By Shawn P. Sweeney
The purpose of this monograph is to arrange, compile, and analyze material brought to light in the Classic & Antique Bicycle Exchange (CABE) web forum under the thread “Anyone here own a Miami Flying Merkel Bicycle.” While much information was discovered it became clear there is still a lot to learn about these bicycles. This monograph provides a brief history of the Miami Manufacturing Company, the Merkel timeline, and explains the distinguishing features of these historical machines. Period ads and original bikes are also featured. This monograph does not include nor discuss those machines manufactured by Westfield Manufacturing Company after it acquired the Miami Cycle Manufacturing Company. This monograph also does not discuss other Miami made machines except as necessary to provide context to the Flying Merkel story.
History of the Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company
The Miami Company, organized in 1895, built bicycles and motorcycles using names such as Racycle and Miami. The Merkel acquisition gave Miami the high-end product that it needed to be regarded as a premiere manufacturer. Upon the acquisition of the Merkel brand Miami ceased production of its other motorcycles and concentrated on the Flying Merkel brand which became very successful. An exception to this is the short lived Miami single of 1915-6. In 1914 the Flying Merkel won the National endurance run from Chicago to St Louis. Maldwyn Jones then broke a world’s record on the Vanderbilt Course on a Flying Merkel. When he returned to Middletown he was given a hero’s welcome. This no doubt enhanced the market for other Miami products as well.
Engineering innovation, high quality, and racing successes were not enough to sustain this progressive endeavor. The onset of war, a contracting market, and increased competition caused production of The Flying Merkel to falter. The final Merkel motorcycles were produced in 1917¹. The Flying Merkel bicycle, which had been introduced in 1912, was continued until the 1923 model year when the Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company was sold to Westfield Manufacturing.
The Merkel Timeline
1900 Joseph Merkel started in the bicycle business manufacturing bicycle parts.
1901 Merkel began attaching small motors to the bicycles and the Merkel Motorcycle was born.
1902 Merkel set-up shop producing single cylinder motorcycles.
1905 Merkel engaged in competition and produced several racing machines.
1909 The company was purchased by the Light Manufacturing Company and moved to Pottstown Pennsylvania, producing machines with the “Merkel Light” and subsequently “The Flying Merkel”.
1911 The Miami Cycle Manufacturing Company purchased Merkel (about Jun 1911), and transferred all operations to its Middletown, Ohio headquarters and continued building the Flying Merkel motorcycles. Miami began producing the Flying Merkel bicycles in early 1912 and ceased in 1923.
Brands of Miami Bicycles
Flying Merkel Elco
Private label—Arrow, Savage, Mead, New England, Navy, Black Beauty*
*Debate exists whether Miami built any Black Beauty badged bikes
In its 1915 catalog of the Flying Merkel Miami goes to great lengths to describe how their enormous, centrally located manufacturing facility (Fig. 1) enables them to justify being the world’s largest “…makers of high grade bicycles, motorcycles, and coaster brakes…”.
Identifying a Miami Frame
According to Patric Cafaro there is more inconsistency among frame construction from Miami-Cycle than from any bicycle manufacturer he has ever seen. For instance some bikes have built in axle adjusters while others use banjo style adjusters, some have lugged frames while others do not, some have arch-bar connectors while others do not, and tubing size can vary. Lastly some have a split bottom bracket, a faux split bracket, an offset bottom bracket, or a regular bottom bracket.
Perhaps the one Miami Genetic-Marker that remains constant is the rather-thick fender and chain stay bridges (Figs. 2-1 to 2-4). Notice that some of these bridges may exhibit ‘trumpet’ style joints. Figures 2-3 and 2-4 are of a Racycle frame but these same bridges are found on Flying Merkels as well. It is also important to note the orientation of the serial numbers on the bottom bracket. With the possible exception of racers Miami serial numbers will always run parallel with the crank.
Bottom Brackets (Crank Hangers)
As mentioned previously there are four types of bottom brackets found on Flying Merkel bicycles. The split bottom bracket uses two bolts that tighten to help secure the crank. Figure 2-1 shows a split bottom bracket from a Racycle. Figure 2-2 shows a faux split bottom bracket while figure 2-3 shows a “Center Drive” bottom bracket. Finally, Figure 2-4 shows a standard bottom bracket.
