1904 - 1933

The pioneering era of motorcycles in Nuremberg

Museum for Industrial Culture, Nuremberg Municipal Museums

About bicycle makers und pioneers who sought to gain a foothold in the new motorcycle market. 

This, the oldest preserved motorcycle made in Nuremberg, has obvious similarities to its precursor, the bicycle. The Victoria works was a motorcycle-building pioneer here in Nuremberg, alongside Hercules, Mars and Triumph.

Like their four-wheeled cousins, these early motor vehicles were very expensive, hard to drive, and not exactly reliable technologically. So, hardly the thing for everyday use. Their day would arrive considerably later.

This Knirps, the Triumph company’s entry-level moped of the 1920s, was an imitation of the "Junior" that Triumph had been making in England since 1914. Triumph Nuremberg's "Knirps" was launched on the market in 1919 – a sturdy, technically unpretentious machine.

Sports successes like a victory in the 1923 Reichsfahrt race boosted its popularity.

Rosa Blomer – Motorcycle Amazon
Rosa Tiefel, born in Nuremberg in 1891, already experienced the wind in her hair as a little girl riding in her father's sidecar. Apparently the gasoline fumes were such a thrill that she developed a desperate desire for a motorcycle of her own. Her father was unable to resist her urgent pleas for long, and soon she had her first bike, a Triumph Knirps.

Young Rosa's early years as a motorcycle rider included their share of painful experiences with trying to fix her machine's many persistent technical defects. On one trip through Nuremberg, her cycle broke down in front of the railroad station. She began troubleshooting right in mid-street, and became so absorbed in her task that only the clanging bell alerted her to an oncoming streetcar, and a shower of jeers tipped her off that she’d attracted a large audience.

During her excursions – or more precisely, while she was taking a break on rides – the biggest problem was her novel outfit. After all, it was utterly uncommon for women to wear trousers at all, much less leather ones. Not infrequently, they attracted vulgar ridicule and abuse from contemporaries whose preferred vision of women's clothing involved pastel ensembles and a parasol. Many also saw no reason why a woman should have her own motorcycle in the first place.

All these difficulties did not keep the adventurous Miss Tiefel from attracting a husband, whose contacts in the Nuremberg motorcycle industry helped her get engaged as a break-in rider for such companies as Triumph. The freshly married Mrs. Blomer's job, first of all, was to test ride repaired machines before they were returned to the client. She also tried out new models on long-distance trips, some of which took her as far afield as Italy and Greece.

In the meantime she had acquired her own Triumph SSK 350, a very stylish cycle that she felt set her nicely apart from her father, who still clung to his old-fashioned "White Mars." Like many of her friends, Rosa Blomer considered her parent’s unwieldy machine no proper motorcycle at all – it counted as a kind of two-wheeled sedan, suited at most for elderly, well-heeled gentlemen. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, female break-in drivers were no longer acceptable. Thus ended this pioneer's career as an active motorcycle rider.

In 1919, the red machines from company founder Arno Dietrich (Ardie) were real attention-getters. They earned their "Minimax" nickname because the shape of the gas tank was reminiscent of a fire extinguisher of the same name.

The bike was a big hit for Arno Dietrich, and the Ardie always placed among the winners in the popular nationwide and alpine races of the era. But Dietrich himself met with a fatal accident during a test run in 1922. The bike's many subsequent competitive successes can be attributed to the Thumshirn brothers of Nuremberg. In 1925, Ardie began installing JAP (J.A. Prestwich) engines from England, which helped keep the motorcycles among the top competitors.

The Thumshirn Brothers

In 1920 Ardie founder Arno Dietrich, himself a race driver, engaged Nuremberg motorcycle racer Georg Thumshirn, who subsequently also worked in production and development at Ardie. Georg's brothers Hans and Konrad followed him a year later, and all three then joined Eugen Bussinger and Ernst Islinger to form a "plant team" that enjoyed great success in subsequent years.

The Thumshirn brothers snapped up win after win for Ardie, for example at the various "resort races" on the Baltic seaside, at Semmering in Austria, at the Eilenriede park in Hamburg, in the Ratisbona, Würgau and Ködelberg races, and on the AVUS racing circuit in Berlin.

Georg was the most successful of the brothers, with victories in the 1926 and 1927 Austrian Tourist Trophies, as well as numerous wins in endurance races.

The Franconian Endurance Race

The "Franconian Endurance Race" initiated by the Association of Nuremberg-Furth Motorcycle Riders (VNFM) was held twelve times between 1920 and 1934. Courses always changed, but always covered between 200 and 300 kilometers through the nearby Franconian countryside. Racing wins, especially those in endurance races, proved to be good advertising, and organizations became increasingly willing to sponsor such competitions, including the North Bavarian Endurance Race and the Würgau Mountain Race.

The Mars A 20 from 1920 went down in motorcycling history as the legendary "White Mars," and today counts as one of the most coveted vintage motorbikes.

