1911 Pierce Four

When two cylinders were not enough

1911 Pierce Four

In 1911, few machines could leave an impression like the Pierce Four. After all, most other motorcycles of the time still showed their spindly bicycle roots, with skinny tube frames and diminutive, single-cylinder motors or, occasionally, twins.

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Not the Pierce. With a massive frame and a beefy, four-cylinder engine, it commanded respect in the fledgling motorcycle world. It’s easy to imagine Pierce owners taking pride in motoring past lesser machines on the crude roads of the day.

Of course, it’s no surprise that Pierce came in at the prestige end of the motorcycling spectrum. After all, it traced its roots to the Pierce Great Arrow Motor Car Co., which made some of the most luxurious American cars available.

Spun off from the parent company in September 1906, the New York-based Pierce Cycle Company was started by Percy Pierce, the son of the original company’s president, George Pierce. And, true to the firm’s luxury roots, the motorcycle division wanted to start with an upscale product.

It’s likely Percy found his inspiration for this machine in Europe, specifically in motorcycles like the exclusive Belgian-built FN, says Geoffrey Stein, associate curator of history at the New York State Museum and author of “The Motorcycle Industry in New York State.” As the first mass-produced four-cylinder bike on the Continent, the FN had turned heads in Europe and America.

“The FNs had been sold in this country since 1906, so they were around,” Stein says. “It’s not as if Pierce had to come up with the idea for a four on their own.”

Still, Percy’s company brought some innovation to the four, introduced in 1909. The hollow frame held fuel in the copper-coated upper sections, and oil in the front downtube. The “vibrationless” engine put power to the road with shaft drive, and, beginning in 1910, had a two-speed transmission and multi-disc clutch. Other high-end touches included hidden control cables, and a spring/pneumatic front fork.

By the time the company built this 1911 model, however, trouble was brewing at Pierce. The death of George Pierce, a company bankruptcy, Percy’s resignation and eventual return rocked the company. At the same time, the public’s appetite for expensive motorcycles was rapidly dwindling.

By 1914, the Pierce motorcycle line was no more.
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Quick List

Engine
Inline T-head
four cylinder

Displacement
696cc

Horsepower (claimed)
7 HP

Transmission
Two-speed

Wheels
28-inch wire
spoke wheels
2.5-inch
pneumatic tires

Weight
275 pounds

Owner
Dave Minerva lent this machine to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum for its 1995-96 exhibit, “Those Fabulous Fours.”

Click to enlarge