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What Was The First Ever Quad Bike?

quad biking - Weston Shooting LodgeThere are few outdoor pursuits that can match the sheer unadulterated thrill of quad biking on an open four-wheeled vehicle that can seemingly go anywhere and do anything if you let it.

Also known as a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle (ATV), quad bikes are a unique experience that feels amazing when you master it under the supervision of a professional.

However, beyond their use for quickly traversing difficult terrain and being incredibly fun, quad bikes also play a fascinating and important part in the history of the motorcar, given that there was a potential future where all cars would be driven like quad bikes.


The Birth Of The Quadricycle

The history of the automobile is complex and filled with discussion about which vehicles count in the timeline, but the first practical car that was ever put into production was the Benz Patent-Motowagen in 1886.

Effectively a powered tricycle, the Patent-Motorwagen was an exceptionally rudimentary vehicle and one that was controlled more like a canal boat with a lack of a steering wheel, but it proved the concept was possible.

The concept proved quite inspirational to Bob Walker Smith and Albert Eadie, two entrepreneurs from Birmingham who early in the history of what would become Royal Enfield, looked to expand their bicycle business into something bigger and ready to face the 20th century.

After capitalising on the popularity of bicycles they decided to create a similar powered vehicle that became known as the Royal Enfield Quadricycle.

Built on two bicycle frames and powered by a 1.5 horsepower engine by De Dion, Bob Walker Smith’s Quadricycle is a unique and truly unusually designed vehicle in some respects, and wildly ahead of its time in others.

Believed to have first been constructed in 1898 alongside a very similar trike, the quadricycle had pedals, a riding position for the driver similar to a modern ATV and a set of handlebars and controls rather than a steering wheel or a tiller.

It also had the rather unusual trait of having a basket seat in front of the driver, meaning that the passenger is often in the way of the driver’s viewing position.

However, there are a few reasons for this. The first is that it is similar to how a lot of basket seats are fitted to pedal cycles and it provides the best centre of gravity for the whole quad bike, given that most of its weight is at the back due to the driver and the engine.

The second, and perhaps more important reason is that early petrol engines were not exactly refined, and so to avoid a passenger having exhaust fumes pumped in their face for the whole journey the seat was placed in the front.

It was part of the first 1000 Mile Trial event and was produced until 1903, the company made more conventional cars starting in 1906 and suffered such heavy losses that they were bought by the Birmingham Small Arms Company just 19 months later.

The Royal Enfield still stands as the first example of a long line of quad bikes that deliver thrills and practicality in equal measure.