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Edward Bulter and the Petrol Cycle

9 Jul

Petrol Cycle_6298           I discovered the Petrol-Cycle on the front page of the February 14, 1891 edition of the Scientific American. Invented by Edward Butler of Greenwich, England, this three-wheel fore-car had an elegant 650cc twin-cylinder, four-stroke, water-cooled engine with electric spark ignition. Years ahead of DeDion and Boulton, the Petrol-Cycle made Gottleib Diamler’s “Reitwagen” look like something from the Medieval Period. Regardless, most reference books about the history of motorcycles don’t even mention it.




Butler designed his “Velocycle” while working for an engineering company and filed for a provisional patent in 1884 under the title “A petroleum motor tricycle or small automobile carriage since it is not provided with auxiliary pedalling [sic] gear and was fitted with a comfortable seat and footboard.” That year he exhibited drawings of the vehicle at Stanley Cycle Show in London and in 1885 at the Inventions Exhibition, but neither produced financial backing. Unknown to the English inventor, in Germany Karl Benz was developing his own gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, as was Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.

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The Hendee Special: 1914 Indian

13 Sep

Over a hundred thousand V-twin Indians had been sold since 1907 and 31,950 motorcycles were built during 1913 alone. By1914 the Hendee Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of motorcycles in the world and had over 3,000 India

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar

Hendee Special with Princess sidecar


Hendee Special -- 1914 sales brochure.

Hendee Special — 1914 sales brochure.

The two-speed gearbox was introduced in1910 and the success of the Indian race team at Isle of Mann in 1911 led to the design of the Tourist model the following year. The Tourist models featured dual rear brakes (drum and band), knockout axles, roller bearings on the rear hub, and were fitted with the new Gustafson kickstarter. The innovation for 1913 models was the “Cradle Spring Frame” that, along with the front leaf spring of 1910, provided the first complete suspension system for a motorcycle. Something impressive was required for the next model year.


Patented Indian kickstarter.

Patented Indian kickstarter.

Seven Indian models were introduced for 1914, one with a single-cylinder engine and six V-twins. The Hendee Special was the elite model and featured the first electric starter used on a production motorcycle. Unlike on the other two electric models where the batteries had to be removed and manually recharged every 12.5 hours (or less), the starter motor also functioned as an electric generator to automatically recharge them. Another innovation was the use of waterproof condenser coils to provide the spark, which improved the reliability and efficiency of ignition and certainly made starting easier. It was a brilliant design and it utterly failed.

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The Benzine Motorcycle: the first production motorcycle.

3 Aug


It wasn’t just the illustration that caught my eye it also was the date of the newspaper –1896. The front page of the December 12th issue of the Scientific American was devoted to two illustrations of a sophisticated two-wheel vehicle that were identified as a “motor cycle using benzine.” My curiosity was piqued. Continue reading

Touring the Charlevoix: From Mills to Motorcycles

7 Oct

The wheel turns and gears mesh as the shaft spins and all the components shutter into motion with an agonizing groan. The word “meccanic” wasn’t even in common use at the time this was built in the 1790’s, although this type of “engine” had been in use across Europe for hundreds of years. This original gristmill is a rare gem that still grinds wheat and buckwheat for a local baker.
Located on Route 362 east of Baie-Saint-Paul in the heart of the Charlevoix Region, the Moulin Seigneurial des Éboulements (Banal Mill) is one of those exceedingly rare sites that survived unchanged to the modern era. The seigneurial system was the quasi-feudal system that was instituted for the settlement of New France and that continued under British rule until 1854. This is one of only four seigneurial sites that have survived to the present day. Except for the electrification of the miller’s house, which remains as the private residence of the miller, and the jostle of summer tourists this place exists in a mid-19th-century time warp without the theatrical trappings of a living-history museum. Continue reading

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