A Champion Motorcyclist Conquers the “Gibraltar of the Pacific Coast”

March 18, 1917

Calvin Lambert became the first person to ride a motorcycle to the top of a rugged hill in the city of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, California. San Juan Capistrano was famous by that time for the then-yearly return of the white-bellied cliff swallows to the city just in time for spring (an event traditionally celebrated on March 19) and also for the community’s 18th century Spanish mission.  For motorcyclists, however, the big local attraction was a hill on the southern edge of the city. Capistrano Hill — widely known as the “Gibraltar of the Pacific Coast” at that time and now also called Motorcycle Hill — was noted for its rocky terrain and the challenges faced by motorcyclists trying to reach the summit. 

During a decade in which motorcycles had become increasingly popular nationwide, a large number of people using that transportation mode sought to master Capistrano Hill. It was Lambert, a resident of the nearby city of Santa Ana, who finally achieved that goal in a competition that was attended not only by motorcycle enthusiasts but also many who were in the area anyway for the next day’s “return of the swallows” festivities. (The above photo from Motor Cycle Illustrated magazine shows Lambert, second from the left, standing with his motorcycle at that competition.)

Lambert rode his motorcycle to the summit of the hill a total of three times — twice officially for the record books and once unofficially. The news of Lambert’s achievement was reported throughout the United States.

“Capistrano Hill has been conquered!” proclaimed one news story that was telegraphed on the same day to Motor Cycle Illustrated magazine. “The rough, sandy, boulder-bestrewn incline, which last year defied every rider in the hill climb provided by the Orange County dealers to top its 500 feet [152.4 meters] of the stiffest sort of hard going, was mounted today not once or twice, but three times by C. Lambert on an Excelsior, Series 18, three-speed machine.” 

Photo Credit: Motor Cycle Illustrated (29 March 1917)

Additional information on Calvin Lambert’s series of motorcycle rides to the top of Capistrano Hill in March 1917 is available at http://www.sanjuancapistrano.net/history/motorcycles.html and Motor Cycle Illustrated

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