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The Curious Case of the 1916 Traub Motorcycle

1916 Traub Motorcycle at Dale's Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum

One of the most innovative motorcycles in history wasn’t built by Harley-Davidson or Kawasaki. The 1916 Traub, which still runs today, has a story straight out of Unsolved Mysteries, if Robert Stack was more interested in horsepower than horror.

Discovered in 1967 — entombed behind a wall in a Chicago area home — the one and only 1916 Traub was built by hand, but far ahead of its time. The motorcycle featured a twin-brake/single-cam system that is unique for American motorcycles. According to Rumble On’s Jo Kelley, the 80-cubic inch V-twin engine boasted a capacity of 1,278cc — a massive upgrade from the 500 to 745cc’s that motorcycles could yield at the time.

The 1916 Traub could reach speeds of 85 mph, again leaving competition in the dust.

So why was it hidden away for so long? Why isn’t Traub one of the leading names in motorcycle engineering today?

Crime & Punishment

In 1967, a plumber was doing some repairs to a home in a Chicago suburb when he made a startling discovery. A motorcycle had been discovered behind a wall. The house’s former owner were contacted, saying that his son had actually stolen the motorcycle in 1916.

As Rumble On’s Jo Kelley explains, the father was so angry with his son’s theft that he made him enlist in the Army as punishment. Sadly, the son was sent to fight in World War I, but did not return. 

“One could venture to guess that perhaps the son, knowing he was about to be sent overseas into battle, hid the stolen motorcycle so that he may return to it,” Kelley wrote. “The hiding place must have been secret, and when the son was killed in action, the secret died with him.”

Surprisingly, the bike was in great working condition after being hidden away for so long. It only needed air in the tires and a fresh coat of Armor-All. 

Who is Traub?

While there hasn’t been a confirmed answer as to who made the Traub motorcycle, all evidence points to Gottlieb Richard Traub, who operated Richard Traub Motorcycle Shop out of an attached garage on his Chicago property.

In 1907, Traub wrote a letter to the editor of Motorcycle Illustrated, which was published in the July edition. The letter and photo tout a “homemade motorcycle,” with specifications similar to the motorcycle that was discovered in 1967:

“Specifications – Wheelbase, 55 inches; tank capacity, 3 1/2 gallons gasoline, 1 gallon oil, sufficient for 125 miles; power, 4 horsepower; bore and stroke 3 1/4 by 4 inches; auxiliary gasoline tank, 1/2 gallon; speed, more than the roads will stand; perfect grip control; throttle and spark motor is geared 3 3/4 to 1; it has a cycle chain with washers and does good service; has never troubled me yet, and I rode all of 1,500 miles."

On his World War I draft card, Traub lists his profession as self-employed experimental machinist.

It’s strange to note that there was no police report filed for the theft of this magnificent machine, and it does not appear that Traub made publicly-published efforts to locate the bike. Traub died in 1952, leaving more of a mystery than a legacy.

Where is the bike now?

Not long after the 1916 Traub was discovered, a local motorcycle dealer named Torello Tacchi acquired and fully restored the bike, trading in a $700 Suzuki for it. A decade later, Steve McQueen’s stunt man, Bud Ekins, purchased the Traub while shooting the film Blues Brothers in Chicago. Ekins then later sold the motorcycle to Richard Morris, a collector in California.

Now, the 1916 Traub resides in Dale Walksler’s Wheels Through Time Motorcycle Museum in Maggie Valley, NC, roughly 35 miles west of Asheville.

Motorcycle Classics explained more of the specifications of the 1916 Traub as it currently exists:

“Stepping around the left side of the bike, the careful observer will notice two clutch levers. There is a conventional foot-operated mechanism, and also a hand lever that sits alongside the fuel tank on the left-hand side. The lever gate for the shifter is also unique, operating what could have been the first three-speed gearbox on an American motorcycle. Even more, the tranny also features two separate neutral positions, which are marked on the shift mechanism with a zero. These are found between first and second gear, and between second and third gear.

“Power is provided by a beautifully crafted 78ci V-twin engine with a 4in stroke and a 3 7/16in bore, yielding an engine capacity of 1,278cc, which was large for the time. The majority of big displacement motorcycle engines from the Traub’s era were around 1,000cc (61ci). Using a side-valve arrangement, the top of the cylinders feature a gas primer valve, although Dale notes this is not really an unusual feature. What is unusual, however, is the adjustable crankcase breather and the engine fasteners, which are unique to the Traub and whoever built it.”

However, the bike isn’t behind glass like some sacred ancient artifact. Walksler occasionally takes it out for a spin, showcasing the incredibly modern ingenuity that has lasted more than a century.

Top image courtesy of Dale's Wheels Through Time on Facebook.