Home » This Vintage DKW Moped Is As Much A Futuristic Art Piece As It Is Transportation

This Vintage DKW Moped Is As Much A Futuristic Art Piece As It Is Transportation

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Can motorcycles and mopeds be art? I think so. There are some two-wheelers that are so beautiful that you cannot help but stare. Some motorcycles and mopeds are arguably better to look at than to ride. One of those mopeds is this 1961 DKW Hummel 115. It has just two ponies on tap from a dinky 48cc two-stroke, so it’s not going to light the roads on fire. What it can do is make your heart skip a beat, just as it does to me. Going 25 mph never looked so cool.

Honestly, I’m having a bit of trouble classifying this little guy, which is rolling across the Bring a Trailer auction block for the next four days. The DKW’s tiny engine and slow top speed make it closer to a scooter or a moped than a proper motorcycle, but it’s neither a step-through design and it doesn’t have pedals, either. I’ve seen these types of bikes called “mokicks” before, which means a moped with a kick starter and pegs rather than pedals. According to the listing, this DKW’s classified as a moped, so we’ll go with that.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

1961 Dkw Hummel 115 Img 2827 5

This 1961 DKW Hummel 115 wouldn’t be incredibly practical today. It has a top speed of 25 to 30 mph, so you wouldn’t want to venture anywhere outside of a dense city. But, no matter where you go, be it Venice Beach or city hall, this little moped will turn heads.

Once The World’s Largest Motorcycle Manufacturer

Dkw, Rt 175 S, One Cylinder Two Stroke Engine, 174 Ccm, 9,6 Bhp,
Audi

DKW isn’t exactly a household name today, but you might drive a vehicle produced by a successor company: Audi AG. Before Audi and even prior to the founding of Auto Union, DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.

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As Audi writes, in 1902 or 1904, Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen established the Rasmussen & Ernst company in Chemnitz, Germany. In 1907, the company relocated to Zschopau in Germany’s Erzgebirge mountains. This early company manufactured products for steam raising plants like exhaust-steam oil separators. Later, the company’s portfolio would include centrifuges, painting equipment, car mudwings (mudguards), and car lighting.

In 1916, Rasmussen began experimentation with steam-driven vehicles. During this experimentation, Rasmussen trademarked DKW, an abbreviation of Dampfkraftwagen, which translates to English as “steam-driven vehicle.” Ultimately, Audi says, Rasmussen’s steam experiments never advanced past the prototype stage and the projects ceased in 1918, but that didn’t stop him from continuing his vehicular quest. A year later, Rasmussen’s company became Zschopauer Motorenwerke and he created a 25cc miniature two-stroke engine. This was marketed as a toy engine and given the name Des Knaben Wunsch, or “The Boy’s Wish.” Audi says this engine was scaled up and planted into a bicycle in 1921 before evolving into a motorcycle engine 1922. This engine was called the Das Kleine Wunder, or “The Small Miracle.” Here’s an illustration from a cardboard model kit:

Dkw Zweitaktmotor Rt 125 Kinderm
DKW

Rasmussen, with help from Manager Carl Hahn and Chief Designer Hermann Weber, began putting motorcycles onto the road, and by 1928, DKW was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. That same year, Rasmussen took over Audi’s Zwickau factories to begin car production. In 1930, Rasmussen commissioned a sort of people’s car from Audi’s designers. The DKW Front (F1) was designed to be an inexpensive car powered by a motorcycle engine and oh yeah, it was a front-wheel-drive car. Audi says it was one of the most popular and best-selling cars of its day.

Hi990030 Large
Audi

In 1932, the company, along with much of the world, was caught up in the Great Depression. Zschopauer Motorenwerke J.S. Rasmussen AG (DKW) combined forces with Audiwerke AG, Horchwerke AG, and Wanderer Werke AG to form Auto Union AG. Audi continues:

The DKW products were no less important for the economic development of the new company than Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen and his Zschopauer Motorenwerke enterprise had been in founding Auto Union AG. The DKW motorcycles and cars with their typical two-stroke engines served the low market segment (the price category between 345 and 3,400 Reichsmarks) and constituted the Auto Union high-volume model range. For example, up to 4,800 units of the DKW cars with front-wheel drive were built per month in the late 1930s. The DKW motorcycles were produced in such large quantities that in 1937 Auto Union once again became the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer with its DKW plant in Zschopau, producing a total of 55,470 motorcycles. A further important area of production comprised the DKW stationary engines, which were available in an incredibly wide range of vehicles and could be used in a great variety of fields (e.g. agriculture, road construction, the fire brigade, the army and public authorities).

