Its smell was horrible and it was noisier than a landing jet, but it was absolute genius: we’re talking about Wall Auto-Wheel, the first conversion kit in history.
It didn’t have an electric motor but its story is so interesting that we decided to tell you about it in our ebike history column.
The photo below says it all: it was just a small additional wheel driven by a combustion engine. It was mounted on the side of the back wheel of the bike.
The Auto-Wheel was produced by Autowheels Ltd, which was funded (among others) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes book series. The first model was presented in 1909 and it was a big hit: it allowed you to basically own a motorbike, but cheaper and relatively simply assembled.
In 1914 (the year when World War I started) Auto-Wheel was available in two models: a simple version (its price was 16 pounds and 16 shillings) and a Deluxe version (priced at 18 pounds and 18 shillings). The latter was decorated, unlike the simple version. It had protections to prevent the engine and mud from staining the frame or the cyclist. If you added 14 shillings on top of that you could get a shock absorber.
Unlike the other patents we talked about in the previous articles about the history of the electric bikes, Auto-Wheel was mass produced for a long time (at least until the end of the Twenties). That’s the reason why today enthusiastic collectors still own some models of this “motorbike”.
The maximum speed allowed by the motor was 25 km/h on level ground; obviously, you could pedal if you wanted to go faster, though it would have been hard, considering the fact that the Auto-Wheel weighed 18 kg.
This video shows us an English gentleman having a lot of fun on his Auto-Wheel: he mounted it himself on his own bike. Notice the awful noise.
In this advertising of the time we can read: “His Royal Highness Prince George of Battenberg and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Prussia ride and recommend Wall Auto-Wheels.”
“Electric Bicycles”, di D. Henshaw & R. Peace