There is an ancient greek tale of a god named Prometheus, an original being known as a Titan who is said to have molded man from clay and delivered unto him the gift of fire which he took from its divine source. Photographed here is a man named Jacob DeRosier, one of the first to ever witness the combustion-powered cycle brought to America by French cyclist Henri Fournier in 1898. An eighteen year old professional cyclist himself at the time, DeRosier pestered his way onboard Fournier’s motorized pacing machine and proved that his bold curiosity was backed by a fearless approach to handling the cumbersome, fiery new machine. As such Fournier hired the young man from Massachusetts to pilot his motor-pacer for the coming season, and the motorized racing career of one of the world’s greatest had begun. Headstrong and undaunted, the diminutive DeRosier threw himself into the sport of motorcycle racing with little care for his own health or well being, seemingly concerned only with victory at any cost. As such DeRosier defined the extreme dedication required by any racer who would enter the perilous sport, molding future generations of competitors through his own determination.
From his start with Fournier, DeRosier became acquainted with the cycling world’s more esteemed characters. One of which, a Swedish immigrant named Oscar Hedstrom would help change the very culture of American life with his own take on this new motorized cycle technology, the Indian Motocycle. DeRosier and Hedstrom partnered up early on, DeRosier even working as one of the first employees at Indian’s Springfield factory at the turn of the century. However, as DeRosier’s pacing career evolved into that of a motorcycle racer, their relationship would naturally begin to revolve around the emerging sport as it grew. Given DeRosier’s established abilities in the saddle, and the fact that Indian was one of the country’s first proper motorcycle manufacturers, it would be DeRosier who would become America’s first professional competitor, and Indian that provided him his shot at his destiny.
By 1906 DeRosier’s skill preceded him, possibly only overshadowed by the frequency at which he sustained major, life-threatening injuries while competing. It was his grit that defined his passion though, in-spite of a fractured skull, detached rib bones floating around in his abdomen, or a protruding shinbone, despite the injury DeRosier would be back on the starting line within days of the hospital’s discharge, even sooner on occasion. Late in his career it was said that the doctors who came to care for Jake DeRosier had never seen a man so covered in scars. He himself claimed to have spent one tenth of his life in hospital beds for one reason or another, and according to a colorful reporter in 1910 “he has probably gouged enough big splinters out of board racing tracks to build a small-sized cottage.” His injuries, no matter how life threatening or frequent, never kept DeRosier on the sidelines for long though, and he often times he would argue for a place on the line at a soon-to-open track while still bleeding from his stretcher.
Jake DeRosier’s coronation came in the Summer of 1908 at a new type of racing venue in Clifton, NJ. It was there that one of American cycling’s intrepid pioneers Jack Prince had constructed a larger than normal board track velodrome with especial consideration for running the increasingly popular motorcycles. It would mark the beginning of a sensational new sport in America, Motordrome racing, and Jacob DeRosier was to be its first champion. After his sensational performance at Clifton onboard a new prototype Indian, DeRosier was hired by his Springfield friends as what is considered to be America’s first factory sponsored, professional motorcycle racer. Prince then began building larger, more refined board tracks across the country, Hedstrom, as well as other manufacturers continued to develop faster racing machines, and Jacob DeRosier pressed on to either victory or to the hospital at ever opportunity. As his career progressed, so did his reputation, as well as his ego. By 1912 DeRosier was the world’s most famous motorcycle racer, though his reputation within the industry was a bit less esteemed. He was known to be cocky and cantankerous, an aggressive little Napoleon who rode fast and loose and demanded that his own perceived value be reflected in his sponsorship and racing contracts. As a result DeRosier was often times left isolated, respected but not included. Eventually his bull-headedness created a conflict between his longtime benefactors at Indian, George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom in August, 1911, which led DeRosier to run his final races onboard the powerful machines at Excelsior, the most capable newcomers in the sport.
A true champion by any measure, DeRosier’s accomplishments were stacked over the years into a tower of records and victories. It is said that he competed in and won nearly 900 events over the course of his career, though no true count has been made. What is known is that he often times held the majority of early speed records, holding every record from 1-100 miles in 1911. He was one of the first to hit the mile a minute mark on a motorcycle, and blew well past that before most anyone else could. He was one of the first Americans to compete at the prestigious and long-running Isle of man TT in 1911, also besting one of Europe’s finest racers, Charlie Collier at the mighty British Brooklands track during that same trip. He was one of the first to line up for the inaugural race at America’s famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August of 1909, though his appearance marked yet another close call with death after a tremendous spill during the race. DeRosier was one of the first to see a motorized pacing machine the very moment that it arrived from Europe, and as a result he became one of America’s first to champion not only the idea of motor-paced cycle racing, but pioneered the sport of motorcycle racing itself. His machine, the infamous Indian No. 21 was single most successful racing machine in the world before WWI. He was the first king of the motordrome and helped develop the sport into the national craze that it became. He was America’s champion, and a true Titan in motorcycle culture. So, like the ancient god Prometheus, it was DeRosier who took the fire of internal combustion from its source overseas and showed all who would witness what was capable when you applied it properly, defining what it meant to be a competitor through his own determination, his own testimony of blood and broken bone, molding the very idea of the American racer for centuries to come.