M o n o w h e e l s: Page 2.

The story of vehicles with insufficient wheels.

20 July 2007

Diwheels now have their own page here.
The Monocycle Garavaglia: 1904
The Edison-Puton Monowheel: 1910
The Coates Propeller Monowheel: 1912
The D'Harlingue Propeller Monowheel: 1914
The Gyro-Electric Destroyer: 1918
The Cislaghi Monowheel: 1923
A New Terror: The Christie Monowheel. 1923
The Gyrocycle: 1926
A French Monowheel: 1927
The Motoruota: 1927
The Gerdes Monowheel: 1931
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This is the first motor-powered monowheel I know of.

Below is the original caption. Translated by your humble scribe, as best he can.

"The picturesque machine shown below was shown at the Milan Exposition by the House of Garavaglia. It was, it appears, a genuine success.
The principle is easily understood by examining the figure. The big tyre with its rim fitted internally with ball-bearings, upon which the fixed frame sits, which supports both the driver of this strange vehicle, and the petrol engine; the rim of the tyre is moreover toothed on the side, and engages with the pinion of the engine; this can be seen at the bottom right of the picture. In sum, the mobile tyre rolls around the built fixed engine.
This arrangement is certainly amusing and jolly, but it is strange to note that this fantastic apparatus is however more perfect (in theory) than the ordinary motorcycle, since it implements direct command, without intermediaries uselessly absorbing power!"

It is however, much less perfect in practice. Note the suspicious-looking wheel out on the left. A stabiliser? Shouldn't there be one on each side?

From " La Vie de l'Automobile " for 23/04/1904 (n°134) p260.


Left: The Edison-Puton Monowheel: 1910

Stephen Ransom tells me this is a French monowheel built in Paris by Erich Edison-Puton in 1910. It has been restored by Ferdinand Schlenker of Sexau and is fully operational, being frequently demonstrated by Mr. Schlenker in the Museum carpark.The engine is a 150 cc single-cylinder De Dion giving 3.5 HP.

The machine is in the Auto & Technik Museum, at Sinsheim in Germany. Another very early motorised monowheel.

Picture and info courtesy of Stephen Ransom


The Coates Monowheel Patent: 1912

A brave attempt to add the difficulties of propellor-drive to the instabilities of the monowheel. But- it's not quite as daft as it appears; the use of a propellor means that the wheel is always pulled/pushed forwards, without relying on the weight of the rider and engine to provide reaction. There is therefore no possibility of gerbilling due to incautious acceleration; but it could still happen when you try to brake. One wonders if the inventor planned this as a practical street vehicle. It seems unlikely, as surely no one can have convinced themselves that pedestrians and propellors were a good combination.

This design used a pusher propellor, but otherwise bears a strong resemblance to the machine on the cover of Popular Mechanics. (See D'Harlingue below)

The Coates Monowheel Patent: 1912

Note that steering is by hand-operated skids on each side, which is hardly elegant due to the frictional losses. Most monowheel inventors relied on leaning the wheel to steer.

Data and picture courtesy of Stephen Ransom.


The Cover of Popular Mechanics for April 1914

As if driving on one wheel did not present difficulties enough... this version adds propeller propulsion, apparently using a three-cylinder air-cooled radial engine. Regrettably I don't have access to the text of what was presumably an article inside.

When I first saw this picture, I naturally wondered if it was real or just a project. The comprehensive and business-like anti-gerbilling skids, and the counterweight at the back to balance the forward position of the engine, did seem to indicate a practical design. On the other hand, the proportions of the propeller looked a bit wrong.

Note that the banner between the two towers calls it a "unicycle" and also indicates that the event is a time-trial; there was clearly no similiar machine to race against.

The alert reader will note that both Coates (above) and D'Harlingue lived in St Louis. At first it seemed likely that they were collaborators- however, see Letter 2 below.

Oh, it was real alright! I now have much more information on this remarkable machine, by courtesy of Mark D'Harlingue, the grandson of the inventor. The picture above is actually rather accurate, apart from that worrying propellor. I thought it might have been optimised for efficiency at low forward speeds, but it doesn't look much like the propellor in the two pictures below.

The D'Harlingue Monowheel with its inventor in 1917

From this photograph you can see that the Popular Mechanics cover was actually a pretty accurate depiction of the machine- hats off to all concerned.

It is not really clear if the propellor was accurately pictured or not- it doesn't look like a standard aeroplane propellor, but then it was expected to produce thrust at a much lower forward speed. The prongs at the front are clearly intended to stop the propellor from striking the ground.

This version appears to swivel the whole engine for steering purposes. It doesn't appear to be a good way to get a small turning circle.

