It was the first bike of iconic bad-boy, James Dean

No doubt about it, the motorcycle industry has a rich and interesting history. Sometimes we come across an item of importance for motorcycling history that isn’t actually a motorcycle as we think of it by today’s definition. Our subject is just such a machine: the Whizzer Pacemaker.

  • 1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
  • Year:
  • Engine:
    single cylinder
  • Displacement:
    199 cc
  • Top Speed:
    40 mph (Est.)
  • Price:

Whizzer Pacemaker Design

  • James Dean’s first motorcycle
  • Vintage ’beach cruiser’ styling
  • Magneto-powered headlight
  • Sprung solo seat
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895500
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895495

Whizzer would eventually turn out what you might call a complete, standalone powered bicycle with its Pacemaker model in June of 1948, but prior to that, the factory only produced drive units that were meant to power pedal-bikes. Schwinn bicycles, and similar models of push-bikes, served as the main platform for the Whizzer motors, so bike owners could bolt up the little ICE powerplants and fuel tanks for performance far beyond that achieved by leg power alone.

World War II brought with it a bevy of restrictions and rationing, forcing the marque to lobby the U.S. government for the right to continue producing their products. The request was granted, and the factory went about the business of producing bolt-up drivetrains “for defense workers only” to support the folks that peopled the engines of industry supplying our fighting forces.

Post war production saw a move toward the first pre-assembled motorized bicycle, the Pacemaker, which, interestingly enough, was James Dean very first motorcycle-like machine, gifted to him by an uncle. Subsequent efforts produced bikes that were more like proper motorcycles complete with kick starters as the factory had abandoned pedal power on its smaller Sportsman, and larger Ambassador models.

Competition within the bolt-on industry and the proliferation of the modern scooter saw the demise of the brand in the mid-sixties. It enjoyed a brief resurgence in the late-nineties under the same Whizzer banner that lasted about a dozen years, during which time it produced the Whizzer Classic, Pacemaker II, and Blue Sportsman. Like the originals, these were motorbikes with a factory-fitted engine on a Schwinn frame.

The ’51 Pacemaker was, essentially, a beefed-up Schwinn bicycle that came complete with good old pedals, and this allowed it to function kind of like a modern moped. The loop-style frame is what we would call a “Beach Cruiser” nowadays, with graceful curves and low-rise handlebars.

A magneto-powered (dynamo) headlight did what it could to help the rider see and be seen, but all other signaling was done by hand. It looks like the chrome fuel tank holds about five quarts and the solo seat was sprung to give your kidneys a bit of a break. A chrome rack rode over the full rear fender to provide the only cargo capacity.

Whizzer Pacemaker Chassis

  • Beefed-up Schwinn bicycle
  • Rudimentary telescopic forks
  • Coaster brakes
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895498
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895496
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895497

The tubular-steel frame ran with a rigid rear end, though the front end had rudimentary telescopic forks that were sprung, but not hydraulically damped. Coaster brakes on the rear hub provided all of the brakeage, which is kinda scary considering these bikes could achieve speeds in the 30-to-40 mph range.

Whizzer Pacemaker Drivetrain

  • 199 cc flat-head, air-cooled engine
  • Three horsepower
  • Belt-and-pulley final drive
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895499
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895494
1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895498

The early model of the Whizzer had a 138 cc engine and put out a modest two horsepower. It ran with the much-maligned Tillotson carburetor (aka Toiletson). This carb had a plastic bowl section that was prone to cracking and leaking under heat, vibration, and the chemical effects of gasoline.

That unpopular tomato can was replaced by the Carter carb in 1948, and that’s what the J-Model engine still carried in 1951. The 199 cc J-Model booted output up to a sizzling three horsepower from its flat-head, air-cooled thumper, and you could spruce up your ride with a dual exhaust setup and other accessories. A belt-and-pulley final drive carried power to the rear wheel.

Whizzer Pacemaker Pricing

1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895502

The Pacemaker launched in the U.S. market in the summer of 1948 for the tidy sum of $199.50.

Whizzer Pacemaker Competitors

1951 Whizzer Pacemaker
- image 895501

There was no shortage of clip-on competition for the Pacemaker in the early fifties, from both domestic brands and manufacturers abroad. Not only was the bolt-up bicycle engine business booming, but so were some new threats. Honda produced its own domestic motorized bike, the Pan-pan, in 1946. By 1951, it was exporting the D-Type (aka Honda Dream) to the U.S., and it was a proper motorcycle, if a small one.

Additionally, European scooters, including the still-operational Piaggio brand and its Vespa division, were popping up at a frenetic pace as two-wheeled, gas-powered transportation gained popularity. This pressure caused the clip-on market to become more competitive and eventually led to the brand’s demise in 1965.

Read our full review of the Honda Dream D-Type.

He Said

“I’ll admit, I had the hots for a powered-bike back in the day, and even more recently as a town I lived in had a custom shop that was building these as spec bikes or to order. I drove past their display on the regular and admired the adorable little bikes. I imagine such machines were the first loves of many an experienced biker.

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “Back in the day, a bike like this would be the bomb, and it made two-wheel motorized travel available to the general public. If you can imagine, this would be a ’gateway’ bike to bigger, proper motorcycles and laid the groundwork for young influencers such as the iconic bad-boy, James Dean.”

TJ Hinton
T.J got an early start from his father and other family members who owned and rode motorcycles, and by helping with various mechanical repairs throughout childhood. That planted a seed that grew into a well-rounded appreciation of all things mechanical, and eventually, into a formal education of same. Though primarily a Harley rider, he has an appreciation for all sorts of bikes and doesn't discriminate against any particular brand or region of origin. He currently holds an Associate's degree in applied mechanical science from his time at the M.M.I.  Read More
About the author

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