Friday, July 7, 2023

The Merit of Wyman's Performance

George A. Wyman as he Appeared
at the end of his Cross-Continent Ride

(The following article appeared in The Motorcycle Magazine in November, 1903)

It is doubtful if even those motorcyclists who have followed the story of George A. Wyman's trip across the continent, form San Francisco to New York, which was concluded in the Motorcycle Magazine last month, appreciate fully how exceptionally excellent a performance it was.  Now that the narrative has been completed and a review of the whole trip can be taken, it stands out in its entirety as a supreme triumph for the motor bicycle.  It was not only the most notable long distance record by a motorcycle, but also it was the greatest long trip made in this country by any sort of a motor vehicle.  This is a fact to which attention was not called by Wyman in his story and it is one that should be emphasized.  In fact, Wyman's story was altogether too modest throughout.

No motor vehicle, other than Wyman's motor bicycle, has made the trip across the American continent within 50 days.  Several automobiles, large and small, carrying a couple of men, have made the trip across the continent since Wyman showed the way, but none has done it in so short a time as he did, so that he has the credit not only of being the first to bring a motor vehicle across the continent, but also for holding the best record time for the performance.

In calculating Wyman's time as 50 days the time was taken from the day he left San Francisco until that on which he reached New York, and in this injustice was done, because Wyman left San Francisco late in the afternoon on May 16, and simply crossed the bay to Vallejo, where he stayed the night.  He arrived in New York City early in the afternoon on July 6, and so his total time, counting the morning of May 17, when he left Vallejo, was only 49 days, and even then no allowance is made for nearly half a d on July 6 that he was in New York City.  This is, of course, the total elapsed time.  The time lost by Wyman when he was not riding sums up to 11 days, making his net riding time 38 days, and there were circumstances particularly extenuating about his loss of time.  The records of the automobilists(sic) who have since made the trip from ocean to ocean are not only poorer than those of Wyman, but are much poorer.  Dr. H.N. Jackson, who was the first to make the trip in an automobile, was 63 days in doing it.  He left San Francisco on May 23 and arrive in New York July 25.  He had a car of 20 horsepower.  E.T. Fetch, with a 12-horsepower automobile took 61 day for the trip, leaving San Francisco June 20 and reaching New York August 21.  L.L. Whitman, the third and, up to date, the last to perform the journey, required 73 days with a runabout of five-horsepower.

Wyman had a bicycle weighing only 90 pounds with a motor on it of 1-1/4 rated horsepower.  When he lost time by laying-to during a storm it was more excusable than in the case of men with a motor many times more powerful on a car built high enough to chary the rider through ordinarily small floods dryshod(sic), and strong enough to resist the wrenching caused by the corduroy roads of the West.  Another feature of Wyman's feat that adds greatly to the credit of it is that he was alone.  Through all the dreary deserts and mountain fastnesses, he had no companion to cheer and encourage him; no one to join in the laugh and jest that reduces the apparent magnitude of the obstacles; no one to help him pull his machine out of the mud, or lift it over boulders.  Moreover, he had no shelter from the sun and rain and wind, as had all the others, in the form of big umbrellas, and he could not wear a long rubber coat as could those who rode in the automobiles.  He had no one to help him make a repair or an adjustment.  When his ears were frozen, as the were one morning in May, he could not turn over the operation of his bicycle to a companion and give attention to himself.  He had to dismount, and as his vehicle was one that would not stand alone, and there was not a post of building near against which to lean it, he had to carefully shut off his motor, find a suitable place, and carefully lay it down.  He was alone, utterly, drearily alone, with the solitude of the deserts and the mountains and all the strenuousness of his undertaking constantly confronting him.

