edited June 2020 in Rad Culture

by BikeInfantry


Waffenrad – meaning literally weapon wheel – is an Austrian license version of an English „Swift” bicycle from Coventry. It is a product for civilians and is not be confused with a military vehicle of such sort.

The original expression „Waffenrad” comes from the center of production: „Oesterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft” (Austrian Weapons Manufacturer Society). To maintain their permission to build also in times of peace, they produce bicycles for civilians, using meanwhile their experience in weapon construction from the late 19. century onwards.

The word Waffenrad represents the quality of domestic factories, just like the Steyr Waffenrad bikes do. The quality and durability of Steyr's bike is legendary and is still considered a synonym for any old, strong, black color bicycles, regardless of the manufacturer's name.

The name "Waffenrad" is often misunderstood as a bicycle equipped with firearms. In reality the manufacturer, Austria Waffenfabriks Gesellschaft (ÖWG) produced bicycles for the civilian circles because the firearm market has decreased. Just as the BSA and Royal Enfield companies in England, FN and Sarolea in Belgium or Husqvarna in Sweden.

The start of the company began when Josef Werndl took over the family business of component makers for small firearms in 1855. Together with his brother named Franz Werndl, Josef founded a company called Josef und Franz Werndl & Comp. The company produces firearms and sawmills at the time. The company was inaugurated on April 16, 1864 in Steyr, Austria.
Josef and Franz Werndl land a hit in production soon! In addition to developing the company, they develope the Werndl Model 1867 rifle. In the development of these firearms, these two brothers took a talented engineer named Ferdinand Mannlicher. As a result, they became the leading light firearm producer in Europe. This will boosts the production capacity of bicycles in Austria immensely! But the introduction of safety bicycles only follows later in the 1890s.


  • Top banana - a history of the Waffenrad in English! Well done BikeInfantry!

  • Interesting how it all originates with an ENGLISH company - Swift...

  • The Coventry Sewing Machine Co. was set up in King Street, Cheylesmore, Coventry, c1859 by James Starley and Josiah Turner to import and market sewing machines from America. Later they manufactured their own sewing machines and changed the name to The Coventry Machinists Co. In 1869 they started to manufacture velocipedes, bicycles, tricycles and quadricycles and became the second largest cycle maker in Great Britain under the name of the Swift Cycle Co. They produced a vast range of these machines, one model being named the “Swift” and another the “Club” as many cycle clubs were being set up at that time.

    In 1898 they produced their first motor cycle and a motor tricycle. The first prototype car was made in 1900 which went into production in1901. It had a tubular chassis, a single cylinder de Dion engine and a two-speed back axle. The Swift Motor Co. was formed in 1902 and produced one, two, three and four-cylinder cars, first using proprietary engines up to about 1907 and then those designed by their Works Engineer, William Radford, which were made in their own factory. During the early 1900′s Swift entered their cars in reliability trials and won many gold medals. Up to 1915 several models were produced each year.

    During the First World War the factory produced munitions, Renault and Hispano-Suiza aircraft engines, military bicycles and other war equipment. In 1919 the Company joined the ill-fated Harper-Bean organisation and changed its name to Swift of Coventry Ltd. Production was then concentrated on the four-cylinder 10hp and 12hp models which were renowned for their reliability. Although Swifts had their faithful followers, by the late 1920′s their hand-built cars could not compete with the mass-production methods of Morris, Austin, and Ford, whose similar cars sold for only half the price of Swifts. In spite of producing a cheaper 8hp model, the Cadet, with a Coventry Climax engine and a centre-change three-speed gear box in late 1930, this was insufficient to save the Company and the factory closed its doors for the last time in April 1931.

    – The Swift Club – http://www.theswiftclub.co.uk/

  • With the company being founded by James Starley in 1859, Swift Cycle Co adverts often proclaimed: PIONEERS OF THE BRITISH CYCLE INDUSTRY. With such a distinguished place in cycling history, the Swift Cycle Co produced distinctive bicycles. The more expensive models sported duplex forks, generally considered the ‘preserve’ of top manufacturers such as Humber, Centaur and Ariel. After WW1, the company changed their name to Swift of Coventry and their bicycles featured a chainwheel spelling out the name ‘SWIFT’ as well as a unique ‘S’ lamp bracket. But, as you can see here, the chainwheel on earlier Swift machines was in the shape of a pentagram. By the time this machine was produced, the company was focusing mainly on its motorised departments.

    In 1914 Swift, like other cycle manufacturers, turned its factory over to war work and scaled down its cycle production, except for machines supplied to the Government for military use. It’s likely that this 1915 Swift Imperial Roadster was used either in the field or as a mount for an officer at home. The photo below is of Bert Hambling of the 26th Middlesex Cyclist (Rifle) Volunteers ca. 1898-9.


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