Motorized Bicycle

Mopeds are all essentially motorized bicycles, in fact the word "Moped" is short for Motor Pedacycle. Despite being so closely related, motorized bicycles and cyclemotors they are quite different from the modern moped. In most cases these were small low powered gasoline engines that were added to adapted standard bicycle frames. These machines were rather primitive, many lacking decent braking systems, lights, or suspension. Often these bikes were constructed from engines sold in kit form rather than a complete cycle. These motorized bicycle kits were low cost options for people who couldn't afford a factory motorcycle or moped.

Motorized bicycle time line

  • 1868-1869 Widely believed to be the first motorcycle and the first motorized bicycle is the Michaux-Perreaux steam bicycle, made in France. This machine was built on a velocipede frame with pedals directly attached to the front wheel and had a small steam engine and boiler.
  • 1896 The Geneva steam bicycle was produced, making use of a standard ladies bicycle frame with a boiler and engine over the front wheel. Power was delivered via roller drive and the machine could travel at a top speed of 12 mph.
  • 1901 Thomas auto-bi sells gasoline engine kits to convert a standard bicycle.
  • 1903: George Wyman travels from San Francisco to New York on a 1.25 horsepower California motorcycle. In doing so he was the first person to cross the United States on a motorcycle.
  • 1903: Shaw manufacturing offers an engine kit to build a motor bicycle. The engine is 241cc, belt drive and is capable of 20 to 30 mph. The selling price is $90.
  • 1910: The Wall auto wheel is invented, this 1hp engine and 20" wheel is mounted along side a bicycle or scooter to push it along. Briggs & Stratton acquires the rights in 1919 and sees an upgraded version "Briggs motor wheel" until 1924.
  • 1918: The Evans Power Cycle is released.
  • 1919-1920 The Johnson (US)/ The Economic(UK). This 154cc twin cylinder, chain drive design was used to drive army trench pumps and then sold as a kit to motorize a bicycle. Johnson is better known for its outboard marine engines.
  • 1939: The Whizzer motorbike is introduced. It is sold as a bolt on motor and then later as a complete cycle.
  • 1946: Mini-motor. This 50cc engine was designed to power portable lathes, and later used to power bicycles. The mini motor is 50cc, roller drive mounted over the rear wheel and can propel a bicycle around 20mph. Fuel in Italy was expensive and there was a demand for cheap transportation making this motor popular. The engine was also sold to convert your mower to gasoline power and as an outboard motor.
  • 1946: The VeloSolex is introduced to the public. The engine is located above the front wheel and transmits power via roller drive. Still in production today, more than 7 million have been sold worldwide.
  • 1975: Sears sells the Tanaka Bike Bug motor under the Free Spirit brand name, they are sold in the US until 1985. This engine clamps to the forks of a standard bicycle and uses a rubber roller drive.

Home made motorized bicycles

For over 100 years people have been building their own motor bicycles. Often handy people have created their own using whatever power source available. Gasoline engines, steam, electric power and even jet engines have been used. Home built machines are common alternative when people couldn't afford the high cost of a factory built machine, or the machine for their needs wasn't available at all. Often articles and plans can be found in the back of old popular mechanics magazines. One fine example of home made machines are Cuban "Rikimbili", these are basic yet beautiful machines, designed for cheap transportation.

Popular Add-On motors in the US

  • Whizzer motorbike.
  • Sears free spirit, Tankana bike bug, Taz spitz.
  • Travis cycle motor.
  • Chicken power.
  • Honda and Robin rack mount.
  • Chinese 50-70cc 2 strokes.
  • Chinese 50cc 4 stroke.