You have probably seen a picture of, or maybe have even been lucky enough to see in person, one of the existing orange, antique “Flying Merkel” motorcycles. If you haven’t, here is a picture of the bike and some history of the motorcycle company.
The start of Merkel motorcycles was in 1902 when Joseph Merkel (inducted into the Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame) started building engines in Milwaukee. In 1903, he built his own 316cc one-cylinder motorcycle. Then, in 1905 he built a limited number of racing versions with a 316cc engine. In 1908, under the name Light Manufacturing and Foundry, he built the “Merkel Light” model. In 1910, he built two-cylinder versions of the model that were first sold on the market and in 1911, when the company was sold to Miami Cycle and Manufacturing Company, the model was given the name the “Flying Merkel”.
There were a number of technological improvements that were so innovative they were copied by Indian and Harley Davidson, and some of them are still used today. Examples include the improvements made on parts of the engine, front forks, and the first single-shock back end, among many others.
A good testament to the performance of the bikes is Merkel’s first racer, Maldwyn Jones, beat the champion Ernie “Cannonball” Baker, in the only race they entered in the first season. And in the following season, Jones won three out of the four races he entered. These were some of the top racers in their era and both men are in the Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, after Joseph had already left the company, Lightning Motor Company stopped production in 1915 in part to the drop in price of the Model-T. If you get the chance, you can see a “Flying Merkel” in the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, IA, or at an antique motorcycle show; you’ll love them.