Whippet Bicycle – Full Suspension Bike from 1888


I have to admit, when I first passed by this bike I had written it off in my head as another “show” bike, something built just for the show to create something that is visually stunning, but not very practical. “Heck…”, I thought, “this thing barely even LOOKS like a bicycle.” Oh how wrong I was.

It was only later, when two people told me to be sure to check out the “whippet”, that it’s importance started to sink in. One of those people was none other than Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Scot Nicol, mastermind of Ibis Bicycles. The other was our very own Vintage/Retro/Classic discussion forum moderator “girlonbike”. Both of whom possess bike knowledge worlds above my own. So, with camera in hand, I went to find this amazing bicycle.

At first, I mistakenly thought the A. Homer Hilson Rivendell in the booth next door, was the much desired ride. It looked like a really old bike. My ignorance lead my astray. It wasn’t until later in the day, that I realized the creation I had so easily dismissed as a piece of “flair” was in fact a significant piece of bicycle history.

What stood before me was The Whippet. This particular Whippet is a hand made model built by Paul Brodie, who teaches Frame Building 101 at the University of the Fraser Valley (http://www.ufv.ca/) located in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. I’d never heard of the University of the Fraser Valley, but as a mountain biker, I had heard of the company that bears his name: Brodie Bikes. Turns out, Paul is also a Mountain Bike Hall of Famer! Paul built this Whippet with only a line drawing and a photo of another Whippet in a museum 3000 miles away to go off of.

The original Whippets were hand made in London by C.M. Linley and J. Biggs and were quite the rage from 1885 to 1888, until the invention of the Dunlop pneumatic tire. With the shock absorption features of the air filled rubber tire, the Whippet became outdated. The unique design incorporated seven(!) pivot points in its suspension design and was clearly ahead of its time. According to the posted info on the Whippet, it did have one big design flaw:

“…adjusting the chain caused the two head tubes to slowly become increasingly misaligned, resulting in the front ‘scissor linkage’ gradually unable to work when the bars were turned.”

Design flaw or not, the Whippet has some interesting specs:

  • Wheelbase: 43.5″
  • Weight: 44 lbs
  • Tire diameter: 30″ (some Whippets had 27″ rear tires)
  • Final drive: Block chain and sprockets
  • Brake: Rear spoon brake
  • Pedals: Adjustable from 5.75 to 6.5″ (crank length)

And if you’re wondering what it’s like to ride a Whippet, Paul had the following information:
“I’m told it was a terrible bike to ride, first of all, solid rubber tires and the suspension had one spring with ZERO dampening, so everytime you pedaled, it “bobbed”. Finally, the seat was mounted on a big coil spring, so you were bobbing on a seat that was bobbing on a frame. Yahoo!”

(How often do you see a bicycle with two head tubes and two head badges?)

With less than ten Whippets surviving today (mostly in museums and private collections), Whippets are extremely rare. What I had thought was a modern day show piece turned out to be a 124 year old precursor to today’s full suspension mountain bikes. Thank you NAHBS for providing a show in which to feature this amazing, vintage ride and thank you, Paul Brodie, for building it!

For more info about Paul’s course go to: www.ufv.ca/bicycleframe

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Gregg Kato

Gregg Kato studied journalism and broadcasting in college while working many different jobs including deejaying, driving a forklift and building web sites (not all at the same time). Kato enjoys riding local Santa Cruz trails. Besides being an avid mountain biker, he is also a motorcycle fanatic. Two wheels, one Passion.

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  • Pau11y says:

    That fork SO reminds me of the AMP linkage fork…or is it the other way around…

  • Steve Stevens says:

    You folks might like to know that Whippet made this as a bike – and as a mountain trike – with a double back wheel AND A REAR DIFFERENTIAL!
    I have the only known Whippet Rear Axle / wheels / differential.
    The trike was actually convertable to be a bike or a trike with interchangable
    rear axles – the standard – and meter wide 2 wheel version – for the trike.
    Mine was left in a barn in Wales after the rider put the single wheel rear on it.
    He rode away on the bike version and never came back. I got it from the barn in Wales. http://www.goldenoldy.org If yiou like suspension, you will like the Star high wheel bike with front suspension from 1882 …

  • paul adams says:

    Hi Steve, Just acquired a whippit bicycle…All original apart from the Seat top….Been in storage since 1956…Rides nice…..Original condition..Regards Pault

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