Orie Steele, Sr.
Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated
Why Steele Became Champion
by. E. B. Holton
One sunny December day in 1916, the New Jersey M.C. held a hill climb at Pompton Plains. It started the Eastern craze for hill climbing. Among the contestants who roared over the shifting sandy slope of Pipe Line hill was a slender lad riding an Indian. He placed fourth, beaten by Constant, Terhune, and Goerke, but he achieved notice in the fact he made three climbs with less than a second and two-fifths variation.
Start at Bottom, Stop at Top
That youngster was Orrie Steele, novice hill climber.
Many days have passed since then and many grades have been topped. The stripling has filled out. He is cock of the walk in his specialty. Motorcycledom does him honor as the national hill climb champion.
Seven years have passed, nut National Champion Steele is the same quiet and unassuming rider he was in his first climb. Victories are his for every hill from New England to California. Even Capistrano, the mighty, has felt the arrow-like flight that is an uncanny knack that characterizes Steele's performances.
We met Orrie in Paterson recently. "Tell us how you do it. MOTORCYCLE ILLUSTRATED wants to pass the trick on to other aspiring climbers." we said.
Steele laughed engagingly and said. "You get on at the line, turn it all on, head for the top and stop when you arrive."
Which is bare facts and leaves much to be filled in.
Then we got down to business.
Steele rode with varying degrees of success in the years 1918 and 1919. He had his own notions of hill climbing design, but received no support from outside sources. His service in the Army, too, handicapped his riding regularly.
Riding on One Wheel
In 1919, at Ryantown Hill, Port Jervis, Steele learned what proved to be an important factor in successful hill climbing. That was riding the rear wheel. He tackled that slippery shale grade that tilted at a terrifying angle, determined to ride to the top with both feet on the boards. Up he went and the front wheel lifted. He finished his last 150 feet of the course riding a machine that was pointing skyward. The time, 13.35 seconds, was the fastest of the day. Instead of shutting down and losing momentum he fought the rising front end.
Designs His Own Machine
That same year started Steele out with a hill climbing motor of his own ideas. Riding a steep slant is not like riding on the level. The changed position affects the center of gravity greatly. Steele was convinced that a short frame, with short bars that brought the body forward, tilted footboards and saddle all helped him to control the front end of his machine. The proof of his ideas lies in the fact he has lost but a few hill climbs since that day, and all of them were on the same type of machine.
No Special Dingbats
If you watch Steele's riding closely you will notice that he braces his knees against the tank and wedges his feet against the foot boards. With a slightly forward position of the body, he is off for the top. It is this knack that gives him the marvelous control of his machine and makes him seconds faster than his competitors. He uses nothing that will give him an artificial aid in winning. Skid-chains are good enough for him, when the rest of the field will use the same. Tractors are a joke. He proved that at Capistrano. Gasoline with no doped up mixture that makes it special is burned in his motor. Crystal Oilzum is his favorite lubricant. Plugs, carburetor and chains are what he finds on the machine when he uncrates it. Steele wins because he has a natural ability to ride hills. Ability developed by experience.
Gear ratios are important in hill climbing. Sometimes a fast hill can be tackled in high second gear. Loose shifting surfaces may call for low. One ride on a new hill and Steele has the right combination figured out by the pull of the motor or the feel of the spinning rear wheel from lost traction.
Sometimes a rain storm in between events will alter the condition of the grade so that a lower gear ratio is necessary.
Steele does not think the long wheel base motor, affected by some riders is necessary at all. The long frame tends to make the machine whip and it borders on mechanical rather than rider ability. On the freakiest sort of freak hill with a gear ratio of 40 to 1 a long wheel base machine will pull a ride up at a slow, steady speed, but spectators want to see machines go fast and over a hill nowadays, rather than slug at a grade and dig in.
From riding so many hill climbs and competing under different sets of officials it is natural that the champion should have gathered ideas worth passing on regarding how to conduct a hill climb.
Some Steele Ideas
He is loud in his praise for the management of Capistrano. The contest starts on time, everyone knows what they are doing and crowds are not edging in on the path up the long grade. His one criticism is that a visiting rider is not permitted to practice on the real hill and in competition, but two trials are allowed. For a man who has never ridden a hill it is a handicap that is difficult for someone to overcome. (It smacks of favoring Native Son, for which the Californians are noted-E.B.)
No hill climb should be planned ant more that does not have every rider go over the top. The public comes to see riding, not excavating exhibitions. Big events should go on first to hold the interest. Sidecar events should be abandoned at hill climbs as they place the sidecar machine in an unfavorable light with most spectators who have seen the solo boys whizzing over the top in record time.
Prizes should be distributed at the finish of the climb. There are no doubts as to the winner and no check sheets need to be looked up as in endurance runs. Similar to a race-meet the hill climb result is decisive within a few minutes.
All clubs should use electrical timing and dispense with fifth-second watches. Steele favors the one-hundredth and four-hundredth second clock as used in Worcester and New Jersey climbs. For a long time when a contestant was a fifth-second slower it had Orrie puzzling out a way to stretch the lead. He changed sprockets and took greater chances. The he discovered an important item. On a five hundred foot course ridden in 10 seconds a man covers 50 feet in one second or 10 feet in one-fifth second. On a track in a mile race this difference would be 105 feet between first and second man. With a fifth-second watch watch it is possible for a rider within ten feet as fast as the winner to tie the faster man. Using the one-hundredth second watch this is cut down to an inch and a fraction. With the New Jersey club's 400th second timer riders can be separated to different times, one slower, the other faster, if the vary a quarter of an inch. Figure it out if you do not believe the writer.
Chain guards should be carried on all competing machines, the short guard, especially as its absence, is a menace to the rider as well as spectator. The long chain guard is not as dangerous.
Hill climbing is not anywhere as wearing and damaging to a motor as a wild burst of speed on the road. A short sprint wide open for five or six hundred feet and then it is all over. The proof of this is the fact that Steele has been using "M-1", his favorite "money wagon", ever since Worcester climb in 1922. It is a 61- inch motor and has been in 18 hill climbs and-thirty five events, losing only one in an 80-inch event at Reading. Many times this 61-inch job has beaten over-size motors and taken fastest time of the day. Since Capistrano "M-1" has been through six climbs and not been down. It will be tuned up for Rochester, however, so watch its smoke.
Naturally, the talk drifted to the worst hill of the lot. "Capistrano is daddy of 'em all." said Orrie, "but that stiff grade out near Thompsontown, Pa., where the Juanita boys hold their climbs, is the worst in the East. It resembles Capistrano ; the surface is bad and there is no start.
Rochester is a tough hill, easier at the finish than its California prototype. Worcester hill is a tough hill because no rider can expect to win everything on it the first time he rides. It is tricky to the newcomer. Pin Ball hill in Hew Hampshire was a roller coaster, where the rider who took a chance and got away with it won.
Among the hill climbers who look good to Steele and give him real competition and Eugene Ross, of Troy; Art Jones, of Reading; Jack Tracey, of New York; John Grove, of Chambersburg, Pa; Oscar Lenz, of Michigan; and Dud Perkins and Malcolm Ord, of the West Coast. Perkins is the best at the present, with Ord coming ahead at each climb.
Steele will ride in every event at Rochester.
You want to be there and see him go over the top.
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