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A small ad in the April 'Buzzing' for an Auction at Penrith caught my eye. On offer were a number of cyclemotors and other items but it was the mention of the Cykelaid name that interested me. The two early-1920s machines advertised were obviously the property of Jack Birkbeck for I had seen them at events in Yorkshire getting on for some ten years ago. My interest was aroused since the machines were made in York by the Sheppee Motor Co who, in the early 1900s, also made paraffin-fired steam lorries and later were involved with glass bottle manufacturing equipment. There are only penny numbers of these rare machines around and I knew that, perhaps somewhat unfortunately for any prospective purchasers, both bikes - a lady's and a gent's - had been rideable for a long time and would undoubtedly have transferable numbers on them. With this in mind, one might assume that they would attract high bids, if only for the numbers. One was a two-letter mark from the 1920s, the other a three-letter one dating from the 1950s.
A quick decision was made to go to the auction and David Casper and I, accompanied by Ian McGregor from Buckinghamshire, a friend of David's who, being a new enthusiast, we eventually had to restrain from spending all his money. When we got there we were perhaps not surprised to find a considerable number of other cyclemotor related items in the various boxes of 'spares' which were on offer, in addition to those fitted to cycles. The catalogue descriptions of some of the lots left much to be desired: the terms "mini-wheel" and "cycle-aid" being used generically (presumably by the auctioneers) instead of "cyclemotor" in the lists. They applied these terms to such items as an RM1 engine and a JDL engine, as well as stripped Cyclemaster and Mini-Motor engines. Having quickly scanned the listings, it was somewhat disappointing to find these "cycle-aid" items were not Cykelaid or even related to the Sheppee built machines. One other positively identifiable item from York, however, was an engine crankcase which bears the legend The Sheppee Motor Co Ltd cast into it, together with a cylinder head, mounted on a wheel - almost a Cykelaid engine.
For the record, some of the prices were as follows: period cycles very suitable for mounting clip-ons made from £30 to £85. A complete Her-Cu-Motor went for £200 (unregistered). A similar frame fitted rather unusually with a Cyclemaster (very novel) sold for £60. A Cyclemaster in a very nice and original Rudge frame went for £140 and travelled back south with us, whilst a tidy Raleigh RM1 (unreg) was £110. One of the two Mini-Motors (OKO 552 - transferable) went up to £750 but was not sold whilst a further one (PLC 497 - transferable) sold for a very high £1700. An unregistered, large wheeled early VéloSoleX went for only £100 and the first of the two Cykelaids (SM 4606) in its very nice ladies cycle and by far the most attractive of the two went up to £2500 to a telephone bid. It also had one of the genuine Cykelaid extras: a rear wheel additional rim brake. Unfortunately at that figure it was far beyond my price range. The other one (AEC 418) in a somewhat stuck together gents frame went up to £1800 but we learnt afterwards that it was 'bought in' because it didn't reach its reserve. As a consolation, the 'spare' front wheel and part engine was obtained for a reasonable sum and did head back to York for restoration as a display item - the chance of finding the rest of such a machine now seeming somewhat unlikely. On inspection, I was surprised to find that there was a piston in the bore and the con rod was tied to the axle, to save it getting lost. A thoughtful idea, presumably on Jack's part. Incidentally, the prices quoted are exclusive of a Buyers Premium of 11.75%.
The highest price of the day was for a 349cc c1927 Chater Lea motor cycle (YU 613) which went to £3800 whilst a 250cc c1921 New Imperial (X 6938) and a 250cc c1924 Dunelt (WRS 432) were both knocked down for £3000 each.
We were pleased to meet several other NACC members at the sale and chat to them afterwards in the Spring sunshine about how expensive some of the items were, before we headed off back over the Pennines for Cykelaid country - York.
As a postscript to this, it is known that over ten years ago, Sheppee Engineering whilst still in their original Thomas Street premises in York, had two of their own machines in their works for sentimental reasons. Since then, the firm has gone into liquidation, changed their name, down-sized and have re-located to premises outside York. Whether these two Cykelaids remained with the firm during their dramatic period of change in the early 1990s is not known. I suppose I ought to go and see...
First published - June 1997
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