Clyno Motorcycles

Clyno was founded in 1909 by two cousins, Frank and Ailwyn Smith, at Thrapston, Northamptonshire, to produce a variable speed drive for motorcycles, using a pulley with inclined faces. The Clyno name is derived from the word 'inclined'.

The first part is a history of the company from 1909 to 1916 that was written by Ailwyn Smith.

During 1909 two cousins A. P. Smith and F. W. A Smith, sons of two directors of the family business Messrs Smith and Grace Ltd., Transmission of Power Specialists and Iron Founders, Thrapston, Northants, formed as a partnership, The Clyno Engineering Co., for the purpose of marketing an adjustable belt pulley for Motor Cycles.

A Clyno machine from collection at the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley.
They rented a small workshop in Thrapston at 5/- per week and first worked at the business part time only. The pulley, adjustable by means of two inclined cam faces, one on the adjustable flange and the other on the adjusting collar, filled a need amongst motor cyclists and sufficient orders were soon received to necessitate the partners devoting their whole time to the business and eventually obtaining extra help.

The pulleys sold at 12/6d each, bored to suit any make of Motor Cycle engine. A point was made of invariably dispatching orders the same day as received.

The plant employed in these early days a 6.5inch centre lathe, a small sensitive drilling machine, and a key slotter, converted from a carpenter's tenon machine. This plant was driven by a very old Crossley 2.5h.p. gas engine. Electric light, generated by a dynamo driven by the engine installed.

Early in this year the partners thoughts turned to the manufacture of complete Motor Cycles and a prototype was duly built, using Chater Lea frame fittings and Stevens engines, made by the Stevens Motor Manufacturing Company Limited, Wolverhampton.

It was a belt driven 350c.c. machine of simple construction. A few of these were sold locally. In these early days successful participation in Motor Cycle Trials was felt to be the best method of advertising.

A close up of the engine in the machine above.

Clyno's original factory in Pelham Street, Wolverhampton.

Ailwyn Smith's home, Aboyne House, Merridale Rd.

This first machine was entered and ridden by Frank Smith in the A.C.U. quarterly non-stop trials with repeated success.

About this time a motor cycle stand was patented, this consisting of telescopic tubes, independently adjustable so that on uneven ground the machine would stand upright.

The stand did not sell in large quantities and with the advent of the side car combination was abandoned.

How Aboyne House would have looked in Ailwyn's day.

The first Clyno 2.75hp. machine, built at Thrapston, and displayed at the 1909 Stanley Motor Cycle Show.

Courtesy of Chris Smith.

Frank Smith and his 6hp. Clyno V-twin in readiness for the 1910 M.C.C. London-Edinburgh trial. Courtesy of Chris Smith.
Later in 1910 a more powerful machine was built utilising the 5/6h.p. V-twin Stevens Engine, mounted in a long, low (for those days) frame. This machine was run in the quarterly trials, also in the M.C.C. London-Edinburgh and London-Exeter trials.

Its low build, light weight (under 200 lbs) large engine and high gear ratio made it a very pleasant machine to handle. It was the forerunner of the very successful sidecar machine of later years, even in its belt driven form it was capable of a good performance with a sidecar.

Meantime the orders placed with the Stevens Motor manufacturing Company, resulted in a visit of their representative to Thrapston, this visit being the prelude to negotiations for the purchase of the Stevens concern, which was in Voluntary liquidation.

This purchase was eventually completed and on 15th October 1910 the business was transferred from Thrapston to Wolverhampton, and for a time was carried on under the names of The Clyno Engineering Company, and The Stevens Manufacturing Company, but the latter name was soon dropped.

The firm exhibited for the first time at the 1910 Motor Cycle Show at Olympia, showing Motor Cycles, Adjustable pulleys and Telescopic stands.

Clyno's original factory in Wolverhampton, as seen in 2012.

Behind the offices was the spares department, under Mr. Heckford.

