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PAGE 1. The History of the Cyclemotor

EVOLUTION FROM A STEAM-DRIVEN VELOCIPEDE…

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The first idea for a cyclemotor, ie a cycle with a motor attached, appeared in this cartoon in France in 1818, showing a contemporary hobby-horse cycle with a steam engine attached.
It was described as a ‘steam-driven velocipede.’

The concept of a motorized 2-wheeler was covered by other cartoonists, but it was not until the cycle industry was properly established in the 1860’s (Michaux in France) that the idea was put into practice.

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This Michaux-Perreaux Steam Velocipede of 1868 is a Michaux boneshaker cycle powered by a Perreaux steam engine. With its drivebelts and pulleys and separate pedals, the concept is remarkably similar to the postwar cyclemotors with which we are more familiar.

And in fact this machine is the prototype of both the cyclemotors and motorcycles as we know them today.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the design of what we now call ‘motorcycles’ and ‘cyclemotors’ were starting to diverge.

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Engine-attachment units were produced for fitting to safety bicycles without any structural adaptation being necessary. The four-stroke 143cc Clement and the 211cc Minerva (pictured left) drove the rear wheels via a twisted leather belt.

Over the next decade, motorcycle development improved rapidly and this primitive type of cyclemotor was superceded. By 1910, motorcycles were well-established, and cyclemotors were soon delegated to the position of auxiliary engines for bicycles. The J.E.S and Wall Autowheel (below) are typical examples.

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Thousands of Wall Autowheels were sold before the end of 1914, at a cost of £16 16s each. It was subsequently made under licence in the USA, and even fitted to invalid chairs for wounded soldiers. It is now by far the most common cyclemotor of that era, and one may be purchased for under £2000, surprisingly little for a 1914 vehicle. My Wall (below) has been used in the London-Brighton Pioneer Run.

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By the 1920’s the price of a small car in Britain had come down to just £100 and petrol was around 1/-. This was also the heyday of motorcycle manufacturers; small engineering companies all over the country manufactured machines with proprietary engines and with such a variety of lightweight motorcycles available there was now much less demand for cycle attachments for bicycles.

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By the 1920’s, Great Britain had more vehicle manufacturers than any other country, and the market was flooded with affordable vehicles. Female riders were no longer attracted to bicycles with engine attachments, because this was the first boom era for small scooters: they had been around over the previous decade, but by now manufacturers were fitting seats to their scooters and models such as the Skootamota were proving very popular.

However, Europe was much poorer at this time: with large populations in need of transport, some manufacturers decided to chance their luck with cycle attachments. The example pictured in the advert above is the Cyclotracteur; and below is my 1923 la Cyclette.

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La Cyclette is a typical auxiliary engine of the era, and with its mid-mounted belt-driven engine it is very much in the style of the early machines of the turn of the century. Compare the advert above with my la Cyclette, pictured below.

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This attachment would originally have been sold separately, to be attached to whatever bicycle you wished; this one is fitted to a contemporary Peugeot bicycle. To see more photos, please CLICK HERE

These French cycle attachments were expensive in their day, and also they were not very efficiently designed. In particular, the heavy front-mounted attachments such as the Cyclotracteur and the Labinal Micromoteur made the bicycles very unsteady.

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In fact, the early 1920’s cyclemotor boom was short-lived, and the machines themselves were mostly bought by socialites who enjoyed riding them around to show off. The 1923 Rosengart advert below sums it up quite well.

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Here’s a closer look at a Labinal Micromoteur. This one has an early engine number, so it’s most likely 1922 or 1923. I only know of one other (an incomplete one in Holland), though there are probably a few in France that have not yet made their debut in the 21st century.

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PLEASE CLICK HERE to read more about my 1922 LABINAL MICROMOTEUR

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After the 2nd World War, impoverished populations again required cheap transport and cyclemotors made a comeback.

http://www.Under50.cc essentially covers these postwar machines, from their introduction immediately postwar and through their various incarnations as mopeds into the 1960’s. We love the more common varieites, such as the Cyclemaster, Minimotor, Powerpak, Winged Wheel, etc. And we go a little more crazy over unusual models that do not crop up that often.

In fact, it’s quite astounding when you consider how many different models were available from all the European cyclemotor/moped manufacturers from 1945 until the Japanese motorcycle invasion of the early sixties effectively killed their market. The market was absolutely flooded. So much so, that however much you know about the various marques and models of this period …you’ll still be surprised when yet another crops up you’d not previously heard of.

The French Velosolex was undoubtedly the market leader – and still is …as a new model has just been introduced!

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I checked out one of these ‘Blacknroll’ solexes when I was in France earlier this year. They are made in Hungary and are a bit plasticky compared to the originals (my 1958 Solex is pictured below for comparison). But hey …I don’t see any new cyclemasters available at my local motorcycle showroom 🙂

I think there will be a market for the new Velosolex, even if it’s only among cyclemotor enthusiasts who recognize a potential future collectors item.

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