Greg Williams

Do It In The Dirt: the Vintage 1000

“You can’t plan adventure.” Adam Sheard, of the Chattanooga motorcycle shop Speed Deluxe, lives by that axiom. Proof of that is clear when he shares the story about rolling up to Chastin Brand’s tattoo parlor in Warner Robbins, Georgia. Strapped into the box of Adam’s mid-1960s Ford F100 was his 1971 Triumph T25T 250cc Trailblazer. The day before his visit to add an inked sparrow to each hand, Adam had been out riding the Triumph on dirt roads. When Chastin came out to greet Adam and saw the old dirt bike, a spark was ignited. “We spent the entire afternoon tattoo session talking about vintage off-roading,” Adam explains. “That led to us racing together in a few vintage motocross events, and then we met some other riders. Over a meal one night, we were all chatting about how I wanted to do some kind of long-distance adventure ride on vintage motorcycles.”

Vintage is the watchword: is this scene from 1971 or 2021? Rick on a Penton looking period correct.

They’d heard something about an event where motorcycles under 500cc, purchased for less than $500, are ridden 500 miles. Adam couldn’t find any information, so in 2015 he opted to do the next best thing – host his own ride. “Five hundred miles sounded like nothing,” he says. “I wanted a real adventure and said 1,000 miles on as much dirt as possible sounded like fun.” Thus, the Speed Deluxe Vintage 1000 was created. Adam and his wife, Jamie Sheard, posted the concept to their Instagram page – five days aboard pre-1981 motorcycles, no size limit, no price limit, but insured, registered and street legal. All required gear to survive, including tools, spare parts, and camping equipment but not the cooking implements, had to be strapped to the machine. “I had no route or anything really planned, but people signed up for it,” Adam recalls. Now committed to the project, Adam needed an off-road route and learned about Sam Correro and his TransAmerica Trail. Sam spent years scouting and mapping a route across America that saw little pavement, and Adam reached out for advice.

Watch out for that rock! One reason aluminum rims aren't common on dirtbikes. Mikey's BMW rim took a beating in Arizona - the rim was straightened out using rocks!

“We talked about what I wanted to do, and Sam mentioned some good routes in Mississippi,” Adam says. “I figured riding 250 miles of the TAT to the routes, 500 miles of the routes, and 250 miles back would be ideal.” Adam bought Sam’s maps, which are roll charts, booked the campgrounds and ordered the food. What could go wrong? Come go-time, there was a motley assortment of machines including a Suzuki SP370, Suzuki DS125, Honda CB360, Yamaha DT360, a small Kawasaki 2-stroke, Adam’s Triumph T25T and Chastin’s Honda CB500. “We rode 160 miles the first day,” Adam recalls. “We got into the campground at around 10:30 p.m. A couple of bikes had broken down, but much to my surprise everybody was in reasonable spirits. Still, I sat and wondered what I’d done, especially after Chastin’s bike had caught fire when the cap came off his spare fuel container gas hit the exhaust pipe.” Jamie and Lauren, Chastin’s wife, drove a single-cab pickup towing a 12-foot flatbed trailer along paved roads, following the riders as best they could. They’d meet the group at campgrounds, load up broken down machines, and cook the meals. On day three, while only three of the seven riders left for the trail, “We had a really good run,” Adam says, and continues, “on the last day, most of the bikes were running again and we all made it back into town. I figured, that was it, but the response was fantastic and it was really an adventure – and you can’t plan that, I don’t think.”

When the road turns into a hillclimb, and a rocky one at that.  Among the piñons in Arizona.

Born and raised in a small rural English village, Adam and a handful of his young friends were heavy into BMX bicycles. Motorcycles, ranging in size from 50cc to 100cc, soon followed. “We’d green lane them,” he says, “my dad bought me a 1978 Suzuki RM100, and it was a bit of a project. We did the top end on it and put it back together and I rode that quite a bit. By the time I was in high school, though, I was involved in so many other sporting activities such as soccer, football, rugby and track and field that I didn’t have time to ride.” Adam’s dad nurtured his enthusiasm for machines, however, and took him to speedway races and taught him to drive a manual transmission vehicle. When he got his driver’s license, while Adam’s parents were fine with him riding off-road, they didn’t want him on the street on a motorcycle. That’s when he got into air-cooled Volkswagens. “I bought a 1966 Beetle as a project when I was 17 or 18. I couldn’t weld, so I took it to a shop for some welding work. That took six months, and when I got it back the job wasn’t really done that well.” Disappointed but undaunted, Adam bought an inexpensive MIG welder and taught himself how to fuse two pieces of metal together, with success. “Then, I started doing a few things for other people, and when I was in my early 20s, I rented a small industrial unit to work on my own projects,” he says. While doing these jobs, Adam was working at his dad’s civil engineering firm. “I was going to go to university to take electronic engineering, but decided it wasn’t something I really wanted to do. My dad’s company had a position to fill, and I took it on as an interim job but it was actually something I really enjoyed.”

When your output shaft oil seal blows out in the field, what you gonna do? Replace it on a picnic bench at night.

In 2006, though, Adam decided to make a change. He got an engineering job in New Zealand and moved there for a year, then moved to Australia where he met his future wife, Jamie. “I was commuting in a rental car,” he says, “but I went to an exposition of new cars, and new motorcycles were on display there, too. That day, I put a deposit on a Honda 600 Hornet (CB600F). A week later, I met Jamie. She was from America studying in Australia, and she had a Honda Shadow. I got my bike license on her Shadow, and instead of buying the Hornet I transferred the deposit to a 2007 Honda CBR1000 – my first road legal machine. It was the easiest bike to ride, the power delivery, the brakes, it was as smooth as you’d want it to be. I was just always super respectful of it. I rode that bike every day for two and a half years.” More car projects followed, including a 1968 Mercedes-Benz and a Toyota FJ40. Motorcycles changed, and Adam was next riding a 1,200cc Harley-Davidson Sportster. Adept at painting tins, Adam altered the Sportster’s color three times in his first seven months of ownership. Recalling a magazine article he’d seen while living in the U.K. about a Triumph bobber, Adam thought he’d next try his hand at building one. A frame and unit-construction 650cc engine, along with other parts, were purchased in the U.S. and shipped to Australia.

Campground parking lot in the evening; do you see your bike in there?

“I bought a lathe and a TIG welder,” he says, “and made all kinds of stuff for that Triumph bobber. That’s basically how I found that passion for really building stuff again. At the time, I was doing really well in my engineering job but wasn’t particularly happy. Jamie was working on a PhD, and when she was done, we moved to the States.” In the spring of 2013, the couple landed in Los Angeles and bought a used RV. They traveled around the country, visiting Jamie’s dad in Chattanooga and other family in North Carolina and Illinois. Adam even built a Honda CB350F café racer in Jamie’s grandpa’s garage. “We had to figure out where we were going to settle and made a short list and put Chattanooga on it. It’s two hours from Nashville, two hours from Atlanta, and near the Smoky Mountains. The cost of living was less expensive, and we moved here – and we’re still here.”

Canyon carving with actual canyons in Utah.

Just a week after landing, Adam signed a lease on a shop and opened Speed Deluxe on October 1, 2013. While not in the same location, the shop has expanded and contracted over time. At one point, Speed Deluxe was in a downtown Chattanooga character building, and included a coffee bar. “We hosted a lot of rides and tech sessions, but running the business was time consuming. We couldn’t even take a day off, and our quality of life wasn’t really that great,” he says. Now, it’s just Adam fabricating and wrenching on motorcycles all built prior to 1981. That’s how he came to own his ’71 Triumph T25T Trailblazer. It was a non-running project that he pieced back together and, recalling his days of green lane riding in the U.K., took to a local off-road park. “It was a blast,” he says. “I started to take it to some vintage motocross races, and it was right around that time when Chastin saw the bike and that led to the next adventure.”

Nice selection of semi-appropriate and inappropriate off-road machinery on a pre-1968 Vintage 1000.

After running the first Speed Deluxe Vintage 1000 event, Adam says he planned to do it all again in 2016 using the same TAT routes. He knew where he was going and more of the logistics, and says he’d be better prepared the second time around. Twelve intrepid riders turned up, and while there were a couple of break downs, “It was really good, and I decided the next time around I’d make my own route.” Now, this is the part Adam really enjoyed. Looking to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina, he figured out a start and end point and roughly measured out the miles using Google Maps, Google Earth, Forest Service maps and aerial photographs. He laid out the campgrounds, created a hand drawn roll chart of the route, loaded up his bike and hit the trail. “I’d make adjustments to that roll chart on the fly, but that’s how the 1,000 miles got laid out for each event,” he says. Year after year, popularity of the Vintage 1000 has increased and locations have changed. Events have been held in Arizona, Utah (the June 2023 Utah route is now sold out) and Florida, but Adam says he’d love to plan routes in states including California, Oregon, Idaho and Michigan, “as long as people are interested.”

In the end, it's all about the people; note the smiles despite mud on this slimy hill.

And it’s the people, Adam says, who make the adventures so much fun. “The people we attract are just the best,” he says. “For example, you don’t have to be mechanically inclined to participate, but many of them are. If you break down, by the time you get off the bike someone else already has a tool roll out and is helping. If you turn up here alone, by the time the ride is over you’ve made many friends for life, and a lot of those friendships – and adventures -- are made at the side of the road during a breakdown.”

Jamie Sheard crossing Charlies Creek on her Honda XL350.

[Photo Credits : Matt Best, Spencer Powlison, Thomas Watkins, Mark Miller, Rick Bennet, Randy Bennet, Kate Lamb, Brad Allen, Harrison Holland, Mark Harman, Adam Sheard, Jaime Smialek.]

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


The Mary Poppins of Motorcycles

It doesn’t matter if Emma Booton, a Bay Area mechanic who describes herself as a Mary Poppins of motorcycles, is fettling an historic Vincent Black Lighting for a wealthy collector or changing the oil on a humble Honda Spree scooter for an hourly worker relying on the machine to get to work on time; she treats every job with the same degree of attention and respect. For Emma, it comes down to the age-old adage, “Treat people as you would want to be treated yourself,” she says, and continues, “Just by walking through my door, you’re honoring me and you’re doing me a favor. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.” Emma’s door leads into a small 800 square foot shop called Moto Town in Marina, California. It’s the kind of motorcycle mecca where she’ll perform complete restorations to top end rebuilds to tire changes. And she’s really good at those tire changes.

Love for British-built machines runs deep in Emma Booton, here with a Vincent Black Shadow under repair. [Emma Booton]
Emma was born in England in 1962 at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. That’s just two miles down the road from the Norton motorcycle works – and four miles from BSA’s plant. At nine years old she met her first motorcycle when her babysitter’s boyfriend arrived on a brand new 1971 Triumph Bonneville. “He sat me on the gas tank, and off we went,” Emma says. “Oh god, I was done, and that was it. I fell in love with motorcycles.” Raised in a single-parent home by her mother, Emma says the family couldn’t always afford a car, let alone support the dreams of a young teenager lusting after her first powered two-wheeler. Eventually, Emma got a job at a tire shop, fitting tires to automobile and motorcycle rims. “I had that job for a very short space of time, but the skills and techniques I learned there I use to do this day,” she says. Essentially, it’s not every motorcycle rim that can fit on a tire changing machine. If a technician can’t handle a set of tire levers, the rim is likely to get damaged. Doing it quickly and properly by hand is sometimes the only way of swapping skins. It’s a skill Emma mastered many years ago, “and my bread and butter is fitting tires – a machine makes it easy, but if the rim won’t fit, you’re dead in the water. You need to know how to fit tires by hand if you’re in this industry.”

Anything classic or even modern is welcome in Emma's workshop, like this Suzuki GT750 'Kettle'. [Emma Booton]
At 16, a moped is what Emma could legally learn to ride in England but that’s not what she bought. Instead, she acquired a 1967 BSA B25 Barracuda, a single-cylinder machine with a 250cc engine. It was the kind of bike, she says, that you ride once, fix once, and repeat the process on almost a daily basis. But with that machine, she proved she had some fundamental skills with a rudimentary set of spanners. “Back then a lot of my friends weren’t that interested in maintaining their bikes, and I’d do the jobs.” Working flat rate on Saturday’s at Hailwood & Gould’s motorcycle emporium gave her pocket money while she studied mechanical engineering at university. She dropped out before obtaining a degree and says, “You’ve really got to earn money to survive, and my first proper job was as lead technician at Sutton Motorcycles in Birmingham.” It was there, under the tutelage of Mike Shaw, that Emma learned how Honda U.K. liked jobs done. “That’s where I learned to have an enormous amount of respect for the machine, no matter how humble they are,” she explains.

