“All roads are smooth to The Flying Merkel”
“The Merkel” brand began in Milwaukee in 1902. The Merkel Motor Co. started out as a bicycle manufacturer, but in 1903 Joseph Merkel also manufactured single cylinder motor cycles. Merkel was an early pioneer among motorcycle companies, and in 1905 Merkel produced several racing machines, which set the performance standards in early American racing.
Developments made by the Merkel company include:
-1906: a spring frame became available.
-The patented spring front fork they developed was the instrument of choice on racing machines of other builders. This was the forerunner of the modern telescopic front fork.
-A monoshock rear suspension was developed, which is still used today on modern motorcycles.
-Ball bearings as opposed to bronze bushings in the engine.
-A cam-actuated mechanism.
-Pioneering of a throttle-controlled engine oiler, long preceding that of Harley’s and Indian’s.
Joseph Merkel sold the company in 1909 to the Light Manufacturing Company. Newly situated in Pottstown Pennsylvania, machines named “Merkel Light” and “The Flying Merkel” emerged. Joseph Merkel further experimented with frame and suspension improvements, and developed new engine designs. A young test rider by the name of Maldwyn Jones defeated the reigning champion Erwin G (Cannonball) Baker in a ten mile race aboard a Merkel. The following season Jones turned professional and won three out of four races on “The Flying Merkel”, helping Merkel achieve recognition.
In 1911 the company was sold once again, to the Miami Cycle Manufacturing Company and production was completely moved to Middletown Ohio.
In 1914 The Flying Merkel won the National endurance run from Chicago to St Louis, as well as broke a world’s record on the Vanderbilt Course, ridden by Jones. When he returned to Middletown he was given a hero’s welcome.
Engineering innovation, high quality, and racing successes were not enough to sustain this progressive endeavor. Through the onset of war, as well as a contracting market, and increased competition with more affordable cost of automobiles 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. Although surviving Merkels are seldom seen these days, they are widely recognized as icons of the motorized world.
Our collection holds 6 Flying Merkels, currently on display.