Restoring a 1907 Armac Motorcycle

By Dave Brackett


In 1981, I was visiting a friend in Maryland, he enjoyed old cars and bikes. He was talking about a guy who had old bikes, so we went to visit him. He had all the typical old bikes, Harleys, Indians, Excelsiors, etc., but in the corner, I saw a big box full of parts to a bike. It was very old, and what appealed to me, the gas tank was part of the frame. I had been building drag bike frames that also had the gas tank as part of the frame. Another great feature had the exhaust also being part of the frame. I asked what it was and he said an "Armac". It was mostly complete, and he wanted $1000, so I said crate it up and send it to me. As I waited for the shipment, I contacted people about Armac bikes. Not much out there, but I found a guy in the midwest that collected old motorcycle literature. He sent me a copy of an original manual from the Armac Motorcycle Co. in Chicago. With a little more research, I found they made motorcycles from 1906 through 1913, and I had a 1907, model B.
bikeI started by trying to assemble the bike, looking at the pictures in the manual. The bike was very simple, during those transition days between bicycles and motorcycles. There were bicycle pedals, and a Bendix style rear brake. The only parts missing were the coil, the battery tube and batteries, the leather drive belt and one of the pedal cranks. Some parts needed replaced, the seat, handlebars and grips, tires and tubes, and the throttle linkage and compression release linkage (yes I said compression release).
This bike was very foreign to me, it was direct drive, no clutch or transmission, no starter pedal, a bicycle chain to work the brake and propel the bike if the motor was not running. There was an oil tank with petcock that allowed oil to drip on the crankshaft, then fall out a hole onto the ground. There were batteries that operated the coil, but no way to recharge them. Then there was this funny linkage from the handlebars that hooked to the exhaust valve. This was the compression release.
Herebikemotor is how it worked. Since it was direct drive, any time the bike moved the motor turned over, so this compression release was added to allow less strain when pedaling the bike. The intake valve was a flapper valve that opened when motor was on the downstroke. To start the bike, you turned on the compression release, pedaled the bike, then released the compression release, and the motor started. Every time you came to a stop sign you had to kill the engine by using the compression release, then pedal and compression start again. Not real great if you are going up a hill.
Well, now I knew how everything worked, so the bike was stripped, sanded, and painted. I found a cherry seat in Texas, ordered new white tires,  found an old belting shop in Seattle that had the leather link belting, and cleaned the motor and assembled it. I put a sloshing compound in the gas tank, and machined another pedal crank, using the one as a pattern. Now for handlebars and linkage. I have a mandrel tube bender, so I made a new handlebar, and had to find some Lignum Vitae wood to make handle grips. I bought some brass tubing and remade the throttle and compression release linkage.
bike3The coil presented a challenge. The molded bakelite coil no longer existed and was not available, so by measuring the coil in the photos and comparing it to other parts, I came up with a size. I used a piece of 2" ABS pipe for the housing, put a small Honda coil inside, and pressed in two bakelite end caps. Presto, I had an original looking coil. I made new brass mounting straps for the coil. The original bike had dry cell batteries for spark, they no longer existed or were available. I made a tube to hold the batteries from measuring photos, then made stacks of AA batteries inside the tube to make 12 volts, to run the Honda coil. I then scaled the Armac logo from photos and painted it on the fuel tank. 

frameI reassembled the bike and hooked up everything. I timed the points as I have in modern vehicles, and tried to start the bike. Nothing. I had spark, but the timing seemed way off. I finally realized the points were only a switch, there was no capacitor, so instead of firing when the points opened, it fires when the points close. I retimed it and the motor fired right up. I had a friend who had some 1900's cars, help adjust the carb. It looked more like a sink trap than a crab. I find out the way the gas is atomized in the air is by the fuel dripping into the bottom of this trap, and relying on the vibration of the motor to atomize the fuel.
 I took the bike for a spin, just about wore me out. All this pedaling to start it each time you stopped, and I live in a hilly town. Everything worked fine. The motor ran at about 500 to 700 rpm. It ran fine around 25 mph, but the pedaling to start was a real problem. The Bendix style brake on the rear wheel only, didn't stop very well, but did work. Probably worked great in the flat midwest in the early 1900's when there were no stop signs or lights, but I wanted to drive it around town and to run errands. I decided to sell the bike and use the money for other projects.

I very much enjoyed the project and I kept track of all my time and expenses. I actually made $21 per hour restoring it. I sold it to a collector in California. I loved the bike, wished it would have been more usable in today's world.

Visit Dave’s website: www.brackettracing.com

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