100 Things You Should Know About Daimler | #19

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The Mercedes of Bicycles

Around 100 years ago, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft briefly stopped producing automobiles in Berlin due to a lack of materials and funds. So the engineers did what they do best: they got inventive!

The early 1920s were a dire time in Germany. The First World War had only just ended, and the Spanish Flu pandemic was slowly ebbing away. But any hope for a rapid recovery was dashed when the world’s largest economic crisis hit, causing massive inflation. Raw materials were in short supply – in such short supply, in fact, that the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft production facilities in Berlin, which had been expanded during the war, were shut down. But necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. The plant managers decided to “make beneficial use of the workshops and the means of production by incorporating new types of products,” as they put it in a 1923 press release. This marked the birth of Mercedes-Fahrradwerke GmbH – a bicycle factory – in Berlin-Marienfelde.

The Treaty of Versailles limited the production of trucks in Germany. That is why the factory was free for bicycle production.
The Treaty of Versailles limited the production of trucks in Germany. That is why the factory was free for bicycle production.
No corners were cut when it came to quality. The catalog stated, for example, that the bottom bracket, which was sealed with felt washers, only needed to be adjusted “every 5,000 km”.
No corners were cut when it came to quality. The catalog stated, for example, that the bottom bracket, which was sealed with felt washers, only needed to be adjusted “every 5,000 km”.
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Model No. 1

Gottlieb Daimler had already equipped and patented his first motor bicycle with one of his internal combustion motors – the one known as the “grandfather clock” – in 1885. It was, in effect, the first motorcycle in the world. Now, his company was making a set of wheels without an engine, but it was bound to be a big seller, given the market at the time. After the war, Germany was in desperate need of affordable options for personal transportation. The plan was to manufacture motorcycles in Marienfelde at a later point, as well, but that never came to pass. After some initial personnel and material equipment-related delays, the first bicycle with the Mercedes star rolled out of the Marienfelde production hall in Berlin in February 1924. And all this happened in a 150-meter long, 19-meter-wide factory building, which had previously produced truckss. Among the prototypes was the Mercedes Model No. 1, a “sturdy touring bicycle,” as portrayed in its original description. It also says that the frame is made of “precisely drawn, seamless steel tubes of select and exceptional quality.” The bicycle had a classic diamond frame – not much has changed about this design in the last 100 years, which is why the Mercedes bicycles still look modern today.

The Mercedes model No. 1
The Mercedes model No. 1
This is how fine ladies and gentlemen moved around town in the elegant Berlin of the 1920s.
This is how fine ladies and gentlemen moved around town in the elegant Berlin of the 1920s.
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Mercedes Model No. 2 had a bit more flair and was described as “the finest luxury touring bicycle.” It was an upgrade compared to No. 1, with a Torpedo freewheel hub from Fichtel & Sachs, whitewall tires, and steel rims varnished to look like wood. Six models were available when production launched, including the “fine half-racer road bike model No. 3”,” the “Fine Ladies’ Bicycle Mercedes No. 5,” and the “Finest Ladies’ Luxury Bicycle Mercedes No. 6.” Over the years, the range of bicycles grew to include a total of 13 models. The touring bicycles were painted pitch black as standard; other colors could be ordered for an additional fee. According to the catalog, the racing bicycles were available in red and green. Other extras included “Radsonne”-brand lights fueled with carbide, like old mining lamps. The gas generated by the reaction between calcium carbide and water created an extremely bright flame when burned.

In this picture of the Mercedes model No. 3, a “fine half-racer road bike”, the Mercedes star is easy to see in the pedal chain ring.
In this picture of the Mercedes model No. 3, a “fine half-racer road bike”, the Mercedes star is easy to see in the pedal chain ring.
This picture from the historic Mercedes-Fahrradwerke GmbH catalog shows the “fine ladies’ bicycle” model Mercedes No. 5.
This picture from the historic Mercedes-Fahrradwerke GmbH catalog shows the “fine ladies’ bicycle” model Mercedes No. 5.
This torpedo freewheel hub was a popular special accessory. The ex-works price for this was 11.30 Goldmark in 1924.
This torpedo freewheel hub was a popular special accessory. The ex-works price for this was 11.30 Goldmark in 1924.
The “Radsonne” brand carbide lamps were not part of the basic equipment for Mercedes bicycles.
The “Radsonne” brand carbide lamps were not part of the basic equipment for Mercedes bicycles.
There are only a few specimens left of this lovingly-restored Mercedes No. 6 model – the very finest ladies’ bicycle with luxury fittings – shown here.
There are only a few specimens left of this lovingly-restored Mercedes No. 6 model – the very finest ladies’ bicycle with luxury fittings – shown here.
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Unmistakably Mercedes

There was one thing all these bikes had in common: the Mercedes star. The Mercedes brand emblem appears in several places on these historical bicycles: on the pinion of the bottom bracket, stamped into the leather of the saddle and tool pouch, and twice on the brass plate of the distinctive triangular head tube. The shape was intended to be reminiscent of the pointed radiator grille on the Mercedes-Benz automobiles of the era. One additional benefit of the design was that the brake rod system did not cover up the two little Mercedes stars on the brass plate.

Yet the star of the Mercedes-Fahrradwerke GmbH shone for less time than the carbide lamp. Production was mothballed in 1926 after just under 27,000 bicycles had been produced, and Mercedes-Fahrradwerke GmbH Berlin-Marienfelde was removed from the commercial register on May 13, 1930. The company shifted production back to trucks. Compared to other German bicycle manufacturers, Mercedes produced a relatively small number of units – its market share was estimated at less than one percent. The price might have had something to do with that: as these noble bikes with the Mercedes star were “working machines of the highest quality” as stated in their brochure and, according to the dealer’s price lists, their ex-works price was between 78 and 147.50 goldmarks – without any special fittings such as the torpedo freewheel hub – over its whole production period. That was a hefty price for a bicycle and roughly equivalent to an average month’s salary at the time.

The standard frames were enameled in a deep shade of black. The Mercedes lettering shone out from it in gold.
The standard frames were enameled in a deep shade of black. The Mercedes lettering shone out from it in gold.
The Mercedes star appears again and again, embossed into the leather on the saddle, for example, and on the tool pouch.
The Mercedes star appears again and again, embossed into the leather on the saddle, for example, and on the tool pouch.
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Sought-After Vintage Bikes

Around a century later, Mercedes bicycles are, unsurprisingly, a real rarity. Today the existence of only 40 such bicycles has been ascertained worldwide. And of course, demand among collectors is correspondingly high. Bicycles from Mercedes are among the world’s most expensive antique bikes. Consequently valuations for one such item are between 10,000 and 25,000 euros, depending on its state of preservation or restoration – if ever one of them came up for sale.

Holger Mohn

has been thinking about buying himself a vintage bicycle for some time now. So far, his eyes had been set on one of the early mountain bikes from the 1980s. But now that he has found out so much about bicycles with the star, the Mercedes “fine half-racer road bike” is his new favorite.

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