Motorcycling Like It’s 1905 With A Home Made Engine

The modern motorcycle represents the pinnacle of over a century of refinement in design and manufacture of its every component. A modest outlay will secure you a machine capable of three figure speeds with impeccable handling, breathtaking acceleration and stopping power, that somehow seems also to possess bulletproof reliability that will take it to a hundred thousand miles of faithful transport.

At the dawn of the internal combustion engine age it was a different matter. Machines were little more than bicycles with rudimentary engines attached, brakes and tyres were barely capable of doing the job demanded of them, and the early motorcyclists were a hardy and daring breed.

You might think that this article would now head into retrotechtacular territory with a nostalgic look at an early motorcycle, but instead its subject has a much more recent origin. We happened upon [Buddfab]’s contemporary build of a 1905-era motorcycle, and we think it’s a bike you’d all like to see.

The bike itself is a faithful reproduction of a typical Edwardian machine. It has a modified bicycle frame with a belt drive and springer front forks. That’s all very impressive, but the engine is a masterpiece, crafting a more modern parts bin into something resembling a 1905 original. He’s taken the cylinder, piston, and half a cylinder head from an aircooled VW flat four and mated it with the crankshaft of a 125cc Honda, welding the two connecting rods together to join German and Japanese parts. With a custom-made crankcase, Lucas points, and the carburetor from a British Seagull outboard motor it both looks and sounds like an original, though we’d expect it to be significantly more reliable.

You can see videos of both bike and engine below the break, as he takes it for a spin through American suburbia. Sadly we’ll never see it passed to the definitive writer on early motorcycles for an expert view, but it would fool us completely.

And here is a video description of the engine.

We’ve covered quite a few motorcycle builds over the years here at Hackaday. If your tastes run to older machinery how about this 1921 Ner-a-Car rebuild, otherwise may we bring this gas-turbine monster to your attention?


76 thoughts on “Motorcycling Like It’s 1905 With A Home Made Engine

  1. manufacture of it[‘]s, not manufacture of its.

    A modest outlay will secure you a machine capable of three figure speeds with impeccable handling, breathtaking acceleration and stopping power, that somehow seems also to possess bulletproof reliability that will take it to a hundred thousand miles of faithful transport. = run on sentence

    At the dawn of the internal combustion engine age[,] it was a different matter.

    but instead it[‘]s subject

    With a custom-made crankcase, Lucas points, and the carburetor from a British Seagull outboard motor[,] it both looks and sounds like an original[.] [A]lthough we’d expect it to be significantly more reliable.

    Quite a few sentences should really have been made into proper, separate sentences.

    Who proofread or greenlit this? Editors?

    1. Um, without putting too fine a point on it, you are an imbecile.

      it’s = it is (or it has)
      its = belonging to it

      It’s a common mistake indeed, but to call out someone for using correct English and insist they change it for incorrect English is almost the very definition of hubris.

      Your application for the position of HaD editor (which they do sorely need) is hereby rejected.

      1. I have no desire to edit anything. I just don’t want to cringe every few sentences because the newish “pay freelance writers by the article routine” has degraded the quality of some of the posts. Are you really saying that this article appears to be well written and has had basic proofreading done to it? Sure, everybody makes a few mistakes but this one was pretty bad.

        It’s is a contraction for it is or it has.
        Its is the possessive form of the neuter pronoun “it” — his, her, its.

          1. I had a two thousand word rebuttal penned for Waterjet’s incorrecting of grammar, but screw it. That would just clog up the comments with off-topic shit even more.

            Instead, I will ask 1) if readers would like to see corrections to posts, they should freaking email us instead of shitting up the comments. You’re more easily ignored that way. 2) Please use the word ‘incorrecting’ to refer to this type of comment here. This should greatly annoy the incorrectors because verbing weirds language, and that’s something they’re against or something.
            2b) refer to these people as incorrectors. I just coined that one.

          2. When we “freaking email you instead of shitting up the comments”, you ninja edit it and don’t even note the corrections OR THAT YOU CHANGED ANYTHING. This has happened countless times. Plus, your email box is a cesspool of backlog/tips/marketing/corrections/etc that doesn’t get checked as regularly. People are going to correct things in the comments and also email you as well, only serving to clog things up more.

            Then even though you can and do freely edit articles, you impose the inability to edit comments. It’s a double standard.

            On top of that, you get bent out of shape when anybody suggests that there are any issues with the article, rather than carefully considering that just perhaps, a few items really might need to be improved. You can’t say that everything was grammatically correct in the original article. It’s not a personal attack to point out grammatical issues.

