Parisian engineer Erich Edison-Puton thought exactly that in 1910, and his solution was to put the rider and the engine inside a single 2m diameter wheel. He built a rather ugly frame out of steel tubing and flat sheeting, and then took a 3.5bhp, 150cc De Dion engine and bolted it into the front corner (can wheels have corners?) of the wheel. He then fitted a seat for a rider behind it – but, curiously, put the petrol and oil tanks above the engine, right in the rider’s eye-line.
Drive wheels attached to a static inner wheel propelled the outer wheel, which was fitted with a solid rubber tyre, activated through a conventional gearbox. There was no suspension – apart from a sprung saddle – but then again few bikes had anything like suspension in those days, so we can hardly criticise it for that.
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The bike was in the pits at this year’s Pageant of Power at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire – surrounded by race bikes and combos of just about every era, and therefore looking like a joint of beef in a vegetarian restaurant. It’s owned by the Auto & Technik Museum of Sinsheim in Germany (and if this is typical of their exhibits, I really need to go there), and no, they didn’t take it up the Cholmondeley hill climb. It is in full working order though, having been restored by Ferdinand Schlenker of Sexau, and is – I’m told – a lot more practical than you might imagine.
Now, before you collapse laughing, do bear in mind that this was the very first one ever made; imagine if it had caught on – how mono-cycles might have developed over the decades! Truth be told though, everyone did laugh themselves silly and poor Erich put it to one side in a huff and never built another.