The limitation of a single fixed gear and belt drive were apparent in 1910, and with the increased manufacturing facilities at Wolverhampton, a two speed, chain driven machine was evolved and it is thought to be the first to enclose chains in pressed aluminium cases.

It was this machine that Frank Smith drove so successfully in all the important trials in 1911, he also embarked on a programme of attacking hitherto unclimbed and what were considered unclimbable hills, all with the 5/6h.p. chain driven Motor Cycle and sidecar. 

Notable hills successfully climbed were Porlock and the North Devon terrors, Honister as well as many other Lake District hills etc., etc.

The question of a suitable sidecar frame was given careful attention, hitherto sidecar frames were very light flimsy affairs, clipped to the Motor Cycle frame, generally in three places, they were quite unsuited to strenuous trials and other use. A very robust sidecar frame, attached to the Motor Cycle in four places by taper plugs secured into appropriate sockets, solidly brazed to the Motor Cycle frame, was made, this design remained virtually unaltered for many years. It was imitated by all and sundry.

The late Ailwyn Smith. Courtesy of Chris Smith.


The success of the 1911 trials policy had its effect in 1912 which was a very busy year, orders in excess of the manufacturing capacity being received.

During this year the Clyno Motor Cycle Detachable and Interchangeable wheel was introduced and fitted, this invention first fitted to Clyno Machines, was one of the most important developments in Motor cycling history. 

The 1912 6hp. V-twin.

In 1912, the company sold a version of its sidecar machine for use as a commercial delivery van.

The basic price of the machine was £81.10s.0d, the body was extra and designed according to individual purchaser's requirements.

The motorcycle could deliver 5-6hp. and sales of the product were very high.

Opposite the offices of the Company in Pelham Street was the old Wolverhampton Humber Cycle factory, long since unoccupied, and negotiations for its purchase were started, these works were eventually taken over and laid out for the manufacture of frames and the assembly of completed motor cycles and sidecars.

Engine and gear box manufacture continued in the original factory across the road in Pelham Street.

Clyno cars leaving Ashes Works and entering Pelham Street. 

Ashes Works were previously occupied by the Humber Cycle Company.

Photo courtesy of the late Geoff Stevens.

Ashes Works in Pelham Street, in 2012. Taken from the same position as in the previous photograph.
Another view of Ashes Works, which were also called Tower Works.

Part of the factory was destroyed in a fire many years ago.

The whole factory has since been demolished.

The factory was considerably extended and the whole of the available ground space occupied by work shops.

The policy of running in all important trials, not only in Britain, but also abroad, was persisted in, with marked success.

View the 1912
Mr. W. Comery joined the firm as Chief Designer and immediately set about redesigning the machine using basically the same 5/6h.p. engine but substituting a 3 speed gear box and an entirely new frame. This machine was very successful and easily held its own against increasing competition. 

The 1913 V-twin.

The 1913 combination.

The running of machines in trials was intensified and well known drivers with considerable trials experience joined the staff, Hugh Gibson and Archie Cocks being amongst them.

Two young works testers, C.V. Freeman (actually the first employee of the company) and L. R. Pearson, both having great success in many trials.

Rev. P. W. Bishoff and his wife also participated privately in a number of trials using Clyno outfits. Financial difficulties were not nonexistent during 1913.

Development was rapid and inclined to outstrip the financial resources of the company, which was still a private partnership.

Later in 1913 it was decided to fill an obvious need for a light, simple and cheap solo Motor Cycle, and a 250c.c single cylinder, 2 stroke machine was designed.

This machine had a 2 speed gear and belt drive, and was novel, in that the engine and gear box were of unit construction, chains being entirely absent.

It was one of the first machines to be sold completely equipped with lamps, horn and number plates, ready for the road at an all in price. This was exhibited at the 1913 Motor Cycle show, being very successful and sold in large numbers.

The Clyno 750c.c. machine, built in 1914, that is on display at the National Motorcycle Museum, Birmingham.
An article from 'The Motorcycle', 6th November, 1913:

The Latest Clyno

Pear-shaped cylinder, improved lubrication, and new design sidecar.

