Skip to content

Iron Legends – 1910 Pierce Four | BIKE TESTS

A very rare but hugely important motorcycle in America’s two-wheeled history, the Pierce Four was the country’s first in-line four

Firing up the Pierce’s engine is one of the most difficult things to do, but fortunately I have help at hand. John Rhodes, the caretaker of this exquisite 1910 Pierce Four motorcycle, demonstrated how to do it and it resulted in the motor blaring into life with the flat but somewhat compelling thrum of a vintage car.

Okay, my turn. Unless you have a slope to pedal down, it’s best to put the bike on the stand, hop aboard, then move the scimitar-shaped gear lever on the left into neutral, and start pedalling to build up momentum within the engine. There’s no ignition switch; you just turn on the fuel tap, sit on the seat and start cranking, while setting the left-hand throttle to about half open – it’s a positive setting, with no return spring – and turning the right twistgrip clockwise to fully retard the ignition.

Then, while still pedalling, you carefully ease the gear lever one notch forward to Coast, which automatically engages the clutch and starts the engine firing, while you gradually advance the sparks.

Once you’re satisfied you’ve got it running properly, you then stick it back into Neutral, work the (surprisingly effective) external contracting band rear brake hard enough to stop the wheel turning, then dismount to pull the bike off the stand before attaching this to the clip on the rear mudguard. Okay, done.

Hop back on (hopefully it’s still running) and you must now back off the throttle to about one-third open, then ease the gear lever forward again, preferably while pedalling to get the bike off the mark. This time you must push it through Coast and into Low Speed – the equivalent of bottom gear in the two-speed transmission, as in Slow and Slower.

It’s important to set the throttle ahead of this, because you have other things in store for your left hand to attend to, while playing with the ignition advance on the right twistgrip to find a good setting for acceleration.

It’s now I’m thankful the wet-sump Pierce motor features mechanical lubrication via a gear-driven oil pump, instead of requiring me to remember to periodically operate a syringe-like hand-pump!

But there’s no clutch lever to operate, so it’s hard to describe how helpless you feel, as if you’re totally at the mercy of the mechanical minions making momentum on this early American.

Once you select Low gear you can stop pedalling, sit back and relish the satisfaction of getting the Pierce Four up and running.

Want to go faster? Back off the throttle to about one-quarter open, then pull the gear lever fully back towards you to select High Speed.

Read the full story in the current issue of AMCN (Vol 67 No 18) on sale now