Across America- getting to 'Frisco



Wednesday May 14th, 2003 -
Leaving Roy, WA I decided to ride my bike the 50 miles through McKenna, Yelm, Rainier, and Tenino out to Grand Mound where we would jump onto I-5 to head down south to California. The bike had been ridden only 2 miles previous to this, so this would be a good ride to begin the break-in of the engine and allow me to become a bit more accustomed to the vehicle itself. Dad climbed into the support truck, simultaneously I climbed onto that tall bike; all the while my Mom was snapping photographs. Remember, dear reader, this bike uses 28" wheels, while I stand at only 5'8". I had to lean the bike and stand on my 'tippy-toes' in order to climb aboard this monster. Anytime I came to a stop I would need to lean the bike and stand in this unstable, 'tippy-toed' manner. Then, when taking off again, I would have to push off with my toes, begin pedaling, while straightening up the bike; this all had to be done in one, great, sweeping, synchronized movement. I quickly discovered that there was a lot more involved in riding this big antique beast than there was to cruisin' around on my trusty ol' 26" diameter wheel Schwinn Typhoon. It didn't help that the bike weighed in at nearly 95 pounds with the motor and my pack. With a bit of a flourish and a wave I tried to start the bike; nothing happened. I tried again, with nearly the same result. Once more I tried to start this beast, as the third time 's a charm right? Not this third time. My patience was wearing thin. I climbed off the moto-bike and discovered that the belt was slipping so that the engine wasn't turning over. I drug out the tool kit supplied by my great, long-time friends Chris and Jeanine Nitz. I made some more adjustments, and tried once more; with great success! The bike actually fired and roared to life! So once again, although perhaps a bit less awe inspiring and exciting, I waved to my Mom and headed down their drive to the roadway.
While waiting at the end of the driveway for the traffic to clear, anticipation kept fluttering in my belly and my heart could not stop racing; my head was spinning with a thousand thoughts all at the same time. It was as if a carnival carousel had gone spinning madly out of control inside my brain. This was it, the first step into that journey of thousands of miles. "What have I done?!?! What have I gotten myself into this time?" I wondered this with what I'm sure is the same delirium as, perhaps, a first time demolition derby driver might, or maybe new middle school teacher on the first day of class. I would soon discover that this question would remain with me for many more miles and would come back to haunt my thoughts time and again throughout this entire journey.
I clumsily pedaled out of the driveway onto Highway 702, surely looking as though I were inebriated, wobbling and weaving to stay upright, and trying to get moving on this giant heavy bike. Gently, and somewhat gingerly, I released the clutch lever, then the compression release lever. With no hesitation whatsoever that Whizzer jumped into action and we were motorin' along! I could scarcely believe that I was really on my way. The year of planning and preparing had finally come to fruition; this was it! I noticed that there was a bit of a chill in the air, it wasn't cold but I was glad to have that leather jacket on (this idea, however, would not be long lived). Five miles down the road we came upon a T-intersection. I pulled in the clutch lever, coasted up to a stop, went to put my leg down, and almost fell over (stalling out the engine, of course). I began to mumble "Oh yeah, right; this is a tall bike. Man is it ever weird to ride..." While muttering softly to myself, I could feel the smile begin to permanently affix itself upon my face. The traffic signal flashed from red to green and so I pushed off with a feeble, wobbly start but managed to get rolling without falling over. I repeated the clutch then compression release lever sequence with a bit more confidence this time and fired the engine again. With a gentle zoom, (gently of course, as we were still breaking in the engine, not breaking the engine) we rode up over the bridge that crosses Nisqually River; then up around the bend on the hill just beyond. That iron stallion and I cruised right along until zip! I goosed the throttle just a bit and up we went. We rolled over the bridge that clears the railroad tracks, down past the stockyards, and around the little bend to the intersection quaintly known by the locals as "Five Corners" (probably named for the five roads that meet at that little wide spot in the road). The light turned to green and once again with a start less wobbly than the last, we turned right to pull into one of the filling stations that reside on the corners of this intersection. We checked all of our tires and put air in the ones that needed it. We pulled out onto the street (my skills getting better with each new start) and turned right to ride on into the little town of Yelm. Traffic was bumper to bumper traveling along at the posted limit of a whopping 25 miles per hour. We hit the main intersection in the center of town and with yet another wobbly start, this one a little worse than the last, we went left through the intersection and down the highway towards Rainier. Once we cleared the city limit- snap! I rolled on the throttle just a little more and kicked it up a notch, just to see what it felt like. I'll tell you right now my friend it sure did feel fine to me! There isn't anything else in the world that feels like riding that motorized two-wheeler. There just isn't anything finer; not chocolate, not a new car, not even ...
This is it- true nirvanic bliss.
The copper penny taste of excitement sat at the back of my throat while I buzzed along; finding a never-ending pleasure in the rural scenery passing by. With the exception of the occasional country home or small farm, there was just this lush, green, late springtime countryside rolling along. I glanced up to see the dark clouds, a sight so familiar to any Washingtonian, rolling in but was not fazed in the least by this. The perma-grin was still frozen in place from ear to ear beneath my nose. I rolled on through the town of Rainier and continued towards Tenino. As cheesy as it may be, (I can't help that as I tend to be rather sentimental and cheesy, it's just my nature) I suddenly had the song "Easy Rider" by Iggy Pop playing in my head. Then (from the same album) the song "Instinct", which sort of helped me to burn off a lot of the excess garbage going around in my head that I had started out with. It just began to fall away with the asphalt miles that rolled beneath my wheels, until nothing else really mattered anymore. I wasn't hurt, nor was I angry; there was no love or hate, no sorrow; there was only the here and now. Nothing more and nothing less- just simply a moment continually moving from second to minute and back again. Out there on the road that's all it is: time moves and yet, somehow, ceases; it doesn't really freeze or stop it just ceases to exist. I no longer had any of the worries of my old life with me. All of that was gone, and wrapping myself in the familiar old blanket of being alone, I just rolled along in my bliss becoming one with the natural surroundings.
"This is where it's at. This is what it's all about. Yesterday never existed but maybe in a blink of the mind's eye; tomorrow would certainly never blossom to bear the fruits promised throughout my childhood. All we've got is right here in the now; in the minute to minute, and second to second that is our pitiful existence in this world."
With a sigh that was a release of pressure (a relief that only comes with true denial and acceptance) I continued on towards that day's goal; Grand Mound and the south bound entrance to Interstate 5. Also, to some food as I had only just realized how hungry I really was and that I had not yet eaten anything that day.
Movin' right along...
Dad and I were experimenting with the leapfrog technique for the chase vehicle.
This is where the support vehicle rides up ahead and then pulls over waiting for me, and then pulls out again and we do this along the way. We did this through Rainier, but soon were to discover that this support technique was not going to work so well for us.
It began to drizzle somewhere between Rainier and Tenino. Not a big downpour yet, just a few drops falling here and there, but with one glance upwards at the clouds above, I could tell that the deluge would be coming shortly. I pulled over in a driveway covered with large fir trees, leaned my steed against the mailbox (as I had no kickstand), and pulled my raingear out of my pack. As I was finishing getting the suit on Dad comes rolling back the other direction, concerned that something had happened. We headed out once again, cruising the straight-a-ways, varying my speeds, and not being real heavy on the engine. I was slipping easily around the gentle curves, when suddenly one of the blocks on my left pedal gave way. I pulled over to discover that the nut had come off the end of it and the block was just flapping in the breeze. I rode smooth and gentle heading toward Tenino while trying to flag Dad down. Just when I'd almost catch up he'd take off again! After this had happened for the third time I began to holler in frustration at the innocent, elderly fir tree I happened to be passing, which at that particular moment seemed to be minding it's own business. When I reached Tenino and pulled into the large parking area of the town's only grocery store, I waited. Finally Dad had turned around. I guess he had seen me flailing my arms and yelling like a complete lunatic, and decided to pull in. Pops parked the truck, so I leaned the bike against the back of the tent trailer he was towing along, and we made repairs to the bike.

