More than two decades ago, V Prabhakar spotted an unusual vintage cycle in a scrap dealer's shop. A collector of vintage artifacts, he bought it and took it home. Only later did he discover that the bicycle was made for the soldiers of the Allied Forces during the Second World War.
Called the BSA Airborne Bicycle, it was manufactured in the early 1940s by Birmingham Small Arms Company. This bicycle made its way to the vintage bicycle exhibition held recently at Seafarer’s Club in George Town to celebrate the launch of the book George Town Bicycle Trail , compiled by heritage enthusiasts Cycling Yogi.
Founder Ramanujar Moulana says, “When we think of vintage transport, we most often think of cars, trams and others. But bicycles revolutionised transportation centuries ago. They too have a history and I want people to see it.”
When Prabhakar folds the bicycle in half, the visitors are in awe. He then tells them how the bicycles travelled with paratroopers on warplanes. While the soldiers exited the planes in parachutes, the bicycles were dropped down with the help of an unpowered aircraft or smaller tailor-made parachutes. They were dropped in a way that the handlebars hit the ground first.
“I don’t know how the cycle made its way into the city and then ended up in a scrap shop. BSA manufactured bicycles exclusively for military use and there is a possibility the British brought it here,” he says.
Ask him how much he paid to salvage it from the scrap dealer, he smiles, “That’s a trade secret.”
The BSA Airborne cycle is not the only prize catch of this collector. He owns 12 other vintage bicycles: Rudge Whitworth 1950, which is fitted with Sturmey-Archer coaster brake hub and English diamond battery light; Humber Sports 1955 fitted with 1943 German Torpedo coaster brake hub and six volts dynamo; BSA Roadster 1950 fitted with steel handgrips and Sardar oil lamp; Raleigh Roadster 1950 fitted with steel handgrips, drum brakes on both the wheels and Powell & Hanmar kerosene lamp, among them.
Another collector John Moses takes out his prized possessions from an old iron chest and lays them out carefully on a table. He shows his antique bicycle lamps with pride: a 1914 Lucas Silver King that uses petroleum, a Henkel lamp that runs on carbide and an Indian kerosene lamp. His 1937 Rudge-Whitworth Roadster with three-speed Sturmey-Archer rear hub with a built-in dynamo, a 1970 Raleigh Chopper and 1960 Hercules Ladies Sports were on display too.
The vintage penny-farthing was like a puzzle to the young visitors who wondered how people rode the high-wheeler without losing balance.