Despite its sophistication, the "White Mars" was not especially sought after in its day, and sales were sluggish.

The KR 1 represented the reentry of Nuremberg’s Victoria works into the booming motorcycle market of the 1920s. This historic bicycle maker had already had its first experiences with building motorcycles back before 1910.

The KR 1, an exclusive touring and sporting motorcycle with a longitudinally installed boxer engine, was among Victoria's significant contributions to Nuremberg's evolution into a citadel of motorcycling in the 1920s. The motorcycle on display here has been kept in its original condition. It is a former exhibit piece from the Victoria works.

The Zündapp Z 22 came onto the market in 1922 as the "motorcycle for everyone." "Thrifty, inexpensive, reliable" were its persuasive features, earning it fast-rising sales figures and helping mass motorization to get firmly established.

With this strategy, Zündapp took its first steps toward becoming Nuremberg’s most important motorcycle maker.

From 1922 to 1925, Fürth motorcycle maker Julius Höflich made bikes that he sold under the "Juhö" brand. He was among the "Konfektionär" makers who bought all the parts for their motorcycles from outside, and usually produced in small volumes.

Juhö Fürth (1922 – 1925)

In 1922, Jewish businessman Julius Höflich founded Julius Höflich Kraftfahrwerk AG – Juhö for short – headquartered in Fürth. The company's supervisory board also included entrepreneur Salomon Dorn, joint owner of the Dorko works in Bamberg. In an era of rising inflation, Julius Höflich now began making motorcycles. He produced the frames himself in Fürth, then delivered them to Dorko in Bamberg, which acted as a "Konfektionär" to assemble the bikes from parts purchased on the market. But Höflich also offered complete motorcycles – a two-stroke and a four-stroke model – which already had a transmission and were visually quite appealing. The bikes even enjoyed successes in competition – four Juhö riders finished in the First Upper Franconian Endurance Race in 1923.

Nevertheless, Höflich was unable to stay in the motorcycle business for long, and filed for bankruptcy in 1925. Yet he continued to work closely with the Dorko plant in Bamberg, which had already begun selling complete Juhö motorcycles; now the company took over what assets remained after the bankruptcy. At first, Dorko continued to offer Juhö bikes, but later it put out a motorcycle of its own, the 350 cc Hamakraft "Witch." No information survives about the small cars touted in Julius Höflich's advertising brochure. But one of the few "lightweight motorcycles" has indeed survived and even found its way to the museum.

Ludwig Maurer made the engine himself, but bought the frame from Hecker (Emora). Maurer only began building frames for later, higher-powered models.

Ludwig Maurer – A Nuremberg automotive pioneer

Ludwig Maurer settled in Nuremberg in 1897, arriving from Munich, where he had been involved in developing the world’s first motorcycle, the "Hildebrand & Wolfmüller." In Nuremberg he developed the friction drive, much admired in its day. It worked like a continuously variable transmission and became his trademark.

He began manufacturing motorcycles in 1920, starting with a 1 hp(M) bicycle auxiliary motor that was followed by larger models later. He himself rode in the Franconian Endurance Races to gather knowledge and ideas for further technical innovations. Yet he never achieved success in the market, and stopped building motorcycles in 1927.

From today's vantage point, Ludwig Maurer was Nuremberg's most significant automotive pioneer of the pre-1914 era – entirely comparable with names like Daimler and Maybach, with whom he also maintained personal contacts. He was also one of the first people to hold a driver’s license, and Nuremberg's first driving instructor.

Motor-paced bike races were run at the Reichelsdorfer Keller velodrome in Nuremberg. This large-capacity, two-cylinder fireball, with no noise muffling of any kind, worked until the 1950s to provide the slipstream that enabled velodrome cyclists to cover the concrete oval course at nearly 100 kph (62 mph).

The pacemakers at Reichelsdorfer Keller

The first motor-paced bicycle race on the velodrome track in the Reichelsdorfer Keller district of Nuremberg was held in 1905. Nearly 15,000 curious spectators turned out to watch the riders on their noisy motorcycles, and behind them the champion cyclists tearing around the circuit at nearly 100 kph (62 mph) in the machines' slipstream. The most important races at the "Keller" track over the subsequent decades were the Nuremberg Grand Prize and the German Motor-Paced Bicycling Championships. Competitors became celebrities – among the most famous were Thaddäus Robl, Andreas Kölbl and Walter Lohmann. A new era began after 1945; now the local biking heroes were Georg Umbenhauer, Fritz Scheller, Karl Kittsteiner and Heinz Jakobi. The track began a phase of slow decay with the end of the great era of Nuremberg bicycle racing. The last race on the now-decrepit concrete oval was held in 2017.

OWUS is an abbreviation for "Otto Wittkopf und Sohn." Though it looks like a hitherto unknown brand of Nuremberg motorcycle, there is no evidence to support that idea. Rather, the OWUS is a one-off unit built entirely by Nuremberg master metalworker Otto Wittkopf himself.

