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Retracing the First, Forgotten Motorcycle Ride Across America

In 1903, 26-year-old George Wyman had a bicycle with a motor attached, called a California Moto Bike. He had already ridden it over the Sierra Nevada mountains, and was determined to ride his prototype motorcycle across the United States.

Wyman left San Francisco from Lotta’s Fountain on May 16, 1903, with a promise from Motorcycle Magazine to publish an account of his journey. Fifty days later, he rolled into New York City. His bike was so busted that he had to pedal the last 150 miles, but he had made it: he was the first person to motor across the country.

Just 20 days after he arrived, though, Horatio Nelson Jackson completed the same journey in a car. Jackson’s cross-country trip had taken longer than Wyman’s—Jackson and his two companions (one human, one canine) had traveled 63 days from west to east. But that didn’t matter. The car captured the American imagination in a way bikes never had, and for decades, Wyman was almost completely forgotten.

Along the way, he rode on bumpy railroad ties to avoid sinking in the sand, replaced numerous parts on his bike, and even saw families traveling in covered wagons. The roads weren’t paved, and in many places, you couldn’t even find a road. Read about Wyman’s journey at Atlas Obscura.  

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