Carl Stearns Clancy: The First To Go Spherical The World On A Motorbike

What’s your concept of journey? Heading out on a visit with out a plan? A difficult BDR? Driving out of the country? No matter it’s, it gained’t greatest Carl Clancy’s urge for food for journey when he set sail from New York Metropolis in October of 1912 on a quest to grow to be the primary individual to circumnavigate the globe on a motorbike. 

That may not appear to be such an astonishing ambition right this moment, however keep in mind, even within the U.S. at the moment, via routes didn’t exist. As a substitute there was principally a mishmash of dust roads and trails meant for native carriage journey. Dependable maps stringing roads collectively to help long- distance journey have been a factor of the longer term. Now think about making an attempt to navigate your approach via an excellent wilder Africa or South Asia with out even a shared language. By yourself, driving an unproven bike in-built 1912. 

On the time, Bicycle World and Motorbike Assessment described Clancy’s enterprise as “the longest, most tough and most perilous bike journey ever tried.” But by some means, ten months and 18,000 miles later, he roared again into New York Metropolis a hero. 



His bike was the primary mannequin from Henderson Motorbike, a 965cc, 4-cylinder beast, the most important and quickest bike of its time. How briskly? Properly, with one gear and solely seven ponies, it should have taken favorable circumstances to succeed in its max of 60 mph. Extra sometimes, the bike’s cruising pace was 40 mph, loads of go while you’re touring bumpy and rutted dust roads with zero suspension and solely a rear drum brake. 

The lengthy (65 inches!), low-slung Henderson 4 held 2 gallons of petrol in its cylindrical tank, offering roughly 100 miles of vary. Loopy for us to listen to right this moment, it additionally demanded a quart of contemporary oil each 175 miles. The Detroit-built Henderson’s 309-pound weight is likely to be the one factor it had over trendy touring bikes.

Carl Stearns Clancy first person to ride around the world on a motorcycle
Clancy’s bike had one gear, and 7 horsepower. Even so, it was the most important and quickest bike of its time. Picture: Motorbike Arts Basis

The inspiration for a RTW trip had come to Clancy, a artistic sort who drained rapidly of typical workplace work, after studying concerning the journeys of earlier pioneers who’d got down to circle the globe on bicycles. After all, in these days, bicycles might need been simpler, being mild and relying solely on leg energy, as a substitute of the ocean of motor oil and gasoline that will must be despatched forward of Clancy to distant areas in North Africa and South Asia.

Most of us would agree that bike adventures are greatest shared, and Carl did go away the U.S. on a ship sure for Eire with a buddy, Walter Storey, who had purchased his personal Henderson 4, a motorcycle that bought for $325 in 1912, which converts to just a little over $10,000 in right this moment’s cash. 

The difficulty was, Storey hadn’t bothered to learn to trip the factor, and nearly instantly after the pair disembarked the ship he obtained right into a tangle with a double decker tram. Actually on the very first day the crew was down for the depend, with one bike despatched for repairs and poor Storey left to briefly trip on Clancy’s bike’s passenger seat —- which relatively comically was positioned forward of the rider and between the pullback tiller handlebars. 

It should have been a sight, these two grown males in three-piece tweed fits and flat caps bouncing alongside on one bike, which was additional ladened by their mixed 75 kilos of drugs, which included a typewriter, movie and film cameras, and a “silk balloon tent.” 

As soon as the bike was repaired the duo traveled via Eire, then on to Scotland and England and Europe, taking an impromptu two month break in Paris, the place, in accordance the Irish Occasions, they “loved the delights of Paris,” indulging in all the things from museums to the unique, then extremely risqué Moulin Rouge. 

Carl Stearns Clancy first person to ride around the world on a motorcycle
Clancy’s Henderson 4 caught in mud whereas traversing Idaho. Picture: courtesy of Liam O’Connor & the Clancy Household Assortment by way of Rider Journal

For Storey the RTW quest led to Paris, the place he stayed on to take pleasure in what Carl described in from-the-road posting telegraphed to sponsor, Bicycling World and Motorbike Assessment, as “the vigorous, throbbing lifetime of Paris and its residents.” And so, Clancy was left to trip off towards Spain by his lonesome. 

It’s laborious to conceive what it should have felt like for Carl as he chugged away from the no matter meager conveniences and comforts Europe’s civilized areas supplied overlanders again in 1913. I imply, maps? Some solely confirmed dots for cities and cities with no roads drawn to attach them. “One should die someday,” he wrote about considering he was a goner whereas driving after darkish in Spain, “and to die with one’s boots on may be very noble.”

Even right this moment, on trendy bikes and with the ever-present, invisible security web of know-how, a RTW trip feels like a wild and doubtlessly harmful quest, proper? Think about what it could have been like driving throughout Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt over 100 years in the past. “To ponder it was the act of a madman: to finish it the act of a hero,” wrote Geoff Hill, who retraced that first-ever RTW bike trip in 2013 and penned the guide In Clancy’s Boots.

There have been positively scary moments for Clancy, together with the time “six Arabs on ponies abruptly appeared and gave chase, firing their rifles.” Clancy was capable of outrun the possible bandits and conceal within the mountains till the hazard handed. 

His favourite nation to trip via was Japan, calling it “essentially the most fascinating nation wherein to bike. Every part is so completely different, so lovely, so peculiar in its charms.” Essentially the most concentrated hazard he confronted was touring via current day Sri Lanka the place he had a number of shut calls on account of harmful encounters with water buffalo and leopards on the jungle passes, whereas jackals would prowl round his tent at night time. 

The place are the very worst roads Clancy encountered in his 18,000 -mile journey? Oregon. That’s proper. Not the rugged shoreline of North Africa nor the muddy jungle paths of South Asia, however crossing the Cascades west of Portland. In San Francisco he’d been joined by one other buddy, Robert Allen who was driving a 1913 Henderson, and evidently, there have been days when the 2 barely coated 20 miles for all of the rocks and dust. 

Clancy roared again into New York Metropolis in August 1913, making historical past as the primary individual to efficiently circumnavigate the globe on a motorbike. One in all his most profound takeaways and one thing each bike traveler can relate to? That by no different means might he have “obtained such broad perception” into international locations and cultures via which he traveled. 

Tens of hundreds of riders have adopted Clancy’s result in trip world wide, however few have braved it on a motorcycle as tough to trip (or preserve oiled) because the Henderson 4. Motorbike Classics has an excellent article concerning the uncommon bike on its web site that features an interview with an proprietor of one in every of what’s seemingly the final six examples on the earth. Simply studying how difficult it’s to trip will make you need to give your trendy bike a pat of appreciation. 

We discovered one other nice learn, this one with a extra detailed account of Clancy’s journey, in Rider Journal. And should you’re up for an additional story time that helps us keep in mind how fortunate we’re to stay within the time of contemporary bikes and roads, learn concerning the Van Buren sisters, who made historical past with their 5,500-mile transcontinental trip all the way in which again in 1916. 

Creator: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorbike journalist for greater than 30 years, testing all the vary of bikes for the foremost print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel associated tales. To this point she’s written and provided images for articles describing what it’s wish to trip in all 50 states and 43 overseas international locations, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Journey Author’s Awards alongside the way in which. Her most-challenging journey but has been driving within the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Group AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

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