Question Re: Vintage Motorcycles


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10:04 AM
Jul 24, 2008
I've seen many photos of vintage motorcycles - very early 1900's - which seemed to have fairly large engines, leading me to believe that they were primarily motorcycles, not power-assisted bicycles. Many of them had what appear to be bicycle pedals.

For example, I picked up the current issue of Street Bikes magazine, and there was an article and photos of an early motorcycle race at Indianapolis Speedway, and some of the bikes pictured clearly had pedals. There are also pictures I've seen in this forum showing the same thing.

What was the deal with this? Were the pedals there in case the motor stopped (Imagine trying to pedal a Harley!)? Were they used for starting the engine? Were they just carry-over technology from the evolution from bicycle to motorcycle?

Inquiring minds want to know.
last sentence is correct. the first motorcycles were MBs. These autocycles needed to have a back up plan. and pedals to get them going. our MBs are just a return to that transition period in time. Post your favorite vintage autocycle pics here folks.
Most early motorcycles evolved from ordinary bicycles because the bicycle manufacturers started to branch out into motored bicycles,so initially they used the pedals to get up to speed and then would engage the flat leather drive belt drive, no doubt with a fair amount of slipping and when the displacement increased, with the help of a decompression device of some sort,to get the engine to turn over &(hopefully) to start.Most of these machines had no gears and consequently were geared pretty high,which also served to facilitate starting.I think it took quite some time before kickstarters became common.
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I've seen many photos of vintage motorcycles - ... Many of them had what appear to be bicycle pedals.
What was the deal with this? Were they used for starting the engine? ...
The engines did not have separate kick starters, so the pedals were there to pedal-start the engine.


Back during the 1970's, a lot of 49cc mopeds were still started like this. Nowadays they usually have an electric or kick starter. If the bicycle-style pedals are present, it's as a means of back-up starting (for an electric start).

The pedals on a moped are usually geared about 1:1 to the back wheel (to provide decent leverage for turning the engine over) so they're not really useful for pedaling the moped any considerable distance.
the last 16 miles of the rideS.F. to N.Y.C. in 1903(by George A Wymen)was by pedal---so yes they did pedal at times.On hills also to assist the motor,which was only about 1/4 hp.

Here's an early example, from which it all came:


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I love looking at old motored bikes because when we think we have the cure all for any problems we may encounter or if you're stuck with a problem you may find that back in the 1900's someone had already solved it.
That pic uncle posted is intriguing because this is also the first year the Harley came to be and they are both belt drive. That's today's Whizzer. Then it's amazing how Harley went back to the belt years later.
Then when you look at the first Indian you see some resemblance to the beloved Happy Time.
I really do wish Motorcycle companies can bring back some of these jewels.
Because scooters are just plain...girly.
(sorry Tater LOL!)
That should be their advertising angle.
I have a book, "Classic American Motorcycles" replete with pics.of early motored bikes or motorcycles, take your pick.Things were initially going OK ,many manufacturers, HD,Indian,Henderson &many others, then the model T came along and the shakeout started.
What drives technological development far more than is commonly realized is not so much design (2 strokes have been around since the early nineteen hundreds), but materials, kevlar vs leather for instance, aluminum alloys vs cast iron,thus giving designers more scope.As far as the girly factor is concerned,men,especially American men like to ride and be in control of something steed-like, a scooter won't do.But motorbikes &scooters are beginning to merge.The Suzuki Burgman 650 for instance is a one of these potent hybrids, but with nothing to hold between your legs,still a scooter.I suppose that it fundamentely has to do with how you get on&off the contraption,swing-over (male) or step-through (wimps & the other sex?).
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For what it's worth, I think I remember learning somewhere that the very earliest Triumphs (early 1900s) had no kick starter or pedals. The operator started it by pushing. Running along beside the bike, I suppose. Sounds like an adventure.
Most of the very early machines were pedal starts for one simple reason. they were direct belt drive - with no clutch or transmission.

A stop would require shutting the engine down, then restarting by pedalling against compression, not an easy task when some of the machines were anything up to 1000cc twins. In most cases, the bikes were not easily rideable using pedals since to start the motor the ratio was extremely steep for pedaled riding.

Personally I wouldnt class such machines as MB's or cyclemotors since they have multicylinder high displacement engines. MB's generally dont as a rule. I know of one factory designed twin (by monarck) and that I think was an 80cc engine

A more honest line of descent for MB's would be from the early autocycles and 'clip-ons' or cyclemotors after the UK law changes of the mid to late 1930's. The autocycles generally used Villiers Junior and JDL singles, although some machines used their own engines (the CIF engine is rememnicent of these). The clip ons used various engines - including one 31cc two stroke rack mount (Cyclaid) that could have been the ancestor of the GEBE 32cc and a front mounted twin with central crankshaft mounted friction drive.

Jemma xx