Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Possibly one of the rarest American motorcycles ever assembled

"Possibly one of the rarest American motorcycles ever assembled, the Cyclone powered, OHC 8-valve Reading Standard factory works racer is photographed here with legend Ray Creviston on the company dock in 1921. Beginning in 1903, Reading Standard began manufacturing high quality American motorcycles known for their durability, and from the start the Pennsylvania based company garnered accolades for their performance on the track.

By the teens many of the numerous American motorcycle manufacturers had begun to fade away leaving those with stakes in the racing game like Reading Standard, Indian, Excelsior, Flying Merkel, and a rising Harley-Davidson to grow even stronger. Commonly known as the "big three," Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Excelsior turned their dominance on the track into expansive distribution networks and iconic marketing campaigns. As a result Reading Standard, without the ever deepening pockets of their rivals gradually lost their competitive edge despite seeing their best sales years in the late teens. Riding a wave of enthusiasm as a result of the highest production numbers in the companies history, RS attempted to revitalize their company by developing a pure racer in 1921. The American motorcycle scene had become intensely competitive after WWI, and RS had to raise the stakes if they were going to compete with the race-proven thoroughbreds of Harley-Davidson and Indian. Unlike any other machine being produced by the company at the time, this unique cam driven overhead valve engine was actually salvaged from the parts bins of the once mighty Cyclone company, who closed their doors in 1916.

Creviston shipped out to Los Angeles in January of 1921 with the hopes of riding the new motorcycle to victory, a move the company hoped to reestablish the brand as a major player in the United States. A great deal of interest and speculation surrounded the new RS, everyone was curious as to the speed and performance given the combination of the esteemed reputation of RS with the high end performance of the Cyclone power plant. However, Creviston, who along with Dave Kinnie were instrumental in the development of the machine kept information about the its capabilities rather quiet, wanting to let the anticipation build until people, and journalists could witness it for themselves. His first stop on the west coast tour was set for the mile long Fresno Speedway board track, where early reports clocked him at over 100 mph. The machine’s debut at Fresno unfortunately began the sequence of heartbreak for Creviston and Reading Standard as the new hopeful heavyweight fell short due to technical issues with the motor. And as if to add insult to injury, Otto Walker, Captain of the legendary Harley-Davidson Wrecking Crew decimated the competition that day becoming the first man to officially claim a race victory at an average speed of over 100 mph on board a “banjo” 2-cam, 8-valve HD.

Unfortunately the machine could not shake the bad luck it experienced at its debut at the Fresno Speedway, and the subsequent races that Creviston entered most often resulted in mechanical failure. The wave of hype that preceded Creviston and his wonderful Reading Standard “Eight” crested and broke as the machine consistently limped into the pits with the same mechanical issues that plagued Cyclone engineers in the teens. Despite a grand effort and by Creviston and the RS crew, the 1921 season came to a close without a single win. Sadly, the effort that was meant to bolster a struggling company in-turn drained the limited coffers of the Pennsylvania based Reading Standard and by 1922 the company was preparing to close its doors. Creviston went on to pen a contract with Indian, and in February of 1923 it was announced that the Cleveland Motorcycle Manufacturing Company had acquired Reading Standard, putting an end to the fourth longest running American motorcycle manufacturer, the prestigious Reading Standard."

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