Apr 20 2016

Motorcycles of the Vanderbilt Cup Races Updated: 4/28/2016

In the April 9, 2016 post Amazing Photos of the Alco Black Beast During the 1909 Vanderbilt Cup Race, eagle eye Ted noticed the three motorcycles along side the officials' stand/press box and was looking for details about them.

Viewers of VanderbiltCupRaces.com have responded.


Howard Kroplick

Gary Hammond:The two “bicycles” together appear to be 1909 Indian 5 horsepower twin light motorcycles.

Gary Hammond: Note the torpedo-style gas tank underneath the upper frame rail, and probably green factory paint with “Indian” logo in center of the tank. The loop frame holding the engine was new in 1909.

Bob Hoffman: I saw the bicycles in your April 9th post and it reminded me of my 1911 photo  of the Nassau County District Attorney motorcycle officiers. The bikes look similar.  The photo was taken outside Grave's Garage on Searing Avenue in Mineola.

From left to right: Theodore Magee, Robert Hope, William Seaman and William Murray.

Submitted by Bob Hoffman: New York City Police Deparment Circa: World War I

Howard Kroplick: This photo also showed a motorcycle parked outside the officials' stand/press box for the 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race. More research will be needed to determine the purpose for the motorscyles. My best guess is the motorcycles were used to clear the course in case there was a major accident or when the race was called after a winner was declared.

Hammond's Historical Findings (From Gary Hammond)

The Evening World, October 24, 1908

Gary Hammond: Here's a possible answer to the motorcycles at the Vanderbilt Cup Races.

Brooklyn Life, August 15, 1908

Rudy's Revelations (From Chuck Rudy, Jr.)

Chuck Rudy, Jr:  I am enjoying the motorcycle postings, though personally the present day credit card bikers who just like to make noise annoy me to tears, of the early days.  The “Fearless” book is an informative albeit short, as in <100 pages, read and not done by wordsmiths but they got the message across.  Here is a cropped photo from 1908 as Robertson finished showing two motorbikes.  The one to the right sure appears to be an Indian, the other is hard to tell.  But enjoy and post if you wish.

Kleiner's Korner (Submitted by Art Kleiner)

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 7, 1907


Apr 21 2016 frank femenias 9:14 AM

Nice find on the pics and info guys. These may be the first attempts towards motorized cycling. That 1908 model is crude and really resembles a modified bicycle. It seems the moped of the 70s, 70 years later, borrowed the same idea integrating pedalpower with horsepower.

Apr 24 2016 S. Berliner, III 5:02 PM

It didn’t occur to me to comment but it seemed to me the the lone cycle up front was an unpowered bicycle.  It still does but I can’t get a good view.  Sam, III

Apr 24 2016 Chuck Rudy 7:34 PM

It is said all true stories end in death.  This book is a true story about Charles Balke.

In 2004 in an attic in Kentucky a family member of a recently deceased widow found a cache of newspaper clippings of a distant relative the them, but the husband of the widow.  She was the wife of Charles “Fearless” Balke who was Indian’s top driver for a short time.  So many in those day had that title, for a short while.  It is a quick read and well worth the look back from his career starting in 1908 and ending in 1914.  He raced at the first event at Indy in 1909.  The end of the book shows the different style of racing bikes of the day which is quite informative. 

The book is simply named “Fearless-The Lord of the Murderdrome” by Rick and Lane Ongstad.  It does fit in so well to the time of the Vanderbilt races.  It can be found on Ebay but often in European dealers.  I enjoyed learning a lot of what it took to be a short-lived star on the board tracks of 1910.

Apr 24 2016 Chuck Rudy 9:27 PM

Howard, apologies on the timing of the Robertson photo, Bourque is in the pits, so not the checker but should be simple to figure the lap.  Again, apologies.  Chuck

Apr 25 2016 Art Kleiner 6:33 AM

Based on a Feb. 7, 1907 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, a motor scooter club was to be headquartered in Patchogue, with none other than Jefferson De Mont Thompson and A.R. Pardington as the club’s originators.  “With a motor scooter club on Long Island for the winter months and the parkway course for summer automobile racing, the motor speeding enthusiast will be kept busy throughout the entire year.”

Apr 25 2016 Arthur Mauriello 12:38 PM

My grandfather used to tell me about an annual motorcycle race on LI do you have any info on it ?

Nov 16 2019 Brian D McCarthy 9:22 PM

Like the fact that these could switch back to bicycle mode if there was engine troubles or if the gas tank was empty :~ )

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