Auckland city Mid 1920’s-mid 1950’s
Clarkes Cycles Works Ltd
by Adrian Thornton
Clarkes racing frames where branded as Leader Superb until about the late 1930’s and then Leader Special post War. Clarke Cycles was one of the North Islands most important Race Frame builders of the pre war period.
This business can be seen to have had a direct influence on all the following Auckland builders, both in terms of personalities as well as frame design. Clarkes was established by Leo Clarke in Newmarket during the mid 20’s, later two further shops were opened, both in Auckland city.
Clarke who was of the Brethren faith, unusually chose to promote his business by sponsoring cycle racers, who during this time in history carried quite a bad reputation, and I have heard first hand stories of parents being very upset when their daughters brought home their new cycle racing fiancée. Clarke however saw beyond this and quickly established a fine reputation for quality race bikes, being ridden by some of New Zealand’s best Pro riders.
One of his early frame builders was Lloyd Thomas, who also rode roller displays at the Easter Show, helping to advertise the brand.
Slater Hayes and Clarie Bright were also prominent frame builders and factory riders for Clarkes during the 30’s.
Slater Hayes going on to start Comet Cycles in 1937, apparently after an argument with Leo over his after race conduct.
Directly after the war Clarke employed two newly arrived Dutch immigrants, one who turned out to be a very experienced frame builder, and apparently brought some interesting ideas into the building process.
Leo Clarke retired in 1955, closing the business at the same time.
Pratney is seen here on his Leader, wearing a Leader Cycles jersey. Notice the very straight forks and tightly fitting rear wheel, circa 1929.
This photo is from The Kennett bros book ‘Never say Die’ The Bill Pratney story. The Kennett bros have written several fabulous books on the great New Zealand riders, check them out at www kennett.co.nz