Fortunately my Father had brought some bailing wire along. Pop always carries some bailing wire in his truck. Throughout this journey I would be reminded repeatedly of what an important part of the support vehicle this was. I am reminded of Che Guevera's entry in "The Motorcycle Diaries" in reference to his comrades plentiful use of wire, and how it was his favorite tool for repairing 'The Mighty One'.
We cinched up the pedal by running the wire through in place of the bolt and then twisting tight to hold the ends together so the other block couldn't work loose. Once again we headed out towards our destination.
I was rolling along at a pretty good clip when the rains came. Such rains they were too! I rolled on with the rain stinging cold, like needles of ice, biting my face causing it to become numb to everything but those little freezing darts. With my expectations to the contrary, the main drive belt continued to grab hold and propel the bike. I was cutting a neat, clean line through the water flowing off the roadway with my tires even though the water, shedding from the crowned road surface towards the ditches along the sides of the roadway, was up over my rims. After about fifteen or twenty minutes it began to let up. The drive belt had only a minute amount of slippage through the absolute worst and wettest portion of that whole downpour. Chalk another one up to the Whizzer engine kits kids, that's hard to beat! The rain continually lessened until the sun nearly came out again. The clouds were still above, heavy with rain, but you could almost see a hazy circle of light that, some folks would try their best to convince, was the sun. After another 15 minutes had passed, all that remained of the squall was a strange mist rising from the blacktop.
I arrived at my destination; Interstate-5. Using my hand signals, I moved over into the left hand turn lane, and realized there was not enough vehicle mass to trigger the traffic signal's sensor mechanism. I looked quickly for on-coming traffic, then bolted across the lanes of on-coming traffic, up on to the sidewalk, around the corner, and pulled into the McDonalds parking lot where Mom was in her vehicle, reading her book, and awaiting the arrival of her boys. How she beat us there I'll never know, she must have past us when we were repairing the pedal in Tenino.
When Dad arrived a few minutes later my face was still numb. I found that I was unable to speak properly for a while until all of the needle pricks disappeared and the feeling had come back into my jaw and lips.
"So this is what I'm in for, eh? Well bring it on, I'm ready for it!" I thought this to myself with a slight bit of masochistic glee.
We ate brunch, speaking in short, hurried sentences of our anticipation and optimism. Brunch was a rushed affair, and before our seats had time to absorb any warmth we were loading the bike into the support vehicle, climbing into our respective vehicles, (Dad in the truck and myself riding as passenger with Mom driving her new Saturn) and bumping along the Interstate bound for California.
I will not go into describing the drive down to San Francisco; save for this one comment- I hate being a passenger on long road trips. It's just plain boring; I can't stretch or move or anything. My butt gets sore and my legs get stiff. There's nothing to do but read a book and / or sleep. It's nice, for a little while, when the scenery changes but then that all starts to look the same after a while, and boredom once again settles in.
I can hardly stand it, as boredom tends to help me become my own worst enemy.
We stopped at Yreka, CA for the night. Dad and I went to the Denny's next door and had some interesting conversations with some of the more colorful local characters.
Dinner, then to sleep, for the drive to Oakland...



