The Malvern Star origins begin at the address of 58 Glenferrie Rd, in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern in 1902 from which Tom Finnigan prize earnings of 240 gold sovereigns from winning the 1898 Austral Wheel Race established the shop and traded under ‘Malvern Star Cycling Co’ or ‘MCC’.
Introducing the logo featuring a six-pointed star which matched a tattoo on his forearm he called his cycles Malvern Star.
The shop was well run despite competition from overseas bikes and with endorsement from Duncan “Don” Kirkham ( see individual profile ) promoting the name.
In 1914 Australia’s first team competed in the Tour De France, consisting of Don Kirkham, George Bell, Don Kirkham, Charlie Snell, Chas. Percy and Iddo “Snowy” Munro.
They finished 17th and 20th respectively. Failing health and the desire to live in the country, Finnigan sold his shop to Bruce Small in 1920 for £1,125 with a deposit of £200 and it is said he even sold the cash register to reduce the balance.
Within two years of operating there were five employees, in the third year eight employees, fourth year 11 employees, and fifth year 13 employees.
Bruce Small kept the name Malvern Star and was producing 5 bikes a week and it wasn’t until 1921 that he awarded a young 17-year old racer Hubert Opperman with his 3rd place prize, a new Malvern Star bike.
Small recognised the potential of Hubert Opperman and thus began the start of a relationship which would catapult the rider and the brand Malvern Star to world proportions. Opperman took direction from Small and in a short time began to win and break records across Australia including the road title four times.
Smalls brothers Frank and Ralph also joined in the business and production increased to 12 cycles weekly.
The business grew and expanded in 1923 to Gardenvale (VIC) and in 1925 the headquarters moved to Prahran (VIC) with Output doubling.
In 1926 Small acquired the old established Carbine Cycle business, which for many years was run by Mr Fred Walcott, the successful six-day rider of pre-war days, with negotiations spread over six weeks it was one of the biggest cycling deals seen in Australia. The merger of the Malvern Star and Carbine Cycle businesses would result in the gathering together the strong array of talent in regards to track and road riders throughout Australia.
A branch was opened at Footscray (VIC) in 1927 it was introduced that every Malvern Star cycle sold was covered with a ten years written guarantee against faulty workmanship/damage of any description, in addition to this every person received free insurance against theft for twelve months and an easy payment system was pioneered.
The Australian Melbourne Herald, the Sporting Globe and The Sun in New Zealand started a fund in late 1927 to pay for an Australasia team to ride the Tour de France and in 1928 Small managed the team to compete in the Tour de France.
The team comprising of three Australians, Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn and Ernest Bainbridge and one New Zealander Harry Watson travelled by sea., training on-board ship with rollers. The team did well competing amongst the Europeans who were among 10 riders per team, Opperman finished 18th place but went on to win the Bol d’Or endurance event, riding 17 hours without dismounting, in front of a cheering crowd of 50,000.
While overseas Small was conducting business ventures and negotiations put in place to commence overseas buying, this would become later become General Accessories Pty. Ltd. which operated as trading wholesale and manufacturing only, to be managed by his brother of Ralph Small.
Malvern Star bikes in the 1920’s were embedded with 2 stars on the head-tube; in particular racing bikes carried tube-sets of one inch diameter tubes, BSA lugs and double plate fork crowns. BSA components were used throughout or the more expensive option of Chater Lea with a choice of steel or wooden wheels.
Freewheels and brakes were not permitted in professional road races until 1922 and it was from the return from France that they were seen as a useful aid and were added into the Malvern Star “Tour De France” models in 1929, these also incorporated a special oil drip system onto the chain which proved useful on the dirt roads.
In 1931 Small equipped a team of Malvern Star riders for the 1931 Tour de France, once again with Hubert Opperman, assisted with Frank Thomas, Ossie Nicholson and “Fatty” Lamb. Opperman made a heroic showing against big odds, and though handicapped by the withdrawal of Thomas from stomach trouble at stage 3 and Nicholson eliminated in stage 4 from a broken crank Opperman finished 12th being overtaken with illness on the road over the last few stages. Lamb finished in 35th place and was the last finisher.
In 1933 Malvern Star employed 100 personnel and in the same year it introduced its fork with a star embedded on each side of the fork crown.
Malvern Star now released its new prime racer the Malvern Star Opperman model.
The Opperman “Oppy” Model embodied the best features of the Tour de France and for the first lime represented the identical machine ridden by ‘Oppy.’
Equipped with B.S.A. hubs, B.S.A scalloped cranks, two French type brakes, Major Taylor stem and incorporating Opperman own bend of styled handlebars priced at £14/10/0.
The English company” Cyclo” had also incorporated the “Oppy” name into their own make of derailleur which displayed the influence of Opperman on a world status he had among the racing scene also on toe-clips.
Growth for the Malvern Star enterprise had been exceptional, manufacturing in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth with a production figure of 2500 cycles a month and an annual turnover exceeding £200,000 and by 1934 there were 450 agencies.
