LICKFIELD CONVERTED a Wittig & Hees 3hp single-cylinder two-stroke stationary gas engine to petrol and mounted it on a railway chassis to create a petrol-driven vehicle five years ahead of Daimler/Maybach and Benz.

BSA HAD JUST re-opened following a year-long closure caused by a lack of government orders for armaments and a huge government sale of used rifles that flooded the market, depriving BSA of foreign sales. The factory was back in action to fill a new government order but, wary of ever again putting all its eggs in one basket, the BSA board was anxious to diversify. At which point BSA heard from an East Anglian firm that held the patent on a radical form of bicycle with its wheels side by side. Before long its inventor, ECF Otto (no, not ‘four-stroke’ Otto, this was another Otto)  was demonstrating the stability of his ‘dicycle’ to the BSA directors by riding it up and down the boardroom table. According to a

Mr Otto, convincing the Beeza board of his dicycle's stability.
Mr Otto, convincing the Beeza board of his dicycle’s stability.

contemporary report:  “He finished by riding down the stairs and onto the roadway, disappearing in the direction of Birmingham at what can only be described as ‘a reckless pace’.” There must be an Otto cycle joke in there somewhere but I can’t be bothered. BSA went on to produce more conventional bicycles and some of the best motor cycles in the world. And in a way they owed it all to two Mr Ottos.

IN THE USA George A Long patented and built a trike powered by a petrol-fuelled 90deg V-twin steam engine. It featured two-speed rear-wheel friction drive, spoon brakes on the front wheels and sprung seats. He used for a few years after which it was stripped down and the components scattered. But in 1946, when Long was 96, he got together with steam enthusiast John Bateman and helped him reassemble the trike which is now on display in the Smithsonian Instotute where it is listed as “oldest completely operable self-propelled road vehicle in the museum”.

Long’s trike was dismantled after some years of use but the bits were discovered in 1946 by an enthusiast named Bacon who rebuilt it. He also recommisioned an even older Roper Steam cycle and gave them both to the Smithsonian. Raise a glass to Mr Bacon.


CHARLES LINFORD patented a ‘six-stroke’ cycle (inlet/compression/explosion/exhaust/drawing in air/expelling air). It seemed a formidable rival to the Otto until the Court of Appeal found in favour of Otto’s patent and against Linford’s. Various six-stroke designs have surfaced ever since but as none of them have powered motor cycles they play no further part in our story.

THE ‘SAFETY bicycle’ arrived with wheels of nearly equal size (giving the rider a more gentle landing after a tumble, hence the name) and with pedals attached to a sprocket driving the rear wheel via gears and a chain. So we’re nearly there.

SCOT DUGALD Clerk patented a form of two-stroke engine he had been working on for two years,having started by modifying a Brayton Ready Motor (see 1878). Unlike the crankcase-compression system which would become the industry standard Clerk’s design featured a separate charging cylinder with exhaust and inlet valves in the cylinder head operated by a camshaft, just like a four-stroke. Following the power stroke both valves opened and a supercharger forced fresh air into the cylinder to replace or scavenges the exhaust gas (as no fuel or lubricant was added to this inlet air the loss through the exhaust manifold was not a problem). Fuel was injected as the piston neared top dead centre on the compression stroke; ignition was by compression, as in a diesel engine. Clerk wrote: “The Clerk engine at present in the market was the first to succeed in introducing compression of this type, combined with ignition at every revolution; many attempts had previously been made by other inventors, including Mr Otto and the Messrs Crossley, but all had failed in producing a marketable engine. It is only recently that the Messrs Crossley have made the Otto engine in its twin form and so succeeded in getting impulse at every turn.” Having secured his place in the history books Clerk did not rest on his laurels; he became Director of Engineering Research for the Admiralty and a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Clerk’s two-stroke engine relied on a separate charging cylinder rather than the later pressurised crankcase.

