The Hovercraft


Seldom do we seen such a dramatic shift away from one established technology with the arrival of a competing and, often, better new technology or solution – this is described by the cruelly true word of “obsolesce”.

A classic example is the Kodiak 35mm film or the Polaroid camera – see our earlier piece here on the Polaroid Camera – when confronted with the dawn of mass digital photography and the ever increasing pixels of the cameras incorporated into mobile phones demand for these former market leaders collapsed.

The powered or manual ribbon typewriter was rendered redundant by the arrival its victor, the word processor/computer.

An equally dramatic commercial market shift can be seen in the impact that the opening of the Channel Tunnel, in May 1994 and the commencing of its passenger services in November 1994, had on the transport links typified by ferry boats and today’s iconic design, The Hovercraft.

On many occasions from the mid 1970’s to late 1980’s I used the Hovercraft services that ploughed between the Kent coasts and Northern France. Akin to flying, rising up then skuttling across the waves on its air inflated “skirt”, the ride was fabulous – if a little noisy – for the sea-sick prone, like me, who could resemble an emerald before a traditional ferry boat had left the harbour!

Not entirely without predecessors, the Hovercraft is regarded as a British invention of  the late 1950’s when mechanical engineer Christopher Cockerell’s and his colleagues developed an annular ring of air for maintaining the cushion and providing lift under the vehicle, combined with a successful “skirt”, resulted in the first practical vehicular use of the concept.

Initially, until no military use was shown, Cockerell’s work and design were Classified. However, it was later Declassified and in 1958 Cockerell obtained funding for a full scale model. Launching in June 1959, it crossed the English Channel on 25 July 1959.

By 1968 a car and passenger cross-channel ferry service was offered by Hoverlloyd from the Kent coast to Calais and Boulogne (France) and, later, by Seaspeed – a joint venture with British Rail and the French equivalent SNCF. In 1981 the two businesses merged to become “Hoverspeed” – whose majestic craft is our featured image.

Hoverspeed Brochure

The Hoverspeed services ceased in 2000 and were replaced by Seacat catamarans until 2005. The reason, often cited for their closure was the impact of the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

I’d also suggest the routes suffered from a decline in so-called “Booze Cruises”, when us Brits, would fill up our cars with lowly taxed beers, wines and spirits in Northern France.

Hoverspeed Booze

Although the Hovercraft continues to enjoy a role, both in the military and civilian services around the world, and production still taking place on the Isle of White – the  home of its design and testing – perhaps like Concorde – see our earlier post here – Concorde by Dominic Baker in years to come and market forces identify demand there will be a revival in the fortunes of the Cross Channel Hovercraft services, I would be a keen supporter.

Hover 2

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Photo credits – Hover Speed And





VéloSolex moped

Solex 2

Increasingly dependent on getting from A to B as quickly as possible I have noticed a rise in commuters using electrically operated bicycles and small motorized scooters. They seem to offer limited comfort and even less protection for the rider who, for an inexplicable reason, think they have the power of a large Harley, BMW or Honda at their fingertips and get themselves into precarious positions on the road causing much frustration to others.

In a far gentler era the predecessor of these street demons was VéloSoleX or more frequently referred to as a Solex which was moped – or motorised bicycle – originally produced by Solex who were based in Paris (France) and founded by engineering friends, Maurice Goudard and Marcel Mennesson.

Designed by Mennesson during World War II, the Solex was produced between 1946 and 1988 in a variety of versions largely utilising the same technology of a motor with roller resting on and driving the front wheel of the bicycle.


Being very competitively priced and hugely economical to run, the Soles was a massive success. In total it sold in excess of 7m units. In 1947 even BP created “Solexine”, a pre-mixed  oil and petrol mix for the Solex’s two stroke engine and sold in a 2L can. By the late 1940’s Solex was selling 100 units a day rising to 1500 a day by the mid-1960’s – when it was blessed with a new maximum – though limited – speed of 30 km.

The company now makes a range of electrically powered bicycles. An early version, designed by Pininfarina, was launched in 2005 as the E-Solex.


By 2014 the Solexity Infinity was launched, again from the pen of Pininfarina – with capacity to travel up to 80 km on one charge – at the costs of around €2,000 – keeping the brand alive!


As French as the Beret, Brie and Baguette, the Solex, a classic French icon of the mid-20th century, has a very special place in my psyche as I explored the opportunity in the 1980’s of importing them into the UK. It was perhaps my first brush with the ever increasing dominance of the words “Health & Safety” in our national idiom.

I was required to deliver details to the Ministry of Transport who after some consideration and lots of teeth sucking, decided that the fuel tank, which was then made of a reasonable durable plastic was too feeble to withstand any front-end impact and the risks of fire were too great.

Solex also commissioned various evocative advertising posters, which in their own right are increasingly collectable.

Solex Poster a

For our French speaking friend’s – we know who you are – the equivalent of a an Owner’s Manual for a Vélosolex is a must – Le Guide du Vélosolex click the Amazon link below the image to get yours!


Le guide du Vélosolex

Why not pick up a classic French VeloSolex enamel sign that will look at home in your Gite in La Gironde, on the wall of your Flat in Fulham or your Man-cave in Manchester! Click the AMAZON link below the image





I love VeloSolex – and all this little motor cycle represents – you can too with this iconic T Shirt! Please click the Amazon link below the image 


Velosolex Moped T-Shirt. Gents Ladies Kids Sizes. Bike Cycling France Motorcycle:X Large – 48″

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Photo Credits – with grateful thanks – Solex SA

Pashley Cycles


There is such a massive push for us all to get fitter and cycling is not only very enjoyable it’s a great way to see your local city, town or countryside. However, our regular readers will, of course, expect us to highlight those iconic and rather beautiful bicycles that make a design statement.

