Weaponized Vespas, motorized unicycles, and a motorbike with gullwing doors.
Yes, we’re a car website. However, we love all kinds of vehicles and we love the weird and the wonderful whether on two wheels, three, or four. When we started tugging at the thread of weird motorcycles, what we found was too good to not share: The most dangerous scooters built, an electric bike with gullwing doors, a reverse tricycle, a motorcycle that can tow up to 2,000 lbs and float, and a bike with a single engine built by sticking 16 Kawasaki engines together.
When Canadian teenager, Ben Gulak, visited China in 2006, he saw just how many small vehicles were causing the major pollution in the cities. His solution was a self-balancing electric motorcycle with the two wheels mounted side by side. The concept he knocked up in Google SketchUp is based around a gyroscope with the rider leaning forward to speed up, like a Segway, and side to side to steer. Steering is controlled by the left and right wheel raising accordingly to initiate the turn.
The first test ride resulted in a crash and broken kneecap for Gulak, then further tests produced electrical fires. A California robotics engineer joined Gulak’s effort and in 2008 they won a prize for being one of the top 10 inventions of the year according to Popular Science magazine.
Not just weird and beautiful, the Majestic was also revolutionary. The ideas Georges Roy brought forward with his motorbike are still being explored by designers, and the questions he asked in 1929 broke new ground for automakers. Roy was one of the first industrial designers to introduce mass-production techniques for automotive manufacturing and, in particular, the use of stamping bodywork out using metal presses as well as the gas tank, frame, and forks. He's also credited with pushing the idea of a monocoque design forward.
What you're looking at below is a 1,200 lb battery-powered enclosed cabin motorcycle. As a side benefit of being incredibly efficient, the MonoTracer made 200 horsepower while going from 0-60 mph in under 4 seconds and topping out at 150 mph. There were a few issues when it first showed up in 2013 though. The base price for the Swiss-built electric vehicle was around $100,000, and when they first tried to bring it to the United States the Environmental Protection Agency, US Customs, and the Transportation Department wouldn’t let it in. The concept has never really gained traction as it was the answer to a question nobody was asking. It had gullwing doors though, so that automatically makes it cool.
The idea of a small motorbike or scooter that fits in the trunk of a car is not a new one. Or, it turned out, a particularly useful one. This one definitely went for functionality over form. The Boxx Corp. scooter website nails a bunch of buzzwords like eco-friendly, compact, and minimalistic while the company also claims it’s "the most stable two-wheeled vehicle available.” The boxy appearance hides an electric motor for powering it to the local store and storage for bringing the groceries home. Who drives part of the way to the store, parks the car, gets the moped out of the trunk, and then goes shopping?
Piaggio is an Italian company that goes all the way back to 1884 and produces small motorbikes and commercial vehicles under that brand name, but also recognizable brands such as Vespa, Apilla, and Moto Guzi. For the MP3, Piaggio switched up the tricycle idea to put the two wheels together at the front. That makes it easier to ride and keeps things compact.
Unlike the Boxx scooter, the Rokon Trail-Breaker is incredibly useful and a pure utility vehicle. Between the name and just looking at the Trail-Breaker, you know what this thing is about. This ATV on two wheels can take hills on a 60% gradient and tow up to 2,000 lbs. It’s only 79 inches long with a 51-inch wheelbase, but those aggressive tires are 12-inches wide. It’ll slowly, because it does everything slowly, cruise through water up to 24 inches deep. However, if you need to cross deeper water than that then the hollow drum wheels and tires allow the bike to float. You simply lay the bike on the left side so the intake is out of the water, and swim alongside it as if it was a horse in an old cowboy movie. That’s an apt analogy because the Trail-Breaker is a pure and unglamorous, workhorse.
Rokon is the second oldest motorcycle maker around, and the Trail-Breaker has been around since 1960 and still looks very much like the original prototype.
It's not just the armchair like seating position on the Megola showing up in 1920 that makes it weird, or even the long handlebars. The Megola predates the Majestic for a monocoque design and is powered by a 640cc 5-cylinder radial engine mounted inside the front wheel’s spokes. The simplicity of the engine and little power lost to mechanical drag makes it very efficient, except for the fact it has no clutch or gearbox, and no neutral. Traffic lights weren’t commonplace in the 1920s, but that still makes stopping and starting a big pain in the ass. Which could explain the particularly comfortable looking seat.
The Vespa 150 TAP was built for French paratroopers in 1956 by Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles. Basically, somebody had the bright idea of taking a scooter and mounting an American made light anti-armor cannon on the side that they could drop out of an airplane in pairs along with a 2-man team. It was never designed to fire the cannon directly from the Vespa, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s an anti-tank moped. It doesn’t get cooler than that for a Vespa.
What’s got 48 cylinders and two wheels? The answer to that question nobody has actually asked is the insane and Whitelock Tinker Toy. Except, technically it has 49 cylinders because British bike nut Simon Whitelock needed to add a 5cc 2-stroke engine to get the main engine started. Built for the sake of it, the Tinker Toy’s engine is made up of three-cylinder stacks built using 16 Kawasaki KH250S engines that are somehow mated to a BMW motorcycle transmission. The bike itself runs after a startup procedure but, apparently, "barely rides.” We don’t care about that though because it has a 48 cylinder engine.
William "Wild Bill” Gelbke was the kind of American a movie should be made about. He was born in 1938, and worked for various military contractors in the 1960s, mainly on surface-to-air weapons guidance systems, and most notably for McDonnell Douglas. The breaking point for Gelbke came when he wasn’t allowed to see plans for the actual missiles and he quit to go build motorcycles. Roadog came into existance because Gelbke wanted to build a bike that could cruise indefinitely at around 100 mph. For that, he built something that was way ahead of its time in 1966.
Roadog is 17 feet long and weighs 3,300 lbs. To get the reliability he wanted, and rack up over 20,000 miles on in its first year on the road, he used a 4-cylinder 152 cubic inch Chevy II engine, a Powerglide transmission linked to a modified Chevy differential, and Corvette disc brakes. The long frame was built using chrome moly steel tubing and, due to its weight, it doesn’t have a kickstand. Instead, the bike stands using four hydraulic jacks. The whole ensemble is an engineering and fabrication masterpiece and after touring the country, Gelbke planned the Auto-Four varient based on the Roadog using an Austin Mini engine and transmission but only eight were built and sold.
Stories of Gelbke are legion, and according to friends he would suggest things like a run from Wisconsin to Oklahoma "where you can get a really good steak,” or to Texas for a "really good beer.” Later, he used a semi-trailer truck he purchased to smuggle weed, and there was a weird story told about a police raid and a shooting. Ultimately and unfortunately though, Gelbke died in a domestic dispute. Roadog disappeared for 15 years before a publisher and swap meet promoter called Buzz Walneck recovered Roadog and learned to ride it before selling it to a collector. It’s now on permanent display at the National Motorcycle Museum.