Monday, May 16, 2016

Rif Addams is a Motor-Assisted Bicyclist

G.A.Wyman 1903 -- Rif Addams 2003
Editor's Note:  Long before the Wyman Memorial Project began its efforts to promote the saga of the first long-distance motorcyclist, the motor-assisted bicycle community had adopted Wyman as its hero.  This group of enthusiasts looked to Wyman as the founding father of their sport and as an inspiration to keep the passion for motor bicycling alive.  No other member of the MAB community has done more to popularize the sport and bring attention to the Wyman saga than Rif Addams.  His 2003 centennial recreation of the Wyman's 1903 journey across America was an inspiring saga in its own right.  The Wyman Memorial Project is pleased to have Rif Addams as a member of our  Research Team and representing the MAB community on the Project.

Today, May 16, 2016 is the 113th anniversary of the start of Wyman's historic journey across America on a motorized vehicle.  To mark this occasion we are pleased to share with you Rif's account of his quest to ride in the tracks of George A. Wyman.  (Tim Masterson, President, GAWMP)

The George A. Wyman Centennial Recreation
Across America on a Motor Bicycle - 2003
By Rif Addams, (c)2003

"Little more than three miles constituted the first day's travel of my journey across the American continent. It is just three miles from the corner of Market and Kearney streets, San Francisco, to the boat that steams to Vallejo, California, and, leaving the corner formed by those streets at 2:30 o' clock on the bright afternoon of May 16, in less than two hours later I had passed through the golden gate and was in Vallejo..."  George A. Wyman, Over the Sierras and Through the Snow Sheds, "The Motorcycle Magazine", June 1903

Prologue:  Thus began one of the greatest chapters in American Motorcycling and transportation history.  My Name is Rif Addams, and in 2003, on the centennial of George A. Wyman's historic crossing, with the help of friends and family I re-created the epic journey of the first person to cross America on a motorized vehicle, following as close as safely possible, George's original route and time schedule.
It was during October of 2001 when I received a photocopy of the complete story of George A.
Wyman's incredible odyssey, sent from a fellow two-wheel enthusiast. Being a Motor-assist Bicycle enthusiast, I was inspired by Wyman's determination and tenacity, so as such, desired to recreate his journey, and experience his adventure. And ultimately, the goal of the adventure was to draw attention to the Wyman story.

The Wyman centennial team came together in quick fashion from different corners of the country, through various channels and networks. Through the generosity of the bicycle and Motor-assist Bicycle community, it all began to come together- the supplies, the parts, the vintage costume, etc. Everything needed was being donated. Through the generosity of my parents, funding for the actual trip was in place.  It was frantic work preparing, researching, mapping out the route, coordinating the players and places to stay, and building the bike.

Leg 1:  San Francisco to Reno- 5/16/2003, 2:30 PM 
As with George, little more than just a few miles constituted my days first ride. I kicked off the curb at the corner of Market and Kearney, fired the engine and promptly almost hit the back of a transit bus! I maneuvered my way to the ferry terminal without becoming immortalized as a hood ornament, and made my way onto the ferry and traveled through the golden gate to Vallejo, Ca. The engine worked magnificently, purring along the fertile valleys and farmlands upwards towards the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In Colfax where we camped the night of May 18, and where I made repairs to the coaster brake, we were thrilled to discover the old train depot George's original photos still standing! We took lunch, just as George had at Emigreant's Gap, and from the summit, beyond to Truckee, had a time of it pedaling a choking motor to that highest elevation, and downwards again, we arrived in Reno May, 20 with a major mechanical issue to the support truck, and a couple of issues with the bike.

Leg 2:  Reno to Ogden
Repairs were made while in Reno, and after we made tour of, and spoke with the people at Harrah's Automotive museum about George A. Wyman. To our surprise on display was the first automobile to circumnavigate the globe, originally owned and operated by E.R. Thomas of the Thomas Auto-Bi motor bicycle fame! How interesting and surprising to come across this connection in Reno! On through the desert to Ogden, UT there isn't much interesting- sand sagebrush, and blue skies. We arrived ahead of schedule, so would have to remain an extra day to get back to the timeline. To our good fortune, as I needed to make repairs to the bike's engine, and there was a Whizzer dealer in Ogden.