THE PARKYNS-BATEMAN trike featured a twin-cylinder double-acting petrol-fuelled steam engine attached to a Cheylesmore pedal tricycle. It ran well at the Stanley Show and orders flowed in. Then, in a test case, Bateman’s sponsor, Sir Thomas Parkyns, was fined a shilling for “improperly riding” his machine (eg at more than walking speed). He appealed, on the grounds that lightweight trikes didn’t exist when the red flag law came in. The Appeal Court rejected this defence and British vehicle development ground to a halt until the Light Locomotive Act of 1896. Wheel World magazine commented that British legislation had “cruelly and unnecessarily clipped the wings of many a lover of rapid locomotion”.

The Parkyns-Bateman trike was the first vehicle in England to run on petrol, albeit as fuel for its steam engine.

THE METAL detector was invented. Great for finding a missing split link in long grass, if you happen to have one with you.

FROM A LIGHT light hearted prediction penned in The Wheelman’s Almanack and Diary: “Why you were asking me the other day, Ted, as you were pumping compressed air into your bicycle engine, if it was a fact that my fastest pace on country roads was only fourteen miles an hour, thirty years ago. Certainly, and a good pace too, and above the average… But now one can purchase a Godiva Gas Phantom for two pounds, guaranteed to go thirty miles an hour; or an American Air Cleaver propelled by bottled sunlight at over thirty miles an hour. Or again, that what-do-you-call-it? That one-wheeled Coventry Machinist Electric Roller, ten feet high, which can be driven fifty miles an hour. No, no Ted, a change has come o’er the scene. When I was your age it took me an hour and a half to go to Sunderland and back by train. You did it in one hour on your Armstrong Athmospheric Roadster. When I think of all this I cannot help wondering what we shall get to: I suppose we shall fly!”

LUCIUS D COPELAND of Arizona made a compact steam engine and fitted it into the large rear wheel of a Columbia ‘farthing-penny’ (in other words it was a penny farther but the other way round). It did a reputed 12mph and must have taken a lot of nerve to ride.

Copeland’s steam farthing-penny must have been a real handful—his backers subsequently insisted on a third wheel.
Gustave Trouvé electrified a Starley Coventry ‘lever tricycle’ just as Starley was converting from levers to pedal power


JAMES ATKINSON patented the Atkinson-cycle ‘differential’ engine which avoided problems with the Otto cycle patents; it was, and is, more thermally  efficient than the Otto cycle. The main difference between the two is the Atkinson’s uneven strokes with a short compression stroke and a longer expansion stroke. Atkinson produced

After more than a century, Atkinson-cycle engines are back in production.

three designs. The ‘differential’ engine, used opposed pistons. The ‘cycle’ engine used an over-center arm to create four piston strokes in one crankshaft revolution. The ‘utilite’ engine had the intake, compression, power, and exhaust strokes in a single turn of the crankshaft; this avoided infringing patents covering Otto-cycle engines. The Atkinson cycle has an expansion stroke that is longer than the compression stroke to deliver greater thermal efficiency than an Otto-cycle  engine. Atkinson’s engines were produced by the British Gas Engine Company and licensed to other overseas manufacturers. Towards the end of the 20th century enthusiasts  made working models from the original drawings and the Atkinson cycle has made a comeback in the 21st century, notably in hybrid cars but not, at the time of writing, in motorcycles.

PROFESSORS AYRTON and Perry built an electric tricycle based on a pedal trike. The motor and battery weighed 45lb and 100lb respectively.

THE MARQUIS JULES-Albert de Dion annoyed his mum and dad by going into trade. He teamed up with Parisian engineers George Bouton and Bouton’s brother-in-law Charles Trepardoux to manufacture  steam engines.

GOTTLEIB DAIMLER and Wilhelm Maybach were respectively director and plant engineer at Gasmotoren Fabrik Deutz (formerly NA Otto & Cie), the world’s largest engine manufacturer. They had developed the 200rpm petrol engine that had made the company’s name but Otto had no interest in making engines small enough to be used in vehicles so they moved to Cannstatt to work on a ‘high-speed explosion engine’. The fuel they chose was a dry-cleaning fluid called petrol. Within a year Daimler patented his engine but first past the post was an Italian, Enrico Bernardi, who, on 5 August, patented a 122cc water-cooled four-stroke rated at a quarter of a horsepower. Bernardi named his ‘motorice’ after his daughter Pia. He must hasve doted on her as the first use of the Motorice Pia was in Pia’s sewing machine. Daiml;er was hard on his heels, patenting his engine on 16 December.

