Been Motorcycle Riding On That Sand Dune? Thank Charlie Fehn

August 20, 1963

If at first, you don’t succeed . . .  Charles Fehn applied for the third time for a patent for a pioneering type of motorcycle that he invented five years earlier. The entrepreneurial Fehn developed a strong familiarity with motorcycles early on in life. Over time, he even began routinely taking motorcycles apart and then reassembling them.

Fehn ultimately built his own one-of-kind motorcycle, the Trail-Breaker (originally called Trailmaker), in 1958. He designed this motorcycle to withstand just about any sort of rugged terrain or rough weather. The Trail-Breaker also made history as the first all-wheel-drive motorcycle. Specifically, an overriding clutch devised by Fehn transmitted engine power to the front and rear wheels separately and allowed each to function independently of the other when needed to provide greater flexibility and safety on challenging landscapes. Other innovative features that Fehn installed on the Trail-Breaker included large low-pressure tires to likewise help make all-terrain traction easier.

Fehn first applied for a patent, which was entitled “Motorcycle for slow cross-country travel over obstructions and in mountainous regions, and over snow and soft ground,” in 1959. This application was rejected, but Fehn submitted a second application (using the same title) in 1962. Unfortunately, that application also went nowhere.

Fehn’s patent

The third time was the charm, however. Fehn’s patent – now containing drawings of more streamlined mechanisms for his invention and bearing the much shorter title “Motorcycle having two driven wheels” –was successful. Just a little over three years after submitting the third application, Fehn was granted U.S. patent 3,268,025. By that time, the Trail-Breaker was already in full-scale production. Nethercutt Industries was the original manufacturer, with Rokon, Inc., eventually taking over the role.

For more information on Charles Fehn’s patent for the Trail-Breaker motorcycle, please check out

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