One of the first and most popular forms of early American motorcycle racing was the long distance endurance competition. While local horse tracks provided the perfect venue for pioneering racers and enthusiasts alike, the endurance contest gave riders a chance to test themselves and their machines to the breaking point, covering hundreds of miles over multiple days in the pursuit of a perfect score. For those that finished, a perfect score was typically 1,000 points with deductions for early and late times at checkpoints along the route. The first of these competitions was started by the Metropole Cycle Club of New York in 1902. The seminal 2 day event between new York and Boston saw 31 eager gentlemen enter and only 13 remain by the final tally, establishing the idea that in these type competitions it wasn’t about winning as much as it was about surviving.

With the formation of the Federation of American Motorcyclists in 1903 so too came the official sanctioning and scoring of a national endurance and reliability run, each year swelling with participants and national publicity. Only 16 of the 31 entrants survived the 1903 run, only 12 of 27 in 1904, and a record breaking 34 of the 44 starters survived in 1905... though it must be noted that the ’05 contest was only 250 miles over a single day. The numbers of entrants continued to grow over the next few years, and the number of survivors typically stood around 1/3 to half of the starter pool. 

A record 126 men registered their machines for the 9th annual FAM Endurance Contest in 1910. The race began at 7am in front of the Century Motor Club HQ located at 1606 N. Broad St in Philadelphia, PA. The 505.7 mile route was planned over 3, roughly 165-mile days through Reading, Hackettstown, Newburg, Newark, Absecon, and back to the starting line in Philly. Of the 126 entrants, 125 actually started and included men from all aspects of motorcycling culture. Professional racers, amateur hopefuls, daily commuters, manufacturer-backed teams, and local clubmen all set out, two at a time. The convoy was dominated by the big racing brands of the day, Indian, Merkel, Excelsior, Thor, and Reading Standard, but a number of smaller American makes made it into the bunch including MM, Minneapolis, Yale, Bradley, Emblem, Reliance, Mack, New Era, Haverford, Marvel, C.V.S., and Pierce.

The first day covered 170.6 miles to Stroudsburg and was predicted to be the most challenging leg given the hilly terrain and poor road condition, and as it happened would be the end of nearly 90 of the competitors within just over an hour. A torrential downpour struck the riders on the thick clay roads outside of Hackettstown near the aptly named Hope, PA. With so many riders losing hundreds of points and failing to complete the course at this point it became referred to as the “Battlefield” of Hope, only 27 riders remained after the first day.

Of those few left standing in the 1910 contest were these two fine gentlemen and their 4HP belt-driven singles customized with their names on the tanks. Wearing the #8 is William S. Harley, founding member of the Motor Co. and in the #7 is arguably Harley-Davidson’s earliest racer Walter Davidson. It was Walter, brother of founding member Arthur Davidson that joined the company in 1907 and promptly won the diamond award and a perfect score of 1,000 points in the 1908 FAM Endurance Contest. Both Harley and Davidson stand in front of the C.R. Zacharias Garage in Asbury Park, NJ on the final day of the contest. They made it through the Battlefield of Hope but not unscathed, William S. Harley lost 13 points for tardiness at the checkpoint, Davidson lost 84. In the end the Harley-Davidson brass were among the 24 survivors of the 1910 FAM Endurance Contest, but the skirmish in the Pennsylvania clay prevented them from perfect scores. Three boys from Thor took the only perfect scores in 1910, Harley finished with a near perfect score of 986, Davidson 916, but Harley-Davidson counted it as a victory and I’m sure converted the outing into at least a few sales.