Categories: Mini-Features

Recreating The World’s First Motorcycle With Only A Photograph

You probably don’t know Ray and Roy Behner or their friends Jim Carlton and Fred Hoffman – but you should. Because more than 30 years ago, they recreated Gottlieb Daimler’s 1885 Reitwagen, widely considered the world’s first motorcycle (or the world’s first gasoline-powered motorcycle, anyway). Mind you, this was before the age of Google, internet forums, or anything of the like. How did they do it? They simply replicated a small photograph of the Reitwagen. No blueprints. No schematics. Nothing. It’s a very interesting story, and one told in greater detail by Ray Behner, as told to the American Motorcyclist Association, whose story we’ve reproduced below. 


Replica builder visits his creation

Wooden motorcycle in AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame museum

It’s been nearly 33 years since brothers Ray and Roy Behner and their friends Jim Carlton and Fred Hoffman transformed a stack of walnut lumber into a larger-than-life replica of Gottlieb Daimler’s 1885 Reitwagen (riding wagon).

Ray Behner

Today, Ray Behner paid a visit to their creation at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame museum in Pickerington, Ohio.

It marked the first time Behner made the trip from his home in Brunswick, Ohio, to see his creation on display

“It took us about eight months, working in our spare time in my garage,” Behner said. “It was Jim Carlton’s idea. He had a picture of the Daimler machine, and that was all we had to work from. There were no blueprints or anything like that.”

The photograph measured about 2 inches by 2 inches.

Behner, a woodworker with a saw mill, handled the carving and shaping of the walnut. His brother, Ray, did the metal work. Hoffman built the crank mechanism. And Jim Carlton performed most of the less-skilled labor.

“He did all the sanding,” Behner said. “Jim did a lot of work on this.”

To get the scale, the trio started with the arc around the front wheel. Carlton designed the replica.

“Jim had a rule to measure with, and he just started making marks on the work bench,” Behner said. “We picked one of the marks that looked about the right radius, and we worked from there.

“The original was a little smaller than ours, but I don’t know by how much. It’s hard to duplicate something you’ve never seen.”

The Behners, Carlton and Hoffman started the replica in 1984 and finished it in time for a ride during the Reitwagen’s centennial on Nov. 10, 1985.

“We took it out to Anaheim, Calif.,” Behner said. “It made it 11 miles during the ceremonies. Eleven rough miles.”

The Centennial Riders also included Hall of Famers Bubba Shobert, Chris Carr and Freddie Spencer.

Motorcycle.com Staff

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