            I don’t get paid for any of the tips I do send in (many of which have been published), any of the suggestions or helpful links or discussions or, at times, criticism of things not being technically accurate on a technical website. Not sure why I even bother if nothing changes and all I am met with is “email us privately so we can ninja edit and save face”.

          3. Please don’t yield to Benchoff’s demands. He didn’t “coin” that phrase, he is just wants to make coin from it. “Incorrector” will be Benchy’s super villain name when he gets bitten by a radioactive arduino. Post the syntax errors here in the comments section where they belong. Your moral and grammatical vigilance is the only thing that keeps this place from going full reddit, and the only reason we keep coming back.

      2. Arguments aside, @Waterjet is actually correct here.


        “Confusables note
        A very common mistake is to write its (the possessive form of it) when it’s (the short form of it is or it has) is required: It’s [it is] unclear what he meant. It’s [it has] been wonderful seeing you again.But do not use it’s for it has when has is the main verb: It has a strong flavor; use it sparingly cannot be written as It’s a strong flavor…”

    2. Why thank you for the useful lesson in the use of the English language, I will be sure to pay close attention!

      I find it amusing when comments like this one appear. I’ve had a long career mostly in the tech side of the electronic publishing industry before coming to Hackaday, and before setting out on my own I had a long stint at somewhere that might lay claim to being rather a centre of excellence when it comes to these matters. I was the only electronic engineering graduate working for the Oxford Dictionaries. I like to think my use of the language was not too bad before I ended up there, but I am indebted to the very experienced and patient lexicographers whose editing of anything I wrote taught me a lot about how to write and sharpened up my literacy no end. I am not running down [Mike] when I say this, but they were the most demanding editors I could have hoped for.

      On the subject of the apostrophe in “it’s”, it is there to signify that a letter or word that should be there is missing. So “It is” or “It has” has been abbreviated to “It’s”. It is not the possessive “its”, as in “The thing that pertains to it”.

      1. Two things – most important first:

        1) Does this mean [Benchoff] is going to give our popcorn back? … after he so quickly took it away earlier in this post ? :)

        2) I am an older generation person and like other older people I was taught language very well.

        2a) We had to understand the different word types (noun, verb, adjective, conjunction) and where they were appropriate.

        2b) And that is becoming less and less significant now with the constant exposure grammatically incorrect writings of today (no suggestion about HAD here). Go read a high profile news site for examples of bad grammar!

        2c) Children today are taught phonetic language where the most significant aspect is that it reads like it *might* ‘sound right’.

        2d) So if you need to correct bad grammar then please save me the trouble of wasting my life doing so! Thank you.

        2e) @ [Benchoff] … I really do want my popcorn back :)

        2f) [Jenny List]’s articles are great. I enjoy reading the writings of an experienced and educated person. (out of sequence but definitely the most important! – except for the popcorn.

      2. I greatly enjoy Jenny’s articles and think they’re well-written, but in the spirit of irony I must point this out: “how to write and sharpened up my literacy [to] no end.”

    3. In a mad rush to publish material these days quality are ignored/ out the window. Don’t expect good quality language now a days. I compare this with the old days of television when one, two or few channels were available. Due to the limited air time, only the best of programs were aired. Now 24x7x365 means dishing out anything; even if it really only crap just to fill pages/ airtime.

      likewise here, don’t take it personal. Enjoy the hack/ tech details, and ignore the rest of the crap. Compare the quality of HAD articles few years back and now. Pointing out the obvious will back fire the same crap at you, demand that you become an editor, or toot that you are incapable.

    4. I hat discussions about spelling or grammer in articles or forums other than language specific (e.g. technical forums). As long as I can understand the meaning I give a shit about minor mistakes.


    5. @Waterjet

      I’d like to point out in the most polite way that – in my opinion – you seem like an annoying and nitpicking ass.

      The article was entertaining, informative and covered all the things many of us wanted to read and know about the subject. Thank you, Jenny.

      Also, many of us readers, like me, are not native english speakers. We could never hope to produce english text to the quality these authors do. With proofreading or without.

    1. Interesting question. The frame doesn’t have those scary kinks, and is a tried-and-tested double-triangle. The headstock is integrated into the frame, not hanging out of the front on a piece of pipe. And the welds are of infinitely better quality, without any wrenches or solid chain. So I’d expect this frame won’t disintegrate when faced with the load it’ll be subjected to.

