Memorable Motorcycles Cyclemaster

September 14, 2005
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

The Cyclemaster had a huge impact on British cultural life  providing affordable personal transportation to the masses.
The Cyclemaster had a huge impact on British cultural life, providing affordable personal transportation to the masses.

Some motorcycles become renowned for race winning performance, others for their stunning good looks. Few bikes, though, can claim to have played a pivotal role in a social revolution. The Cyclemaster is one such machine.

The story begins with DKW and pre-war Germany. The Zschopau-based company was the world leader in two-stroke technology and developed the Schnurle loop-scavenging system which is the basis of all two-strokes even today. From this high-tech environment came a vast range of two-strokes, from the utilitarian RT125 to the exotic supercharged GP bikes. In this mass of leading-edge designs was an incredibly neat, disc-valved 25cc power unit designed to be fitted directly in place of the rear wheel of a conventional pedal cycle.

DKW never actually manufactured the new powerplant and, after the war, the original drawings found their way to Holland via Bernhard Neumann, an ex-DKW designer. Neumann re-worked the original DKW design with the help of Rinus Bruynzeel and Nico Groenerdijke and, in 1949, the neat powerplant went into production in Holland retaining its original 25.7cc form.

The new engine was outstandingly the best of the “cycle motor” powerplants – tiny engines designed to provide power for bicycles – and its potential was soon recognized in Britain. In 1950, an uprated, 32cc version of the original design was in full production and almost 250,000 British built Cyclemasters were manufactured over the next 11 years. This makes the Cyclemaster outstandingly the most successful British-built motorcycle of all time, in terms of numbers produced.

The reason for Cyclemaster’s success is simple: it is an extremely clever, effective piece of engineering which far exceeded its design brief. To begin with, the powerplant was universal and easy to install in any bicycle. The whole unit, including the fuel tank, simply slotted in place of the bicycle’s rear wheel leaving only two cables – one for the throttle and the other to lift the clutch – to be routed to the handlebars. By contrast, other cyclemotors required mounting brackets and friction drives on to the front or rear wheels of the bicycle.

Being disc-valved, the tiny engine was incredibly torquey and genuine 20-mph cruising was possible. Starting was easy too. Because the Cyclemaster had a clutch, the bicycle could be pedaled up to a speed where the engine would fire, the clutch dropped and then, with a little light pedal assistance, the Cyclemaster would power away.

The tiny engine produced 0.6bhp at only 3,700rpm and, despite having no gears, this was enough power to deal with hills – if the rider provided a little help with the pedals.

One of the keys to the Cyclemaster s success was its simple design which could be mounted onto any bicycle.
One of the keys to the Cyclemaster’s success was its simple design which could be mounted onto any bicycle.

Even driven hard, 200 mpg was achievable. Being fitted with a coaster rear brake, operated by reversing the bicycle’s pedals, the Cyclemaster also stopped better than other cyclemotor-equipped bicycles, which often contaminated the rubber block rim brakes with two-stroke mix.

The Cyclemaster was also affordable. Costing around 30 pounds, at a time when an average wage was 5 pounds a week, the powerplant was Purchase Tax free and could be bought on the newly introduced Hire Purchase schemes imported from America. For the first time in history, a reliable, practical, personal transport system was available to the masses.

The social impact was immense. No longer were workers locked into living in the terraced houses adjacent to their places of work – or reliant on trams, trains, and buses. Now, they could commute from the newly built suburban housing estates on the outskirts of towns.

Mothers rode Cyclemasters too. Shopping could be piled behind the seat and children collected and delivered from school. On weekends, the Cyclemaster carried fishing rod and basket to new areas of canals and rivers which had previously only been accessible by coach or train. Truly, this modest little vehicle changed the lives of millions of Britons.

Today, Cyclemasters are surprisingly affordable, with a mint example costing around 400 pounds.

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