The history of Rudge

  1. 1869-1910

The early days, the period of the Tricycles and Bicycles

In 1869, Daniel “Dan” Rudge, landlord of the Tiger Inn in Wolverhampton, England, was a practical, quality oriented engineer who was encouraged by his friends Walter Philips and Henry Clark to set up a factory to build a velocipede to Walter’s designs using wheels supplied by Henry Clark’s Cogent Cycle Company business. Produc tion began in a workshop in the Tiger Inn yard in 1874 and a number of high quality Ordinary “high” bicycles were made. By 1878 Dan had invented and patented adjustable ball-bearing wheel hubs and so successful was the innovation that Rudge Made bicycles were often handicapped by 20 to 30 yards in races. Dan soon had 100 workers manufacturing bicycles in a number of local factories but died of cancer in 1880 at the age of 39. Dan’s widow, Mary, soon sold the business and the patents to George Woodcock of Coventry, who merged the business with the Tangent and Coventry Tricycle company, naming it D Rudge & Co. Mary received a cash sum and a pension for the use of the patents, she died in 1884.

George Woodcock developed the business but died in 1891 and the company, D Rudge & Co, was bought by the Pugh brothers who owned the Whitworth Cycle Company. The renowned quality of Rudge was joined with the established Whitworth to form the company Rudge Whitworth Ltd. we now know. All this happened to coincide with a huge increase in the popularity of the bicycle and its adoption by the industrial workers. There were 60 bicycle companies in Coventry at this time and Rudge expanded production from 10,000 in 1895 to 25,000 in 1897 and 75,000 in 1906. Initially the new Company produced Ordinary cycles, tricycles, safety cycles and tandems, but the Ordinary was soon dropped. The bicycle played an important transport role during the First World War.

  1. 1910 -1923

The time of the belt drive Single Speed and the “Multi” 

After an unsuccessful attempt with engines supplied by the Werner brothers of France, Rudge introduced for retail sale, in 1910, its first motorcycle. It was a moto rised and massively reinforced bicycle, with a frame derived from the bicycle with a high seat position and big, narrow wheels. The basic design of the 500cc engine with its 85/88mm bore and stroke continued with the Rudge until 1939. The first “F head” engine had its valves arranged as inlet over exhaust. The cylinder did not have a detach able head as such and was a single casting with a side chamber housing the valves. A power transfer belt drove the back wheel at a fixed ratio of 1:6. Starting the single speed machine was achieved by running with the machine until it started and then jumping aboard. The single speed machines were soon joined by the convenient clutch and mechanical variable gear arrangements in many forms and pedals which enabled starting the engine whilst stationary. An optional 2 speed NSU gearbox could be mounted on the crankshaft and offered a choice of driving styles; moderate, or fast depending upon the ratio selected whilst at rest with a dead engine.

Then there came the Multi in late 1911 – which featured a multi-disc clutch and an adjustable engine pulley plus an adjustable rear wheel pulley, offering a con tinuous range of ratios from low through to high and MULTIPLE graduated intermediate steps – hence the name Multi. The adjustable pulleys kept the driving belt at a constant tension (see cross section on page 20). This design also incorporated an easy belt adjustment screw on the rear wheel axle. The variable pulley survives today in cars and other mechanically propelled vehicles with variable gears. The fuel tanks were a flat sided design and survived through the next two generations of motorcycles until the saddle tank arrived in 1928. 1912 saw the introduction of the 750cc single cylinder engine for sidecar work, to be followed, in 1915, by a 998cc V Twin fitted with a Jardine four speed gearbox. These were later replaced with the first mechanical 3 speed gear of Rudge’s own design and construction as an alternative to the Multi gear.


  1. 1923 – 1928

The introduction of four valve technologies and four speed transmissions 

The Multi had been getting on in years – she had distinguished herself as a thoroughbred machine for a decade, but the numbers of sales were clearly falling and the competitors had not been resting. Rudge had to initiate a new generation of motorcycle to keep its place on the market. Technical manager John Pugh showed his fore sight and clear strategic thinking and devised a sporty machine in the spirit of the times, the roaring twenties. A new engine would put Rudge back amongst the leading manufacturers again. John Pugh introduced a cylinder head with four valves – a technology which is to this day associated with Rudge. This design achieved significantly better inlet and exhaust gas flows, raising the power and increasing the engine speed which all resulted in high speeds without having to use big valve diameters. Another important effect of this technology has been the possible smaller, lighter valves for reduced stress strength.

Two models were introduced at the ends of 1923, a 350cc single lobe cam and a 500cc double lobe cam. The new models incorporated a four speed gearbox with a tank mounted hand-change gear shift. And for 1926 a new gearbox containing needle roller bearings was introduced. Linked front and rear rim brakes were fitted from 1925 – hence, the slogan became “Four Valves – Four Speeds – Coupled Brakes”. In 1928 200mm (8 inch) brake drums replaced rim brakes and remained a constant feature

up to the end of Rudge in 1939.


  1. 1928 -1931

The birth of the legendary Ulster, the Golden Years of Rudge.

