The Flying Merkel


This year I plan on writing at least 4 column’s titled “FLASHBACK” each one featuring a different Vintage motorcycle, starting today with the “Flying Merkel.” His name was Joseph Merkel, he staring building motorcycles in 1903 in Milwaukee not very far from Harley and the Davidson brothers at exactly the same time.

Merkel was among the most innovative of the pioneer motorcycle builders. By 1905 Merkel had decided to engage in competition and produced several racing machines. Merkel’s motorcycles were to set many performance standards in the emerging American racing scene. These machines and their riders enabled Merkel to develop a patented spring front fork that was to become the forerunner of the modern telescopic front fork. This fork became the instrument of choice on racing machines. Also, the mono-shock rear suspension was developed, a system used today on several modern motorcycles.

Merkel’s slogan became: “All roads are smooth to The Flying Merkel”. Merkel also used ball bearings as opposed to bronze bushings in the engine. In contrast to primitive atmospheric pressure intake valves, Merkel designed a cam-actuated mechanism. Merkel also pioneered a throttle-controlled engine oiler that long preceded Harley’s and Indian’s.

In 1911 the Miami Cycle Manufacturing Company purchased Merkel, and production was completely moved to Middletown Ohio. In 1914 the flying Merkel won the National endurance run from Chicago to St Louis. We must remember that in the turn of the century when motorcycle manufacturers were popping up everywhere, racing was the only way to show what you were made of. Engineering innovation, high quality, and racing successes were not enough to sustain this progressive endeavor. The onset of war, a contracting market, and increased competition caused production of The Flying Merkel to falter. The final Merkel machines were produced in 1917.

In the few years of its existence, The Flying Merkel became a true motorcycle legend. Surviving Merkel’s are seldom seen these days, they are widely recognized as icons of the early motorcycle years.

Trivia Question of the Month:

Question:  What were the only 2 years the FXST Softail came stock from the factory with a Kickstart?

Answer to last month’s trivia question:

Question:  The Black Hills Rally is a very popular motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis, SD. What motorcycle club started this great rally?

Answer: The Jack Pine Gypsies Motorcycle Club.

This rally has been going strong since 1938.


If you think you know the answer, email: Bo at

Bo’s Monthly Words of Wisdom:

It matters not whether you win or lose;
what matters is whether I win or lose.

“Live to Ride or Step Aside”

Written by Bo
“The Hog Shoppe Inc.”