1950’s Motorized tandems are interesting because they retain more of the appearance of the earliest motorcycles than other postwar vehicles.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, entrepreneurs and engineers in Europe and the USA started experimenting by adding motors to bicycles.
The first successful American example was from the Waltham company in Massachusetts, which made the popular ‘Orient’ bicycles. Charles H. Metz, its president and inventive genius, designed a motorized tandem (pictured above) in 1898 to use as a pacer for his cycle racers.
Another version of the tandem pacer was developed – a 3-seater with two separate engines! Up to now, such contraptions were generally called ‘motor-bicycles’. But in 1899 this company’s advertising brochures referred to their two tandem pacers as Orient ‘Motor-cycles.’ And so the motorcycle was officially born – and the first American motorcycle was a motorized tandem.
There are many claims on which machine was actually the first motorcycle: Gottlieb Daimler’s was probably first, in 1885. Felix Millet patented his rotary-engine in France in 1888, and a machine with a Millet- designed engine was entered in the Paris-Bordeaux race in 1894. His 1897 machine is pictured here.
In 1936, France’s new socialist government ordained that the French people could have an annual national holiday. An industry promptly grew up around summer vacations, and bicycle tandems became popular once more; some manufacturers started to make motorized versions to cash in on the tandem craze – a much faster way for a cycling partnership to get down to the south coast – but production was interrupted by the war.
By the fifties, scooters had become the new chic two-wheeler and ungainly motorized tandems soon became obsolete.
Motorized tandems now represent that immediate postwar period where manufacturers tried a number of different ideas combining pre-war machinery with new innovations. Of course they followed up the models that sold and immediately dropped variations that didn’t meet with enough public approval. So, with limited production runs, such machines are hard to find these days.
My old 1949 Cyclotandem Derny is pictured below. As I’d put a lot of resources into my other vintage motorized tandem (Narcisse) and the Derny needed restoration, I sold it in March 2008 in the first BuyVintage auction.
1951 Cyclotandem Narcisse 98cc Sachs