A Word for the Tricycle

From the mid-1890s to the first few years of the new century some of the most practicable ‘motor cycles’ had three wheels. Trikes did not suffer the ‘sideslip’ peril and made room for larger engines. Their heyday was brief, but in 1903 this author was clearly a fan.

1903 trike
In its day the De Dion trike reigned supreme.

THE ORIGINAL form of tricycle as first introduced by the De Dion-Bouton Co seems almost entirely obsolete. The first machines, fitted as they were with a straight front fork, were certainly somewhat nerve-shattering; but the later designs were far more comfortable, and it is difficult to understand the decadence of the tricycle. It had many points in its favour – absolute immunity from sideslip, a direct spur gearing which transmitted a very large percentage of power; in fact, with a little 1⅓hp De Dion tricycle we have covered some thousands of miles with satisfaction and pleasure, and have never been “hung up” on the road by any fault of the machine.

Detail derangements have stopped the engine occasionally, byt they have always been trivial matters which with a little practical thought were easily and quickly rectified. The only repairs have been a new spur wheel and a new pinion, an exhaust valve and springs, and small etceteras; no vital part has ever broken. The tyres – 65x650mm Clipper–Michelin–are still good; but we attribute this partly to the fact that the side wheels have from the first been fitted with Smith’s bands, and also that the tyres have been occasionally removed for examination, and the air tubes rubbed over with French Chalk, and the inner surface of covers treated in the same way. All cuts were also cleaned from grit and treated once a month with solution, and pressed together as soon as tacky, making a sound join, thus preventing damp penetrating to the fabric.

1903 trike handling

To the longuemare carburetter we fitted is also partly to be attributed to the excellent results obtained from so small a powered engine, which over a give and take course has averaged easily from eighteen to twenty miles an hour, and only required pedal assistance on very exceptional gradients. It is an experience that certainly speaks volumes for the excellence of the De Dion workmanship, even in the earlier days.

The tricycle is not dead by a long way, as its stability must tell with all-the-year-round riders; but the modern three-wheeler is a much lighter and more handy machine than the French tricycle ever was.

1903 trike trailer

1903 trike race
The start of a French ‘motor tricycle’ road race; M Pilette gets under way on his De Dion.