Today in Motorcycle History


Holden were motorcycles manufactured by The Motor Traction Co., Ltd., 27 Walnut Tree Walk, Kennington between 1897 and 1902, from a design by Brig. Gen. Sir Henry Capel Holden.

(Patented in 1894, the Holden was the world's first four-cylinder motorcycle).

It used the same inefficient design that Pennington, Hildebrand & Wolfmuller and others used, with the connecting rods directly driving the rear wheel.

  • 1897 The motorcycle was first produced in air-cooled form which was prone to seizure. The flat-four 800cc engine drove the rear wheel directly making low speed control difficult. The camshaft was driven by chain and worm gear. It had coil ignition, a surface carburettor and geared pedals for the front wheel.

    1899 The version for that year had water cooling and went into production, but the result was heavy and expensive.

    1902 By now the Holden was an obsolete relic of a by-gone age so production ceased.

An example of the liquid cooled four-cylinder Holden is displayed at Whitewebbs Museum in Enfield. It is thought that this may be the same one pictured beside Marjorie Cottle on a New Imperial V-twin in an image possibly promoting Brooklands, the relationship being that Henry Capel Holden was responsible for designing the Brooklands racing circuit in 1906 and the New Imperial was the fastest (if not the safest) motorcycle to race there at the time.

THE "Holden" Motor Bicycle.

All motor bicycles at present on the market are driven by high-speed, single-cylinder, air-cooled motors of small power. These motors are fitted into, but usually form no actual part of, the frame. They look awkward, and are not applied to the best mechanical advantage.

To develop any considerable speed of the bicycle these motors must be run at from 1,500 to 2,000 revolutions a minute, and belt or band driving must be used, as chains and gears would be too noisy. Belts and bands need constant adjustment, especially in wet weather.

Such high rates of speed necessarily involve disintegrating vibration and very heavy wear, as seen by the breaking of exhaust valves and other parts, and although motor bicycles have been for so short a period in the hands of the public, there are plenty of users who have had experience of their unreliability.

All experienced motor users are aware that slow- running motors are much more reliable in every way A slow-running motor will out-wear a high-speed one, can be lubricated much more effectively, is in every way more satisfactory in use, and in the long run is a vastly cheaper purchase even if its first cost is two or three times that of the small-power, high-speed motor.

The " Holden " four-cylindered, water-cooled 3 h.p. motor is certainly a new departure as applied to the bicycle, and all the objections to motors at present in use on bicycles are in it met and remedied. The " Holden " motor bicycle running at 500 revolutions attains the same speed as that reached by smaller power motors running at from 1,500 to 2,000 revolutions.

The four cylinders are fired in succession, so that at 500 revolutions a minute each cylinder is only fired 250 times. There are two explosions, push >>>> and pull <<<<, to each revolution. These points alone would carry much weight in favour of this motor, but it has a further point, unique in its application to motor bicycles.


and this without the use of any pump or similar contrivance. The air-cooled motor heats when slowed down at a hill, and its power is thereby reduced just when it is most wanted, whilst the heating may result in the burning of valves, the seizing or locking of parts, and inevitable breakage.

A slow-moving, water-cooled motor developing 3 h.p., fitted successfully and practically to a bicycle, is a decided advance on anything yet seen in this line.

The "Holden" motor is horizontal, and as applied to the bicycle forms a part of the frame - in marked contrast to the single-cylinder motors "spatch-cocked" on to, or into, the frame in varying and more or less inconvenient positions. The action of the motor is reciprocal and continuous, every stroke being a working one. Each piston thrust makes compression in the opposite cylinder in turn, thus an air (and gas) cushion absorbs the jar, and the motor runs with great smooth- ness (that is, absence of vibration) and very little noise, whilst the actual tests show that there is less power lost than in other engines.

The driving is direct, all belts, bands, chains, and gears being eliminated, thus avoiding complications - no breaking or slipping when wet, as with bands or belts, and no noise.

The method of lubrication is absolutely automatic, and one charge of about one-eighth pint is sufficient for a run of a hundred miles. The loss of time and the trouble of lubricating are done away with; the rider has not even to turn on the lubricant when starting.

It is just as well to note that the " Holden " lubricator effects a considerable saving in lubricating oil, which, as motorists know is an expensive item in their list of requisites.

The motor is wholly controlled without removing the hands from the handles.

The method of ignition is electric. Only one coil and one battery are employed for all four cylinders. Carburation is simple and effective, and will work with petrol of 720 sp. gr. if necessary. The carburettor is automatically closed when the engine is not running, so there is no danger, and no waste of petrol from evaporation.

The slow speed, lessening of the vibration, and coolness of the water-cooled cylinders, reduce sparking plug troubles to a minimum. If any failure occurs with the plug of a single-cylinder motor it is quite disabled, whereas the "Holden" motor would continue to propel the cycle - of course, at reduced speed - although only one of the four cylinders remained in working order. Thus, with the chances of sparking plug failure much reduced, the rider of a "Holden" bicycle has still a working engine even when a failure which would stop a single-cylindered motor has occurred.

With water cooling and automatic lubrication the "Holden" motor bicycle can be run until the petrol tank is exhausted.

One notable point is the ease with which the motor starts - quite a revelation to those who have seen other motor users trying to do so. The rider walks beside the bicycle, and, pulling the "switch trigger" with his right hand, mounts from the foot-plate exactly as a bicycle rider mounts from the pedal. So certain is the starting that a rider can mount in the middle of a steep hill and ride up. There is no necessity to pedal to start the machine.

The machine is a powerful hill-climber, and under perfect control down hill. The weight is kept low down; the saddle is also low, so that the feet rest easily on the foot-plates. There are no pedals in the way of the rider, who can step off on either side, thus making it a peculiarly safe machine.

When being wheeled the pulling of a small lever on the handle-bar opens all the valves, and the machine runs as easily as any other cycle of its weight. The fact that the "Holden" motor has been successfully fitted to a bicycle demonstrates that it can be fitted to any other type of wheeled vehicle.

The "Holden" motor bicycle will wear well, is thoroughly reliable, and practical in every way.


Sources: Graces Guide; 1902 Sales Brochure.

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