Rocket Cycles of The Past

From Crazy Germans To Evel Knievel

Posted by Ken

You had to be a little bit nuts to strap a rocket to your bike back in the 1920's. Or 1970's. Or even today, come to think of it. But, behind every crazy idea is a man just bold enough to reach for glory. Either that or a rich kid with too much time on his hands and a buddy standing next to him saying "Dude, I dare you."

Our glorious rocket cycle-deprived ancestors had their fair share of both.
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<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">Forerunner to the Hindenburg?</div>
<img style="padding: 10px 0px 10px 10px; margin: 0px;" src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/opel3.jpg" alt="" width="396" height="264" align="right" />When Adam Opel founded the Opel Company in 1863 to make sewing machines and bicycles, he had no idea that grandson Fritz would inherit his entrepenerial spirit. He was probably rolling over in his grave, though, when 21-year old Fritz decided to marry rockets with Opel's motor vehicles.

Lucky for us, though, that's exactly what Fritz von Opel did. Fritz planned to set a landspeed record by bolting six booster rockets to his 22hp one-stroke, dubbed "The Monster".

Fritz and his cronies at the Opel Motorcycle Club managed to squeeze in a few trial runs in 1928, one of which is pictured here. But once President Paul von Hindenburg got wind of his plan, he shut Fritz down in the name of safety.

Strange then, that Hindenburg would have no problem with Opel switching gears and focusing on cars. Fritz enjoyed some spectacular success with his <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_RAK.1_(car)">rocket-powered cars</a>.

No doubt emboldened by these triumphs of transportation engineering, the Germans green-lighted a giant Zeppelin bearing Hindenburg's name just a few years later. Let's not blame that one on Fritz, though.
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/opel1.jpg" alt="" width="333" height="400" /></div>
<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">Just a Friendly Neighborhood Bike Race. With Rockets!</div>
When the German government put the kibosh on Fritz von Opel's rocket cycle (see above), they should've known that someone else would pick up the ball and run with it.

But let me ask you this... when your government tells you that rocket-powered motorcycles are too dangerous, does it make any sense at all to attach your rockets to a bicycle instead?

I guess it does if you're a bike racer. Racers Oskar Tietz and Max Hahn, pictured below, took on the challenge in 1929 in Berlin.
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Not to be outdone, an engineer by the name of Richter took his shot two years later, in 1931. Ricther's ride didn't go so well, but at least he had the presence of mind to abandon ship before reaching maximum velocity.
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/richter1.jpg" alt="" width="450" height="371" /></div>
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/richter2.jpg" alt="" width="350" height="233" /></div>
<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">His Bike Nearly Got Him Assassinated</div>
<img style="padding: 10px 0px 10px 10px; margin: 0px;" src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/amlow.jpg" alt="" width="397" height="402" align="right" />Archibald Low was one of those guys who could never stop inventing stuff. And his list of inventions is quite impressive.

Among other things, Archie invented a pre-cursor to the automatic transmission, a radio-guided missile system and a whistling egg-timer. He also demonstrated an early version of television, nearly thirteen years before it was "invented."

All this brainpower nearly got him killed, though, as the pre-WWI Germans saw him as a quite a threat. After two failed assassination attempts, the Germans wised up and realized that they could put Archie's inventions to good use in their own war effort. They left him pretty much alone after that.

Archie was something of an eccentric. He liked to be called "Professor" though he'd never held a position in academia. And he took it upon himself to boost interest in British road racing by showing off a rocket-powered motorcycle.

Ninety thousand fans at Wembley Speedway witnessed Archibald's rocket-powered cycle scream around the track in 1946. Champion rider Bill Kitchen gave the bike rave reviews, praising its smooth acceleration.
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/amlow2.jpg" alt="" width="560" height="397" /></div>
<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">The First Insect to Jump 27 Buses</div>
<img style="padding: 10px 0px 10px 10px; margin: 0px;" src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/humanfly2.jpg" alt="" width="250" height="248" align="right" />Rick Rojatt, AKA The Human Fly, had a colorful backstory to explain his cloaked appearance. I'll give you a hint... it very closely resembled the backstory of a certain Marvel Superhero of the day, also named "The Human Fly". Something about breaking every bone in his body and then retraining himself to crawl, walk, climb and run with the super-human strength of a scaled-up fly.

Mr. Fly made his name by wing-walking on a low-flying DC-8 at about 250 MPH, but the stunt that interests us more was his 1977 rocket-powered motorcycle leap over twenty-seven buses. His bike boasted 6,000 hp worth of thrust, and was capable of hitting 300 mph in a quarter-mile.

