MEGOLA Motorcycles. Have you heard the name before? Well, I did hear the name of this German firm, but always let it pass until I came upon a post in the blog where I got to know the bike. I have of course never seen the bike except for the net, not even in magazines. Now, this was a bike that has been probably one of those concepts which never got repeated. No, this was not a concept bike as around 2000 got produced in the early 20s of last century. To start off, it had its engine in the wheel. Yes, you read it right, engine on the wheel. To add that it was a rotary engine, of course a regular one was not feasible anyway. The other thing is that it was not a Wankel rotary. Now that your eyebrows are raised, let’s see what this concept was all about. To start off, MEGOLA is a combination of Hans MEixner, Friedrich GOckerell and Otto LAndgraf, the three gentlemen who designed this bike. It was built in Munich from 1921 to 1925. Don’t go by the looks of the engine thinking that it will be some puny 125 cc engine because it is actually a 640cc engine. This is rather a radial rotary of the type found in some of the early airplanes like Sopwith Camel and the Fokker Triplane. A further detailing on the engine reveals that in the Megola rotary engine, the cylinders rotate and the bearing housing is stationary, in effect acting as the front wheel spindle. To add to the confusion, this 5 cylinder engine’s crankshaft is actually the front axle and the engine rotates with the wheel. The Megola's rotary works on the four-stroke principles. The five side-valve cylinders measuring 52 x 60 mm for a total capacity of 637cc, are disposed at 72 degrees to one another. The spokes of the front wheel are laced to the crankcase, so the wheel rim encircles the engine. The crank is actually hollow and it also substituted as an intake manifold. Yes, it is difficult to even imagine such a thing and it is weird, but the Megola was actually competitive in racing and won the 1924 German Championship.
The frame was made of welded and riveted sheet metal. The bike had no clutch and transmission or neutral gear, it had only one gear. So if there were no neutrals, how do you stop this machine? Simple. Just turn off the engine. And then, all you need to do was give a push to start the engine. Yes, everytime, I guess it would be difficult now, right? But it had dollops of torque and the high torque of the engine allowed it to accelerate from zero mph to its full speed with only one gear. Don’t take this bike as a weakling. You know it won the German Championships, right? And this is a rotary engine and 640cc does amount to a sizeable power albeit the hp. The racing Megolas or the Sports model actually was capable of reaching speeds of 140 kmph. The regular model had a top speed of 85 km/h (52 mph). It was rider Toni Bauhofer, averaging around 144 kmph while winning the Schleizer-Dreieck road race, in which he defeated the entire BMW works team. The regular model produced only around 14 hp @ 4800 rpm although it was sufficient for those times as it applied directly to the wheel. The Sports model produced around 25 hp @ 6500 rpm. Good for a bike with such dimensions and features.It was a regular contestant in both dirt track and road racing events in 1920s Germany. Of course, no clutch, no gearbox and no front brake meant it was better suited for flat-out blasts like autobahn racing than regular track racing. But it was in oval-track racing on dirt that the Megola really excelled. Why? Well, in oval track racing, traction is one huge factor and with this engine design, you can very well figure it out that it had a definite edge over regular bikes. Moreover, you would be able to hang the rear wheel out, while keeping the throttle wound and the front wheel pulling. But since it had only a single gear, for racing to alter gearing was to re-lace a rim of different diameter and so racers carried spare engine and wheel assemblies of varying rim diameters.
If you have seen the video, you can see how the bike is started after decompression. Well, having a front stand definitelt helps, but I was wondering that if you have to ride the bike, how do you start the bike and then get on the bike if you didn’t have the front stand. And along with the foot stand, how would you remove the stand and get on the seat immediately as the bike would shoot off as soon as the tyre lands on the ground. Sure there must have been some problem with lubrication and exhaust design and things like that but there were also some very plus points in this concept, for example the engine is assured of ample cooling. That is why Cockerell needs to be applauded as he had a solution for everything. Some small things on the bike were very well thought of or well executed. You may be thinking what if there is a flat tyre, do you need to take the entire engine out. Well, actually, the tube of the front wheel had a special design as the tube was an open circle, so it could be changed without taking the front wheel or the engine out. Imagine something like a circular sausage shape rather than a complete doughnut. And what about the fuel? Well, the box section frame contained the main fuel tank residing inside the pressed steel monocoque chassis, which fed by gravity a smaller tank mounted on the axle. But the main supply of fuel was a priming tank, so it had to be topped up regularly from the main supply by means of a hand pump on the right side. The throttle is a lever so it can be preset to maintain momentum while operating the pump. The front suspension was comprised of semi-elliptical springs but it was apparently seen as a weak point of the design. Also the engine and front wheel are suspended at the end of a small leaf spring, so it was bound for occasional break down.
So how did the idea start up? Actually, Friedrich Gockerell also known as Fritz Cockerell had designed a similar three-cylinder engine which was located in the rear wheel. Some say the idea wasn’t totally novel as a firm in Britain named Radco had had attempted a similar front wheel drive in 1919. Nonetheless, Cockerall felt a five-cylinder engine would be better suited for speed and redesigned the engine layout and by the time production was about to begin, Cockerell thought of switching the motor to the front wheel. Cockerell really thought of the bike as the future of motorcycling. There is probably only two Megola in the U.S, one in the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the other, Jay Leno owns now which he bought it from Jeff Craig of Pennsylvia who gave the machine a full restoration. It would have probably survived and also caught on, but Germany was reeling through an economic crisis at that time and they had to shut shop. It was later replaced by a more conventional 175 cc runabout under the Cockerell name. Out of the 2000 made, only around 10 remain. So you can well imagine how much this thing will go for if someone even thinks about selling it. Only 10 and that too a concept never ever tried before or after. Today the Megola is one of the rarest and most interesting vintage motorcycles. Cockerell died in 1965 and now he might have given a justification as why he thought and built this rare concept, but guess, we will never know.