The history of the motorcycle is rich and diverse including daring stunts, new advances in technology, and challenging records for racing, time trials and general exploration. While some accounts of these recorded historical deeds may sound mundane, but at their time of achievement they helped to build the solid foundation of a culture and technology that makes the motorcycle a permanent fixture in 2 wheeled transportation.
In 1901 who would ever believed a 23 year old Western Union bicycle messenger would set a motorcycle land speed record in 1907 that would remain unbroken for 23 years? His engineering contemporaries considered Glenn Curtiss far before his time in 1903 when he set the first recorded land speed record in Yonkers, New York of 65 miles per hour atop his own motorcycle design. With Harley Davidson just emerging that year and almost no real completion, his record stood for four years.
Fueled by shear determination to solidify his dominance in high performance motorcycle design “the fastest man in the world”, as he was known until 1911 literally shattered his own record set four years early with a unheard of speed of 136 miles an hour in his newest 4000cc 40 horsepower motorcycle design in Ormond Beach, Florida. His record would remain unbroken until 1930 when Joseph Wright bested Curtiss with a 137 mile an hour record.
The year is 1917 in Los Angeles California, a daring 19 year old, Alan Bedell is astride his four cylinder Henderson motorcycle making his last minute preparations before attempting to break the current transcontinental record held by Erwin “Cannonball” Baker.
Described by radio and newspapers as “the most spectacular long distance motorcycle dash the world has ever known,” “The Stalwart Californian” as he is commonly known will set out for New York at 11PM with 3296 miles of rough road ahead of him during his attempt to break the currently held record. Armed only with what he could carry on the Henderson motorcycle, he will be riding unsupported, and amidst grim speculation that he will not succeed, he sets off with a roar into the night.
Seven days, 16 hours and 16 minutes after leaving Los Angeles, Bedell roars into New York dusty, dirty and road weary to claim his triumphant record. Suffering only a flat tire and minor injury to his knee after crashing on a wet road in Indianapolis. Before leaving Los Angeles it was estimated it would take this young rider at least nine days to complete his remarkable journey, but not only did he shatter the previously held record, he both shocked and amazed the world with his spectacular record breaking official time.
In 1937 California Motorcycle police officer Fred “Ironman” ham rode his 1937 Harley Knucklehead to victory setting a 24-hour motorcycle endurance record of 1,825 miles that would take many years to break. Known as a man of unequaled physical strength and unmatched riding prowess, Ironman Ham was already recognized for other motorcycle riding records he had set across the United States.
Training for this legendary record-breaking endurance ride would require long hours of strength and endurance conditioning as this attempt was one of many made by other notable riders throughout the years since it being set by Wills Bennett in 1922. Swimming every night at the local YMCA and consulting with professional trainers Ham dropped his weight from 210 to 180 pounds, learned to ride in an aerodynamic position and achieve perfect relaxation of his hands and body to give himself a superior edge in breaking the previous record.
Great motorcyclists, awesome bikes and a incredible history – one that is far from being over!