Some 15 years after his collaboration with Pierre Michaux in the velo-a-vapeur steam-driven velocipede, Louis Perreaux came up with a nifty steam trike.


GOTTLEIB DAIMLER patented his petrol engine on 16 December. 

DELAMARE-DEBOUTTVILLE came up with a four-stroke engine that could be set up to run on gas or petrol.

ETIENNE LENOIR designed a four-stroke engine for Parisian builder Rouart Freres, leading to a suit for patent infringement. Otto lost in the German and French courts because the four-stroke cycle had been conceived by Parisian Alphonse Beaus de Rochas in 1862. This decision placed the Otto technology in the public domain which, in terms of the evolution of motorised bicycles, was A Good Thing.

SIEGFRIED MARCUS patented his low-voltage “magneto-electric ignition system”.

GERMAN FRIEDRICH Fischer found a way to make ball bearings that were pefectly spherical; good news for engine designers.

The Sauerbronn-Davis steam velocipede must have been a fearsome sight; judging by the size of the seat those wheels were about eight feet in diameter. The boiler was petrol fired; note the steering wheel in front of the seat.


IN A BID FOR FINANCIAL BACKING Edward Butler showed detailed plans for a petrol-engined trike at the Stanley Show. To avoid hassles with the Otto patent Butler built a Clerk-style two-stroke engine. Butler’s Velocycle was remarkably advanced, leading many pundits to cite it as the forerunner of the modern motorcycle, despite its third wheel and the fact that it wasn’t built until after the usual candidate, the Daimler Einspur, was up and running. (Ixion, let it be said,  saw the Velocycle as the first motor cycle and so should all right thinking Englishmen.)

Edward Butler’s Velocycle is the English candidate for the world’s first motor cycle.

SYLVESTER ROPER (see 1868) made another steam-powered bike but if the 1868 steamer had been a motorised velocipede this one, being the shape of a modern ‘safety’ bicycle could fairly be called a motor cycle.

LUCIUS COPELAND (see 1881) made another steam-powered velocipede; this time he  fitted a 4hp steam engine fuelled by paraffin into a Star farthing-penny and demonstrated it at the Maricopa County Fair. Top speed was 15mph and it could run for an hour before needing more water. He went on to establish the Northrop Manufacturing Company in New Jersey and sensibly added a third wheel, calling his trike the Phaeton Moto-Cycle. It was demonstrated at the Smithsonian Institute.

THOMAS HUMBER developed and patented the ‘safety bicycle’ with a diamond-shaped frame and wheels of similar size, just in time for the arrival of lightweight engines to power them.

THOMAS PARKER, who was responsible for electrifying the London Underground, built an electric car. Many years later his great-grandson explained that problems with smoky steam and gas engines in London turned Parker’s thoughts towards finding a more eco-friendly alternative. How cool is that?

Having electrified the Tube Thomas Parker put his expertise into a quad.

IN FRANCE DELAMARE-Deboutteville patented a twin-cylinder petrol engine and used it to drive a wagon.

AS DE ROCHAS had described the four-stroke cycle in 1862 Otto couldn’t stop Daimler and Maybach using it.After two years’ hard graft in Daimler’s shed they produced a 462cc, 110lb, 600rpm vertical single ‘high-speed’ petrol engine developing 1.1hp at 650rpm. It featured hot-tube ignition, an automatic inlet valve and a surface carburettor.

DAIMLER AND MAYBACH’S high-speed engine project bore fruit: a 264cc, 900rpm, ½hp vertical single known as the Grandfather Clock engine. It had a float metered carburretor, ‘automatic’ inlet valve and used hot tube ignition. It could also run on coal gas, used twin flywheels and had an aluminum crankcase.

Enrico Bernardi fitted his 122cc engine into a diminutive trike which his son rode round the streets of Quinzano.
Edward Callihan of Woonsocket, South Dakota built a paraffin-fuelled steam trike which could do 15mph, and it was robust enough to survive a 20 mile run over local tracks. Callihan later stripped the trike to use bits on other projects but went on to build a petrol-engined car. The local press noted that when he demonstrated his car to local townsfolk they were puzzled by the way he circled them non-stop for two hours till it ran out of fuel. The inventor confessed that he had mounted the shut-off switch out of reach from his position in the driver’s seat.


