The Rarest and Most Mysterious Motorcycle In The World
The most precisely engineered bike ever made, and the story of how it disappeared, and was rediscovered.
There are few things that are as shrouded in mystery as the Traub motorcycle. This one-off, handmade bike was built in 1916, before disappearing, only to be discovered behind a wall in 1967, by a Chicago plumber who was just conducting his usual business and doing repairs on a house. The former owners of the home were contacted about the secret room that entombed the unidentified bike for fifty years, and that is when the plot begins to thicken...
A creator as mysterious as his creation
While there is no definite conclusions as of today, evidence points to a Gottlieb Richard Traub as the creator of this bike. Traub ran a motorcycle shop in Chicago, and also touted himself as an "experimental machinist". The build quality and unique mechanisms of the bike proved that he was not exaggerating the "experimental" part. Simply put, Traub made a bike that was decades ahead of its time.
Years prior to creating the legendary bike that is on display today, Traub wrote a letter to the editor of Motorcycle Illustrated, detailing the specs of another homemade bike that had specs that were similar to the one that would be entombed, years later. Suffice to say, and as we will explore later in this article, Traub was nothing short of an engineering genius. Sadly, he passed away in 1952, and with his passing, any definite answers and explanations about the bike went with him.
The case of the thief, who enlisted for his crime
As I mentioned before, when the bike was discovered in the 60's, the former owners of the house where it was hidden were contacted, and, once again as I mentioned before, this is where the plot thickens.
The previous owner of the house explained that in 1916, their son took a fancy to the Traub bike and stole it. While there were no police reports filed regarding the incident, this seems to be the most popular theory.
So the story goes, after the father caught wind that his son stole the bike, he was so angry at him that he made him enlist in the army, but before he left to fight in World War One, he sealed the bike in a bricked off room in the basement, maybe so he would know where to find it should he return home. Sadly though, he died in the war, and any knowledge about the bike's whereabouts died with him. The location where the bike was found was not far from Traub's residence. Maybe Traub himself sealed his legacy off as a grand time capsule, to be discovered years later and confuse people. If so, he really hit that nail on the head.
Unfortunately this chapter of the bike's history will likely never be solved.
A new breed of motorcycle
Though built in 1916, this bike was decades ahead of its time regarding build quality and innovation. The handbuilt engine has tolerances so tight, it only uses one gasket, the pistons are handmade and have gapless piston rings. While most of the mechanics were handmade, there were a few off the shelf items such as a carburetor, a seat and rims. These items are also what made it possible to date the bike. Unique to the Traub and never before seen on a bike are engine fasteners and an adjustable crankcase breather. Other unique features of this bike include two clutch levers, a conventional foot operated mechanism, along with a hand lever on the side of the gas tank. Interestingly enough, there are two neutral positions in the three-speed gearbox, one between first and second gear, and another neutral is located between second and third. The sheer amount of unique engineering features on this bike proves that Mr. Traub was not only just experimenting, but was also trying to create a whole new breed of motorcycle.
Performance was ahead of its time as well. The bike has a massive (in 1916 terms) 1,278cc engine, and can easily reach speeds of 85 miles per hour, which could not be matched by your average mass-produced bike at the time.
Leaving the basement
Sealing a bike off in a brick tomb seems to be the best way to preserve such an item. After fifty years, all it took to get this bike back on the road was air in the tires and a coat of Armor-All. So if you happen to have a prized vehicle you want to preserve, just build a brick house around it and it'll last through the ages! It is quite magnificent that after fifty years, the bike was still in perfect working order. After being de-tombed, the bike was traded for a 700 dollar Suzuki, and the new owner of the Traub, Torello Tacchi, lovingly restored the relic back to perfect condition, which involved fixing some minor spots on the paint and knocking the literal and metaphorical dust off of the engine. The only actual mechanical issue this bike had was a worn out rod bushing.
About ten years after its discovery, the Traub was sold to Bud Ekins, made famous for being Steve McQueen's stuntman. Ekins was in Chicago at the time to film The Blues Brothers. The bike changed hands one more time before landing in the hands of its current owner, Dale Walksler, who runs the Wheels Through Time museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.
The bike attracts countless tourists every year, everyone from history buffs to motorcycle enthusiasts and anyone in-between. The bike also is not just a museum piece, Walksler still takes the bike out for rides regularly, and it still runs just as good as any bike you would buy today.
Suffice to say, and as you can tell by reading this article, the Traub motorcycle is one of the most cryptic gas-powered creations in history. From being decades ahead of its time in terms of engineering precisions, to disappearing for half a century only to be found in a tomb in still-running condition, the mystery of the bike will more than likely never be solved, if it were this article would be much easier to write, but would it be as interesting to read? I don't think so. I enjoyed diving down the unexpected rabbit hole this bike's legacy brings forth, and I hope you enjoyed my attempt at unscrambling some of the information that may or may not be accurate, we will never know. All we do know is that someone made something that was truly a work of mechanical art and ingenuity, and nothing like it has been made since, which is more than good enough reason to celebrate and continue passing down the captivating story of this engineering marvel that is destined to be eternally wrapped in an enigmatic shroud.