The Wall of Death: a Motorcycle Motordrome

from the Artsology series The Arts Adventurer

When I visited the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburgh, NY, I saw something that was completely new to me: a motorcycle motordrome, also known as the "Wall of Death." The motordrome is a carnival sideshow featuring a silo or barrel-shaped cylinder constructed of wooden beams. On the outside there are steps leading up to a platform along the top edge of the wooden cylinder where the audience can sit or stand to watch the performance.

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A motorcycle rider would enter the cylinder from a secure door at the bottom, and then begin riding around the bottom, building up speed, and eventually easing up the slight ramp in order to ride around the vertical wall. At that point, the motorcycle and rider are perpendicular to the ground, the speed of the bike allowing it to be held in place by friction and centrifugal force.

Motorcycle Motordrome Wall of Death Newburgh NY

Here’s a view below (top left) showing what a "Wall of Death" looks like from the exterior, with this example being one that Motorcyclepedia has outside in its parking lot (which is different from the one inside pictured above). The additional pictures below left helps to show how the audience is perched on the edge of the top in order to watch the motorcycle rider go around.

I love this vintage painting on canvas or tarp (below right) which was at one time used as a promotional piece for the Wall of Death. I know if I saw this at a carnival, I’d be pretty tempted to go see what it was all about!

exterior and interior views of motorcycle motordromes similar to the Wall of Death

vintage banner with art promoting the Wall of Death

When I climbed the stairs to reach the platform and look inside, it didn't look very big, as you can see in the picture at the top of the page. It looks to have a diameter of roughly 25 – 30 feet, and the vertical walls appear to be about 15 – 18 feet or so. It's kind of hard to imagine a motorcycle driving around this thing, and I wondered how fast it would need to go to avoid falling.

According to info at the museum, the drivers would get up to speeds of approximately 40 mph. I found a video that will show you exactly what it's like to see someone riding the Wall of Death: the driver is Kerri Cameron, 21, and you'll see she does some pretty crazy stuff – no hands, riding on the handlebars, and more ... as if just successfully riding around the Wall of Death isn’t enough?

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