KARL BENZ COMPLETED his three-wheel ‘patent motorwagen’ a three-wheeler. Ixion drove one in 1898. The great man was impressed by the advanced transmission but concluded: “I refuse to accept it as a motor cycle.” Fair enough, though to be fair Karl wasn’t trying to build a motor cycle. A four-wheeler followed in 1891.

It didn’t take Benz long to add the fourth wheel.

RUDOLPH DIESEL SET up a workshop in Paris and began development work on a compression-ignition engine. The process would take more than a decade.

THE FIRST MECHANICAL petrol pump was built by Sylvanus Bowser of Fort Wayne, Indiana for one Jake Gumper, whose garage could thus be considered the forerunner of the myriad  petrol stations around the planet. Presumably the petrol bowser was named after clever old Sylvanus. So what a pity it is that Jake’s been forgotten, else we might still be cursing ever rising fuel prices at the local gumper.

Messrs de Dion and Trepardoux built a series of steam-powered trikes that stayed in production for several years, but de Dion was growing more interested in internal combustion.

JOHN KEMP Starley cut his teeth working with his uncle in Coventry building Ariel cycles. He subsequently teamed up with cycling enthusiast William Sutton using the brand Rover and in 1885 they launched the Rover Safety Bicycle with two similar-sized wheels, pedals and chain drive. All the bicycle lacked was an engine.

Cycling magazine said the Rover had “set the pattern to the world” and this phrase was used in their advertising.

DAIMLER AND MAYBACH planned to use their revolutionary 264cc engine to power a four-wheeler but initially knocked up a crude, wooden two-wheeled testbed (with outriggers) which they dubbed Einspur (‘one-track’). Many motorcyclists have had one-track minds ever since. On 10 November Daimler’s son Paul, 17, completed the first run on a petrol-engined motorcycle from Canstatt to Unterturkheim and back—about eight miles. Einspur—a Bluffers Guide: The saddle was too high for the rider’s feet to reach the ground and the lousy frame geometry made it unrideable so they fitted spring-loaded stabiliser wheels. The engine drove the rear wheel via a belt; a moveable pulley slackened the belt to serve as a kind of clutch, controlled by a twistgrip (as used by Roper and Michaux in 1869) which also controlled the rear brake. The heat of the engine set fire to the saddle, which must have attracted young Paul’s undivided attention. But it did 8mph and is the ancestor of the millions of petrol-engined vehicles that have rolled, floated and flown ever since.

The Einspur was a short-lived testbed for a car engine, but here it is: the first motor cycle.
Here’s the Einspur at home; this must be the first picture ever of a motor cycle in the workshop where it was built.
1885 EINSPUR AW EX 1916
This rather fine diagram on the Einspur was produced in 1916 by a Swiss reader of The Motor Cycle, M Bensande of St Gall, and reproduced in that august organ.
To Daimler it was a testbed; to motor cyclists, it’s a motor cycle.
Not surprisingly, the Einspur was commemorated by the Deutsches Bundespost. Right: These engineer’s drawings are rather fine, nicht wahr?

WITHIN A YEAR Daimler and Maybach had discarded the Einspur in favour of twin-track vehicles. Nonetheless, if you ignore the stabilisers the Einspur had two wheels and an engine. As such it is generally accepted as the first motor cycle and with it this timeline moves from pre-history to history.  To introduce that history you couldn’t do better than the heading The Motor Cycle coined for the timeline in its Golden Anniversary issue:

Milestones of Progress

Happenings of Importance and Interest in the Motor Cycle Movement from its Early Days Up to the Present Time


MAYBACH DID SOME miles on the Einspur to evaluate innovations including a belt primary drive and gear-driven rear wheel with a two-speed transmission, though he had to stop to change gear.

THE MANNESMANN brothers patented machinery to make seamless, thick-walled steel tube from which sensible chaps would make motor cycle frames.