      Also this engine may be awesome, but it’s probably going to be pretty weedy compared even to the Honda 50 on the other bike. It’s not going to push frame, tyres, or brakes beyond their safety margins on dry straight and flat American suburban roads.

      I’d ride this bike in a heartbeat. I’m afraid I wouldn’t ride the other.

  2. It says the cylinder is from a VW engine and the head is half a VW cylinder head.

    I thought a VW engine was a horizontally opposed air cooled twin cylinder with about 750cc displacement.

    How could you use *half* a cylinder head and wouldn’t 375cc’s be way too much for a bike?

    I love that it can just keep running ever so slowly.

    1. I wonder what compression ratio does he run. My guess is it had to be lowered, cause 125cc engine crank would probably bend under the full force of 375cc kick. Lower ratio makes the combustion smoother, timing requirements are lower and the engine runs less jerky, which is very desirable here – yet at the cost of horsepower. It is still a guess though (cannot watch the vid atm).

    2. The VW engine is a flat four, so taking half the cylinder of one side gives you a single cylinder of 200 to 400 cc, depending on the engine. The automatic inlet valve and welded conrod will mean its a low speed, low power engine for the capacity.

  3. Absolutely beautiful ‘bike’! It’s almost steampunk; just needs brass wheels.
    Great engine build! I concur with [RÖB], the slow idle is great to hear.

    This motorcycle looks like something MacGyver would make if he had a week to do it. :D

  4. This was a great joy to watch, nice build, nice video. Not some video with a wobbly camera sweeping from left to right up down or anoying music. This video was an homage to the build. Thanks for sharing.

    1. That’s less of an American thing, and more of a local dialect. I haven’t conducted a formal survey or the like, but I’m on the phone all day, with people across the country, (U.S.A.) and it seems to be a mostly north eastern phenomenon. But because of the way interstate migration seems to work, I get it from California, Florida, and Texas as well.
      The annoying “oh” instead of “Zero” seems to be nearly universal now though.

      That said… The reason we’re here. Nice bike, Has a nice nostalgic sound, and look. Lucas points though… homage to the prince of darkness there.

    2. Middle-aged middle American here. I was taught, regarding the written-out form or pronunciation of numbers, to only use “and” when introducing a fractional part. For example: 105 is “one hundred five”; 100 5/9 is “one hundred and five ninths”.

      1. Ditto.

        Many teachers drove this point home including my parents.

        I notice modern teaching use, “point,” as in one hundred and five point six. A symptom of using digital calculators I suppose.

  5. Great article, Jenny. Please keep them coming, and please keep using those terrible literary habits that you developed when working at Oxford Dictionaries.

    Also, great build. I’ve re-built several motorcycles, but to scratch build one, including engine, is a truly amazing achievement! Another amazing achievement is getting those Lucas electrics to work.

  6. “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”
    ― Dorothy Parker

  7. The original bike probably had to stop every mile to refill the oil. I imagine it leaked like a sieve. I don’t blame him for wanting some reliability out of the critical part.

    Side note: I used to have long chats with an old biker who was really into Harley in the 60’s and 70’s and he told me the engines coming out of the manufacturing plant leaked oil like crazy. Everyone knew that when you got your hands on a fresh Harley, you would have to tear it apart and rework the mating surfaces of the engine. It’s like buying modern Chinese power tools. You KNOW you’re going to do some engineering to true it up.

  8. Whippersnappers. When I was a child, we had to make the light for the letters ourselves. My grandam told me about when the had to scratch the letters with their whole hand. Is it possible that it is the ease with which we make whole words, we no longer think about them when we write them. And for the record, I was always instructed to not use contractions in a professional setting. With the exception of spoken or in character speech.

    If y’all be understandin my words in the meaning. Then you be on this boat as long as I. And the speachen is not as needed as with understanding the meenen.

  9. And by now, I really lost the pleasure of reading about the matter of the article, because this sh** just become a lexocographicallyshit war of egos and grammar nazis. I know of engineers that spell a few words like an illiterate however were responsible for huge successfull implementations of high tech. Sorry, english purists readers that may also be xenofobic but I am a foreigner and do not master the english to an master academic level…

  10. @ Jenny List–
    I’ve got to say this.
    From an Honors English, MSEE (with Solid State Physics minor): You write beautifully; at least as well as any of the popular ‘sclence explainers’, e.g., Sagan, Clarke, Tyson, Asimov, Ferris, McKellar, Roach, Kaku, et. al.
    Keep it up, and ignore the porcine population (as in “…casting pearls before swine…”).

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