Motorcycle Adventurer, Carl Stearns Clancy: First Motorcyclist to Ride Around the World 1912-1913

Dr. Gregory W Frazier, 2010, iUniverse, Bloomington IN

Review | Nowadays when you think about riding around the world on a motorcycle, you know you are in for some work, but since you are probably flogging a BMW GS or at least a KLR you know the bike will probably make it. You will, of course, have all the newest farkle and whatnot so you will have a reasonable chance of not really being lost or dying of hypothermia, and there will be plenty of places to get gas, and much of your trip will be on improved roads.

The pioneers just rode what they had. There were no “adventure” bikes or gear or knobby tires, or waterproof riding gear or gas stations. They only had determination and ingenuity. These guys rode on wagon roads over boulder-strewn hill and muddy dale on motorcycles that today would be lucky to even get run down the street, their owners are so precious about them. 

In 1912, Carl Stearns Clancy decided to ride a motorcycle around the world. As it turns out, he would be the first to complete this feat. The motorcycle he chose was the 1912 Henderson inline four-cylinder model. And Clancy wrote about his trip.

This book is actually a work by two writers: Clancy and fellow world traveler, author and motorcycle collector, Dr. Gregory Frazier. Frazier, the owner of a Henderson motorcycle himself, came across Clancy’s story in a Henderson sales brochure reprinted in Richard Henry Schultz’s book “Hendersons, Those Elegant Machines, The complete history of Henderson Motorcycles (1911-1931).” 

Clancy’s story was lost to time until Frazier and his fellow researchers dug out the tale over a 16-year period and compiled a set of Clancy’s articles. Along the way, they were able to unearth a fair amount of his life and accomplishments. There is a short biography on Clancy in the first part of the book, but the rest is in Clancy’s words.

Clancy, a self-described advertising man, was 22 when he started his journey with partner Walter Storey, who also rode a Henderson. The pair funded their trip with backing from the Henderson company with added money coming from selling Henderson agencies along the way. 

The Henderson brothers realized the PR impact a trip like this could have, and they milked Clancy’s trip for all it was worth in company advertising. Clancy, who would go on to make a living as a writer and movie producer, further added to his kitty by penning a serialized column for “The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review,” a weekly magazine based in New York.

At the time there was little or no infrastructure for motorists, and in many parts of the world there was no road system to speak of. There were virtually no paved roads except in parts of England and France. Gas and oil were purchased from hotels, mechanics or chemist’s stores. On the eve of World War I, most countries were still immersed in the 19th Century, and the motorcar was just setting out to achieve its hegemony.

Story dropped out in France. Clancy kept going, riding through North Africa and Asia with only his trusty Savage automatic pistol for company. He picked up another Henderson rider, 22-year-old Bob Allen, in San Francisco to ride with him across the U.S. As it turned out, crossing the United States turned out to be the most brutal section of the ride.

Clancy was an open-minded fellow who generally took the people he met with a lack of prejudice: refreshing for a travel writer of the time. He was a good writer with an ability to paint a picture of his surroundings.

On entering the Lake District in England, he noted: “Coming suddenly over the brow of a well graded hill, the full glory of a mad jumble of the towering Cumbrian mountains, bald of all trees except those protected in deep crevices but rich with deep brown and purple heather burst upon our sight. ... Throwing out our clutches we glided silently down the winding road, presenting a new vista at every turn, and then continued slowly on past numberless silvery cascades racing down seemingly from the very cloud tipped summits of the precipitous peaks.” 

He wrote his articles with an eye toward motorcyclists who might follow in his footsteps.

On crossing into Spain he writes: “I had expected poor roads in Spain and was not happily disappointed. To all those who are planning to motorcycle in Spain let me give this one word of advice — don’t! Occasionally I would meet a stretch of smooth surface but for the most part the roads were so full of holes, and water breaks, and fords that there was no fun in it.” 

“Motorcycle Adventurer” is a fun read and an interesting, instructive and useful book. For the modern person, there are lessons to be learned: be open to the world, be persistent but prudent, ingenuity will get you way down the road, and don’t let your fears hold you back from seeing what is at the end of a road. This is a treasure that any motorcyclist would be happy to have in his or her library.

Frazier has also published Clancy’s edited version of his adventures “The Gasoline Tramp.” —M. B.


You can get the books directly from Frazier by going to http://bit.ly/w39HNgOr you can order it from Amazon in print or e-book format.