Glenn Curtiss is universally renowned as one of the foremost pioneers in U.S. aviation. Lesser known are his significant contributions to the world of motorcycling. Curtiss was one of the most famous makers of motorcycles during the first decade of motorcycling. His creations were renowned for speed and innovation. Curtiss himself was one of the top motorcycle racers during the early days of the sport and became famous for setting speed records.
Born in 1878, in Hammondsport, New York, Curtiss started out building engines for bicycles, and then complete motorcycles. He became an expert motorcycle racer. In September of 1902, a Curtiss-built machine set the fastest time of all "regular stock or road machines" at the New York Motorcycle Club road race. In May of 1903, Curtiss was the winning rider at the first American hillclimb, also run by the New York Motorcycle Club. The race, conducted on public roads, was similar to the European TT races, such as those on the Isle of Man.
Curtiss' most famous speed run came in 1907 when he became the fastest man on earth by running a prototype motorcycle at Ormond Beach to a record speed of 136.3 mph. That motorcycle was powered by an experimental V-8 aircraft engine (of Curtiss' own design) mounted in a specially built elongated frame. The engine was so powerful it was feared that it would tear itself from the frame under full throttle. His bike was towed up to 40 mph before running under its own power. The drive shaft did break on the record-setting run and a follow-up run could not be completed, so the speed was not officially recognized. However, Curtiss' prototype motorcycle was considered the fastest vehicle of any type for the next four years. A motorcycle would not go faster until 1930.