ROBERT BOSCH was asked to repair the low-tension magneto on a Daimler engine; he took the opportunity to copy it.

MESSRS DE DION, Bouton and Trepardoux had built some steam carriages, now they took in the right direction by shoehorning a steam engine into a Rudge tandem trike.

Before moving into the brave new world of petrol power Dion-Bouton produced some practicable steamers.


EDWARD HUGH OWEN built a four-stroke chain-driven trike; 20 years later The Motor Cycle had no doubts about his achievement: “It is increasingly a difficult matter to unearth the early efforts of pioneers in an industry so widespread as that of petrol motor engineering. True, we have diversified relics left us—trophies, as it were, of a bygone age. But often, in consequence of the distaste of the more educated and retiring inventor for any kind of publicity or bruiting abroad of the results of his cogitations and labours, such relics are lost in the whirligig of time and destroyed, or replaced by some newly-wrought mechanism. Thus it is in the domain of practical workers, and, notwithstanding the fact that there are several claimants to the honour of having first brought forth the self-propelling ‘infant’ to become in turn the parent of the latter-day chariot of the roads, it is with patriotic satisfaction that we are enabled to furnish our readers with what is, in point of fact, the first illustrated description of an English-made motor vehicle, which saw the light twenty years since. We are, of course, aware of other mechanically-moved vehicles to which precedence may be given, in point of age, but, confining our attention to forerunners of the twentieth century petrol motor carriage, it is extremely doubtful whether even the late Gottlieb Daimler, who has been called “the father of the motor car”, produced at first a vehicle so remarkably in advance of its time as that which was constructed by Mr EH Owen. The vehicle was a front wheel steered tricycle. The motive power was supplied by a single-cylindered, vertical spirit engine working on the four-cycle principle, the ignition of the charge under compression being effected by means of a lamp and hot tube. The admission valve, set in a removable chest at the flywheel side of the engine, was of the spring-controlled automatic pattern, while the exhaust valve was lifted by a cam on a short axle running at half the number of crankshaft revolutions. Upon an extension of the engine-shaft a spur pinion meshed with a large spur wheel beneath. Carried on the same shaft as this spur wheel was a chain wheel, which, by means of a central chain, transmitted the power direct to a second chain wheel fixed on the rear axle. Starting of the motor was effected by turning the rim of the exterior flywheel manually, during which operation the large spur wheel was allowed to run idle upon its shaft. Close to and working on the rim of the large spur wheel a calliper band brake, actuated by an upright hand lever, served to form a gradually engaging connection between spur wheel and chain wheel, so that they might run solid when desired. The driving axle was of the ‘live’ type, and provided with a bevel balance gear, together with a foot-operated band brake. The carburetting device consisted of a small spirit container, fed from a tank alongside, and having a wick feed to the inlet pipe of the motor. An adjustable mixing valve furnished the necessary air to the admission port of the engine which was also controlled thereby. A small circular iron canister, drilled with large holes at its lower end,formed the exhaust box. The engine was water-cooled by the natural circulation of that liquid through small pipes from a reservoir next to the tank. Splash lubrication was employed in the enclosed crank case, a ball valve drip feed oiler being also fitted to the cylinder. An elongated steering bar, footrest and the driver’s saddle completed the equipment of the machine, the wheels of which, it is almost needless to add, were solid rubber tyred. Although twenty years have elapsed since this motor-driven tricycle was evolved, it embodied in advance the elements of the later De Dion and other makes of tricycles, with the exception of the method of transmission. Here was a clutch, the like of which is seen in the earlier French-made motor cars; a countershaft and chain driving transmission practically as in any present motor car; a live axle combined with a balance gear that has not yet been altered in principle. Here, too, was a wick carburetter  differing only in details from that now employed in the Lanchester car. This precursor forestalled to no inconsiderable extent the very ‘vitals’ of automobile construction. It was easily capable of running at a respectable speed, despite the law of the period, and more or less frequent stoppages on account of difficulties connected principally with ignition, carburettion (or rather vaporisation), and water-circulating troubles, amongst lesser ills to which such a pioneer machine might not unnaturally be prone. In that period petrol as we know it today was, of course, unobtainable, and consequently it was necessary to employ benzine as fuel. One at least amongst our engineers was as much alive to the possibilities of road vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine as were the inventors of Continental countries. It shows us how we might have early led in the industry but for the restrictions of absurd legislation.” In 1901 Owen set up the Automobile Transport Company in West Kensington making 3½hp ‘voiturettes’. He then told the Motor Car Journal that he was “prepared to take orders for 9, 12, 16 or 24 hp cars, with delivery in early 1902”. Then he renamed the company  the Twentieth Century Travel Co and renamed the cars Lococars. The company survived till 1935, changing its name four more times. There is no record of any cars being built. But in 1887  Edward  Owen earned his place in the motor cycle hall of fame.

