ENGINEERING MAGAZINE dismissed motorcycling as a “form of entertainment that can appeal only to the most enthusiastic of mechanical eccentrics…we think it doubtful whether the motorcycle will, when the novelty has worn off, take a firm hold of public favour.”

IN THE USA George M Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström trading as the Hendee Manufacturing Co of Springfield, Mass, built a chain-drive motorcycle with a 213cc/1¾hp engine made for them under licence by Aurora of Illinois. They called it the Indian. Like the 1900 Holley its engine was clamped to the saddle tube so it leaned backwards, setting a trend for US bikes. The curved fuel tank on the rear mudguard earned it the nickname ‘camelback’.

Arguable the greatest American marque, Indian got under way with the ‘Camelback’.

AN ORIENT IN the capable hands of factory rider Ralph Hamlin won the first West Coast motor-cycle race on the one-mile Los Angeles horse track. He beat three other bikes to win the 10-lap race in 18min 30sec (about 32 mph). The 2hp Orient went on to set an American one-mile record of 1min 10sec (though at the stage US records were not recognised in Europe). Orients sold well, leading Marsh to abandon bicycles to specialise in motor cycling, sensible chap—an Orient was the first motorcycle to be exported from the US to Europe. An Orient also won the first road race in the US, between Irvington and Milburn, New Jersey (a distance of 10 miles) at an average speed of 31mph. The company decided to concentrate on producing a ‘horseless carriage’;  founder Charles Metz left to set up the Metz Motorcycle Company. His friend and employee, Albert Champion, a champion French bicycle racer who had arrived in the US in 1899 to becoming one of the first professional motor cycle racers, went on to establish the spark plug company that still bears his name: Albert.

The Orient earned success on the track and was the first colonial mount to be exported to the motherland.
Ralph Hamlin clearly knew how to handle an Orient.

ALSO IN THE US, the Thomas Motor Company began to sell complete motor-assisted bikes and trikes under the name Auto-Bi and Auto-Tri. Before long it was advertising its bikes in Japan, with some success. That country’s first race, in Tokyo, featured an Auto-Bi, an Auto-Tri and a French-made Gladiator quad. They did 22mph, 15mph and 18mph respectively.

Two, three and four wheels in Japan’s first motor cycle race.


STOP ME AND buy one – the disc brake was patented by Frederick Lanchester though it would be decades before this technology became suitable for motor cycles.

CL HOROCK DEVELOPED a telescopic shock absorber, using a piston and cylinder inside a metal sleeve.

JOHN ALFRED PRESTWICH  would put Tottenham on the map with his world-beating JAP engines. He designed his first engine in 1901, but it wasn’t built until 1903.

THE STANLEY SHOW which was, of course, a cycling show, featured 105 motor cycles; most with French or Belgian engines. So it comes as no surprise that The Autocar reported: “Perhaps the feature of the year is the motor bicycle. This form of mount, although not taking to the eye, appears likely to be frequently met with on the road next season. Most of the leading cycle makers have taken up the manufacture of motor bicycles, and it is quite obvious that they have much to learn—or perhaps unlearn—before a mechanically perfect machine will be produced. The prevailing idea at present amongst makers is to take the safety free-wheel bicycle and clamp to one of the members of the frame a petrol motor of about 1.5 brake horse-power. From the shaft of this power is transmitted by means of either a chain or belt to a pulley or large chain wheel secured to the rear wheel; to another member of the frame is secured a tank for storing the petrol—usually about a gallon—and hidden away as far as possible under the saddle is a storage battery for igniting the mixture of gases in the cylinder of the engine. No change gearing is provided. When the rider wishes to go slowly he must stop his motor and pedal “for dear life. The weight of one of these machines is usually shout 70-80lb. Of course, there is a startling array of levers and taps, which appears to fascinate the unwary purchaser and gives him the idea that he is getting a good deal for his £50 or so. Altogether the result is not so satisfactory looked it through the engineer’s glasses. Makers would do well to discard some of the principles underlying the construction of the bicycle and build from the motor, or include it in their general scheme, as one or two firms have already done. Then smaller wheels than the standard bicycle wheels might be found advantageous, and give a more efficient ratio of gearing. With the type of motor for the purpose little fault can be found. Enthusiasts are not wanting who maintain that the motor bicycle will eventually become as common on the roads as the ordinary bicycle is to-day. Although we are not disposed to agree with this glowing prediction, this form of machine, we must admit, does certainly offer great facilities for travelling long distances in a short space of time, with slight effort and with a minimum of expense, a gallon of petrol being roughly sufficient to carry a person close upon one hundred miles on fairly good roads, and we shall watch its development with some interest.”

