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16 Pictures

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The concept for the world’s first motorcycle is 130 years old.

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Daimler riding car from 1885.

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Daimler riding car from 1885.

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Daimler riding car from 1885.

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With the left lever you change the mixture, with the middle one you release the primary drive and activate the brake.

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Brake block in the luxury version from 1885: steel guide with wooden brake lining – acts on the steel running surface of the wooden wheel.

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Surface carburetor: The fuel is vaporized in a heated container and mixed with air.

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Four pulleys, two gears. It is driven by a leather belt plus pinion in conjunction with an internal gear rim.

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… and explain practice.

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… to get the single cylinder running. And the theory by the way …

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Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy, and Michael Plag, who has been with the company for 34 years and project manager at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, has his hands full with it, …

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… and go.

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… just sit up, shift into gear …

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As a motorcycle professional, that shouldn’t be a problem for him, …

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Ten of the Daimler riding cars are still around today. MOTORRAD author Rolf Henniges will drive one of them.

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In the end it worked and Rolf Henniges was able to master the distance of 30 meters plus turn. Compared to the twelve kilometers that Daimler’s son covered in November 1885, that’s not much.

Daimler riding car in the driving report

The first motorcycle in the world

In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler’s son Adolf took the world’s first “motorcycle” on a twelve-kilometer maiden voyage. 130 years later, MOTORRAD author Rolf Henniges is facing a similar mission …

D.You must have told him on April 1st. And he swallowed it. Honestly: My boss Michael Pfeiffer, who was supposed to drive the riding car but is unable to do business, has given me the task and warned me: “Watch out for the corners! The thing should be anything but easy to ride! ”I feel like a two-year-old whose father is warning of the dangers of the balance bike. Hazards? What dangers? The riding car weighs 90 kilos, accelerates to a maximum of 12 km / h according to the data sheet and also has training wheels! How can you have an accident with it??

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Daimler riding car in the driving report
The first motorcycle in the world

Ten spokes, 600 millimeters in diameter

His finger points to the steel ring-enclosed wooden wheels: ten spokes, 600 millimeters in diameter, the tread 35 millimeters wide. This is not just any custom bike I’ve ridden countless over the years. No, I’m about to hit the big bang of motorcycling. Awesome. Happy. And above all, amazed. Because the good Gottlieb not only had a feel for progressive technology, but must also have been a perfectionist. The surface finish of the chassis made of ash and beech and the precision with which the connecting parts, joints and bearings were made are perfect.

This riding car here is one of ten that exist worldwide and was manufactured exactly according to the original model from 1885. Unfortunately, the original went up in smoke in a fire in 1903. While I am amazed, Michael Plag fills the small tank that is supposed to feed the fire for the glow tube. This glow tube in the cylinder head of the 264 cubic single cylinder engine is responsible for igniting the mixture. Light petrol, ligroin, is a highly flammable fuel that has been used to remove stains since 1850. At that time it was available in pharmacies.

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From a technical point of view, the “grandfather clock” was a huge step forward

Michael Plag recognizes the beginning of evaporation by the hissing noise. “Well, cranking is the order of the day,” he says and grabs the hand crank with which the flywheel is set in rotation via a toothing. Two or three turns, then wait, see if it starts. “There are days when we need hours in the workshop for the engine to run optimally,” he grins, dripping with sweat. Today seems to be such a day. Because the single doesn’t want to. Farts now and then, thunders disinterestedly and now and then hisses a few clouds of ignited exhaust gas through the small silencer down into the dust.

But he doesn’t really like to run smoothly. While Plag continues to crank it up, I remember: Gottlieb Daimler’s standing single-cylinder, also charmingly known as the “grandfather clock”, was a huge step forward from a technical point of view. Gasoline engines at that time only reached speeds of up to 150 rpm. Daimler’s patented glow tube ignition in conjunction with the cam groove control of the exhaust valve allowed the new engine to reach speeds of up to 700 rpm. The fact that this was planted in a motorcycle-like test frame instead of a carriage was simply a question of money.

Combustion is sensitive to heat and oxygen levels

The single finally thuds. It only runs with what feels like revolutions between 200 and 400 rpm, but at least. The mixture is optimally adjusted using a small lever. Every millimeter that the lever is moved forwards or backwards decides whether it will die, asthmatic coughing or optimal engine running.

The combustion reacts sensitively to the heat and oxygen content of the intake air. But good. Get up, first driving lesson, theory. Michael Plag explains and drives off. The route is around 30 meters long, slightly sloping, on an asphalt stretch you have to turn. It is also slightly sloping. Michael Plag turns with a swing. It just looks. But it is not. Now I’m sitting on the saddle, a leather-covered steel structure under which the engine is located.


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Four pulleys, two gears. It is driven by a leather belt plus pinion in conjunction with an internal gear rim.

Starting off is quite straightforward: there is a lever directly under the handlebars. If it is moved forward, it relaxes the leather belt and thus decouples the drive, while the brake is activated via a steel cable. So pull back gently, release the frictional connection and the brake – off you go! Of course, the steering is ultra-direct. But you literally roll forwards, constantly tilting from one support wheel to the other, as the steel treads have neither self-damping nor grip, but two corners. Touching the asphalt, now it’s time to turn. 

Oh God! For us motorcyclists, motion sequences have become second nature. Processes that are of no use here. Because the box does not want to tilt because of its support wheels. Or rather, she wants. But not like me. Because the riding car threatens to tip over. “Brake!” Shouts Michael Plag. I do, but think: It’s good that the man is there. If necessary, he will throw himself under the riding car to save himself if it tips over. "Now quickly on the gas!" He calls out at the apex of the "curve". Only on the third attempt do I manage to turn around smoothly, but I’m always happy when the 0.5 hp single pulls us up the slight increase again. Its oscillating weight is charming and really makes for "good vibrations". When standing, the fork and the front wheel pulsate like the foot of a gangster rapper on his favorite song. Back then in November 1885, Daimler’s son drove twelve kilometers in a row. Probably in snow and freezing cold. On gravel and cobblestones. I take my (new) hat off to this achievement.

Technical specifications


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Gottlieb’s stroke of genius: glow tube ignition plus a new type of exhaust valve control means higher speeds

Air-cooled single cylinder four-stroke engine,
Bore x stroke: 58 x 100 mm,
Displacement: 264 cm³,
Compression 2.6: 1,
Power: 0.5 HP at 600 rpm

Inlet valve controlled by a sniff,
Cam groove controlled exhaust valve,
Carburetor surface,
Glow tube ignition,

Primary drive: flat belt from motor to drive shaft,
Secondary drive: via pinion and internal ring gear,

two gears by turning the belt by hand,

Beech and ash wooden frame,
Ten-spoke wooden wheels,
Rear wheel block brake controlled by hand,

Wheelbase: 1030 mm,
Total length: 1680 mm,
Empty weight 90 kg,
Top speed: 12 km / h 

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