Glen Curtiss started his career as a bicycle racer and builder before he started building airplanes and motorcycles. He was truly a pioneer in aviation. Curtiss made the first officially witnessed flight in North America, won a race at the first international air meet, and made the first long-distance flight in the U.S.
Curtiss started building his own single-cylinder motorcycles in 1902 under the Hercules brand. He held, what is considered, the first motorcycle speed record using one of his aircraft company’s two cylinder engines in a motorcycle. In 1903, this motorcycle achieved 64 mph in Yonkers, NY.
In 1907, he achieved 136 mph in Ormond Beach, FL using a V8, forty horsepower aircraft engine from an airplane he manufactured. Even today, this speed is pretty impressive, but back then it made him “the fastest man in the world” in any vehicle by land, sea or air. The record held strong for several years until it was broken by an automobile in 1911 and by a motorcycle in 1930.
He eventually tried to market his V8 motorcycles for $1200, but they did not sell. This is not a big surprise considering it was three times the average annual income for an entire family at that time.
Even still, his contribution to and records in the motorcycle world are significant. One of his V8 motorcycles can be viewed in the Transportation collection of the Smithsonian Institution.