Almost forgotten by history, Edward Owen built Britain’s first motor vehicle.

JOHN BOYD DUNLOP, while working as a vet, developed a practicable pneumatic tyre for his son’s tricycle, paving the way for the first punctures.

THREE YEARS AFTER EMIGRATING from Nuremberg to Coventry Siegfried Bettman  teamed up with his fellow Nuremberger Mauritz Schulte, a trained engineer, to launch the Triumph Cycle Co, with backing from Dunlop.

JOHN MARSTON BEGAN MAKING bicycles in Wolverhampton. On the suggestion of his wife Ellen, he marketed them as Sunbeams; the company’s Paul Street works were named Sunbeamland. Legend has it that the Sunbeam name was coined after Mrs Marston saw the first bicycle produced by her husband’s firm and remarked how well its glossy paint reflected the sun.

LUCIUS COPELAND patented another steamer, this time a trike that looked somewhat less precarious than his lofty farthing-penny creation. He made room for a passenger and even fitted a rather stylish fabric roof. He went on to make about 200 ‘Paeton steamers’.

Compared with Copeland’s precarious looking ‘farthing-penny’ steamer, his Phaeton-steamer looked eminently sensible. The great man is pictured with Ms Frances Benjamin Johnston at the Smithsonian Institution Building.
Edward Butler upgraded his 1884 provisional patent  to a limited patent. The Velocycle was now called the Petrol-Cycle; the first use of the word ‘petrol’.


CROSSLEY BROS switched from slide valves to conical-seated valves controlled by a cam.

WESTERNERS LIVING IN JAPAN set up the first horsedrawn stagecoach company in Japan. Before long traffic laws were passed. These included bans on drink-driving, nudity and flying kites on the public highway.

FELIX MILLET, clearly not one to do anything the easy way, built a five-cylinder ‘stellar’ rotary engine into the front wheel of a tricycle. Rotation was supposed to cool the engine, which lacked fins. However it did incorporate suspension into the front wheel, and was ahead of its time, probably too far.

Why use a single when you can build a five-pot radial into a sprung front wheel?

FINALLY, EDWARD BUTLER  found backers and began work on the Petrol-Cycle in the machine shop of torpedo-boat designer FB Shuttleworth. It was fabricated by the Merryweather Fire Engine Company in Greenwich. The Petro-cycle was  originally powered by a Clerk-style two-stroke engine with magneto ignition but Butler converted the engine to a water-cooled four-stroke, replaced the magneto ignition with a battery and coil, and invented a spray carburretor he called the ‘Inspirator’ (Wilhelm Maybach wouldn’t invent his spray carburetor until 1893). The 0.6hp (at 600rpm) four-stroke gave the Petrol-Cycle a top speed of 10mph. It boasted Ackermann steering, chain-activated rotary sleeve valves and float-fed carburettor. The water reservoir was built into the rear

Finally…Edward Butler got to ride his trike, and very comfortable it looks too.