Hot pink is definitely an improvement for an early Honda Gold Wing. [Emma Booton]
When she was 32, Emma left her tools behind and moved to America. “I wish I had something profound to say about coming here,” she says, and adds, “I just wasn’t sure my life was going where I wanted it to go, and I’ve always been a very restless soul. I had a nice house and a good job, but Brits have always looked to America – this is where all the cool people lived.” Emma landed in Miami and took six months to cross the U.S. “I had a distant friend in San Luis Obispo, and I had the vague notion that’s where I’d end up.” Originally, Emma had ideas of purchasing a cheap car or motorcycle to make the trek, but instead rented a car. She made friends in just about every town and city in which she stopped, often meeting owners of British-made machines. These impromptu introductions inevitably led Emma to ask questions about why someone, for example, would be riding a 70-year old English bike. “Motorcycles to me have always been a path to friendship, and we’d talk about how those bikes sound, how they look. I’ve always had a visceral love of English bikes, and a designer such as Edward Turner was a visionary, but there were many other designers who were just as important.”

Emma tutors those interested in motorcycle mechanics at Re-Cycle Garage in Santa Cruz. [Emma Booton]
On her way across America, Emma was evaluating her life. “Motorcycles can become all-consuming and they can take over your life very quickly. When I got to the coast of California, I just wanted to breathe a bit. I had been unhappy in England and thought I wanted a complete change.” But motorcycles wouldn’t leave her alone. Sitting in a café in San Luis Obispo, she was approached by the owner of Coalinga Motorsports. “How he found out I was in town I don’t know, but he knew I was a mechanic and we talked motorcycles,” Emma says. The next day, she was interviewed and hired as lead technician, starting over and acquiring MAC tools as she needed them and working again in an industry she thought she’d left behind. Coalinga was primarily a Honda, Yamaha and Sea-Doo dealership and Emma was there in the mid-1990s during a boom in motorsport popularity. “I was working in a historic building and I had a picture of the Queen on the wall and a pink flamingo hanging by its neck over my bench. I got all of the problem bikes – which I quite enjoyed,” she says. Working with a fresh perspective in a vibrant and fun shop – which is now long gone – Emma fell in love again with motorcycles. But tragedy struck while working on a twin-engine Sea-Doo when the large watercraft fell on Emma’s right forearm. The result was a compound fracture with nerve, muscle and bone damage. After a lengthy healing process, “I had to figure out a way to make a living.”

When in America, American motorcycles beckon, like this post-war Indian Chief. [Emma Booton]
Becoming something of a vagabond, Emma learned to drive a Greyhound bus and drove the highways of America, basically anywhere west of the Mississippi. “Home base was San Francisco, and I had a small apartment there,” she says. “I always rode a lightweight 125cc or 250cc bike to work and was kind of learning to use my arm again. But Greyhound is a lifestyle, and my apartment looked like a motel room. I left there after three or four years and then drove public transit in Santa Cruz. I was also working part time at a couple of bike shops, but wasn’t confident I could move the heavier bikes around.” After buying property where the barn was larger than the house in Prunedale, California, Emma began to figure out how to properly work on motorcycles again without shying away from larger machines. With her new shop, Emma began working on motorcycles for local collectors such as Neil Jameson of Jameson’s Classic Motorcycle Museum in Pacific Grove. “I was still driving transit, but I’d build him bikes in my off hours and was just happy to be getting my strength back while working on motorcycles,” she says. Word spread, and next Emma was restoring and wrenching on bikes for baseball legend Reggie Jackson. “I’d bring full restoration jobs back to the house, or I’d go out and work in their spaces,” she says.

Triumph triples are among Emma's favorites - they certainly offer rewards to the mechanically skilled, and challenges to the inexperienced. [Emma Booton]
While servicing some of these motorcycles, Emma would occasionally buy parts and fluids from Monterey Peninsula Power Sports in Seaside, California. Learning the shop was desperate for a mechanic, Emma was persuaded to come work full-time and made a name for herself as a Triumph whisperer. But with a change of ownership and the dropping of Triumph at MPPS, Emma was once again evaluating her choices. “That served as a catalyst, and I took stock of where I was and where I wanted to be, and that’s when I decided to open my own little shop.” There’s no website or advertisements promoting Moto Town. “I rely on word of mouth, and people tend to just come to me,” Emma explains. She works long hours, and also volunteers as a cook at a local shelter. Another passion is working together with Liza Miller at Re-Cycle Garage, a co-operative where the pair generously impart their knowledge to motorcyclists wanting to learn some of the basics. Now 60, Emma hopes to be working for another 10 or more years and says she will always have a British motorcycle of her own. A favorite of hers are Triumph triple-cylinder machines, and she has one in her garage. She’s also got a Suzuki RF900 and a 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Glide. “Would my life have been different had I not been quite eaten alive by motorcycles?” she muses, and rather philosophically adds, “I’m not sure they’ve been my downfall or my savior, and with a couple of diversions I’ve spent my life doing what I love. If I drop at the end of my ramp with a wrench in my hand, I’ll be the happiest woman in the world.”

Follow Emma Booton on Instagram here.

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


Art X Moto: Larry Poons and Big D Cycle

Where art and motorcycles converge.

Perhaps one of the most interesting crossroads in this frenzied world is the one at which Motorcycles and Art intersect. When Keith Martin of Big D Cycle in Texas shared that he’d just completed restoring an ultra-rare Seeley Condor for renowned abstract painter Larry Poons, we had to learn more. For those not familiar with the name, Big D Cycle is an important one in the history of motorcycles. That’s thanks to Jack Wilson – a man who was involved in one way or another in setting 24 of Triumph’s 36 world speed records. It was Wilson who built the finely tuned Triumph Thunderbird engine in Stormy Manhgam’s streamliner that, in 1956, helped propel Johnny Allen to 214.4 mph across the Bonneville Salt Flats. That record in turn prompted Triumph to name, in 1959, its new twin-carburetor 650 the Bonneville.

Keith Martin holds the keys to the legendary Big D Cycles in Texas. [Keith Martin]
George W. “Jack” Wilson was born in 1927, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a wizard with a wrench, and in the early 1950s worked as a mechanic at Pete Dalio’s shop in Ft. Worth. At Dalio Motorcycle Sales, Wilson built hundreds of race-winning Triumph engines and was himself a fierce competitor. When Pete retired and sold his shop in the early 1960s, Wilson was eventually asked to run the business. He found a willing partner with ex-owner Pete, and Big D Cycle was established in 1963, selling and servicing both Yamaha and Triumph. Yamaha was parceled off in the late 1960s, and Big D Cycle carried on with Triumph until 1983. Essentially bankrupt, the Triumph name was purchased by developer John Bloor, who had elaborate visions of what a modern British machine could be.

But Big D Cycle never closed. Beginning in the early 1970s, Wilson had wisely been buying up old Triumph dealer inventories. In the mid-1980s, thanks to Big D’s well-respected engine building and restoration capabilities, the shop was busier than ever with customer work, mail-order parts sales, and racing ventures. “I wasn’t really aware of the importance of Big D Cycle back when I first started going there in my teen years,” says Keith, the current steward of the Big D Cycle name. “For me, it was just the closest place to buy Triumph parts.”

The Big D Cycle team with the 'Texas Ceegar', the streamliner in which Johnny Allen to the 214mph unofficial land speed record in 1956, which gave rise to the Bonneville line. [The Vintagent Archive]
Born and raised in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, Keith spent his formative years on a rural piece of property south of the city. His father wasn’t into motorcycles, but when Keith was seven years old, he got a 5-horsepower Sears minibike for Christmas. “I really wanted a guitar, but he wouldn’t let me have one – he bought me a minibike instead,” he recalls. But that minibike proved to be important. “My friends and I rode them on all the country roads. As long as we didn’t go into the city limits, we never got hassled, and that was the start of a fascination with motorcycles for me,” he adds.

From the minibike, Keith moved up to a 65cc Suzuki. It was a machine his father acquired from a workmate, and the piston was frozen in the bore. His father took the engine apart and Keith watched as a broken wooden shovel handle was employed to drive out the damaged piston. “We drove to a Dallas Suzuki/BSA dealership and they bored the cylinder while we waited,” Keith recalls. Other bigger machines followed, including a Honda 100. It was on this that he’d skip school and ride to Dallas to hang out with his friends at Big D, fooling around in the shop or simply staring at the 1956 record-setting streamliner. Keith didn’t sit around, either. “My father was always big into working, and I got a job when I was quite young in the trades, starting in a manufacturing facility, then at a gas station working on cars. I stayed there until the late 1970s, when I started in the cable TV industry.”

Keith Martin has sponsored a team of 1915 Norton 16Hs on several Motorcycle Cannonball cross-country rallies. [Keith Martin]
Keith’s first British motorcycle was a 1973 Triumph Bonneville, and he bought it from a friend’s older brother. That was in 1980, and the Bonneville became Keith’s main ride. It also provided the opportunity for Keith to start hanging around Big D Cycle even more. He’d lend a hand when needed, and was always willing to do something, even just push a broom. When Keith was laid off from the cable company in the late 1980s, “Jack said, ‘Come work for me here at Big D.’” Keith continues, “Dallas/Ft. Worth had a huge motorcycling community in the late 1980s, and we had a lot on the go. There was plenty of racing, and Jack did a tremendous amount of mail-order business. Jack was a hard-working guy – the shop was open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday and Monday. Jack expected a lot, and he didn’t tolerate anything less than 100 % effort. He’d never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do, the problem was, he’d do anything.”

Larry Poons on his Ducati 250 on which he regularly places in AHRMA racing: 21X is his chosen racing number. [Larry Poons]
Keith left Big D Cycle in 1998 to open his own shop, RPM Cycle, selling and servicing the new Hinckley Triumphs. In the early ‘90s, he’d entered into an agreement to buy Jack out, but the shop was eventually sold to a different buyer. That’s when Keith set out to open RPM, but he was ultimately able to purchase the inventory, tooling and Big D Cycle name. “I didn’t use the name for a while, until I sold RPM Cycle, but in 2008 I dusted off the Big D Cycle name and opened up again.”

Motorcycle racing was a mainstay in Keith’s life, too, after he and a friend traveled to Daytona in 1987 and took in the vintage racing scene. “I saw them racing 750 Triumphs, and decided to get one of those and get involved in AHRMA (American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association) competition.” That’s how Keith first met New York-based artist Larry Poons. Larry, born in Tokyo in 1937, moved to America and studied music from 1955 to 1957. After taking in an exhibition of work by Barnett Newman, Larry’s focus shifted, and he began studying painting at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He graduated from that program, and in 1963, his work was shown in a solo exhibition at New York’s Green Gallery. He continues to paint in his East Durham, New York studio, while still being an avid motorcycle enthusiast. From the age of 16, Larry’s been riding either British or Italian machines, and in the early 1960s, also played guitar in an avant-garde band called The Druids.

Larry Poons' Seeley Condor he's owned since new, and still races, here at the Big D Cycle workshop. [Keith Martin]
While Larry rode on the street, he also raced during the 1970s, later becoming involved with AHRMA aboard a 1971 Seeley Condor – a motorcycle he’d bought new. Powered by a single overhead camshaft Matchless G50 engine, the Condor was built by English racer and frame builder Colin Seeley. When Seeley, operating as Colin Seeley Racing Developments, purchased the manufacturing rights to the Matchless G50, AJS 7R and Manx Nortons in 1966 he planned to build complete engines and place them into his specially designed frames, which evolved over time to become the Mk3 chassis. The straight tubes of this frame run from the top of the neck to the swingarm mount, while a second set of straight tubes run from the bottom of the neck back to the rear shock absorber top mounting points. This design made the engine appear as though it was virtually hanging out in front of the tubes, but it and the separate gearbox were securely mounted in substantial plates, while the engine’s cambox was fixed to the upper frame rails.

The frame was also used for Yamaha and Ducati competition machines and proved to be a race winner. In the early 1970s, while the big Matchless G50 engine was losing its competitive edge on the tracks, Seeley thought it would be a good idea to put the powerplant in a street-legal machine. He drafted plans for a café-racer style motorcycle, and equipped it with a Lucas dynamo, lights and proper silencer. This became the Condor, a motorcycle with a very small production run of just seven -- one of them, of course, was bought by Larry.

Larry Poons and the Ducati 250 racer on which he does particularly well. [Larry Poons]
“I met Larry in Topeka, Kansas in 1990,” Keith recalls. “I was admiring his bike in the paddock as he was trying to change the front sprocket on the Seeley. He was yelling and cussing trying to get the main shaft nut off. I told him to turn it the other way as it was lefthand thread. It came right off and we have been friends ever since. I did not know he was a famous artist until about ten years later. He was a good guy who was always racing hard, and always on it. When we quit racing, I’d see him at Barber on a regular basis, and in 2019, he asked if I’d restore the Condor. He told me to build it as if it were mine, and I went all out.”

According to Keith, Larry’s Condor was a well-used racing motorcycle when it rolled into the Big D Cycle restoration shop. “It had lived a hard life, and he’d been seriously racing it for 22 years,” he says. “The motor was tired, and after one crash, the frame had been reworked by Rob North. But it was nicely done, and the frame was straight.”

The Big D Cycle crew is Ryan Ambrose and Keith’s long-time friend Scott Aday. They all worked hard on Larry’s Seeley Condor, and fabricated fresh alloy engine mounting plates for a new reproduction Matchless G50 engine sourced from NYC Norton. The gas tank was cut open to repair it, and the exhaust modified to run inside the frame to provide more leg room. To achieve this, the oil tank was cut for clearance while new footpegs were fabricated. Instead of being nickel plated as the original Seeley frame would have been, Keith opted to powder coat the chassis. The gas tank was painted orange, with the Seeley name hand painted on its flanks. It took about 10 months for the restoration to wrap up, and when finished, Keith took it for a quick blast down the street.

