Race ready machine from 1960 the Rumi Junior 125

Bygone Bikes

Pioneering manufacturers from around the Globe who endeavoured to top the two wheel sales charts but lapsed into distant motorcycle memories…….

USA – Neracar 1921-27

1924 Model B Ner-a -car produced by Simplex at the Kingston worksOriginally, this American designed machine was built in Syracuse, New York State until 1923 and then assembly began in Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey until 1927. The name alone tells a story.  Carl Neracher designed the ‘Stateside’ version and around 1918 the Sheffield Simplex company in the UK were seeking post war production after 4 years of supplying arms. Neracher penned a pressed steel monocoque frame, incorporating hub centre steering with a very low seat and large foot boards. A cylindrical fuel tank positioned under the rider’s seat fuelled the American versions 211cc two stroke single which protruded from the body work with variable friction drive via a chain to the rear wheel. J Allan Smith, a partner in the project was trying to secure funds in America for full production and he invited H H Powell from Sheffield Simplex to take a licence supplying the Ner-a-car to the UK market. The imminent arrival of this new machine was announced via the Isle of Man TT in 1921 and pre-production models were tested; one ridden 1000 miles non-stop in England. 1922 and production in the US began and in November Erwin ‘Cannonball’ Baker rode the Neracar from ‘sea to shining sea’ New York To LA in seven days; 3300 miles. ‘Cannonball’ would cover this journey many times on various machines; his legacy was inspiring a series of illegal races and Burt Reynolds films. The first UK versions arrived in 1923 with a larger 285cc two stroke and just a year later it received the Blackburne 350cc side valve with conventional gearbox in the Kingston built C model. Sales began to stall by 1927 after 6500 had been produced in the UK and around 10000 had left Syracuse; the following year the Neracar or Ner-a-car ceased and today there are thought to be less than 100 world-wide.

Germany – TWN (Triumph) 1903-57

TWN’s together with a 1952 BDE 250H and a 1954 BOSSWhilst in ‘Blighty’ the Triumph brand bears the Union Jack with pride, the ‘Triumph Werke Nurnberg’ can claim the name in equal measures. Siegfried Bettmann and Maurice Schulte were the founding names for the Coventry works in 1897, with bicycles their main production until 1903 by which time a Nurnberg factory had opened offering the same products. Whilst Coventry initially supplied the Germans with many components, including engines of 500cc, using the same name caused confusion; after selecting the name ‘Orial’ it was found a French company had already secured the rights and following the Wall Street crash in 1929 the renamed TWN and Triumph parted company. The Nurnberg factory quickly secured a deal with Swiss made MAG to supply the larger 350-750cc engines whilst producing its own 198 and 294cc two stroke power plants. The supply of total burning machines for the home market proved buoyant and with the employment of Chief Designer Otto Reitz a series of popular models were created. War production took control by the late 1930s and post war TWN were surprisingly one of the first motor cycle manufacturers to resume; initially with 125 and 250cc machines. Telescopic forks arrived in 1949 and plunger rear suspension the year after, with a new 250 machine in 1951. As production increased so did development and this included the 350 BOSS, first shown at Geneva in 1953 with specially designed exhausts reducing noise; TWN proclaimed themselves as ‘Producers of the Whispering Motorcycle’. The same year would be the companies ‘Golden Jubilee’ and after 50 years and to commemorate an all new 197cc Cornet, the model incorporated full swing arm suspension. In 1956 the same machine received 12 volt electrics and was acclaimed as one of the best machines of the era. Strangely, along with Adler Motorcycles of Frankfurt, TWN was taken over by Max Grundig and would produce office equipment by 1958.

Italy – Moto Rumi 1949-62

Race ready machine from 1960 the Rumi Junior 125Donnino Rumi was a sculpture and artist who worked with light alloys for textile machines prior to WW1; his personality reflected in his motorcycles and especially the Rumi scooters that were decades ahead visually. Prior to and during WW2 the company produced armaments including midget subs and torpedoes which explains the logo on their bikes featuring an anchor. Post war, the scooter and small capacity motorcycle craze swept across Italy and Rumi produced their first machine powered by a distinctive 125cc two stroke, horizontal twin. The Bergamo factory enjoyed the arrival of designer Giuseppe Salmaggi followed by the Squirrel scooter that would be offered in a race version and larger capacity engines for road going machines. Performance levels of Rumi power plants ensured they were the fastest such transport available during that era. Sports and super-sport racing motorcycles were offered by the mid-50s and it would be a Rumi factory ‘Competitzoine’ that won the 1954 Italian Championship. It would be the companies 125cc ‘Formichino’ scooter, heavily modified that took three 24 hour Bol d’Or race wins at Monthlery in 1957-58-60; a subsequent version was produced in recognition of this achievement. The twin carb engine fitted into the scooter was also successful in their race motorbikes, offering a top speed of over 100mph. Both Rumi motorcycles and particularly the scooters were expensive against the competition and once Lambretta (Li150/GP200) and Vespa (GS160-180) began to build larger capacity versions sales inevitably slowed. By 1960 Rumi could no longer compete and production ceased, although the name returned briefly in the late 1980s when Honda/Team Rumi entered an RC30 in WSB with Fred Merkel on board. Several other machines have enjoyed the Rumi name as part of their livery but the original visionary and founder Donnino Rumi returned to the art world and would continue crafting sculptures and paintings until his death in 1980.

England – The Norman 1939-62

Norman B4 Sports twin from the early 1960sCharles and Fred Norman returned from trench life post WW1 and set up a bicycle frame making business in a garden shed located in Ashford, Kent. Their business grew quickly and by 1935 a new factory was opened with the Norman name above the door; supplying cycles and two Villiers powered machines. The ‘Motobyke’ was the perfect name for a push bike with an engine attached, whilst the ‘Light-weight’ was more conventional. WW2 interrupted production but the Norman’s were quickly ‘back into the fray’ post conflict with a new range for 1949. The Scottish Six Day Trail was entered by the factory in the early 50s and an outright win was celebrated in the 125cc class in 1953. In 1954 production of the ‘Nippy’ moped began, soon to be joined by the ‘Lido’ model; overall thousands were produced. Norman’s test and development were also involved with advancing Armstrong leading link forks and produced the Mark 2 version under licence. In fact, the companies R&D were very active with engine testing involving British Anzani, Excelsior and Villiers power plants. The phrase ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ was most apt when Norman entered the Thruxton 500 race in 1959 with factory employee Les Hatch and John Punnet, a greengrocer where they took 2nd place in the 250cc class on a virtually stock B3 model. Norman secured over £10,000 worth of orders directly after the race. The new B4 Norman offered 100mph performance in 1960 but the company’s mainstay mopeds saw sales beginning to slow; Raleigh began to take a controlling interest in Norman and both Fred and Charles retired in 1961 closing the Ashford works. Raleigh transferred all works to Smethwick and Nottingham with the B4 being produced in Roadster and Sports models for another year. Whilst some mopeds continued for a short while produced by Motorbecane in France, unfortunately the Norman name had all but disappeared by 1963.