Daimler Reitwagen

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Daimler Reitwagen
Daimler Reitwagen
A Reitwagen replica at the Mercedes-Benz Museum
Manufacturer Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach
Also called Einspur "single track"
Fahrzeug mit Gas bezw. Petroleum Kraftmaschine "Vehicle with gas or petrol engine"
Production 1885
Assembly Stuttgart
Engine 264 cc (16.1 cu in) air-cooled four-stroke single. Crank start.
Bore / stroke 58 mm × 100 mm (2.3 in × 3.9 in)
Top speed 7 mph (11 km/h)[1][2]
Power 0.5 hp (0.37 kW) @ 600 rpm[1][2]
Ignition type Hot tube
Transmission Single speed, belt drive (1885)
Two speed, belt primary, pinion gear final drive (1886)
Frame type Wood beam
Suspension None
Brakes Front: none
Rear: shoe
Tires Iron over wood rim, wood spokes.
Rake, trail 0°, 0 mm
Weight 198 lb (90 kg)[1] (dry)

The Daimler Reitwagen ("riding wagon") or Einspur ("single track") was a motor vehicle made by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1885, and is widely recognized as the first motorcycle.[3][4][5] Daimler is often called "the father of the motorcycle" for this invention.[6][7][8] Even when the three steam powered two wheelers that preceded the Reitwagen, the Michaux-Perreaux and Roper of 1867–1869, and the 1884 Copeland, are considered motorcycles, it remains nonetheless the first gasoline internal combustion motorcycle,[9][10][11] and the forerunner of all vehicles, land, sea and air, that use its overwhelmingly popular engine type.[12][13][14][15]

First motorcycle?[edit]

The Reitwagen's status as the first motorcycle rests on whether the definition of motorcycle includes having an internal combustion engine. The Oxford English Dictionary uses this criterion.[16] Even by that definition, the use of four wheels instead of two raises doubts.[1][11] If the outriggers are accepted as auxiliary stabilizers, they point to a deeper issue in bicycle and motorcycle dynamics, in that Daimler's testbed needed the training wheels because it did not employ the then well-understood principles of rake and trail.[14][17] For this and other reasons motoring author David Burgess-Wise called the Daimler-Maybach "a crude makeshift", saying that "as a bicycle, it was 20 years out of date."[18] Cycle World's Technical Editor Kevin Cameron, however, maintains that steam power was a dead end and the Reitwagen was the first motorcycle because it hit upon the successful engine type, saying, "History follows things that succeed, not things that fail."[14]

Enrico Bernardi's 1882 one-cylinder petrol-engined tricycle, the Motrice Pia, is considered by a few sources as the first gasoline internal combustion motorcycle, and in fact the first ever internal combustion vehicle.[19][20] The Motrice Pia is not mentioned in any mainstream sources. While there is some discussion in mainstream sources of the merits of Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede or Roper steam velocipede versus the Reitwagen, there is no debate that considers the merits of the Motrice Pia.


Drawings from 1884 showed a twist grip belt tensioner, complex steering linkage and used a belt drive. The working model had a simple handlebar and used a pinion gear drive.

"The first motorcycle looks like an instrument of torture", wrote Melissa Holbrook Pierson, describing a vehicle that was created along the way to Daimler's real goal, a four wheeled car, and earning him credit as the inventor of the motorcycle "malgré lui," in spite of himself.[21] Daimler had founded an experimental workshop in the garden shed behind his house in Cannstatt district of Stuttgart in 1882.[22] Together with his employee Maybach they developed a compact, high-speed single-cylinder engine, patented on April 3, 1885 and called "grandfather clock engine."[23][24] It had a float metered carburetor, used mushroom intake valves which were opened by the suction of the piston's intake stroke, and instead of an electrical ignition system, it used hot tube ignition, a platinum tube running into the combustion chamber, heated by an external open flame.[10] It could also run on coal gas.[4] It used twin flywheels and had an aluminum crankcase.[13]