Another shot of the ultra-rare Seeley Condor, built by Colin Seeley from remaining stocks of AMC racing engines and his own frame, originally for the street as an ultimate single-cylinder cafe racer. [Keith Martin]
“It runs really nice and the motor is strong, but I can’t really ride it because it’s too small for me,” he says. They have, however, had the Seeley to the track for some shake down runs. “Even before we started this job, I thought rather than hand Larry a bill I’d ask him for a nice big painting to hang in our house – what could be better than one of my friend Poons’ works at home?”

Larry agreed, and sent Keith some books of available works. Keith’s family then met Larry and his wife Paula in their New York studio and selected a painting. So far, the Condor is still with Big D, and the painting is still in New York. The plan was to meet at a track where the Big D Cycle crew could pit for Larry while he put the restored Condor through its paces. Covid might put a wrench in those works, but when it comes to Motorcycles and Art, it won’t be long before everything intersects.

Keith Martin with one of Larry Poons' large abstract paintings. [Larry Poons]

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

David Lancaster: 'Speed is Expensive'

Speed is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle is an ambitious film project about Philip Vincent and his namesake motorcycles.  The film has been a labor of love for writer/director David Lancaster, and its production has been methodically idling along for a number of years.  Finally, it's revving up and rolling out to selected screens in a bid for wider distribution. Narrated by Ewan McGregor, Speed is Expensive debuted June 17 this year during the Barnes Film Festival in the 200-seat Riverside Studios theatre in Hammersmith, London. It played to a sold-out cinema, netted a standing ovation and won the festival’s Audience Award – fitting tribute to the years of hard work David and many other backers and contributors put into making the documentary. Now, the film will be shown at select festivals, with some private screenings too, and discussions with agents should see it widely distributed.

David Lancaster hanging out with a couple of friends: the Barn Job dragster, and Marty Dickerson's 'Blue Bike'. [David Lancaster]
David Lancaster was uniquely suited for the project, as he’s been steeped in Vincent lore and the culture of speed since childhood. “My father, Alan, rode Vincents from the mid 1950s onwards,” David explains. “He and my mother toured a good deal in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s -- to Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany. My father never lost the lust for long-distance travel, normally on his Vincent Black Prince, and went to Europe every year on two wheels, up until his passing in 1990. My first trips were with him: to the Belgium Lion Rally on the back aged seven, in 1973 – which was rich, early ‘70s chaos to a young mind – and to Austria aged nine, at the FIM rally.”

All in the family, part 1: With their father Alan at the controls, David Lancaster and his brother Tom sit in the capacious Steib S500 sidecar of a Vincent Black Shadow. [David Lancaster]
David continues, “My father went far – but my mother Audrey’s family went fast. Her father, Charlie Hornby, was a speedway rider in the 1920s – competing in the UK, South Africa and the USA. And my mother’s brother Colin Hornby was also a racer, gaining second in the 1964 Barcelona 24-hour race on a home-built 650 Norton just ahead of later-world champion Angel Nieto. Colin switched to sidecars and was a regular on the Continental Circus and TT of the late ‘60s, competing on a BMW Rennsport outfit. Colin’s still riding briskly at 80 years old.”

All in the family, part 2: David's uncle Colin Hornby and Mike Griffiths on their BMW RS54 Rennsport outfit in 1971 at the Isle of Man Sidecar TT. [David Lancaster]
When David was in secondary school, he and his brother started a band and performed local gigs. Although a teacher told him he wouldn’t likely excel in either of his chosen professions – musician or journalist – his time at school fostered “a sense of do-it-yourself enterprise, which the explosion of punk at the time really chimed with - and, in the words of The Small Faces: ‘Why go to learn the words of fools?’” David enjoys recounting a poignant example of this generation’s ethos. “I got the train down to Paul Weller’s family house in Woking once, to try and get a ticket for a coach trip to see The Jam in Paris – none were available. But John, Paul’s father, was so gracious on the doorstep about the news that there were no tickets left – I was struck that they were running it all from a council house 30 miles south of London. Real ground-up enterprise.” It was a heady time for David. Passionate about music and skateboarding, he’d attend punk music gigs where bands such as The Ruts would stir up the crowd. “I missed out on seeing the Sex Pistols – the line to the Students Union bar at Brunel University looked just too long, so we went home. But seeing The Clash a couple of times at this period more than made up for it,” David says.

All in the family, part 3: David's parents Alan and Audrey Lancaster aboard a Francis-Barnett trails bike. [David Lancaster]
At college, David gained a genuine appreciation for writing and then attended Warwick University, studying Philosophy and Literature. After graduating, he worked with the renowned Mark Williams on Motorcycle International magazine. He was there for three years as deputy editor, and says, “Mark was a good first boss – he’d cut his teeth on the late ‘60s underground press such as the International Times, and launched the ground-breaking BIKE in 1971. Great writer, too, who refused to publish second-rate words or pictures. Early lesson in quality control. I loved the bikes, and the new-model launches at tracks like Misano – even the speed testing at windy aerodromes – but I didn’t want to write about motorcycles for the rest of my life. After a while there isn’t much to say about the new GSX-R Suzuki which was, of course, faster, better-braked and more garish than the model it replaced. So, motorcycles went back to being my hobby and I worked through the ‘90s and 2000s mostly in the print media, spending two years on The Times (London) and freelancing for Fleet Street and magazines such as Arena.” While working mostly in the world of print media, David also branched out into television. He was a researcher for legendary Scottish journalist and media personality Muriel Gray and her Glasgow-based production company on some of her motoring shows. More time in that field included researching and directing Top Gear episodes and also as a script editor for a food-oriented series broadcasting on BBC2. All the while, an idea was percolating that would eventually become Speed is Expensive and I’ll let David tell this story in his words.

Film poster for Speed Is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle - based on original commissioned artwork by Conrad Leach

Greg Willams: What’s the back story to Speed is Expensive?

David Lancaster: It started, way back, with me looking through some 35mm slides my parents had taken of their Vincent trips in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, after both had passed away. My folks’ slides were from just 10 or so years after the Second World War ended in 1945 – and they were pioneering taking a bike that far into Europe at the time. No phones back then – no Euro, no credit cards and major currency restrictions (you were only allowed a certain amount in or out of each country). I’ve always read history, and there was a drift emerging that history could – or even should -- be told from the shop floor as much as the directors’ office; that as much wisdom, probably more, would emerge from sitting in the workers’ canteen as in the directors’ restaurant for an hour.

A young John Surtees hangs off his father Jack's Vincent sidecar racer: John made important contributions to the film. [David Lancaster]
So, I began thinking: what must this group of cool, young British men and women, on their 1000cc Vincents, have seemed like to someone working the land in Italy or Yugoslavia just 10 years after the war had ended? It was a vanished age, but the bikes remain. So, the idea of recording some of the stories from this period really appealed. I guess my mother and father passing kicked me into action – if I couldn’t record their stories, there would be others. Around this time, I hooked up with co-producer Gerry Jenkinson at a Vincent Owners Club meeting near Manchester. Gerry was already making videos – and as one of the top lighting directors in the UK theatre (go-to lighting guy for people like playwright Harold Pinter and director Peter Hall) and very tech proficient, he could work a camera really well and was into history as I was.

So, over a beer or two, we hatched a plan to track down the remaining men and women who’d built Vincents, to record their recollections. In the end, through social media, contacts and research on sites such as Ancestry, we filmed 14 men and women who worked at Stevenage, the most famous being John Surtees, who was an apprentice there. It was John’s only ever normal job in fact – payslip at the end of the week, day release for college with the other apprentices. From then on, he freelanced for factories becoming, of course, the only man to win world titles on two or four wheels. An amazing man with crystal clear recollection of events 70 years ago.

Vincent history is rich with characters and tales of derring-do. This is Clem Johnson's 'Barn Job' dragster being warmed up. [David Lancaster]
GW: A large part of Speed is Expensive is based on footage and photos from Philip Vincent’s personal archive. How did that evolve?

DL: I’d known the Vincent family for many years through my parents: Dee, PCV’s daughter, her husband Robin and then young (grandson) Phil as he grew up. I’d met Phil Irving a good few times at Vincent events, but sadly I’m not sure I met Vincent before his death in 1979. But I may have done. So, Gerry and I asked – badgered, might be more accurate, but that’s documentary-making -- to look over and perhaps restore the films shot by Vincent in their care. It was a revelation: home life, race meetings, travel in the USA meeting dealers, some of it on 16mm, filmed with his Bolex camera.

The Million Dollar Vincent: Jack Ehret's record-breaker that sold for nearly $1M, and remains the #1 most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. [David Lancaster]
GW: This project has been in progress for many years. Can you tell us why it’s taken so long?

DL: The film was so long in the making because for the most part Gerry and I did everything: research, production, much of the early filming of interviews, then to travel to the USA, Montlhéry in France, and Australia, where we filmed the amazing Irving Vincents on the track, and the record setting Jack Ehret Lightning, back on the very road it set the southern hemisphere land speed record – for bikes and cars – at 141.5 mph in 1953. We were both busy working, too – Gerry lighting shows and me lecturing in journalism at the University of Westminster in London. The quality and extent of Vincent’s films was a milestone – and there were others, each of which elevated the project’s scope and quality: the Australian shoot above, the last full interview with John Surtees, then with our US producer James Salter helping us set up a day with Jay Leno and on to filming Marty Dickerson being re-united with his famous Blue Bike at the Mojave Desert.

Interviewing Marty Dickerson, builder of the Blue Bike, in the Mojave desert. [David Lancaster]
Marty was another wonderful character who my parents knew well and I’d ridden alongside at a VOC international rally in the early 1980s. Marty would stop with us all for a beer or lunch, unfurl his telescopic walking stick from the rack on his Vincent, and walk into a bar. Very cool. I always wondered if it had a sharpened tip, there if needed, like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story. One of the industry’s great writers and editors, Mike Nicks, stepped in to make this trip happen and came along with us. The best thing, or one of them, was all the people gelled – Philip Vincent’s grandson, director of photography Steve Read (director of Gary Numan: Android In Lala Land, 2016), James Salter, Mike (Nicks). At that time Gerry and I knew we had the making of something. It was wonderful to interview Marty, to see him again, and I guess say goodbye to him. My mother visited him in LA a few times after my father died. Marty passed away just a few months after our interview. I didn’t quite get to record the full stories of my parents or their trips in Europe on their bike– but their legacy, of travel and world-wide and enduring friendships in the Vincent world, have really made Speed is Expensive possible.

More legendary Vincent owners in the USA: Sonny Angel, who also raced and set records with his Vincent, and worked at the factory in Stevenage. [Sonny Angel Archives]
Our financial supporters, many at a medium level, one or two large, have been wonderful at watching the project grow and unfold rather than hassle and hustle for a release date. All have made it happen – but especially early supporters such as Tim Woodward, Mike Nicks and Colin and Wendy Manning, and executive producers Harvey Bowden and Kris Waumans. This private backing has given Gerry and myself freedom to craft the story. We’ve taken some wrong turns, of course, but I think it was this, and the bikes and the story, which Ewan McGregor responded to when he heard about the project. He phoned rather out of the blue, from an introduction through James Salter and Greg McBride, and once he’d read the voice-over script said – yes, he’d be our narrator. We recorded his voice over in the depths of COVID lockdown: Ewan at his home, James in a studio in Santa Monica, me talking to both on Facetime video!

It was great to see Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead at our Electric Revolutionaries reception: Ewan is a big supporter of all things motorcycle, including eBikes, having ridden a LiveWire up the length of South America. [MAF]
The final piece of the jigsaw (and a feature documentary is a massive jigsaw of elements, most of them in flux all the time…) came just over a year ago. Again, it was at another VOC meeting. Gerry had ridden to a pub meet in Kent on his Comet and Colin Manning introduced him to Russell Icke, who’d not long ago bought a Shadow and Comet. In a very British way, Gerry asked: ‘And what do you do?’ to which Russell replied, ‘I’m a film editor…’ Cut to 12 months later and Russell, and his lead editor Liz Deegan, have really got us over the line – long days in there cutting, finessing, plus of course all the major post production work which people really do not know much about, but are key: sound balance, picture grading, captioning. I’ve learnt a great deal at every stage, but working with Russell and Liz was brilliant – their skills have really embedded the jeopardy of the story: Would the company suffer another humiliation in the 1935 TT, the first one with their own entries, as they did the year before? Would the post-war Rapide, planned during the last year of the war, work? Would it sell? What were the effects of Vincent’s crash, riding an early Rapide on a race circuit in 1947? Vincent fans may know the answers to a good deal of these questions – but the key thing in making a documentary for a more general audience is that most will not know…and of course Vincent, Irving and the workforce, didn’t know either. Vincent was a gambler in many ways. For years, it paid off, but later, less so."

David Lancaster with his 1939 Vincent-HRD Comet, an apex vintage motorcycle. [Nick Clements-Men's File magazine]

What's in the Garage?

