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"Our lives are a book that has already been written. The brilliance of the plan is that we are only given a chapter at a time..." ~A. Drayton Boylston

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Motored Bikes -- Early History Part One

The idea to invent a motorized bicycle may have very well occurred while someone was pedaling their bike up a steep incline on a hot and humid day.  Although most cyclists ride for the sake of getting in shape, motored bike enthusiasts are unique in that they have a love for the bike in general.... its history, and its many different forms over the past several decades.

There have been numerous attempts through the years of manufacturing a workable motor for a bike.  Innovation continues at a fast pace to this day.  If you want a motored bike these days, all you need to do is purchase a kit that will take you the weekend to wrench, and you will be riding it by Monday.

Efforts to motorize a bike began almost as quickly as the bicycle was invented.  In Paris in 1868, the bike manufacturer Pierrre Michaux commissioned L.G. Perreaux to design and construct a steam engine to drive one of Michaux's "Boneshaker" bicycles.  The engine had a single brass-plated cylinder, a lightweight steel piston rod, and a tube-type boiler.  The engine sat underneath the seat, burned alcohol fuel and exhausted its fumes by means of two pipes low behind the rider.  The rider started the cycle by foot pedals on the front wheel, and opened the valves to allow pressurized steam into the cylinders.... once forward motion and balance were achieved.

An American, Sylvester Roper, was also building a steam powered bicycle in 1869, at the same time as his Parisian competitors, in Roxbury Massachusetts.  His invention became so popular that he spent the next few years showing it off at fairs around New England.  Roper was a very skilled machinist and invented different versions of not only bicycles, but sewing machines, guns and furnaces to name a few.

The first engines to be ignited by electrical means were built by Karl Benz.  The first lightweight liquid gas engine was designed and built by Gottlieb Daimler and Paul Maybach in 1885.  To make it opperate successfully, Daimler and Maybach had to invent a carburetor that mixed petrol with air.  To test the new engine, they installed it in a wooden-framed and wheeled motorcycle-type vehicle.  They had no intention to create a motorized bicycle, just used it as a test for their new engine.  This was to go down in history as the world's first internal combustion powered vehicle.

The rest of the early pioneers got their start mostly by first manufacturing bicycles and then motorizing them.  George M. Hendee (1866-1943) was a famous bicycle racer, whose record was not broken until 1892.  He retired to enter the bicycle manufacturing business.  After a few unsuccessful attempts, he set up his own company in 1898 and named his brand of bicycles "Indian".  For the first five years, Hendee referred to his motorized bicycles as "motocycles" in his ads.

William S. Harley and his school friend Arthur Davidson began experimenting with internal combustion engines at about the turn of the century.  In 1903 they built a 400cc single cylinder engine and installed it in a bicycle.  It worked well, but they needed more power and increased the size to 475cc.  In 1904 Harley-Davidson produced the "Silent Gray Fellow" which was started by pedaling the bicycle and letting out the clutch.  If the engine failed for whatever reason, it could still be pedaled like a bicycle.  In 1907 the company built their first v-twin, which was still pedal-started.... and that continued through 1915 until their engines grew too large and powerful to be pedal-started.

The first producers of motorized bikes sought to leave the bicycle's basic character unaltered and attempted to build engines that could just be fitted into the bicycle.  In Coventry England, Frank Birch and his partner Edwin Perks demonstrated a motorized wheel for a bicycle in 1899.  They were able to enclose a four-stroke engine within two aluminum wheel halves and power the wheel itself.  This could replace the front wheel of a bicycle or tricycle, and they called this the "Power Wheel". 

Until this past decade, the most successful attempt at building a true motorized bicycle in the United States was the Whizzer.  A true motorized bike can be ridden as either a bicycle or motorbike.  The problem of designing an add-on motor were many, the most major problem being that of engine placement.  The best place for balance purposes, to add a motor, was in the frame tube triangle between the rider's legs.   The problem with the placement was that virtually all available small air-cooled engines were too wide.  To combat this problem, Bruce Roberts created a slim-line engine adapted to fit the narrow triangle of a bicycle. 

To be continued....

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