The two brothers Tom and William Henderson had started their
motorcycle production out of Detroit. The first Hendersons were based
on ideas picked up from the early Belgian made FN-4 and the nimble
American Pierce. The early Henderson got a much larger displacement of 968 cc
than the earlier pioneer four cylinders, and the Hendersons also
made their fours very long.
For their 1916 model they had
their model shortened by 14 inches. In 1917 they increased
the cubic capasity to 1068 cc and made away with
the two speed rear wheel and got a more modern three-speed
incorporated in the engine casting. This was a design that
should stay with all American inline four cylinders to follow.
This modernisation and retooling was probably one of the
reasons that the Henderson factory was purchased by the then
largest motorcycle producer in the world, The Excelsior factory of Chicago
owned by the industrialist Ignatz Schwinn. The Henderson then
became the Excelsior Henderson.
In the merger one Henderson brother quit to enter into car
production while William stayed on to look after his interests.
Apparently the industrialist and sole owner of the Excelsior factory,
Schwinn decided on major changes of the X-Henderson as he decided to
stiffen up the frame and make the four a sidevalve engine.
| To William Henderson this would compromise his plan to make the Henderson
a light, snappy motorcycle and he left Excelsior-Henderson to try
to make his own version of a fast and sporty motorcycle . He secretly got
financial backing to make the
My own very special Henderson
The 1916 Henderson is a short wheelbase light motorcycle.
The inline four engine drives the bike via straight cut gears in an
angle drive directly driven from the big flywheel. A little 6 "
Eclipse then clutch moves the power to the rear wheel and a two speed rear
|laid back riding
The engine is 968cc (58cu. inch) and
has a bore of63,5mm and stroke of 76,2mm. The
sound of the engine is "car like" but more
"throaty" much like a little Ferguson tractor. The bike is
pretty fast. During a rally in Denmark I was persuaded by a Danish
Motorcycle Cop to test its speed with him on wheel with his BMW
and Speedpilot. He clocked the Henderson at 105 km/hour
and was very impressed. He did not want to give me a signed certificate of
Carburation of the four cylinder is through the little 3/4"
Schebler connected through a long intake manifold. The mixture duct of the
Schebler gets its air from a separate pipe which is led through the
muffler. Thus the intake air is preheated. It is quite easy and often
necessary to adjust and tune the carburettor during driving.
| On the open roads it is running "long legged"
and free and I have got
mileage in the range of 0,35 litre/10 km or 65miles to a US
gal.Driving in modern traffic in towns with stops at traffic lights
and such is a nightmare. The two speed rear hub has no
"free" or neutral, so holding the bike means disengagning
the clutch with the pedal or sliding over the clutch hand lever on
its ratchet while trying to maintain balance , hold it with
the rear brake, and balance the engine with the twist grips.|
The brake is
a factor which makes this a bike for the
wide open spaces....
Starting is also something you only want to do once a trip. The starter
crank is best suited for hand use, forward-down. Starting procedure is as
follows: Put bike on rear stand, open petrol tap, close the
choke handle, turn off the short-circuit switch. Unscrew the primer syringe
from tank and squirt half a syringe through the priming valve on the intake manifold
Then prime the Schebler, and
carefully bring the engine to a compression stroke with the
starter crank andadjust the ratchet for the longest
possible stroke and give it a firm forward-downward stroke. If you use the hand like I do, mind your
thumb for a possible kick back, but as it usually starts quite easily, be
ready with same hand to return and park the starting handle and grab the
right hand side throttle.
|Engine on the
bench, it is easy|
to se the configuration
|The rear wheel is spinning with the
engine. Usually there is no problems getting a helping hand to lift and secure the
rear stand while holding the bike on the clutch., but if not,
this calls for some advanced gymnastics....
Driving this first "short coupled" Henderson is a pleasant
experience once you are out in the open. At a rally I noticed that there
were quite a lot of other contestants who apparently enjoyed
driving out from the stops behind me and I was told they loved how this old
bike twisted as I took off or accelerated up a hill.
This old motorcycle has a few stories to it and I restored it to win a
prize for the first motorcycle restored within the Norwegian Veteran car
club and later took my bike and experiences out to found and run the
Norwegian Veteran Motorcycle Club,
now the largest veteran and vintage vehicle organisation in Norway.