It’s also worth noting that DKW was an innovator in the 1920s. Typical two-stroke engines of the day used a cross-flow system to get fuel into the combustion chamber. A descending piston opened ports on each side of the cylinder and the incoming flow of fresh oil and fuel would help push out burned fuel. The process worked, but it was inefficient as some of the new fuel was pushed out with the burned fuel. This was helped by the invention of the asymmetric deflector piston, which diverted fresh fuel away from the exhaust port.

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In the late 1920s, German engineer Adolf Schnürle invented the loop-scavenging system. In his system, there are two angled intake ports that flank a singular exhaust port all on the same side of the cylinder. This design allows the incoming fuel to effectively push the burned fuel out without the waste and without the need for a deflector piston. In Schnürle porting, the gas flows in a loop.

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Mecum Auctions

This design was used in the DKW RT125 and after World War II, a number of countries were given its design drawings as war reparations. The RT125 design even led to the Harley-Davidson Model 125 (above) of the late 1940s and later, the Hummer of the mid-1950s.

The DKW Hummel 115

1961 Dkw Hummel 115 Tin Banana I

This moped comes from another collaboration involving DKW called the Zweirad Union.

As parts reseller Zweirad-Union-Mopeds writes, the Zweirad Union consisted of motorcycle manufacturers DKW, Victoria, and Express. Victoria was created in 1886 and built bicycles before moving to motorcycles. By 1957, the company had run low on money. Meanwhile, Express, a motorcycle manufacturer that had opened its doors in 1884 as a bicycle manufacturer, found itself on the ropes in 1958. As German publication Spiegel wrote in 1958, the rise in small car ownership, as well as a tightening of licensing requirements, meant that West German motorcycle firms began struggling to move units.

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Img 2820 2 Scaled

In that year, Daimler-Benz acquired 87 percent of Auto Union and splintered the DKW motorcycle division off to businessman Odlio Burkart. Burkart combined DKW with Express and Victoria, thus creating the Zweirad Union.

DKW produced a moped called the Hummel from 1956 to 1958. As our top shot hints at, Hummel means “Bumblebee.” Audi says the little bike was the first moped to feature a three-speed gearbox. It also had a pedal shaft that connected directly to the gearbox, so a second chain wasn’t needed. Check out this machine:

Dkw "hummel" (bumble Bee), Built From 1956 To 1958
Audi

Its sequel came in 1961 and the new Hummel looked nothing else before or really since. The Hummel here features a pressed-steel body with some unique details. For example, the fuel tank is integral with the headlight nacelle. Those side covers look like panniers, but aren’t. The Hummel has lots of chrome and shares some traits with scooters of the era. Note the covered chain and heck, the engine has its own beautiful chrome shroud.

Power comes from a 48cc two-stroke single making 2 HP. It still has a three-speed gearbox like its predecessor, which nets you a top speed of around 25 to 30 mph, the latter presumably downhill with a tailwind. The engine drinks from a tiny 12mm Bing carburetor and the engine keeps itself cool with a fan.

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1961 Dkw Hummel 115 Tin Banana I (1)

Produced from 1961 to 1966, these mopeds were sold as the DKW Hummel 115, Express Kavalier 115, and Victoria Type 115. There was also a Type 155 variant with a high beam headlight and a power bump to 4.2 HP, which allowed speeds of around 45 mph. The variants of the moped were mechanically the same but differed in colors and you’ll find Zweirad Union on the bikes from badging to writing on the engine shroud. I couldn’t find production numbers, but these were never officially imported into the United States and they’re believed to be rare.

