Revealing the least known but arguably best 1960s 20″ wheel shopper
In the mid 1960s, in response to the unexpected success of the Moulton bicycle, most UK cycle manufacturers launched unsprung unisex small-wheelers. Although Raleigh and a few others initially adopted 16″ diameter wheels, it was the 20″ wheel open-frame ‘shopper’ that was to be most successful commercially. Dawes, with its Newpin/Kingpin range was perhaps the first major maker to adopt the 20″ wheel, using both the British 20 x 1 3/8″ (ISO 451) and the French 500A (ISO 440) formats. The Raleigh 20 range was ultimately the best seller. But perhaps the best of the 20″ wheel open frame machines was the least well known – the Royal Enfield Revelation.
Royal Enfield came into being in the 1890s. The Eadie Manufacturing Company of Redditch, Worcestershire [about 12 miles south of central Birmingham] obtained a contract for supplying precision rifle parts to the Royal Small Arms factory in Enfield, Middlesex. Eadie’s product range included bicycles. They renamed these ‘Royal Enfield’ to capitalise on the firearms association and adopted the slogan ‘Built Like A Gun.’ An international rally to celebrate a hundred years of Enfield cycles was held at Redditch in August 1992.
The Royal Enfield Revelation was the last machine designed and built at Redditch. The designer was the late Vic Bott, who was born c.1900 and lived until the 1990s. He joined Royal Enfield in 1920 and remained with them until the final shutdown in 1968. In 1946 he was presented with the Long Service Certificate shown below.
Thanks to Anne Bradford, author of ‘The Royal Enfield Story,’ we have Vic’s reminiscences of the Revelation’s genesis. To these have been added dates [in square brackets thus] supplied by Malcolm Barrett, Royal Enfield marque enthusiast of the Veteran-Cycle Club:
‘When Mr Davenport, Mr Cassey and Mr Roberts arrived from E & H P Smith to take over the running of the company , I had a surprise because I knew Leo Davenport. I had met him way back in the early days of Royal Enfield, not long after the First World War, when he was a representative for Lodge Plugs and riding in the TT for AJS – his father was a manager there. We heard that E & H P Smith were amalgamating with Royal Enfield and we thought that we would be the senior partners but it soon became clear that E & H P Smith were in charge. Leo Davenport took over Vic Mountford’s splendid office and Vic was moved to a more humble abode down the corridor.”I was due for retirement but when the time came, E & H P Smith offered us an increase in salary and so I decided to continue to work. A couple of years later , Leo Davenport sent for me. He said that he wanted to put a cycle on the market with a 20″ wheel and asked me if I could design it. He wanted to know how soon I could have a prototype ready. Jokingly, I said, “Two weeks!” and he jumped at that. I knew I had landed myself with a problem. It usually took years to develop a new bicycle. It was clear that I couldn’t go through the customary design channels so what I did, was that I laid an enormous piece of paper on the floor, drew a profile of the bike to size and gave it to the Design Department to build. Within a week, a girl was trying out the cycle by riding it to Stratford. [Stratford-upon-Avon, about 11 miles away.] After that, of course, all kinds of tests had to be made to make sure that the bike was safe but within twelve months  it was on sale in the shops. The bicycle was called “The Revelation”.’
Dave Wilson worked in the toolroom and tooled up the unusual gussets that reinforce the junctions between the top tube and the head and seat tubes. He recalls seeing rows and rows of Revelations in the despatch department before he left the company early in 1965.
It is unclear how many Revelations were made: Vic Bott told Anne Bradford that they sold ‘thousands’ but Arthur Beckingham, the works foreman (and allegedly ‘last to leave the factory’ when it closed) told Tony Hadland in 1991 that they made only between 30 and 100, which seems improbably low. The lowest and highest serial numbers traced as at 2020 (136,483-156,651) are 20,168 apart. However, it is unclear whether Royal Enfield used a single numbering sequence for all their models or a separate series for the Revelation.
(One of the highest numbered machines was bought shop-soiled from the factory on 30 June 1967. It was said to have been used for an abortive sponsored ride from the factory to Australia, which got no further than Dover. The purchaser was an aunt of Veteran-Cycle Club member Paul Kimberley. )
Arthur Beckingham was born c.1920, joined Enfield at the age of 14 and, apart from military service and illness, spent the whole of his working life with the company. He told Tony that Enfield had previously prototyped a small-wheeler with a single main beam of about 2″ diameter. However, it seems this was not mass-produced and no other reference to this earlier prototype has been found.
