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 Classic Bike Guide Feature
  Ner-A-Car - added 27th Mar 03
Alternative Motorcycling

With groundbreaking design of weather protection and an inherent stability second to none, the Ner-A-Car was possibly too advanced for its day. Roland Brown checks out the claims and brushes away the hype.

Legend has it that the first ever motorcycle race took place shortly after two riders came across each other for the first time. Two-wheeled stunt riding is far from a recent phenomenon either, judging from a reports of press tests of a Ner-A-Car carried out in the mid 1920s.
The Ner-A-CarA lady named Mabel Lockwood-Tatham was testing a two-stroke Ner-A-Car, Vic Willoughby recorded in his book Classic Motorcycles. “Riding ‘no hands’ with great confidence, she was surprised to see her escort, on similar models, either standing on the engine casing with hands in pockets, or lying flat on their backs on the saddle. Such gimmicks proved the stability of the Ner-A-Car.”
That was all very well for Ms Lockwood-Tatham and her colleagues, who were no doubt experienced Ner-A-Car riders. But three-quarters of a century later I’m feeling distinctly less confident as I prepare to ride the elderly machine for the first time. With its reputation for stability and a top speed of only about 40mph, the Ner-A-Car should be one of the safest bikes I’ve ever ridden. But right now, it’s distinctly intimidating.
I’m sitting on the long, low American-built machine’s saddle with the little two-stroke engine poking up below my knees, as North Leicestershire Motorcycles’ boss Stuart Mayhew, the bike’s proud owner, explains how everything works. Hardly any of the controls are where years of riding bikes dictate they should be. Well, admittedly the horn control is roughly in the familiar place on the left handlebar – but instead of a simple button, it’s the squashy rubber ball that sounds a curly brass klaxon.
North Leicester Motorcycles’ boss, Stuart Mathew, instructs Roland Brown in the gentle art of Ner-a-car riding.True, the clutch is also operated by a device on the left handlebar – but instead of a lever, it’s a throttle-style twist-grip. Over on the right handlebar, the throttle is worked by a small lever, which sits alongside another lever that controls the fuel mixture. The front brake lever is almost conventional, except that it actually works one side of the twin-sided rear drum. The other side is operated by the rider’s left boot; there’s no front brake at all.
Confused? I certainly was, even before I reached forward with my right hand to select a gear with the long vertical lever sticking out of the engine’s sheet metal cover. Then I cautiously twisted the clutch and nudged the throttle with my thumb to head out into what suddenly seemed like a very busy street. As I turned into the road, I was suddenly conscious that the hub-centre steered front wheel, hidden from my view by a huge mudguard, seemed to be turning further to the right than the handlebars... which indeed it was, due to the bike’s geared steering system.
Curiouser and curiouser. For a bike that in some ways is an early ancestor of modern scooters, the Ner-A-Car is a very strange device. Given that this machine was built 76 years ago, it’s hardly surprising that it’s very different to any modern motorbike. But the Ner-A-Car was weird by the standards of its own day, too.
Even the name is eccentric, though it is doubly appropriate. The Ner-A-Car was invented by an American named Carl Neracher. And presumably by coincidence, Neracher’s creation was arguably as ‘Near A Car’ in its concept and its level of weather protection as any two-wheeled vehicle had been when he built his first machine in 1921.
The chassis arrangement did much to give the Ner-A-Car the stability for which it became well known.
The chassis arrangement did much to give the Ner-A-Car the stability for which it became well known.
One of the Ner-A-Car’s claims to fame is that it featured motorcycling’s first production example of hub-centre steering. The twin-sided front suspension arms were connected to a very low, flat chassis formed mainly from pressed steel. The rider sat upright on a sprung saddle, with feet well forward, grasping those long handlebars. A cylindrical fuel tank was below the saddle.
This chassis arrangement allowed the engine to be situated very low in the frame, which did much to give the Ner-A-Car the stability for which it became well known. When production began at Syracuse, New York, in 1921, the engine was a 211cc air-cooled two-stroke. Capacity had been increased to 255cc by the time the firm built this bike, which spent most of its life in France before being restored by classic specialist Stuart and his son Alex at North Leics M/c (tel: 01530 263381).


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