This Moped

Img 2830 1 Scaled

This 1961 DKW Hummel 115 up for grabs on Bring a Trailer in Lincoln, Nebraska, is said to have been refurbished during its past life in Germany. It was acquired by the seller in 2022 and used for a static display. The listing states that the bike hasn’t been started, but it was drained of all fluids. In theory, you should be able to fill the 17,000-mile machine up and kick the moped back into life.

As of right now, this DKW is one of the cheaper things on Bring a Trailer. It’s sitting at just $3,000 with four days to go. If I didn’t just buy a Triumph Rocket and spent a bunch of additional cash on mods for it, I’d probably be a bidder here. I hope whoever gets this marvelous machine takes it for a spin every now and then, but I’d understand if they buy it just to look at it. I know I could spend hours staring at this moped.

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1961 Dkw Hummel 115 Tin Banana I (3)

(Images: Bring a Trailer seller unless otherwise noted.)

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ProfPlum
ProfPlum
10 months ago

It sold on BaT for $22,250. Wow.

Ricki
Ricki
10 months ago

Hopefully I can get my DKW Harley Pacer out of the shed this summer and get it running. Shouldn’t be too hard, I just have to make sure the tank is clean, get the rust off everything… put the wheels back on… make sure the spark plug is still in it… um…

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
10 months ago

That is so cool, and close to me, I was looking at Vespas, maybe I need to broaden my horizons.

Boulevard_Yachtsman
Boulevard_Yachtsman
10 months ago

So very cool. I’d want something like this ’58 Mercedes Ponton pickup painted in the same whimsical color to haul it around:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JGDsw_rk5Q&t=22s

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
10 months ago

As for what to call this wee-engined cycle, in the French movie “Diva” (awesome movie including a brief history of the Citroen Traction Avant), mopeds play a fairly integral part of the story. They call them mobillettes. This Hummel just looks like something that should be called a mobillette.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
10 months ago

There was a bit of a trend for enclosed sheet metal motorcycles in the late 50s/early 60s. The immediate example is the Ariel Leader and its less enclosed sibling the Ariel Arrow that looks like a less flamboyant two cylinder DKW.
On terminology, I’ve always called this sort of thing a Noped. The Honda Passport is the most common US market example.

Goblin
Goblin
10 months ago

Google “MZ Trophy” for the big brother from behind the Curtain…

Marlin May
Marlin May
10 months ago

Dear e-bike designers out there, please take a look and be inspired. In my opinion there aren’t enough drop-dead gorgeous e-bikes in the world. Oh, there are a few out there from folks like Electric Cafe Bike and Heritage Origin for those with deeeep pockets. I totally get the impulse to look utilitarian, straight-forward and devoid of ornamentation to exude a common-man vibe, but, it’s OK to design your vehicles to be beautiful, emotional, objects of desire that set your heart a pitter-pat.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
10 months ago

“Power comes from a 48cc two-stroke single making 2 HP. It still has a three-speed gearbox like its predecessor, which nets you a top speed of around 25 to 30 mph, the latter presumably downhill with a tailwind”

I dunno, a listing commentator mentions these mopeds were limited to those speeds by law. If so I’d expect the limitation to be gearing, not power.

Plus an average horse, with an average of only ONE horsepower and is probably a lot heavier has a top speed of 25 to 35 mph.

https://insiderhorse.com/the-gallop-facts-you-should-know-about-the-horses-fastest-gait/

With a whopping TWO horsepower I expect this moped can do better if geared properly.

(Unless the rest of the drive train is REALLY inefficient).

Last edited 10 months ago by Cheap Bastard
A. Ocolotl
A. Ocolotl
10 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You’ll forgive me, I hope, if this comes off as a nitpick, but a horsepower has actually really little to do with horses, and was a pretty good advertising gimmick by an early vendor of steam engines. Some athletes can produce 1 HP for limited periods. A horse could produce around 5 HP or so.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
10 months ago
Reply to  A. Ocolotl

That would have been James Watt the namesake for the unit of power Watt. If anyone knew power it would have been him.