The Revelation was claimed by its makers to have ‘the same wheelbase as the normal cycle’ and to be ‘20% lighter than the normal machine.’ The recommended prices, c.1966, including purchase tax, were: £24 11s 2d (£24.56) for the single-speed version, £27 4s 6d (£27.23) for the version with Sturmey-Archer AW 3-speed, and £30 5s 4d (£30.27) for the version with the 3-speed and a Sturmey-Archer GH6 Dynohub lighting set. This latter version competed for sales head-to-head with Raleigh’s RSW16 and was virtually the same price.
All Revelations were supplied with a Moulton-style holdall for the well integrated but removable rear carrier. A frame-fixed front carrier, which again showed strong Moulton influence, was an optional extra: this had a recommended retail price £1 10s 4d (£1.52) including purchase tax. The unisex frame covered the range 18″ to 23″ and was catalogued as being available in ‘flamboyant burgundy’ or ‘flamboyant blue.’ It was also supplied in green, although no catalogue reference to this colour has yet been found. Tyres were all-white Dunlops in the British 20 x 1 3/8″ (ISO 451) format.
The bicycle came with a short white plastic pump, tools, reflector on the rear mudguard, propstand and ‘top run’ (‘hockey stick’) chain-guard. Components were typical of British 1960s light roadsters, mostly in steel: see the exploded drawing and parts list below, which come from the spare parts leaflet.
The full model name was the ‘Revelation LHD Mark 1.’ LHD stood for Leo H Davenport, a fact confirmed to Malcolm Barrett by Rex Wearing, formerly company accountant for E & H P Smith and who worked closely with Davenport.
In 1967, the Enfield Cycle Company ceased trading, the Redditch workforce being made redundant on 31st January. The Royal Enfield bicycle brand name was sold and the model name Revelation was subsequently applied to a less interesting small-wheeler sold elsewhere as a Vindec. (Vindec was a brand name used by Brown Brothers.)
The pictures below show the designer, various surviving machines, advertising material and photographs of the Revelation being built at Redditch. We hope you enjoy it. If you have further information about this bicycle, please contact Tony Hadland via this blog.
Below are two technical drawings by Vic Bott of what appears to be a prototype child’s small-wheeler. These, and the certificate above, were kindly provided to Malcom Barrett by a nephew of Vic Bott.
Article first published in 2001. Last updated 17th January 2020. Tony Hadland thanks John Ivins, John Pinkerton, Anne Bradford, Barry Smith, David Vann, Paul Kimberley, Arthur Beckingham and particularly Malcolm Barrett for information contributed to this article.
Herbert Kuner read the above article and wrote:
I’m researching the history of the Dutch bicycle industry, and so I discovered that the model ‘New Fashion’ made by Batavus in the ’60s is a virtually complete copy of the Revelation.
In November 1965 the Dutch bicycle dealer’s trade magazine F4 announced a bicycle with a ‘completely new design for Holland’: the 18″, 20″ or 24″ wheeled Batavus New Fashion. On my website, there is a non-official page where you can find pictures of a 1967 New Fashion: http://www.rijwiel.net/fietsen/bat/f50653.htm. In the same magazine in February 1966, there is even a new, foldable version of the New Fashion mentioned. I enquired at Batavus about who designed the New Fashion. Some older Batavus employees, the son of the old Batavus director Gerrit Gaastra, Andries Gaastra (who himself was commercial director of Batavus between 1967-73 and later founded the brand Koga Miyata) and the former financial director of Batavus all said that – as far as they remember – the New Fashion was designed by Gerrit Gaastra (who died in 1997). Reading your article on the Royal Enfield Revelation which seems to be marketed at least a few months earlier, I think this is impossible.
Moreover, I discovered the RE Revelation in the 1966 catalogue of Simplex, another well-know Dutch bicycle manufacturer. This was the true Royal Enfield model, imported to Holland. The Amsterdam bicycle wholesaler Westor originally imported Royal Enfield bicycles, but was taken over by Simplex by 1 November 1965. That is how the Revelation could appear in the Simplex catalogue.
I collected a lot of data about old Dutch bicycles (mainly from the ’50s and ’60s) to compile a bicycle database with approximately 5,000 bicycles. Not one is a RE Revelation, and there are only 5 Batavus New Fashions, all of them with 24″ wheels and not foldable. Even Andries Gaastra doesn’t know anything about the claimed foldable version. So my conclusion is that the 24″ non-foldable New Fashion was the only version sold in relevant numbers, and the RE Revelation was offered only for a short period and sold in very little numbers.
Demonchaux’s Revelation copy
In February 2011, James Thomson kindly pointed out that Demonchaux have been making a machine plainly inspired by the Revelation. The main differences seem to be in wheel format and front fork design. There are many more pictures of variants of the Demonchaux version here: www.flickr.com/photos/demonchaux/