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Joseph Lucas

Joseph Lucas was an old Birmingham England company that got its start making oil lamps for ships, and went on to manufacture lighting systems for bicycles.

They date back to the late 1800s when they made Kerosene and Carbide lamps for bicycles.

See the picture left of a Lucas “Kinglet,” circa 1896.

When these became obsolete Lucas went on to make battery and dynamo (Generator.) driven bicycle lighting systems. (Top picture.)

The company also made generators and other electrical parts for cars and motorcycles.

Lucas also made an inexpensive little mechanical bicycle odometer, called a cyclometer. Introduced, I believe, in the 1930s it was popular with club riders and cycle tourists up until about the 1960s.

It attached to the front wheel spindle and had a five-point star wheel that made contact with a little striker pin attached to a spoke.

Five revolutions of the front wheel would turn the star wheel one revolution. The mechanism was geared so it would measure miles and 10ths of a mile. It was easy to read as you rode just by glancing down to the end of your right fork blade.

You could figure out your speed by looking at your watch; a 4 minute mile was 15 mph. a 3 minute mile was 20 mph. These were never really popular with the racing cyclists as it made an annoying tick-tick-tick sound.

So I abandoned my Cyclometer very early on when I became a serious cyclist, and come to think of it, there were not any other devices to measure mileage or speed until the first electronic ones appeared sometime in the 1980s.

To this day I still don’t use one; I have gone this far without knowing exactly how fast and how far I am riding. A map tells me roughly how far my ride is, and I find that close enough.



Reader Comments (22)

Yeah, I put a Lucas Cyclometer on my Hercules back in the early 1950s, but soon got rid of it because the clicking drove me nuts! I was happy without anything like that for decades, but eventually got a "computer" that showed cadence. Now I find the computer nagging me distracting. It was more fun back when I just relied on the map and landmarks to tell me of my progress.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Knowing an MGB owner, I'm surprised the Lucas bike components worked at all.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChamps

You are right, shoddy workmanship killed the British Auto Industry by the 1970s. And great motorcycle brands disappeared too. Plus British motorbikes had the handlebars on the wrong side :)

November 21, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I tried to get a computer correctly set up but always found them wanting. I prefer to ride by feel and number of hours.

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

Ah, Lucas, the Prince of Darkness. I wonder how many times I had to clean the contacts on the fusebox on my MG.

I had a dial speeodmeter on a Raleigh 'stingray' type bike in the late 60's. It operated by a cable and gear on the front hub. It slowed the whole bike down it had so much friction.


November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaul S

Hi Dave, I installed many cable driven speedometer / odometers on customers bicycles starting back in 1976. I never owned one as Paul S. states, but they were popular with your average customer. Most serious riders didn't use anything. I finally installed an "Advocet" computer on my bike in 1985 and used it until it's death about ten years later. It was a simple device with current speed, resettable trip mileage and total mileage. It was important to calculate the distance traveled by one revolution of of your wheel for accuracy. I also installed many "Schwinn Approved"
generator sets, Soubeteiz ( I believe that's how it was spelled) and a few Japanese sets ( Panasonic ?) that was mounted under the chain stays and a roller rubbed on the center of the tire. These, I found, created the least drag. The pain with all of the generator sets was routing the wires. Not easy to perform a "clean" installation. Also many generator sets had a ground set screw that tightened right into the seat stay through the paint (Oh Boy !). I have never seen any Lucas models until your article here. I agree with the others about the coined phrase " Lucas, Prince of Darkness" as several friends owned Brittish cars and motorcycles and anguished with the shortcomings (no pun intended) of the system. Thanks again Dave! Great writing as usual !

November 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I had one of the Lucas Cyclometer when I started to ride seriously in 1973. I rode the same route most of the summer and by the end of the summer noticed that the route was getting longer! Figured out that by riding faster, the cyclometer was recording two ticks for one.

I remember that by 1975 someone made a odometer that was mounted down by the hub but was driven by a rubber belt. Much better.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErik Husby

Erik, yes that was another problem with the Lucas cyclometer. As the star wheel bushing became work, it would spin more freely and turn more than one tooth at a time.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

I'm old enough to remember various pre-electronic cyclometers. During the early '80s, my bike shop years, one was available driven by a small rubber belt - an O ring really. I can't remember the manufacturer...

When the Avocet models arrived, I used those for years - simple and the info you needed. The first electronic model for me and I always rode with one.

I still use a small Cat Eye model on my "best" road bike. I stopped using 'em on my commuter and mountain bikes.