The split bottom bracket was used with all two piece cranks which were used through 1916. The 1915 literature shows both the two piece and one piece cranks and use depended on model. It seems likely rather than produce two types of bottom brackets Miami simply didn’t machine the bottom brackets for the bikes using the one piece crank resulting in the faux split bottom bracket. From 1917 to 1919 a standard bottom bracket was used and continued through 1923 on the ladies models. The “center drive” offset hanger was likely used from 1920-1923 on the most models. From the literature it would appear that D&J was the supplier of the cranks used on early Miami products. The 1915 literature says that Miami is producing their own, improved two piece crank under the D&J patent. From about 1915 on it appears Miami also produced their own one piece crank and the 1916 catalog indicates that they have improved upon this crank.
An interesting feature of the offset “Center Drive” bottom bracket is the notched bearing cups that allow the crank to be removed without removing the bearing cups (Fig 2-9). The purpose of the “Center Drive” was to position the chain directly over the top and aligned with the bearings (Fig 2-10).
As noted previously some frames or models have typical threaded axle adjusters (Fig 2-11) while most Miami dropouts (Fig 2-12) uses a banjo style adjuster (Fig. 2-13).
Other Frame Characteristics
As seen on some fender bridges the trumpet mouth construction is used on many Miami frames. Other manufacturers used this type of construction as well. Figures 2-14 and 2-15 illustrate typical Miami trumpet joints. The distinctive trumpet mouth joints of a “Hercules” constructed Miami frame are shown in figures 2-16 and 2-17. Fig 2-18 is of a seldom seen frame with no pinch bolt (seat post binder).
There is only one known Flying Merkel with a rear suspension. It is a 1912 model and besides the rear suspension it also features a unique seat post. This bike is shown and discussed in the last part of this monograph.
Identifying a Flying Merkel
Once the frame is determined to be manufactured by Miami then one can look to determine whether the bike was branded as a Flying Merkel. The most distinctive feature of a Flying Merkel between 1912 and 1917* will be the head badge transfer (graphic image) or the lack of any holes for a head badge (Figs 3 and 3-1). The transfer is an applied graphic and is not a decal. No other Miami product used a transfer so this means if the frame can be identified as a Miami frame and it lacks any holes for a badge, either screw or ‘bottle cap’, then the bike originated as a 1912-1917 Flying Merkel. The only possible exception here is a Miami custom made racing frame. This is mentioned as a possibility because there is at least one known Miami lightweight frame with a racing fork that defies typical Miami construction with the exception of the thick fender bridges.
A Miami frame with either horizontal or
vertical screw holes for a badge means the bike was not branded as a Flying Merkel because the only metal badge ever used on a Flying Merkel was the ‘bottle cap’ badge (see Figs 3-2 and 3-3). The bottle cap badge is an embossed badge so any badge with a smooth back is a reproduction.
The presence of the bottle cap hole is not an indicator of a Flying Merkel as other Miami brands also used a bottle cap badge e.g. Racycle. For a Miami frame with a bottle cap hole and no badge it is not possible to positively identify it as a Merkel unless it has the center drive crank. For a restored bike there is no way to positively identify that the bike started as a Flying Merkel unless one can inspect the head tube to determine that no holes were ever present (to indicate a 1912-1917* model). This is much the same for the other motorcycle related brands such as Harley Davidson and Indian which can be made from frames of the same maker of these bikes i.e. Davis and Westfield.
From 1918* to 1923 the bike will have a ‘bottle cap’ “Flying Merkel” badge or the hole for one. (Fig. 3-2 to 3-4)
*Note on head tube transfer/badge: It cannot be confirmed with certainty that 1918 was the first year of the metal badge. So far no 1918 catalog or literature has surfaced that positively indicates Miami had transitioned to the badge. There is circumstantial evidence such as the cover of the 1917 catalog showing the ‘flying wheel’ which indicates that they were at least leaning that way although the known bike thought to be a ’17 still has the transfer.