The D'Harlingue Monowheel with a group of interested persons.

This photo was clearly taken at the same time as the one above. The background looks very much like some sort of painted backdrop.

The identities of the other three men are not currently known.

The D'Harlingue Monowheel

A diagram of a rather different version, clearly taken fom the patent drawing below.

Note that the driver/pilot/rider now sits behind the wheel, rather than inside it, a unique approach to monowheel driving. Once again, "inclination of the body" is not relied on for steering. Here there are actually two steering mechanisms- the front wheel for low speeds, then swivelling the propellor at high speed. How well the latter worked I can only guess.

I want no quibbles as to whether this counts as a monowheel or not.

Above: The D'Harlingue Monowheel patent drawing

Note that it was called a monocycle and not a monowheel. What is not clear is how the front wheel was raised and lowered, and what was done about braking when it was raised.

Data and picture courtesy of Stephen Ransom.

Left: The plot thickens...

This picture comes from the letterhead of one Gaily Musselh. It appears at the top of a letter addressed to Alfred D'Harlingue, (see below) but has a two-bladed pusher propellor, (at first I thought it was 4-bladed, but I think it has a white fencepost behind it) and is a close approach to the Coates patent, apart from the size of the engine; it is clearly the machine depicted in "Our Own Oddities" below.

Picture courtesy of Mark D'Harlingue

Left: Letter 1, from Gaily Musselh to Alfred D'Harlingue: 1916.

This is the letter from Gaily Musselh to Alfred D'Harlingue. Note that the monowheel is described as a "mechanical freak" which would seem to suggest that Mr Musselh does not think that the monowheel is the final answer to the world's transportation problems.

Letter courtesy of Mark D'Harlingue

Left: Our Own Oddity.

This looks more like the Coates monowheel above, but has features of the D'Harlingue patent, such as the big four-cylinder engine. It seems very likely that the "two St Louisans" mentioned here were Coates and a contractor called McDonald working in partnership. See Letter 2 below.

The picture appears to have published in 1957, when Alfred D'Harlingue was still alive. See the second letter below.

It might be remarked that the "theoretical speed" of 720 mph is only just below the speed of sound. (760 mph)

Picture courtesy of Mark D'Harlingue

Left: Letter 2, from Alfred D'Harlingue to C O Haskins, with reply: 1957

This letter makes it clear that Alfred D'Harlingue was not in partnership with Coates, because he is enquiring about a monowheel that appears to be based on the Coates design. Mr Haskins states in his handwritten reply that the "two St Louisans" mentioned were a contractor called William McDonald and Clinton Coates, who is described as a blacksmith.

The reply gives the horsepower of the engine, but unfortunately it is not decipherable. it could be 6 , 10, or almost anything.

Letter courtesy of Mark D'Harlingue

The mystery is really how two monowheels that appear to have been developed separately come to have identical and distinctive wheels. I have counted the holes, and there looks to be the same number. I suspect that both wheels came from the same source; probably some sort of agricultural machinery.


The Cover of "The Electrical Experimenter" in 1918

As a solution to the stalemate of trench warfare in the First World War this machine seems to lack any advantages. It might have crossed big shell-holes, but it would have been visible approaching for miles, and would no doubt have collapsed in an avalanche of high-explosive shells. There also seems to be no attempt at any sort of steering mechanism.

Clearly an artist's fantasy rather than a serious project.

The Electrical Experimenter was an American publication.

From "Science et Vie" May 1993, p170

The text in the picture reads:

"Insolites" means "Strange"

"The motorcycle with one wheel. (June 1923)"
"Proud as a peacock, town sergeant Davide Cislaghi, a former electrician, has driven his 1.45 metre diameter monocycle for some dozens of kilometers. No problem with stability; all the vehicle parts are fixed to the interior circle to lower the centre of gravity. To turn, the pilot leans his body to right or left. On stopping, two little lateral wheels lower themselves."

Unfortunately we are not told where this town was; presumably in Italy.

Diagram from Cislaghi's French patent, No 573,801. 1924.

This shows how the wheel was tilted with respect to the inner frame.

Picture kindly provided by Stephen Ransom.

Information on Cislaghi's French patent, No 573,801. 1924.

It is now pretty clear that Cislaghi was behind the Motoruota enterprise. (see below)

Data kindly provided by Stephen Ransom.

Diagram from Cislaghi's British patent, No 275647. 1927.

Picture kindly provided by Patrick Appleyard.

The Cover of "La Science et la Vie" N°69 - Mar 1923

While it is unconfirmed, this cover painting is probably of the Cislaghi machine, given the date of 1923. The top picture in this section is from a much later issue of "La Science et la Vie"- they were recycling their old material, no doubt.