November 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

I had to laugh when I saw the topic of this post. My first car was a 1958 MGA and my second an Austin Healey Sprite, so I have met the Prince of Darkness.

I don't think it was bad workmanship as much as the technology was from the 30's. Britain lost so many of its bright young men in the war that designs could not keep up. But oh, those cars were fun: cheap and nimble and wind in the face.

The Lucas motto: a good day's work and home before dark.

The Lucas three position switch: Dim, Flicker, Off

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob B

Great comment from Bob B. Actually laughed out loud at the 3 positions on the Lucas light.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

I'm not sure if cyclists had as much disdain for Lucas products as motorists, who expect stuff to just "work" out-of-the-box with no help from the user. My first two cars were British, a 1958 Sprite and a 1965 MGB. The electrical quirks were quite endearing. If I didn't have the key for my Sprite, I could start it by pulling one of the fuses under the hood and sticking it between the two adjacent fuse clips. The first Tata Nano, the $2500 economy car made in India, was light years ahead of my Sprite and cost twice as much (due to inflation). I'm reading now that even the British motorists are now dumbing down to automatic transmissions.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Ahh..... the generator light. The first resistance trainer for bicycles. Invented by tire manufactures to wear out the tire and boost sales.

November 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJim

Huret Multito!
Mounted and an advert

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRay

Tick tick bloody tick tick! Hated em. Used for a few weeks then in the bin! As a vintage Brit car owner Lucas instruments also should have been tossed in the bin. I do have on my desk a Lucas lamp like the one in the photo.Its a Wonder it hasnt caught on fire and burnt the house down.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Dave, silly question and one that I can't find the answer to anywhere. (Although judging by other user's comments, maybe I shouldn't want to?) I recently bought a mid-70's Peugeot mixte frame that came with a Joseph Lucas cyclometer. Thing is, the little gadget runs backwards. And I can't for the life of me figure out how to install and configure it to count forwards if the rider is to be able to see the mileage readout while on the bike. I've fiddled with it every which way. Have you encountered anything like this? Any advice on how to properly install these gadgets?

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

Is the peg hitting the star wheel over the top or underneath?


January 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

Hurray! Thank you - my brain couldn't figure out that part of the Mobius loop on its own. The cyclometer runs forward, but now the striker pin hits the front fork. Sigh, the joys of vintage bicycles, no?

January 17, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

UK Lucas Electrical license holders ELTA, have recently relaunched a range of Lucas Bike Lights, including a premium range of 'King of the Road' lights. Have a look here: http://www.lucasbikelights.co.uk

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTim Brotherton

Thanks for the tip on pin location I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out how to get my Italian Velometer to work

April 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMike baczkowski

Pushing 80 yrs., I have to seriously think of starting cycling again on the advice of a physiotherapist after replacement knee/hip surgery. I was clearing out some decades old junk from the garage when, joy of joys! I unearthed a Lucas cyclometer I'd not used since the early '90s. - AND it was set at zero miles. Now that I'm built for comfort and not speed, I think a tricycle will carry me along like a ponderous Brewer's dray horse than a thoroughbred racehorse. Roll on the (not so) open road and all those diesel fumes!

July 4, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMumblemike

Also 80 years old. I had a smaller frame Royal Enfield bike when too small for full size frame, around 1946, then Raleigh Superb Dawns with front DynoHub brake combo and various Sturmey Archer 3 & 4 speeds. I think one was a 4 speed hub brake combo. The Varley gel battery previously supplied with the DynoHub had been discontinued and a tube with D cells was supplied instead.
Also had an Italian Mosquito motor installed between cranks. the Amal carb was useless due to wearing out of the float valve on Glasgow's cobblestone streets, but the Italian Dellorto worked fine. I used to do the 42 miles Glasgow South side to Ardgartan caravan site on Loch Long in about 90 minutes-talk about high revving! It sounded like a wasp on steroids, not a mosquito! My Dad bought me in 1951-2 (Halfords?) a large chrome Lucas bike head lamp. It had a flat beam, plain glass and vertical flutes in the reflector, like some current cars.
I have just bought a comfort bike to get some exercise cycling with my just retired daughter, in Langley, up the Fraser valley from Vancouver in BC.
headlights, so obviously ahead of its time.
Noticing posts of the many problems with Lucas car equipment I wonder why, to the best of my knowledge, we never had Lucas problems in RR gas turbines while I was there 1961-3.

July 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas1879

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