Though 100 years ago dozens of motorcycle brands in America, England, Japan and Europe made machines that served as simple and economical transportation, some makers focused on luxury or performance. Four cylinder engines offered smooth power and in the early years could be built up to about 1000cc’s. Smoothness, horsepower and torque resulted, along with a certain amount of prestige. With their four cylinder Henderson motorcycle launched in 1912, and with their ACE some years later, the Henderson brothers wanted to make the best and the fastest machines.
Deliveries of the Henderson Four began in January 1912 as the third four cylinder motorcycle to come to market in the USA. The Henderson Motorcycle Company of Detroit, Michigan had only been formed earlier in 1911 and this was the company’s first design. William G. “Bill” Henderson formed a partnership with his brother Tom to build motorcycles: William brought creative genius, Tom financial skills. The first prototype Four had a belt drive, but the production bike featured a chain; chain drive and long wheelbase were both Henderson trademarks.
In 1913 the Model B was launched with a better brake, lower seat and a girder fork. 1913 also saw the return of Carl Stearns Clancy of New York having taken about a year to ride around the world on a Henderson. The publicity was enormous. For 1914 the Model C, which incorporated a two-speed hub, was produced. In 1917 the new Model G was ridden from Los Angeles to New York in 7 days, 16 hours and 15 minutes by Alan Bedell, beating “Cannonball” Baker’s 1915 record time aboard an Indian twin.
After about eight years making very fine four cylinder motorcycles, in 1917 the Henderson brothers sold the company and Henderson brand name to bicycle/motorcycle manufacturer Ignaz Schwinn. Schwinn subsequently built Hendersons at his Excelsior Motor Company in Chicago, Illinois. But the Henderson brand motorcycle finished production in 1931 when Ignaz Schwinn simply announced, “Gentlemen, today we stop.” The Henderson brothers waited out their two year non-compete clause with Schwinn, then in 1920 released the fabulous ACE.
- Engine: Four Cylinder, F Head
- Bore & Stroke: 2.50″ x 3.00″
- Displacement: 58.9 Cubic Inches, 965 cc’s
- Starting: Kick Start Lever
- Frame: Tubular Steel, Lugged
- Fork: Leading Link
- Primary: Bevel Gear Drive
- Transmission: Single Speed
- Brake: Rear, Internal
- Final Drive: Chain
- Wheelbase: 65 Inches
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I have been lucky enough to fulfill life’s dreams by riding across our wonderful land three times. Each time by myself; once on a 1000cc Beemer 100RS and twice on a1800 cc VTX, N model (Honda). To read about someone riding across America in seven days in 1914 – a fantastic…super-fantastic journey. Imagine the long hours and the lack of great highways or even secondary roads like we have now. Think of how it would be not really knowing for sure where the hell you were on a minute to minute basis like we do now. What a great machine and even greater, what a strong man it would have taken. Thanks for this brief story off such different times.
Dale Walksler of Wheels Through Time museum repeated this ride on the same machine not that long ago. I remembered seeing him on Good Morning America when he arrived in New York.
If you like the thought of riding a bike like this I highly recommend the book Motorcycle Adventurer by Dr. Gregory Fraiser. It is a compilation of articles written by Carl Stearns Clancy about his around the world trip. A facinating first hand account of adventurer riding in that era. The Nationa Motorcycle Museum brings this to life in their exhibits as well. Thanks to them for this newsletter and wonderful museum.
After Clancy finished his 1912-1913 ride around the globe on his 1912 Henderson he said if he were to do another such global ride it would be on a Henderson, and he felt his 1912 still had another global loop in “it’s bones.” Your can read the true story about Clancy’s ride around the world in the book MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURER and an edited book titled THE GASOLINE TRAMP.