The Big Car Database

Megola Motorcycles

The Megola was a German motorcycle produced between 1921 and 1925 in Munich.

Like Bimota, the name is a portmanteau derived loosely from the names of its designers Meixner, Cockerell, and Landgraf.

‘Megola’ is a portmanteau brand name derived from designers Meixner, Cockerell, and Landgraf. Unfortunately, their motorcycle endeavours were short-lived, lasting just four years from 1921 and 1925. A few years later, there was an attempt to resurrect the front-engined concept, with the Killinger and Freund. But that’s another story.

MEGOLA is a combination of Hans MEixner, Friedrich GOckerell and Otto LAndgraf, the three gentlemen who designed this bike. It was built in Munich from 1921 to 1925. Don’t go by the looks of the engine thinking that it will be some puny 125 cc engine because it is actually a 640cc engine.

This is rather a radial rotary of the type found in some of the early airplanes like Sopwith Camel and the Fokker Triplane. A further detailing on the engine reveals that in the Megola rotary engine, the cylinders rotate and the bearing housing is stationary, in effect acting as the front wheel spindle. To add to the confusion, this 5 cylinder engine’s crankshaft is actually the front axle and the engine rotates with the wheel. The Megola's rotary works on the four-stroke principles. The five side-valve cylinders measuring 52 x 60 mm for a total capacity of 637cc, are disposed at 72 degrees to one another. The spokes of the front wheel are laced to the crankcase, so the wheel rim encircles the engine.

The crank is actually hollow and it also substituted as an intake manifold. Yes, it is difficult to even imagine such a thing and it is weird, but the Megola was actually competitive in racing and won the 1924 German Championship.

Friedrich Gockerell also known as Fritz Cockerell had designed a similar three-cylinder engine which was located in the rear wheel. Some say the idea wasn’t totally novel as a firm in Britain named Radco had had attempted a similar front wheel drive in 1919. Nonetheless, Cockerall felt a five-cylinder engine would be better suited for speed and redesigned the engine layout and by the time production was about to begin, Cockerell thought of switching the motor to the front wheel. Cockerell really thought of the bike as the future of motorcycling.

The bike had no clutch and transmission or neutral gear, and the high torque of the engine allowed to accelerate from (almost) zero mph to full speed with one gear. At stops, the engine had to be turned off, then you had to push the bike to get it started again. Imagine this in a modern city with thousands of red traffic lights...

The frame was made of welded and riveted sheet metal. The tube of the front wheel had a special design: the tube was an open circle, so it could be changed without taking the front wheel (and the engine!) out.

The Megola was successful in races with drivers like Toni Bauhofer, Josef Stelzer and Albin Tommasi. The SPORT Megolas had a top speed of 140 km per hour.

There is probably only two Megola in the U.S, one in the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the other, Jay Leno owns now which he bought it from Jeff Craig of Pennsylvia who gave the machine a full restoration. It would have probably survived and also caught on, but Germany was reeling through an economic crisis at that time and they had to shut shop. It was later replaced by a more conventional 175 cc runabout under the Cockerell name.

Out of the 2000 made, only around 10 remain. So you can well imagine how much this thing will go for if someone even thinks about selling it. Only 10 and that too a concept never ever tried before or after. Today the Megola is one of the rarest and most interesting vintage motorcycles. Cockerell died in 1965 and now he might have given a justification as why he thought and built this rare concept, but guess, we will never know.

Unusual design

The Megola had a unique design, laid down by Fritz Cockerell in 1920, using a rotary engine mounted within the frontwheel. The engine contained five cylinders with side-mounted valves, each of which displaced 128cc, with a bore/stroke of 52x60mm, and a total displacement of 640 cc (39 cu in). The 5 cylinders rotated around the front axle at 6x the wheel speed; thus while the cylinders were at maximum of 3600rpm the front wheel was turning at 600rpm, or roughly 60 mph (given the wheel diameter). A hand-controlled butterfly valve was located in the hollow crankshaft to regulate throttle. Power output was a modest 14 bhp (10 kW) but was applied directly to the wheel. This arrangement produced a very low centre of gravity and provided for excellent handling.

"The 5 cylinder star-engine was mounted in the front wheel, and the wheel turned around six times slower than the crankshaft did."

The engine was very flexible, lacking both a clutch and a transmission. Starting it required a person to either spin the front wheel while the bike was on its stand, or to push-start. The cylinders could be disassembled without having to remove the wheel spokes in order to service the engine. The tires were tubed with the front inner-tube being a circular sausage shape rather than a complete doughnut-like torus shape, so that it could be changed without removing the wheel and engine. The box section frame contained the main fuel tank which fed by gravity a smaller tank mounted on the axle. The front suspension consisted of semi-elliptical springs.

The top speed was 85 km/h (52 mph) resulting in a win at the German Championship in 1924, while later, sportier models were said to be capable of 140 km/h (88 mph). A total of 2000 Megolas were built, and perhaps only 10 rideable examples remain, and one was displayed at the Guggenheim Museum 'Art of the Motorcycle' exhibition in New York City, United States.

Killinger and Freund

In 1935 there was an attempt by a group of engineers to make an improved version, the Killinger and Freund Motorcycle, but World War II put an end to their plans.