The Henderson Four: The largest and fastest motorcycle of its time

 

The Henderson Four machines were the largest and fastest motorcycles of their time, and appealed to both sport riders and especially police departments who favored them as they were faster than anything else on the roads. Not long after production began, in 1912 Carl Stearns Clancy (1890 – 1971) decided to choose a Henderson Four for his pioneering around the world motorcycle journey — 18,000 miles and 10 months after setting off from New York.

See the Henderson Four together with radical concepts, record breakers and road icons in ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ showcasing 100 of the greatest motorcycles ever assembled. Presented across the Gallery of Modern Art’s (GOMA) entire ground floor until until 26 April 2021.

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Henderson Four 1912 / Clyde Crouch Collection / Photograph: Brad Wagner © QAGOMA
Carl Stearns Clancy on his Henderson Four / Photo courtesy: Clancy Family Collection

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Henderson Four 1912

The Henderson Motorcycle Company was established in 1912 and went against prevailing single-cylinder and V-twin engine types from the start. In a shrewd move, founders William and Tom Henderson instead produced a series of in-line four-cylinder designs that were the fastest two-wheeled machines of their time.

Unlike other early twentieth-century motorcycles that used single-cylinder engines, the Henderson Four boasted a larger four-cylinder engine, inspiring the marque’s name. An engine of this size was more common in cars and demanded an elongated frame to support it, but the Henderson was fast, light and reliable, and set many long-distance and speed records This extra length also allowed a second saddle for a passenger — the only question being where to put the extra person. This variant of the Henderson has the passenger sitting in front of the rider. This rare first-year model is rumoured to be one of only six left in existence.

Henderson Four 1912 / Clyde Crouch Collection / Photographs: Robert LaPrelle

Specifications

Country: USA
Power:
7 hp

Engine: 965 cc inlet-over-exhaust in-line four
Designer: William Henderson
Production: 1911-31

Interesting facts

  • The Henderson Four has a 165cm wheelbase (the distance between the centres of each wheel), to accommodate an extra-long four cylinder engine.
  • The Henderson Four wasn’t the first American motorcycle to use a four-cylinder engine, but it was the fastest — reaching speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour in 1912.
  • The 1910s was a time of prosperity in the United States: the RMS Titanic set out on its maiden voyage, Universal Studios was born and the opening of Grand Central Station transported New Yorkers around the city and further afield. This led to more people owning motor vehicles and using electricity in their homes. However, circumstances soon changed as World War One broke out in 1914, when many young male motorcycle buyers joined the war efforts and the nation encountered labour and material shortages.
  • Carl Stearns Clancy was an American long-distance motorcycle rider, film director and producer. He is credited with being the first person to circumnavigate the world on a motorcycle.
Publicity photo of Carl Stearns Clancy on a Henderson Four motorcycle, after circumnavigating the world in 1913 / Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Henderson Four in the movies

Mabel at the Wheel (1914)

Get Out and Get Under-Silent (1920)


Tandem motorcycles on display

Minerva with Mills and Fulford Forecar 1903 / Collection: Bobby Haas and Haas Moto Museum / © Haas Moto Galleries LLC / Photograph: Natasha Harth © QAGOMA
Moto Guzzi Super Alce 1948 / Calleja Collection, Melbourne / Photograph: Anne-Marie De Boni

Buy: ‘The Motorcycle’ publication

With over 320 pages and 400 colour illustrations, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire showcases 100 superb examples of motorcycle design from the late 19th century to the present day and beyond to the technological innovations of the future. Beautifully illustrated with newly commissioned photography and archival ephemera, this visually arresting survey of the motorcycle’s influence in realms as diverse as film, fashion, sport, advertising, and technology will prove compulsive reading to design lovers and motorcycle fans alike. Available at the QAGOMA Store and online

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