Mr Vivian Lewis was born in Bendigo (Victoria) in 1865, he came to South Australia in1889 and built the first Lewis bicycle in 1892. Lewis began operating in around 1893 with two assistants which grew to 20 hands two years later as it had established itself as one of the largest cycle establishments in the Adelaide city.
His store was known as “Ormonde Bicycle Depot” and was located at 31 Freeman Street (later became known as Gawler Place) with the workshop located in McHenry street known as Lewis cycle works. The workshop was large enough for making cycles with fitting and turning machines, vices and frame jigs, an extensive range of tools for repairs and wheel building were in use by the employees. In April 1896 a company was being formed for the purpose of acquiring the business of cycle Importation and Manufacture.
Lewis sought to raise capital for this new venture and extend its operations.
In the same year, Mr Lewis started a cycling school in the local gymnasium and as attendances grew he began to look ahead into other ventures of transport.
The forming of this new company was not as successful as he had hoped but Lewis was at the peak of the cycle boom of the turn of the century and business was booming, he was an agent for the James, M. and C Humber, Rudge-Whitworth, White Flyer, Falcon and Tribune cycles and would travel to England frequently where he kept up with the latest cycle designs, trends and release of items and organize the shipments of these back to Adelaide via ship. By 1905 the Lewis store was already stocking a a fine array of machines.
By 1907, Mr Lewis had on display a fine array of bicycles, the public applauded the gents “Pathracer “model which was finished in a light blue and available in both road or track configurations, the “Lewis roadster” was fitted with a 3-speed hub which proved a success which was available as a 2-speed with the option of free-wheel on the other side. The Lewis “light roadster” was fitted with Dunlop roadster tyres, Brooks saddle and was built to withstand the hardest wear and roughest usage while the “Royal Argent” men’s cycle was being hailed as being one of best sellers alongside the lady’s model which was finished in red, picked out in gold with artistically decorated with lily transfers.
The display also featured his water cooled 6 hp two-cylinder Lewis Motorcar, this car was fitted with a 3-speed and claimed to be comfortable and as a good performer in the hills.
Lewis is noted as the first to manufacture motorcars and motorcycles and in South Australia. Active in the motor car industry he took control of the Talbot, the Swift, the Star, the All days, the Napier, the Daimler and the Minerva in South Australia.
Lewis branches were now operating in country areas of Pt. Pirie (SA) and Mt. Gambier (SA) and also at Broken Hill (NSW).
His strong reputation of fine quality cycles gave opportunity to purchase the well-known cycle business of D J. MacNamara situated in Commercial Street, Mt. Gambier, (SA) he proposed to make this the headquarters for the South – East.
Mr Lewis was influential of many of the forming cycling committees in South Australia and by 1912 at the annual meeting it was reported that the company had made a highly satisfactory progress.
Bicycles offered were now very attractive and racing machines weighed only 171/2 lbs., the “Lewis road racer” was fitted with Chater Lea parts and finished with nickel rims with blue centre. The “light roadster” finished in dark green was fitted with Chater lea parts, Eadie Coaster and hub rim brakes, a “special hill-climber” model was available fitted with two-speed hub so the rider can reduce his gear when ascending a hill.
Lewis was at the forefront of enhancements in products, while his cycles were hugely popular, his motorcycles impressed the public in 1913 at the Spring Show (later to be known as the Adelaide Royal Show) his 3-1/2 hp water-cooled, three-speed gear hub proved a winner and by 1914 Lewis motor cycles had won every event except one that they had entered and put up a world’s record for 24 hours’ ride— the first in Australasia to establish such a record. Four machines competed in the Adelaide to Melbourne reliability trial and came through without losing a point.
Lewis actively sponsored many cycle racing events in the Adelaide city and also in country areas, the Lewis road race which was promoted by the League of Wheelmen of South Australia was run to mark the end of the road racing season with a prize value of 8£.
In October 1917 Mr Lewis celebrated his 25th anniversary of the firm; he entertained his employees of the firm at a social evening, of which about 150 guests assembled at the Osborne Hall, Adelaide which had been tastefully decorated.
Mr Lewis had his best cycles on display and in 1918; his speed machine was purposely built for speed with a short wheelbase and semi straight front forks, nicely finished in nickel and fitted with Dunlop speed tyres.
In March 1919 Mr Vivian Lewis died after a long illness at the age of 54 years.
With a shortage of wooden rims in 1922, Lewis cycles were quick to supply the demand from racing men, cycle enthusiasts were to take advantages of BSA sets from England for improvements and the special feature for a quick detachable wheel.
Lewis cycles continued to serve the cycling community and strive to sell the best cycles, production and manufacture continued in all aspects of transportation.
In 1924, Fred Mann took over Vivian Lewis ltd, his plans were to focus more on motoring side of things and in 1925 the company moved to new premises located at Waymouth Street, Adelaide. Mr Lewis had built an empire till and this takeover was seen as an emerging new era.
In 1928 a new company “Lewis Parking Station ltd.” was formed and business was carried out from there, they became importers of Oldsmobile and Buick cars.
Motorcycles continued to sell well and while cycles were still offered, wheelchairs also came into production.
In 1956 relocation Gouger Street, Adelaide took place ceasing much of the manufacturing.
Lewis cycle works ltd. would up in voluntarily administration in 1975.