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

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Epilogue - Across America on a Motor Bicycle

New York Motor Cycle Club
"While I slept at the Herald Square Hotel, my ride really ended at the New York Motor Cycle Club's rooms, No. 1904 Broadway. It was there I left the faithful little machine that had carried me some 3,800 miles. What was the exact distance  I never will be able to tell, because, as previously related, after breaking four cyclometers, I ceased to bother with the mileage.

Compared with the first cycling journey across the continent, that of Thomas Stevens in 1882, the first effort of the motor bicycle does not suffer. Mr. Stevens required 103 1/2 days to ride from San Francisco to Boston; my journey was completed in 50 days. While the idea of establishing a record was no part of my purpose, it is worthy of remark that none of the three powerful automobiles that have since crossed the continent have come near to equaling my time. With the experience gained and with a more powerful machine - the one I used was of but 1¼ horsepower - I feel confident that the journey from ocean to ocean can be made in 30 days without particularly strenuous effort. With a railway attachment, such as is in common use by bicyclists in the West, and which would permit the use of rails across the deserts of Nevada, it will be possible to more than realize the 30 days' estimate.

Wyman "Pose"
While it is true that my forks broke and the motor crank axle also gave way, these are unusual accidents; nearly all of my other troubles were minor ones, the belt being a most prolific source. But, as a whole, the motor behaved splendidly and performed its work well under many trying conditions. Its failure at Albany was really the only occasion when it gave me serious concern. Subsequent examination proved that the inlet valve had in some way become jammed so as to be immovable, at least with the means at my command. Between fear of breaking something and anxiety to reach New York, I possibly did not take the chances at making a strenuous repair that under other circumstances I would have taken. Save the forks, the bicycle also stood up well. The wonder is that it stood up at all, so terrific and so frequent was the pounding it received in the many miles of cross-tie travel. The saddle, too, deserves praise. Despite its many drenchings and mud and the heat of the desert and the banging of the railroad ties, it did not stretch or sag the fractional part of an inch, and reached New York in as good condition as when it left San Francisco."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

July 6 - Across America on a Motor Bicycle

(New York City)

"After riding two days and a night under leg power or rather over it, I reached
"Josh" interview
Broadway & W. 195th Street
New York in the middle of the afternoon on July 6. I made frequent stops to rest and I attracted more than a little attention but I was too tired to care. I can smile now as I recall the sight I was with my overalls on, my face and hands black as a mulatto's, my coat torn and dirty, a big piece of wood tied on with rope where my handlebars should be, and the belt hanging loose from the crankshaft. I was told that I was "picturesque" by a country reporter named "Josh," who captured me for an interview a little way up the Hudson, and who kept me talking while the photographer worked his camera, but to my ideal, I was too dirty to be picturesque. At any rate, I was too tired then to care. All I wanted was a hot bath and a bed. 

But before I got these I had to telephone to The Motorcycle Magazine to learn where to go and wait to have more cameras pointed at me before being escorted to my hostelry. Of all the sleep I had during my trip, none was more profound, or sweeter than the one I had that night of July 6 at the Herald Square Hotel, just 50 days after I left San Francisco for my ride across the continent on my motor bicycle."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

July 5 - Across America on a Motorcycle Bicycle

(Albany to New York City, NY)

NYC Arrival
5700 Broadway
"As I could not make the motor work, I concluded on the morning of July 5 to make myself work. I started to pedal in to New York. That last 150 miles down the Hudson from Albany is a part of my trip of which I will always have a vivid recollection. I had seen some hills before, but the motor climbed them for me. In the hills along the Hudson, I had to climb and push the motor along. They seemed steeper than the Rocky Mountains. This I will say, though - from the time  I left the Pacific coast I saw no grander scenery than that along the Hudson River. While other sights were not up to expectation, the scenery of the Hudson was far beyond it.  So enthusiastic was I that I pedaled along all night on July 5. It was a long, dreary and strenuous ride, but I was well seasoned by this time and fit to do a mule's work."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903

Monday, July 3, 2023

July 4 - Across America on a Motor Bicycle

(Delayed in Albany, NY)

"On the Fourth of July my first move in the morning was to a bicycle store, where  I got a new tire and put in 14 new spokes, and then took the motor apart. The piston rings were worn pretty thin but looked as if they would still give service, so at 2:30 p.m. I started from Albany. Four miles out, I gave it up. The motor would not explode as it should. I went back to the bicycle store in Albany and worked on the problem there until night. Then I went to see the fireworks and forget about it."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903

Sunday, July 2, 2023

July 3 - Across America on a Motor Bicycle

(Canastota to Albany, NY)

"At 7 a.m. on July 3, I started from Canastota; determined to get to Albany, at least, that day. I had trouble from the start. I relaced the belt seven times during the forenoon, and then I spliced it with a new piece at Little Falls. I was still 40 miles from Albany when my handlebars broke off on one side. I had been there a couple of times before during the trip, and it did not take me long to lash a stick across the steering stem. Soon after, the piston began to squeak, and I discovered that the rings on it were worn out. Oil was of no avail, and I rode on with the squeak for company. Six miles from Albany, while I was on the towpath, the rear tire blew out. There was a hole in it that would admit a hand. I walked into Albany. Some of the remarks I made to myself as I walked were not fit for quoting to a Sunday school class. My distance that day was 135 miles. This was to be my last day of big mileage though.

All the way through New York state I used the cycle path without a license. It was not until after my trip ended that I knew I had been violating the law."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903

Saturday, July 1, 2023

July 2 - Across America on a Motor Bicycle

(Cayuga to Canastota, NY)

Mansfield Hotel, Cayuga, c.1900
"I left Cayuga at 8 a.m. and took my troubles with me, The batteries were growing  weak; first the cyclets(sic) of the belt broke and then the lacing; next the crank axle got out of true, and every time it struck, the belt broke. I had these troubles all day. Toward night the belt broke five times in one mile. I got some new batteries at Syracuse, but after going two miles on them they would not yield a spark, so I went back and returned them, and after a search I managed to get some good batteries. The fates seemed in a conspiracy to prevent my getting to New York before July 4. The motor was getting in such shape that I realized I would be lucky if I could finish with it at all. To add to my troubles these two days from Rochester, July 1 and 2, were terribly hot and I was nearly prostrated by the heat. I managed to make 65 miles and get to Canastota by 9:30 p.m. on the  second, and as that was the day I had hoped to be in the metropolis, I did not go to bed in any cheerful humor."

Across America on a Motor Bicycle - "Along The Shores Of The Great Lakes And Down The Hudson To New York" by George A. Wyman, The Motorcycle Magazine, October 1903, Vol 1 No 5
Chicago, IL to New York City
June 20 to July 6, 1903