While the automobiles had some advantage in being better able to withstand the racking strain of rough roads because of greater weight, and better able to push through sandy and muddy stretches because of higher horsepower, the advantages of the motorcycle over the four-wheelers were many and manifest.  Being a single-tracking vehicle, it had a wider range of variation in picking the best part of the roads, or trails, and could often find fair going at the edge of a muddy highway, where the four-wheelers had no choice, but to force the wheels, on one side at least, through the heavy going.  Again, it was possible for Wyman to lift his vehicle bodily from the ground and also to take to the railroad and ride between the ties or over then, which he did for about half the distance travelled.  His greatest delay was that of five days, when he waited at Chicago for a motor crankshaft to be received from San Francisco.  This should not have happened, for there was an agency for the motor bicycle Wyman was using in Chicago, and he reasonably expected to be able to get any part he wanted there.

The contrast between the trip of the motor bicycle and those made by the automobiles stands out sharply when it is remembered what expedients were frequently resorted to by the operators of the four-wheeled cars.  One carried a block and tackle and resorted to its use repeatedly.  The drivers put on big canvas flaps over the tires, or laid canvas strips for the wheels by hand over the desert sand in order to make headway in the desert.  Time and time again they were obliged to call upon men with horses to help them out of the mud or sand holes.  One of them was followed halfway across the continent by a factory expert, who used the railroad trains to go from town to town and thus remain within call when help or repairs were required.  Wyman had help only once during his whole trip, that time being when he was mired near Laramie.  The adaptability to circumstances of the man with a motor bicycle was shown when Wyman, driven from the tracks of one railroad a hundred feet to one side and "toted" his bicycle.  At another time, when driven from the tracks, he walked through a big grain field a mile or two to the highway.  Such things were impossible for the four-wheelers.

On the whole, Wyman's ride and the record he made is one that seems to demonstrate the superiority of the motor bicycle over any other style of vehicle for courier services.  Wyman's bicycle gave out utterly as a motor vehicle at Albany, and he finished by pedalling into New York, travelling over the steep hills of the Hudson River shore.  This would not have been possible for any of those who made the trip in automobiles.  Had their vehicles given out, as Wyman's did, their trip would have been ended there.

It is when the availability of the motor bicycle and the automobile for military service are considered and compared that Wyman's performance stands out in the most superior way.  Even when his motor was giving trouble and he was travelling at his slowest rate, he was doing better than a horse could have done, and his average daily headway was much better than that of any of the big cars.  Great value attaches to the trip because of the data and suggestions it affords to military authorities.  There in no reason why Wyman should not have had an extra motor crankshaft with him.  He could have carried a complete supply of new parts much easier than an automobile than an automobile could.  Allowing that under military conditions it would have been possible to have obtained parts along the road, as all the automobiles did , he still would have had an advantage, because it takes less time to make a repair on a bicycle than on a four-wheeled motor vehicle.  It would seem that in time of war when railroads are not available that two men, each on a light motor bicycle, would be the best possible dispatch bearers.  If there were to on the errand time would be saved because of the assistance one could give to the other in making repairs, and because they would make pace turn and turn about.  In case of serious mishap to either man there would be the other to on on, and if one bicycle was seriously damaged the other could continue, while if both cycles were much damaged the probability is that by rearing one apart the patch the other it could be made fit to complete the journey.

It is not often these days, even during war, that such a long and strenuous journey would be required of any man and vehicle.  Wyman's record stands, however, as a demonstration of what is possible under extremely unusual circumstances.  The demonstration teaches also that much better time will be possible with the experiences of the first attempt to guide.  In whatever way the Wyman trip is viewed, it must be conceded to be a triumphant demonstration of the practicability and many sidedness(sic) of the motor bicycle as well as an everlasting credit to the plucky young man who performed the feat.       

Wyman "Swag" Collection

The Motorcycle Magazine, November 1903, Volume1, Number 6 (Digitized PDF)
The Merit of Wyman's Performance
A contemporary (1903) evaluation of the historic Wyman journey.

Read "The Story Behind the Headlines"

Return to the Across America on a Motor Bicycle page