Motorcycles Break Out After 25 Years Behind The Bars

By Hap Jameson

From the January 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

“LET’S go over and see the new 1935 models.” How many thousands of young fellows have said that and will say it within the next few weeks? And, boys, listen to a few words from an old-timer who thrilled over a 1903 model “lunger.” It’s just human nature to thrill over a new model and the supreme thrill comes when the job becomes your own.

Twist the grip back to 1910, the fourth slice of a century and uncrate the contraption your dad thought a super cycle.

We choose 1910 because that is about the time when motorcycles began to really break away from the siamese tie between motorcycles and bicycles.

There were many machines made then-some of them fairly good. Ideas were plentiful, but the execution was plenty bad.

Any one of those “marvels” would look quite sorry alongside today’s real, modern motorcycles, but we thought they were pretty swell. We didn’t know any better.

To better illustrate just what some of the older motorcycles were like, let us take the best features of all 1910 motorcycles and make a composite machine. If we do that, here is what we would have.

The first motorcycle to stretch over 53 inches in wheel base. A very crude attempt to lower saddle position. Saddle position at that time averaged from 27 to 28 inches. In order to lower this position, we simply chopped off the rear end of the tank and made the machine look like it was bob-tailed. Such lines! We might install one of those “free engine” devices-but there would be nothing free about it. The best mechanical oil pump that we could obtain would still be more mechanical than pump. For our drive we can choose between a belt or chain-the latter not so good, nor the former so reliable (especially when wet). If we adopt the chain drive, we can expect a noisy outfit and one which will be very expensive, because both chain and sprocket will wear out quickly besides requiring constant adjustment. If we take the belt drive, we will have slippage to contend with and a lot of stretch. Ever see a belt idler pulley? So there is not much choice in transmission.

We find that two or three models are presented with two speed gears. Some of them in the back wheels and some in the gear box, but in any case, we must start our night engineering classes now, else we’ll never get along with these makeshifts.

The “big” 28x2 ½ inch tires sure do dress up our 1910 special. And the spokes-they look like harp strings. Yeah! I know, today’s bicycles have 2 1/8 inch tires. How this world do travel.

Some comfort must be put into this machine we are making, so we will pay a little extra money and get some sort of a spring fork. O yes, back in those days we paid extra for most everything we got to make a better motorcycle.

A brake! Sure, don’t you see that big coaster brake hub? Boy, that stops ‘em! And the pedals will come in handy, too. You’ll find that out later on.

Lights! Well, if you insist, you can have your choice-acetylene gas, oil or Presto-lite. We’ll admit our lighting system is not like a dime store front, but we are used to “tinkering” to make anything work on this job that “wowed” ‘em way back yonder.

A horn! Sure, just squeeze that little rubber bulb or pull the wire and listen to a screechy, wheezy exhaust whistle. Choose either one.

Well, let’s see-we’ve got the skeleton pretty well assembled so let’s go in for horsepower. Boys, that is one thing we 1935ers can’t imagine-what was used for horsepower years ago. But we have had the neighbors tell us that we would be killed on that fool thing gain’ a hundred miles an hour. Ever hear those words before?

Now we’ve made the rounds and looked over all the various makes and models, have listened to the sales arguments, so we must select an engine for our job. Most of the early birds were “lungers” and a few were “twin” powered. Yes, there were two or three attempts to make a four cylinder motor back in those days, but the result was disastrous. Since we actually want to use this “modern 1910’’ we should select a single motor. Now, we’ve got a variety-2 H.P. to 4 H.P.-to choose from. No matter how we re-vamp and rebuild the 1910 motor, using the best ideas of all engineers combined, we’ll still have a power plant very much lacking in efficiency and speed.

Of course, we must have some kind of ignition and we have the “dry cell” battery ignition, or the magneto. Well, yes, the battery jobs do start easier and you can always find dry cells-even rural telephones use ‘em. Mags were not so Kosher when all Jupe shed his weeps. The dry cell in this case will win out. A simple timing device, that is a little spring with a platinum point on it operating against a timer cam and a device to retard and advance the spark will be our ignition control.

