1911 Flying Merkel 61ci Belt-Drive Twin
Engine no. 3230
1902: Joseph Merkel set-up shop started producing single-cylinder motor-bicycles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin under “The Merkel” brand, one of the most innovative of the pioneer motorcycle companies. Racing has always been a great showcase for road machines and a source of sales, so by 1905 Merkel committed to competition and produced several racing machines setting many performance records in the emerging racing scene. Innovations in suspension from the company included a patented spring front fork that was to become the forerunner of the modern telescopic front fork, and it became the front-end choice on racing machines of other builders. A monoshock rear suspension was also developed. Merkel’s sales slogan became: “All roads are smooth to The Flying Merkel”. Merkel also used ball bearings as opposed to bronze bushings in the engine. In contrast to primitive atmospheric pressure intake valves, Merkel designed a cam-actuated mechanism. Merkel also pioneered a throttle-controlled engine oiler that long preceded Harley’s and Indian’s.
The company was purchased by the Light Manufacturing Company in 1909, and moved in its entirety to Pottstown Pennsylvania, producing machines with the “Merkel Light” and finally “The Flying Merkel” names, employing Joseph Merkel , who began experimenting with frame and suspension improvements, and new engine designs. A young test rider by the name of Maldwyn Jones rode one of Merkel’s creations. An inventive mechanic and talented racer, Jones set up the bike and defeated the reigning champion Erwin G (Cannonball) Baker in a ten-mile race. The following season Jones turned professional and won three out of four races on a machine bearing “The Flying Merkel” logo on the tank. Jones went on to become a national champion racer and helped Merkel achieve recognition among performance enthusiasts.
The 1911 Flying Merkel on offer here was part of the famed Frank Mason collection for many years until purchased by the late Gary Hite in the 1990s. Hite was an avid collector of American machines, displaying the collection in a museum space near his home in Hauser, Idaho. An enthusiastic racer seen at Daytona, DuQuoin, and the West Coast Nationals, Hite was also a knowledgeable mechanic, wrenching on his own bikes. The purchase of this Flying Merkel was a particular passion for Hite. A complete motorcycle, but in need of a total restoration, Hite trusted the job to marque expert, John Viljoen. Originally from South Africa, Viljoen moved to Seattle, bringing his business and expertise to the meticulous concours restoration of early motorcycles. The winner of many a concours trophy, Viljoen’s knowledge and abilities are of the very highest levels. He once purchased an original frame section for a Flying Merkel, specifically to pull it apart to see a portion of original paint, from which he could accurately replicate the exact paint color. Hite agreed to build the engine, but as life got in the way, the completed bike sat in the museum window for more than 15 years, until his unfortunate passing. Widow, Nancy, sold the bike to the current owner, who charged Viljoen to complete the project.
An excellent example, beautifully restored, the bike has been on static display since completion in 2015, but at that time, it ran well, as can be seen in the video in Viljoen’s shop, below. A wonderfully settled appearance of an older, 20-year old, but well-restored machine, with lovely patina to the surfaces, the bike is still in immaculate condition throughout.
This is a great opportunity to acquire an incredible example of an early belt-drive extant from one of the most seductive manufacturers of early Americana.