And with that, of course, the film has launched. No word about DVD releases, but David assures me, as noted earlier, that work is underway to get the film out to all markets keen to view it. In the meantime, David will enjoy running his early Rapide, a bike that was owned by his father in the 1950s and the very machine his parents used for many of their adventures. It had been sold out of the family, David found it in Germany, “and then swooped when it came up for sale at Bonhams.” He’s not letting that one go, but he did sell a 1939 Comet which he’d kept for 10 years. Of the Comet, he says, “It was a wonderful bike: reasonably fast, and on a smooth road great handling, with excellent brakes. Had a wonderful ride at Wheels and Waves, 2015 I think, when Johnny Boneyard and I vanned Paul Simonon’s 'Wot No Bike?' paintings [read David's story on Paul's book here] and our bikes down. I still remember cruising along with Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin on the northern Spanish backroads, they on a Commando, ducking and diving into bends. Great trip”.

Paul Simonon at the 2015 edition of Wheels and Waves, with his paintings displayed at the ArtRide exhibit. [Paul d'Orléans]
But it’s the V-twins that truly captivate David’s interest. “I still sit, after working on the Rapide, and marvel at the achievement of the post-war twins: they are utterly unique, the work of two geniuses – Vincent and Irving – designed and built when both were at the top of their game, by a dedicated workforce.” The Rapide is not the only machine of interest in David’s garage. He adds, “I’ve also got a 1958 AJS 31 CS, with a Von Dutch tank, which is an easy bike to live with. Still on original wiring, mag, etc. Plus, there’s a 1971 MV Agusta 350, an ’88 Saab 900 Turbo and ’75 Jaguar XJ Coupe. I sold the Comet to buy the Jag. Never easy parting with these things, but I wanted a classic with four seats, not two, which my wife, daughter and our adopted daughter could take a holiday in and enjoy. Which we have done.”

David's 1958 AJS 31CS with a SoCal custom paint job...which just might have been painted by Von Dutch. [Bonhams]
David professes his mechanical skills are limited, “probably by my laziness – but I seem to get home on bikes, even after some roadside fiddling. I choose my riding buddies for many reasons – good company, a sense of humour – but possibly mechanical skills, too. Or so it seems.” He is a member of the Vincent Owners Club and London’s Mean Fuckers Motorcycle Club [a 1980s post-punk/rocker classic bike club, written about in my book 'Ton Up!' - ed.]. While busy with his day job lecturing in Journalism at the University of Westminster, David has been working toward a book that will augment Speed is Expensive. “It’ll be more detailed, more specialist than the film,” he says, “but still built around the same access we’ve enjoyed to those who worked with both Vincent and Irving and knew them well.” Other projects are potentially in the works, as David is working on ideas with his friend and Speed is Expensive executive producer Robert Carr (co-founder in the late 1980s of the Mean Fuckers MC) and Andrew Nahum [read our story on Andrew here]. “We’re working on a film treatment which will combine France, vintage motoring, literature and food,” and David sagely concludes, “Bikes are great – but you’ve got to eat.”

 

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


Jack Leong and the Ace-Hy M.C. Archive

In the days before the ubiquitous smart phone placed a camera in the hands of everyone, photography was an expensive and time consuming hobby. Gear, film, and darkroom or lab costs meant taking pictures was something only a select few opted to pursue. Thankfully, Jack Leong of Calgary, Alberta had the means to support his passion. In his younger years, Jack worked as a grocer, drove a truck and a taxi, and was a partner in a sporting goods store. Everywhere he went, he brought a camera, including when riding his beloved 1947 Indian Chief as a member of Calgary’s Ace-Hy Club in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Jack took an incredible number of photographs documenting the group’s activities, and an impressive archive of 500 black and white images of motorcycles and the men and women who enjoyed them has come to light after being stored away in bins and boxes for decades.

Jack Leong looking cool with his girlfriend (and future wife) Jean Tewsley, his 35mm camera in evidence [Ace-Hy Archive]

Walt Healy 

None of this story would likely have happened without Walt Healy, an integral figure in Calgary’s motorcycle history. Walt was born in 1913 and lived his entire life in Calgary. As a youngster walking to school, he was curious about an Indian Power Plus that leaned against a fence at a local greenhouse.  At 13 years old he was working as a bicycle courier for the Diamond Motor Company Limited – a Graham-Paige garage in downtown Calgary - and had earned enough money to buy a 350cc Douglas twin. Replacing his bicycle with the Douglas allowed Walt to deliver farther and faster, and it was the machine he owned as a founding member of the Calgary Motorcycle Club in 1926. After the Douglas, Walt ran a 1918 Harley-Davidson attached to a National sidecar, and opened shop as Walt’s Service, delivering everything from groceries to paint for 10- to 25-cents per load.

Walt Healy on his Indian TT Warrior hillclimb special at an Ace-Hy event. Note the sweet two-into-one pipes! [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
An Indian 101 Scout and sidecar joined his fleet, but in the late 1920s he was looking for another machine. He left a $20 deposit with the local Harley-Davidson dealer and was assured he'd get the next retired police outfit to come in.  When Walt returned with the rest of the cash for the bike, he was told it had been sold to someone else. And the next outfit didn’t fall into Walt’s hands, either. That bike was turned into a hillclimber by the shop’s proprietor.  For his $20 deposit, Walt instead got an Indian 101 Scout motor languishing on a workbench.  It had been left behind due to an unpaid service bill, but Walt knew who had owned it. He visited the motor’s owner, and for another $10 bought the Scout chassis...and built a hillclimber for himself.  Walt told me he did it just so “I could kick the Harley dealer in the ass” in every hillclimb the dealer entered.

Jack Leong's 1947 Indian Chief in front of Walt Healy's shop on 10th Street in the community of Kensington, Calgary. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Walt still needed two new machines for his delivery service; he was only 18 but business was strong. In 1931, Walt spoke to the Indian dealer in Calgary about obtaining motorcycles; he was told that for $100 he could buy the entire stock, including enough parts to build two Chiefs, and more to keep other Indians in service.  From a rented garage, Walt ran an Indian sales and repair agency during the hours he wasn’t delivering goods. By April 1939, he and a few other members of the Calgary Motorcycle Club founded the Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club. It’s believed Walt was interested in sponsoring racing - hill climbs, hare scrambles, ice and flat track racing - while continuing to foster an active riding group. The fact he was an Indian dealer meant several of the Acy-Hy members rode Springfield-built machines, but the club was not restricted to just that brand and Ariel, Harley-Davidson, Triumph and even Vincent motorcycles were represented.

Jack Leong and his girlfriend Jean Tewsley in Banff, two-up on their 1947 Indian Chief. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

John 'Jack' Leong

Circling back to John ‘Jack’ Leong; he was born in 1923 in Vancouver, B.C. His parents moved to Calgary when he was a child, where his father prospered in business and later opened a gambling club. Leong Sr. was generous, often helping new Chinese immigrants gain their footing in the community. “I’m not even sure my dad could speak English until he started school here,” his daughter Denise Eckert says. Jack was mechanically minded and worked hard at whatever job he was doing. During World War II, he flew with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Jack Leong's c.1949 Indian Scout vertical twin. These postwar singles and twins, designed by the Torque Corporation during WW2, were intended to be light and quick competition with British machines. They fit the bill, and looked great, but were rushed into production before all their bugs were sorted, which cost Indian so much in money and reputation, they killed the company. Many old Indian stalwarts resent these models, but in truth Indian had the right idea, but bad timing. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Jack didn’t see any overseas action but after the war he remained enthusiastic about flying and held a pilot’s license and owned an airplane. Denise surmises it was the thrill of being a pilot that led her father to the controls of an Indian Chief, often equipped with a sidecar. And that’s when Jack would have entered Walt Healy's orbit, and the thrall of the Ace-Hy Club. Denise says, “I know my dad had other motorcycles that he raced and hill-climbed with the Ace-Hy, but he just really seemed to be passionate about Indian.” Of his photography hobby, Denise says her dad was mostly self-taught. He loaded his own film, took the pictures, developed the negatives and enlarged the images in his own darkroom. “Photography was a passion,” Denise says. “He subscribed to photography magazines and read them cover to cover, and he was always carrying a camera.”

A classic image of bikers at rest. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Many of the images Jack took of Ace-Hy activities were shot with one of his trusty medium-format folding cameras. At the time, he owned a Kodak Vigilant Six-20 (f/4.5 103mm lens) but upgraded to a Kodak Tourist (F/4.5 101mm lens). Many of his photos feature hillclimb competition, and these events were sometimes held on the steep terrain found 23 miles west of Calgary near the town of Cochrane. While Jack was usually behind the camera, some photos show him campaigning a parallel-twin Indian Scout. He also snapped shots of the club on road runs, with a line of machines and riders posing in front of a cafe some 65 miles west of the city, near the Rocky Mountain town of Canmore. On the road, at club socials, racing – Jack had his camera ready and even traveled with Walt and others to tracks in the western provinces and northwestern states to captured the action.  There’s even a shot of Walt aboard his Indian race bike on a track that looks like Montana. Walt raced in Canada with his CMA No. 38 plate, but when he raced in the U.S., his number was 38T because Ed Kretz Sr.’s number was also 38.

On the road to a hill climb or flat track race. The ca. 1940 Buick Limited Touring Sedan was Walt Healy's. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
In the early 1950s, Jack met his wife-to-be, Jean Tewsley, at an Ace-Hy Club dance. “The club had so many social events,” Denise says, “and that’s where they met. My dad was 26, and she was 18. My mom rode her own motorcycle, and she was really a bit of a trailblazer. She rode the bike year round, but after they got married in ’55 and started the family, motorcycles were given up. They did attend some Ace-Hy social events after they were married, but there were no more motorcycles. And when I was growing up, Dad didn’t elaborate very much on stories about his machines. I think he was somewhat sad about having to give them up but realized raising a family and starting a new career as an electrician were now his priorities.”

Preparing the ground on a hill in Cochrane, Alberta, for a hillclimb competition. An image rarely seen!  And poetically beautiful...like a Courbet painting. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
But he kept taking pictures. As an electrician, Jack was often away on job sites and would photograph and document the work. When Denise was younger, she went with her dad on road trips to the mountains to shoot wildlife. In the early 1980s, when the Canadian economy crashed, Jack was laid off from the electrical industry. “At that time,” Denise recalls, “He started working at Japan Camera at Market Mall. A few years later, he began working in the photography department at London Drugs. When the management got wind of his age -- he was already in his 70s but didn’t look it -- he was essentially forced to retire. He loved these jobs and cherished the relationships built with so many repeat customers.” By that time, the Ace-Hy club had become only a memory to those who had been involved during its heyday, as by the mid-1960s it had essentially disbanded.

'Dave' Attitude. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

Art Gavel 

But some remember the Ace-Hy Club, including Art Gavel. I interviewed Art four years ago and learned he was a talented motorcycle mechanic from Nova Scotia who arrived in Calgary in 1957. The day after he got to the city, Art was knocking on doors. The first place he stopped was Walt Healy’s motorcycle shop, then on 10th Street in Kensington. After a quick word with Walt, Art found himself employed and began turning wrenches the next day. “I never regretted working with Walt,” Art recalls. “He was a wonderful man to work for, but you didn’t want to get him mad. Of course, Indian – the brand Walt had started with – was done by ’53 so by that time we were selling Triumphs, and then Jawa and CZs. In the shop, I could service anything, and what Walt and I didn’t have in the way of tools to fix something we’d make.” He says Walt’s shop was roughly the size of three double-car garages. There was a showroom, and a large service shop. One of the most common chores in those days, according to Art, was bottom end servicing, including grinding crank journals not only for motorcycle engines but also automobiles and tractors.

Prep for the Turner Valley hillclimb with a c.1948 Ford F4 flatbed. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
The day Art started working with Walt he joined the Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club. “There were quite a few members then,” Art says. “The Ace-Hy wasn’t as much about road riding as it was about sport riding – grass track racing, cross-country racing, 100-mile endurance runs, and a lot of hillclimbs.” One of the club’s favourite activities was the annual Christmas Turkey Run. A turkey run is so-called because of the chance to win a prize bird, but the event was mostly an off-road cross-country race held late in the year in the cold and the snow.

Three Ace-Hy Club members at McFarland Lumber Yards in Okotoks, a few miles south of Calgary, on a winter ride. Jean Tewsley and Donna Hamilton are aboard their Indian vertical twin Scout models, while another rider has a JAWA 350cc twin, all attached to outrigger wheels for riding on ice! [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
“The Ace-Hy was a really good group of just ordinary people,” Art explains. “It didn’t matter what make or model of bike you rode, you’d be welcome. And, if somebody bought a cheap bike and joined the group, we’d all pitch in to work together and get the bike into good shape for them to safely ride.” And just like Jack Leong and Jean, if it wasn’t for the Ace-Hy club, Art says he’d have not met his future wife. “An Ace-Hy member, Eddy Thomas, and I had overhauled a motor for his flathead Ford,” Art says. “Eddy was getting the car into shape because he was going to drive it on his honeymoon. We were driving over to work on the car when we saw his bride-to-be Lorna and her friend waiting for a bus. We pulled over and picked them up, and Lorna’s friend was Joan – and Joan offered to buy me a milk shake. I always say that buying me that shake was the biggest mistake of her life!”

