Air & Space Smithsonian

One More Thing

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Glenn Curtiss, easy rider

Glenn Curtiss earned the moniker “The fastest man on Earth” with his 136-mph run at the Florida Speed Carnival in January 1907. His ride was a motorcycle he’d ordered built around the V-8 engine commission­ed from him by early fliers, prior to his own legendary career in aviation.

Air-cooled, the engine generated 30 to 40 horsepower at 1,800 rpm. The seat had to be positioned behind the powerplant so the rider would not get burned.

Long handlebars made turning virtually impossible. The bike was designed expressly to win a landspeed record, traveling in a straight line.

The motorcycle had brakes barely more sophistica­ted than those on a bicycle, and no suspension system to speak of. It was built for pitiless speed—practicali­ty and comfort were irrelevant.

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