The table of contents describes it as "Un curieux monocycle automobile".


Left: The Christie monowheel concept on the cover of "Popular Science Monthly" for April 1923.

This artist's impression of an invention by a Professor E.J. Christie of Marion, Ohio was almost certainly never built- and most certainly wouldn't have reached 400 mph. To be fair, the inventor only claimed "a speed of at least 250 miles per hour, and possibly 400 miles per hour" though this is the sort of uncertainty that suggests he hadn't a clue what he was about.
There seems to be no reason to think that 250 bhp would have been enough to reach 250 mph (and lots of reasons not to try it) because the wind resistance of all those spokes and extra wheels would have been significant.

The design had a centre wheel of 14-foot in diameter, and the "gyro wheels" on the sides weighed some 500 pounds each.

The machine, which was reportedly "being constructed in Philadelphia" at the time, would have been powered by a 250-horsepower airplane motor.

Brought to my attention by Harry Doughty, who rightly describes it as "the Mother of all monowheels!".

Left: Oh no! He really did build it!

A day after I composed the above, Harry Doughty sent me this partial page from "Everyday Science & Radio News" for Feb 1923. It appears to be a photograph, though the chap on the lower right looks rather like a cartoon, especially on the original image. He certainly seems to be suffering from hip dysplasia.

In case the caption of this image is not readable, it says:
"Still another attempt at the one wheeled motor cycle. The inventor, E J Christie of Marion, Iowa, USA, hopes for speeds up to 250 mph from the 14-foot model seen above. It is driven by chains from the 250 hp aerial motor below the axle. The two small interior wheels, for which there is a separate motor, act as gyroscopic balancers and rudders. At the left there is a small model of a different type."

Some interesting points here. Clearly the editor was bored by monowheels, which seems to indicate they were already discredited as practical transport. Christie has anticipated Kerry Mclean in fitting "rudders", presumably to give some vestige of steering, though it is far from clear to me how they could act as gyroscopes at the same time.

A most interesting question is what happened if you stopped at a red light. Presumably it fell over sideways- and how would you get going again?

The small machine bottom left is, if possible, even dafter. It appears to consist of no less than five wheels- but only one actually touches the road.

Left: "Everyday Science & Radio News" for Feb 1923 seems a mite unenthusiastic, but it is hard to argue with their headline. A New Terror indeed.


From " Dimanche Illustré " for 25/07/1926 n°178.

Original caption:

A Parisian inventor, M. Trual, amused himself by constructing for his son, this apparatus with one wheel. The cyclist is in equilibrium. The pedalling system, with ordinary gearing, permits 15 km/hour to be attained."

Jackie Chabanais says "It is very bizarre, but this child who was about 10 years old on the photo, I met him some years ago. He was very moved by seeing me in my tractowheel and he sent this photocopy."


A French Monowheel: 1927.

This picture comes from an unidentified German newspaper dated 16 June 1978. The caption reads: “No shortage of curiosities at the ‘Old-Timer Exhibition’ in Düsseldorf, where about 100 vehicles can be seen. Here is a French ‘Mono Cycle’ from 1927, which ‘put-puts’ along the roads at a maximum speed of 10 km/h.”

Well, 6 mph should be safe enough. As we have seen, many monowheel builders were claiming quite unbelievable speeds.

Picture courtesy Stephen Ransom and Martin Frauenheim.

The Motoruota: approx 1927.

This looks exactly like the Gerdes monowheel, but the advertising material below mentions Cislaghi. (see above) Hmmm. These are deep waters, Watson.

It would appear that Cislaghi was the founder of the Motoruota company; see more below.

"Motoruota" is Italian for "motorwheel"

Oh no it isn't!

The Garavaglia monowheel was at least 20 years earlier.

The latest model.

Original caption reads: "The Latest Model of Motorwheel.
(175cc engine, three gears, frame reinforced, size reduced)

This was clearly another brave attempt to commercialise the monowheel.

This picture appeared in "Motorcycling" magazine for July 20, 1927. No further details were given.

Picture kindly supplied by Cindy.

This looks like another Motoruota. No further details available.

Picture courtesy Stan Smith


Swiss engineer Mr. Gerdes astride/inside his one-wheel motorcycle at Arles, France, in 1931.

He was apparently on a journey to Spain- I have no info on whether he got there. At any rate, he looks cheerful enough here. I have always assumed that this machine was Gerde's invention, but it now looks as though he may simply have been one of the customers- and there were probably not that many- of the Motorouta company.

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