Great story, you should link the articles on your website. Something that I've been wondering, what ever happened to the california replica engine?


In reference to the replica engine, which one? The one we decided not to use because it wouldn't fit, or the scratch built hand cast replica?
BTW- I'm still having problems posting, it keeps kicking me back to the main index page...
I'm not trying to ignore this, i'm just having a lot of technical difficulties...


umm, dunno, but try setting your bookmark to if you haven't...for some reason that's been making a diff for some people.

give us details about the prob in "forum help" please?


If you had any info or pictures of the westinghouse engine you modified that would be great. The hand cast engine is drop dead gorgeous but a bit out of my skill or price range. I've been trying to collect as much info as I can on the machine and individual parts. I'd be especially interested if you had details on a patent number for the "duck brake" that came equipped on the California. I found an 1903 ad for the duck motorcycle brake but no patent number is listed. I've found all the info I can on the internet, however its spotty at best.


Hi Guys, I thought I would give a little of my side of the story of the Wyman project.
I too was obsessed with George's trip in 1903 after reading his story in "The Antique Motorcycle" magazine. I wanted to at least replicate his bike. But gave up on the notion of replicating his ride. Then by chance I met Rif at a local bicycle swapmeet. I was displaying my collection of antique bicycle engines, and I had the partially finished "California" engine there. Rif recognised the engine right away, and told me he was going to do the ride. We couldn't believe the coincidence, and we also live near each other. Well I volunteered to build a lookalike engine from a "Westbend" engine. I have a couple of these engines, and they are a powerful two stroke about 125cc. I have one on a mini bike and it does 40 mph. So here I was trying to make an engine from scratch, build a replica bike to put it in, and an engine for the Rif's trip. Boy did I over extend my self!
Well time was getting short I finally got the engine for the trip together, I had the frame at my house. But in the confusion of all these projects at one time I failed to notice how wide the Westbend engine was. it would not fit!!
HOLY SH** what a mess. I really screwed up this time. There was no time left to try and design a counter shaft system and all the related BS that goes along with it. and still test drive for gear ratios,etc,etc,etc.
It was all my fault and Rif was going to be the one to suffer. We talked about it and decided that a Whizzer kit was really the only way to go now.
Rif took it well, and I still feel horrible about it. But in the long run it worked out fine, he had Whizzer support clear across the country.
thats all for now.............Bob


I'm really surprised how many people are interested in the little California motorbike and Wyman's travels. I had started trolling the internet for info a few years back and came across Rif's website, talk about being completely blown away. Now that everyone is gathering on this forum its even better. Its very cool that even after so long George Wyman still has a following.
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