An Ace-Hy competition on the prairie: the club was primarily organized around racing. Note the Triumph T100 twin and AJS M18 single in the background. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

Kaetyn St. Hilaire

When Jack died early in 2015 at the age of 92, Denise began the task of sifting through decades of her dad’s photographs, including the Ace-Hy archive. His work might not have come to light, however, if the Ace-Hy name hadn’t been resurrected in 2018 and used to identify the Alberta chapter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. Now, the revived Ace-Hy, as an AMCA chapter, holds regular meetings, road runs and swap meets and is fortunate to have young Kaetyn St. Hilaire as an enthusiastic member. Kaetyn works the club’s social media and updates the @acehymotorcycleclub feed on Instagram.

Pit stop on a club competition. Note the AMA patch on his leather jacket; many racers crossed the border for racing. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
In the summer of 2021, Kaetyn began working with Calgary’s boutique Village Ice Cream shop to promote an antique motorcycle display at their Victoria Park location. And Denise, who happens to follow Village Ice Cream on Instagram, took notice when the shop posted a notice about its upcoming Ace-Hy motorcycle event. She made a comment on the post about her dad, Jack, the Ace-Hy club, and his archive of motorcycle images. “I asked if I could see them,” Kaetyn says, “and she allowed me to take all of them and scan them.” That treasure trove of photographs now forms the Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive, and Denise granted permission for the images to be widely shared. Kaetyn routinely posts them to Instagram and Denise is happy, and says her dad would be happy, too, knowing the images have been given new life in a digital environment where others can appreciate his work.

A contrast in gender roles, although Alberta ladies surely had no problem digging in when required. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
As the note says, Banff in March 1950. The snow has mostly melted on the ground, but Cascade Mountain stays white.[Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
This cafe was at the side of the highway at Canmore, Alberta. Mount Lady MacDonald to the right, and what is today know as Bald Eagle Peak to the left. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Hard to say what Jack Leong thought of the 'white help only' sign at the cafe... [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
That Ace-Hy patch is begging for a reboot! Great club colors. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Jack Leong's daughter Denise Eckert sitting on Ace-Hy member Robert Olivier’s circa 1946-1947 Indian Chief with sidecar, the same year and model her dad, Jack, would have ridden. She has no motorcycle experience, and this was her first time even sitting on a bike. [Kimberly Eckert]
Out on the Alberta prairie on a club run. [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]
Bikers: cool without even trying (too hard). [Jack Leong/Ace-Hy Motorcycle Club Archive]

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


Thinking Outside the Box: Hossack Engineering

In the mid-1970s, Norman Hossack visited the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London.  Norman had congenital nystagmus, a condition where his eyes dash left and right. Blindness was never a prognosis, but fine, up-close work was a problem.  A professor at the Institute told him farming would be a suitable occupation, but that wasn’t what Norman, who was perfecting his welding and machining skills, wanted to hear. “That was life altering for me,” Norman says of his visit to the RNIB, “But I didn’t stop thinking about stuff.”  Although his eyes were initially a setback, Norman gracefully steered through life’s twists and turns and absorbed the shocks, later developing the radical HOSSACK suspension system, as used by Britten, BMW and Honda in their motorcycles.

The start of it all: a brand new Ducati Mach 1 taken to the track in South Africa. [Norman Hossack]
At the time, Norman was working for McLaren in England. He was involved in many aspects of McLaren’s race cars and crewed on the racing teams, including three years at Indianapolis in 1972, 1973 and 1974. Running a metal lathe, perfecting his TIG welding skills, learning about chassis and suspension design... Norman was creatively inspired and more than happy in his position. “But my eyesight wasn’t adding up,” he says. “Distance sight wasn’t a problem, but any close-up work was ruled out.” Norman left McLaren in 1974 without divulging the reason for his departure. He went skiing, paid for by working in bars; he sailed as crew, and learned to pilot a glider by doing field maintenance. All things, he says, that didn’t depend on the noise and vibration of an internal combustion engine to propel him. Born in Bellshill, Scotland in 1946, Norman moved with his mother and father to South Africa just two years later. Norman’s father was an aircraft engineer, and during WW2 repaired RAF (Royal Air Force) engines in Karachi, India. They moved initially to South Africa and then to Rhodesia, where the family camped under canvas near Rusape for four years while Hossack Sr. maintained heavy construction equipment including bulldozers, tractors and stone crushers for a modern roadway project – the first real road to the East. “We were very remote and didn’t have a lot of things. I had to entertain myself and spent most of my time outdoors,” Norman says.

The first test mule for Hossack's front end, HOSSACK 1, which eventually got a Honda motor. [Norman Hossack]
When the family moved to Umtali, Norman began taking an interest in engineering and mechanics. “I was greatly intrigued by the Luna Park (small amusement parks named after Luna Park, opened in 1903 on Coney Island) that would set up on the square outside our school. Rides such as the Octopus, Chair-O-Plane, Dodgem and Big Wheel fascinated me, and I wondered how it mechanically all went together,” Norman says. At 14, Norman’s father presented him with a challenge. A 1949 125cc BSA Bantam, taken apart and then abandoned, was found. Norman had to go and pick up the pieces and put it together and make it run. “My father didn’t get involved, but after a bit of struggle I managed to work it all out and would then tear around the neighborhood after school.” When he was 16, just about to turn 17, Norman began a 5-year apprenticeship in the motor trade. “I would have preferred to go into the air force, but I’d failed my English exam because my spelling was appalling,” he says. “I was ahead of the job, and fixing cars was a bit mundane – I wanted to be changing and inventing things and couldn’t really see a reason to accept some designs as they were.” He invented a door lock, for example, for a Ford Cortina to replace the bolt-action lock that wouldn’t keep the car door closed on some of the rough African roads. “Mine worked, and kept the door closed,” he explains.

The little bike that could: HOSSACK 1 on the track with a fairing, a winning machine for years. [Norman Hossack]
But the motor trade job provided wages that allowed him to buy his first – and only – brand new machine, a 250cc Ducati Mach I. Paid off in installments, the Ducati was soon on the racetrack. “During our racing season, many of the European racers would come to Africa, and we’d see people such as Mike Hailwood. In fact, I raced a 20-lap race against Mike, and he overtook me three times in 20 laps! Still, I found it significant to have been on the track at the same time as him.” Following advice found in a Cycle World magazine, Norman modified the Ducati’s swingarm pivot to strengthen it.  That didn't make the motorcycle any faster, and he soon sold the Ducati to fund a trip to England and Europe where he spent time hitchhiking and doing odd jobs. One of those jobs, albeit unpaid, was working as engine tuner and mechanic for racer Gordon Keith as he campaigned the Continental Circus on European tracks. “It was me, his girlfriend and him in a van and a caravan, traveling and racing every weekend,” Norman recalls. “He ran a 500cc Velocette single and a 250cc Yamaha 2-stroke twin – that kept me busy.” After the 1970 Isle of Man race, Norman took a job working as a mechanic for a Lotus dealership in London. “I was just fixing road cars, and always found putting engines together a bit boring and not very nourishing – it’s always the same result, you turn the key, and it starts,” Norman says. “One of the guys I’d met in Europe during motorcycle racing invited me to join him, and I told him I’d think about it and had every intention of joining him but before the 1972 season started, I got a job with McLaren. I had to turn him down.” The ‘guy’ in question was a young Barry Sheene, and rather than entering the world of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, Norman found himself immersed in McLaren’s Indianapolis, Formula 1 and CANAM racing pursuits.

Norman's piston-sealing concept after Wankel inspiration: a square piston with a rocking-swiping motion that proved to work, many years too late for two-stroke engines. [Norman Hossack]
During his McLaren years, Norman returned to motorcycle club racing aboard a Yamsel, a 350cc Yamaha engine is a Seeley frame. He campaigned the racer on circuits such as Brands Hatch and Snetterton, but says it was a more a hobby than a serious affair. “McLaren really inspired me,” he says. “It was an opening up of the mind, and it made me a wiser, more experienced and skilled person – that was my university education.” But it was an education that ended in 1974, with the suggestion that Norman take up farming over any kind of engineering ambitions. During this period, Norman was still thinking and tinkering. For example, while living at home in South Africa, he’d pored over his father’s Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines for articles pertaining to alternative engine development. He was most interested to learn about the principles of the Wankel rotary. However, he didn’t appreciate that a power comparison couldn’t be made directly between a Wankel and an ordinary internal combustion engine. Ultimately, he’d come away from South Africa with an idea for an engine that combined a piston with the sealing capacity of a Wankel to the crank of a standard engine. Working with fabricators in London, by 1979 Norman pieced together a running prototype. There was a problem, though. While it started, it would only run for approximately five seconds before dying. It proved his theory of the revised combustion chamber, but the project got shelved without becoming fully realized. Fast forward, though, to 2011. Now living in California, Norman had brought his engine with him, and dragged the pieces back out. The running issue was traced to a defective carburetor – with a new carb on the intake, the little engine ran like a dream. “During the time I wanted it to work, it didn’t,” Norman says of the design. “When I got it to work, no one was interested in 2-strokes anymore.”

Offering the Hossack fork as a kit. [Norman Hossack]
Back to motorcycles and Norman’s story in England. Alongside the engine he designed, he’d also turned his attention to motorcycle suspension. From the dawn of the motorcycling age, front forks have evolved from the simple rigid bicycle blade to sprung girder-style to the most common telescopic versions still in use today. Other methods have been employed; just two examples include hub-center steering as seen on the Ner-A-Car of the 1920s [read our Road Test here], and the ‘pulled wheel’ or trailing-link girder system once used on some Belgian-built Fabrique Nationale single-cylinder machines from 1947 until 1952. Norman was not impressed with the FN fork. “I was always thinking about stuff, and I’d studied telescopic forks and hub-center steering,” Norman says. “I didn’t like either style and wondered if two wishbones with an upright, similar to racing car technology, could be used on a motorbike – this kind of designed itself, really, and it involved some creativity in how it would steer.” Norman constructed a rudimentary prototype dual wishbone and upright system to see how well it would articulate. It worked. His next step was to build a frame, front end and swingarm with scrapyard wheels underneath it. “We were just pushing it around a trading estate parking lot,” Norman recalls. “A friend said to me, ‘You’re doing quite well here, why don’t you put an engine in it?’”

A Yamaha RD350 racer with Hossack front end: zero brake diving, and a great weight reduction. [Norman Hossack]
A Honda XL 500cc single was slightly modified to fit the frame. In 1979, Norman started riding it around the parking lot and within two months, he was piloting it around the track at Brands Hatch. “I was rushing up to Paddock Bend thinking the only thing between me and a lot of pain is my own engineering – there were a lot of thoughts about whether I was doing the right thing.” But it never fell apart. At a time when nickel bronze welding was the popular method for joining frame tubes, Norman’s frame was all TIG-welded and all bearings were needle rollers. Norman raced his special to the end of 1981 and early 1982, and then Vernon Glashier took over the controls. In Vernon’s hands, HOSSACK 1, as it was dubbed, won the 1983 Bemsee single championship. “Hossack 1 was revolutionary in the way it handled,” Norman says. “The front suspension action was the most noticeable difference when seen on the track. The bike did not dive when the brakes were applied.” In 1982, Norman built HOSSACK 2, a 250cc Rotax-powered racer. That machine won the 1983 Bemsee 250cc championship. HOSSACK 1, the same bike that was built as the test platform, won the 1986, 1987 and 1988 British Single Cylinder Championship races. “It was almost 10 years old when it won the last championship at which point Vernon stopped racing it because the rules changed from 500cc to 600cc. It retired unbeaten,” Norman says.

Ray Knight on the HOSSACK 3 racer on its inaugural event at Brands Hatch in 1983; he took 3rd place first time out. [Norman Hossack]
Norman set himself the task of commercializing the HOSSACK 3 racer, now with a 350cc LC Yamaha engine and began taking names of potential customers. His venture didn’t see fruition. Motorcyclists essentially adhere to tradition. “It was only me against the world,” Norman says, and adds, “It was so different, and people didn’t want to experiment.” Common comments Norman heard were “what do car guys know about bikes anyway?” and “if it was any good, the Japanese would have done it.” Norman says he also did not have the wherewithal to put on a decent show. “I was working hard just to stand still, really. And then people stopped building bespoke racers as the club scene turned to production race machines.” What next? Norman’s friend suggested converting road bikes with the HOSSACK front suspension system. He converted a crashed BMW K100RS with front end damage to a HOSSACK system, and “that bike led from one thing to another,” Norman explains. “I converted five K100s for customers in England and the message got around, at which point a delegation from WUDO, a German BMW dealer came to see me, and I started selling (converted) bikes in Germany through WUDO. They helped me get TÜV approval.” Notoriously rigorous in its testing, German TÜV approval ensures the highest quality in design and workmanship. There’s another story here, too. Norman says, “One of my English customers went to BMW in Munich and let them test his Hossack K100 on their test track. After that I was invited into the Munich R/D department where they quizzed me about my design, but they were about to release their Telelever front suspension. When that happened, my BMW market all but dried up. I was a family man making a living and I didn’t have cash to put into this.” His last English-built HOSSACK was a 1994 Triumph Trident 900 conversion. The Triumph was owned by Keith Duckworth of Cosworth engine fame, and Keith got the bike into Hinckley Triumph’s hands. “They couldn’t see the point of it,” Norman says. “I was broke, and had to give up on it and walk away.”

