Rare 1912 Henderson Four

Frank Westfall’s 1912 Henderson Four is believed to be one of six still in existence today.

| January/February 2014

Side view of a rare 1912 Henderson Four

1912 Henderson Four

Photo By Sedrick Mitchell

1912 Henderson Four
Claimed power: 7hp (claimed)
Touring speed: 40mph
Engine: 58.9ci (965cc) air-cooled sidevalve inline four, 2.5in x 3in bore and stroke
Weight (dry/est.): 300lb (136kg)
Fuel capacity: 2gal (7.6ltr) 

One hundred and two years ago, Carl Stearns Clancy and Walter Storey left Philadelphia by ship, bound for Ireland where they would embark upon a ride around the world on two brand-new, 1912 Henderson Fours. Once in Ireland, Storey crashed his bike on the first day, then suffered through rotten weather before deciding to call it quits in Paris.

Clancy soldiered on, sending telegrams marking his progress to his sponsors, Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review. Eventually he reached Japan, then shipped out for San Francisco. Braving the almost nonexistent roads across the U.S., he reached New York on Aug. 27, 1913. The 18,000-mile trip had taken 10 months.

The coming of Henderson

By 1912, motorcycles had been manufactured commercially for 18 years. Most were powered by a version of the French De Dion-Bouton single-cylinder engine, one of the first commercially viable motorcycle engines. The De Dion had total-loss lubrication, a vacuum operated intake valve (opening from the suction of the piston on its downward stroke) and an exhaust valve that ran off a cam geared to the crankshaft. To start one of these early bikes, you put the bike on the centerstand and start pedaling. Once the bike’s running, you push it forward and away you go. If you want to stop, you have to kill the engine — early bikes have no clutch — and then pedal the bike to restart.

The Henderson that took Clancy around the world was different. Compared to the De Dion-based single-cylinder machines, and even the V-twins (still based on the De Dion single) that were then becoming popular, it was easy to start, quiet, smooth, powerful and reliable. The Henderson was the world’s first real long-distance touring bike: the Gold Wing of 1912.

Prior to the Henderson 4-cylinder, two other fours were available in the U.S. The FN, designed and built in Belgium by Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre, was introduced at the 1905 Paris Cycle Show. It displaced 362cc, had then state of the art magneto ignition, and was lubricated by splash. The intake valves were vacuum operated, and it was the first commercial motorcycle with shaft drive. The first FN Fours had no gears or clutch, but a 2-speed transmission was available on an aftermarket basis in about 1908.

bike on highway

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