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History of Wagner Motorcycles

June 2, 2015

I get many questions about old bikes via the “Comment” link at the bottom of each article. Although they are pretty rare today, Wagner questions seem to come up fairly often. The author of this article, Tom Sheldon, has replied to several comments over the years with information, and has offered to share his thoughts on the marque:



Many of the roughly 2000 American auto companies started life making buggies or wagons. Similarly, many of the 300 or so American motorcycle manufacturers began as bicycle builders. This was true of German immigrant George Wagner. Around 1895 he began working for The Bird Cycle Co of St Paul, MN. In 1897 he formed the Wagner Cycle Co. Around 1900 George “started to experiment with motorcycles”. According to Wagner literature 1901 was the first year of manufacture. The 1911 Tenth Anniversary sales brochure states that 60 motorcycles were produced in that first year. The earliest ad, from 1903, that I have seen for Wagner states “The Wagner Motor Cycle has no equal” and in another 1903 ad “no you have not heard of us before because we have spent the last three years perfecting a motor cycle to offer to the public”. Through 1904 Wagner used a motor supplied by an unknown manufacturer. Models from 1905-1912 all used a motor of their own. Horsepower grew from an initial, at most, 2 1/2 HP in 1904 to 4 HP for the 1911-12 models.


Gorge Wagner designed and marketed a number of unusual motorcycles. The Model 4 catalog of 1904 lists a tandem motorcycle configured like a tandem bicycle as well as a tandem engined, tandem motorcycle. This bike they claimed to have 5HP (2 X 2 1/2HP). In 1907 their sales literature listed a ladies model, with dropped top bar for easy mounting in a dress. This model also had chain and belt guards (men, I guess, did not need guards) and canvas skirts on the front and rear fenders. Also in 1907, Wagner advertised “Adopted by the Fire and Police Departments of New York City”. Probably due to the work of their local agent George Lyons. The Lyons Agency was a big player in early motorcycling in New York City, they handled Wagner from 1905-1908.


George knew the power of competition. The old adage ‘race them on Sunday and sell them on Monday’ may have been used about 60 years earlier than commonly believed. A 1904 ad read “The 1903 Wagner finished every contest with a PERFECT SCORE”. In 1905 “The perfect scores obtained by our machines in the recent endurance run, from New York the Waltham, is only a sample of what they are doing every day, 250 miles in 6 hours including stops”. For 1907 “In the recent Century Runs of the New York and Brooklyn Motorcycle Clubs, Mr. Irving Mehrbach, the heaviest motorcyclist in the country, finished well within the time limit. Mr Mehrbach weights 305 pounds and the Century was his second ride on his Wagner” also written is “In the same contest Jack Dickinson and Sam Shaw on a Wagner with tandem attachment, finished third out of 75 riders and their Wagner was the first single cylinder to finish”.


Perhaps the most famous of the Wagner stories has to do with his daughter, Clara. She was the first female member of the Federation of American Motorcyclists (FAM) in 1907, she was just 15 years old. Together George and Clara competed in the 1910 Chicago to Indianapolis Western Enderance run and both riders scored perfect scores of 1000 over the 365 mile course. The judges, however, disqualified Clara because motorcycling was too dangerous for women. Her fellow riders though came through by pitching in and purchased her a gold medal. The free press from Clara and her motoring abilities had to help sales.


Over the course of production George held the course, always single cylinder motor, always single speed, always belt drive. One of the best things going for this simple, durable, reliable but perhaps boring bikes, was the advertising that George and Co placed in magazines. Advertising could be commonly found in ‘Cycle and Automobile Journal’. This magazine did a fine job of writing up (company issued) descriptions of many autos and cycles as well as being full of detailed ads. This makes these magazines invaluable for research. Other publications that Wagner used were ‘Telephony’, ‘RFD News’, ‘Automobile Review’, ‘The Medical World’, ‘Technical World’, ‘Popular Mechanics’, ‘Motorcycle Illustrated’ and ‘Motorcycling’. Of interest is a 1912 ad from ‘RFD News’ that states “4000 Wagners in daily use on R.F.D. routes”.


In 1912 George sold out to MASCO (Motorcycle Accessories and Supply Co.). MASCO ran their catalog business out of the old Wagner factory from 1912 to maybe 1918-1919. It is commonly stated that Wagner was in business through 1914, there is no evidence that any motorcycles were produced after the company was sold in 1912.


To follow I will let pictures show the development of Wagner over the production run. Most of these pictures are from existing motorcycles.


1903-1904 2 1/2 HP model1


1905-1908 3 HP model



1909-1910 3 1/2 HP model



1911-1912 4 HP model



I have been researching Wagner for about 20 years. I became interested when I saw one in a friends garage and learned that they were built in the Twin Cities. I was interested in old motorcycles, but having bikes built in your home city struck a chord with me. Wagner was not a flashy or fast bike but proved itself with dependability and affordability. I have collected a great deal of original and photo copied literature, ads, photos/postcards and memorabilia. I would be happy to help anyone who has any questions about these bikes. I have some spare parts and also always interested in acquiring anything related to Wagner. Also interested in items from the other Twin City brands of Minneapolis/Michaelson and Thiem/Joerns/Cyclone, as well as other smaller concerns.


