Floyd Clymer Was A Gentleman and a Motorcycling Legend
Pratap Narayan Sarkar
Floyd Clymer was a pioneer in the sport of motorcycling. He was a racer, a motorcycle dealer and distributor, a magazine publisher, a racing promoter, an author and a motorcycle manufacturer. A colorful personality, Clymer’s life story could fill volumes. He was famous throughout the United States in the 1910s as the youngest Ford dealer in the country. He became interested in motorcycling and went on to become one of the leading racers in the country during the 1910s and ‘20s.
Clymer then moved into publishing. He wrote books and magazines on both automobiles and motorcycles, owned Cycle magazine for a time and became a leader in that field. Clymer also promoted dozens of AMA national motorcycle races and he single-handedly tried to revive the Indian motorcycle brand during the 1960s, overseeing the manufacture of several different motorcycles that bore the Indian name.
The son of a country doctor, Clymer was born in Indianapolis on October 26, 1895 and grew up in Berthoud, Colorado. He showed great ambition from an early age. Many articles were written about the boy auto salesman from Greeley, Colorado, the 13-year-old Clymer who was the youngest Ford dealer in the country. Clymer also became interested in motorcycles. As a teenager Clymer became an excellent rider. By the mid-1910s, he was occasionally entering races and he opened a Harley-Davidson and Excelsior dealership in Greeley.
Clymer first made a name for himself in racing circles in 1916 when he led a large portion of the famous Dodge City 300 on a factory Harley-Davidson. He was the fastest rider all day at Dodge City, but his bike broke after 110 laps of the 150-lap race. Clymer solidified his racing reputation by winning the famous Pikes Peak hillclimb aboard an Excelsior. Just making it to the top of the hill was considered quite an accomplishment for a motorcyclist. Prevailing opinion at the time (especially among the automobile racers) was that a motorcycle would not make it above the timberline. Clymer went on to win the national sidecar championship in 1920 and later earned numerous national hillclimbing titles throughout the 1920s.
Ever the promoter, Clymer garnered great exposure for his dealerships by setting city-to-city records on motorcycles during business trips, even though other record-setters never seriously pursued many of Clymer’s city-to-city routes. A classic example of this was his 1920 Chicago-to-Denver record of 63 hours.
Clymer also thought of innovative ways to market motorcycles. He began setting up booths at farm and ranch shows, showing a variety of uses for motorcycles in agriculture. Clymer promoted motorcycles as a practical vehicle to area police departments, newspapers, and delivery companies.
By the late-1910s Clymer had entered the publishing business with his “Motorcycle Topics” magazine. His involvement in publishing would continue for the rest of his life.
Clymer ran into problems with the law in the late 1920s when one of his operations was charged with mail fraud. He was convicted, but was given the opportunity to avoid jail time if he pled guilty and made restitutions to the wronged parties. Clymer refused, claiming his innocence. He appealed the case, lost and spent just over a year in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. Clymer was a model prisoner and was reportedly even permitted to leave prison to participate in local races.
Clymer showed his resilience after getting out of prison. He moved to Los Angeles and took over the West Coast Indian distributorship from Al Crocker, who was concentrating on manufacturing his short-track (Speedway) racing machines. Ironically, Clymer established a successful mail order parts business. He also began promoting races during this time and helped revive the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club. Clymer tried to revive the classic Dodge City races of the 1910s and ‘20s. Two races were held (100 miles in length) at Dodge City in the early 1950s, but attendance was poor and the race was again discontinued.
Clymer loved Hollywood and helped promote motorcycling in the 1930s by loaning bikes to the movie studios for use in movies. Clymer also arranged to have movie stars receive bikes on loan from Indian in exchange for the company using publicity shots of the stars on its bikes for advertising.
Clymer helped launch the racing career of Ed Kretz. He gave Kretz a job at his shop so he could have time off to go to races across the country and later convinced Indian to hire Kretz as a factory rider.
When Indian’s fortunes took a turn for the worse in the early-1950s, it was Clymer, along with a few other Indian loyalists, who stepped up and offered financial assistance to keep the company going. Even though the company ceased production in 1953, Clymer continued for years to try to revive Indian. He purchased the rights to the name and attempted to market several foreign-made motorcycles under the Indian name without success.
In 1951, Clymer purchased the fledgling Cycle magazine from Petersen Publishing. Clymer’s journalistic style was later summed up by a phrase in a later anniversary issue of Cycle, “Clymer never met a motorcycle he didn’t like.” He always emphasized the positive aspects of motorcycling in his publications and shied away from critical testing reviews of motorcycles, which was becoming the style of writing that the public demanded during the 1960s. Clymer owned “Cycle” until 1966 when he sold the publication to the New York-based Ziff-Davis Publications.
Immediately after selling “Cycle”, Clymer tried to generate interest in the ill fated, German-made Munch Mammoth. This huge motorcycle featured a 1300cc engine developed for an automobile. While the most powerful motorcycle of its time, the Mammoth, largely due to its expensive $4000 price tag, never caught on, although it remains an interesting motorcycle that was considered ahead of its time.
Clymer spent his latter years trying in vain to revive the Indian. At first he fitted Indian nameplates to 500cc single-cylinder Velocette-based machines. He later spent a quarter-of-a-million dollars to have a prototype Indian built based closely on the original V-Twin design. That machine never made it to market.
Clymer died of a heart attack while working at his home office on January 23, 1970. Wife Merle and two children by a former marriage, Robert and Mildred, survived him. His involvement in motorcycling had spanned over 50 years. He will always be remembered as an innovator and tireless promoter of motorcycling.