Hi; my name is steve brearton and a couple of years ago I wrote and curated a show on the history of cycling in Toronto at the Market Gallery. I'm sure you know this, but Fane was an early bike racer and his company Comet Cycles was probably the first Canadian company to manufacture bikes. Since I became acquainted with Fane I've been fascinated with his story. Here's some text written for the show, but I know I have a clipping file somewhere on Tom Fane.Also, it's not in the text below, but Tom's daughter Ethel apparently rode a specially-built Comet tricycle around. If you have any more info on Fane I'd love to hear it; I've always wanted to do a story on him. Please contact me via my regular email address at firstname.lastname@example.org
Comet Cycles and Toronto’s Bicycle Industry
“If these are hard times,” wrote one newspaper columnist in 1894. “Can you tell me where all the money goes to pay for those bicycles?” During the 1890s, Canada is in the midst of an economic recession, but for the bicycle industry it is boom times. Never again will Toronto boast more bike manufacturers. During the decade, at least 13 different Toronto firms are building cycles. Although a large portion of the early bicycle ‘manufacture’ in Toronto is actually assembly, the industry is part of a larger sector that is among the first to use innovations including product testing and assembly lines. Technical advances in cycling will make later automobiles and planes possible. 1895 proves a turning point for Toronto builders with the announcement that mighty Massey-Harris is launching a bicycle division. Other large manufacturers in the market include America’s Cleveland Bicycles. Cleveland’s Junction works has337,000 square feet of floor space and can produce 200 bikes daily. No firm, however, better reflects the opportunities – and pitfalls - generated by the boom than Comet cycles. As early as 1882, Thomas Fane partners with Charles Lavender to start T. Fane & Company, makers of Comet bikes and Canada’s first bicycle manufacturer if contemporary accounts can be believed. (Fane was a championship racer for the Toronto Bicycle Club in the 1880s, who married Gypsy Creed - reportedly Toronto’s first women cyclist.) By 1890, Comet cycles are producing nine different men’s and women’s bikes and are among the most familiar cycles in the city. The firm boasts a factory at 33 Adelaide Street West and a satellite operation in Buffalo. In 1895, Comet moves to a handsome five-story building on Temperance St., the top story of which was used for a bicycle school. (Three other manufacturers boast cycling schools; in four or five lessons, it is said, “the average women becomes an expert wheelswoman.”) Four years later, despite exporting bikes to Australia and the United Kingdom, Comet goes bankrupt; the victim of too much competition, particularly from large U.S. companies situated in Canada. Major Canadian manufacturers, including Massey-Harris, Welland Vale and Toronto’s Gendron, respond to the challenging business climate by combining to form the Canada Cycle & Motor Company Limited. By 1930, CCM is one of only three large bicycle manufacturers in the entire nation and CCM produces the great bulk of Canadian cycles. Toronto continues to have small-scale bicycle makers, among them Planet, a survivor of the l890s, as well as Alan Kay Cycles and specialty frame builders, such as the iconic Doc Morton, who built racing frames on Dundas Street for some of Canada’s fastest wheelmen in the 20s and 30s,but the days of bike manufacturing as a major economic presence in the city are over. In 1978, CCM closes its Weston plant. Today, Toronto’s bicycle manufacturing legacy remains alive through specialty frame builders such as Mariposa bicycles.