Down Tube Transfer
If the bike is in original paint there may be a transfer on the downtube that says “Flying Merkel”. There are at least two versions of this transfer. The early one from 1912-1914? (Fig 3-5) and a later transfer from 1915-1918? (Fig 3-6). From 1918 on there may not be any down tube decal due to the paint design and the use of a ‘dart’ on the down tube. It should be noted on the early version of this transfer it reads from the bottom up (Fig 3-7) while the later version reads from the top down on the downtube (Fig 3-8). The decal used on the black bikes is of the second design and is a white outline with no color (Fig 3-9). The blue bikes appear to have a gold transfer (Fig 3-10). Interestingly the 1913 advertising illustration shows the transfer on the side of the down tube (Fig 3-11) while no known bicycles have this feature. Earlier Miami advertising on the Racycle showed transfers on the side as well while known original bikes always have it on the topside of the down tube. Possibly the illustrations were done like this to indicate the brand of the bike shown in advertisements.
Generally there are three types of forks normally found on Flying Merkels. The first is a simple forged arch crown fork (Fig 4). The second style is a triple plate crown with truss stand-offs (Fig. 4-1). The last type is an unusual spring fork design (Fig. 4-2). The 1915 literature says the spring fork is used exclusively on the Model 400. From the known literature it does not appear this fork was offered either as an option on other models or as a stand-alone option.
The following sections cover the components used by Miami to manufacture the Flying Merkel. Unlike many manufacturers or ‘jobbers’ of the day Miami actually manufactured many of their components in-house. They did source fenders, chains, grips, pedals and saddles. These parts were sourced from the major manufacturers such as Persons and Troxel for saddles, Ideal, Rex, Acme, Star, and others for pedals, Keystone and others for grips, Diamond for chains, and initially D&J for the crank hangers. Fenders were likely made by International Stamping of Chicago, IL. They initially bought their handle bars ‘in the rough’ and finished them but starting in 1915 Miami manufactured their own bars from start to finish. Also starting about 1915 they began making their own crank hangers although some were made under the D&J patents.
The Flying Merkel used quite a few different chain rings throughout its span including both ½” and 1” pitch rings. The 1912-16 bikes used a cloverleaf design (Fig 5-8) of which there is at least four varieties for the Flying Merkel. Also used were a star, a sweetheart style ring, the circle of “Fs” center drive, and a cloverleaf center drive used on the later racers. The rings and tooth count identified below are those thought to be used on Flying Merkels. Debate exists concerning the use of other teeth counts as well as other Miami rings such as the ‘five spoke’ ring. The dates shown are based on evidence from advertising and observations of contributors to the CABE thread on Flying Merkels.
Solid center clover leaf (1” pitch) 26T, 28T (1912?-1916) (Fig 5)
Cloverleaf D&J Proprietary (1/2” pitch) 48T (1912?-1914) (Fig 5-1)
Cloverleaf D&J Proprietary (1” pitch) 60T (1912?-1916) (Fig 5-2)
Cut out Cloverleaf (1” pitch) 22T (Juvenile) (1912-1915), 28T, 30T (1916-1917) (Fig 5-3) Star (1” pitch) 30T (1915) (Fig 5-4)
Star (1/2” pitch) 60T (1916-1917) (Fig 5-5)
Circle of “F”s Center Drive (1” pitch) 28T (center drive) (1920-1923) (Fig 5-6)
Solid Cloverleaf Center Drive 24T (1” pitch) (Racer only) (1920-1923) (similar to Fig 5) Sweetheart 22T (1” pitch) (Juvenile 1915-1922), 24T, 26T (1914?-1923) (Fig 5-7)
There is a variation of the cut-out cloverleaf used for other Miami built products but not used on the Flying Merkel (Fig 5-9). Notice the round ends on the ‘cut outs’ near the center of the chain ring.
In the beginning Miami used a D&J two piece crank hanger and continued this through 1916 although by this time it was made by Miami under the D&J patent (Fig 6 & 6-1). The 1915 catalog describes the one piece crank hanger made in-house and by 1917 this is the only crank hanger mentioned in the catalog (Fig 6-2). The “Center Drive” crank hanger is thought to have been introduced in 1920 although there is no evidence to back this up. It is the primary hanger used on the 1921 models and appears to have been used until the end of production in 1923 (Fig 6-3). The Center Drive hanger positions the chain ring directly over the bearings reducing the side load which is thought to improve bearing life, decrease friction, and increase efficiency according to the 1921 catalog.
