Sunday, 25 April 2010

CYCLONE- 1913-1916.

The Cyclone is probably one of the most purposeful bikes of all time and was certainly way ahead of its time in terms of engine build and performance. The bike was built by Joerns Motor Manufacturing Company of St Paul, Minnesota, USA, which itself grew out of the Thiem Manufacturing Company, an engine builder which operated from 1903 to 1911. Board-track and dirt-track motorcycle racing were big money earners in America during the early 20th century with Indian and Harley-Davidson leading the way and then Cyclone came onto the scene in 1912 with their 1000cc, over-head cam v-twin.
The bevel drive ohc engine was designed by Swedish engineer, Andrew Strand, and was possibly the most powerful motorcycle engine of the day. The motors ran very well and were very strong but the frame was really nothing more than a modified bicycle frame with an unpadded leather saddle and even bicycle pedals.
While racing a Cyclone in 1914, development engineer J.A.McNeil set a new speed record of 111 mph, beating the Excelsior of Lee Hummiston at 100mph (yes this was 1914!). The quality of the workmanship was very high in most regards, as the motors were machined to very high accuracy. Ultimately, the motors and the bikes were not as reliable as more conventional designs. Some races were lost due to mundane issues like cracked fuel tanks or broken chains, but some were lost due to exhaust valve and piston breakages.
J.A.McNeil on a Cyclone
Racing is what Cyclones did best, and the name most closely associated with them after that of designer Andrew Strand is Don Johns, perhaps the most successful of all Cyclone riders. In a 1941 magazine interview, Johns recalled some things about the legendary Cyclone... "The yellow rig attracted a great deal of attention wherever I raced it. It used special Swedish precision bearings and was very light and very powerful. The motor was so powerful that I would wear out a set of tires in just a few laps. I switched from U.S. Tires to a newly designed Goodyear and that helped. It was the first racer to turn over 5000 rpms. It had a unique sound and was often five to seven miles per hour faster than the other factory rigs."
Don Johns on his Cyclone
One legendary victory for Johns on the Cyclone was a winner-take-all one-lap race around a mile dirt track in Phoenix on November 18, 1913. The promoter offered the princely sum of $1000 to the vehicle that could lap the mile the fastest – that included planes flying just above the mile oval. Johns and the Cyclone beat the automobile ace Barney Oldfield and barnstorming pilot Lincoln Beachly to win the prize.
The Cyclone, while often the fastest motorcycle at a race, suffered from reliability problems. Johns easily turned the fastest lap times and many times built big leads only to suffer mechanical problems with the bike. The most infamous race for Johns and Cyclone was the epic 1915 Dodge City 300. A total of seven manufacturers fielded factory teams in the event. Harley-Davidson, debuting in the classic race, and Indian each had eight riders. Johns, on the Cyclone, turned laps over two mph faster than Dave Kinney’s qualifying speed in the early laps and was heavily favoured to win the race. He opened a large lead, lapping a number of riders in the first fifty miles. Then the bike began to fade and he lost the lead just before the 100-mile mark and later dropped out of the running. Johns also lead similarly in the 100-mile national at Ascot Park until the Cyclone again failed before reaching the chequered flag. Johns did win a number of shorter races on the Cyclone, including the 1 mile FAM National held in Sacramento in July of 1915.
The company owners of Cyclone had little experience or even interest in marketing, building up dealerships or service, production was slow and expensive, profits were minimal, so the owners eventually stopped production in 1915 after no more than 300 Cyclones had been built. A number of ttempts were made to revive the Cyclone. Firstly, in 1916, a Chicago businessman bought the assets and moved the machinery, partially completed bikes and all the remaining parts to Chicago, where they were stored in a warehouse. Two other investors got involved, but were unable to get the business up and running. Four years later, the left-overs were sold and moved to Cheboygan, Michigan, where a building was put up and production was set to resume. This never happened either and another move to Benton Harbor, Michigan was made. Another factory was prepared and Andrew Strand was brought in to update the design. A new Cyclone with a three-speed transmission (reportedly based on an Excelsior unit) was displayed and adverts appeared in motorcycling magazines. Again, nothing came of it. The Cyclone's last gasp came in 1923. A racer called the Reading-Standard competed in several races. As it turned out, this was a Cyclone bearing a different name on its tank. Reading-Standard (itself recently purchased by the Cleveland Motor Company), had acquired all remaining Cyclone assets and put together one last racer from left-over parts.
A painting of a 1916 Cyclone by Don Bradley

Engine: 45degree OHC V-Twin 
Capacity: 1000cc
Horsepower: 45bhp
Wheelbase: 53" (135cm)
Weight: 260lbs (118kg)
Top Speed: 110mph (177kph)
Cost: $350

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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.