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John Ellis

I was sad to hear of Mr John Ellis's recent death.  I only met Mr Ellis once.  That was several years ago.  He was certainly a man of many parts and his journeys around Ireland with various road rollers (steam of course) are legendary.

During the 1960s 1 read a book of my father's called "British Motorcycles 1950".  In it I had my first encounter with the Bond Minibyke!  Years later I discovered that Mr Ellis was the manufacturer of the Minibyke from May 1950 to July 1953.  There followed a long correspondence between him and me.  I found that no questions were too trivial or complex.  At his suggestion I became the [VMCC] marque specialist for the Minibyke and the Laurie Bond built BAC machines (Bond built the Minibyke between January 1950 and May 1950).  To help me with this, Mr Ellis provided me with Minibyke handbooks and brochures, as well as the constructional details of the Minibykes.

He rather drifted into motor cycle manufacturing.  As Mr Ó Laoire stated in the obituary, Mr Ellis had large business interests in and around Leeds, including a dry cleaners in whose window a 98cc Minibyke standard was featured for many years.  Another of his businesses was Motor Distributors (Leeds) Ltd, who had their showrooms at Armley Park.  Today, the site is a brick and tile merchants, with only the fotecourt surviving.  Apart from dealing with motor cycles, cars and trucks, it was also the site of most of Mr Ellis's vast vehicle collection (which at that time would have been one of the largest in the world).  In spite of this, there was enough surplus space for Mr Ellis to realize his dream of becoming a motor cycle manufacturer - it was suggested possibly via Granville Bradshaw, whose brother Ewatt had a similar business 'empire' in the Preston area.

One of the Bradshaw controlled companies was the Loxhams group, which included Sharp's Commercials, manufacturer of the Bond Minicar.  Mr Ellis contacted Laurie Bond at Longride, as he had developed a technically interesting ultra-light motor cycle.  Mr Bond had entered manufacture of the Minibyke when Mr Ellis took over around mid-1950.  For the next three years around 700-800 Minibykes were built in 98cc standard form with a Villiers 1F engine and 125cc De-Lux G form with a JAP engine.

The production figures are higher than is perhaps throught, however some 20%-25% of machines failed due to 'frame' trouble (remember the Minibyke had an alloy frame pop rivited together).  Also at this time Mr Ellis wanted to leave Leeds to retire to Eire - firstly to Co Kildare then to Celbridge, in 1960.  The main reason for the ending of Minibyke production was due to the frame problems.  Steel mudguards were tried, as was an experimental rear suspension system which was limited to about 2" × 2½" travel, as it was a cross between a plunger and a swinging arm!  But, in the end, the problem was found to be insoluble.

With Mr Ellis's passing the ranks of surviving motor cycle manufacturers are further thinned.  For my part I shall miss his advice, knowledge and help.  It certainly was very useful for me as a marque specialist to have access to the manufacturer himself.

Nicholas Kelly

First published as a letter to the Journal of the VMCC, June 1992

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