Sticker Shock Circa 1902: $250

The Orient motorcycle was relatively expensive at an MSRP of $250, quite a lump sum more than a century ago. What you got was a 2-hp gasoline engine that carried about five quarts of fuel, good enough to take you 100 miles, again a fair piece at the turn of the century, especially considering the quality of the roads.

About four years later, Metz introduced a two-cylinder version that doubled the horsepower of the Single to 4.0. At this point Metz teamed up with the Marsh Co. of Brockton, MA, the merger producing the high quality Marsh-Metz motorcycle appearing in 1908.

The Marsh Brothers, W.T. and A.R., had first built their 1-hp single-cylinder bike in 1899 as the Marsh Motor Bicycle. By 1902 they had built a 6-hp belt-drive racer that could reach 60 mph.

After the merger to form the American Motor Company, the motorcycles bore the name Marsh & Metz or M.M. and would mark another milestone when it produced the first 90-degree V-Twin in the U.S. Marsh and Metz also sold engines to other builders such as Peerless, Arrow and Haverford, but by 1913 the company was no more, Charles Metz switching gears to automobiles.

1903 – First U.S. Transcontinental Bike Ride

The short-lived “California” was built by The California Motor Company of San Francisco. It was founded in 1901 and made history in both the short run and the long run.

In 1903 a benchmark in motorcycling history was accomplished aboard a 90cc California piloted by an intrepid fellow by the name George Wyman when he became the first motorcyclist to make a transcontinental trip across America. Make that the first ever to make the trip by means of any kind of motorized vehicle.

Starting in San Francisco, he traveled over 3800 miles on his spindly 1.25-hp machine over non-existent roads. He arrived at New York City 50 days later, missing 1903’s Fourth of July by just two days. His hands were wrapped in bandages and he had to pedal the motorcycle the final 150 miles! Newspapers and magazines of the day gave extensive coverage to the event, putting the name of the company, George and the state of California in the public’s eye.

“The Californian” adds a letter “n” to the original California machine, this bike built in homage to the first American bikes built in the early 1900s by home builders thanks to the Sears Catalog from which you could order all the parts you needed. This belt-drive bike was hand-built by vintage bike restorer Walt Riddle of Winnetka, CA using an original Spaake 1000cc engine circa 1912-24.

The California eventually morphed into the Yale motorcycle after the original company was bought by the Consolidate Manufacturing Co. of Toledo. The first Yale-badged bikes appeared in 1909, by then having grown to 3.5 hp.

Considered a gentleman’s machine, with a stalwart reputation for reliability, the Yale came appointed in elegant gray accentuated by polished nickel hardware. Fuel is carried in the distinctive cylinder slung under the top frame member, while the large canister set astride the handlebar contained acetylene for powering the headlamp designed to light the way on a dark night’s ride. Starting was via pedaling with the rear wheel up on its centerstand, while belt-drive propelled the bike. The “4P”emblazoned on the gas tank along with the Yale logo stood for the rated horsepower, sufficient for a well-mannered 45 mph.

The Yale became of the more successful of the early independent motorcycle manufacturers, the main factor being that the company was better capitalized than most other bike builders of the day. As a result they were able continue with their single-cylinder machines and also develop a V-Twin model. The company was in production until 1915 when it switched to building more profitable products for WWI.

What looks very much like a bicycle seat, oddly enough, was actually a breakthrough innovation of sorts for the motorcyclist. The 1904 ad appeared in famous British bike mag The Motor Cycle

1905 – Some 28,000 motorcycles are officially registered in England. Motorcycle sales are starting to boom, although several busts fell among the hundreds of motorcycle companies that came and went. 1905 also saw the debut of the world’s first V-Twin, the 2300cc Czech-designed Laurin & Klement CCR.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Next: