Stuart Allen - Form Following Function

Down a tiny road in what’s called The Quiet Corner of Connecticut is the 1760s farmhouse and garage of Stuart Allen. Stuart is a special kind of biker/builder. His collection contains one-offs, factory racers, and privateer specials, bikes you’re not likely to see anywhere else. These are not pretty boy customs. They are racers, made only to go fast without breaking. All around the garage are motors that can run wide open for an hour or two, frames and hardware thick enough to survive the pounding. These are bikes purpose-built, brutally efficient and beautiful in their own special way.

Stuart Allen leaning on 1950 Avonaire dustbin fairing. “I went to art school but I don't let it get in the way”. [Andy Romanoff]
I’ve known Stuart since 1975 when we met in New York while working on a movie called Wolfen. I was there to teach someone in New York how to keep a then brand-new invention called the Louma Crane alive and show them how to use it. The Louma carried a movie camera at the end of a long slender arm and panned and tilted it remotely. It combined sophisticated mechanics, servo motor electronics and video systems in brand new ways and movie crews were just coming to grips with all the new things they would have to learn to make it work. Naturally another biker would be the right guy to learn this thing and keep it together.

"This is a 1955 Daytona CB34. The rarest of the rare. BSA only made 10 of these to be raced on the beach in 55. Afterwards they were given to privateers who raced them until the motors were blown up beyond fixing." [Andy Romanoff]
Over the next few months, we worked together on the movie and I showed him everything I knew about the crane and we shared our love of motorcycles. And when it was over, I headed back to LA, but we stayed friends forever.

“That’s a DB34 motor built in 1949/50. That’s the first years they built the Goldstars.” [Andy Romanoff]
When we first met Stuart was riding a 1969 BMW R60/2, and he still has it, but over the years he’s collected more bikes, mainly BSA singles but all of them racers of one kind or another. When I asked him how he got into this he told me that he started out building cars but when he moved to the city he got into bikes “because I could keep them in my loft and I didn't have to crawl under them.” And why race bikes?  “I like race bikes because they only have one purpose, they’re perfect examples of form following function. Race bikes are not about show, they’re about go.” Many of his bikes are privateer racing machines, bikes built on a budget by guys with more passion than money, “A lot of these bikes were built and rebuilt in the backs of pickup trucks between races. They weren't supposed to be pretty, only to go fast.”

“That’s a Ducati 250 Mach One, approximately 1963-64. They didn't really have a year because they were factory racers. You just ordered one and hoped you got it, but they were faster in their day than 650 Triumphs. They only had one speed … wide open. They were the equivalent of a 7R AJS or a Manx Norton. You could order one but you didn’t get one.” [Andy Romanoff]
So almost fifty years have gone by since we first met and when we see each other it’s usually in LA or NY. Whenever we talk though, I hear about this mythical garage with all his bikes in it. This summer my long suffering not-biker wife Darcy and planned to visit Cape Cod then head down to New York; looking at a map I saw we could get to Stuart’s Connecticut place on the way. The only problem -  our schedule meant we had just an hour to see the bikes and visit.

"A 1958 factory flat tracker DB32R with a rigid frame. Only two hundred were made to qualify for homologation as a production bike under the AMA rules for flat track racing." [Andy Romanoff]
When we got there, I grabbed my camera and shot pictures while we talked. Stuart is an opinionated guy with his opinions backed up by a lifetime of knowledge. He’s pithy too and I’ve quoted him a lot here to give you some of the flavor. Walking through the garage with him as he tells you the what and why of these bikes is a special treat.

Stuart Allen with two of his babies. The bike on the right is a BSA factory bike, the one the left is the Trackmaster racer. [Andy Romanoff]
The threat of rain meant leaving most of the bikes inside and the hour time limit meant most of the collection remained unseen for now.  So here are the first few glimpses of a place filled with wonderful machinery and the guy who keeps it all alive.

BSA made beautiful tanks for their Gold Stars, built from 1938-63. Theses wait for their turn to roll down the road again. [Andy Romanoff]
“That’s a 1970 high piped T100C trophy on the bench. Triumph made two 500s, they made the Daytona which was a twin carb that nobody in their right mind would want because nobody wants two Amals of any sort, and then they made the Trophy.” [Andy Romanoff]
Sonicweld/Trackmaster rigid frame chassis carrying a DBD34 Gold Star motor with an Amal Monobloc modified by Stuart. Check out the added float bowl window on the right. Also, the hand formed Fishtail exhaust. “That’s an Amal Monobloc that I modified the shit out of. I cut away the float bowl and put a glass window in it. Monoblocs are historically left side float bowls. I found a rare 689 with the float on the right side so I could have it sticking out in the breeze where I could see all the guts and make sure it was working properly. I did all that because all the Amal remote floats were notoriously dodgy.” [Andy Romanoff]
A BSA front wheel with an 8inch single sided brake. SA - “People used to drill a thousand holes in the goddamned things to cool them.” “Now most people will say “that brake is completely wrong” because flat trackers don’t have front brakes. Well yeah if you’re California-centric that’s true, flat trackers there didn’t have brakes, but if you ran Daytona which was on the sand, they had brakes, and Loudon and other places ran brakes.” [Andy Romanoff]
“These are home built folding pegs like the ones racers made in the day because the ones BSA shipped were fixed in place in a terrible location and the AMA said go ahead and make your own to stop people from getting impaled.” [Andy Romanoff]
“That’s a Matchbox remote float feeding a 1 1/2 GP racing carburetor on a DB head. It's the biggest carburetor anyone makes. It’s just a hole in the earth that you pour gas into. It has only one speed really, wide open.” [Andy Romanoff]
“I fabbed this case from Aluminum scrap and an Aluminum pie pan, it’s typical of the day. Everyone made their own at home because it was such a fucking hassle to get into the primary when you wanted to change sprockets or the clutch packed up. It’s a dry primary lubed only by blowby from the engine breather.” [Andy Romanoff]
A Sonicweld frame with an adjuster to quickly set the wheelbase for the length of the track. SA - “Everyone had their own theory; everyone built their own frames. Dick Mann built an asymmetric frame for the shorter tracks. My friend in England bought it and put it on his bench, and said “It was completely wacked, it was like it had been bent in the middle.” But he was talking to Dick Mann before he died and Mann said “Yeah, I made that frame” so he made frames that just steered to the left for the shorter tracks; some people built a different frame for every track, and all this was out of their own pockets, there was no factory support.” [Andy Romanoff]



