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National Treasures

A look at the vintage motorcycles on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.


1911 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer

1911 Flying Merkel 1

1911 Flying Merkel Board Track Racer

This classic Flying Merkel motorcycle is part of a new display of board track racers at the National Motorcycle Museum. The following is excerpted from a history by Joe Michaud: 

"Originally centered in Milwaukee, ... (Merkel's) machines featured integral exhaust systems that used frame tubes as silencers, and easier-to-use incorporation of throttle opening and spark advance, and an innovative oil system. The Merkel company soon merged with a small manufacturing firm in Pollstown, Penn., where the machines continued to incorporate other ingenious designs, most of which were quickly adapted by the telescoping front fork that are clear predecessors of modern frame design. Merkel was offered another merger and he joined a bicycle-manufacturing firm in Middletown, Ohio where manufacturing began in earnest with the introduction of the first big-bore V-twin, which used a 61-cubic-inch motor. He now called his machines “Flying Merkel.”

"Merkel insisted on superior build-quality and he personally scrutinized the building of most Flying Merkel models. ... The 1911 sales brochure for Flying Merkel advertises that a “Flying Merkel achieved a distance of one measure mile in 41.4 seconds.” That’s a tick under 87mph." 

1911 Flying Merkel 2 

"The Flying Merkel owed much of its popular success (and its high price) to its high-tech motor. The big V-twin used ball bearings on connecting-rod big ends and on main bearings, rather than the bronze bushes that were common on most machines of the era."

"The operation of machines from this era required a different set of rules. The drill is as follows: set the bike on its rear wheel stand and fill the crankcase with the required amount of oil using the provided glass syringe. Start the ignition and engage the clutch. Set the throttle and choke/prime the carburetor. Raise both exhaust valves with the bar end de-compressor latch. Pedal until the motor chuffs to life, then drop the exhaust valve latch allowing full compression. Throw out the clutch to release the rear wheel and belt. Adjust the ignition advance and throttle the position as needed while the motor warms. Adjust the automatic oiler for appropriate setting and check for correct exhaust color denoting proper oiling. Clip up rear stand. Mount the machine and begin to pedal away while feeding in some clutch. The clutch detents allow the clutch friction to be modulated while both hands are busy adjusting the left grip for magneto advance and the right grip for throttle position. Continue to adjust throttle and timing while gradually clicking the clutch through the detents until full lock-up is achieved."