Tom Sheldon

re_cycler(at)  —Replace the (at) with a @ symbol.


2015 Pioneer Run, part 3

May 30, 2015

These things seem to take forever. But here finally is Part 3 of the Pioneer Run.


I was busy running around, but I did snap pics of a few of the more odd bikes that caught my eye. To see more, just click on the right side of the screen, under the heading TAGS to see various things. Here is the link to Pioneer Run articles. 2015-03-22 12.45.28

It sure is wonderful to see an orange Flying Merkel. They are somewhat rare, but we do have them here in the USA. Many they all seem to be tied up in museums, restrained from roaring on the open road. This one in England is run just about every year on the Pioneer by its keeper Victor Norman. Thanks for bringing her out Victor!



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And the fabulous 1908 BAT of the Moore family had another run down to the sea this year. I say it every time that I see a BAT; What a great machine! A big JAP twin motor, two speed gears out in front of the crankcase, but with the softness of a belt final drive. And the suspension for the seat and footboards was their own novel idea. The magneto is nested in next to the fuel, just for fun. I won’t be able to get one of these, but it is a neat one to put on my list of dream bikes.P1020301



As usual, there was an assortment of forecars and three wheelers:P1020256





Parking for the Headmaster, and the Headmaster’s Visitor!


The next few photos are at the school in Handcross, our midway stop that cold morning. The coffee, tea and pastries were gobbled up pronto.






Along the sea front in Brighton:











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Words cannot express what a great day I had on the 20115 Pioneer Run.

Aldo’s new book!

May 26, 2015

Aldo Carrer has finished his latest book, a continuation of the previous one hereThe Motorcycle of 1900 is published in English, Italian and German, but could likely be understood by readers of many other languages. It features photos from Aldo’s collection, acquired via decades of work searching through European swap meets, auctions and family connections. Aldo has gathered thousands of loose images, postcards, and complete scrapbooks dating back well over 100 years. The book is focused on primitive (but quickly evolving!) vehicles with two or three wheels. They are sorted by the country of origin, with a short description and date for each photo. As with Aldo’s previous books, they are a treasure for the fan of motorized transport and also make good gifts. 


216 pages. 8.5”x12” Hardbound, published by EDS Edizioni


To buy a copy, contact Aldo here:


US pricing is 30 Euros plus shipping. I’ll ship direct from San Francisco. Anywhere in the USA is $14(or 12.86€) prepaid, or you can pick it up for free here in SF. That total is 30+12.86 = 42.86Euros to Aldo’s Paypal at the email listed above.


Europe and rest of the world pricing & shipping depends on where you live. Contact Aldo directly and he’ll set you up.



(sorry for my quick iphone snaps of his pages. They are bit fuzzy, but the books are actually clear).10514246_1036219029721806_1050464503660019626_o

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All images Copyright Aldo Carrer 2015.

2015 Pioneer Run, Part 2

April 29, 2015

Here is a link to Part 1.


Everybody was smiling as we descended on Epsom Downs as the sun rose, bringing precious, but insufficient, warmth. Being a Californian, I expected relatively cold weather and I was not surprised. However my six layers of shirts and sweaters still left me shivering. The smarter folks among us wore ski parkas instead of button down shirts and bowties!


This little guy was looking forward to the journey, and was especially pleased to place his feet upon the basket filled with chocolate Easter eggs. James Ernshaw piloted the 1907 P&M and chair with a big smile too.2015-03-22 08.05.34


I really liked the look of this 1910 Arno 500cc single. The frame tube drops down just ahead of the seat, giving a low seating position and allowing the pilot to easily reach Terra Firma. The motor is hung between motor lugs instead of using plates, and the Armstrong rear hub has a clutch and three gears that must have come in handy in the Brighton traffic.P1020257

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Regular readers will know that I have a preference for the oddball machines (stay tuned for Part 3). Resplendent in black, nickel and brass, this 2.25hp De Dion dates from 1899 and has a triangular fuel tank/surface carb under the seat.

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And this very similar machine is also an 1899, but with a cylindrical fuel tank behind the seat and a modern spray carb mounted ahead of the motor.2015-03-22 10.19.54

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Ken Lee is a UK American Excelsior aficionado. That sentence may need clarification: Excelsior was a brand of motorcycles made in the UK. To minimize confusion, the bikes made in Chicago, USA were called American Excelsiors in the UK. And Ken lives in Blighty, and rides X’s, so he’s a UK American Excelsior aficionado. Now that we are past that, here is Ken’s more exotic machine, the one and only 1904 James H. Smith. 3hp, and with a fuel tank covered in control levers. Ken found it years ago at a jumble (swap meet). It was apparently made by Mr. Smith in his workshop, using a Fafnir engine and BSA chassis parts, but not much more is known. The elephant is a nice touch.

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I take photos of this 1907 Rex every time I see it. What a beauty.

