1954 NSU Max TT: The Odd Man Out
Designed to compete in the International Six Days Trials, this 1954 NSU Max TT is one of only 50 production bikes.
NSU was at the very first Isle of Man TT race in 1907, where NSU’s British manager, Martin Geiger, rode an NSU single to a fifth place finish.
Photo By Rick Schunk
1954 NSU Max TT
Claimed power: 21hp @ 7,000rpm
Top speed: 80mph (est.)
Engine: 247cc air-cooled OHC single, 69mm x 66mm bore and stroke, 7.7:1 compression ratio
Weight (wet): 332lb (165kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.7gal (14ltr)/55-65mpg (est.)
Price then: $745
The NSU Max was not your average motorcycle. A pressed steel frame, leading-link front fork, mono-shock rear suspension and “Ultra Max” valve train were all features that set the Max apart.
But it was exactly that technological innovation — coupled with NSU’s unique styling — that caught Minnesota motorcycle collector Mike Crane’s attention. “The first time I saw an NSU was at Mid-Ohio in 1995,” Mike recalls. “It was a Super Max, and I fell in love with the shape of the frame, the solo seat and the chrome on the gas tank. Overall, it was the styling, the Ultra Max valve drive and the build quality that drew me to the marque.”
Three years later Mike bought his first NSU, a Super Max, and he’s since added several NSUs to a burgeoning collection. Including corpses of cannibalized machines, Mike figures he has 20 NSUs, ranging from an early 1905 model to several much more pedestrian mounts, including Quickly mopeds. Mike likes them all, but there is little doubt that the prize in his fleet of NSUs is this rare 1954 Max TT — one of only 50 to have left the factory.
NSU is probably best known for its cars and motorcycles, but the company started in a completely different line of manufacturing. In 1873, two German engineers began producing knitting machines, and the fledgling concern soon moved into a factory based in Neckarsulm, Germany. NSU stands for Neckarsulm Strickmachen (literally, make stick, as in knitting needles) Union, and, because they turned out high-quality machines and components, NSU began producing bicycles, capitalizing on the two-wheeled pedaling craze that swept the world in the late 1800s.
Putting power in a bicycle frame was the next logical step, and NSU managed the feat in 1901 when they bolted in a Swiss-made Zedal engine. Soon NSU was making its own V-twin and single-cylinder engines, and NSU did not shy from putting its metal to the test, taking part in significant race and speed trial events. NSU was at the very first Isle of Man TT race in 1907, where NSU’s British manager, Martin Geiger, rode an NSU single to a fifth place finish.
NSU proved to be a fiercely competitive company over the next 30 years, but in 1947 the motorcycle maker came into its own when Albert Roder joined the ranks as chief designer. Roder developed a 98cc overhead valve lightweight dubbed the Fox 4. With a pressed steel frame and Roder’s own leading-link fork, the Fox 4 hinted at the direction NSU was heading.
Introduced in 1952, the 247cc Max fairly bristled with special features, chief among them a pressed steel frame with a mono-shock rear suspension. Hidden in the steel body under the saddle is a single spring and hydraulic damper to control movement of the rear swingarm, pre-dating Yamaha’s Mono-Shock system by some 30 years. Roder’s leading-link front fork, with its twin damper assemblies, is similar in function to the early Honda front suspension on the Dream and Super Cub. Like an Earles fork, under braking the front end tends to rise rather than dive.
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