The Clyno Engineering Company have obtained a reputation second to none for their sidecar models, and next year the added refinements will keep this machine in the forefront for passenger work.

The main alterations in the engine which is a 50 degree twin-cylinder, 76 mm. by 82 mm. bore and stroke, giving a capacity of 744 cc., is the casting of the cylinders pear-shaped for next year's machines, for the purpose of more perfect radiation. It also has the advantage of giving a very neat-looking cylinder. An alteration has been made in the design of the crankcase, whereby an equal supply of oil is assured to both cylinders. The neat valve stem covers are retained. A new pattern of front chain case has been, adopted, and the foot brake has been improved in detail.

An excellent feature is the provision of large fuel tanks; two and a quarter gallons of petrol can now be carried.

The 1914 5 - 6 hp. Clyno. Observe the new type sidecar, method of carrying spare wheel, kick starter, change speed gear, and footboard.

The Detachable Wheel

Of course, the detachable wheels to both machine and sidecar are retained, and probably no feature has gained such universal popularity among riders. It is literally but a moment's, job to take out and replace any of the three wheels, the spare being carried on a dummy hub on the sidecar rear panel. A slight reduction has been made in the total weight of the machine. A minor improvement is the use of inverted levers for front brake and exhaust lifter control. The three-speed car type counter-shaft gear box is a really fine piece of work, with its six-splined mainshaft. The whole box is mounted with great rigidity, and the transmission is particularly sweet as a result. The ratios provided are 5, 9, and 15 to 1. On the top of the gearbox the magneto is fitted, driven by an enclosed chain, easy adjustment being afforded by sliding the magneto.

Showing the clean lines of the 1914 Clyno. It will be noticed that the radiating fins extend the whole length of the cylinder.

The New Sidecar

Comfort, combined with a handsome appearance, is the keynote of the very fine sidecar for 1914. As already stated, the wheel is of the Clyno patent detachable type, and the spare is neatly mounted on the rear panel on a dummy hub, and supported by a bracket. A complete measure of protection is provided for the passenger by a really well fitted hood with side curtains and an adjustable screen. When all is "storm rigged," the occupant is almost as well protected as if in a car. An attractive panel of cane work runs along the sides of the coachwork. The design of the sidecar body is a new one for the Clyo firm, and is; we think, an improvement as regards appearance on the 1913 models. Altogether, these passenger outfits are among the finest to be met with on the road, and their wonderfully successful appearances in the big trials prove them to be as reliable as they are handsome.


Another view of the Clyno 750c.c. machine, built in 1914, that is on display at the National Motorcycle Museum, Birmingham.
The machines marketed in 1913 were continued with minor modifications. Several models of the sidecar bodies were standardised and the running of trials continued.

The end of the summer brought the first World war, which in view of the financial embarrassment mentioned earlier was a blow to the concern. The death of Mr. N. Smith, father of
A. P. Smith in November 1914, increased these difficulties, as
Mr. Smith was one of the guarantors.


After an anxious time early in the year, the issuing of War Contracts relieved the situation somewhat, and the manufacture of a Motor Cycle combination with machine gun attached was developed in conjunction with Messrs. Vickers Ltd.

It was known as the Vickers-Clyno machine gun motor cycle outfit, and together with the ancillary motor cycle machine gun ammunition carriers, were manufactured in large numbers.

The Clyno Staff outing to Stourport in 1915. The photograph is taken behind the Pelham Street works, looking towards Great Brickkiln Street.

The building on the left used to be a school, but is now a social club. Frank Smith is on the extreme left in a Peugeot, and Ailwyn is on the extreme right in a Panhard. Photo courtesy of the late Jim Boulton.

The product of the factory was still primarily the machine gun outfits, together with a number of the two stroke solo motor cycles for Army use.

During the early part of the year the hitherto successful partnership showed signs of strain and the question of a dissolution could not be ignored.

Eventually this course was decided upon, A. P. Smith retiring from the business, leaving Frank Smith in charge.

