George Wyman was a more hardcore biker than you, I, or any of our Club Dads. That is a fact.
By David Walters
George Wyman was born in 1877 and was a member of the Bay City Wheelmen a bicycle racing club that would eventually form into a Motorcycle Club. His adventures with the Bay City Wheelmen, on his way to race in Reno, is what gave Wyman the inspiration to ride “Ocean to Ocean”.
In 1903 Wyman became the first person to complete a transcontinental journey from San Francisco to New York. He would complete the trip in 50 days. “George A. Wyman left the corner of Market and Kearney streets in San Francisco, CA at 2:30 P.M on May 16, 1903 and arrived in New York City on July 6, 1903”. He would complete it before the first automobile would, and made a better time. Indian was just becoming a player, and Harley was still sputtering out of a small shed in Milwaukee. Wyman would use a 1902 California Motorcycle. If that sounds familiar to you, it is because i wrote on the original company to manufacture that bike “Marks Motorcycle Company”. Marks produced the first American made motorcycle in late 1890s. Just beating out a production by a man named Hendee… Maybe you’ve heard of him too. Anyway, Marks would sell his bikes to the California Motorcycle Company in 1902, they would only produce bikes til 1904 before being sold to a company in Ohio and becoming Yale Motorcycles. So in 1902, Wyman was riding a Marks patent, produced by the California Motorcycle Company.
Half of Mr. Wyman’s journey was accomplished by pounding over the ties of the trans-continental railroad as there were no “real” roads in the sense that we have come to think of today, for him to travel on. He would have to push, pull, and coast his bike through some rough terrain of the Sierra Nevadas and walk miles in between available gas stops. He would ask farmhouses for oil. Carry his bike over snow drifts 7 feet deep in some places. Just outside of Ogden, Utah he stops to hear a speech by President Roosevelt who has arrived by train. In 1903 he was seeing America, and her lands as we can hardly picture it today.
Largely George Wyman’s accomplishments go seem to go unnoticed, and that is a tragedy of our history. In 1903 he wrote his own account of his journey for a Magazine called “The Motorcycle Magazine” which was in publication from 1903 to 1906. Perhaps this short lived publication and shelf life, lead to an almost afterthought to Wyman’s accomplishment. He would be their featured story, and writer, in their inaugural issue June 1st 1903. After that, the stories would go largely unnoticed by the motorcycle world until a re-publication of sorts by Road Rider Magazine in 1979, and then again it would disappear until being celebrated by the Antique Motorcycle Club of America in their publication early 2000s.
According to census information, we can tell that George Wyman returned to San Francisco to live, and in 1910 was working as a mechanic and driver. By 1920 he had a wife named Nellie and 3 children, all boys. He left this world November 15, 1959 at age 82 in San Joaquin county, CA.
A picked a couple of my favorite parts that Wyman himself wrote, from the articles re-published by Road Rider Magazine. All credit for the quotes go to them, and of course George Wyman for writing an amazing story. I feel like he had an uncanny gift to describe what was going on around him, what he saw, and how to make it as important today, as it was then. I thank him for the gift and a special thanks to those that have preserved the history.
Here are those quotes one from the beginning and one from the end of his journey-
“Little more than three miles constituted the first day’s travel of my journey across the American continent. It is just three miles from the corner of Market and Kearney streets, San Francisco, to the boat that steams to Vailejo, California, and, leaving the corner formed by those streets at 2:30 o’clock on the bright afternoon of May 16, less than two hours later I had passed through the Golden Gate and was in Vallejo and aboard the “Ark,” or houseboat of my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Brerton, which was anchored there. I slept aboard the “Ark” that night. At 7:20 o’clock the next morning I said goodbye to my hospitable hosts and to the Pacific, and turned my face toward the ocean that laps the further shore of America. I at once began to go up in the world. I knew I would go higher; also I knew my mount. I was traveling familiar ground. During the previous summer I had made the journey on a California motor bicycle to Reno, Nevada, and knew that crossing the Sierras, even when helped by a motor, was not exactly a path of roses. But it was that tour, nevertheless, that fired me with desire to attempt this longer journey – to become the first motorcyclist to ride from ocean to ocean.”
“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.”