Early Motorcycles: Construction, Operation and Repair

Early Motorcycles: Construction, Operation and Repair

by Victor W. Page

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Comprehensive volume of practical information, written by a talented automotive and aviation pioneer and published in the early 20th century, provides advice on everything from mufflers and automatic oil pumps to batteries and timing valves. Enhanced with more than 370 rare illustrations, the easy-to-read book will appeal to collectors, dealers, and riders.


Comprehensive volume of practical information, written by a talented automotive and aviation pioneer and published in the early 20th century, provides advice on everything from mufflers and automatic oil pumps to batteries and timing valves. Enhanced with more than 370 rare illustrations, the easy-to-read book will appeal to collectors, dealers, and riders.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This 1920 volume highlights motorcycles up till that time, which in many cases were little more than motorized bicycles. This terrific resource offers a soup-to-nuts guide to every mechanical aspect of these vehicles. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Dover Publications
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged Edition
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.42(h) x 1.32(d)

Read an Excerpt

Early Motorcycles

Construction, Operation and Repair

By Victor W. Page

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13609-7



Why Motorcycles are Popular—How Motorcycles Developed from the Bicycle-Somo Pioneer Motorcycles and Influence on Present Design—Causes of Failures in Early Types—Mechanical Features of Early Forms—The Demand for More Power—Essential Requirements of Practical Motorcycles—Motorcycles of Various Types—Light—Weight vs. Medium-Weight Construction—Determining Power Needed—In—fluence of Road Surface on Traction—How Speed Affects power Needed —Effect of Air Resistance—How Gradients Affect Power Required—Power in Proportion to Weight—Influence of Modern Automobile Practice—The Modern Motorcycle, Its Parts and Their Functions—General Characteristics Common to all Forms—Some Modern Motorcycle Designs.

The motorcycle has been aptly termed the "poor man's automobile" and to one fully familiar with self-propelled vehicles, this term is no misnomer. The modern machine, with its ease of control, its reliability, its power and speed will carry one or two passengers more economically than any other method of transportation. Fitted with a side-car attachment, it becomes a practical vehicle for general use, as the body may be suited for passenger or commercial service. The demand for motorcycles, side cars and delivery vans has created an industry of magnitude that furnishes a livelihood for thousands of skilled workmen, and unmeasurable pleasure for hundreds of thousands who would be deprived of the joys of motoring were it not for the efficiency and low cost of operation of the vehicle that carries them swiftly and comfortably over the highways. The development of the motor bicycle dates back farther than that of the motor car, and it was demonstrated to be a practical conveyance over three decades ago, though it is only within the past six or eight years that this single-track, motor-propelled vehicle has attracted the attention its merits deserve.

Why Motorcycles are Popular.—The automobile attracted the attention of the public for some time before the motorcycle became generally popular, and, as a consequence, the development of the larger vehicle was more rapid for a time. As the early buyers of motor cars were of the class to which money is no object, as long as personal wishes are gratified, most of the manufacturers then building bicycles, to whom the public naturally looked for motorcycles, devoted their energies and capital to the design and construction of automobiles rather than motorcycles, because the pro: pect for immediate profits seemed greater in catering to the great demand that existed for any kind of automobile that would run at all. The development of the motorcycle was left to people, for the most part, without the requisite engineering knowledge or manufacturing facilities, so, naturally, the growth of the industry was of little moment until an equally insistent demand made itself felt for motorcycles, at which time people with capital began to consider the production of two-wheeled vehicles with favor. The demand for bicycles had been diminishing for several years, and the new type, with motor attached, seemed to offer a field that could be cultivated to advantage.

The evanescent popularity of the bicycle and the rapid rise to almost universal use, with almost as rapid decline was construed as a warning to proceed slowly in building.motorcycles, as many thought the future of the motorcycle would be doubtful and that it was merely a passing fad. The bicycle required the expenditure of considerable energy, and, while very valuable as an exerciser, it did not offer pleasure enough for the bulk of our population in proportion to the amount of effort involved in making trips really worth while. The application of mechanical power, however, removed that objection, so the only deterring factor to the ready adoption of the motor-propelled bicycle was a lack of confidence on the part of the public regarding its reliability. It was not long before the endurance and practicability of the motorcycle was established beyond doubt, and as soon as the advantages began to be given serious consideration, a healthy demand, which is growing in importance yearly, stimulated its development from a crude makeshift to a practical and safe method of personal transportation.