In 1924 the four valve engine had laid the foundations for a golden period and the pedigree sports machines of the late 1920s and 1930s. Investigation undertaken during the winter 1927/28 in engineering developments were rewarded in the summer of 1928 with the sensational victory by Graham Walker in the Ulster Grand Prix, near

Belfast, setting a new record average of more than 80mph. The production Sports machine was renamed the “Ulster” to celebrate this success. The engineering elements developed for this successful motorcycle included

Four valve cylinder heads with radial exhaust ports, this arrangement improved the inner cooling and filling of the cylinder at high revs

Together with careful design of the exhaust pipe /inlet channel length this produced good power and revs Valve timing with inlet and exhaust overlapping and concave cam profile provided good torque at medium speed

Low internal friction losses by the use of rollers in the engine and gear box

Low oil drag through dry-sump oiling system from 1929 on Low centre of gravity by low seat position and long wheel base, low overall weight of 288 lbs

Trapezoid fork with forged fork shackles

200mm (8 inch) brake drums which are both coupled to the foot pedal

The farsightedness of John Pugh as a technical manager and his abilities to select the right team produced the dream team responsible for the successes. There was ed Anstey who was once a designer and the young racing engineer George Hack as well as, of course, Graham Walker – the Sales Manager and an excellent racing rider of first Sunbeam and then Rudge machines.


  1. 1928 – 1933

The Dirt track models

From 1928 onwards, cinder sport in Great Britain became popular. Stanley Glanfield, a real Rudge hero, undertook an around the world expedition on his 3.5hp/ four speed Rudge fitted with a box sidecar. His journey which covered 18,000 miles is still, today, hard to conceive. During this journey Stanley encountered dirt track racing in Australia and returned to Coventry to initiate the production of Rudge Dirt Track machines. These machines were very successful and are still raced today by their devotees. 1928 the first DT Rudges were derived from the road models, but the further development of the production version after 1928 was strongly influenced by the ideas from tuners like Comerford Wallis and Stanley Glanfield.

A special frame with a shorter wheel base and forward engine position 

Near vertical light telescopic Webb forks with one central spring

Half gallon petrol tank

Knee rest on the right 

Engines derived from the Ulster, first with parallel valve heads followed by the semi-radial head

Special gearbox or the countershaft arrangement for cinder tracks

 On final model an engine with 6 through studs

No brakes

Asymmetric exhausts with the left being raised to clear the ground

Rudge also supplied engines to other DT-manufacturers like Cotton, Eysink, Imperia and private tuners. The production stopped 1933, but the engines were still used for many years.


  1. 1932 -1939

The “Radial” Rudges and the late road going machines.

In steps from 1931 to 1939 through race proven experience, the sporty Rudge was developed.

The arrangements of the four valves began in parallel format and in 1931 evolved into the famous radial pattern. However race experience soon proved that a pent

roof combustion chamber with parallel valves was the most effective and powerful design option. On the other side the radial design had shown important improvements with cracks between the exhaust valves. Both facts led to the decision that for the higher loaded Ulster’s the semi radial pattern was used from 1933 onwards. This design. also had cost advantages. For a further improvement a bronze cylinder head was introduced on the Ulster range in 1934 to help reduce the thermal loadings. The last modifi cation was in 1939 the use of aluminium for the cylinder head.

The Special stayed with parallel valves right through its production run. The open over-head valve gear was enclosed for both models in 1936. An oil-tight primary Chain case was introduced in 1932. The weight grew from 145 to 180kg. The famous hand-stand lever was introduced in 1932.


  1. 1929-1939

The 250cc Rudges, the “Lightweight Rudges” 

In 1929 a less expensive, lighter, 250cc machine was marketed. First models incorporated a JAP engine in both side-valve and over-head valve construction. Sales were not good and a Rudge designed 250cc engine replaced the JAP in 1931. After the amazing success of the 350 race bikes in 1930 with a 1st 2nd 3rd TT Isle of Man win of the brand new four valve full radial design sales were growing for a smaller copy of the sister construction but in 250 size. Especially because the TT race success of the 250 Lightweight followed the 1930 Junior class win with a 1931 1st 2nd and 4th race result.

Rudge used a number of innovations to make the machine lighter; the brakes were reduced to 175mm from 200mm, a lighter frame and lighter trapezoidal forks

contributed to an amazing 100kg motorbike. Financial economies in 1935 brought a two valve head into production on the Rapid model. Interestingly, racers used this engine also with hairpin springs very

ccesstully, thus demonstrating that a simple two valve construction can be better than the theoretically advanced construction.


  1. 1928 – 1935

The Rudge racing motorcycles

Rudge could celebrate important race and competition results over the years, like Cyril Pullin’s TT success in 1914, or the Brooklands Circuit achievements, but the reputation earned by the four valve machines from 1928 on lives on to this day.

The most important race models were:

500cc 4v parallel from 1928 to 1930 with Replica models produced in 1931 350cc 4v radial in 1930 as Works racer with Replica model in 1931 until 1933 250cc 4v radial in 1931 as Works racer with Replica model in 1932 until 1933

500cc 4v semi-radial in 1931 as Works racer and radial for the Replica in 1932 500cc 4v semi-radial in 1933 as a Replica 500cc 4V semi-radial but “down drought head” as production racer 1934/1935

More or less works machines were one year ahead of the next years Replicas. Replica models were the chance for private owners to buy a racer. Their race success enhanced sales of road machines. This cross fertilisation. of engineering pedigree from Works racers to Replica models to Street machines became the trade mark of a Rudge. 


  1. 1939 -1950

The end

Rudge was plagued by financial troubles from the early thirties to 1939. Falling sales necessitated a withdrawal from works supported racing which ended in 1933. In 1934 John Pugh retired and died in 1936. The company lost its heart. Production fell to 2,000 machines in 1936. Rudge announced bankruptcy and was taken over by Electro-Mechanical Industries (EMI) with production rationalised and eventually moved from Coventry to Hayes in Middlesex. Further development was put on the back burner and production continued at 2,000 machines per annum. The company hoped for military orders in 1939 for its 250cc WD Model but this did not materialise. EMI Utilised the Coventry factory for the production of radar devices for the defence of the realm during world war II.