Summer 1910. Cycling was all the rage. The Tour de France was in its 10th year. An up-and-coming bicycle company suddenly appeared on the French scene amongst the dozens, if not hundreds, of similar tiny companies. It was called Cycles Brighton. It seems to have had a very short but vigorous lifespan.
The bicycles were marketed from an agency in a newly constructed hôtel industriel (light industry hub) in the 11th arrondissement of Paris (18 rue du Faubourg du Temple). The agent was M. Jules Blot fils [junior]. This was probably the same Jules Blot, or the son of the same Jules Blot, who was running a small industrial business just 8 miles away, in Levallois-Perret.
In October 1911 the new company took part in Les Reliability Trials Cyclistes (an early example of franglais) organised by the newspaper L’Auto. Very precise details of the Brighton bike were published. As was common at the time, the company probably specialised in assembling bike parts bought in from elsewhere: the Brighton chain was made by “Reynolds” (most likely a mis-spelling for the Hans Renold Co. based in Salford at the time); its saddle came from Brown Brothers of London (who were advertising “anatomical cantilever saddles” in their 1912 catalogue) and its free wheel mechanism was produced by Eadie (a subsidiary of BSA and manufactured in the English Midlands). Clearly an anglophile was at the heart of the Cycles Brighton. Or did the small company just recognise the superior quality of UK engineering?
One thing that was clearly the bike’s own was its colours, described as: couleur havane, bandeaux noirs filets or. [Havana brown, black bands with gold highlights.]
The following season, the company threw itself into advertising and racing.
The advert at the top of the blog points out that although racers on Cycles Brighton bikes have won many gruelling races (the Champigny to Soignolles, the Choisy-le-Roi to Versailles, the Morlaix and the Kremlin races as well as the France athlétique et sportive championship) none of their men were professional. Why not? According to its newspaper ads, the Company did not wish to pass on to their customers the cost of sponsoring individuals or a team. Possibly a sly dig at some of the other manufacturing companies, or even at L’Auto itself (promoter of the Tour de France). Were the readers of L’Auto in fact indirectly paying the cost of the Tour de France?
By July 1912, the company was promoting its own race, modestly named:
The race was advertised by another sport-orientated newspaper, L’Aéro, which made it clear who was paying the cost of the race: Organisée et dotée royalement par le Cyclo-Club Brighton … Les organisateurs, … n’ont pas hésité à faire les frais que nécessite une épreuve de 230 kil., on droit à toutes nos félicitations. [organised and generously sponsored by the Cyclo-Club Brighton … The organisers have not spared any expense required by a 230 km feat of endurance.] Were any of these expenses passed on to customers? The président of the Cyclo-Club Brighton was M. Jules Blot fils, described as le sympathique constructeur des cycles (Brighton) [Cycles Brighton’s genial bicycle builder.] The Cyclo-Club Brighton was entirely an invention of M. Blot’s own and is not known to have ever had any connection with Sussex.
The route of the Grand Prix Brighton was gruelling: from Paris to Noyon-sur-Sarthe (230 km) in the day and each man for himself. The two first prizes were, of course une bicyclette Brighton. Registration started at 5.45 in the morning and the participants set off at 6.30 am.
This image from the sports magazine La Vie au grand air (27 July 1912) shows Louis Heusghem changing his own wheel in the Pyrenees during the Tour de France. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / BnF
The Grand Prix Brighton seems to have been the final flourish of the company.
The name Cycles Brighton last appears in newspapers in November 1913. Was it because it had a rather strange and unworkable marketing model?
[Cycles Brighton will now give the cyclist the benefit of the same advantages enjoyed by retailers by allowing our customers a 50% discount on our bicycles and accessories. Contact 18, faubourg du Temple, Paris. To receive a large format catalogue, send a postal order to the value of 2 francs. Le Matin 9 December 1912]
Such an offer directly to customers was not a good ploy to keep retailers on side. Or did the looming conflict of 1914 put paid to what should have been a lucrative business?
Jules Blot appears to have had no connection with Brighton, Sussex. However, he did have a house built for himself and his wife in fashionable Brighton-sur-Mer, a suburb of the French seaside town of Cayeux-sur-Mer Clearly his love of the name Brighton spread from his private life to his business world. For more about Brighton-sur-Mer, see French Brighton blog “Faux Brighton”.
Thanks to David Guénel for information about the Louis Heusghem image. For bike history, check out David’s Twitter site @davidguenel and velo-club.net (Articles – Cycle Historique)