In 1903, George Wyman rode a 1902 California motorcycle all the way from San Francisco to New York and became not just the first person to cross America on a motorbike, but the first person to cross America using a motorized vehicle, at all. But while the first car to cross the country was kept safe and preserved—it’s now in the Smithsonian’s collection—Wyman’s motorcycle was lost.
Now, though, the organizers of the George A. Wyman Memorial Project think they may have found it.
Once he made it across the country, Wyman turned over his bike for display. After all, it was the first motorized vehicle to cross America! After a few weeks in New York City, the bike spent a couple of years in a museum in Golden Gate Park. But by 1905, Wyman later said, even he didn’t know where it had gone to. “Urban legend has it was purchased by a bar in San Francisco and hung from the ceiling for a time,” the Wyman Memorial Project reports. “Or, it was lost in the great earthquake of 1906.”
In the 1970s, though, Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times and a motorcycle enthusiast, bought a beat-down 1902 California motorbike, just like the one Wyman had ridden. It came from a garage in San Francisco, and the person who sold it to Chandler convinced him that it was the 1902 California Wyman had ridden across the country. In 2006, after Chandler’s death, a friend and fellow collector, Dave Scoffone, bought the bike. Recently he got in contact with the Wyman Memorial Association and told them them: this might be Wyman’s bike.
Right now, the only evidence backing up the bike’s identity is Chandler’s conviction that he’d bought Wyman’s bike. As a collector of rare motorcycles, perhaps he had a good reason to believe so.
Wyman made several modifications to his bike to aid his journey across America—he added a carrying rack to hold extra fuel and cargo and a small storage compartment underneath the seat post. When Chandler bought the bike it was in terrible shape, so he restored it. But if it is Wyman’s bike, in its pre-restoration state, there could have been traces of those modifications.
“We are searching for any ’as found’ photographs the Otis Chandler acquisition team might have taken at the time it was purchased by him,” says Tim Masterson, the project manager of the Wyman Memorial Project. “Also, any documentation, bills of sale, transfer or other items that can be traced back the last known public showing in the Museum at Golden Gate Park in 1903 to 1905 or ’06.”
Even if it’s not Wyman’s motorcycle, the memorial project believes this bike is “the finest example of the Regular Model 1902 California yet to be found.” Looking at the bike, it’s incredible to think that one just like this made it all the way across the country at a time when there were few paved roads outside of cities: Wyman crossed roughly the first half of the country by bumping along railroad tracks.
If it is Wyman’s bike though, it could be, as the Wyman Memorial Project puts it, “a national treasure of the first order.”
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