The motorcycle and its various combinations with fore cars and side cars appeals to a conservative element who consider the cost of maintenance and operation fully as much as the initial expense of acquiring it. The motorcycle really has many fundamental advantages to commend it, as it has the speed and radius of action of the most powerful motorcar, with a lower cost of upkeep than any other vehicle of equal capacity. As constructed at the present time, the motorcycle is not only low in first cost, but its simplicity makes it an ideal mount for all desiring motor transportation at the least expense. The mechanism of the motorcycle, its control and repair, are readily understood by any person of average intelligence, and with the improved materials and processes employed in its manufacture, combined with the refinement of design and careful workmanship, a thoroughly practical and serviceable motor vehicle is produced which sells at but a slightly higher price than the first high-grade safety bicycles of fifteen years ago. At the present time, the motorcycle is not only popular for pleasure purposes, but it is applied to many industrial and commercial applications that insure a degree of permanency in popular estimation never possible with the bicycle.

How Motorcycles Developed from Bicycles.—Many of the mechanics who turned their attention to motorcycle construction were thoroughly familiar with bicycle practice of the period and, as considerable progress had been made in building light machines that possessed great strength for foot propulsion, it was but natural that the regular form of diamond frame bicycle should be adapted to motor propulsion by the attachment of a simple power plant and auxiliary devices. As a concession to mechanical power, various parts of the machine, such as the front forks, the rims and tires, and in some cases the frame tubes were made slightly heavier, but in essentials the first motorcycles to be made commercially followed bicycle practice, and with power plant removed, it would be difficult to tell them from the heavy built tourist models of pedal cycles. Naturally, the motor and tanks were not always disposed to the best advantage, and for considerable time, as the writer will show, much thought was spent in endeavoring to combine the widely varying principles found in bicycle and motorcycle practice and devise a hybrid machine composed of all the parts of the ordinary bicycle, with the various components of the gasoline or internal combustion power plant disposed about the frame at any point where attachment was possible. The motorcycle of the present day follows automobile principles and is radically different from its earlier prototypes in practically every respect except a general family resemblance owing to the use of two wheels, handle bar control, pedals for starting and placing a saddle so the rider can keep his balance to better advantage by sitting astride as on the bicycle.

Some Pioneer Motorcycles and Influence on Present Design.—As early as 1885, Gottlieb Daimler, who constructed the first practical high-speed internal combustion engine, and who, for this reason, is known as "the Father of the Automobile," obtained a patent on a two-wheel vehicle shown at Fig. 1. This, while not beautiful in outline, was a practical motor-propelled conveyance, and may be justly regarded as the forerunner of the modern motorcycle. In fact, in general arrangement of parts, this pioneer design is not unlike the modern product. At that time, the only motor vehicles regarded as practical or capable of actual operation for limited distances were types propelled by electric or steam power, and it will thus be apparent that Daimler's crude motor bicycle was not only the foundation of the motorcycle industry but also formed a basis for the development of the automobile which, in its most successful form, employs the internal combustion motor as a source of power.

After numerous designs in which single cylinder motors played a part, in 1889, Daimler patented a double inclined cylinder motor, the first multiple cylinder conception. This original form is that from which the modern V-engine, so widely used at the present time for cycle propulsion, was derived. This creation was also the first to be made in any considerable number and, even at this late day, some of the original Daimler engines are still operated. In this design, the cylinders were inclined but 15 degrees, and eccentric grooves turned in the fly-wheel face were utilized to operate the exhaust valves, instead of the cam motion which is now common. The cylinder was cooled by an enclosed fan wheel which supplied a current of air confined around the cylinder by a jacket, so the first practical high-speed internal combustion engine was cooled by air. This is the method used almost universally in the case of the bicycle motor, even at the present day.

After a time other motors appeared, such as the De Dion motor tricycles, propelled by a small engine based on Daimler lines, and which were more reliable than the first steam coaches and much superior to the early electric vehicles in all important essentials such as radius of operation, cost, reliability and speed. To Daimler must also be given credit for the invention of the first practical carburetor, or device to produce a combustible gas from liquid fuel, also an important factor in the development of the automobile.

