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Back in the old days: Part 2

What it was like to tour on a motorcycle 100 years ago, give or take a year.

Response to our first installment of Back in the old days was so strong, we're going to make it a regular feature in Sound RIDER! through 2017.

Riding Gear - Today we have all the latest and greatest technologies to protect us when we ride, help us stay comfortable, despite the elements around us, and allow us to stand out with colors like hi-viz lime and so forth. If you're an All The Gear, All The Time, dressing like riders did a century ago would have you feeling naked.

100 years ago, the standard apparel was coveralls or canvas pants, a long or short sleeve t-shirt and a heavy jacket, that if you oiled it just right, it might shed water for a while. When riders were touring, it was not uncommon to find a suit stored on board and there were those who would slip into it so they looked a bit dapper when the camera went into action to document the tour.

Transmissions - Today we have five- and six-speed manual transmissions. A number of manufacturers are now releasing double-clutch transmissions, aka DCT, basically putting automatic transmissions onto modern day motorcycles.

But if you owned a motorcycle 100 years ago, it had a single gear and a lever for a clutch that you would ease back and forth. Regardless, you could still get some decent top speeds with many bikes of the day having an average top speed between 40-85 mph.

Brakes - Nearly all modern-day designed motorcycles have disc brakes front and rear. A number of models are utilizing ABS technology to keep the wheel from locking up in the event of a quick stop, which provides a rider greater traction. These systems have evolved from drum brakes used in the front and rear on motorcycles throughout the mid-20th century.

But back in the old days you got one drum brake and it was in the rear. Fortunately bikes didn't typically travel as fast as we do now, but nonetheless, you couldn't be guaranteed nearly as much stopping power as you have today and an attempt at a quick stop would almost always result in the rear wheel losing traction with the road surface.

Air Quality - With all the EPA laws in place in America and other first-world countries, air quality for the most part isn't nearly as bad as it was back in the era of the industrial revolution when cities would pump out millions of tons of lousy air quality into the atmosphere each day.

If you're a world traveler, you'll still experience this in industrial countries like China, Japan and Mexico, but a trip through the US, Canada or Europe is a lot nicer on the lungs than 100 years ago.

After Hours Beverages - At the end of the day, some of us like to step off the bike and relax with an adult beverage.

In many countries, not just America, near the start of the 20th century, alcohol was banned in places like the Russian Empire, Iceland, Norway, Hungry, Finland and parts of Canada.

There are still countries today where the sale of alcohol is forbidden including parts of India and a number of Middle Eastern countries. If it's election time, many countries ban the sale of alcohol a day or so before. If you're planning a tour around the world and enjoy imbibing, consult Wikipedia for more details.

Medical Responders - Today a rider can go down on a motorcycle and get medical support fairly quickly in most cases. We have modern day ambulances to take us to treatment, or even life-flight when things go wrong in a remote area.

That was not always the case 100 years ago when there was nothing but dusty or muddy trails between towns. And these were often the areas where physically incapacitating get-offs would occur. Losing it in ruts, attempting to ford a water crossing or hitting sand unknowingly were common parts of a cross country trip and often there was no one around to help. Some riders would wait out the pain, remount the bike and ride it out. Others would have to wait until some farmer or other traveler passed by who could take them into the next town for help. Sometimes this meant stashing and abandoning the bike.

End of part 2. Stay tuned for part 3…

Patrick Thomas/October 2016


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