Hercules Werke AG, Nurnberg, Germany
The German Hercules company was a completely separate bicycle and motorcycle manufacturer, with only the name in common with its British counterpart. They made bicycles, motorcycles, cyclemotors, mopeds, scooters, and cars.
‘Hercules Werke AG’ opened its doors in 1903 Nuremberg with their first motorcycle being an engine hung on a heavy-duty bicycle frame as many others were doing. Drive was direct from the engine to the rear wheel via belt. Hercules outsourced engines from many other companies rather than make their own engines.
Hercules’ main focus in its early years was on motorcycles with small capacity engines. They began to increase to larger machines in the thirties and even saw some competition and long distance endurance success.
They made various commercial vehicles between 1905 and 1928. In 1932, when tax reductions made 3-wheeler cars profitable, they brought out the two-seater Hercules Coupe (below), powered by a 200cc ILO engine. It was only in production for one year.
World War II resulted in heavy damage to the Hercules factory and production did not resume until 1950. The company developed a number of new models and stuck with those models for many years which helped them survive a downturn in the German economy shortly after their release. Hercules became one of the largest motorcycle producing companies in Germany. In 1966 the company merged with the Zweirad Union which also included DKW, Express and Victoria. In 1974 Hercules released the Wankel powered W2000 and were the first company to produce a motorcycle with a Wankel rotary engine.
Hercules – now known as Hercules-Fahrrad GmbH & Co – continue to make bicycles. The ad below is from 1980:
My main interest in the German company is their involvement with Sachs, as this eventually led to the development of a very refined cyclemotor engine just before WW2. With the declaration of war in 1939, there had been no time to develop this ‘Saxonette’ further. But DKW engineers re-designed it during the war. Their plans were impounded by the British after the war, and led to the arrival of the Cyclemaster.
You can read more about it at the Cyclemaster Museum.
Hercules and Sachs
The partnership of Hercules and Sachs began as early as 1905, when Ernst Sachs invented the torpedo brake hub which provided a revolution in bicycle manufacture – and in bicycle sales.
Hercules sold motorcycles fitted with a variety of manufacturer’s engines. The photo above is from 1930.
When Sachs introduced the 74cc engine, the two companies again combined to provide all the necessary post-sales requirements such as dealer-training and customer service.
Hercules Lilliput with 98cc Fichtel & Sachs engine
This 1936 brochure shows the 98cc Sachs-powered Hercules model, called the ‘Lilliput.’
Hercules Saxonette 60cc Cycle-Attachment, 1938-1939
Although cycle-attachment engines had been manufactured pre-war, the Saxonette ‘help-motor’ was a very refined version. As it was put on the market in 1938 it was essentially the first of what we could describe as the post-war style of cyclemotor. The rear-mounted engine was built around the Sachs Torpedo hub, similar to the BSA Winged Wheel.
This revolutionary new design was presented to the public at the Berlin Motor Show in 1937. The factory supplied the engine already fitted to the wheel to various bicycle manufacturers, and the first machines went on sale in July 1938. Companies that sold the unit in their bicycles were:
Anker-Werke, Assmann, Bauer & Co., Bismarck AG, Brennabor-Werke, Brüsselbach, Dürkopp-Werke, Exelsior-Werke, Göricke, Gritzner-Kayser, Hainsberger Metallwerke, Hercules, Meister, Miele & Cie, Panther, Patria-WKC, Presto, Rixe & Co., Torpedo, Urania-Fahrradwerke, Victoria, Walther & Co., Wanderer-Werke AG.
The bicycle factories supplied their own petrol tanks; but it was also possible to buy the engine/wheel direct from Saxonette and fit it to your own bicycle with a 26″ wheel.
Some companies provided a wide range of colours for their bicycles fitted with the Saxonette.
However, despite Fichtel & Sachs excellent reputation – they were renowned for extensive and continuous testing of their products – the new 60cc engine had many problems and not many were sold. A circular was issued to customers in August 1938 to explain some of the issues.
The engine had been tested by the factory under full load. However the engine was less likely to be ridden by purchasers under full load, so the plug was likely to oil up. Bosch developed a new spark plug for it, the W95T1.
As it was fitted to a variety of frames, the factory could not test the engine with them all; the ignition cable could rub against some frames, become porous and short-circuit. A protective tube was issued.
Carburettor seals, nozzles, petrol pipes and filters were inefficient.
The carburettor required cleaning and basic maintenance.
People had problems with the twist grips. It had a pressure point to avoid the speed exceeding 25 kph (the speed that the factory deemed safe on a bicycle).
Customers were generally not sufficiently technically-minded to deal with these issues themselves, and this caused real problems for dealers selling the Saxonette.
If war had not interrupted its manufacture, it’s possible that Sachs would have redeveloped their engines and might have dominated the cycle-attachment market in the same way as they did with lightweight motorcycle engines.
But, as it was, production stopped in 1939, the DKW engineers copied and refined the Saxonette engine to produce the ‘Radmeister,’ those plans were confiscated by the postwar Interpro Bureau, awarded to EMI of Britain as Cyclemaster Ltd and, as they say, the rest is (Cyclemaster) history…
The illustration above shows the Hercules Gents bicycle fitted with the 60cc Saxonette engine; a Ladies/Gents version is illustrated below.
German Hercules as Prior
After the War, Hercules/Sachs were ideally set up for distribution abroad, and most Sachs engined mopeds used the Hercules name. Interestingly, Great Britain already had a well-established bicycle manufacturing company called Hercules, that was not connected to the German marque.
When The British Hercules company introduced their own moped in 1954 – they claimed it to be Britain’s first home-built moped – they had to change its name from the ‘Hercules Grey Wolf’ (the name used when it was launched) to ‘Her-cu-Motor.’ You can see a picture of my original Grey Wolf below; it uses a JAP engine.
The Moped Archive shows the picture below, of a 1935 Hercules Lilliput that was sent to the JAP company in Great Britain for assessment. Because of our own Hercules company, the German import was renamed ‘Prior.’
When the postwar German Hercules R200 Scooter was sold in Great Britain, it was also rebadged as a Prior, with the model name Viscount. It had been developed by the German Triumph company (TWN).
The Prior Viscount had a Sachs 200 engine, which was also fitted to the Messerschmitt (the Viscount below is a 1959 model).
The Prior name was also used for some exported Hercules/Sachs mopeds, such as the 1960 model pictured below:
It comes to something when, after all those years of adorning stylish machines, that Herculean name is eventually displayed on a moped and motorcycle as androgynous as the two folks eating ice creams behind them. But that’s progress, I suppose.