The origins of the Racycle brand are a bit unusual and started with bicycle manufacture. A Miami, Ohio based tobacco company decided to offer a free bicycle to smokers who saved up tags or coupons inserted in their tobacco packages. First they sourced the bicycles used as incentives, but to save money started their own shop in 1896 and soon became a major manufacturer. Their bikes were named for the Sorg Tobacco Company engineer Frank Ray. In 1905 they expanded to offer motorcycles sourcing the Hedstrom (Indian)-designed machines made by Aurora Automatic Machine Company, Thor. Now incorporating an engine it was called the Moto-Racycle, or Racycle.
A close look at this stylish orange Racycle shows unique innovation. For comfort and control on America’s bumpy roads, front suspension was essential. This Racycle shows a unique, very stout leading link sprung fork. Note the top casting that supports the spring unit. But quite unusual is the seat suspension which makes use of a coil spring suspension designed into the seat post. Note the small rollers that support the seat post action. These are somewhat upscale features on an otherwise relatively economical single speed, belt drive motorcycle. Also note the eccentric to adjust the chain, the throttle and compression release levers on the handlebar.
One of the biggest Midwest players in motorcycles was Miami Cycle & Manufacturing of Middletown, Ohio. In 1911 Miami Cycle bought Merkel, one of the best designed and engineered pre-World War I motorcycles. Joe Merkel, Chief Engineer moved from Milwaukee to Middletown along with his stock and all manufacturing equipment. But by 1917 Merkel and Racycle were out of business.
In the early years of American motorcycle design and manufacturing, many parts were sourced. It was expensive to tool up for every component, so buying rims, hubs, the handlebar, seat, pedal crank, sometimes even the engine from specialist suppliers was typical. Then the maker might build a unique frame or have special tanks made to distinguish his brand, in addition to the badge on the headstock. The earliest Racycles from about 1905 could be called Indian clones, but by the time this 1911 Racycle was built design paths had diverged from what Thor was offering.
It’s fun to compare the designs of early American motorcycle makers, and the National Motorcycle Museum is a great place to do that. All in one museum you can take in the Early American Transportation INNOVATION exhibition with a Reading Standard, Thors, Harleys and Indians, even a rare Bluebird plus several Merkels and this Racycle from the Jill and John Parham Collection. When you get “cabin fever” this winter, call some friends and drive over to take in the great collection at the National Motorcycle Museum, Anamosa, Iowa.
- Engine: Inlet Over Exhaust, Single
- Bore & Stroke: 3 1/4″ x 3 11/16”
- Displacement: 30.50 Cubic Inches
- Carburetor: Schebler
- Ignition: Magneto
- Starting: Pedal Crank
- Horsepower: 4HP
- Final Drive: Flat Belt
- Frame: Tubular, Brazed Joints
- Suspension: Leading Link Fork, Sprung Seat
- Brake: Rear, Coaster
- Wheels/Tires: 28 x 2.5 / 28 x 2.5
- Wheelbase: 50 Inches