Utah and Nevada: Tire Tracks of a Pioneer, Part 2

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

In May 1903, George A. Wyman left San Francisco with the then-crazy idea of riding his motorcycle all the way to New York City. More than 100 years later, I’m retracing his steps on an electric motorcycle. After riding from San Francisco to Reno, the journey continues.

The 40-Mile Desert

In 1903, Wyman left Reno and pointed his 1.25-horsepower California “motor-bicycle” toward the deserts of Nevada. Soon, I will do the same, riding my Zero DSR into “the land without charging stations.”

Wyman’s big challenge was the sand. “Sand in Nevada means stuff in which you sink up to your ankles every time you attempt to take a step …” he wrote, and it got even more difficult when it rained. But he had a plan “to follow the line of the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads as far east as Omaha, because it is the direct route. The road runs almost in a straight line across the great alkali desert between the mountain summits.”

When the sand was too deep or muddy or rutted, Wyman rode on the railroad tracks. Not beside them—on them. Imagine taking an old bicycle from the garage and attaching a lawn mower motor to it; you now have a rough approximation of Wyman’s California motor bicycle, except it had better tires, wheels, frame, and brakes. And more power, too. Now imagine riding over railway ties for hundreds of miles. Yes, it’s a little crazy. 

“Before I had traveled half of the desert I was having trouble with my inner organs, and violent pains in the region of the kidneys compelled occasional dismounts and rests.”

—George A. Wyman, “Across America on a Motor Bicycle”

My big challenge is charging. When I leave Reno, the next car charging station I can use is more than 550 miles away in Ogden, UT. I can travel 88 miles at 55 mph on a full charge. I hope to ride in the morning, charge midday, and then ride some more. Standard household current (120 volts) will charge the Zero DSR in eight to nine hours. That’s OK overnight, but too slow during the day. My midday plan is to use RV campsites with 240V, 50A hookups to cut the charge time in half or even less.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2017 back issue.