COAL (or MOAL): 1968 Hercules MK IV – Moped Of A Lifetime.

"Born to be not so wild"

“Born to be not so wild”

 

(Welcome our newest COAL series, by Wolfgang, our first to start in Europe. Links to his whole series are here)         My dad was scared. It was 1971 and the last time he drove a car was when he made his driver’s license (DL) back in the 1940’s. Rumor has it it took more liquor than gasoline to pass the test. 

His employer moved from Achern to Gamshurst, and now he saw himself forced to buy a car to commute. The new plant was too far away for the moped. Not incurring the cost of a car was a big part of what enabled him to build a house for the family. Dad moved from a bicycle to a late ’50’s NSU Quickley to ’68 Hercules MK IV. They called it a “mokick” not a moped. That means it had a kick starter and foot rests instead of a crank and pedals but it was limited to 40km/h like a moped.

Now, at the age of 51, my dad had to learn for real how to drive a car because he only knew traffic from the perspective of his mopeds. I recently worked on my DL Class IV, the highest class available at 16. It was for KKR (Kleinkraftrad = small motor bike) up to 50 cc displacement, not speed limited. After he purchased his Renault 4 TL he would practice driving with me as instructor at his side since I just learned all the traffic rules and signs. As a benefit I would inherit the mokick. What a deal, I was thrilled! This will be my ride for the next two years until I can get the DL for cars and motorcycles.

Hercules brochure

I was riding that thing everywhere: school, discos, summer jobs, visiting friends, swimming pools or just hanging around with the coolest guy in town. His nickname was Goofy and he had a BMW 750/7 motorcycle and a shop with wood stove and tools, a BMW 67/1 on a stand, mechanical skills to restore it and everybody knew him. I was happy to have my mokick but I already looked forward to “something real” like Goofy’s BMW.

The neighbors talked to my mom about my sporty riding style. It was true: I practiced on an impromptu race track. Actually, I practiced everywhere I was riding. I usually took that 80 degree left corner near our house so tight that I almost clipped the inside curb with the footrest. Once I took that corner and there was a taxi. He stopped, I hit the rear brake blocking the wheel, swerved to the right while sliding the rear. I missed the taxi by 5 cm, my left side parallel to the front bumper. I got off the brake, the rear wheel caught grip again and the bike righted itself. I rode around the corner of the taxi without ever taking a foot off the footrests. All of that happened within 2 seconds.The taxi driver and I looked at each other both of us wide eyed with surprise. Thank you, guardian angel!

My friend Werner and I had a week of vacation in a cabin owned by the company Werner’s dad worked for. There were also people form the other plant in Duisburg. That included a group of girls of our age. Of course we flirted. I kind of liked Marika. We exchanged mailing addresses. A few weeks later Werner and I authored a love letter to her. It was in jest of course. It started with a few compliments and how I missed her, and all of it worded just a tad too much. We still needed to put in a can’t miss clue that this letter was a joke. That’s were the Hercules came in. “……..I miss you so much and I would really like to visit with you, but Duisburg is 400 km away and with my moped it is going to take 8 liters of 1:25 mixture and 10 hours of riding…..”. Two weeks later I received Marika’s reply: “Your letter was a real surprise….My friend Ulla and I were discussing for days if it was a joke or serious. We came to the conclusion it is an earnest letter……sorry we can’t meet, kisses….”

Once I took Gudrun, a class mate to her home. We and a few others were going to study math and science together. She was not used to riding socius on mopeds. My dad instructed me to wrap my arms around his belly and lean on his back. She put her hands on my shoulders. When we took corners her hands moved from the shoulders to the neck. Then I experienced a linear function between the lean angles and the tightness of her grip: the deeper I leaned in the harder she choked me.

There were only two times I was glad not to have a KKR that would have gone twice as fast. This ride was one and the other time was when paying insurance. KKR’s were only used by boys from their 16th birthday to the day before the 18th. No-one else was willing to pay those premiums. The moped was about DM 50.00 per year. The KKR’s were like DM 500.00.

Of course it was “verboten” to make the moped faster. In defiance of the law I cut the header pipe shorter so the harmonics were helping with power. That’s why my mokick was capable of 50 km/h. The pipe originally extended deep into the muffler creating harmonics that acted as rev limiter.

My older brother and I needed our eyes checked. So we rode to the ophthalmologist in Oberkirch. The route took us over a small mountain pass with switchbacks on either side. No problem going up, most of the time in second gear. Going down the other side was different. I went into 3rd (top) and held at WOT. I must have hit 55 km/h at times. That first left handed hair pin was always fun. The road leads out of a dense forest and going into the hairpin there was the mountain side to the right. Going out there was a drop-off. I slowed down and put it into 2nd gear. I rode close to the shoulder, near maximum lean angle. We were just about through when my brother decided to yank his body upright! Instantly, I dipped it even lower. The tires must have been on their sidewalls. Without my corrective action we would have gone over the edge and down some 30 m. Let’s just say that neither one of us was amused and the verbal fighting about the episode continued for several months. The facts did not matter at all but our lifelong sibling rivalry had found a new focal point.

At some time I told myself: “Wolfgang, you have to slow down! This it way to dangerous, you will get into an accident.” I followed my own advise and slowed down. Pretty soon I paid attention to nothing at all and started day dreaming while riding. As a result I got into many more close calls than ever before and I reverted to riding like a banshee for safety’s sake. That’s called self awareness – or trusting the Guardian Angel.

Hercules MK 50 Super 4 mit StummellenkerStubby handlebars for that sporty look.

