By: David L. Morrill
June 21, 2021
In the late 1800s, a bicycle craze swept the United States. Bicycle shops sprung up around the Country, and bicycle races became a common occurrence at State & County Fairs. Champion bicycle racers, became well known sports stars and their exploits were reported in newspapers nationwide. A local example of this is Jay Eaton, who founded the Eaton Beach Complex on Lake Weir in Weirsdale, Florida.
|The Tennessean - August 4, 1896|
Eaton was a champion bicycle racer, who retired to Central Florida and purchased the Eaton Beach property in 1924.
In the early days of motorcycling, motorcycle companies would advertise in local papers to find local Agents to handle their products. Because many of these companies, had also produced bicycles, it was common for local bicycle shops to become the agents for Indian, Harley-Davidson, etc., and this was the case in Ocala. Local bicycle dealer R. E. Yonge, sold his business to Benjamin Franklin Condon in 1907. Yonge's son Walter went on to become a prominent Ocala motorcyclist.
|Ocala Banner - December 13, 1907|
Condon probably became the Marion County Agent for Indian Motocycles of Springfield, Massachusetts some time in 1907.
FYI: Indian referred to their bikes as "Motocycles" to stand out from other brands, until the early 1930s.
The Condon Bicycle Emporium was located in the "Ocala House Block" in downtown. The Indian Motocycle Agent, Condon was probably the first motorcyclist in Ocala, and Walter Yonge soon joined in purchasing one of the new Indians.
|Condon Ad - Ocala Evening Star 1908|
The new motorcycles soon attracted the attention of the City Fathers, as a notice appeared in the Ocala Evening Star of an ordinance, requiring all Bicycles, Motorcycles and Automobiles operated within Ocala City Limits to be equipped with lights. This was followed by a notice in the Evening Star on September 23, 1908 from City Marshall W.C. Bull warning automobile drivers, and motorcycle riders, that the City Speed Limit was 10 miles per hour.
With the new attention from the City Marshall, the young men who now owned motorcycles sought another place to test the speed of their machines and their ridding skills. This was the Golden Age of early motorcycle racing. Steeply banked circular wooden tracks known as Motordromes were being built around the country. The numerous dirt oval horse racing tracks were also used for motorcycle racing. The top motorcycle manufactures like Indian, Excelsior, Cyclone, etc. hired teams of professional riders to promote their brand, and drive sales of their motorcycle to the public, however Harley-Davidson did not form a factory racing team until 1914. Many of the riders also took part in the the Annual Daytona Beach Speed Carnival held on Ormond Beach, Florida beginning in the early teens. Numerous "World Records" were set on the sands of the beach at low tide, and were reported in newspapers around the County.
|Buffalo Evening News - December 20, 1906|
There's an old adage in motorcycling that the first motorcycle race took place, when the second motorcycle hit the street. That certainly seems to have been the case in Ocala, as a Motorcycle Race was included in the July 4, 1908 Festivities at the Marion County Fair Grounds off West Emporium Street , which today is close to the intersection of Hwy 40 and Martin Luther King Blvd. There was a half mile oval dirt horse track there, with a large grandstand, that hosted automobile & motorcycle races, along with the horse races.
|Automobile Race @ the Marion County Fairgrounds - ca. 1912|
Marion County Court Clerk's Office Collection
The scheduled motorcycle race was included in the articles detailing the 4th of July activities in the Evening Star on June 18, 1908.
Despite the anticipation of a motorcycle race, the Ocala Banner reported "for some reason the motorcycle race did not materialize.", while the Evening Star reported a motorcycle exhibition was run, but gave no details. It would be more than a year before the first actual motorcycle race in Ocala would take place. Ocala would continue to be an Indian town.
|1908 Indian 3.5 H.P. V Twin|
Kip Kolter @ Old School Biker Site
Ben Condon was the only Motorcycle Agent in town. He would continue to build his bicycle business in Ocala.
|Ocala Evening Star - March 15, 1909.|
As the 1909 Marion County Fair rolled around, a motorcycle race was scheduled on November 24.
|Ocala Evening Star - November 18-1909|
The Sunday before the race, the Evening Star reported that motorcycles entertained early Fair Grounds patrons.
|Ocala Evening Star - November 22, 1909|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 24, 1909|
|The Ocala Banner - November 26-1909|
|Ocala Star Banner - November 26, 1909|
|Ocala Evening Star - December 7, 1909|
|Ocala Fire Chief Hampton S. Chambers ca. 1915|
(Passenger) in the Fire Department's First Automobile
Ocala Fire Department Collection
|H. S. Chambers Ocala Bicycle - SE Osceola Avenue|
(Cropped Photo ca. 1915)
Kent Sperring Collection
|Ocala Bicycle Ad |
Ocala Star Banner - October 24, 1911
|Ocala Evening Star - August 25, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - September 11, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - October 20, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 1, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 8, 1911|
|Ocala Star Banner - November 6, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 1, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 13, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 11, 1911|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 17, 1911|
|1911 Excelsior - Bonham's Auction|
|1911 Indian Motocycle - J & P Cycles|
|Ocala Evening Star - November 24, 1911|
The Evening Star continued to report motorcycle accidents in the City, some of which appear to be the result of dangerous riding practices by local motorcyclists. Riding passengers on the handlebars like a bicycle???
|Ocala Evening Star - April 23, 1913|
|Ocala Evening Star - September 11, 1913|
|Ocala Evening Star - December 20, 1917|