Rick was pretty tight-lipped about his exploits, and in fact disappeared into obscurity shortly after his rocket jump. But the designer of that bike has spilled all. Read more about that <a href="http://www.the-rocketman.com/human-fly.html">here</a>. Lots of great anecdotes in that piece, but here's a teaser: "I stood there, witnessing the crash of all crash landings right before my eyes, and a hush fell over the crowd, as we all feared the worst. It looked like nobody could have possibly survived such a crash landing."
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/humanfly.jpg" alt="" width="500" height="364" /></div>
<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">All Systems Fail. OK, We're Good to Go!</div>
<img style="padding: 10px 0px 10px 10px; margin: 0px;" src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/skycycle.jpg" alt="" width="250" height="428" align="right" />Evel Knievel... is there any name more synonymous with "Rocket Cycle"? I don't think so. Is there any name more synonymous with "perform outrageous stunt, crash to the delight and horror of thousands of onlookers, sustain major injuries, then do it all over again"? Certainly not.

Evel became the greatest daredevil of all time by refining that formula to perfection. He figured it was okay to mix in a few failures with some spectacular successes, provided he had the cojones to survive and do it all over again.

Evel's 1974 rocket-cycle jump over the Snake River Canyon certainly fit that description. Years in the making, Evel pushed forward even in the face of likely disaster. His rocket cycle failed all of its pre-flight tests and his landing plan consisted mostly of crossing his fingers. But Evel was undeterred.

When the jump did happen, the force of the thrust knocked Evel out cold, thereby releasing his hand from the emergency parachute deployment lever. That stopped the cycle dead in its tracks. Amazingly, the cycle probably would've made it over the canyon without that mishap.

Evel's eject mechanism also failed, trapping him inside the sky-cycle. He landed just a few feet from the raging river at the floor of the canyon. Had he landed in the water, certain death awaited.

Evel walked away with minor injuries and, true to form, started working on his next stunt shortly after. Ever heard the term "jumped the shark"? Evel invented that one by — you guessed it — jumping over a shark.

Want to read more on Evel's incredible career? Check out our comprehensive <a href="http://www.spotmotorcycles.com/evel-knievel-infographic">interactive infograhic</a>.
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/skycycle2.jpg" alt="" width="500" height="366" /></div>
<div style="background: #E1EBFB; color: #2b3349; font-size: 14pt; font-family: Arial, Tahoma, Verdana; font-weight: bold; padding: 4px;">Enough With the Jumping, I Just Wanna Go Fast</div>
<img style="padding: 10px 0px 10px 10px; margin: 0px;" src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/roscoe1.jpg" alt="" width="202" height="325" align="right" />Australian Rosco McGlashan survived the 70's without catching the bug to jump over things on his motorcycle. Strange, when you consider that the road to fame and fortune for thrill-seeking young bikers of that era was clearly marked: hurtle your body successfully (or unsuccessfully) over trucks, cars or sharks and the the riches will follow.

But Rosco just wanted to go fast. And go fast he did. Competing on clutchless V8 monsters, rocket-powered screamers and 250 mph go-carts was just the beginning for Rosco. That rocket-powered screamer, pictured here, was banned by the Australian government in the name of safety before it ever got a chance to hit top speed. If that reminds you a bit of Max von Opel's story, you're not alone.

Rosco graduated to pursuing land speed records in high-tech rocket cars and nearly accomplished his dream in the mid-90s. He's still at it today, nearly forty years removed from his original V8. Good luck Rosco, let us know how it works out! I just hope you've graduated to more <a href="http://www.spotmotorcycles.com/shoei-rf-1000-flutter-motorcycle-helmet/">up-to-date headgear</a>.
<div style="margin: 20px;"><img src="http://spotmotorcycles.zipgolfer.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/roscoe2.jpg" alt="" width="520" height="348" /></div>
<div style="text-align: center; margin-top: 20px; margin-bottom: 30px; font-size: 18pt;"><a href="/rocket-cycles-of-today">Continue to Part II: Rocket Cycles of Today</a></div>

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4 Responses

  1. Rocket Cycles – Past, Present and Future Says:

    [...] rocket cycle skyward, and Hollywood visionaries dream of a somewhat-goofy rocket-powered future. Part I: Rocket Cycles of the Past Assassination attempts, the Human Fly and the God of All Things Daredevil Part II: Rocket Cycles of [...]

  2. Rocket Cycles of Today | Diehard Rocketeers and Jet Engines Gone Mainstream Says:

    [...] donning a spiderman suit all the while. Might that just be an homage to The Human Fly, mentioned in Part I? Nah, probably not. That's Spanish for "This Thing Gets [...]

  3. The History Of The Rocket-Powered Motorcycle [Bikelopnik] | CarPlaceKC Says:

    [...] — no pun intended — like rocket-powered motorcycles. Spot Motorcycles recently took this lighthearted look at the jet/missile/firecracker/flame-bike's fiery origins. —Ed. More » [...]

  4. Mike Says:

    The term “Jump the shark” is generally attributed to the episode of Happy Days, where Fonzie (Henry Winkler) junmps over a shark on water skis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark
    The phrase was originally used to denote the point in a television program’s history where the plot spins off into absurd story lines or unlikely characterizations.

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