Motorcycle History: Shaft Drive


Category: Motorcycle History

A special U.S.-only version was introduced in 1908 called the FN Big Four with the 498cc engine developing 5 hp rather than 4.5 hp and the frame was reduced in size so the rider could put both feet on the ground.

In 1923, FN ceased production of the FN Four and coincidentally it was that same year that BMW introduced its first-ever shaft drive motorcycle the R32. As you would expect from BMW, the R32 was technically very advanced for its day. It had a wet-sump re-circulating oil system on its 486cc boxer engine and together with the transmission formed a single unit in the frame.

BMW’s decision to use shaft drive on the early R32 saw it develop the system to the high standard we know today and it wasn’t until 1994 with the launch of the BMW F650 that BMW also started production of chain driven motorcycles.


BMW maybe best know for shaft-driven motorcycles, but Moto Guzzi, Triumph, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda have also developed their own version of the system too for motorcycles.

However, the company that initially developed the shaft drive system for motorcycles, FN, is no longer around it went into liquidation in the 1960s. The firearms side of the business of FN is still happily in operation with head offices in Belgium and a manufacturing plant in Columbia, South Carolina that produces military weapons such as the M16 and M2 machine guns. FN also apparently supplies arms to more than 100 different countries armed forces worldwide.

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