The Daimler-Maybach grandfather clock engine of 1886

Daimler's and Maybach's next step was to install the engine in a test bed to prove the viability of their engine in a vehicle.[13] Their goal was to learn what the engine could do, and not to create a motorcycle; it was just that the engine prototype was not yet powerful enough for a full size carriage.[10][22] The original design of 1884 used a belt drive, and twist grip on the handlebars which applied the brake when turned one way and tensioned the drive belt, applying power to the wheel, when turned the other way.[22] Roper's velocipede of the late 1860s used a similar two way twistgrip handlebar control.[25][26] The plans also called for steering linkage shafts that made two right angle bends connected with gears, but the actual working model used a simple handlebar without the twist grip or gear linkage.[27] The design was patented on August 29, 1885.[28]

It had a 264-cubic-centimetre (16.1 cu in) single-cylinder Otto cycle four-stroke engine mounted on rubber blocks, with two iron tread wooden wheels and a pair of spring-loaded outrigger wheels to help it remain upright.[13] Its engine output of 0.5 horsepower (0.37 kW) at 600 rpm gave it a speed of about 7 miles per hour (11 km/h).[1] Daimler's 17-year-old son, Paul, rode it first on November 18, 1885, going 5–12 kilometres (3.1–7.5 mi), from Cannstatt to Untertürkheim in Stuttgart, Germany.[3][22] The seat caught fire on that excursion,[1][22] the engine's hot tube ignition being located directly underneath.[29] Over the winter of 1885–1886 the belt drive was upgraded to a two-stage, two-speed transmission with a belt primary drive and the final drive using a ring gear on the back wheel.[22] By 1886 the Reitwagen had served its purpose and was abandoned in favor of further development on four wheeled vehicles.[22]