Wittkopf lived right next door to the city's Victoria works, and modeled his own design after the Victoria KR3. The catalog he used to order parts from Victoria still survives. All the same, the OWUS bike was absolutely unique. This example, a barn find from the 1990s, was restored by Gustav Franke.

The Zündapp Z22, a copy of the English Levis two-stroke machine built in high quality construction under the slogan "The motorcycle for everyone," put Zündapp among the front ranks of German motorcycle makers. With an eye to small and medium-sized businesses, and with the slogan "The modern businessman delivers to your door," the first delivery three-wheeler entered the market in 1926.

Based on Zündapp's standard model, there were a number of different add-ons for carrying goods – and even one for carrying passengers. Though these popular vehicles were a familiar part of the street scene of the 1920s, scarcely a single one has survived.

Edmund Pazicky, a Nuremberg "Konfektionär" who assembled his products entirely from parts made by others, based this machine on English motorcycle designs. The Epa company, managed by Edmund's brother Peter while Edmund handled the technical side, made about 1,740 motorcycles between 1924 and 1928. At first the cycles were equipped only with 300 cc JAP (J.A. Prestwich) engines, but 350 cc engines became an option later on.

Peter Pazicky – a Nuremberg "Konfektionär"

Like many others, Peter Pazicky wanted a share in the motorcycle boom of the 1920s. As what was known as a "Konfektionär," his business model was to draw on outside sources for almost all the parts he needed to build a motorcycle, and then combine them according to his own ideas. His "Peter Pazicky Vehicle Factory" on Schnieglinger Strasse was the right setting. Between 1926 and 1929 he made about 1740 motorcycles, equipped with JAP (J.A. Prestwich) engines from England.

The company name EPA refers to the second of the participating brothers, Edmund Pazicky, who was the technical managing director. According to Edmund, the Schnieglinger Strasse facility produced not only the motorcycles just mentioned, but also a model with a 1000 cc two-cylinder JAP engine and one with a 600 cc single-cylinder JAP engine.

The global economic crisis at the end of the decade put an end to not only the Pazicky brothers’ business, but that of all the other roughly 40 motorcycle "Konfektionärs" in Nuremberg. Only the biggest manufacturers like Ardie, Hercules, Mars, Triumph, Victoria and Zündapp were able to stay in the market.

Edmund Pazicky never had anything to do with motorcycles again. After the bankruptcy, he made turned parts, tools, vehicle parts and weaponry. From 1950 onward he operated a small workshop on Adam Klein Strasse, and later one on Fahrradestrasse – "Bicycle Street" – where he was still repairing car engines into the 1980s.

Defying the economic crisis and unemployment, in 1930 Zündapp put its new S models onto the market. The small S models were equipped with 200 and 300 cc two-stroke engines, and were aimed at a broad range of buyers. The struggle for market share, and especially for the best dealers, had led the company to rely on four-stroke engines that it procured from Rudge-Whitworth in England. The company's expensive top-of-the-line model was the S500 – but few could afford it. The S 300 was more affordable, and together the two were the "lead performers" in a major Zündapp advertising campaign.

The Ardie SS 31, also known as the "Silver Arrow," reached the market in 1931. Its wrought Duralumin frame had the strength and ductility of steel, yet at a lower weight. "Motorrad" magazine wrote at the time: "It's the same material that the 'Graf Zeppelin' airship and all today's large airplanes are built from. In this season's races it has already proved itself as a metal for motorcycle frames."

Unlike the smaller "Silver Fox," which likewise had a Duralumin frame but did not require a driver's license to operate, sales figures for the "Silver Arrow" failed to impress. Ardie sold only about a thousand units of this beautiful cycle. Not least to blame was the economic crisis of these years, which shook up far more than the motorcycle market. In such an environment, even the Ardie racing team’s successes counted for little.

The Nuremberg Motorcycle Museum at the Museum for Industrial Culture

The first motorized two-wheelers started being developed by bicycle makers in 1901. An immense upswing set in during the 1920s, and the motorcycle became Germany's most important mode of transportation. Along with a great many small makers, major names like Ardie, Hercules, Mars, Triumph, Victoria and Zündapp built Nuremberg's reputation as the citadel of motorcycle manufacturing.

The "legends in chrome and steel" kept rolling off the production lines here until the mid-1950s. But as the "motorcycle crisis" then set in with the dawning age of the automobile, the reputations of the "Green Elephant," "Boss," and "Bergmeister" began to dim.

The Museum has some 130 vintage motorcycles on display – all of them "Made in Nuremberg."
Nuremberg Motorcycle Museum

Museum Industriekultur
Credits: Story

Text and choice of images: Matthias Murko
Implementation: Brigitte List

More about the history of the Nuremberg motorcycle industry can be found in the book accompanying the Nuremberg motorcycle museum
Matthias Murko: Motorrad-Legenden
Erweiterte und vollständig überarbeitete Neuauflage
Tümmel Verlag, Nürnberg 2014

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.