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The Roadog is the world's largest motorcycle. It is a hand-built, custom machine, and was built by one man, William "Wild Bill" Gelbke.
1 The Builder,
3 Roadog II,
4 The Auto Four,
6 External links,
Born in Wisconsin, "Wild Bill" Gelbke graduated from college in Wisconsin as an electronic engineer and moved out to California for additional schooling at a Southern California University. After which, he worked as an aircraft engineer for McDonnell Douglas and Hughes Aircraft. It was during this time he decided to turn his talents towards motorcycles. In the early 1960s he relocated from Los Angeles to Chicago, and opened up his own shop, the Gelbke Motorcycle Co.
He had a vision of what motorcycles of the future would become, and decided to make a prototype. This was the genesis of what he called "Roadog".
Unlike conventional motorcycles which had a tube steel construction, Wild Bill choose 4130 chrome-molybdenum tubing for the frame. Starting in 1962, he began to assemble this custom motorcycle. It was powered by a 152 cubic inch (2.4L) four-cylinder engine from a Chevy Nova II. It featured a two-speed Automatic PowerGlide transmission and included a reverse gear. The bike also had shaft drive.
When it was finished, the Roadog weighed a phenomenal 3,280 lbs. Due to its enormous weight, Gelbke couldn't use a conventional kickstand; instead, he installed four hydraulic rams, one at each corner, controlled by the rider.
Featuring a 126 inch wheelbase, and a length of over 17 feet, the massive bike had a turning radius of 110 feet.
With the intent of making it a cruising bike, Gelbke immediately took it on the road, covering over 20,000 miles the first year. The bike was seen in most of the Southern United States, making trips to Los Angeles, Texas, Louisiana, and New Jersey.
Roadog II was a complete rebuild of the original Roadog. The second motorcycle was completed in 1965, with some lessons learned from the original Roadog being employed. The front shocks were reduced from four to two springs. Also a crossbar was added to the hydraulic rams, making it easier to level the bike.
Because of the size and unusual drive characteristics of this bike, there were only a few people who were ever able to ride it. Buzz Walneck of Walneck's Cycle Trader, a publication famous for their variety of vintage and unusual motorcycles acquired the bike and rode it in 2005.
The Auto Four:
The Auto Four was Bill's attempt at a production model. There were 7 or 8 built total.
Engine: Inline 4 cylinder, liquid cooled 1275 cc British Leland engine with lots of torque and horsepower. The bike is not fast off of the line but has a vibration free cruising speed of 90 mph. Shaft driven to BMW universal mounted to rear wheel hub.
Ride: Some had a similar suspension to the Roadog and some used Harley suspension both front and rear.
Frame: Hand made frame, swing arm, gas tanks (2 & ½ gallon on the front and 12 and ½ gallon capacity on the back.
Lights: Brake lights in back are eight 1959 Cadillac bullet taillights. Yellow front running lights on separate switch. Truck styled turn signals in back and bullet light turn signals in front. Set of 2 GM head lights.
Seat and Saddlebags: Original Harley seat and specially made saddlebags
Tires: both front and rear are 5x16.
Weight: About 1000 lbs.
In 1978, William Gelbke was shot and killed by local police in a domestic dispute in which an armed Gelbke shot at police. The bikes disappeared, only remembered by occasional reprints of photographs and posters. Finally in the mid-1990s they resurfaced, and are owned by private collectors. The Roaddog once again has resurfaced in 2013. Steve "Doc" Hopkins has bought it and has placed it in his museum for the public to see at Doc's Harley-Davidson of Shawano County. Doc was also able to purchase one of the Auto Four and that is also in the museum for the public to see.
The original Roadog surfaced and was featured in Motorcyclist magazine. Contributing author John Burns rode Roadog, promptly tipping it in a cul-de-sac; the bike suffered minimal damage. One of Burns' comments on its handling characteristics was "You have to be an Olympic weightlifter to move the bars while standing still; once moving, you have to be an Olympic weightlifter to move the bars".