A SMALL GROUP OF motor cycle enthusiasts got together at Frascati’s on Oxford Street and decided to form a club devoted to the new pastime of motor cycling. They formed a provisional committee and, presumably after much soul searching, decided on a name for the first motor cycling club: The Motor Cycling Club. Two thoughts. Primus, Frascatti’s was a popular watering hole among aristos and London glitterati, reminding us that, at its inception, at least, motor cycling was not the reserve of the hoi polloi. Secundus, following the tradition set by the British Army, in which the oldest regiments take precedence in line of march, every motor cycle clubman on the planet should defer to bikes ridden by members of ‘the’ MCC on the road.

Frascati’s opened, in London’s West End, in 1892: it hosted the first bike club meeting.

GERMAN EMIGREE ALEXANDER LEITNER of Riga launched the Russian motorcycle industry by fitting 2hp Fafnir engines into reinforced bicycle frames, using a design licensed from the Werner Brothers. He marketed them as Rossiyas and claimed to have produced 350 within a year. According to a contemporary advert: “In view of Russia’s poor roads we have ensured that the frame is of extra strength, made using the best seamless tubes; it encloses the engine in a loop beneath the crankcase. Ignition by electric battery. Automatic belt tensioning. Free wheel with backpedal brake. Front wheel by stirrup brake. Low overall ratio for easy pedalling if engine has failed. Speed 6-40 versts per hour (4-26mph). Water-cooled engine optional.”

The Fafnir-engined Rossiya was built in Riga, which was then part of the Czarist Russian empire.

CLEMENT’S FIRST motorcycle was the 1¾hp Autocyclette.

THE MINERVA engine was enlarged to 211cc/1¾hp and was capable of propelling a bicycle at about 30mph with a consumption of 150mpg. It powered the first models from Royal Enfield, Coventry-Progress, Phoenix, Quadrant, OEC and Ivel.

The first Royal Enfield motor cycle sported a Minerva engine over the front wheel, a la Werner.

NSU LAUNCHED A motorcycle named after its Neckarsulm factory (Neckarsulm Strickmaschinen Union). Having evaluated Minerva and Werner engines NSU settled on the 234cc/1¾hp Swiss-made Zedel—in Nurenberg Victoria chose the same engine.

1901 NSU
The first NSU was powered by a Zedel engine.

OPEL JOINED THE rush to power with a 2hp model or, for a little extra, 2½hp.

NEW IMPERIAL motorised a bike. It flopped, but the marque would be back in 1910.

RALEIGH POWERED up with a German Schwan engine over the front wheel; FN powered a bike with its own 133cc/1¼hp engine.

BILLY AND HAROLD Williamson set up the Rex Motor Co, making final-drive V-belts and, before long, motor cycles.

PEUGEOT’S 198cc/1½hp MOTOBICYCLETTE debuted at the Paris Exhibition. Its engine was mounted nice and low in front of the pedals, but it wasn’t as successful as the New Werner.

While the New Werner sited the engine where the pedals used to be, Peugeot left the pedals in place and clipped the engine to the front of the frame.
In Belgium Sarolea, which had been making bicycles since 1892, fitted a bike with a 247cc 1½hp engine.