One of Norman's BMW K100 conversions, which the factory took note of, and copied for themselves. [Norman Hossack]
Norman found his way into the medical world and the design of intravascular ultrasound equipment. This career trajectory saw his family relocate to the U.S. in 2001, and “this was much more rewarding work that might actually help people – it seemed more useful to the world than racing motorcycles or cars,” he says. But just as his HOSSACK engine had a second life in America, so too has his HOSSACK suspension. In 2004, BMW launched their K1200S with Duolever front suspension, “and BMW credited me in their literature, acknowledging where the idea came from,” Norman says [he never patented his design - ed.]. For his own personal use, in 2013 Norman converted a Ducati 800 to a HOSSACK system. The bike shed 30 pounds in the process with an upright and wishbones constructed of TIG-welded 4130 tubing. Suspension is supplied by an Ikon damper. Overall, the HOSSACK front suspension provides a lighter, yet more communicative ride with outstanding braking power, but this Ducati is the last motorcycle he'll likely convert. His eyesight did not, thankfully, deteriorate. In fact, the problem got better with time, and he says “It’s still present, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything.” Norman retired from the medical world in 2017 and has set much of his life’s story down in a yet-to-be-published book that, thankfully, does not contain any chapters about farming.

Norman with a converted Ducati with trellis frame, a perfect match for his fork design. [Norman Hossack]

 

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


Not Just Skidding Around

Falling over and crashing is a possible outcome when learning to ride a motorcycle. But what if a device existed that removed the potential of tipping over from the equation – wouldn’t it make sense to employ it at riding schools? Dane Pitarresi thinks so. He’s the man in North America behind SKIDBIKE, a unique piece of equipment developed in Sweden about a decade ago. Simply described, when a motorcycle is attached to a SKIDBIKE, front and rear tire grip can be electronically adjusted to simulate all kinds of riding conditions – such as squeezing the front brake, for example, while cornering. Doing that in most situations would usually have a rider on the ground. Doing that on a SKIDBIKE-equipped machine would see the bike lean to a certain point before the ‘Safety Wings’ prevented any damage. “In these situations,” Dane’s SKIDBIKE.com site claims, “the SKIDBIKE is ‘The Crash, Without the Rash.’” In other words, it becomes a terrific teaching aid, and one that Dane first discovered as it applied to cars.

The SKIDBIKE system on a motorcycle: it took a late night drinking session to apply the technology to a motorcycle! [Dane Pitarresi]
Born in 1951 and raised in Portland, Oregon, Dane was crazy about anything with wheels. His dad influenced the curiosity. Whenever a new car came into the family, everyone would load up and hit the road, “Just to see how fast it could go.” In 1954, his dad piled the family into a 1941 Buick Business Coupe and drove east to New York. That was followed in 1956 with a run to Mazatlán. In his teens, Dane raced bicycles on the velodrome and on the road, but after graduating from school, he sold everything to hitchhike around Europe. While there, he was presented with an opportunity to go either to Morocco to lay on the beach or to England to take a performance driving school at Thruxton [yes, THAT Thruxton, a WW2 airfield converted to a racetrack post-war, and the source of both the Velocette Thruxton and Triumph Thruxton production racers of the 1960s - ed.]. This was in the early 1970s, and Dane chose the driving school. “I found out I was kind of good at that,” he says.  Returning home, Dane started racing sports cars in 1972 before getting into a bad street crash. He says, “In 1974 I tried to wrap a right hand drive Bugeye Sprite around a telephone pole.” Recovering set him back, but he was racing again by 1976. In the late 1970s, Dane discovered his calling when he began teaching others how to race. “I took the skills I’d learned in the UK and in my own racing career and taught amateur sports car club drivers how to race,” Dane explains, and continues, “In 1986, the manager of the Portland International Raceway took me aside and said some big names were making noise about hosting a race school, and he knew that was something I had wanted to do.”

Municipalities are the biggest customers for the SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK systems, all of which provide excellent training for drivers. [Dane Pitarresi]
So, Dane talked his way into some Toyota cars, parts and tires and in 1987 began operating his own race school at Portland International Raceway. Not long after, when PIR’s maintenance manager went to Silverstone Circuit in Towcester, England, he noticed a Jaguar running around with outriggers built by Cedergrens Mechanical in Klintehamn, Sweden. The device, he learned, was called a SKIDCAR. He told Dane about it, and the pair thought a SKIDCAR would prove ideal for training at Portland, where, due to the water table, a skid pad couldn’t be built. “Except, once we got three of them here, we thought it wasn’t race car drivers who needed this, it’s the public and teenagers – we could teach them skid control. In 1990, I made a deal with Cedergrens and became the sole source for SKIDCAR in North America. We spent an enormous amount of money trying to market the driver training device to the public, but they all thought SKIDCAR should be free, and the prevailing mentality has been, ‘everyone else needs to learn to drive, and I don’t.’” Ever since, Dane and his wife and partner Lisa’s largest market for the SKIDCAR device has been to law enforcement agencies. “There are about 330 or 340 SKIDCARs in North America, but it’s something of a niche industry,” he admits. There’s also a SKIDTRUCK device, and, around 2010 or 2011, the SKIDBIKE came about.

A .gif screen capture of an entertaining video by Motorcyclist - watch the video here. [Motorcyclist]
“We’d talked about the idea of doing a skid motorcycle, but there was a lot of engineering and geometry keeping the Swedes from doing it,” Dane says. “But the worldwide Skid community thought a SKIDBIKE would be great, and in 2012, I was in northern Sweden with the two brothers who run Cedergrens. It was a brutally cold January evening and we were talking about a skid bike and drinking whisky when Curt Cedergrens said, ‘I think I know how to do this!’ So, a really cold winter evening and whisky helped push it forward.” Dane’s company is now based in Las Vegas, and he continues to promote SKIDBIKE, SKIDCAR and SKIDTRUCK because, as he says, “With these devices we can allow riders and drivers to learn from their mistakes, and they can learn more quickly. We can literally decrease the coefficient of friction to decrease the tire contact patch, and it becomes like riding or driving on ice. One can quickly learn how to countersteer without getting hurt, and on the SKIDBIKE, it’s easy to understand that the handlebar needs to be square when those two wheels come into alignment – that becomes muscle memory.”

The SKIDTRUCK is impressive! [Dane Pitarresi]
From 2013 to 2018, Dane devoted a significant amount of his marketing budget targeting state-run motorcycle training programs. He says most organizers appreciated the SKIDBIKE technology and could see the value in learning to ride with one. However, a SKIDBIKE is expensive at about $20,000 each, and the curriculum usually couldn’t accommodate the application. That’s not to say no one took it up – a few state-run programs invested in a SKIDBIKE. “But the private training schools didn’t see how a custom program with the SKIDBIKE could be marketed,” Dane explains. Which is a shame, because as Dane says, “The SKIDBIKE could target brand new riders who don’t even know how to twist a throttle to go – but with them on a SKIDBIKE they can start off riding right away. It doesn’t take long to get them to see how it all works and they can make all the mistakes they’re afraid of making without ever getting hurt.” Surprisingly, it’s law enforcement agencies and fire departments who appreciate SKIDCAR, SKIDBIKE and SKIDTRUCK. “With the SKIDBIKE, for example, most of the police departments use bagger-style machines and if they could get used to going down without putting a foot down it would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in injuries. With a police bike, when it goes down, it’s best to just let it fall and stay with it.”

SKIDBIKE and SKIDCAR training vehicles. Sounds fun, actually! [Dane Pitarresi]
Now, with many new vehicle technologies such as traction control and ABS, Dane says most people think they can just drive or ride faster. “These technologies intrude in the riding and driving experience,” he says, “and they try to keep us safe from ourselves. But with Skid training, we could teach riders and drivers how to be safe in the first place. And, we can show how these traction control and ABS systems work, and also show how they can be over-driven or over-ridden – if you overdo the laws of physics, you’re done.” He concludes, “What I get to do is so much fun; put someone in a SKIDCAR or on a SKIDBIKE and they always come back shaking their head, saying everybody should try one.”

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Traveling by Chopper: Charlie Weisel

After swapping out a clutch hub bearing and installing a new primary drive belt at Rivera Primo’s shop in Goleta, California, Charlie Weisel (that’s pronounced Wisel), hit the road. After a short ride, he pulled over and returned my call. I’d called him a couple of hours earlier, right when he was elbows deep in the drive side of his 2003 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail chopper. With a car or truck passing every few minutes, Charlie sat astride the 10-foot 4-inch long custom. “Everything all right?” one concerned driver shouted out during our conversation. “Yeah, all fine!” Charlie replied. He’s used to the attention, and says, “people do tend to stop and make sure I’m good fairly often, it’s a reminder that humans are far more caring and helpful than we like to believe.” And he’d know. Over the last several years, Charlie has ridden his chopper more than 235,000 miles, traveling the roads of 17 European countries, Mexico, and all 48 contiguous United States. “I’ve never named the thing,” Charlie says of his Harley-Davidson. “But I will talk to it. I have a pretty close relationship with the machine; I’m constantly asking it to go just a little further or saying sorry for riding it where I’m asking it to go. So, either begging or apologizing!” He rides on all surfaces, from asphalt to dirt, sand and gravel. “Typically, the more remote and difficult roads yield the greatest rewards,” he explains.

A familiar roadside shrine near Conception Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]
Charlie didn’t grow up around motorcycles, but he was a seasoned traveler. His dad was a career Air Force man, and the family moved around the country every two or three years. And his mom, who was athletic and a marathon runner, got him interested in road racing bicycles. “I raced from the age of 11, up until I was 28 or 29. I basically burned out on it,” he says. “I’d win a race, live for a week on the earnings, and then drive to another race and zig-zagged around the country. Eventually, the fun was taken out of the bicycle racing and the only part I enjoyed was the traveling.” Although not raised around motorcycles, he wasn’t exactly a stranger to them. Having been taught where the clutch, brake levers and throttle were on a friend’s bike, Charlie would occasionally borrow a machine and ride for an hour or two. About 22 years ago, Charlie moved near Boulder, Colorado, and eventually got his motorcycle license. In 2002, he bought a new Harley-Davidson Sportster. “I had the idea that I’d travel, but I’d use a motorcycle to do it,” he says. Ironically, the Sportster was mostly ridden around town. It wasn’t until 2005 when Charlie put money on the ‘03 Heritage Softail that miles really began rolling under his tires. “I took a ride with a couple of friends up to Wyoming,” Charlie recalls. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but it all felt very natural to me. I’d already been all over the country, just not on a motorcycle – and the motorcycle added something extra awesome to the mix.”

Charley Weisel at a roadside motel. [Charlie Weisel]
As purchased, the Heritage Softail had apehanger handlebars. Everything else about it was stock. Slowly, the machine began to evolve. “I changed the paint, cut a few things off here and there,” Charlie explains, and continues, “But about 10 years ago, I decided to hardtail it and rake it out. I’d always liked long choppers, and it was time for me to do it.” While mechanically competent, Charlie insists he’s not a fabricator or a welder. “I have friends who can help me with that,” he says. Overall, the aesthetic of his long, rigid-at-both-ends chopper is reminiscent of custom builds from Sweden. And Charlie runs a 15-inch car tire on the rear. “That’s both form and function. It’s a Swedish thing to do, and a lot of the old choppers ran car tires. For what I do, it makes total sense. I can run it a little lower on air pressure and smooth out some of the bumps, and I can get 30,000 miles out of a tire instead of changing motorcycle tires twice a month.” Experts enjoy telling Charlie that he can’t ride with a car tire on the rear of his motorcycle, regardless of the fact he has and will pound out 1,000 mile days on the machine. “People who’ve never done it are the first to say, ‘You can’t do it,’” he says. “I’m not going to put a car tire on the back of a sport bike and take it to the track, but people do tend to get super-hot about this kind of stuff.”

Other bikes, other adventures. In Namiquipa, Chihuahua Mexico, parked up with a BMW GS adventure tourer. [Charlie Weisel]
Did a young Charlie ever imagine he’d be living the life of a wayward ‘cyclist? “I don’t remember picturing my life as anything in particular as a kid,” he mused. “I do know that I always dreamt of foreign lands and desolate spaces, I know that I’ve always had an affinity for things on wheels and that being on my own is not something that concerns me. Life has a way of pushing us around and apparently riding a chopper around the world is where it thinks I should be. That might change some day. Who knows? I’ve always been independent, and I’ve been told that I don’t do things the ‘normal’ way, so it seems to add up that my mode of transportation is what it is.” You read that right. Riding a chopper around the world is Charlie’s mission. He’s able to finance this goal because, about five years ago, he decided to put the money he was earning as an electrician into real estate. After purchasing several properties, he quit his sparky gig and is now a landlord. And he doesn’t really have an agenda. He says he makes it up as he goes, but as of this writing, Charlie needs to ride his chopper across the southern states to be in Miami for the 1st of March. From there, the Harley-Davidson will be shipped to Spain. He’ll ride through Europe from mid-March until early June before heading into Russia, pointing his knobby front tire east to Vladivostok. There, the bike will be loaded onto a ship, and he’ll be back Stateside in late September or early October.

