During times of great change, sometimes it takes looking back into the past to give you an important perspective on the present. Here in 2023, as we’re writing this, the advancement of electric motorbikes has been particularly intriguing.
As an example, take all the new players joining the game, with their own takes on what they think an electric motorbike should be, what features it should have, and how they should be executed. In a way, it’s like someone hit a reset switch, and as a result, we’re able to see a wider variety of interpretations of what a two-wheeled, motorized vehicle can be than we’ve become accustomed to.
That’s just one of multiple reasons why you might want to watch Wheels Through Time’s Matt Walksler talk us all through exactly what set American motorcycle pioneer Excelsior apart back in 1912. Back in those days, as gasoline (or petrol, depending on your side of the pond) motorbikes were finding purchase, things were similarly open to technological interpretation.
As a result, you had America’s Big Three manufacturers—Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Excelsior—all trying different means of making their machines work. If you’re at all interested in the how and the why things developed the way that they did—as well as seeing alternate possible timelines that were discarded along the way—then this video will be right up your street.
This 1912 Excelsior shows a number of features that were impressive in their contemporary context, such as the valve lifters, motor clutch, and Excelsior’s unique approach to a throttle linkage. Of course, then as now, there were impressive speed records to get the public’s attention. Excelsior, after all, was the first make to have a bike that could reach a top speed of 100 miles per hour. (Thinking about reaching such a speed with the brake technology of the time is somewhat harrowing, but if you’d never witnessed the braking tech available in 2023, you might feel differently.)
When there’s such a seismic shift in transportation, all the new folks joining the party tend to bring new and different ideas, as well as new ways of looking at old problems. Of course, Excelsior is also a lesson in knowing when to change direction entirely. As you may know, it was unfortunately one of the many motorcycle manufacturers that went under as the effects of the Great Depression took hold. However, its parent company at the time, Schwinn, went on to continue bicycle development and become a worldwide brand that’s still well-known and respected in 2023.
A hundred years from now, which electric motorbike designs and breakthroughs will have become accepted standards? Most companies attempting to make electric two-wheelers in 2023 have opted not to include manually operated clutches, bringing motorcycles and scooters even closer together than they’ve been in the past. We can’t predict with any certainty what evolutions will take hold for good—but it’s sure to continue to be an interesting ride.