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Wicker trailers

February 15, 2012
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The next three or four articles on OcchioLungo will be devoted to motorcycle passenger carrying in the 1898-1912 era.  It was an exciting time for the budding industry, with new ideas coming quickly and old ideas falling out of favor.


Prior to the invention of the sidecar in 1903 and later the pillion rear seat, motorbike riders had a few options on how to carry a passenger.  There was the forecar, where the seat was out front in between two front wheels.  This worked fairly well, but was a difficult machine to maneuver.  And the passenger took the brunt of any mishaps, acting like a front bumper for the vehicle.  The other option was a trailer towed behind a two or three wheeled bike.  This had a few endearing qualities such as allowing the driver to see the road ahead of him, and the motorbicycle could lean into corners.  But there were drawbacks too.  The passenger in the trailer was subjected to all the smoke that came belching from the exhaust pipe and breathers of the motor.  As they used constant-loss oiling, all the oil that went into the motor had to come back out!  Adding to the experience was the frequent intersecting of horse dung that littered the streets, which the rear wheels could throw upwards toward the passenger.  M’lady didn’t think much of that! 


But the most dynamic “experience” was when the swivel joint at the front of the trailer broke in two.  This allowed the trailer to come loose from the bike and to flip over backwards!  Adding to the insult, the rider often didn’t know it had happened and would carry on down the road for some mile or more before realizing that the missus was on her backside in the middle of the road.  Ixion mentions this multiple times in his writings circa 1900-1910, and claims it was the leading reason that the trailer lost favor so quickly and was replaced by the sidecar.   The failures were not described in detail, but I surmise that the root cause was metal fatigue.  The joints had to pivot in two planes, and were also stressed due to large moment loads and vibrations.  If they were made with steel-on-steel bearings instead of proper bearing materials, there would be some galling and stiction.


But during the glory days of the trailer, many of them were produced with beautiful wicker patterns.



Two images from Ixion’s Reminiscences of Motorcycling:

Ixion trailer 

1899ish Ixion


From one of our favorite marques, the Veloce trailers of 1903:bike news may 1903

de dion trailer



  millford_trailer1904 trailer trailer


This setup was at the old Geeson Brothers collection.

veteran trailer

This Italian rig was made by Prinetti and Stucchi in 1899.  Note the single wheel, single seat trailer.   Complete with sprung seat, footpegs and handlebars.prinetti_stucchi_quadri_1899

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 21, 2012 8:24 am

    Saw these trailer taxis in southern Mexico;

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