The story begins in 1967 at a suburb just outside of Chicago. A plumber, called to a run of the mill repair job on a housing renovation, made an astonishing discovery that still baffles motorcycle enthusiasts today.
Covered in dust and debris, behind one of the house’s walls was a mysterious motorcycle bearing 1916 plates and the manufacturer name “Traub.” But where the bike originated from and exactly who made it remains an unsolved mystery to this day.
Where did it come from?
When the Traub was discovered, the previous owners of the house were traced in the hope they could shed some light on the mystery surrounding it. They admitted their son had stolen the motorbike before going off to WWI, but he tragically did not return. And they didn’t have any details on where or whom it was stolen from, adding to the cloud of mystery that shrouds the bike today.
The identity of the Traub’s manufacturer has confused motorcycle enthusiasts for years. But keen historians may have managed to scope out who they think made the bike. A letter from a Gottileb Richard Traub to the editor of Motorcycle illustrated was printed in 1907 and details the specs of a self made motorcycle. Fascinatingly, the specs in the letter match closely to those of the famous motorcycle.
And the census from 1910 stated Traub was a self-employed experimental machinist, working from an attached garage to the “Richard Traub Motorcycle Shop.”
What makes it so rare?
Now, calling a bike the rarest in the world is a big statement. And this certainly raises more questions than it does answer them, but one thing’s for certain this is a truly unique, one of a kind motorcycle.
Sure there are classic bikes and one-off remakes out there, but when the Traub was wheeled out of its hiding place 50 years ago no one had ever seen anything like it and there hasn’t been another Traub discovered since. And what truly gives it the title of rarest motorcycle in the world is its tremendous engineering that was decades ahead of its time.
When discovered, the motorcycle was in incredible condition considering its age and how long it had been stored away. After 50 years amongst dust and debris, the tyres needed a little inflating, the engine was virtually new and there was no rust in sight.
Where is the Traub Today?
Not long after the bike’s discovery, a local Chicago motorcycle dealer traded a $700 Suzuki for the Traub. About a decade later, the stuntman for Steve McQueen, Bud Enkins purchased the Traub. After changing hands a couple times more, the bike was acquired by the owner of the Wheels Through Time Museum, Dale Walksler, where you can find it today.
And it’s not just a museum spectacle, Dale takes the Traub out for rides regularly. When quizzed about the Traub and what makes it so unique, here’s what he had to say:
“Everything inside the engine is just magnificent. The pistons are handmade, and have gap-less cast iron rings, the engineering and machining being simply years ahead of their time.”
“When comparing other top motorcycle makes and models of the era, the Traub has no equal. Comprised of a sand-cast, hand-built, 80 cubic-inch ‘side-valve engine, the machine has the ability to reach speeds in excess of 85mph (136km/h) with ease. For a machine to have such advanced features, unparalleled by other motorcycles of the same era, is truly outstanding,”
Whilst the evidence certainly points to Gotilleb Richard Traub as the producer of the unique bike, there’s sadly not a definitive answer to the mystery of the Traub and where it came from.
But it does make you wonder how the motorcycle industry would look today if the genius of the Traub had hit the market?