We're not in Las Vegas anymore: under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. [Charlie Weisel]
Having completely rebuilt the Twin Cam motor twice, and replaced the top end three or four times, Charlie says his chopper is very reliable. Engine cases, cylinders, heads and transmission are all Harley-Davidson, but the internals have been entirely replaced with S&S components. It started life as an 88-inch mill, went to 95-inches and is now punched out to 96-inches. The saddle is from LePera, and Charlie had more than 100,000 miles on a Signature 2 seat when late last year the company reached out to him – completely unsolicited -- with an offer to send him a new one. “I’ve always loved the LePera seat,” Charlie wrote in an Instagram post about LePera’s generosity, “and I intend to put the same miles on the new one.” All of his gear on the chopper is stowed in a Mosko Moto Reckless 80 pannier system. It’s packed, as Charlie says, “With a boatload of parts and tools, it’s overkill at the moment, but when I get into Russia, I want to be prepared.” He’s got a spare clutch, drive belts, charging system, ignition system, ring and pinion gear, tubes, tire levers and a compressor. “All of those parts have failed on me at one time or another when I’ve been on the road,” he explains. Charlie also carries camping gear, but says, “I do a lot of couch surfing and will stay in the occasional hotel as well. In the last few days, I’ve slept under the stars in the Arizona desert, in the world’s biggest Radio Flyer wagon in Joshua Tree (used by Travis Pastrana and Nitro Circus in the Life Size Toys series) and a cozy bed at my wife’s family’s house in Ventura. Sleeping under the stars is definitely my preferred place to rest, however. I’m not typically a good sleeper but a breeze on my face and a chilly clear night does the trick every time.”

Nobody said it would always be warm, traveling around the world. [Charlie Weisel]
Two questions Charlie hears most often when the chopper’s parked up, he says, are, “’How does it handle?’ and ‘Why are you riding that?’” The answer to the first question is, “Just fine. It’s not a sport bike, but it works for me.” And the second question? We spoke for quite some time about people using inappropriate machines for wheeled adventures. Whizzers going from the West Coast to the East Coast. Mid-1960s Honda Dreams on the TransAmerica Trail. Honda CT90s from New Orleans to Phoenix. “I love that challenge of riding a machine where it really shouldn’t be,” Charlie says, “Now, that’s adventure.” For five years, Charlie owned a BMW 1200 GSA. “I wanted to try one, and took a couple of trips on it, and it did everything perfectly. But I don’t think there’s anything really that adventurous about an adventure bike, and for the most part, it sat in the garage collecting dust, so I sold it. People do tend to think the chopper is unrideable, but I’m going to have a quarter of a million miles on mine.”

Solo traveling on good, if lonely roads, is an amazing gift. [Charlie Weisel]
[You can follow Charlie’s journeys on his Instagram feed @travelingchopper.]

More familiar places: the Rock Store in Malibu Canyon. [Charlie Weisel]
Camping out, looks like Baja California Norte near Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, Mexico. [Charlie Weisel]

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent.  He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Mecum Top 10 for 2022

An incredibly diverse collection of machines awaits motorcycle enthusiasts rolling into Las Vegas to participate in the 2022 Mecum Motorcycle Auction Jan 25-29, the world's largest motorcycle auction. Whether actively bidding online or in person, or simply sitting on hands and observing the action, this year’s auction listings are extensive. Of the offerings, Mecum’s Greg Arnold, Motorcycle Division Director, says "This auction features well over 100 different makes plus their various models. A little less than half of them are American in origin with the rest of the world from Europe to Asia comprising the rest. The sheer variety is staggering." And of the strength of the market, Greg adds, "Our collector vehicle auction results are very robust. We fully expect antique and vintage motorcycles to continue their upward trend."

Indeed, collectors and riders alike hoping to pick up a gem will swoon over some of the offerings, including exceptional machines from a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 [formerly mine! - Ed], to several 4-cylinder Indians, 1921 to 1923 Ner A Cars (read our Road Test here), no less than seven Vincents and a 1982 Suzuki Katana. All wonderful. Not to mention one of the most extraordinary opportunities – more than 100 immaculate Harley-Davidsons from the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection, most professionally restored, one from each model year, and all offered with no reserve. An affordable Knucklehead in the mix? It’s difficult to whittle a list down to just 10 picks, but here’s my esoteric and scattered selection.

Lot T14 1920 Harley-Davidson WF Sport Twin

The 1920 Harley-Davidson Sport twin was their first flat-twin and their first sidevalve motorcycle. There would be more of both! This one is rare and what a restoration! [Mecum]

A rare example of the Harley-Davidson flat twin introduced after the First World War is the Model W, and this is actually one of three Sport Twins from the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection (there are two from 1919, one restored and one with patina, and this well-restored 1920 machine). Borrowing some engineering cues from Britain’s Douglas motorcycles, most notably the engine layout, the Model W is motivated by a fore-and-aft 584cc flat twin powerplant. Several innovations were included in the Model W, including H-D’s first use of side-valve technology, fully-enclosed drive chain, air filter and twin-spring trailing link front fork. These models had a much lower center of gravity and were powerful and relatively lightweight. That combination made the Model W a capable mount in some forms of competition, but the Made in Milwaukee flat-twin was not a popular seller in the American market and less than 6,000 were built in their three-year production run.

Lot T185 1905 Reading Standard Single

Barn find and original to its board hard tires, this 1905 Reading Standard is in amazingly complete condition. [Mecum]

To some it might look like field rust, to others, this 1905 Reading Standard single shines like solid gold. Built in Reading, Pennsylvania between 1903 and 1924, this particularly early model of the marque used an engine designed by Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom, sourced from the Aurora Automatic Machine Co. That was through a series of negotiations that saw Indian in its earliest days outsourcing engine production to Aurora while building up their own manufacturing facility. While Aurora was building Hedstrom’s engine, the company was allowed to sell the powerplant to other pioneering motorcycle manufacturers, including Reading Standard. By 1906, Reading Standard had designed a proprietary V-twin with side valve technology together with its own single-cylinder models. While there is no history regarding where or when this example was literally unearthed, it obviously has not been messed with and many of its original components remain extant.

Lot T198/Lot F119 1951 Imme R100

Gimme an Imme! One of the wildest engineering jobs in history, Norber Reidel's masterpiece deserves close scrutiny. [Mecum]

I was raised to mind my manners, but I’ve just got to say, ‘Gimme an Imme!’ There are two of these delightfully innovative Bavarian-built machines here, including this restored model (Lot T198), and a remarkably original and apparently unmolested example (Lot F119). Either exceedingly eccentric or incredibly forward thinking in design principle, the Imme came from the desk of Norbert Riedel. Riedel’s Imme R100, which means ‘bee’ in German, is centered around its egg-shaped 98cc two-stroke single-cylinder engine that hid both carburetor and magneto under its covers. The frame, such as it is, was made up of the same diameter tube as the single-sided fork and rear swingarm. Even more novel, the engine mounted directly to the swingarm, which acted as the exhaust pipe. This had the 4.5 horsepower engine bobbing along in conjunction with the coil-spung suspension. Too cool and these are machines to watch.

Lot T309 1991 BMW K1000 (K1)

A Two-Wheeled Icon of the 1980s, this BMW K1 looks mean in all black. [Mecum]

Now here’s one not often seen, as just 6,921 examples of BMW’s K1, produced from 1988 to 1993, were built. Based on the manufacturer’s K100 4-cylinder platform, which was designed essentially as a touring machine, the K1 was meant to compete in the superbike category, something that by the late 1980s had long been the bastion of Japanese motorcycle makers. Inspiration for the K1 came from styling work done in 1984 by Karl-Heniz Ave, who, according to author Ian Falloon, had built ‘Racer,’ a sports-oriented concept machine for a special exhibit. The K1 is remarkable for its aerodynamic bodywork that consists of a seven piece fairing and a two piece valanced front fender. Underneath it all, BMW had improved the 4-cylinder engine with a new cylinder head with four valves per pot and an increased compression ratio. While horsepower was ‘only’ 95 with U.S. emissions controls, BMW made up for that with the overall slippery form of the K1, and this one is understated in subtle black – others came in a lurid red and yellow paint scheme.

Lot F156 1967 Bultaco Metralla

Born of competition, the Bultaco Metralla is a gem of the Spanish industry - fast, sure-footed, reliable, and oh so beautiful. [Mecum]

Another rarity here is this 1967 Bultaco Metralla. The first Mk I Metrallas ran from 1962 to 1966 while second-generation Mk IIs were built until 1974, making this a first year Mk II. The street-going single-cylinder two-stroke Metralla was based on the same engine that powered many of Bultaco’s off-road models that were popular in the U.S. Engines were all-alloy with cast-iron cylinder liners, and the Mk I model was powered by a 200cc engine good for 20 horsepower. That power output was bumped to 32 hp in 1967 with the Mk II, when overall capacity was increased to 250cc. The Mk II also gained a cog in the gearbox, going from a 4-speed to a 5-speed. Other upgrades included the addition of battery lighting, twin-leading shoe front brake and a unique system to ensure the correct amount of two-stroke oil was added to the gas tank, without the need to mess about with premix. Styling was simple and effective, and the Mk II was said to be good for 100 MPH or more. Approximately 5,000 Mk I Metrallas were constructed, and that many Mk II models also left Bultaco’s Spanish factory.

Lot T191 4-cylinder Honda Super Hawk Custom

A very special special, this all-Honda four-cylinder has the sweet good looks of a Super Hawk with the bang of a 400 Four. [Mecum]

This is one of the coolest customs here, in my opinion, as it looks like it came straight from Honda as a 4-cylinder Super Hawk. Of course, the Super Hawk was originally powered by a parallel-twin 305cc engine, but California builder and fabricator Bob Guynes managed to shoehorn a mid-1970s Honda 400F engine into the 1966 running gear. Everything has been neatly massaged to accept that transplant, including the notched metal side covers that provide room for the four velocity stacks. The four-into-four exhaust headers terminating in the quad megaphones is the epitome of café racer style, and boy, do they look good. Super Hawk gas tank and headlight nacelle blend seamlessly with the seat and cowl, and everything is neatly finished in Honda’s red. Front brake is a 4-shoe unit, meaning it will stop as good as it should go, and it’s offered with no reserve. Woot!

Lot T105 1981 Yamaha SR500H (crate bike)

Nothing to see here, it's all in your imagination. No, there really is a brand new 1981 Yamaha SR500H inside, one of the most iconic Japanese motorcycles and among the longest-produced models in all of motorcycling - still in production since 1978. [Mecum]

New in the crate is how you’d like to find a vintage motorcycle, and this 1981 Yamaha SR500H, with no reserve, is a tremendous find. Assemble and fettle this bike and put it to good use, as Yamaha’s SR500 essentially paid homage to the halcyon days of single-cylinder, big-bore Brit-bikes such as the BSA Gold Star and Norton Manx. Based on Yamaha’s XT500 engine, in the road-going SR version, the manufacturer did not add extra weight with the addition of an electric starter. The SR is kickstart only, and it employs an automatic decompression system. There weren’t a lot of frills added to the SR, and when first introduced in 1978, it had cast alloy wheels and disc brakes front and back. In 1980, the second-generation SR500H was launched, and it had a drum brake at the rear. By 1981, Yamaha no longer exported the SR to North America, making this a last year for the U.S. example. And, did I mention, it’s in a crate and selling with no reserve.

Lot F205 1938 Triumph Speed Twin (Hamilton collection)

Edward Turner's masterpiece, and the motorcycle that changed the industry, the original Triumph Speed Twin is a gorgeous today as in the 1930s. [Mecum]

This 1938 5T Speed Twin is a machine from Wayne Hamilton’s Triumph collection and was originally restored in 2004 by renowned Triumph guru Terry Clark of Gig Harbor, Washington. When Triumph’s Edward Turner placed a narrow 500cc parallel-twin engine into his company’s heavyweight Tiger 90 frame, he set a whole new course for the British bike building industry. Within years, most every major English manufacturer was producing a parallel-twin cylinder powered motorcycle. Introduced late in 1937, the first-year Speed Twins were notable for their six-stud cylinder to engine case mounting system. This was a weak point, and Triumph fixed this by 1939 with an eight-stud arrangement. Regardless, the early Speed Twin in Amaranth Red paint just looks proper with its girder fork (only used on the pre-war models), panel tank and solo saddle. Every detail of this Clark-restored Speed Twin appears spot-on, and this is one to watch. Could it set a record for a pre-war Speed Twin?