While it may have been a marketing gimmick there was math and science behind it:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horsepower

There’s this too:

“In 1993, R. D. Stevenson and R. J. Wassersug published correspondence in Nature summarizing measurements and calculations of peak and sustained work rates of a horse. Citing measurements made at the 1926 Iowa State Fair, they reported that the peak power over a few seconds has been measured to be as high as 14.9 hp (11.1 kW) and also observed that for sustained activity, a work rate of about 1 hp (0.75 kW) per horse is consistent with agricultural advice from both the 19th and 20th centuries and also consistent with a work rate of about four times the basal rate expended by other vertebrates for sustained activity.”

So according to this a horsepower is ~ a horse’s sustained, not peak power. Sure there are exceptions like sprinting race horses hitting 55 mph but your average horse with its sustained activity single horsepower in a long distance gallop is going to do somewhere between 25-35 mph.

Given horses are heavier and it’d think a lot less aerodynamic than this moped + rider I suspect the moped is capable of a bit more speed, that is unless the rest of the drive train saps the second horsepower. Which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Last edited 10 months ago by Cheap Bastard
MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
10 months ago

Can motorcycles and mopeds be art?

Guggenheim says yes:

https://www.guggenheim.org/exhibition/the-art-of-the-motorcycle

It was a fantastic show, and IIRC one of these DKW’s was there. I’ve got the book somewhere…

Last edited 10 months ago by MATTinMKE
CSRoad
CSRoad
10 months ago

While this is interesting looking this particular example is not moped, typically defined as a motor assisted bicycle. It has no pedals so isn’t one.
The picture of the woman with the step through does show a moped.
A very small engined motorcycle, some places would define this as a low or limited speed motorcycle, licensing requirement vary by locale.

Last edited 10 months ago by CSRoad
Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago

That would make a lovely vintage racing paddock runabout since there are speed limits and race people are the only ones that would tolerate a buzzy smokey 2-stroke.
Other than that, I think its a lovely conversation piece.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
10 months ago

In the U.S. that bike has a small enough engine to be road legal without insurance or registration, and IIRC can be ridden in bike lanes since it is legally a bicycle. So, very low cost of ownership once you do own it, and can be ridden in places real motorcycles can’t, which helps address the concerns regarding its low top speed.

It’s a lovely thing and I’m sure it’d be a blast to scoot around on, even if just around the neighborhood.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
10 months ago
Reply to  Austin Vail

Depends where – in MA, for example, it falls under moped/scooter requirements, and thus you have to get a (hella cheap) registration sticker for it, and have a license to drive it.

10001010
10001010
10 months ago

Was this bike found in the basement of the Alamo?

Harris K Telemacher
Harris K Telemacher
10 months ago
Reply to  10001010

That is the first thing I thought of when I saw this bike. TEQUILA!

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
10 months ago

I don’t think that the current crop of “e-bikes” would be nearly as successful as they currently are if they were called “electric mopeds” (which is what they are). Whoever was in charge of marketing was wise to rebrand.

Chronometric
Chronometric
10 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

The European spec and low-end US e-bikes with pedals are e-mopeds. The more powerful big battery e-bikes are actually motorcycles. Many are purely throttle-driven.

Flatisflat
Flatisflat
10 months ago

My mood has non-trivially improved because of knowing this moped is a thing that exists. Thanks, Mercedes!

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
10 months ago

This is a great article Mercedes, I just love the style of these Mopeds/Motorcycles, thanks for bringing them to our attention.

Last edited 10 months ago by Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
10 months ago

I have a very vivid memory of waking up on Christmas morning when I was nine years old and discovering my Christmas stocking was overflowing with a Des Knaben Wunsch that had been stuffed into it.

😉

Dodsworth
Dodsworth
10 months ago

Good gosh! Thank you for this story. It looks like a flashlight that grew wheels and I love it!

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
10 months ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

That is the perfect way to describe them!

Ron Boyce
Ron Boyce
10 months ago

Wow…that would be a perfect accessory for a 1958 DeSoto Firedome. Remember when designers actually styled their products? Sometimes a little over-the-top but they sure as hell didn’t all look the same and come in silver, beige, or grey. Pee-wee would have a stroke if he saw this bike.

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