There were numerous vehicles that moved the world towards the modern day motorcycles and other three-wheeled vehicles. Below are just a few examples and highlighted is the Butler Petrol Cycle.
In 1885, Karl Benz built the first three-wheeled petrol-powered vehicle with one wheel in front and two wheels in back. It still looked like a carriage, which was the predecessor to automobiles, but it was a step towards the modern-day motorcycle, by using gas, and a trike, with its wheel configuration. In 1886, John Henry Knight showed his three-wheeled petrol vehicle at the Great Exhibition in London. Knight’s three-wheeled vehicle had the same wheel configuration as Benz’s and it looked a little bit more like a trike, but it still had more of a carriage look.
Although Edward Butler built his three-wheeled cycle in 1887, he did show the plans at the 1884 Stanley Cycle Show in London and also in the 1885 Inventions Exhibition in London. His vehicle was a reverse-trike with two wheels in front and one in the back. It had a lower profile than both the Benz and Knight vehicles, so it took a step away from the carriage-style vehicles.
Butler’s Cycle had some very progressive features. It was a two-cylinder four-stroke liquid-cooled carbureted engine with the power transferred by a chain to the back wheel. The throttle was controlled by a lever and could reach speeds of over 10 mph, which was pretty fast back in those days. Braking was provided by a foot-activated pedal that actuated both front wheel brakes. The Cycle came with a lot of firsts: spark plug, jet carburetor, magneto, and coil ignition.
Butler ran into a problem in developing his tri-car further in the 1865 Red Flag Act. The Act required three people to ride with motorized vehicles that reached certain speeds, including one in the front with a red flag. With the Red Flag Act and a lack of interest in his vehicle, he ended up taking apart his Petrol Cycle and selling it for parts and scrap metal.
Butler created one other interesting design. That one had an 80 hp three-cylinder engine that stood over seven feet tall and weighed in at six and a half tons. This proved to be the last land vehicle Butler would make and he eventually moved on to building marine engines and stationary.