As the founder of Schickel Motor Co., Norbert Schickel was part of the motorcycle design boom that occurred in the United States between 1905 and 1915.
Schickel's vision and designs were evident in the two-cycle motorcycles that he developed. He also helped popularize the twist grip control, and had a patented "spring fork front suspension" and "fly wheel magneto."
“It's fitting for the Motorcycle Hall of Fame to reach back 100 years in time and honor one of the true pioneers of American motorcycling,” said Jeffrey Heininger, chairman of the American Motorcycle Heritage Foundation (AMHF), of Schickel’s induction in 2011. The AMHF is the primary fundraising body for the Hall of Fame.
“The Hall of Fame honors and memorializes the men and women who have made motorcycling great. And without early pioneers like Norbert Schickel, there would be no American motorcycling,” Heininger said.
Born in New York City on July 28,1886 to German immigrants, Schickel showed an early mechanical aptitude and built some electrical motors and a small gas engine while in high school,.
In 1905 he enrolled in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.,, where he designed and built a number of engines—including the forerunner of the Schickel two-stroke. He also developed a frame.
That two-stroke engine and frame ultimately would lead to his first motorcycle.
After graduating from Cornell in 1909, Schickel went to work for the Franklin Motor Co. in Syracuse, N. Y., which built cars. But he quit in 1910 to devote all his energy to developing a motorcycle to present at the 1911 Chicago Motorcycle Show.
Schickel unveiled his first motorcycle at the show, and his machine earned praise from the motorcycling press covering the event.
“The most interesting feature is, of course, the motor, which is of the conventional three-port, two-cycle, crankcase-compression type, except that the incoming gases from the carburetor pass through the exhaust manifold on their way to the cylinder, thus helping the carburetion,” Motorcycling wrote on Feb. 9, 1911.
“While the 1911 Show marks the first exhibit of a two-cycle motorcycle, we will undoubtedly hear more of this type of motor,” the magazine reported.
Motorcycling also noted: “One refinement worth noting, and of exceptional ingenuity, is the compression releave [sic] valve, located on the side of the cylinder head and operated by Bowden wire, but in a reverse manner from the ordinary method; for in this case, instead of the wire at the center of the Bowden mechanism pulling, the outside tube pushes the valve open, thus releasing compression, for starting and the like.”
Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review, meanwhile, wrote in its Feb. 18, 1911 issue: “After some four years of experiment, Norbert Schickel, 52 East 83rd Street, New York City, has developed a motorcycle which is both radical and unique, and which is to form the prototype for the product contemplated in the extensive manufacturing plans that he now has under way.”
Schickel’s design work included a three-port two-cycle motor, twist grip, rotating magneto spark advance, a driveshaft-flywheel-crankcase combination, flywheel magneto with spark advance, spring fork front suspension, hinged rear fender and a unibody cast aluminum frame and gas tank combination.
Buoyed by his machine’s reception at the 1911 Chicago Motorcycle Show, in 1912 Schickel opened the Schickel Motor Co. in Stamford, Conn., and began producing a five-horsepower motorcycle. That machine featured a 495cc engine, belt drive, a 57-inch wheelbase with 28-inch wheels, and a gas tank with a capacity of three gallons.
The machine weighed 185 pounds and came in what the manufacturer called “Schickel gray” color.
In 1916, Schickel expanded his line, introducing the six-horsepower Schickel Big 6. The Big 6 had a 695cc engine and weighed 235 pounds.
At this time, Schickel also introduced optional chain drive on both models, as well as an optional two-speed transmission for the chain-driven machines. Other options included a sidecar and the ability to use kerosene for fuel, since in many areas access to gasoline was limited.
But by 1914, Schickel began to realize that the automobile was beginning to replace the motorcycle as the preferred way to get around amongst most Americans. Knowing he couldn’t compete with cars, he added a lightweight motorcycle to his lineup in an attempt to compete with bicycles.
This economical Schickel “Lightweight” was introduced in 1915. It weighed just 95 pounds, was powered by a 2.5-horsepower, 200cc two-stroke engine, was advertised to get 100 miles per gallon at a cost of $100.
To try to boost sales, Schickel hired rider Maurice Gale and his family to advertise the Schickel line with a cross-country trip from Stamford, pulling a 2,145-pound covered wagon with a Schickel Big 6. The Gale family and the covered wagon attracted crowds, but he had to abandon the effort 1,514 miles into the trip—in Des Moines, Iowa—because rains made many dirt roads impossible to navigate.
Schickel updated his designs in 1917 and was about to go full bore on a new 1918 model called the Get-about. It featured a 289cc, three horsepower engine, a 52-inch wheelbase and weighed 125 pounds. But the United States entered World War I, and the Schickel Motor Co. converted to wartime production, making such things as rocker arms for aircraft engines.
Following the war, Schickel introduced his last motorcycle: the 1920 Schickel Model T. This machine featured a 3.5-horsepower, two-cycle, 300cc engine, two-speed transmission and weighed 165 pounds.
But by that time, the automobile was emerging as the dominant form of American transportation, and the Schickel Motor Co. was forced into bankruptcy in 1924.
After shutting down the Schickel Motor Co., Schickel moved to Detroit and did engineering consulting. He then returned to Cornell University in 1927 to do research in mechanical engineering,earning his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Cornell in 1933.
Schickel then launched a successful career in real estate development in the Ithaca, N.Y., area, which he continued until his death in 1960.
Norbert Schickel was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2011.