Merkel Motor Wheel

Joseph Merkel founded the Merkel Motor Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1902, its first product being a bicycle powered by a ‘clip on’ engine attached to the front down tube. In 1908 Merkel merged with the Light Manufacturing and Foundry Company of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, which had been making motorcycles since 1901. Merkel production shifted to Pottstown and the range – marketed as ‘Merkel-Light’ – expanded to include chain-driven types and v-twins. The move to Pottstown signaled a serious commitment to racing and the hiring of factory supported riders, while the slogan ‘Flying Merkel’ began to appear in the company’s advertising. And fly they did, winning countless races over the next few seasons before new owners the Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Company of Middletown, Ohio pulled the plug on the factory’s racing program in 1911. Limited support continued for employees that wanted to go racing, and the 1915 catalog contained a list of 1914-season race wins extending to a page-and-a-half. When Miami ceased production of Merkel motorcycles in 1915, Joseph Merkel designed and patented the ‘Merkel Motor Wheel’. A self-contained power unit for attachment to the rear of a bicycle, the Merkel Motor Wheel was launched at the Cycle Trades Association Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey on December 4th 1916. It was claimed that there was ‘no skill or special tools required to install’ the MMW, which consisted of an overhead-vale engine driving the wheel by gears, a hub incorporating a coaster brake with freewheel, and a fuel tank mounted on top of the steel frame that carried the driving wheel. Speed was regulated by means of a valve lifter while the provision of a clutch by Hendee made the MMW a practical proposition for town use.

In December 1918 the Hendee Manufacturing Company – makers of Indian motorcycles – purchased the rights to the MMW and recommenced production at Springfield around 1920. A complete powered bicycle cost $85 and it was claimed that operating costs were as low as ‘400 miles for one dollar’! It is estimated that around 2,000 Merkel Motor Wheels made, of which only a few are known to still exist.


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