As stated earlier the fenders for Miami made bicycles were likely made by International Stamping of Chicago, IL. The fenders found on the earlier model bikes tend to be more shallow (Fig 7) than fenders on later bikes which have more of a skirted side (Fig 7-1). Through 1916 the catalog shows all models with the shallow fender. The 1917 catalog shows all models with the shallow fender except for the motorbike (Model 426). As late as 1921 the catalog shows the ladies model still having the shallow fenders but by this time all other models exhibit the deep fenders. If the 1918 to 1920 catalogs were to surface this could answer the question more definitively.
Miami used a variety of different pedals from most of the major suppliers of the time such as Ideal, Rex, Acme, Star, and others. Catalog specifications for many models are specific such as the top-of-the-line 1915 Model 400 Flying Merkel Scout which calls for “Ideal No. 2. Motor type”. The Racer (Model 422) in the 1917 catalog calls for Star Racing peddles. Depending on year some of the lesser models such as the juvenile bikes simply say “rubber”. Shown are excerpts from catalogs featuring the various pedals (Figs 8 & 8-1).
Miami used, predominantly, Persons and Troxel saddles with some of these being branded under the Miami name. Again the catalogs call out the specific saddle for most models. This isn’t to say that a bike couldn’t have been ordered with a different saddle than what the catalog depicts or that saddles may have been substituted during manufacture. Shown is a catalog excerpt and an actual Miami saddle (Figs 9 & 9-1).
The literature generally calls for a ‘lucky seven’ style seat post of 6” x ¾”. The 1920 Motorbike featured in this monograph has an unusual seat post made under the Heise patent (Figs 10 & 10-1). As previously shown in Fig 2-18 a lucky 7, self clinching, post was also used. As shown above in Fig 9-1 a straight, self-clinching, seat post was also used that extended from the top tube.
As stated previously Miami initially bought their handle bars ‘in the rough’ and finished them but starting in 1915 Miami manufactured their own bars from start to finish. A variety of handlebars were offered including the popular ‘California’ style as well as box and racing bars. At least some of the Motorbikes featured cross-braced bars nearly identical to those used on Indian and Harley Davidson bicycles of the period. Grips included leather wound wood, corrugated rubber, Keystone rubber, and Boy Scout grips (Figs 11 & 11-1).
The tires used on the Flying Merkel were standard 28” x 1 ½” tires except for the Racer model which used a 28 x 1 1/8 tire and the juvenile models which used a 20”, 24”, or 26” tire. The 1915 and 1916 catalogs indicate that Federal was the preferred tire supplier for Flying Merkels with Fisk, Continental, and Goodyears as optional. By 1917 it appears Miami had pretty much opened up equipping their bikes with any number of manufacturer’s tires by simply indicating “Single tube Heavy Service”. Interestingly the Racer model had “Merkel Flyer” Tires. The 1921 models used Kokomo brand tires exclusively except for the Racer which used U.S. Cord tires (Fig 12).
The catalogs from 1915 and 1916 describe the wheels as made of ”Michigan Hard Maple” with most models painted No. 171 Orange with black stripes (Fig 13). Other models from these years include a Rosewood finish, and the girls blue bike had aluminum color wheels with fine stripes. The color of stripes is not indicated but likely was the color of the bike. The 1917 catalog described the rims as “Crescent wood” painted No. 171 orange but no indication of stripes on most models. The Racer has Crescent rims painted blue with gold stripes to match the bike. The girls bike had black rims and the juvenile bikes had aluminum colored rims.
Not mentioned in the known catalogs is the steel clincher rim (Fig 13-1) also found on other makes of the period most notably being the Harley Davidson. The 1921 catalog simply says “wood rims to match” (color of bike).
