Viking’s small-wheeler

How a bicycle became a moped then a bicycle again

The Viking small-wheeler

Alex Moulton’s famous small-wheeled bicycle was launched in November 1962. Raleigh, who had reneged on an agreement to manufacture the Moulton, were stunned by its success and in July 1965 launched their response – the balloon-tyred RSW16 (Raleigh Small Wheels 16″ diameter). CWS, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, responded to the RSW by producing a somewhat similar machine, the Co-op Commuter, but which had a mixte frame. That is, instead of having a single main beam linking the seat tube and head tube, it had a downtube and twin laterals – a pair of small diameter tubes running from the head tube via the seat tube to the rear wheel dropouts.

In May 1967, three months before Raleigh bought out the original Moulton bicycle concern, the Nottingham-based company launched a motorised version of the RSW16 – the Raleigh Wisp. Clarks Masts of Binstead, Isle of Wight, then decided to make a rival to the Wisp, as a way of diversifying from yacht mast manufacture. What better basis than the nearest pedal-powered rival to the RSW16? Clarks therefore contracted CWS to produce a slightly modified version of the Co-op Commuter to which the Isle of Wight company attached a small petrol engine of their own design. Thus was born the Clark Scamp moped. Opinions about Scamps differ. One writer has described them as “horrible things which flexed alarmingly when you rode them and were hopelessly underpowered so you had to pedal like mad to get up any incline.” J.S. Lycett, however, argues that the Scamp was “quite a usable machine and undeserving of a poor reputation.” He has an interesting article about the machine on the Moped Miscellany website.

The Raleigh Wisp, a motorised RSW16. Part of an advert in a trade magazine.
From ‘Motor Cycle & Cycle Trader’ 26th May 1967
Promotional cartoon showing general arrangement of the Clark Scamp moped. From J.S.Lycett’s article cited in the text

The Scamp had a gear-case in the rear wheel, with the engine mounted on the side of the gear-case. The petrol tank was in the upstand of the luggage rack, below the saddle and above the rear wheel. The tyres were 16 x 2″ moped type. A Sturmey-Archer BF 90mm hub brake provided stopping power for the front wheel, whilst a simple long-reach calliper brake provided rather less for the rear. According to Lycett, the Scamp would cruise at about 26 mph (43 kph) and climb moderate hills without pedalling if “taken at a run.” He considers that it “falls naturally into place between the clip-on cyclemotor and the NSU Quickly type in the evolution of the moped.”

However, neither the Raleigh Wisp nor the Clark Scamp were commercially successful. They faced fierce competition from superior Japanese imports. Clarks produced only some 3,500 Scamps before they ran into financial difficulties. These were not helped by failures of the Scamp’s starting mechanism, caused by breakage of a plastic pawl on the centrifugal clutch. In 1968 Lloyds Bank therefore appointed a receiver/manager who disposed of nearly all the finished machines and all the spares. (See Ken Mettam’s short article on the Moped Miscellany website.) The descendant company, Clarks Masts Teksam Ltd, is still based at Binstead and specialises in “mobile mast installations for every purpose”, especially mobile communications. They have representatives in Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France and South Africa – but no parts for Scamps.

Viking Cycles had gone into liquidation in 1967. One of the directors, former Team Viking manager Bob Thom, together with others, formed a new Viking company. They wanted to continue production of the clubman-type cycles with which the name Viking was synonymous. Viking Holdings of Wolverhampton built a good relationship with the nearby Co-op Federation Cycle Factory in Birmingham and especially with its managing director, Harry Simonds. Consequently, the Co-op built some frames for Viking.

After Lloyds sent the receiver into Clarks, the Co-op was left with a surplus of frames and other parts (other than the engine) for the Scamp. Bob Thom managed to get about 200 of the frames, which were finished as pedal cycles and sold as Vikings. Anybody expecting a small-wheeler with a dash of Viking lightweight sportiness was in for a shock. These machines were essentially unpowered Scamps: the tyres were Avon Moped Grips, the CLB handgrips included a twistgrip throttle and the saddle’s vertical adjustment was minimal. Even the rubber-sleeved fixing pins for the fuel tank were there. Despite the lack of variable gears, the Viking weighed in at a formidable 35 lb (approx 16 kg).

The Viking small-wheeler is a very rare machine with a chequered history, but interesting nonetheless. It is one of the less successful ripples that flowed from the splash made five years earlier by the Moulton.

(The Viking head badge illustration is courtesy of John Gleave. All photos of the blue Viking small-wheeler are copyright of Tony Hadland.)

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6 thoughts on “Viking’s small-wheeler”

  1. Hello, thanks for the article, it was great and the only information I could seemingly find on this bike. I believe I have one of these Viking versions, it must be one of only a few left! I’m unfortunately going to have to part with it soon but would like it to go to a good home so if there are any collectors out there please get in touch!

  2. Picked up a blue CWS commute (or whatever it is) like the picture above, thanks to your inspiration clearly been in a garage most of its life scrubbed up and works well, marginally better ride than an RSW. I wonder if the ones like your and mine with the mounting points for the fuel tank are all ex motor bike machines. I am deliberately riding slightly less efficient bikes to get more exercise it seems to be working.

    1. Many thanks for your message, John. Does yours have the other moped features, such as the twist-grip, hub brakes, moped tyres and ridiculously short seat-pin?

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