Leg 3:  Ogden to Omaha
We left Ogden May 28, one day ahead of schedule, to begin the climb over the Rocky Mountains. UP, UP, UP and down again into Evanston, with some more serious engine troubles with both the bike and the support truck. Outside Evanston on May 31, I was to see the face of death as a reality for the first time on this adventure. I had taken a wrong turn and became lost in the desert with no supplies, no cell phone, and nearly out of gasoline. What an adventure! Nebraska was magnificent with excellent roads to ride upon, beautiful rolling farmlands stretching to the horizon, and rains. Upon reaching Ogalalla June 3, I discovered the bike frame had a crack in the down tube. A local welding shop did repairs. June, 8 in Kearney, NE we got a hotel room, as the frame had cracked again, ahead of the formerly welded crack. Across the street, out of pure luck and circumstance, was a machine shop, so I walked over and talked with them a bit. I walked away with not only the milled and drilled angle iron I needed, but a job offer to boot! Then dad and I purchased u-bolts to bolt the angle as a brace, to the down tube. The brace worked and we were back on the road to Omaha.

Leg 4:  Omaha to Chicago
We crossed the Missouri River to pitch camp just over the river where I did more repairs including changing tires. The four-ply bicycle tires we ordered were holding up magnificently, but still, by this many miles, the rear had become nearly bald. The coaster brake, as with George 100 years earlier, became a coaster broke in Ogden, IA. The kind folks of a local motorcycle repair shop opened up the shop to us with use of tools and supplies all day for me to get the work done. I inquired as to the original blacksmith shop, where George had repaired his brake, as it turns out the building was still standing at that time in 2003! We took photos but upon our return were dismayed to see that the camera had a malfunction, so as to not capture the historical place.

The little engine gave out 150 miles from Chicago. There was a terrible amount of metal shavings in the oil, and upon tear down discovery of badly worn piston rings and scored cylinder walls. Dad drove 300 miles that day round trip, to the nearest Whizzer dealer for parts. I rebuilt the engine as best I could. It was running well enough so that next day we rolled out. We reached the whizzer dealer in Illinois, just outside Chicago, the Whizzer company insisted upon replacing motor with new, and the rear wheel needed new spokes. Just as with George a century ago, trouble abounds around Chicago.

Leg 5:  Chicago to New York City
We passed through Chicago June 23, the same day George left the Windy City, and as with George, I was glad of it. I did not care one bit for this metropolis. As for the rest of my journey it seemed fraught with trouble and breakdowns. June 28, just outside Conneaut, OH, my rear wheel collapsed due to a cereal bowl sized pothole. I spent most of the day swapping parts from a parts bike scrounged from an old farmer. It was afternoon when I finished repairs and pushed on towards New York, passing through Erie, PA where the bike began to act "squirrely". Finding no source for the problem, I pushed on, racing against the setting sun. Just before the New York State line, I pulled in to a truck stop for a quick rest, whereupon the frame of the bike broke in two at the head tube, I pulled to a stop as the bike fell out from under me. With little else to do, we set up camp. The next morning, we loaded up the two halves in the truck, and headed towards New York City to meet our hosts. Which we did, and were part of an Independence Day celebration at Sagamore Hill Long Island, NY. The long journey over, our centennial celebration done, the time had come to return to home.

At the end of our journey, when time came to return to the west coast, we loaded up the broken bike in the support truck, and drove straight back across. Dad and I lost deep in our thoughts, reflecting back as we passed back through all the places we had previously travelled. Remembrances coming to surface, laughing about it now that we were no longer in the thick of it. The reactions of everyone we met was one of genuine good will. And they all found a fascination in George A. Wyman- though most none had ever heard of him, or his story. They know now though, as we did our level best to spread the word. and following my return, I continued my work. I contacted museums, historical societies, bike clubs and organizations, and kept on my research. Over time though, things began to fade, as life events took a front seat, which is quite often the case. Yet not a day went by I didn't think of George A. Wyman, of my own saga, at some point throughout the day.

Because of George A. Wyman, a great American Hero and motor bike pioneer, I returned home a completely different man than the one who kicked off that curb in San Francisco, headed for New York City, on May 16, 2003.  I am forever grateful to him for the favor.

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