mudguard (an idea adopted by Hilderbrand & Wolfmuller in 1894) and the engine was started using compressed air. Butlet wrote: “In this machine one gallon of petroleum or benzolene is designed to furnish sufficient power to accomplish a run of forty miles…both cylinders are supplied with explosive mixture by drawing air through an inspirator situated over an oil reservoir contain a supply of benzolene, or a similar petroleum product. A valve regulates the oil feed, and the mixture of air and oil spray formed in the atomizer is volatilized before distribution to the cylinders. The compressed charges are alternately ignited by an induced current of electricity passing across terminals fixed in the cylinder covers, the current being generated by a small single-fluid battery under the seat. Stopping and starting is effected by raising and lowering the driving wheel from the ground by a foot lever, the weight of this portion of the machine being then thrown upon small caster wheels…the crank shaft is set in motion by a handle before the driver mounts to his seat. The speed of the motor is regulated by a throttle valve lever…steering is effected by a pair of rocking handles actuating the front wheels, which move on separate pivots, and the brake is applied to both of these wheels by a foot lever. ” Years later Butler’s son recalled that his mum had taken a turn at the controls, making her the first member of the gentle sex to operate a motor vehicle, so raise a glass to the world’s first woman driver. Thirty years later The Motor Cycle reviewed Butler’s achievement:  “A study of Mr Butler’s pioneer machine is most interesting, and the mechanism needs very careful investigation if all its ingenuity is to be appreciated…From a pressure diagram before us, it is clear that a more perfect exhaust stroke is obtained than even in a four-stroke engine, while the charge is only transferred after the piston has reached the top of the stroke. The main advantages are perfect exhaust and perfect charge, so far as the working cylinder is concerned. The disadvantage of this principle would be an unduly high receiver pressure needed for the transfer. In all it appears to be a system which, if taken up again and modernised, might give good results, particularly as regards the thermal efficiency.” Butler himself described his invention in detail: “There are two cylinders, one at each side of the driving wheel, and arranged acting away from the driving cranks, in order to work with an unusually long stroke and to have the front ends arranged as compressing pumps. The pistons are connected by rods to cross-heads, and these by return connecting rods of oval section tapered steel tubes to the cranks, which are at 180°. Each cylinder is self-contained, and draws in and compresses mixture at the front end into a pressure chamber arranged underneath, a jacket surrounding the pressure chamber being utilised to heat the mixture. The cylinders are 2¼in diameter by 8in stroke, and the mixture, compressed to from 15lb to 30lb per square inch, according to throttle opening, is admitted to the explosion end of the cylinders for 2½in of the power stroke, when it is cut off by the rotary valve and immediately ignited by a wipe contact spark, produced by a spring point extending some 3in from a plug screwed into the cylinder cover.” When the motor was running at about 300rpm and with the throttle fully open the pressure was measured at 20-30lb for the first 2-3in of the stroke, rising to 100-120lb. after the

Edward Butler’s engine: a spray carb, spark ignition and compressed air starting. It deserved, and deserves, greater recognition.

crank had moved to about 60° of the power stroke. Butler described the starting technique and the development process: “At each end of the cylinders there is a balanced tapered rotary valve driven at half speed by a sprocket wheel and chain. Between the rotary valves and the pressure chamber there are two plug throttles, and a third plug to control the admission of mixture from the carburetter to the compressing end of each cylinder. The purpose of the three plugs is to enable the motor to be used as a compressor while pushing it along the road for a hundred yards or so to charge up the cylinders, after which operation the plugs are moved round a few degrees to start the motor under air pressure with the driving wheel raised off the ground. Immediately on the chambers commencing to fire, the plugs are moved round to the third position to place the compressing ends into connection with the pressure chambers. In practice it was found that the motor would not work slowly enough to propel the car along unaided at the start, ie, when the driving wheel was lowered to the ground, and the car had to be pushed along at a running speed until both cylinders picked up. The motor, however, would run very satisfactorily with the driving wheel running on a pair of grooved pulleys when allowed to speed up to about 250-300rpm. The current for the ignition was at first obtained from a dynamo magneto, but as this took up so much of the available power a primary battery was substituted. At first a Bunsen nitric acid battery was used, then a bichromate of potash, and finally a silver-carbon plate battery known as the Shancheef, really a modification of the silver-copper Smee battery. The carburetter was placed forward, just over the petrol tank, and was within reach from the seat for adjust-ment of the petrol feed by a pin valve; this car-buretter had a jet feed and automatic air plug to maintain a constant mixture for different positions of the throttle and for varying speeds. In the trials Pratt’s gasolene was used, although the motor would run on commercial benzolene, but did not start so quickly on the heavier spirit. After a considerable amount of experimental research with the motor arranged to work on a pressure admission two-stroke cycle this was decided to be unsatisfactory, and the motor was altered to work four-stroke, when the pressure chambers and the valves at the compressing end of the cylinders were cut out, and the valve at the explosion end altered to admit mixture at alternate forward strokes instead of at each stroke as formerly. An epicyclic transmission gear was also fitted in the hub of a new driving wheel, which now allowed the motor to speed up to 400-500rpm when running along the road at from eight to ten miles an hour. The four-stroke motor ran much better, and after being first started by a handle on one of the cranks, with the driving wheel raised from contact with the ground, the car could be quite easily started from the seat by a foot lever at the right-hand side of the footboard. This method, although seemingly strange, really worked very well, as the driving wheel could be let down quite gently with the toggle lever control. On the left side of the footboard was a second foot lever for the brakes on the front steering wheels. These were carried by stub axles swivelling in sockets, and were connected for the three wheels to focus to one point when steering in either direction. The cylinders were jacketed and connected by large pipes to a water tank arranged over the driving wheel, which, although heavy, appeared to keep the cylinders from overheating. This little car, although of short wheelbase, and with wheels only 32in and 30in in diameter, weighed with oil and water 400lb. After being altered from two-stroke to four-stroke, the ignition was changed from wipe spark low-tension to high-tension, with a sparking coil and rotary distributer.”

