Watching the history channel about motorcycles. Curtiss, of Curtiss
Airplanes, made a motor cycle in 1907 and drove it at 137 mph on the
sand in Florida. The motorcycle was barely a bicycle. It was hard to
tell from the pictures, but it looked as if the wheel spokes were not
even attached to the hubs on the tangent. I think it was in 1930 that
someone finally beat this speed record, and it was in a car. Curtiss
sure had big cajones.
That was actually a dirigible engine in that bike. I saw it at
the Guggenheim museum in NYC a few years ago. The motor is V8
and air-cooled. Driveshaft drive, with an open bevel gear at
the rear wheel, and an unlubricated strap-iron universal joint.
One trial was ended when the U-joint came apart.
Now you might think that 138 mph in 1907 was fast. But Indian
made a board track racer with a fraction of the displacement of
Curtiss's behemoth - it had unusually modern four valve heads,
chain drive, and no brakes. I consider those to be far in advance
of what Curtiss did:
Curtiss's bike was a one-off stunt. That indian was a real
production bike - not many were made, but they ran in extensive
Considering how little was known back then about motorcycle frame
geometry and rigidity, let alone the state of tire technology, it sure
must have taken some big brass ones.
I think he was pretty dang lucky the tires didn't come apart or get into
a high speed wobble. Sometimes ignorance -is- bliss...
The bike didn't impress me as near as much as the speed at which it
was driven. I would be terrified to go that fast on my bicycle, and
it's brand new. With all the modern stuff like suspension and good
He sure had some big ones, that's for certain.
Still, inspect that photograph of the bike carefully. It's well
braced and the engine is basically a stressed member in the design.
I was very impressed seeing it in person, it *looked* like a 100+
mph vehicle. Real solid.
And don't forget, bicycle manufacture had been going on for 20 some
odd years by this time, it was a pretty mature art. This is where
all the manufacters were taking their clues from, mostly. I would
be a heck of a lot more scared on that indian board track racer
than on curtiss's bike.
Of course the issue of tires is the weak spot here....
Sand can be a strange and unforgiving surface to go fast on. I'm sure
the section of beach he chose was scrutinized well. And as long as
everything went well, no problem. But if he'd gotten into any sort of
high speed wobble, it probably would have been all over. Such wobbles
can be induced by seemingly minor bumps or upsets. The bike does look
like stability was part of the design criteria, they just didn't have
much data on those speeds back then.
I'd take the board track over sand until it came time to land on my
Heh, that reminds me of something I saw on TV years ago, probably late
70's. Some beach beauty contest, with various events relating to beach
activities. One was a timed race down the beach and back on lawn mower
engine powered minibikes. Don't think they had any rear suspension,
maybe an inch or two up front. The women were in skimpy bikinis, but
they did at least make them wear helmets. Well, there were puddles
everywhere on the "track", and I knew that meant a low spot. One poor
girl didn't figure that out in time. Hit one dip full tilt, did a couple
tank slappers, and went down hard. Show might have been live, as I
recall the announcer saying something like "Looks like we ought to take
a break". When they came back from commercial, they'd moved on to
I drafted a station wagon on daytona beach on my 10 speed Viscount bike.
We got up to an indicated 52 mph. I was just off his bumper and was one
of the more secluded parts of the beach and the tide was out. 1978.
On a seperate note I saw a trailer for a new movie coming out next year.
" The World's Fastest Indian " starring Anthony Hopkins. Looks
Interesting. Here is a link to the HD trailer (requires Quicktime 7)
if you don't have a fat pipe to load the large files, here is the
normal trailer link.
A most excellent movie. A real metalhead's movie, which I saw in the local
movie theatre a couple of weeks ago. Filmed in Invercargill, at the bottom
of the South Island (new Zealand) - look out for the (current) mayor in a
speaking role - just look for the guy with a huge smile on his face.
Burt Munro (Hopkins) would have been an interesting character - our sort
Out in Coneaut Lake ,PA there is a boat that was built back in the 20's
that at the time was going for the world's speed record for on water ,
this was a Mahogany boat with a Liberty V-8 prototype airplane engine
,nobody knows how he got it since it was the design basis for the
militaries V-12 Liberty they put in their aircraft,
but anyway he had mounted this engine in a specially built wooden boat
with a front rudder
and when he went to take it out for its maiden voyage he hit a wake in
the lake and the boat flipped and it sank ,well thats where 50-60 years
later some divers found the boat and raised it and when they flipped
over back on shore they removed the oil drain plug waiting to see water
to come out ,but luckily nothing but oil came out a miracle in itself
for sitting on the bottom for almost 60 years,well the spent a few years
restoring it back to original and then when it was finished they decided
to take it out for a run one time before putting it in storage,
they had a newer speed boat for a chase boat and they went off across
the lake well a couple minutes later the brand new chase boat was
calling on the radio to slow down he can't keep up .
It's amazing how fast some of this stuff from the early part of the
century actually could go
in comparison to some of our stuff today .
A lil side note that Liberty V-8 was only of 3 known to exist ,one was
in a private collection ,one is in the smithsonian ,but the one in the
boat is the only one to actually start and run
and it is a beautifully built machine ,I count myself lucky to be able
to have gotten to see it.