Pashley Cycles are well known to those who love fine British hand-made bespoke bicycles but they are about to get even more famous, especially if you are a London based former “Boris Biker” and now a “Sadiq/Santander Saddler”.

In October 2016 it was announced that Pashley Cycles had developed a new fleet of more manoeuvrable hire bikes with smaller wheels, a lower frame, a new gear hub and an improved gel saddle. The first batch of new cycles are due to be phased in to the London streets during early 2017 with a further 500 being introduced annually thereafter.


Founded by William ‘Rath’ Pashley in 1926, the dedication and craftsmanship at Pashley Cycles continue the founder’s legacy to this day at their factory in Stratford-upon-Avon. Whilst demand has increased steadily in recent years every effort has been made to ensure that quality is not compromised.

Pashley employs the manufacturing system whereby each constructor individually hand-builds and finishes the  bicycles that have been ordered – its rare that they carry any stock – thereby ensuring a seamless connection and preservation of quality from initial assembly to despatch.

Let’s visit – click here – the Pashley Cycles Factory

For me there are two cycles in the Pashley range that tick several boxes, they are Countryman or Guv’nor. Both have legendary Reynolds 531 steel frames and Brooks saddles – Brooks bicycle saddles – the core difference being that the Countryman (our featured image) has the versatile 8 speed Shimano Alfine gearing whereas the Guv’nor – which echoes a Pashley design from the 1930’s known as the “Path Racer”- has the iconic North Road handlebars and comes in either a single gear version or a the very trusty Sturmey Archer – something many have known and loved since childhood – three speed version.


Adrian Williams, who now owns around 73% of Pashley, lead a management buyout in 1994, firm was his belief that hand-welded and high quality British bespoke bicycles had a future. The announcement from Transport for London is clear vindication for Mr Williams.

In 2010, Pashley, suffered a severe blow when longstanding and very valuable customer, the Royal Mail, announced the end of its bicycle deliveries. This decision necessitate a new outlet for the company’s production – hence the TfL link.

Additionally, the TfL announcement follows hard on the heels of J Sainsbury’s release trumpeting the  reintroduction of bicycle deliveries of groceries in London using Pashley cycles. Pashley have made a range of commercial “cargo bearing” cycles for years that traditionally accounted for around 60% of it total annual output of 8,000 to 10,000 cycles. Think “Open All Hours” – the original series!

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Images courtesy Pashley Cycles 




Brooks bicycle saddles


You’re running late for that first meeting of the day and you are in an Uber stuck in traffic on the North side of Chelsea Bridge. The one thing that seems to be moving, apart from your blood pressure, is the myriad of cyclists, fearless when they hurtle through the hatched section without a clear view of their exit.

You notice that it does’t matter if they are a plump matronly blue-stocking with a paisley skirt, a City-type in lycra on a fixed gear with coloured tyre walls or a sensible blond PA in a Levi’s jacket on powder-blue Brompton, they all have their backsides lodged into the comfort of an iconic Brooks bicycle saddle.

J.B. Brooks & Co has been  saddles in the Birmingham area since 1866 with their first cycle saddle patent being filed in 1882. Legend has it that following the death of his horse, founder, John Boultbee Brooks, an experienced saddler – who arrived in Birmingham in 1866 with £20.00 in his pocket! – attempted to get to grips with the newly popular bicycle but found the wooden seat too uncomfortable. The result was that he set about developing his own.

Two massive leaps in the history of cycling took place in 1888 when Brooks first launched an early version of the iconic Brooks B17 saddle (as in our featured image) and, in Dublin, Dr John Boyd Dunlop developed the pneumatic tyre. In 1903 Le Tour de France was launched by the French sports newspaper L’Auto and Brooks saddles were seen on the bicycles of many competitors.

A Brooks leather saddles comprise a 4 mm thick leather top stretched between a metal “cantle plate” at the rear and a nose piece, to which it is attached by, as in our featured image’s case, copper rivets. Using a threaded bolt, the nose piece can be moved forward independently of the rails, giving the leather added tension in order to suit the rider’s comfort. Over several miles/months of wear the rider tends to find that the leather moulds itself to the rider with “dimples” appearing where the “sit bones” tend to rest.

As Brooks leather saddles are porous they make a special dressing called “Proofide” which may be applied occasionally to give the saddle some protection against water. It may also be used to make the leather more supple and more easily adopt the rider’s shape.

In 1952, Boultbee Brooks, J.B. Brook’s eldest child,  who’d been Chairman for over thirty years since his father’s death in 1921, also died. In the late 1950’s the family sold J.B Brooks & Co to the Raleigh Bicycle Company; but it collapsed.

In 1999 Brooks was purchased by investors, John Godfrey McNaughton – a former director of Raleigh International – and Adrien Williams – a passionate advocate for British-made bicycles, who was later to acquire a majority stake in Pashley Cycles who supply their bespoke cycles with Brooks saddles. Messrs. McNaughton and Williams, in 2002, sold Brooks to Italian saddle maker Selle Royal.