Driving report Neckarsulm motorcycle from 1902

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Driving report Neckarsulm motorcycle from 1902

Driving report Neckarsulm motorcycle from 1902
At the origin

1901 and 1903 – the beginning of NSU motorcycle production and the first edition of DAS MOTORRAD are close together. MOTORRAD embarked on a journey through time and ended up right in between. On an NSU from 1902.

Ralf Schneider


With the Neckarsulm motorbike I was able to take the incline on the Hasenbrunnele at a speed that was not thought possible. Hardly that I had to jump in the 1 ¾-horse combustion engine by pedaling moderately. When the well-traveled street of my hometown Leonberg neared the farm of the farmer Kleinfelder, I even thought I was flying. It went whizzing down Grabenstrasse; the fact that the driving wind tore the leather hood from my head was hardly able to dampen my high spirits. Meanwhile the bend was approaching at the lower end of the trench.
As soon as they were braked, the steel horse and rider were forced by enormous centrifugal forces on a wide curved path, further than was favorable for the following counter-swing. I escaped by a hair’s breadth from the splintery wood of the old sheep stable, hardly less from the Clausen miller’s wagon. I could no longer prevent my unleashed vehicle from heading towards the lake of fire and the trees gathered there with hostile intent …
I woke up drenched in sweat. The digital alarm clock showed three colon zero seven. I could have kissed the stylish fellow. Three colon zero seven was the unmistakable proof that I was not in 1902 and was not racing into the Leonberg fire extinguishing pond.
Despite this reassuring certainty, I couldn’t get rid of a slight nervousness. For the following day, a Neckarsulm motorcycle from 1902 asked me to go on a rendezvous. The origin of NSU motorcycle production, with a Zedel engine from Switzerland, today practically priceless. Ridiculously poor performance? only 1 ¾ HP (horse power) strong ??, but without gearbox and clutch. Reasons enough for a hearty nightmare.
Just imagine: a small disc on the crankshaft stub, a large one clamped into the spokes of the rear wheel and in between a direct drive by means of a leather belt. Which means, in frightening simplicity, that the motorcycle moves forward as soon as and as long as the engine is running. The next day the drive even turned out to be a V-belt, which motorcycle pioneer Heinz Kurz reported in 1903 in the first edition of DAS MOTORRAD that it pulls better than a “cord belt”.
Well fine. Perfect frictional connection, cannot be separated, no switch to interrupt the ignition. And then the less encouraging way in which classic car specialist Mike Kron described the effect of the lonely outer band brake in the front wheel: “You can tell that something is changing …” There was only hope that it would NSU would always have as much exercise as the pause after this sentence was long.
The 101-year-old veteran’s most important lever is therefore not on the handlebars, but on the right-hand side of the top tube of the frame. It regulates the pre-ignition and thus ?? listen and be amazed? the power and speed. The more, the faster. More importantly, in the position for the lowest pre-ignition, the lever activates the lifter of the stationary exhaust valve, the only device that prevents the engine from continuing to run after a long time.
The Maybach spray jet carburetor, which was super-advanced in 1902, had neither a throttle valve nor a slide, but was able to shine with an accuracy of mixture preparation that was unknown before it. The “surface carburetors” that were widespread at the time did not deserve the last part of their name; the engine only sucked off the gasoline that was evaporating on the surface of the tank. Less on cold days and when the fluid level is high, more on hot days, and so on. Mixture formation with the ingredients light gasoline, air and coincidence.
Air and additional air regulation helps the 211 cm3 engine to adapt to different climatic conditions. Sounds highly technical, consists on the one hand of a perforated disc and on the other hand of two tubes with holes pushed into one another. They can be released or covered by turning them. The lubrication takes place via a hand-operated pump under the saddle, a kind of metal enema syringe. Every now and then, suck a full piston out of the reservoir, turn the tap, press the oil into the engine and immediately turn the tap back so that the pumping action of the piston does not press back again. That would be enough.
And then it was time. Petrol tap open, dry battery connected, swab activated ?? and the same lump in my throat as in 1995 when I was allowed to drive Mick Doohan’s NSR 500. Unfortunately, the occasion ceremony was not true to the original. The freewheel on the rear hub refused, instead of using the pedals, pushing was required. When the ignition was three-quarters ahead, the engine finally started, which meant that it pushed the NSU, which weighed only 40 kilograms, forward with great force. Before I could no longer run, I jumped into the saddle, but with the additional load the engine immediately lost speed and stopped. “The additional air, you have to throttle the additional air for a moment,” said Mike Kron three unsuccessful attempts later. “It’s best to keep your thumb on the hole, about half to two-thirds of the opening.”
It worked. The engine buffered very quietly and mechanically surprisingly smoothly. I settled down on brittle saddle leather at a lofty height, tucked my knees between the handlebars and the frame tube. It was tight. And just a few moments later I was able to practice dismounting due to lack of fuel. Despite my 183 centimeters, I couldn’t hit the ground with my feet. Does not matter. The lump in my throat was gone by now, probably wandering off to clog the intricately coiled gasoline line. After it had been cleaned with a carefully filed copper wire, a screw on the carbide lamp housing wanted to say goodbye. We secured it with wire, corrected the air supply to the now warmed up engine, and I drove an incredible 50 things with full pre-ignition. According to the speedometer of the photographer’s car, so no lie.
That was at the moment when a dream threatened to come true and the connection between the ignition adjustment lever and the linkage loosened. The NSU set its sights on the village of Ailringen at full speed, an old man waved to us, not suspecting the catastrophe, and I fished for the valve lifter rod that would save me. Because of a curve I had to take my hand on the handlebars and the engine started again. Oh hell This time, an incline saved us, not the digital alarm clock. And we went on.
At the end of an eventful day, NSU, Mike Kron and I had covered 20 kilometers. After that, I was physically in a similar state of being as I had the morning before at three seven o’clock. But I felt like a king. Since then, I have of course not gotten the concern of civil engineer H. Schrader from Berlin out of my mind. “So let’s make our engine independent of the bicycle,” he had demanded in DAS MOTORRAD in 1903 and recommended the installation of a “friction clutch” for this. A wise man.

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NSU motorcycle built in 1902

Our thanks go to the Zweiradmuseum Neckarsulm for leasing the old NSU, Mike Kron from Krautheim, who brought it back to life after forty years of slumber, and Josef Reichenspurner (www.oldtimer-bekleidung.de) for the stylish clothes.

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