Location: Parsons

Vintage Kansas Cyclists: Shaw Motorized Bicycles

We’ve discussed motorized bicycles here a few times before (most recently in Are Motorized Bicycles Street-Legal in Kansas?), and there does seem to have been a recent up-tick in interest in these contraptions, but apparently that’s nothing new, and at one time, a Kansas company was at the forefront of innovation in this field.

This is a full-page advertisement from the March 1915 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine, offering to “Make Your ‘Bike’ a Motorcycle”:

Yes, thousands of other have turned their old-fashioned bicycles into up-to-date, swift, sure, easy riding, high power motorcycles with the easily attached, inexpensive Shaw motorcycle attachment!

Fits bicycles of any make or size. Everything is complete and we send it to you all ready to attach to your bicycle in just a few minutes without the aid of an expert mechanic and without any special tools — just an ordinary wrench and screwdriver.

Built of highest grade, most serviceable materials; every part guaranteed, plain, easily understood directions sent with each equipment. Thousands of enthusiastic owners everywhere. Here is your chance to get a powerful, dependable, durable, fine looking and speedy motorcycle at a price so small you will wonder how you ever got along with the old-fashioned “leg power” machine!

The kit was produced by Shaw Manufacturing Co. of Galesburg, Kansas (Galesburg is located in the southeastern part of the state, currently a small town of about 150 people).

According to Wikipedia:

By 1903 the “Shaw Manufacturing Co.” of Galesburg, Kansas advertised an engine kit for motorizing a bicycle in Popular Mechanics magazine for $90. The engine was 241 cc with dry cell battery ignition and a slip belt drive. Advertised cruising speed was 20 mph (32 km/h), with a maximum speed of 30 mph (48 km/h). By 1905 Shaw was mass producing his engines to convert bicycles to motorcycles.

The advertisement above doesn’t specify a price, but assuming that Wikipedia has it right, $90 in 1903 would be over $2000 in 2010 dollars (according to the US Inflation Calculator). So it wasn’t exactly cheap, though apparently over 13,000 were manufactured.

Another advertisement (undated),
says the kit is capable of speeds up to 40 miles per hour at 90 to 125 miles per gallon of gasoline

Shaw later expanded to building complete motorcycles, a car called the “Shawmobile” and a later model called the “Shaw Speedster”. Shaw also produced a line of farm equipment called “Du-All Tractors”, as well as riding mowers.

The company was sold to Bush-Hog in the early 1960’s. According to LASR, “The site where Shaw built farm tractors is now the location of a large metal fabrication plant. Men are still making history with steel in Galesburg.”

Apparently, there are still some Shaw motorbikes in existence. Here’s a video of one collector’s restored 1922 Shaw:

And another:

Further information can be found from Gas Engine Magazine, LASR, and Shaw Manufacturing Tribute Site.

About The Author

By Randy Rasa, editor/webmaster at Kansas Cyclist, the web's premier Kansas cycling information site, featuring authoritative guides to Kansas cycling clubs, bike shops, organized bike rides, touring, trails, and much more. [learn more]

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