The original Reitwagen was destroyed in the Cannstatt Fire that razed the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft Seelberg-Cannstatt plant in 1903,[30] but several replicas exist in collections at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, the Deutsches Museum in Munich, the Honda Collection Hall at the Twin Ring Motegi facility in Japan,[31] the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in Ohio,[30] and in Melbourne, Australia.[32] The Deutsches Museum lent their replica to the Guggenheim Las Vegas The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition in 2001.[2] The replicas vary as to which version they follow. The one at the AMA Hall of Fame is larger than the original and uses the complex belt tensioner and steering linkage seen in the 1884 plans,[27][30] while the Deutsches Museum's replica has the simple handlebar, as well as the ring gear on the rear wheel.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Brown, Roland (2004), History of the Motorcycle, Parragon, pp. 10–11, ISBN 1-4054-3952-1 
  2. ^ a b c d Guggenheim Museum Staff (2003), Krens, Thomas; Drutt, Matthew, eds., The Art of the Motorcycle, Harry N. Abrams, p. 399, ISBN 0-8109-9106-3  Missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  3. ^ a b Gardiner, Mark (1997), Classic motorcycles, MetroBooks, p. 16, ISBN 1-56799-460-1 
  4. ^ a b Brown, Roland (2005), The Ultimate History of Fast Motorcycles, Bath, England: Parragon, p. 6, ISBN 1-4054-5466-0 
  5. ^ Wilson, Hugo (1993), The Ultimate Motorcycle Book, Dorling Kindersley, pp. 8–9, ISBN 1-56458-303-1 
  6. ^ Carr, Sandra (January 20, 2006), "Art That Roars!", Orlando Sentinel, p. 46, retrieved 2011-02-11 
  7. ^ Forgey, Benjamin (July 5, 1998), "Article: A Wheelie Big Show; 'Art of the Motorcycle' Speeds Down the Guggenheim's Spiral", The Washington Post, p. G1, retrieved 2011-02-11 
  8. ^ Neale, Brian (25 October 1998), "Field Museum Turns Biker Garage For Art Of The Motorcycle Exhibit", Chicago Tribune, p. 1, retrieved 2011-02-11 
  9. ^ Falco, Charles M.; Guggenheim Museum Staff (1998), "Issues in the Evolution of the Motorcycle", in Krens, Thomas; Drutt, Matthew, The Art of the Motorcycle, Harry N. Abrams, pp. 24–31, 98–101, ISBN 0-89207-207-5 
  10. ^ a b c Schafer, Louis (March 1985), "In the Beginning", American Motorcyclist (American Motorcyclist Association), pp. 42–43, retrieved 2011-01-29 
  11. ^ a b Kresnak, Bill (2008), Motorcycling for Dummies, Hoboken, New Jersey: For Dummies, Wiley Publishing, p. 29, ISBN 0-470-24587-5 
  12. ^ Walker, Mick (2000), History of Motorcycles, Hamlyn, pp. 6–7, ISBN 0-600-60036-X 
  13. ^ a b c d Walker, Mick (2006), Motorcycle: Evolution, Design, Passion, Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 16–18, ISBN 0-8018-8530-2, retrieved 2011-02-10 
  14. ^ a b c Kerr, Glynn (August 2008), "Design; The Conspiracy Theory", Motorcycle Consumer News (Irvine, California: Aviation News Corp), vol. 39 no. 8, p. 36–37, ISSN 1073-9408 
  15. ^ Brown, Roland; McDiarmid, Mac (2000), The Ultimate Motorcycle Encyclopedia: Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Triumph, Honda, Kawasaki and All the Great Marques, Anness Publishing, p. 12, ISBN 1-84038-898-6 
  16. ^ "motorcycle, n.". Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. March 2009. 1. A two-wheeled motor-driven road vehicle, resembling a bicycle but powered by an internal-combustion engine; (now) spec. one with an engine capacity, top speed, or weight greater than that of a moped. 
  17. ^ Lienhard, John H. (2005), Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins, Oxford University Press US, pp. 120–121, ISBN 0-19-518951-5 
  18. ^ Burgess-Wise, David (1973), Historic Motor Cycles, Hamlyn, pp. 6–7, ISBN 0-600-34407-X 
  19. ^ G.N. Georgano Cars: Early and Vintage, 1886-1930 (London: Grange-Universal, 1985), p.26.
  20. ^ Motrice pia 1882, Museo Nicolis, 2009, archived from the original on October 31, 2010 
  21. ^ Pierson, Melissa Holbrook (1998), The Perfect Vehicle: What Is It About Motorcycles, W. W. Norton & Company, pp. 60–61, ISBN 0-393-31809-5 
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Setright, L.J.K. (1979), The Guinness book of motorcycling facts and feats, Guinness Superlatives, pp. 12–18, ISBN 0-85112-200-0 
  23. ^ Eckermann, Erik (2001), World History Of The Automobile, Society of Automobile Engineers, pp. 26–29, ISBN 0-7680-0800-X, retrieved 2011-02-12 
  24. ^ DE patent 34926, Gottlieb Daimler, "Gas - bezw. Petroleum-Kraftmaschine", issued 1885-04-03 
  25. ^ Johnson, Paul F., Roper steam velocipede, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved 2011-02-06 
  26. ^ Girdler, Allan (February 1998), "First Fired, First Forgotten", Cycle World (Newport Beach, California: Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.), vol. 37 no. 2, pp. 62–70, ISSN 0011-4286 
  27. ^ a b "Gizmos: Some new tech has been around forever", American Motorcyclist (Westerville, Ohio: American Motorcyclist Association), vol. 46 no. 8, August 1992, pp. 15–19, ISSN 0277-9358, retrieved 2011-02-09 
  28. ^ DE patent 36423, Gottlieb Daimler, "Fahrzeug mit gas bezw. Petroleum Kraftmaschine", issued 1885-11-29 
  29. ^ Automobil auf 2 Rädern - der "Reitwagen" on YouTube (narration in German)
  30. ^ a b c "1885 Daimler Replica", American Motorcyclist (Westerville, Ohio: American Motorcyclist Association), vol. 49 no. 12, December 1995, ISSN 0277-9358, retrieved 2011-02-09 
  31. ^ "1885 / Daimler Reitrad (Replica)", Honda Collection Hall, Honda, 2010, retrieved 2011-02-11 
  32. ^ "Historic labour of love", The Courier-Mail, October 28, 2008, retrieved 2011-02-07 

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