The early automobiles were very expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. For example, the first three automobiles in Fort Collins were bought by the County Judge and two doctors. Motorcycles were more affordable and stories about them began showing up in the Fort Collins newspapers as early as 1905. Here are a few examples.
August 30, 1905: “Arthur Evans of Fort Logan visited Fort Collins friends. He made the journey on his motor cycle.”
March 6, 1907: “Miss Lillie Nicolson came over from Windsor on a motor cycle for a Saturday visit with her parents.” Way to go Lillie!
March 25, 1908: Earl Verry owned Verry Bros.’ Package Delivery in Fort Collins and ran this weekly advertisement: “Let the Verry Bros’ motor cycle do the hurrying.”
May 12, 1910: “The sheriff’s office has acquired a new vehicle wherewith to run down those who have sought to buck the law. It is a new Excelsior motorcycle, which is apt to be just as much of a bucker as the average bronco. The brute is now ready for use by any member of the sheriff’s office who finds a swift method of locomotion necessary at any time in the prosecution of his duties.”
It wasn’t until May 15, 1914, that the Fort Collins police got their own motor cycle, an Indian motorcycle. They said, “It will be used to run down speeders who violate the city ordinances.” It wasn’t hard to speed in the early days of the automobile. The first speed limit in Fort Collins was 12 mph on the straightaway and 8 mph going around curves.
By 1909, motorcycle races were a part of any big festivity, including the September 1909 Lamb Day Celebration. Click Lamb Day 1909 & 1910 to see an earlier post of this event.
Below is an image of the start of one of those motorcycle races.
The bikes are arrayed across College Avenue, looking north from Mountain. This photograph was most likely taken at the start of the July 4, 1911 motorcycle race. The Weekly Courier described the race this way, when it laid out the upcoming events of the day:
“Another event, not on the regular program, but which will help make the day interesting is the motorcycle race to be run in the morning over a 125-mile course. [the race will be] three times over a road from Collins to Loveland, Loveland to Windsor and Windsor to Fort Collins.”
I’m told by several motorcycle experts that the bikes are a mix of Indians, which were produced in Springfield, MA as early as 1902, and Excelsiors, which were produced in Chicago starting in 1905. Both companies started as bicycle manufacturers and then moved on to motorcycles. The first four on the left side are Indians, the second and third bikes from the right are Excelsiors, and the two brands are mixed in the middle.
I couldn’t find any information on the prizes or the winners but I did find an article that discussed an accident that occurred during the race. The July 7, 1911, Weekly Courier, reported that “country people” were “incensed” over the motorcycle races being run on public roads. Apparently, a motorcycle in the July 4th race had frightened a team of horses driven by a farm boy, throwing him out of the wagon, and severely injuring him.
I don’t think the injury or the publicity stopped the races.
The next post will be a fun post, the rock formations of the lower Poudre Canyon.