The ‘round the world 1912 adventure by Carl Stearns Clancy has inspired modern adventurists to girdle the globe once again.
The first motorcyclist to make a complete trip around the globe had planned a far more sedate adventure than he experienced.
The plan was for two American adventurists, Carl Stearns Clancy and Walter Storey, to use two of the reportedly five Henderson motorcycles manufactured in 1912 to set a world record by riding them around the world, or “girdle the globe” as they described their journey. The planned route covered fourteen European, one African and four Asiatic countries, besides including the Philippines, Hawaii and a new transcontinental route back to New York City from the Pacific. The European mileage was to be 5,500, in Africa 400, in Asia 5,000 and in the United States and dependencies 3,500 – a total of 14,000 miles on land besides 15,000 on water – all to be covered in one year.
Clancy wrote before starting the record setting attempt, “We are not undertaking this extensive trip for pleasure or adventure merely, our aim is to chart and map the first complete Motor Route Around the World for both motorcycles and
automobiles – this route to include not simply the best roads between principal cities, but running directions for visiting the out-of-the-way point of historical and political interest in each country as well.”
Walter Storey did not know how to ride a motorcycle. He crashed seriously on the first day of riding, although it was apparently not his fault. The pair left the wrecked Henderson motorcycle for repairs. Twenty-one-year-old Clancy piloted his motorcycle onward with Storey sitting on a seat in front of him, Storey’s feet resting on extensions of the front axle as was the practice at the time for carrying a passenger.
Their adventure was off to a difficult start in Ireland where bad roads and wet riding conditions sent both driver and passenger sprawling more than they wished to recount. Clancy carried Storey some 400 of the 500 miles they covered in Ireland. When the pair reached Belfast on the one motorcycle, Storey stayed to heal up while Clancy went to Dublin by train to ride the repaired machine back to Belfast.
Their choice of October as a starting date made riding in Europe cold and wet. They made an extended winter stop in Paris where they spent two months touristing and establishing a Henderson motorcycle dealership. In Paris they sold Storey’s Henderson to the new dealership and Storey returned to America. Clancy soldiered on alone to Spain, then across the Mediterranean Sea by boat to Africa where he rode across North Africa from Algiers to Tunis.
Much like modern day motorcycle travel around the world, borders and importation of motorcycles presented Clancy problems, some insurmountable. Several times he was charged excessive amounts of his very limited funds to off-load the motorcycle from ships and ride in a country. Other times he was allowed to enter a country but not his Henderson motorcycle.
Research provided some of the routes in the form of photographed marked maps, enough to leave a well marked trail. (Right): The Clancy and Storey route through Scotland and England after taking a ferry boat from Ireland.
The planned route across India evaporated when Clancy discovered no petrol would be available. Riding from Penang to Singapore was scrapped when he discovered there was no road. China was also found to be a country with no roads, and therefore his plan to ride from Singapore to Hong Kong was aborted.
The worst roads Clancy encountered were in the United States. His route took him from San Francisco to Portland and then along the Columbia River. At The Dalles in Oregon the river flooding was so severe Clancy and his then riding pal Robert Allen, on a 1913 Henderson, were forced to pay for the machines and themselves to be carried by train for a ride on the rails.
In Idaho roads were more likened to trails. Camping was the duo’s frequent bed for the night, their tent being a canvas stretched between the two motorcycles. One night was spent sleeping in a house of ill-repute, but Clancy recorded but a few words regarding that evening.
Following some of the original Bozeman Trail through Montana, Clancy found the town of Livingston where he and Allen decided to make a visit to Yellowstone Park. After a torturous ride to Gardiner they were turned away: motorcycles were not allowed entry. The pair did enjoy the distinction of being the first motorcyclists to reach Gardiner, but paid dearly for that recognition when rain made the option of riding on the railroad tracks almost preferable to the gumbo road back to Livingston.
Clancy off-loaded his Henderson motorcycle in San Francisco, pictured here in 1913. He discovered the motorcycle crate had been shipped upside down and spent time at the Henderson motorcycle dealership using kerosene to unclog the mess caused by the engine oil.
Clancy returned to New York City on August 27, 1913. His 1912 Henderson had taken him over 18,000 miles in ten months, far more than the 14,000 miles originally planned for twelve months.
Two serious Irish adventurers have decided to organize a global re-enactment of the Clancy record setting ride around the world. Feargal O’Neill and his colleague Joe Walsh, in conjunction with the motorcycle traveller’s website Horizons Unlimited, have announced the Clancy Centenary Ride for 2012-2013. According to O’Neill, “I feel that there is a duty on us modern-day motorcyclists to do our bit to honor the memory of this great pioneer of our sport. Horizons Unlimited has offered a dedicated page for coordinating the whole thing.”
Already joining in the adventure has been several adventure motorcyclists and globe trotters who will ride portions of the first ride around the world. John Garrett, Editor of the magazine Exhaust Notes, a monthly publication of the Irish Veteran Vintage Motorcycle Club, has eagerly joined in the research associated with the Irish route and background material.
My personal research to bring the story of the Clancy record ride took over 16 years and covered much of the original Clancy trail around the world. The book was published under the title Motorcycle Adventurer.
As American motorcycle adventurist, author, member of the AMA Hall of Fame and double Guinness World Record holder Dave Barr wrote in the Introduction to Motorcycle Adventurer: “If I met Clancy today I would be proud if he shook my hand. I can only wish I’d had that opportunity. He was a real motorcycle adventurer, the likes of such we’ll likely never see again.”
While following Clancy’s route across America I too often slept on the ground, albeit inside my tent well protected from the hungry hordes of mosquitoes Clancy lamented here in Montana.
I have agreed to assist in organizing the American part of the Clancy Centenary Ride. Clancy described the road conditions in the United States as far worse than in any other country, having been held down to as low as 20 miles during a 14-day struggle. Today much of that route is over Interstate highway systems.
Clancy said of his American segment, “I found the worst roads of all in northern California, eastern Idaho and western Montana. During one two-hour stretch I had seventeen falls on account of loose rocks and mud. The Bitter Root Mountains proved a much greater obstacle than the Rockies.”
Any serious adventure motorcycle rider is invited to join in the Clancy Centenary Ride, whether to ride a mile or as many 1,000’s as they can afford. While those of us who participate will not be able to experience many of the difficulties Clancy faced nearly 100 years ago on his one speed, four cylinder, inline Henderson motorcycle, we can appreciate the monumental feat he accomplished by merely looking at the deer trails or dirt roads running parallel to our modern highway system.
Carl Stearns Clancy was truly one of the earliest motorcycle adventure riders, and unquestionably the first to “girdle the globe.”