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Rudge Multi

Rudge Multi

Produced by one of Britain's foremost makers, the Rudge Multi was not just a single motorcycle but a new concept, which was an important stage in the development of motorcycle transmission systems, superseeding the equally influential Zenith Gradua. Launched in 1912, after the 1911 TT had show the value of its multiplicity of drive ratios, it remained in production for 10 year.

Founded in the 1860s by Dan Rudge, a publican from Wolverhampton and a keen racing cyclist, Rudge bicyces had patented numerous technical advances and established a name for quality by the time Rudge died in 1880. The firm was kept going through various mergers and by the end of the 19th century, after a merger with the Whitworth company in 1894, was producing 400 bicycles a day, under the guidance of Charles anf John Pugh.

Rudge Whitworth started by distributing Werner motorcycles from Paris and it was 1909 before they undertook development of their own motorcycles. They were soon making some 1500 machines a week and had the in-house resources to undertake all the development.

The Rudge Multi prototype had several patented features including a new fork shackle, enclosed fork spring and a removable rear mudguard. The engine was a compromise between a side-valve and an overhead-valve, known as an F-head but the machine was otherwise conventional.

The first Rudge motorcycle was completed in 1910 in just under two weeks from drawing to metal. Following many road tests and competitions the model went on sale at the end of the year.

In 1911 four Rudges started at the Senior TT, the first year in which the course included the climb over the Mountain. By this time experiments with proprietary variable gear pulleys made by Mabon had proved the value of such a device on the demanding new course. However, Rudge's first efforts at the TT were not so promising, with two riders retiring and only a 21st and 22nd place.

Nevertheless, convinced of the value of a variable gear, John Pugh continued development of what was to be the Multi system. Rudge had already patented a clutch that was attached to the engine shaft, outboard of the pulley. To this was added a device that allowed the pulley flanges to open and close. As it did so, the belt would ride up the pulley, changing the effective diameter of the drive.

To maintain belt tension, a linkage went to the rear wheel pulley, or belt rim, which closed and opened to balance the front. This gave ratios between 3.5 and 7.5:1 as well as in theory, continually variable selection.

Fitted to the 499cc TT model the Multi was first entered for the 1912 TT. Although Rudge failed to place, the Multi gear achieved success at numerous trials and speed events and was fitted to both the 3.5 and 5/6hp models. In 1913 a Rudge Multi took second place at the TT, losing only by a narrow margin and in 1914, Cyril Pullin won the event. During World War I, Rudge built a few machines for military use but the main part of the factory was turned over to work on munitions. When peace returned, so did motorcycles, starting with the 499cc Multi in Roadster or TT form. In 1920, the first Rudge to use a three-speed gearbox appeared but the Multi was in production until 1923, its cheap, simplicity and lightness appealing long after the technical superiority of chain drive and a countershaft gearbox had been proven.

Rudge Multi (1913)

  • Years in production - 1912-23
  • Engine - single cylinder inlet over exhaust four-stroke
  • Bore and Stroke - 85 x 88mm (3.5hp) 85 x 132mm (5/6hp)
  • Capacity - 499cc, 750cc
  • Carburettot - Senspray
  • Tyres (front/rear) - 2.25in x 26in/2.25in x 26in
  • Top speed (racing model) - 83mph