FLXIBLE Motorcycle Side Cars: Born in Mansfield

Many people around Richland County, and around the world, are familiar with the name FLXIBLE: as one of the principal manufacturers of buses in the US during the 20th century.  Throughout the decades of motorcoach evolution, from the 1920s through the 70s, Flxible was the primary mainstay of Loudonville where it was based—not only in terms of economy, but also as the source of its civic pride and national renown.

If you delve into the history of the Flxible Company, however, you’ll discover its origin not in Loudonville, but in Mansfield; and that the company rolled into automotive fame not through buses, but on the wheels of motorcycle sidecars.

Harley Dealer

The US automobile industry was still gaining slow traction in the first decade of the 20th century when the motorcycle business was already racing along.  Mr. Harley and Mr. Davidson first mounted their engine onto a bicycle in 1903, and before 10 years had passed there were Harley-Davidson dealerships all over the country: including one in Mansfield.

The young man who started selling motorcycles on Walnut Street was Hugo Young, who had graduated from Loudonville High School in 1908.  As soon as he opened his Harley shop he was tinkering with the merchandise.  He shortly determined that he had a better idea of how to attach sidecars to the bike in such a way that would allow the third wheel to tilt with the action of the road when making a turn.

His invention made the sidecar action less rigid and more flexible.  He patented his idea, dropped the ‘e’ from flexible so the name could be trademarked, and started manufacturing his own sidecars right there on Walnut Street.  The first few patents he applied for, starting in 1912, all list the inventor as Hugo H. Young of Mansfield, Ohio.

It didn’t take long before his product was so wildly successful that he had to look for larger factory space for production.  The factory he wanted was found in his hometown, and once the move was made his company started writing the history of Loudonville.

Motorcycle enthusiasts before WWI were very glad to welcome the invention of a flexible sidecar, and gave a terrific boost to the Flxible Company by purchasing so many of them that the factory expanded right out of its small shop on Walnut Street.
The initial patents that started Flxible were issued to Hugo H. Young of Mansfield, Ohio.

The very first sidecar produced by the Flxible Side Car Company resides today at the Mohican Historical Society Museum in Loudonville. Its label, displayed prominently at the front of its hood, says Mansfield, Ohio. U.S.A.

The original Mansfield Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership where Hugo Young launched Flxible was located on Walnut Street in the middle of the block between Park Avenue and Third Street on the west side. The building was destroyed in 1970 when the Third Street Market burned.

An early model, this card taken from a first generation advertising prototype.

When the Flxible Side Car Company started advertising their product a lot of the promotional photos were taken on the streets of Mansfield.

Racing motorcycles with sidecars was very popular in the 1920s. This photo, and the one below, were taken at the Richland County Fairgrounds on the track originally designed for horse races.

When Hugo Young went off to Loudonville to make his fortune, the Harley Davidson franchise in Mansfield passed to another well known name from local history: Mud Gardner. Pictured here: the Mud Gardner sponsored sidecar racer, and (below) his dealership on E Third St near Diamond.

After WWI when automobiles became cheaper, motorcycles and sidecars were not so much in demand. Flxible retooled in the 1920s to make buses, and was an undisputed leader in the industry for over half a century.

Thank You!

Most images and information in this article were provided by the Cleo Redd Fisher Museum in Loudonville, and Kenny Libben.

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