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 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”.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. But it did 8mph and is the ancestor of the millions of petrol-engined vehicles that have rolled, floated and flown ever since.
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.
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.
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.
SIEGFRIED BETTMAN lauched the Triumph Cycle Co, backed by Dunlop; Mauritz Schulte joined the firm.
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’.
CROSSLEY BROS switched from slide valves to conical-seated valves controlled by a cam.
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.
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
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. The diameter of the wheels is 32 inches, and the whole of the framing and the engine rods are made of oval steel tubing.” 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.
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.
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).
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.