Rin Tanaka has outdone himself. The master of books on vintage clothing has published the definitive history of American motorcycle gear, ‘Harley-Davidson Book of Fashions: 1910s – 1950s’, after he was given rare access to the Harley-Davidson Museum and Archives, with their over 100,000 photographs spanning their entire history from 1903 to the present. H-D was one of the first motorcycle manufacturers to hire professional photographers to document their progress, and kept photographic and documentary records of their various lines of accessories which they offered from 1914, along with the entire run of The Enthusiast magazine and contributions from various dealers, clubs, and race promoters.

With access to this vast array of totally cool stuff, Rin couldn’t fail to make an outstanding book. His self-published specialty has been a series of obsessive picture books documenting, in chronological order, various styles of motorcycle jackets – Motorcycle Jackets: A Century of Leather Design and ‘Motorcycle Jackets: Ultimate Bikers’s Fashions (Schiffer Book for Collectors)‘ – and helmets (‘The Motorcycle Helmet: The 1930s-1990s‘), t-shirts (My Freedamn! 3, 4), etc. He was also granted the rights to publish recently found documentation (photos and film) of Steve McQueen’s foray into the ISDT, which he published as ’40 Summers Ago’, which I can’t recommend highly enough – you can purchase Steve McQueen 40 Summers Ago….Hollywood Behind the Iron Curtain (Cycleman Books) here.

One doesn’t really think of ‘Fashions’ per se when the name Harley-Davidson comes up, but Tanaka makes a compelling case that their extensive line of Motor Clothing, produced for the last 90-odd years, has made a sartorial impact far beyond those who simply ride H-D motorcycles. The book, which is large format (11″ x 14″) and beautifully printed, moves between official publications / catalog photos, and shots of contemporary riders actually using the purpose-designed clothing and accessories in races, club events, official business, and the military. Each chapter focuses on a decade (1910s, 20s, etc), and shows the evolution of ‘gear’ as motorcycling itself changed and conditions demanded new and better products. He also explores how customization of clothing (and by implication, the bikes too) developed from various small accessories into the blaze of custom culture in which we now live.

The 600 photographs are luscious and beautifully reproduced, and lots of surprises turn up, such as this ‘Harley’ Board Track racer which uses a Cyclone engine with one cylinder blanked off!  The photographs are gorgeous, and Tanaka has chosen mostly never-seen shots from the Archives.  Tanaka knows his vintage motorcycle gear history, and has the eye of a designer laying out the book. The copious images are clearly the point of the book, and the text is minimal – there are times when a bit more exposition would be welcome, but in truth I imagine that few people have a total grasp over the enormity of the Archive and all the details represented. The first edition print run was 10,000 copies – huge by motorcycle book standards, but with H-D attached to the project, I imagine this book will require further print runs.

Purchase Rin Tanaka’s outstanding Harley-Davidson Book of Fashions 1910s-1950s here!

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