A. P. Smith relinquished any active part in the running of the business as from June 1916.

Dissolution agreement was reached 4th July 1916 and the partnership was officially dissolved as from 30th September 1916 by an indenture dated 4th October 1917.

The Clyno First World War motorcycle machine gun carrier at the National Motorcycle Museum.

Below is a  list of some of the Clyno employees:

W. Comery Chief Designer
S.C. Poole  Assistant
J.M. Wylie Buyer
C. Franklin  Records
H. Gibson Sales and Trial rider
C. H. Crole-Rees Sales Manager
A. Cocks Sales and Trial rider
F. Lloyd Parton  Commercial Manager
Florence Gould  Chief Clerk
H. Meadows  Works Manager
H. Wiggett  Machine shop Superintendent
J. H. Gould  Assembly and Fitting Superintendent
G. E. Newey Machine Shop Foreman
A. F. Knight Sales

I would like to thank Chris Smith, Ailwyn's grandson for allowing us to include this important document from his family archive.

After leaving the company in 1916, Ailwyn Smith went on to pursue a highly successful career with Samuel Taylor & Sons of Brierley Hill where he designed staircases for the side of ships, chains and anchors etc.

The First World War and later

During the First World War, Clyno signed an agreement with the Russian War Commission at the Savoy Hotel in London for the supply of solo and combination machines for the Imperial Russian Army. During the war large numbers of heavy motorcycle combinations were produced for both the British and Russian armies. They consisted of mobile machine gun units, ammunition carriers and solo machines. During 1918 and 1919 Clyno also built a number of ABC Dragonfly aero engines.

A Clyno machine gun battery, leaving camp.

Mr. Heckford, Clyno's Service Manager remembered being 'roped-in' as a road tester for the Clyno machine gun carriers, when they were ridden in convoys of 20 or 25 at a time to Kempton Park, which continued for several months. The machine gun was mounted on a tripod that could easily be removed from the chassis. The wheels were detachable and interchangeable. A spare wheel was carried beside the pillion seat. 

The Dragonfly had nine cylinders, weighed only 600lb, and could deliver 365hp. Early in 1918, Clyno received an order for 8 prototype engines and 500 production engines. Work on the engines quickly got under way and the first engine was delivered on 22nd April 1918, followed by another in June.

By the end of the year, 6 of the prototype engines and 4 of the production engines had been completed. The final two prototypes were delivered early in 1919, along with 47 production engines. The other 453 were cancelled. The orders came too late in the day, because the war soon ended, and the Ministry cancelled all outstanding items.

Assembling ABC Dragonfly engines, during the First World War.

Courtesy of the late
Jim Boulton.

After the war it seemed that the Clyno Engineering Company would have a bright future.

A new motorcycle, the highly acclaimed 'Spring 8' with a top speed of 50m.p.h. was launched in 1919 at the Olympia show. Unfortunately it would be two years before the machine went into production.

In 1920 the post-war motorcycle market collapsed, and the original works manager Henry Meadows, left to form the well known engine manufacturing company, Henry Meadows Limited at Fallings Park.

The Clyno 'Spring 8' 8h.p. de Luxe Combination. From an advert.

At the time, large numbers of cheap ex-W.D. machines were available. To compound the problem, there were also shortages of materials, which didn’t help production, and last but not least, the Russians failed to pay for the military motorcycles they had received during the war. As a result the company's financial backers withdrew, and the Clyno Engineering Company went into liquidation.


Frank Smith very much wanted to produce cars, and with this in mind he formed the Clyno Engineering Company (1922) Limited with a capital of £100,000. Frank’s father, William Smith was chairman, and Frank became managing director. Initially both cars and motorcycles were produced, but by the autumn of 1923 motorcycle production had ended. The new company stated that no Clyno machines would be displayed at the 1923 Motor Cycle Show.

Chris Smith (Ailwyn's grandson) and a Clyno motorcycle.

Many of the motorcycles were designed by Arthur G. Booth. 
Read a paper that was given by him and view some of his Clyno photographs

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