Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Motorcycle Throwback - The 1885 Daimler Reitwagen
We're going back in motorcycle history - ok waaaaay back - to check out the other side of the "No THIS was the first motorcycle" debate. Of course, the other side we featured was the Roper Steamer. But it's the Daimler Reitwagen that is argued to be the first "real" motorcycle. While the Roper Steamer was cruising the streets on two wheels in 1867, it ran off of steam power rather than a combustion engine, which hadn't been invented yet. Sure, people had toyed with the concept but it's the Daimler Reitwagen that is recognized for being the first motorcycle to have the first combustion engine, which would later evolve into today's more modern version.
Of course, no great inventions come without some sort of struggle and scandal. While the Daimler Reitwagen was invented in 1885 and named after the German engineer, Gottlieb Daimler (and "Reitwagen" meaning "riding wagon"), who put the engine on two wheels, the actual start to this fantastic contraption was in 1876. Before Daimler has his stroke of genius, the German went to work at the Deutz-AG-Gasmotorenfabrik in Cologne as a technical director along side the company's half-owner Nikolaus Otto. It was Otto who first came up with a four-stroke internal-combustion engine in 1976. And while the inventor sought to have the engine patented, Karl Benz beat him out by patenting his two-stroke engine first.
But the partnership didn't last. Rumors of jealousy and greed still hang around the Otto-Daimler relationship today, which ended in 1880 when Daimler was fired and followed out by Wilhelm Maybach, the company's chief designer. Together, the exiled director and his loyal designer started to work on their own version of Otto's engine.
Five years later the two were successful. Their first version was a petrol engine with a single horizontal cylinder that could move 264cc. It operated off of a float metered carburetor and mushroom intake valves that used the suction of the piston's intake stroke to open. The engine was air cooled and could pump out 5 hp and 600 rpm. (While 600 rpm isn't much today, the amount of power was a huge step up from other engines during that time, which normally only got up to 180 rpm.) The engine was started by a crank handle and a hot tube ignition system. Daimler and Maybach also included two fly wheels on either side of the crankshaft, cam operated exhaust valves that allowed for high speed operation and the whole thing was encased in a cast aluminum crankcase. This first engine managed a weight of 110 lbs and was 30 inches tall and because Daimler thought the engine looked like a grandfather clock, the engine was nicknamed thus.
But the two needed to test the engine to find out how well it would really move something forward. While Daimler's ultimate goal was to create a four wheeled "horseless carriage" (better known as a car today), the engine was still too small for such a feat. Instead, the engineer fashioned it to a wood frame bicycle. If you're wondering how safe it is to slap a combustion engine onto something wooden, you're not alone. In fact, on the contraption's first outing, rumor has it that the seat caught fire mid-ride.
In the following year, Daimler and Maybach tweaked the design to give the motorcycle a two-stage, two-speed transmission with a primary belt drive and the final drive being a ring gear located on the rear wheel. But it was after that that Daimler and Maybach refocused on their dreams of automobiles with four wheels and abandoned their two wheeled vehicle. Though their invention is one of the most popular today, back then, the two saw no future for it and never sold a single one to the public. In 1903 even the lonely original was destroyed by a fire. Only replicas remain.