Thursday, July 21, 2016
My Town's Motorcycle History - The Flanders Motorcycle Company
Recently, I've been involved with a project to bring a Flanders motorcycle back to Chelsea, Michigan where it was built and donate it to the local Historical Society.
Every winter, a few of us local motorcycle folks get together once a month in a local pub to eat, drink, and talk motorcycles. These occasions were named Barley Therapy by the gent that started it all and felt we all needed a little therapy during the months we couldn't ride motorcycles. Things like the history of the Flanders come up for discussion.
The Flanders motorcycle was built in Chelsea from 1911 through 1913. It was intended to be a motorcycle for everyman and was sold for $175. At the time, the advertising propaganda claimed that Flanders had the largest motorcycle factory in the country, but that is probably stretching things a bit. The pictures above are historical pictures of the building where the motorcycles were built. Note the line of bikes being assembled and the engines sitting on the floor across the isle. The factory is empty, but still stands. It is part of a larger factory complex that is now in use as retail and office space. A test track used to be behind the assembly building.
One of our number, Elliott Andrews, spent part of his winter in California and found a 1911 Flanders motorcycle in a private museum. A long story short, with donations from local businesses and residents, we were able to raise most of the money to buy the Flanders. Some additional funds were lent to the project to complete the sale and we now have the motorcycle at home, where it was built.
For now, we are learning everything we can about the bike, raising money to complete the purchase and for the changes needed to make it safe to ride. We are also showing the bike in the area. The pictures and video are from an antique motorcycle meet at Wauseon, Ohio.
These engines are very interesting. It is a 4 stroke, 500 cc single that makes 4 Hp. It has what is known as an atmospheric intake which means that the intake valve isn't operated mechanically. The intake valve opens when the pressure in the cylinder is low enough to compress the valve spring. There is a cam to operate the exhaust valve, but the valve and spring are visible on the outside of the engine.
The big U shape thing on the front of the engine is the magneto. The right side twist grip controls the ignition timing, while the left controls the throttle.
The engine is started by having the rear wheel up on a stand. The rider turns the pedals which turn the rear wheel. The big leather belt on the left side of the rear wheel connects the engine to the rear wheel. No kick start, no electric starter, just pedal like mad and hope the engine starts.
The only brake is a bicycle style, coaster brake. Better plan your stopping well in advance.
The YouTube video is the first engine start, complete with oil smoke. We definitely need to get control of the oiling system. Lubrication is by a total loss oil system. You have to set the oil flow out of the tank at 15 drops per minute. Too much oil and it builds up inside the engine, robbing horsepower. Too little oil and you are stuck on the side of the road with a broken engine.
I hope you enjoy our little project and the idea of bringing an important chapter in the history of our town back to our little museum. Naturally, we would be grateful if anyone feels moved to donate, although we don't expect anything. Those so moved should send donations to the Chelsea, Michigan Historical Society, specifically the 1911 Flanders motorcycle fund. I'm sure I can find more detailed information if someone is interested.
My little joke - "The Flanders on an IV"
In reality, the 100+ year old gas tank is made of copper and has a leak or two at present. The plastic bottle feeding the carb is very much like a hospital IV.