Malvern Star supplied anything from a tiny child’s tricycle to tandem cycles.
By 1938 Malvern Star had administrative offices and assembly depots in each State capital, 24 retail branches and 1,000 agencies throughout Australia yearly sales figures were of 60, 000 cycles.
Bruce Small acquired other bikes shops along the way including Austral in 1933.
Austral cycles were a competitive operative cycle store with its well recognised frame details of the Australian map brazed onto the frame and fork crown.
The take-over meant that frames were Malvern Star produced however continued to sell as the Austral brand.
It was in 1939 Bruce Small devised a strategy to bring out a new selection of cycles, consisting of a star range from one to five, these were proposed for entry to the United States market.
This star range would consist of lower specification models to the top of the elite models as used by its champions. The range of cycles compromised of twelve different types of roadsters and racing models, four were new racing model types.
In general the Utility” and “Roadster” models were ONE stars and TWO stars.
The sports bikes were ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR or FIVE star racers.
The new One star Utility” and “Roadster” models featured the best quality British fittings and chromium-plated three-tone, high gloss enamel, finished both in men and women’s models offered at £7 10/. Their introductory sports racing machine, embodying the latest overseas and Continental improvements offered at the price of £8 19/6 with the top of the range 5 Star Dural racer, an ultra-lightweight cycle weighing 141b.14oz. in racing trim.
The line-up also included a change to 27 inch wheels as 28 inch wheels were then standard issue on most bikes, this new sizing of wheels were lighter however still laced in the 32/40 hub configuration.
In January 1940, to publicise the introduction of the new FIVE star models, Hubert Opperman rode his last major endurance ride of his career at the velodrome at the Sydney Arena. In a 24 hour ride he broke 101 worlds, national and state records.
At this time Malvern Star became the largest manufacturing plant in the Southern hemisphere with thousands of built bicycles annually, more than any other manufacturer.
With the Second World War looming, the war prevented Malvern Star from its marketing plans with the US market and due to the increase of War supplies, molybdemum steel tubing was not available for bicycles, the FOUR and FIVE Stars disappeared from Malvern Star’s wartime catalogues.
The supply of bicycle parts became scarce, so Malvern Star started manufacturing its own and defence contracts helped grow the business supplying thousands of bicycles to the War Department. Malvern Star supplied the defence department with purpose built cycles.
Opperman career ended with World War II when he joined the Royal Australian Air Force serving from 1940 to 1945, he raced briefly after the war but retired in 1947.
After the war the FOUR and FIVE star racers returned to production to gain popularity, it was during these war years they were not produced due to lack of tubing availabity.
Specilaity tubing was limited ( Reynolds 531 ) and Malvern Star built with the materials they could within their range of cycles.
During the years Malvern Star produced many family make models; their most popular was their utility or commonly referred to as roadster bikes and looped ladies bikes.
These bikes generally had flat pressed rear ends, 2 tone paint schemes were common and men’s models featured the bars turned up to give a more upright riding position, these bikes were daily riders and over the years were produced in the thousands as they were built to be comfortable and affordable. These bikes often had coaster hubs or 3 speed sturmey archer rear hubs.
Throughout the years other suburban cycling branches had adopted the Star in their name, eg. Preston Star, Carnegie Star and Barkly Star were some, they possibly may have had some connection with Malvern Star but usually the name was adopted the suburb they resided with the addition of star.
By 1945 its silver anniversary year the salaries bill was £175,000, and £50,000 was paid in commissions, quite an increase from its £1,000 in its first year of operation, and employed 726 employees.
In 1947/48 Small introduced lug-less models as they were appearing on the English scene, these were fillet brazed frames and Malvern Star kept up with trends and applied these onto their FIVE stars. Produced only for a short time, these were not deemed viable as it took up an exceedingly amount of hours compared to the standard frame building process.
At this time the latest in “new looks” in the Malvern Star lady’s models was being displayed, it was a new streamlined model featuring a curved frame and the first radical change in bicycle design in this century said Mr Cliff Bell, Bruce Small’s Singleton manager, he adds that the shock absorbing tapered lug-less frame absorbs most of the shocks experienced in normal cycling. Painted in pastel shades, the frame which has beautiful curving sweeps and “outrigger” forks was stronger and more resilient than the conventional models and weighed five pounds less.
Advertising proved a large part of it success in sales, newspapers, TV and billboards carried the name and it seemed every kid wanted a “Malvern Star “.
The FIVE star racing bikes generally fell in 2 groups, production and custom.
Production FIVE star bikes/frames were hand built in the Malvern Star factory for sale and distributed among the showrooms for sales.
These were top of the range looking to be purchased by aspiring racers or riders simply wanting the best available, they were well built and often had pump pegs, mudguard fit outs and pressed rear brake bridges.
Custom FIVE star bikes/frames were dedicated racing machines built to the requirements for racing cyclists. The majority of these would have been manufactured in the “Specials” workshop within Malvern Star factory in Melbourne and other interstate Malvern Star divisions under contract by the best frame builders at the time.