Also, my cousin will tell you that riding 2 up and taking a slight curbing at an acute angle is not recommended. It will wipe out the front wheel. No bones were broken. The footrest was bent.

I rode this thing in any weather. I put on several layers of clothes and used lobster claw gloves. One longer ride I got so stiff from the wet cold weather that it took me seconds to turn back the throttle and to reach the levers for the brake and clutch. Traffic had backed up and I passed several cars on their right until I had it under control again.

It was an extremely reliable machine and fuel efficient as well. The engine was fan cooled which prevented overheating going uphill and the intake channel was fitted with a reed valve that blocked back flow. I achieved about 2 L per 100 km whereas my friend’s Kreidler Florett ran through 3.8L in the same distance. To boot, the Hercules had a much larger tank. The drive chain was enclosed which protected it from road dust and made it last longer.

Of course I had to mod the mokick. First, the leg shield had to go. It was rattling so bad. My dad watched with disapproving eyes as I yanked it off and destroyed it in the process. The Hercules looked way more sporty this way and was so much quieter to my ears. The shield used to reflect the engine noise towards the head and amplified it in the process.

I mentioned the cut-off exhaust header. Another repair added to top speed. When the chain and cogs were worn out I had trouble finding the right cog for the rear. I found a slightly smaller one which of course made for a longer final drive.

Then I decided to change the handlebar. Easy Rider was the theme. I used a handlebar for bicycles. It did not help with the handling at all. The original springs and dampers were very soft. I had a pal who owned a Hercules KRR and I let him ride, with me on the back. He went into a tight 90 degree turn at full throttle. I warned him to slow down but he kept at the speed he was used to with his own machine. My moped began to bobble and wobble and I still don’t know how we got through without crashing.

Eventually, I found a frame of the faster, non speed limited version of this mokick (Kleinkraftrad) and talked the owner into selling me the shock absorbers with springs, the stubby handlebars and Magura solid aluminum brake/clutch levers for a few Deutsche Mark. Not only looked these parts sportier, they also improved handling and feed back with the controls. Until I mounted these pieces I did not even realize that the original pressed steel levers flexed under my hand pressure. So did the bicycle ape hanger.

I learned changing tires, replacing light bulbs, replacing brake pads and worn wheel bearings, oiling and tensioning the chain, replacing chain and cogs, cleaning the air filter, lubing and adjusting the cables. The bike’s weakest spot was certainly the ignition. It was a magneto with points and condenser that I did not know how to do. I took it to the mechanic for that.

The exhaust system required maintenance too. Over time 2 cycle engines coke up the exhaust channel and the muffler to the point where the engine does not run. To fix it you had to take off the muffler and header and clean the parts. I put the piston into bottom dead center and scraped the orifice of the channel clean. The gunk in the pipe and muffler had to be burned off with a torch or gasoline.

I did not have a torch. I soaked soaked the muffler in gasoline. Then I lit it it with a match. Meanwhile the fuel vapors had mixed with the air at knee height and “Whoop!” for a few seconds I was standing in the center of a flash flame covering the 3 car driveway. After my pulse returned to normal I continued to pollute the air by burning out the muffler. After this and a fresh spark plug the mokick ran at its best.

Hercules MK 50

Hercules MK 50 (same as MK IV) This one is all original including the rubber strap on the luggage rack.

 

Almost every time I hung out at Goofy’s place I learned something new. How to loosen up a frozen bolt with a hammer, how to put pistons in a cylinder of a BMW motorcycle engine, how to heat a bearing so it will slip over the crankshaft, how to adjust points. You can tell I was there frequently. One time, toward the end of my ownership he looked at my Hercules MK IV and remarked: “This has been a “thankful” (thanks-worthy) ride for you.” I must agree.

After making the Class I and III driver’s license (motorcycles, cars and trucks up to 2.8 tons) I purchased a motorcycle but kept the mokick around. Good too, because I struggled with the motor bike for a while and the Hercules MK IV was always there and ready.

I was in “Oberprima” (senior year of high school) and the Abitur (final exam) was coming up early May. About 6 weeks before the big date I got into an accident. At noon I left school to go home for lunch and had to be back by 2 pm. I never arrived for lunch. I was going south on Illenauer Strasse and just got a glimpse of the VW Beetle pulling in front of me. She came north and pulled left into Martinstrasse. I tried to brake but my hand didn’t even make it over the lever. I hit the right front wheel and fender at 40km/h. My former driving school teacher was a witness and told that I made a “salto mortale” and landed on my back on the roof of the beetle. Someone pulled me down and sat me on the curb tending to a bleeding wound on my neck. The ambulance came and took me to the hospital. I was there for about 5 days even though no bone was broken.

The cut on the neck was a mystery until I looked at a VW more closely. It must have been from the rain gutter. I was told that the roof had a dent above the passenger door. Now it made sense: I hit that spot with the helmet and flipped over. The neck got pushed against the rain gutter causing a superficial cut. The major concerns were a concussion and a painful bruise to the groin. That bruise came from the particular shape of the tank. The fingers of my right hand hurt too because it slipped off the grip and hit the back side of the brake handle. I healed up alright but I took another week off school to re-convalesce and built up strength again. My first major academic effort was the German essay in the all important Abitur.

hercules_mk_50 mit BeinschutzNicely restored even though black was not a factory color. The leg shield was an option.

 

The mokick had a bent fork and wheel and that was about it. New forks were not available and after some searching a used one was found. It too was bent but only slightly. After the repair, paid for by the car’s insurance, it never rode all straight again. I sold it about two years later.

Apparently Marika was still a bit in love with me because years after selling the Hercules I received a post card by her. She found Mister Right and was planning her wedding.