JK STARLEY built an electric trike which worked, but didn’t get beyond the prototype stage. But at the same time he was perfecting his 1885 design, the Rover Safety cycle. It was the first ‘modern’ bicycle with a chain and equal sized wheels. All it needed was an engine…

MANUS VOLK, founder of the Brighton Electric Railway, built a 1hp, chain-drven
‘electric dogcart’ for the Sultan of Turkey. It  weighed in at 11cwt, which implies a hefty battery pack. Nonetheless, Volk’s claim of a 50-mile range at 10mph still seems optimistic.

Mr Volk’s ‘electric dogcart’ was rather stylish—it certainly impressed the Sultan of Turkey.

WILLIAM ‘PIANO’ Steinway, who had met Maybach at a US show in 1876, visited Canstatt and became exclusive agent for Daimler engines in the USA and Canada.


JOSEPH DAY DESIGNED a crankcase-scavenged engine, using the area below the piston as a charging pump, to avoid infringing Otto’s four-stroke patents. He called it the Valveless Two-Stroke Engine. It incorporated flap valves in the inlet port and the piston crown. One of his workmen, Fred Cock, subsequently replaced the flap valves with a piston-controlled inlet port to produce the classic piston-ported two stroke still in use today.

HEINRICH AND WILHELM Hildebrand, fed up with cycling up the hills of their native Bavaria, built a 1½hp steam-powered two-wheeler which could run on coke or petrol—an early example opf dual-duel technology. They Hildebrand boys subsequently teamed up with Alois Wolfmuller and switched to petrol power  (if you can’t wait skip forward to 1894) but the prototype steamer ended up in England (as you’ll see when you get to 1896 and the Emancipation Run).

The brothers Hildebrand built themselves a steam-powered bicycle.

TRIUMPH MOVED from London to Coventry and began to make its own bicycles.

COMPTE DE DION’S team made a tidy steam tricar but he was becoming interested in internal combustion so he got Bouton and Trepardoux to convert one of their twin-cylinder compound steam engines into a two-stroke running on petrol.

Le Compte de Dion looks tres chic on this late-model De Dion Trepardoux steamer but at heart he had become a petrolhead.
As motor cycles and cars party company, and petrol ousts steam, wave a fond farewell to this oh-so-cute De Dion steam car.
Hezekiah Smith of New Jersey patented (but as far as anyone knows did not build) a steam trike. He did well enough with his manufactory to get into congress and buy himself a town, Shreweville, NJ, which he renamed Smithville. How weird is that?
1889 DESMO
Daimler-Benz patented a desmodromic valve system, for a car powered by a Panhard et Levassor V-twin. Surely you didn’t think the first desmos were Dukes?