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
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.
- 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