Vintagent Contributor Andy Romanoff started out as a biker/photographer, then had a long career in Hollywood, including years working with Panavision. He's a member of The Academy, and is now back to his biker/photographer roots. Follow these links for his Bike Pictures for sale and his Bike Gallery.


A Life on Wheels, With a Camera

I have always loved motorcycles

The first riders I remember were Chicago Outlaws. They charged headlong through the downtown Chicago streets, all black and chrome and straight pipes blasting. They weaved through traffic, greasy denim kings on shiny metal horses. They owned the road, and they transfixed my fourteen-year-old soul. About a year after I saw them I got my first bike, a Whizzer, and I taught myself how to ride and how to fix it. I graduated from that to a James 125 and then I had a long string of bikes, an Indian 80, some Harley‘s, a Triumph, a BSA 500 single and an Ariel Square Four. As I neared forty, I still had bikes, an Ossa trials bike for the dirt, a Honda Gold Wing for the interstates, and a Yamaha SR 500 for carving the canyons. For a little while, I worked as a bike mechanic, and along the way, I built a few fast-motored drag bikes and raced them in the streets. Mostly the bikes I rode were street rats.

Andy Romanoff in 1960, about eighteen years old. Check out the no fenders, bald tires approach to go-fast. The dangling cigarette helps too. [Andy Romanoff]
About the same time I fell in love with bikes I fell in love with cameras. I shot stills for a while then got into the movie business where I made good use of my love of all things mechanical, lavishing it on cranes and cameras and lenses. I spent years in production, becoming more and more involved in technology until finally, I was the EVP, Technical Marketing and Strategy for a company called Panavision. A lot of my job was making the new and then incomprehensible digital cameras understandable to a generation of filmmakers raised on film, a thing my meanderings had prepared me for. For a long time then, that was my life, and I loved it.

"My Ossa trialer — sweet, dependable and capable. I came closer to disaster on this one at twenty mph than anything I ever rode a hundred miles an hour." [Andy Romanoff]
Somewhere along the way, though I lost my desire to ride. The last three bikes, the Goldwing, the Ossa, and the SR500 sat in my garage and slowly it became clear I wasn’t riding anymore, so one by one I sold them. The Wing was easy. It was a pig, wallowing and scraping in the canyon corners when I tried to muscle it around and boring as could be on the highway where it rolled along mile after mile without my paying attention. I had never much liked it. The Ossa I loved, but it was a long trailer ride from Hollywood out to the dirt, to where I could catch a few hours of fun in the hills.

Andy's favorite canyon carver - a c.1978 Yamaha SR500. [Andy Romanoff]
The SR was the toughest, and the last one I let go. Nimble, quick, and sticky in the corners, a surprise to lots of guys that thought their big canyon carvers could get through the tight stuff faster. I loved that bike, the first Japanese iron I ever felt good on, but then it was sitting there too so … bye. After they were gone I made noises about getting another bike, but instead, I had a business, and a wife and children and that was more than enough.

Andy with Bobby Vee in 1962 and the little hotrod BSA ZB Gold Star tuned for street racing. Note the Flanders handlebars, white Bates seat, no front brake, and swept back Clubman's exhaust. [Andy Romanoff]
The years passed, and finally, I was finished working for others. I turned back to photography, the work I had fallen in love with about the same time I fell in love with bikes, and I began to write. A lot of what I wrote about was the adventures of my life, so sometimes motorcycles figured in the stories, and as I looked for pictures of bikes I had loved to illustrate my stories, it came back to me how much I had loved them. I felt my connection to the metal, to the smells and the sounds. My muscle memory knew exactly what it felt like to straight leg kick a Harley and when to crank the spark advance as the motor caught. I knew the feeling in my wrist as I twisted the throttle and I remembered the sensation of a good motor, one that beats like a giant heart as it propels you faster.

Andy shooting at Chopperfest in 2018: still at it! [Andy Romanoff]
The thing is, a motorcycle is many things at once. It is the weight beneath you, the music of the pipes, the thumping pulses that fill your body as the motor winds its way up. It’s the wind that comes to meet you as you shift through the gears, the sound of tires and chains and road, the smell of hot oil and metal. All these things and more fill your being in the same moment leaving a lifelong impression, a symphony of the senses like no other. That symphony plays in my head as I write these words and each part is alive in my body. I know what those Chicago bikers felt like that day as they roared through the downtown streets. They felt alive and fiercely free. I loved motorcycles from the very first moment I saw them, and to this day I still do. I don’t ride nowadays, but I shoot pictures of motorcycles with all the love I have for them.


Vintagent Contributor Andy Romanoff started out as a biker/photographer, then had a long career in Hollywood, including years working with Panavision. He's a member of The Academy, and is now back to his biker/photographer roots. Follow these links for his Bike Pictures for sale and his Bike Gallery.