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Merkel Motorwheel Refernece Section
Here is a brief company history for the Merkel Co. and especially the Motorwheel!
So what is a motorbicycle? Well , the mid to early teens were a boom period for
motorcycle popularity . Rising sales and profits inspired many would-be manufacturers to
actually build and then sell their brainchild to the unsuspecting public.Many designs came
and went during this golden era of motorcycling
The Interest in motorcycles spilled over into the bicycle market , as the bicyle
attachment was reintroduced . Leading the way in late 1914 and 1915 was the Smith
motorwheel and Cyclemotor . Their success brought other entries into the market .
Joseph Merkel introduced his first motorbicycle engine design out of Milwaukee
in1902.Soon thereafter he designed the Merkel automobile , Flying Merkel VeeTwin
motorcycle and the Merkel Motorwheel which was quite different from his original
Joseph Merkel was quite a prolific designer and was credited for the Eveready Autoped
motorscooter , and maybe even Miami Motor Bicycles and the (Evans)Cyclemotor .
One of the reasons for building the motorwheel was to make an attachment that could be
easily fitted to any bicycle in the absolute minimum amount of time . Ads proclaim you
could have it up and running in 20 minutes ! 20 minutes to remove the rear wheel and
fender , and attatch the motor assembly , fasten the throttle to the handlebar and loom the
cable , and add 5 inches to the bicycles original chain . Not likely .
Once installed operation was quite simple , with no belt flying about or exposed gears or
pulleys , no friction discs to slip and no offset thrust like a Smith Motorwheel. Joe did
succeed in acheiving his goals for the outfit , and even added a few extras , such as the
well designed hemi -head - ohv engine ,and a built in electric light generator .
There were unfortunateley several features that contributed to the early demise of these
engines . The final drive gears were exposed and their grease quickly accumulated road
dirt and debris . The rear wheel is captive insdide the mounting brackets , so a flat meant
removing the engine completely . Joe apparently had this point made painfully clear as he
later produced a butt-ended inner tube that could be repaired in haste .
Early Company History
The Merkel Motorwheel was first intriduced at the convention of the Cycle Trades
Association in Atlantic City , NJ Dec. 4 1916 as a 1917 model , and was publicly
announced a week earlier (see picture “an announcement”)and was known publicly as
early as the previous August when they incorporated. The original office location was
284 Washington Place , Flushing ,NY . (Joe’s house ?) It was then moved to 1834
Broadway , NY ,NY , with the factory located in East Rochester . The factory was
merely a place to assemble all of the parts manufatured by outside vendors . For example
hubs and brakes were supplied by Eclipse , Splitdorf made the mags , the engine was
made by Hendee (Indian Motorcycles) , US Tire , Superior Stamping made fenders , Mott
Wheel Works - rims , New Depature madethe bearings . The engine sold for $75
Contracts were made with these suppliers in January and February 1917 for 5000 units
beginning in April
Indian Takes Over
Joeseph Merkel suffered the usual troubles of any small business , and running out of
money was forced into bankruptcy in late 1918 . On December 12 of that year the assests
of the company were auctioned off . The building and tooling were leased , so assets
amounted to the unassembled parts for 300 motorwheels , and rights to the design valued
at $17,000 .
Joe entered the bidding , but dropped out at $1650 . The entire assets wentto Hendee for
At this point any mention of the outfit in trade ads or otherwise disappears until 1922 ,
and by this time Hendee had improved the oufit with the addition of a clutch mounted on
an extended camshaft . Thoughtfully designed , but poorly executed .These engines were
built up from the parts bought at auction .( I have one of the 300) The crankcase was
milled off flat and mounting bosses were soldered from the inside . Everything was crude
and expedient . Just what would be expected of someone trying to get rid of those excess
parts ! The addition of a clutch allowed the rider to stop and go without having to restart
the engine . The cylinder was also swapped putting the exhaust to the rear , perhaps to
help the head run cooler .
Judging from the serial numbers on remaining Merkels , total production was about 2000
units , far less than their anticipated initial 1917 run of 5000.
But How Does It Run ?
The Motorwheels had a good reputation as good runners with plenty of pep . It pulls
well at low speeds and will handle most any grade within reason . Top speed is 35 mph
(WFO) one tester in 1917 attained 42 mph . Fuel consumption at the brochure was 100
It may have been peppy for its size but smoothness was not one of its finer points . at
least at slower engine speeds . At idle the vibration is considerable , despite the
counetweighted crank . A rider must keep his weight on the engine after starting on the
stand as vibration wil cause it to fall off the stand and run away ! Once underway however
vibration is not particularly noticable .
Research Jim Lucas
If you own a Merkel Motorwheel leave an Email , the rest of us would like to hear from you .