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The Henderson Motorcycle Co. was founded in 1912 in Detroit by two brothers, Tom and William Henderson. The company was focused specifically on the production of four-cylinder motorcycles. In 1917, the firm passed into the control of Ignaz Schwinn, owner of Excelsior (the second largest motorcycle manufacturer after Indian). Schwinn shifted production from Detroit to the Excelsior factory in Chicago.
The Henderson Four of 1912, as ridden around the world for the first time by Charles Stearns Clancy [Mecum]
Despite the change in circumstances, many engineers and workers remained faithful to the company and continued to work towards creating better motorcycles. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1920s, it had become obvious something better was needed to stay ahead of the pack. The result was the Henderson KJ model, designed by ex-Harley-Davidson engineer, Arthur Constantine. It was presented in April 1929.
The Henderson kind of gets lost in the Harley-Indian Wars. Although most of the four-cylinder motorcycles that are out there are somewhat derive from the Henderson Brothers. All their motorcycles, including the Henderson KJ, were built to be incredibly reliable. This bike has the Bosch magneto ignition so it starts under almost any circumstances; two separate gas tanks: one to run, one for reserve. There is no suspension other than the sprung seat, though. The KJ model also has a reverse gear, which is mostly used for sidecar work.
The KJ model originally painted blue with the gold stripes. It boasted sleek styling, earning itself the sobriquet ‘the Streamline Henderson’. Producing 45 hp at 4,000 rpm this motorcycle proved exceptionally smooth and tractable, being capable of accelerating to 110 mph in top gear. Just a few motorcycles and cars of the 20s could boast such a speed, they can be found in our museum: Brough Superior SS100, Bücker 1000 and Tornax III/30.
Brough Superior SS100 from the collection «Motorworld by V.Sheynov»
Bücker 1000 from the collection «Motorworld by V.Sheynov»
Tornax III/30 from the collection «Motorworld by V.Sheynov»
A fleet of Excelsior-Henderson 4-cylinders for this police force. At the time, a ‘four’ was the fastest thing on wheels.
These 1,300 cc engine motorcycles set all kinds of speed records. Back in the 20s and 30s, police favored the KJ model for traffic patrol because it has what they call a “tell-tale” speedometer. This device has two needles, one of which showed the maximum speed that the police officer needed to catch the offender.
This is truly one of the nicest riding motorcycles. It is ideal for American road trips or any kind of travel journeys. So it is no wonder that the Henderson was the first motorcycle to go around the world in the year of 1912.
The Henderson KJ Streamline was a pretty expensive motorcycle for its time but it was faster than anything else on the roads. That was the superbike of the early 30s!
|Manufacturer||Excelsior Motor Mfg. and Supply Co|
|Years of manufacture||1929-1931|
|Quantity produced, units|
|ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION|
|Type||4-cylinder inline, IOE|
|Engine capacity, cc||1300|
|Bore and stroke, mm||68×76 (2-11/16in x 3-1/2in)|
|Engine rating||40 hp at 4000 RPM|
|Transmission||3-speed handshift, chain final drive|
|FRAME AND WHEELBASE|
|Frame||Dual downtube cradle frame|
|Front suspension||Trailing link double leg springer forks front|
|Rear suspension||Rigid rear|
|Brakes||Drum front, contracting band rear|
|Ground clearance, mm|
|Seat height, mm|
|Top speed, km/h||160|