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1914 Lea Francis

At a time when all motorcycles were something of a luxury item the products of Lea-Francis were aimed at the top of the market. Concentrating on quality they built on the solid reputation of Lea-Francis bicycles.

Bicyle manufacture had begun in 1895, when Graham Ingoldsby Francis and Richard Lea went into partnership in Coventry. Their 'safety bicycles' were built to the highest standards and they had a smart showroom in Picadilly, London.

Unlike many others, Lea-Francis dabbled in car manufacture before undertaking serious experiments with motorcycles, although they did try fitting a propriety engine to one of the bicycles in 1902. The Lea-Francis car appeared the following year but it was never a commercial success.

The first motorcycle proper came out in 1912 with a 430cc JAP V-twin side-valve engine. It had a two-speed gearbox and a hefty price that emphasised its quality and concentration on providing the rider with the best of everything. This included excellent weather shielding, with large mudguards, footboards and full enclosure for the all-chain transmission. An undertray swung forward to act as a stand and the front brake used a dummy belt rim and friction block. The brakes, like the firm's reflex rear lamp, were under patent and said to be 'sbove suspicion'.

The chain drive and multiple clutch were both advanced features for the time, when most makers relied on the simple belt. The method of tensioning the chain was also ingenious, for the gearbox was cylindrical with an eccentric mounting. Simply rotating it in its housing provided a wide range of adjustment - a system that was seen almost 50 years later, when it was taken up for AJS and Matchless lightweights.

In 1914, Lea-Francis exhibited a range of new models with 430, 500 and 750cc JAP or MAG engines. However, the outbreak of War interrupted operations. A small number of bikes were built for military use but production virtually came to a halt. After the armistice, the V-twins returned much as before. The three-speed gearbox appeared in 1920 but by 1924 the company was concentrating on car production so motorcycle production was discontinued.

Gordon Francis had joined his father-in-law Arthur Barnett in 1919, to form the Francis-Barnett partnership. The marque went on to build its own enviable reputation, including racing and off-road awards, and, as part of the AMC Group, survived until as late as 1964.

Lea-Francis (1913-14)

  • Years in production - 1913-14
  • Engine - JAP side-valve V-twin four-stroke
  • Bore and Stroke - 85 x 88mm
  • Capacity - 430cc
  • Carburettor - Amac
  • Transmission - all-chain with two-speed gearbox and multiplate clutch
  • Top speed - 55mph