The history of grit and the open road
American Motorcycle History
Nothing reminds us more of how far we’ve come than history. From American ingenuity and innovation, to hard work, endurance and grit, I’m interested and appreciative of any true story that attracts my interest and makes me proud.
Motorcycle history is fun and more active than ever.
Photo and fact-filled websites provide great background on these stories, often run by authors who continue to tell the stories and translate the importance of this history on American industry, transportation and culture. You’ll find museums throughout the Midwest too, making a long weekend ride both educational and fun. The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame is a great one, as is the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee.
America’s early days of motorcycle innovation are really amazing. In the early 1900s, more than 200 manufacturers around the country were competing to capture a market that provided transportation and status. Roads in-town were paved and those in the country were dirt and mud, yet that didn’t stop the race to build the better carburetor or braking system.
That competitive spirit drove men and women to stretch the limits and do what had never been done. Early pioneers like Effie and Avis Hotchkiss (mother/daughter team) and Augusta and Adeline Van Buren achieved “firsts,” and were in active endorsement relationships with industry leaders Firestone and Indian. Their stories read more like fiction than history.
In their 1916 transcontinental ride from New York to San Francisco, the Van Burens were the first pair of motorcyclists (men or women) to reach the top of Pike’s Peak (14,109 feet above sea level). They did so without reliable maps, weak rubber on their tires (by today’s standard), and nominal braking technology on their 1916 Indian 1000cc twins. Their experience prior to that ride included 9,000 miles yearly, pushing speeds of up to 65 mph. Women could not vote, yet these two were breaking ground for motorcyclists by providing real performance data in extreme conditions. The Van Buren sisters were inducted into the American Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Sturgis Museum the following year. Their story and details about a ride commemorating the 100th anniversary of their historic feat is available atwww.vanburensisters.com.
While I enjoy history and motorcycles, I have not yet been bit by the bug of restoring vintage or old bikes. Surely, the internet has made this community more connected. To celebrate and demonstrate the guts that riding truly historic bikes took then, more than 100 riders will take place in a unique run this fall. September 7 -23, the Pre-1930 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run (coast to coast) features riders from around the country, with swings through Wisconsin and Iowa on September 9-10. It makes an important stop in Sturgis. Learn more about the bikes, the riders, the route and the rules atwww.motorcyclecannonball.com.
American ingenuity and pride is alive and well. Experience some of it this summer by celebrating motorcycling history.