Early V8 Motorcycle

Aeronautical Engineer's career began with bikes

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Before venturing into aeronautics, Glenn H. Curtiss began his long and storied career by working with motorcycles. In fact, the early aviation community sought out Curtiss due to his reputation for constructing powerful and lightweight motorcycle engines. After designing and building a V8 engine for an aeronautical application, he wondered if he could somehow fit that engine into a motorcycle chassis. Perhaps considered the grandfather of such bikes as the Boss Hoss or Dodge Tomahawk, Curtiss was among the first to ponder the question, “How big of a motor can we strap onto this thing?

Curtiss and his team got to work essentially constructing a chassis around the V8 powerplant. The final product measured nearly eight feet in length, weighed 275 lbs and offered somewhere between 30 and 40 hp at 1,800rpm. The motorcycle used direct drive because a conventional chain-and-belt transmission would not handle the power of the Curtiss V8. The seat was mounted behind the engine so not to burn the rider. In order for the rider to steer the bike without stretching over the scorching hot engine, abnormally long handlebars were fitted. This made riding the V8 Curtiss an arduous task, in addition to the only suspension on the bike coming in the form of small springs located in the seat.

The incredibly brave (or perhaps insane) Curtiss took the motorcycle to the Florida Speed Carnival at Ormond Beach in January 1907 in order to test out the machine, which hardly had any braking capabilities. Curtiss recorded a speed of 136 mph during the run giving him the name, “the fastest man on Earth.”

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