The first Daimler machine, which is shown at Fig. 1, with one side of the frame removed, was not unlike the modern loop-frame machine in important respects. While the wheels were placed rather close together, the motor placing was intelligently thought out, and was so installed that the center of gravity was brought closer to the ground than in many of the machines which succeeded it. The drive from the pulley on the motor crankshaft to a larger member on the rear wheel and the use of a jockey pulley or belt tightener to obtain a clutching effect has not been altered in principle since its first application by Daimler. Steering was accomplished by a steering head construction practically the same as on present-day machines. The early form of Daimler motor did not have very much flexibility on account of the sluggish action of the vaporizer and the ignition by hot tubes so the speed was varied largely by allowing the driving belt to slip and by applying the brake. This was done by a controller wheel carried by a standard just in front of the operator's seat. When this was rotated in one direction, the jockey pulley or idler was allowed to drop, so that the belt became loose while a spoon brake, working on the rear wheel tire, was applied progressively as the belt tension was diminished, and consequently the driving power was reduced.

A later form of Daimler bicycle, in which a countershaft was used, is shown at Fig. 2. The drive from the motor crankshaft to a pulley comprising one member of the countershaft assembly was by belt while a small spur gear provided a further reduction in speed by engaging an internal gear attached to the rear wheel spokes. It will be evident that Daimler not only originated the direct drive motorcycle but that he was also responsible for the first conception of the countershaft drive form. Attention is directed to the use of the auxiliary wheels mounted on each side of the rear driving member to steady the machine and keep it upright when not in motion. The lines of either of the Daimler machines are not unlike the forms we are familiar with, and the resemblance is striking enough, so that the parentage of the modern motorcycle can never be questioned. Daimler, as well as Carl Benz, who was working on a motor-tricycle at the time the former brought out his engine, next directed his energies to the improvement and construction of motor-propelled vehicles of the three- and four-wheel forms instead of the two-wheeler. Although there were spasmodic efforts made by some engineers in motorcycle design, most of them confined their efforts in refining the bicycle, which at that time was just beginning to attract attention because it offered possibilities of almost universal application.

Among the next of the pioneer motor bicycles to attract attention was another German make, shown at Fig. 3. This was constructed by Wolfmueller & Geisenhof, of Munich, Germany. In ordinary appearance it resembled the conventional bicycle design intended for the use of women though the machine had exaggerated dimensions. The saddle was placed low so that the rider could rest his feet on the ground if he desired. The power plant was a peculiar form which was said to develop two horse-power, and which was capable of propelling the 110-pound machine at speeds ranging from three to twenty-four miles per hour. The motor was of the two-cylinder horizontal form having the cylinder heads at the front of the machine while the open ends of the cylinders pointed to the rear. The connecting rods extended to cranks attached to the rear wheel axle, and the drive was direct from the motor cylinders to the traction member as in locomotive practice. Ball-bearings were used at the ends of the connecting rod as well as supporting bearings for the rear wheels. The fuel gas was obtained from a vaporizer of the surface type and the compressed charge was ignited by hot tubes. The cylinders were water-cooled and were surrounded with water jackets, and a supply of water for cooling the engine was carried in a peculiarly shaped tank forming part of the mud-guard over the traction member. The front wheel was used for steering and was mounted in forks in much the same manner as in the machines of to-day. A hand-lever actuated-spoon brake served to retard the speed of the vehicle when desired by frictional contact with the front tire. Both wheels were provided with pneumatic tires. The engine cylinders were 3 9/16 inches in diameter with a stroke of 4 5/8 inches. The driving wheel was 22 inches in diameter while the front wheel was 26 inches in diameter. It is claimed that the fuel supply was sufficient for a run of 12 hours.

One of the earliest of the De Dion-Bouton tricycles is shown at Fig. 4. This had the small air-cooled motor placed back of the rear axle which it drove by suitable gearing. In order to obtain the desired speed reduction, a small spur pinion was mounted on the motor crankshaft which meshed with a large spur gear attached to the differential case. In the tricycle shown, the gasoline vapor was produced by a surface carburetor, and ignition was by hot tube. The machine was provided with pedals and it was possible to drive the rear axle by an independent foot-actuated sprocket and chain when desired. This made it possible to set the tricycle in motion by pedaling, and was also intended to provide a means of returning home when the motor became inoperative, which was not an infrequent occurrence. Owing to the limited power of the motor, which was rated at about 1 ¾ horse-power,the rider often found the pedals of some benefit as an aid to climbing steep grades. Some of these tricycles were converted into four-wheelers or quadricycles, as shown at Fig. 5, by the addition of a fore carriage which provided accommodations for a passenger. A later form of motor tricycle, in which electrical ignition replaced the hot tube method, is shown at Fig. 6. By careful study of this side view and the rear end shown at Fig. 4, it will not be difficult to understand the construction of the earliest form of motor tricycles to be used successfully.


Excerpted from Early Motorcycles by Victor W. Page. Copyright © 2004 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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