1937 Front Drive Tracked Motorcycle Prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototypeTracked motorcycles are a continuous source of fascination and back in the early 20th century, numerous prototypes were being built, usually with military applications in mind. This one is new to me, it's a 1937 Mercier, 1 of 3 prototypes built for the French military.

The obvious difference between this example and the others most of us have seen is the front track / front drive arrangement. A JAP (J.A. Prestwich) 350cc engine is used for power running through a 3 speed transmission.

This example, located in France, is currently for sale on eBay and there is no other information given with the listing though they say it works perfectly and from the looks of it, it was either kept in some museum or restored to its current condition.

Tracks on a motorcycle seem perilously close to a solution looking for a problem. Most any anticipated situation where something like this might be used, an off road motorcycle would probably work as well or better, certainly today, though perhaps not back in 1937, given the capabilities of an off road bike of the time. But back then, the spirit of invention was running full speed and all sorts of ideas were being tried. I think it's neat.

More photos and link below:

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

1937 tracked military motorcycle prototype

UPDATE: Walt's comment below and my response made me do a little digging and here is the cover of Popular Science that I was referring to.

Tracked motorcycle on the cover of Popular Science

Tracked motorcycle on the cover of Popular Science

Link: Auction has ended

Related: Kettenkrad
Related: All Terrain Motorcycles
Related: Ktrak Kit
Related: Radix and Rogue Snowbikes


  1. kneeslider says

    Walt, there’s an old mag around that time with a rear track motorcycle and I looked for it but came up short, in fact, I think I have it but my “filing system” failed me. It shows a bike climbing over a rock with the rear track and a big pack of supplies tied on. I’ll keep digging.

    UPDATE: Found it online and it’s included above.

  2. Azzy says

    It would have that power to pull over a hill.

    I like. May not be practical, but it is interesting. Lets hope it is better than other french military pieces of the time.

  3. Phoebe says

    Am I the only one that thinks that this looks way more modern than 1937? It looks like someone at a chopper shop decided to have a little fun 😉

  4. Walt says

    Great cover photo for a 1937 Popular Mechanics magazine. I imagine a French soldier blasting across barbed wire on this beauty, firing a submachine gun with his left hand and steering with his right, with two baguettes and a bottle of red wine protruding from his back pack.

  5. kirill says

    def has a right to be parked next to the choppers.
    …… eh, what’s the top speed???

  6. JC says

    I can only imagine the fun of being dragged around by a front drive bike, as it spurts off in odd directions every time a slight wobble occurs and traction hooks up. Hilarity ensues!

    Maybe I’m wrong, but this is what I imagine driving this at any real speed would be like.

  7. says

    Totally want one. Don’t have a place to use it but I want one just to fire it up and rumble around the neighborhood scaring people. Does it come with a machine gun mount?

  8. david says

    Thinking about intended offroad use (mud, wire, etc) I think placing the track on the front makes a lot of sense – when the rear wheel gets clogged it can just drag along behind. Or am I the only one who has had their bike stop due to a buildup of 6″ of mud around the front forks?

  9. Brad says

    Is there not a kit now for the YZ 450 or other motocross applications, which puts a front ski on the bike and a rear track system for snow type applications?? I’m not sure but I think they are selling them here in Calgary at Blackfoot Motorcycles, for some reason, I’ll have to check this out as my KLR 650 would be a great candidate for such an idea as this, but REAR wheel drive NOTT FRONT ,lol

  10. FREEMAN says

    Looks kinda weak in the frame, but man, what a crazy looking machine. I understand there’s complications involved, but if more folks decided to think outside the box like the inventors of this crazy front tracked bike, we’d see more front wheel drive motorcycles around.

  11. marshall says

    It looks like practically the only thing supported by the rear frame is the rider, the gas tank, and the… jet pack?. What is that thing in the back? The engine is pretty much directly above the front treads. Man, you don’t have to know a lot about motorcycle handling to tell that this thing would be pretty hard to tame at high speeds. What a sweet-looking machine though.

  12. kim scholer says

    This contraption is merely part of a proud tradition for military technological failures, which likely started soon after someone figured out to make a stone axe. These years it’s the star wars programme, and future generations will have a laugh at the ones to come. That said, the Mercier is still way more cool than a Rokon.

  13. Phoenix827 says

    LOVE THE LOOK !!! ?It’s probable unstable at any speed. Definitely a slow speed rough terrain crawler.

  14. Walt says

    Good job finding the old Popular Science, Paul! My dad was a librarian and kept our house filled with outdated Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Mechanics Illustrated and Modern Mechanix. Lots of wild ideas for motorcycles, cars, boats, guns, do-it-yourself projects – you name it. Truly this website is a direct descendant of those early MacGyver mags.

  15. Chris Williams says

    Well, I’ve been reading this page for months, but this is my first comment here . . . because that bike is bugging me. It looks like it’s got a centrifugal blower on the left of the engine, but there are two problems with this. The first is that the ‘output’ is to a hose whose end is dangling in midair. The second is that there looks to be a conventional carborettor where you’d expect it on the JAP engine, facing the rider. So, what gives? Has the hose been disconnected for the photos, and if so, what’s the story with the hoses visible on the left-hand bike in the B&W picture?

  16. Mikey says

    Chris, that’s not a blower. That looks to be an older oil bath air filter similar to the ones on early tractors. In one shot, that particular hose looks like it’s made out of flexible corrugated rubber hose.
    The other “hose” isn’t a hose. If I remember my JAP engines correctly, that’s the exhaust.
    Both the intake and the exhaust ports were quite close together and on the same side of the cylinder. Those JAP engines didn’t change all that much over the years. They still looked like that in the late 60’s when I saw them racing on dirt (speedway).

  17. Bryan says

    I think this was designed to enable troups to quickly get over barbed wire from the trenches. For this job I think it would work fine. Just make sure you lift your feet up when you go over.

  18. Ola says

    Actually, a tracked motorcycle isn’t as useless as some might think. Works really well in snow, apparently much more agile than a snow mobile. There are even off the shelf kits for various KTMs, though reardriven and with a ski instead of a front wheel.

  19. says

    One should keep in mind that the French army put 800 Vespas into service with a recoiless rifle poking out the front. This seems tame in comparison. That has to be the longest skidplate ever running back under the feet to the rear wheel..

  20. says

    Heres a bike I found thats as close to the PM cover, might even be the same one. Theres not much info on the bike and theres only like one website for it with little information. It’s called the Tuscan Trailbike. Something I’d like to recreate myself.

  21. says

    Actually its called the Tuscan Trail bike or Tuscan Gyro. Sadly it wasnt made. It was intended for the Park Services. Anybody know about the one on the cover of that magizine? Is it the same bike?