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Bike Review - Posted 4th September 2008
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1914 Wall Auto-Wheel

Back in the earliest days of classic motorcycling, you could glide effortlessly up to the giddy heights of 15mph using a 118cc engine. Reg Eyre has a peculiar fascination for motorised bicycles...

In the beginning, man played with bicycles and, by the exertions of his lower limbs, he did find his range extended and horizons broadened. By and by he found these exercises extremely hard work and he gazed across the English Channel to see wondrous small engines produced for fixing to his bicycle and he thought this was good.

Various enterprising chaps imported these engines and many blacksmiths across the land worked with bicycle dealers to affix these small motors to bicycles. Fortunately, not many people understood these new fangled beasts and fewer still realised that to get 'go-faster' spirit, they would have to visit chemists and pharmacies across the land wherever they wished to travel. Many rapid developments had to be made before manufacturers produced robust petrol delivery systems and electric thingies appropriate for riders to use without too much fiddling.

Mr Wall almost invented the sidecar by mistake... 1914 Wall Auto-Wheel

After this initial experimental period, engines got bigger and frames got bent which meant frames had to get bigger and the unnecessary additions of gears, clutches, kick starters and suspension aids were created. Gone was the dream of a lightweight addition to a bicycle to make swift progress across the roads of the UK.

Even before the Great War, there were people who sustained the idea of lightweight, small engined bicycles that would be affordable means of transport for the everyman.

Mr JE Smith made available the Model A attachment of a 116cc automatic inlet valve four-stroke engine and Mr Wall came up with the Wall Auto-Wheel which was a 118cc side-fitting attach-ment to an existing bicycle.

Spot the rider's casually-held cigar and the three Frank-a-likes in the background. 1914 Wall Auto-Wheel Brochure

Both of these would propel the rider to around 15mph with the rider having to add pedalling power to help the little engine up inclines.

Veteran stuff on

After these prophets of cheap affordable motorised cycling there was a gap of nearly 35 years before manufacturers realised that people once again needed similar machines. To keep this vision alive today, sections of the VMCC and the Auto-Cycle Club organise gatherings where machines of this type are given some exercise and their riders take even greater exercise. These are wonderful meetings where the macho image is totally absent. Each is machine is considered on its merits and fellow riders usually have relevant comments to make.

For example, my Wall was met with 'Will it start?', 'Will it get out of the car-park?', 'Do you want us to provide pushers on the hills?', etc. Successful runs of about 27 miles were met with astonishment and a few comments on the twirling leg actions as other riders overtook me on the uphill gradients.

Inverted Y shaped stands folds up, obviously. 1914 Wall Auto-Wheel engine unit

Consider now the Wall Auto-Wheel: There is a sub-frame that fixes to the bicycle frame at three points and has a protruding spindle sticking out at 90-degrees to the bicycle, the wheel unit, (containing the engine, fuel tank and all ancillaries to make the unit work) now slots onto this spindle and all that is left to do is run the control cables to the handle-bar. This is usually a single control which is pushed away from rider to activate the exhaust valve lifter and towards the rider to act as a normal throttle control. Since I do not have this lever (do you? And how much do you want for this?), I have used a conventional valve lifter on the left and a throttle lever control on the right.

To start the machine, one pedals away with the exhaust valve lifted until sufficient speed is attained to release this lever and opening the throttle is met with the delightful sound of a small engine, somewhere behind you, burbling along. The bicycle responds to the throttle on the flat but labours up some inclines when the machine expects the rider to energetically twirl the pedals to assist the engine in climbing up the incline. Occasionally, the road makers of auld England put in some steep hills just for Wall riders to have to dismount to push their steeds up the hills. The wheel unit contains enough fuel and oil for something over 50 miles but other Wall riders have suggested that 50 miles is a safe limit whereupon replenishment of vital fluids should take place.

You can't beat a bit of brass... 1914 Wall Auto-Wheel in detail

General progress is therefore stately rather than sporty with the overall effect being extended bicycling rather than what we might term motorcycling. (In its day, this was known as motor-bicycling). Some people have worried about the action of the wheel and bicycle in having to ride around the wheel unit when turning right or getting the wheel to accelerate around the bicycle when turning left. Because the wheel unit is parallel to the bicycle, the movement of the wheel unit only gets slightly closer or further away from bicycle frame. Only Valentino Rossi ride-a-likes need worry!

The other advantage of these machines during 1912 to 1914 was that if the engine did suffer a calamity somewhere miles from home, all the rider had to do was remove the cables from the handlebars and remove the engine unit from it's spindle and send the unit for service while carrying on the journey as an ordinary cyclist.

The JES is far more conventional in that the engine is attached to the front down-tube of the bicycle with supporting struts to the rear saddle tube. The belt drive is taken directly off the engine and is routed via a jockey pulley to the rear wheel belt pulley.

It is my intention to share experiences of riding such wondrous machinery with others, so look out for more riding impressions on the Auto-Wheel very soon…

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