The Balham Bicycle and the Mister Rey Mystery

Balham Safety BicycleHere’s an engraving of the Balham Safety Bicycle as featured in the 21 February 1890 edition of The Engineer.

The accompanying report describes it as the invention of Henri Rey, residing at Dornton Road, Balham and as you would expect from a journal that chronicled the technical developments in the innovative Victorian and Edwardian age it gets straight into the specification:

“It has a double diamond frame, the chief points of which are extreme rigidity, bearings outside the chain wheels, all the back tubes which take a compression strain come direct on to the bearing without any bend whatever. The front tubes pass through lugs attached to the bearing cases and are continued past the bearings, and are braced apart with a cross piece, so as to keep the bearings always the proper distance asunder preventing the binding of the balls. The frame, being very light, enables the weight to be reduced considerably. The actual weights are:- Roadsters, 33lb., all on; light roadsters, 32lb., all on; semi-racers, 25lb.; racers 20lb. The racers are very strong – strong enough for light roadwork. The machines are fitted with ball bearings all over, hollow frame forks, and rims, ball pedals, plated and enameled.”

Little more is known about the bike. The article states the “bike was not exhibited at the Crystal Palace”. This was the 13th Stanley Cycle Club Exhibition held on 27 January 1890, which according to a Grace’s Guide listing played host to 230 exhibitors showing over 1500 machines. This suggests the Balham machine was way short of being in production. A review of a number of archives fails to pinpoint a Henri Rey bike manufacturer or a bike called Balham.

Little is known about Henri Rey either. James Maurice Rey is listed in several electoral registers from the period at 19 Dornton Road, Balham (off Balham Hill near the 1890s cycling hotspot Tooting Bec Common). He is also named as head of household in the 1881 census with Henri Rochat listed as a stepson. It all adds up to the most likely candidate but not conclusive proof.

Electoral Roll 1890
James Maurice Rey in the 1891 Electoral Register as head of household
1891 Electoral Roll
James Maurice Rey in the Electoral Register of 1890

1881 Census 2

1881 Census 1
The 1881 Census with Henri Rochat listed as the stepson of James Maurice Rey. Is this our Henri Rey?

Your help

Could you help in the quest to find further information on Henri Rey, his company, or The Balham Bicycle? Email me at, drop me a line in the box below or add a comment on the BBC Facebook page. I would love to hear from you.


The description of the bike is from The Engineer 21 February 1890.

Details on the 1890 Stanley Cycle Show are from Grace’s Guide

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