Now-our motor must be as fast, powerful and dependable as we can make it. Our cylinder walls will have some fins on them in an attempt to cool the brute. The piston will be iron and will weigh 26 or more ounces. Our connecting rod will resemble the driver on a locomotive. And the big bronze bearings will be used all around-that’s the way to build precision machinery. Our flywheels will weigh over 30 pounds. Compression! Boys, we can’t have that for we know nothing about 1935 engineering. For intake valve we can have either the automatic or the push rod operated-both noisy and inefficient. There’s more soup in the push rod job, so let’s take it. All we know about cams is to lift the valves sky-high. Yeah, our exhaust valve spring will bother us, it will weaken or break. Also, we can expect trouble from our exhaust valve because we have no steel which will resist high temperatures. But we are only1910ers, you know.

Sure, our motor will vibrate plenty. How in the world can we expect to balance such a contraption? Why, if we run this motor on a stand, the machine will bounce all over the place and nothing can be done about it. The most motor r.p.m. will be possibly under 3000 and if we ever get it up that high, we can expect trouble.

The only carburetor we can select will be a gadget at best, and will be nothing more than a mixing pot. It will be simple and harmless.

Now that we’ve got most of the animal together, we must have some sort of control over it. No matter what kind of controls we select, they will be jumpy, jerky, and will not stay in adjustment. Oh, yes, we have twist grip control, but it is not the smooth positive operating mechanism we find on these late model machines. Our tanks will be dual, that is, hold gasoline and oil in separate compartments and we can carry about two gallons of gas and maybe a little more than a quart of oil. From the looks of the tanks, we can expect gasoline leakage as well as other trouble because they are not made very durable.

Oh, let’s run this thing!

Sure, we’ve got to pedal it, push and jump on or coast down a hill to start the motor. Our clutch may work, but it probably won’t.

Isn’t she sweet? The combined engineering effort of 1910 motorcycle factories. Fast! Why, she will speed up to 45 miles per hour or better. And our roads are dusty and not made for speed anyway. That hill we are coming to? Let’s turn ‘er on full and we can “pedal” up the finish. Be sure to use that hand oil gun for this job has oil appetitis. And what do we care if she breaks down because we can “pedal” her home. Boys, the above picture is not far off color and back in 1910 we paid as high as $285 to $325 for the above dream. These old crocks were fairly serviceable because they couldn’t go fast enough to do much damage. But when we did drive them at top speed, we paid dearly for that pleasure, if it could be called that.

Following 1910 the “improvements” were many. We had three speeds, footboards, electric lighting systems, and saddle positions were getting under 28 inches. Foot brakes, aluminum pistons, improved cylinder head design, Ricardo head, interchangeable wheels, front wheel brake and so on appeared in the next 15 years. Just think of a 1915 twin cataloged to rate 15 H.P.! Today you can throttle grip over 30 H.P. and real ones too in most any one of the twins on the market. Why, a little 21”Single would run rings around any of those old Twins made before 1920.

Miles of ribbon-like roads to all points of the compass reduce our U.S.A. to a small piece of geography. Our times call for a motorcycle that is abreast of the automotive field. And, fellows, we have the most beautiful motorcycles of all times. Our design is pleasing to the eye and so made to give us the greatest possible comfort, ease of control and safety for we wheel at high speeds these days. Our motors are really masterpieces of mechanical engineering. We may ride many thousands of miles without ever having to open up the crankcase. We find the most advanced engineering in our present day machine. Pistons of aluminum which do not require .015” clearance. We mean the T-slots. Mechanical oiling systems so perfect, it is needless to use a hand pump. Muffling systems that take the edge off the “bark” without “gassing” the horsepower. Amply large brakes that work and keep on working without constant attention-rain or shine. Carburetors made to convert the stuff they call gasoline into real economical horsepower. As to the refinements in the 1935 models, we have made real advancement. And we have retained some of the best ideas and designs of the past few years’ practice. Take tires, for instance, 18x4.00 or larger on drop center rims and spoked in keeping with the rest of the design. Look at the method of transmission we now use. It is surely above criticism because we can wheel thousands of care-free miles and the chains can take it. Not like the days when a thousand miles meant a front chain adjustment and probably a new front chain and sprocket. Examine such minor details as the controls on the new machines. Here you will find controls encased and protected from the weather so that they will work.

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By Hap Jameson
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