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Rare Motorcycles – Top 5 Ever Seen

Having spent at least part of the last 41 summers in the saddle of a motorcycle going hither and yon always with an eye out for a chance to ogle unusual, rare or just plain cool motorcycles of all types and ages, I have managed to stumble across a few. In rare moments of clarity, I managed to remember to bring a camera along, though my photographic skills vary somewhat. Of course, dodgy images prove authenticity.

Marginal photographic skills aside, I have managed to collect images of some very rare and unique machines and even some with their proud owners on hand. Here are the top five rarest motorcycles I’ve ever seen.

Rare Motorcycles - The Top 5 Traub
1916 Traub

1916 Traub

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Topping my list for both innovative design and rarity is this Traub. Notice I didn’t use the phrase “this example of.” That’s because it is the only one known to exist. Even the circumstances of its construction are shrouded in mystery, as the exact identity of the designers/builders and date of construction is unclear to this day.

The story goes that it was stolen not long after being completed and disappeared for nearly five decades. In 1968, or thereabouts, and depending on whose account you consider, it was found either under a porch or bricked up in the wall of a house being renovated, apparently having been placed in hiding soon after it was swiped.

After the find, a Chicago motorcycle shop owner acquired it and restored it, eventually selling it to motorcycle legend, Bud Ekins who eventually sold it to collector Richard Morris. Morris, in turn, sold it to Dale Walksler, creator of the Wheels Through Time (WTT) museum in Maggie Valley, NC. www.wheelsthroughtime.com/  Walksler has restored the Traub to fully functional status and to this day it is operational.

I got to meet Walksler in 2006 at WTT and he explained some of the bike’s unusual advanced features, which included a rear brake that used both internal expanding and external contracting band shoes that operated simultaneously, dual foot or hand-operated clutch, dual position neutral in the transmission and a 1,278cc air-cooled side-valve V-twin engine of masterfully precise construction.

Rare Motorcycles - The Top 5 Levis
1911 Levis

1911 Levis

Levis (LEV-iss) was in production in the U.K. from 1911 to 1939 and not many examples of their product line made it across the pond, let alone intact and fully operational from the company’s first year of production.

Minnesotan, Mike Crane did a meticulous restoration on this 1911 model and presented it for the bike show at the British Biker Cooperative (BBC) www.britishbiker.net/ Rally in 2011. It was the first 100 year old bike ever shown at the event and truth be told, it started easier than some of the seventies-vintage Nortons and Triumphs on hand.

Crane not only demonstrated its immediate starting ability, he rode it around the show grounds to the delight of all. That’s Mike Crane proudly displaying the bike. This model featured a 211cc two-stroke single; Levis was one of the most successful early proponents of two-stroke power in the U.K. By the 1920s, Levis had established a winning record in TT and Grand Prix competition. The company was eventually sold to a manufacturer of air compressors, which subsequently ended motorcycle manufacturing.

Rare Motorcycles - The Top 5 Coventry Eagle
1931 Coventry Eagle

1931 Coventry Eagle

Another of Mike Crane’s superb restorations was this beautiful and very rideable Coventry Eagle shown at the BBC bike show in2010. The bike was equipped with a 172cc two-stroke Villiers single and metallic chain final drive.

Coventry Eagle also enjoyed substantial racing success in its heyday before WWII, but the war ended the company altogether. I have no information on how many of this brand or model exist today, but I’ bet the number that are in this “as-new” running condition is very small.

Rare Motorcycles - The Top 5 1938 Crocker
1938 Crocker

1938 Crocker

Al Crocker had been with Indian as the company’s dealer in Denver, CO and in 1928, became its representative on the west coast in Los Angeles. First moving into the design/build aspect of the business, he fashioned single cylinder racing bikes with Indian engines, but soon moved to OHV engines of his own design. V-twin road bikes soon followed, equipped with 1000cc hemi-head OHV engines, with aluminum engine cases and other chassis components.

Capitalizing on lessons learned in racing, Crocker’s bikes were lighter and more powerful than the contemporary competition from Indian and Harley-Davidson. What the Crocker had in high performance features it lacked in mass-production economies and support. In all, only about 100 Crockers were built, making them highly prized for their rarity and appreciated for the advanced design.

I saw this 1938 Crocker at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa (www.nationalmcmuseum.org/ )in 2005. The classic, sleek design is striking, even today.

Rare Motorcycles - The Top 5 Rickman Enfield
1971 Rickman Enfield

1971 Rickman Enfield Interceptor

I first saw the Rickman Enfield Interceptor at the fall 2005 running of the Slimey Crud Run in Wisconsin. I also had the opportunity to meet the bike’s only owner from new, Mike Engelhart shown here in the saddle. I recalled reading about them somewhere in the past, but because fewer than 200 of them were ever built, putting them in the range of rarity of the Crocker, I didn’t anticipate ever seeing one, except in some collection, perhaps.

The U.K.’s Rickman brothers were already renowned for building superb chrome moly steel frames for off-road and road racing machines as well as high end custom bikes in 1971. That year, Royal Enfield abruptly ended operations leaving a shipment of Royal Enfield Mk II 750 cc Interceptor engines sitting on a wharf in England awaiting shipment to Italy, where Indian Motocycle [Indian’s own original preferred spelling] owner, Floyd Clymer had intended them to be assembled in Indian/Enfield hybrids to be badged as Indian.

Instead, the whole lot was acquired by the Rickman brothers and they built frames for the engines based on a racing frame they had done previously. The result is a striking, purpose-built high performance road machine with superb handling and a strong, if somewhat quirky, powerplant. I say quirky because it has some unusual operating features such as a lever that is used to find neutral because doing so with the shift lever is very difficult and there is no neutral light. It also has a pressurized dry sump lubrication system, but does not require an external oil tank—the oil tank is built into the engine case.

The Rickman included Borrani rims, Ceriani forks, dual Girling shocks, Lockheed disc brakes on drilled discs front and rear, a fiberglass tank/seat/tail section unit, and both clip-on and standard-rise handlebars. For more, visit our story: Rickman Enfield Interceptor.

There are some others that probably could be included in this grouping such as a 2002 Ghezzi-Brian Moto-Guzzi, and some contemporary one-off customs by Arlen Ness and land speed record bikes like the Gyronaut X-1, but those are in a little different category.

Maybe you’ve had the opportunity to do an up-close and personal with some rare or significant machines, be they new or old. Drop us a comment and tell us about it!

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