Francis-Barnett & German Express – Norfolk Motorcycle Museum

We went over from Cardiff to North Walsham. Especially to visit the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum. This turned out to be well worth the trip of nearly 300 miles. The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum is situated next to North Walsham Railway Station and is home for over 100 fascinating historic bikes.

We came down the A149 Yarmouth to Cromer road and then turned on to the B1150 into North Walsham itself. Riding in that way, the station yard where the museum is situated is just on your left. The Norfolk Motorcycle Museum team undertake restoration work on vintage bikes as well as displaying their excellent collection. It made me think of the very wide range of outstanding motorcycles – new and old.

Francis-Barnett 125cc 1957
Francis-Barnett 125cc 1957

Francis-Barnett

The Lea-Francis company was formed by Graham Francis and RH Lea in 1895 to manufacture bicycles and motorbikes. Then Gordon Francis, Graham’s son, married the daughter of Arthur Barnett who was already producing Invicta motorcycles.

Gordon Francis and Arthur Barnett joined forces to start their business. To design and manufacture an innovative lightweight motorcycle in Lower Ford Street in Coventry in 1919. Their outstanding engineering idea was the development of a triangulated frame. This provided the bike with great strength. It could be assembled easily from straight steel tubes bolted together.

Engines and Fairings

Most of the early models were fitted with either Villiers or AMC two-stroke engines. In the 1930s the 250cc Cruiser was developed, and equipped with a fairing coating the engine. This safeguarded the rider from dirt and oil.

Combinations and Take-overs

Associated Motor Cycles took over Francis Barnett in 1947, and in 1957 the company combined with James. The business came to an end in 1966. Several of the excellent bikes they produced were named after birds. Including, the Merlin, the Kestrel, the Hawk, the Snipe, the Falcon and the Plover.

German Express 1954 200cc model norfolk motorcycle museum
German Express 1954 200cc

German Express

Express Werke AG was a German company in Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. They manufactured bicycles as well as motorbikes. It was during the 1930s that Express manufactured mopeds and lightweight motorcycles with 75cc and 98cc Sachs engines. They too had a very interesting history. Inventor Ernst Sachs and his colleague Karl Fichtel founded their business on August 1, 1895. Making mainly ball bearings and hubs for cycle wheels. In 1897 they created the free-wheel for bicycles. They started making motorcycle engines in 1929.

ILO

Express also used ILO engines for their bikes. The name ILO was based on the Esperanto word meaning a tool, or instrument. The company was formed in 1911, Altona. Heinrich Christiansen bought up a bankrupt engineering company. The new organisation was called the North German Engine Works, GmbH. They started out with only twenty-five staff members. After the First World War, the company began to develop two-stroke engines. That was of the type eventually to go with some of the Express range of motorcycles.

From 1949 the Express company resumed production using Sachs and ILO engines up to 248cc. In 1958 Express merged with DKW and Victoria to form Zweirad Union.

DKW

The initials DKW come from the German words Dampf-Kraft-Wagen, meaning steam-driven car. A Danish engineer, Jorgen Rasmussen opened a factory in Zschopau in Saxony in 1916. They made steam fittings, and Jorgen attempted to make a steam-powered car. In 1919, however, he produced a two-stroke motorcycle engine known as Das Kleine Wunder, which translates as the little marvel. DKW had become the largest motorbike manufacturer in the world in the 1930s. The Volkswagen Group bought DKW in 1964.

Victoria

The Victoria company began in 1886 in Nurnberg and made its first motorcycle in 1901. By 1921 they had developed a model powered by a BMW 494cc two-cylinder, side-valve engine. In 1923, just two years later, they started using a 497cc overhead valve engine. From their own Victoria design, later increased to 597cc.

Zweirad Union, which included DKW and Victoria, terminated Express production in 1959.

Did you enjoy this post about the Norfolk Motorcycle Museum? We also wrote one dedicated to the top 10  motorcycle museums in the UK!

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