These frames were built to the specific size of the rider, often tested and sent back in the workshop for final build touches/enamelling; typically the workmanship was better and featured tighter geometry with its components selected upon personal taste.
In other state capitals Malvern Star also had small specialist workshops and different states used different lugs; some riders would have specified particular lugs and special efforts would have gone into the top riders frame.
Most of these special orders did not have a serial stamped and it has been estimated that about 5% of FIVE star frames were custom frames.
Bruce Small was a businessman and marketed the brand heavily, Malvern Star had already sponsored a number of successful racers with the 5 star their choice of cycle.
In the 1950s, Rupert Bates in Melbourne (VIC) built a number of custom built FIVE stars, Bates was already well known for building other high quality racing framesets.
In 1953 Malvern Star released the Coronation model after the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II, advertising that the style of loops resembled the crown with resemblance of the Streamlyne model from previous years.
At the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Ian Browne and Tony Marchant won a gold medal on a Malvern Star tandem.
Malvern Star was sold to Electronic Industries in 1958 and during this time a new breed of Champions were emerging namely Sid Paterson.
The Malvern Star star selection continued to be built and in the 1960’s the Sid Patterson “4 STAR” was released, Patterson had won the World Sprint Championship in Copenhagen in 1949, the World Pursuit Championship in Liège (1950), the professional pursuit in Paris (1952) and professional pursuit in Zurich (1953).
The FOUR star was second tier and used same tubing as the FIVE star, released as a tribute to its rider.
Malvern star also imported limited Italian Cinelli frames for their racing team; these frames were fitted out in Malvern Star trim, their road models often fitted with pump pegs and/or cable braze-ons, usually painted up in silver with simple decaling with Malvern Star on the down tube and small emblem on seat-tube.
These were team dedicated specials, build quantity unknown.
Malvern Star also incorporated their name into radios, these were made by Airzone and were sold through their large number of bicycle shops.
In 1958 Malvern Star was sold to Electronic Industries and retired from the company at this time as Bruce Small had other future plans.
From the late 1960’s a new generation of cycles entered the scene, 20” dragster bikes gaining popularity among teenagers, these were fitted with speedos, recognisable raised handlebars “ape-hangers” , curved banana seats, lamps and were race car inspired with hand shifters and chequered flags incorporated into the paint scheme.In 1970 Malvern Star released the Skidstar GT it featured Mustard yellow paint, headlights, chequered saddle and a chrome capping embedded with a star placed on the fork crown and had a Gold Anniversary decal on them, referring to the 50th anniversary of the Malvern Star brand (1920-1970), the production of top line racers from the previous years of THREE, FOUR and FIVE stars had now almost ceased production with only dedicated frame builders custom building.
The Skidstar remained popular for many years, it was built for cruising the streets and fitted out for the concerning young adult however by 1975/76 Malvern Star recalled all the frames with the 3 speed shifters due to some accidents involving the rider falling upon the shifter, apparently only 25% came back and later production models built with back pedal brake and no gears.
During these years Malvern Star was purchased by the Dutch multinational Philips which sold it to Raleigh in 1980, most lower end Malvern Stars had already begun to be imported.
Bruce Small had become mayor of Gold Coast ( QLD) in 1967 and after a successful career died in 1980, from ill-health aged 84.
Malvern Star was sold to Raleigh in 1980.
In 1982 Malvern Star, Australia’s oldest and best-known brand of bicycle closed its Melbourne factory at Christmas and announced it would begin importing bicycles from Japan and Taiwan.
General Accessories Geoff Haydon, general Manager of the factory, said the bicycle manufacture in Australia had become unviable for Malvern Star because of progressive tariff reductions over the past few years, “purely the cost of the product” and imported bicycles could be sold for 10 per cent less. Sir Hubert Opperman said last night it was “a bit of a shock” to hear that the bicycles would no longer be made in Australia”, “But the name will not die,” he said. “I believe the people who have been running Malvern Star have been from the old school and have been with the company for a long time.
It will still be a very good machine.”
In 1984, the Australian Olympic team consisting of Dean Woods, with team mates Michael Grenda, Kevin Nichols, and Michael Turtur won the 4000m team pursuit on Malvern Star bikes, these bikes were pinned as the latest technology in cycling at the time incorporating a low-profile design.
Changes in ownership of Raleigh’s parent company led to Malvern Star returning to Australian ownership in 1992 under Pacific Brands after struggling with low profitability,
Fast forward 20+ years to 2008 the name Malvern Star announces its release its new range incorporating the latest carbon fibre methods, in its line-up the “Oppy” model.
In 2009 Australia Post released a commemorative “The Classic Toys” stamp set, the set included a stamp featuring the Malvern Star 1970’s dragster.
Many of the best performances by Australian cyclists were recorded on Malvern Star bikes and sayings ” you’d be better on a Malvern Star and Ride a Malvern Star — the choice of champions still remain stuck in those who grew up with the brand.