The rear hub used for most Flying Merkels was the Musselman Positive Drive coaster brake which is usually referred to as the “armless” Musselman hub (Figs 14 & 14-1). The 1915 catalog depicts the Miami Coaster Brake (Fig 14-2) but the only model it is used on is the top-of-the-line Model 400 Scout. The 1914 Racycle catalog makes no mention of this hub and the 1916 Flying Merkel catalog does not mention it so it would appear this was a very short lived hub. A typical Flying Merkel sprocket is shown in Fig 14-1. This sprocket is known in 1” pitch 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 tooth and ½” pitch in 18, 20, 22, and 24 tooth. The front hub used throughout the Flying Merkel production is a proprietary hub turned from solid steel bar (Fig 14-3).
The literature suggests that boys bikes up until 1915 were painted No. 16 Flying Merkel Orange. Later years offered more colors including black, drab (gray) with blue head, dark blue, blue with gray head, orange with maroon head, orange with black head, white, and blue with white head. The girls bikes were initially painted National blue and later in black. Juvenile bikes are normally found in orange until about 1920 when they are drab (gray) with blue head.
- 1917 was the first year of the Motorbike. Documented evidence clearly states the Flying Merkel Motorbike was offered as a 20” frame only – no optional size, this was up to 1918. Supposedly no 1919 Motorbikes were made due to wartime restrictions. Between 1920-1923 the FM Motorbike was offered only in a 19” model. The frame tubing was the standard 1” except the lower bar (under the top tube) is 11/16”. The literature says this is ¾” but was likely rounded up.
- 1917 was also the first year for the racer and was offered only in a 21” frame throughout production with 7/8” frame tubing.
- 1917 was also the first year for an arch bar design. Although not a true arch bar as the front of the arch tube goes straight into the head tube. The Model 424 was offered in 20, 22, and 24 inch frame sizes. The literature also indicates the bottom bar was ¾” but very well may be 11/16”.
Flying Merkel through the Years
As discussed above there is much variety in the frame construction of the Flying Merkel bicycles. Additionally the Flying Merkel was offered in many, if not all, of the same models as the rest of the Miami line. Roadsters, motorbikes, arch bars, racers, and girls bikes were produced under the Flying Merkel brand. The following are advertisements for the Flying Merkel (Figs 15 to 15-4).
Examples of Original Bicycles
This is perhaps the earliest known Flying Merkel bicycle. It has a few very unusual features. First the seat post mimics the Flying Merkel motorcycles by extending out the end of the top tube. Secondly this is the only Flying Merkel known with a rear suspension. Lastly the rear fender is not ‘bobbed’ but is a factory piece. It should be noted that the chain ring is incorrect in this picture and the owner has the correct replacement ring. Also of note is the front suspension which is a contemporary aftermarket piece and not a factory installation.
This bike was sold through a Bonhams auction in about 2015. This Model 406, Roadster, is listed as a 1916 but is actually a 1915 as determined by the double fine black pinstripes. A 1916 model would have gold pinstripes. Also of note is the missing front fender. The rat trap pedals are correct for this model.
The 1917 catalog identifies the bicycles only by model number. This is a Model 426 and is generally called a Motorbike. Until it can be determined exactly when the metal badge came to be used this could possibly be a 1918 model. This bike deviates from the 1917 literature in two respects; the rack and handlebars are different than what is shown in the catalog. This bicycle is remarkable in that it retains its original air pump, tool bag, and front mud flap.
This exceptional Motorbike was discovered by a plumber on a house call in Pennsylvania in 2014. Dave Stromberger acquired the bike and lightly cleaned the bike to bring it to its present state. This is the only known original Flying Merkel with the center drive, circle of “F’s”, chainring. It is missing the upper front fender brace and only remnants of the front mud flap (not shown) survived. The bike retains its original air pump and Surplus pedals as well as the original seat. The grips and tires have been replaced.
The author would like to thank all of the original contributors of the Flying Merkel thread and especially Patric Cafaro who kept pushing and both Carlton Taylor and Chris Cox who provided much original research. Special thanks to Patric for his editorial help as well. The story is far from finished though and the author hopes that as literature and other bits of information are found they are added to the thread. This material can then be added to this monograph to provide an up-to-date history of this popular bicycle. So, Sons of the Flying Merkel, did you just hear the bell ring?