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The Premier has a few things to notice. The kangaroo on the tank logo, the Davison fuel gage in the front of the tank, and the auxiliary exhaust valve are the first three. The coil spring on the head fins adds some additional surface area to dissipate the heat to the surrounding air. Open Bosch mag, B&B carb and silencer cutouts are common fixtures on other machines of the era.2015-03-22 13.20.15


Two veteran Veloce machines, and three Velo Fellows. Dave Masters, myself and Tim Simkins had a chat overlooking the Brighton beach. Dave rode his reliable M5054, and Tim rode Ivan Rhode’s early two stroke Velocette.P1020335


The little two stroke doesn’t weigh much at all, which makes starting a little easier. The pilot stands straddling the seat and simply paddles his/her feet for a few short steps until the motor comes to life. Direct drive and no clutch keeps things simple and light.2015-03-22 14.33.14


M5054 is a little more complicated, with a unit construction two speed gearbox built into the motor. Still no bicycle pedals nor chain, so Dave is also adept at bump starting.P1020313


Dave has gone through the motor very carefully to ensure that oil passes where it should and that the available torque and hp find their way to the rear wheel.2015-03-22 13.26.53 

The two speed is foot controlled via the double ended shifter lever shown in this image.

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Lincoln Elk is not a well-known marque. Bacon and Hallworth state that LE made bikes 1902-1925 in Broadgate, Lincoln. In 1912 they featured a novel two speed gear via a countershaft with two clutches and a chain to one side of the rear wheel, and a belt drive to the other side of the rear wheel! The 1909 bike pictured below on the Pioneer Run has a conventional belt drive.

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The 1914 Calthorpe Junior is a capable little machine, making just enough dependable power to complete the run. At first glance, the 175cc motor looks like a two stroke, but there are poppet valves mounted horizontally on the rear of the motor. I think that there is also a two speed gear built into the motor, just visible underneath the magneto.2015-03-22 13.30.00


Another Douglas. This one looks very nice from the rider’s seat.

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The following pics are not Uwe’s Peugeot, but another one that is almost the same. I think that both bikes have been converted from points and coil ignition to magnetos, and this second bike has an interesting pair of sprockets on that timing chain.

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Dual rear brakes. The Truffault type front brakes don’t lend themselves to a simple brake mounting.2015-03-22 14.32.08


I’ll finish Part 2 with a few views of Rudge Multis. I’ve written about them in the past and their wonderful mechanism, click on the search button on the right of the screen to find more.


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Sorry that I’m late with my articles. Stay tuned for Pioneer Run Part 3, and the Bud Ekins Memorial Tour, and also King City too. Plus a guest article on Wagner motorcycles, maybe a quick how-to article on Burman gearboxes and a book review of “No Room for Watermelons” and an announcement of Aldo Carrer’s new book when the publisher is ready…

racing motorcycles, cement track

April 27, 2015

We don’t have to understand the words to know that our German friends surely know how to have fun!



Making Spark Plugs

April 8, 2015

Ron Fellowes famously rode his 1910 FN four cylinder 14,606km from Nepal to Belgium in 2012. You can buy his book about the trip here. I’ll have a review of the book in a few days, but first I wanted to share his notes about making his own spark plugs! He mentioned in the book that he had a little bit of trouble with the modern plugs he carried on his trip and decided to make his own when he returned home. Fascinated by the idea of home made sparking plugs, I asked him for more information…



“During my journey I met Michel Bovy, who had original spark plugs fitted to his FN4. I admired them, took lots of photos and said I would like to replicate them. Next day, Michel brought me working drawings that his friend had made the night before.



I used hex steel to make the lower body which I threaded to 18mm and an internal taper of 2 degrees was machined to form a seal between the mica washers. The mica washers were purchased from India. These were of .2 + .1 thickness, mounted on a mandrel and ground with a matching 2 degree taper. I drilled cooling holes in the appropriate places.


The top cover was originally made from Bakelite or ebony, but as I did not have either material, I made my top cover from Tufnol, a manmade compressed fibre. The centre electrode is turned from a Grade 8 bolt.




To adjust the gap (firing point), mica washers are either added or subtracted from the centre electrode.


When I used the mica spark plugs I was happy with the performance, but I found the heat range a little high. I’ve been studying the drawings closely and feel I need to remove some of the mica washers in the cover end to make them run a little colder.


It’s not time consuming to adjust the electrode gap but I do need to put a dummy centre electrode in from the spark plug terminal end to keep the two degree taper in order. I am running .018inch gap.”



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Ron is continuing to test the new plugs with rides in Australia. I’ll ask if he has any new comments in the coming months.

Click here for about 50 more How To articles.


Above photos are copyright 2014 Ron Fellowes.


early plugs

Tony Held, R.I.P.

April 3, 2015

The latest VMCC Journal arrived today with the sad news that Tony Held has passed away.


Tony was a very friendly face to all who rode on the Irish National Rally, and to many events near his home in Southern England. We had loads of fun; here’s a few pics from last year’s Irish. He always was joking around! And his old Norton Manx was not the shiniest bike, but I seemed drawn to it and took pics of it every year. It is sad to think that he won’t be attending anymore and pulling my leg with his tall tales.2014-08-29 11.39.14

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Tonight we’ll have a toast to Tony. RIP my friend.


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