And it’s not a Brough Superior…
Three years ago, a 1915 Cyclone board track racer sold at auction in the United States for US$551,000.
You read that right, and it’s not a Harley, a Crocker, a Vincent, an Indian or a Brough Superior. In fact, the manufacturer was a short-lived firm that managed to crank out precious few of the models – and that’s what made it so horrifically expensive to own. That and a pedigree like none other from a time when motorcycle racing was as popular and shocking as an alien landing in the New Jersey hinterlands made the Cyclone a hot commodity on the track – and now – at auction.
The bike in question also happens to be an astonishingly beautiful piece of engineering.
In 1915, the automobile was in its infancy. Cars were mostly impractical and skittish beasts which moved at a ponderous and glacial rate, took an engineer with mechanical fortitude and skills to keep running and had only the most rudimentary roads to traverse.
But it’s the racing pedigree that made this bike worth a king’s ransom.
The racers of the time were young men during the early 20th century who rode their motorcycles around banked wooden tracks at speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour, and that was some serious business when most of the roads were still being clotted with horses and four-wheeled ‘cars’ powered by steam. Board-track motorcycle racing was and is pure Americana.The first mass-produced American motorcycle, the Indian, rolled out of a shop in 1901 to be quickly followed by the first Harley-Davidson in 1903, and shortly thereafter, both of those manufacturers were sponsoring teams of riders who competed against each other around large tracks built purpose-built for motorcycle racing.
One Jack Prince screwed together the first tracks in Los Angeles made entirely from green lumber. Called motordromes (and the yellow press of the time dubbed them ‘murderdromes‘), they were steeply-banked circuits of up to 60 degree incline. The hogsback nature of these tracks and their often pliable and uneven surfaces led to spectacular and often deadly crashes as the riders achieved speeds of more than 100mph.
In a heartbeat, a rider could shoot up the side of the banked track and strike the rail at the top – ostensibly provided to shield spectators but more likely installed as a convenient spot to rest a glass of corn liquor or a cigar – and wipe out a half dozen interested parties taking their leisure. One of these crashes killed rider Eddie “The Texas Cyclone” Hasha as he was riding the final event of the day in Newark, New Jersey. Depending upon which journalistic account you’re inclined to believe, four to six spectators were killed in that crash and Hasha was minced among the surviving throng.
At the time, the utter carnage at the tracks made for great theater, but it soon became appalling to society at large.
Local governments began to respond in the way local governments often do, by shutting down the thrills. The motorcycle companies which sponsored teams began slapping on rules to limit the speeds of the races as grisly death is hardly the best PR for a manufacturer of motorcycles, and the general public had moved on to the next coming gladiatorial contests to feed their lust for excess.
The competition? World War One. That conflict provided more than enough death an vicarious pleasure for all concerned…
The most expensive motorcycle ever sold
1915 Cyclone Board Racer
The artfully-executed motor of the Cyclone was a precursor to the ‘litre bikes’ of today and boasted a 996cc, 45 degree V-Twin with a pair of bevel-driven overhead camshafts.