on a Gillott
 with cantilever brake mounted on fork bosses plus a side-pull
mounted on an 'outrigger'

Mick Butler (trike and tandem-trike rider) adds the following:

There were two types of drive axles during the life of the Holdsworth one had what appeared to be a crimped dimpled end. A lot of riders Araldited the idler hub in place. There were more than a few incidents with the hub and wheel leaving the trike tube housing! I used both types and both used ball races as bearings. Frank Whit of the S.V.C.C used the Holdsworth as the basis of his axle. He employed the frame part of the axle. Fitted both ends with self centring ball races and welded the hubs to individual axles, obviously dispensing with the idler set up. The picture of our Evans tandem trike has a Frank Whitt axle fitted he made no more than five but they were wonderful and much improved on the rather basic Holdsworth set. There was a Paris Galibier trike with a Holdsworth axle in the V-CC, the last time I saw it it was in the hands of John Malseed. That used adjustable chain-stays for chain tension.
When Holdsworth ceased production, Ken Rogers purchased all the remaining Holdsworth trike sets and spares.

Jim Elsegood has sent us these images of his Rogers conversion with a close-up of the cunning centre-pull brake modification he has built up with extra-long pivot bolts and spacers he designed and made. Whilst at it he made a small batch which he has passed on to Chris Hewitt at Harpenden. Jim can be contacted at j.elsegood(at)btinternet.com

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