A Sketch from the Pioneer Days of Road Racing

China…Chains and Chance

By Roy Artley, Photography by Unknown

Then came the San Diego to Phoenix road race. My mount, by virtue of my showing in the enduro, was a Twin-cylinder Thor. Not knowing anything about the profession of road racing, I set forth with not too much preparation. After using seven tubes I worked myself into third position. Seven miles from Phoenix I got a puncture and had to wheel the rest of the way on the rim. My finish was in fifth position. The winner, Paul Derkhim, made the fast time of 16 hours and 10 minutes. My own time was 20 hours and 40 minutes. Later I was to ride this same course and set a record of 12 hours and 10 minutes.

During that race I learned things. I found out that nearly all the boys were able, for instance, to run the seven miles from the foot of Mountain Springs grade to Coyote Wells in eleven minutes. Over the existing road this was quite some running. It was during that race that I settled on a technique. I found I did best by hitting the sand pretty fast. By guiding ever so lightly I learned to keep the machine in a rut, the rut and the wheels doing about half the work of guiding. If you lost a rut it was too bad. The small tires would dig in fast, run you all over the road, and you’d end by losing so much speed that it was necessary either to pedal real hard or to get off and run alongside of the machine. By the time you could get the mount back into the proper rut and again get up speed quite a loss of time had been suffered. I found out all about “lugging” tires to the rim. By letting out air when you came to the sand the tires would balloon out a little and thus would not cut in or slow you up. However, when partly flat they would also tend to creep and that was hard on valve stems. As I said, I used seven tubes during the trip and then finished on the rim. I always felt that tires cost me my right to third position.

Road events increased in popularity following the early ones staged by the combined efforts of the Phoenix and the San Diego motorcycle clubs. The Springerville to Phoenix run in 1916-a 423-mile run, was one of the biggest. I had the good fortune to win this event. In it were Joe Walters, Cannon Ball, Baker, Bedell, Crandall, Dodds and other lights.

We rode the course once, the reverse way, and as we went we bought gas and oil ahead of time for the actual run. By figuring out mileage and then paying for one gallon of gas and one quart of oil extra we were able to guard against loss of time from the standpoint of fueling. In this type of racing there was not the opportunity for the teamwork which was to develop later in connection with many forms of motorcycle competition with factory teams. A rider was pretty much on his own and often had to do as much head work as he did riding.

Illustrative of this, it might be interesting to review some of the incidents of that race as they related to my own part in the event. I had talked things over with Cannon Ball Baker and we had decided to cooperate with each other, somewhat on the order of a two-man team. This meant that one day one fellow could clear the road of cattle, for instance, while the other fellow hung back just enough to feed a lot of dust to the rest of the field.

I drew number one and Baker drew the last number. Consequently, I set as moderate a pace as I could to enable him to come through to the front. All went well until I picked the wrong road and took off on what turned out to be a scenic tour of some Indian Cliff dwellings. When I pulled into Flagstaff I had third position. Baker was in the lead and Bedell, who was a forest ranger in those parts and who knew all the roads by heart, was in second. The race committee checked us in and then locked our machines in a garage. It was impossible to do any work on our outfits until we were checked out the next morning and were on our own time.

Just before I took off on the wrong road, my first day, I had stopped at one of the appointed refueling spots only to find that the station man had not expected me so early and still had his pump locked up. I waited for him to go in the house and get the keys. When I asked about oil he said, “Oh, that’s still out in the shed.” I decided to skip the oil. The result was that with my added unnecessary mileage I ran out of oil about a mile before I hit Flagstaff.

By Roy Artley
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