Lot S135 1932 Scott Flying Squirrel

If you've never ridden a Scott, you're missing a unique experience! Surprisingly quick and handling as if on rails, it's also dead smooth and lots of fun. [Mecum]

With a model name like Flying Squirrel, what’s not to love? In the very early 1900s when Alfred Angas Scott of Yorkshire wanted to power a bicycle, he took his cues from a light and simple two-stroke engine developed by Joseph Day and Alfred Cock. Scott honed his porting and piston designs running an engine of his own in a boat, and then built a motorcycle in 1901 with a twin-cylinder two-stroke mounted over the front wheel of a bicycle. He went on to develop a frame to hold a twin-cylinder liquid-cooled two-stroke engine in a more conventional position, down low to aid in overall center of gravity. These early Scott machines featured chain drive, a 2-speed transmission and a rudimentary kickstarter. By 1922, and after several Isle of Man race victories, Scott launched the Squirrel, which led to the Flying Squirrel. This one’s powered by Scott’s liquid-cooled 596cc two-stroke engine with 3-speed transmission and is a replica of its TT-winning machine. It looks a treat.

Lot F99 1970 Indian Velo

An Italo-American hybrid, with a Tartarini chassis housing a Velocette Venom motor, the result is a surprisingly fun motorcycle that has aged very well. [Mecum]

A mongrel if ever there was one, this 1970 Indian Velo was the brainchild of Floyd Clymer. A member of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Clymer spent a great deal of his life involved in many aspects of the motor industry, playing roles such as magazine publisher and motorcycle manufacturer. The latter came about in 1967 when he bought the rights to the Indian name with intentions to market 50cc to 1100cc machines. One of those was this 499cc single-cylinder Velocette Venom powered model. While the engine was straight from England, just about everything else came from Italy: the double-loop frame by Italjet, forks by Ceriani, shocks by Marzocchi, hubs by Grimeca. While this is not the exceedingly rare Thruxton-powered Indian Velo (VIN would start VMT), it’s had a fresh coat of paint and received other cosmetic and mechanical upgrades. It is still a rare machine as less than 150 Indian Velos were constructed before Clymer’s death in 1971.

 

 

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent.  He's a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

 


A Collection of Collections: Mecum Las Vegas 2022

With the New Year fast approaching, motorcyclists and collectors will be salivating over Mecum’s 31st Annual Vintage & Antique Motorcycle Auction line up. In 2022, the sales extravaganza takes over the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas from January 25 to 29. There are more than 1750 machines consigned with enough variety to keep bidders entertained, regardless of whether you’re backed by a treasure vault filled with gold bullion, or the wallet’s a little flea bitten. Although the majority of machines available have been consigned by individual owners, there are numerous motorcycle collections available. These thoughtfully curated offerings present a unique opportunity for anyone looking for a special machine, and here are a few collections to ponder before watching the auction action.  Will any of them reach the pinnacle of our world famous Top 100 list?

Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection

Without doubt, this is one of the most important collections of Motor Company offerings to become available. It spans the decades, beginning in 1910 with a belt-drive single-cylinder Model 6 to a 2008 Road King 105th Anniversary model. Almost every H-D in the collection has been restored and received attention from the same craftsman, ensuring that the workmanship, which is incredibly meticulous, runs through the entire line of machines. And the motorcycles were restored to as-factory original. There are no Harley-Davidsons here with bobbed rear fenders, Flanders handlebars, extended forks, or custom flame paint jobs. Military models are well-represented, as are the Knuckleheads, Panheads and Shovelheads. The most amazing part? Each one, and there are close to 100 available, is offered without reserve.  Our Publisher Paul d'Orléans was flown out to East Lansing MI last September to film a promo video at the H-D Heritage Collection: watch the film below.

 

The Bob & Dolva Mitchell Collection

As close as you can get to a Vintagent Brough! This 1938 Brough Superior SS100 was pulled out of South America in the 1980s by Paul d'Orléans and beautifully restored by Bob Mitchell, who has superb standards. It's a star attraction in Las Vegas! [Mecum]
Bob Mitchell grew up in northern Pennsylvania during a time when mainly secondary roads linked together the local farms and communities. As a youngster, Bob longed for a motorcycle to roam these lanes, but it wasn’t until he was almost finished high school that he acquired a 200cc single-cylinder Triumph Cub. That was soon traded for a 650cc Triumph, and over the years during Bob’s career with NASA, his interest in machines eventually turned from riding to collecting. While he started with Triumphs, Bob expanded his horizons by adding Brough Superior, Indian and Vincent motorcycles. Now looking to pare down his collection, Bob is offering 14 of his machines at this auction, including 1929 and 1939 Indian Fours, a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 and a 1937 Rudge Ulster. All of his bikes are clean and presentable, with many of them having received professional restorations.

 

The Hamilton Triumph Motorcycle Collection

A rare 1953 Triumph Blackbird - a black Thunderbird specially ordered for the US market. An exquisite Bill Hoard restoration - you won't find a better one! [Mecum]

Wayne Hamilton’s name will be familiar to those who have visited his website, Wayne’s Triumph Motorcycles (https://triumphmotorcycles.typepad.com/), while looking for information about the British brand. Wayne’s first machine was a Honda 305 Scrambler, but that made way for a 1968 Triumph T100R Daytona, that, unfortunately, he didn’t get to enjoy for long before joining the Navy. It wasn’t until 1998 that he bought another Triumph, this one the exact same year and model that he’d earlier had to sell. The hook was well set when Wayne was introduced to Triumph restoration expert Terry Clark, who was working on a 1938 Triumph Speed Twin when they met. From Terry, Wayne bought an all-original 1959 Triumph Bonneville and soon began buying, and restoring, many of the important Triumphs produced over the years. Now downsizing, Wayne is offering 11 of his Triumphs at Mecum, including the Terry Clark-restored ’38 Speed Twin with its one-year only six-stud base cylinder barrel, a 1953 6T Blackbird and the ’68 T100R Daytona that started it all.

 

The Bob Guynes Collection

Monster Monkey! This 1973 Honda Monkey Bike has been fitted with a 4-cylinder CB550 motor - simply amazing! [Mecum]

Fabricator and go-fast enthusiast Bob Guynes of California has spent a lifetime racing on Bonneville’s Salt Flats aboard unique machines such as his Salt Shaker III sidecar rig that’s powered by two early-1970s 175cc Honda powerplants. During his years of racing, Bob collected a number of projects, many of which are 1960s Japanese machines. He’s offering at Mecum many of these motorcycles that are described as parts bikes, or projects. However, if anyone wants to tackle the Salt Flats, too, Salt Shaker III is also listed alongside several other versions of Salt Shaker machines. There are Honda 305 Super Hawks, Scramblers and Dreams, 250 Scramblers and road racers, a Honda Formula race car and some two-stroke Suzukis. Not all of them are projects or parts bikes. For example, there’s a custom Honda CB400F engine that looks to have been shoehorned into a Super Hawk chassis, all done up in 1960s café racer trim with a one-off seat, clip-ons and a 4-shoe front brake. It’s très chic. The listing indicates 40 machines, all being sold without reserve, are available from Bob’s unique collection.

 

The Rare Rupp Collection

Definitely the finest 1972 Rupp Black Widow in the world! And if you were a kid in the early 1970s, this was THE minibike to have. [Mecum]

For those who cut their teeth aboard a minibike, the Rare Rupp Collection offers five of the company’s quintessential mini-motorcycles. Rupp Manufacturing got its start building go-karts in 1959 in Mansfield, Ohio, but expanded their range in 1962 with the addition of minibikes. These bikes were sold under the Rupp brand name and were also sold under the Sears label through that company’s massive mail order catalog. The Rupp machines available here range from 1969 to 1972, and include two Roadsters, two Scramblers and the pinnacle of the range, a 1972 Black Widow. All of these bikes are offered without reserve, and each one has been cosmetically restored while leaving many of the original components intact, including the 50cc to 170cc engines. Paint colors were matched to factory specification, and each little machine is essentially a shining jewel.

 

[Ed: our Publisher, Paul d'Orléans, will once again hold the microphone for live commentary during the auction for Motor Trend TV.   Motor Trend has taken over the broadcast of Mecum's Las Vegas motorcycle auction, which remains the largest motorcycle auction in the world.   We'll keep you posted on dates and times for the broadcasts via our social media: The Vintagent Facebook and The Vintagent Instagram. ]

Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent, a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Across America by Motorcycle: Part II

British RAF Captain Charles Kenilworth Shepherd, or C.K., as he preferred, was 23 years old in 1919 when he swung a leg over his brand new Henderson Z-2-E four-cylinder motorcycle in New York and pointed his wheels in the direction of the setting sun. C.K wrote about his adventurous journey in 1922 with the release of Across America by Motor-Cycle, a tome that, some eight decades later, became a turning point in the life of Captain Mark Hunnibell. The connection between the two men hinges on Henderson motorcycles. When Mark was 21, in 1978, while poking around a dusty corner of his father’s Rehoboth, Massachusetts machine shop, he discovered pieces of a dismantled 1919 Henderson Z-2 four-cylinder motorcycle – an identical machine to C.K.’s, but without the optional electric lights and horn. An abandoned project, the Henderson had been neglected for years, and Mark asked if he could have the remains.

The Henderson Four on which C.K. Shepherd crossed the USA in 1919, documented in his book 'Across America by Motorcycle'. [C.K. Shepherd]
Just what attracted Mark, who now lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to the machine is something of an enigma, as he had never spent any time riding a powered two-wheeler apart from a Honda moped. The Henderson, however, spoke to him, and his father gave him the project. It didn’t leave the machine shop, though, because at the time, Mark had started his final year at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Industrial Design. In 1979, he moved to California’s East Bay area and began working as an automotive machinist in Albany, where he had access to an array of specialized equipment. His father crated the Henderson’s engine and shipped it west to Mark, where, with it fully dismantled, a number of issues were identified. Not the least of the problems was an aluminum lower case half that was pitted, with cracked mounting bosses. Presented with the full scope of the required work, Mark realized this wasn’t going to be a simple proposition and the project was placed on a back burner while he got his life and career underway. Instead of becoming an Industrial Designer, though, as he’d imagined, in 1981 he changed direction and began a seven-year career flying in the Air Force, followed by 29 years as a commercial pilot with American Airlines. All the while, the Henderson remained an abandoned project.

Captain Mark Hunnibell on the vehicle that diverted his attention from a Henderson project for a few years... a stint in the Air Force followed by a career as a commercial pilot. Here he is with a T-38 jet in 1982. [Captain Mark Hunnibell]
Abandoned maybe, but forgotten? Never. After he’d had the Henderson for 22 years, in 2000, he began searching for knowledgeable people, books and other documentation pertaining to the machine to help him proceed with the restoration. In that search, he came across C.K.’s book Across America by Motor-Cycle. “I was looking for Henderson manuals and other information,” Mark explains. “But I was also wondering how people were using these motorcycles when they were new, and here was a book written by a British fellow who rode the same make and model – apart from the electrics – across America. I thought it was an interesting story but didn’t give it too much more thought.” Until, he says, his wife asked what his ultimate goal with the Henderson restoration might be. “What was I going to do with it when it was done, she wondered, and she thought I’d better do something important with it.”

C.K. Shepherd in Kansas City during his 1919 cross-USA journey on his Henderson Four. [C.K. Shepherd]
An idea began percolating. As the centennial of C.K.’s trip was approaching in 2019, Mark set a goal of retracing the intrepid motorcycle adventurer’s journey aboard his own 1919 Henderson Z-2. Designed by brothers William and Tom Henderson of Detroit, their first inline four-cylinder prototype was built in 1911, and production of a 934cc model began in 1912, an example on which traveler Carl Stearns Clancy circumnavigated the globe. While exclusive and distinctive, the Henderson fours proved expensive to produce and the company never really turned a profit. In late 1917, the Henderson brothers sold their company to Excelsior Motor Mfg. & Supply Co. magnate Ignaz Schwinn. All stock, tooling, and production moved to the Excelsior plant in Chicago during 1918. The 1919 Z-models like the ones owned by C.K. and Mark had a 1,147cc four-cylinder powerplant that produced 14.2 horsepower with a three-speed transmission and an added band-style rear brake in addition to the existing rear drum. These were the last of the “Detroit Hendersons,” as in 1920, Schwinn released a new four-cylinder model (the Henderson K) designed by Arthur O. Lemon, a Henderson salesman since 1915 who, after the sale of Henderson, joined the Excelsior Engineering Department.

Captain C.K. Shepherd in his RAF flying gear during WW1. [C.K. Shepherd]
“It became purposeful to give some meaning to my Henderson restoration, and to recognize a pioneer from years gone by,” Mark says of his decision to reverse engineer C.K.’s book and begin planning his own adventure. But first, without the advantages of having a well-equipped machine shop at his disposal, Mark had to have the Henderson restored. After one false start with a Canadian engine rebuilder, Mark located Henderson specialist Mark Hill of 4th Coast Fours in upstate New York. “I took the engine, that had already been worked on, to Mark,” he says. “When Mark realized I wanted to ride the Henderson across the country, he said we’d have to start over with the rebuild – and we did.”

A period advert for a 1919 Henderson Four, as ridden by C.K. Shepherd across the USA. [Popular Science, Dec. 1918]
The frame and other components were restored and painted by John Pierce. According to Mark, most 1918 and 1919 Henderson motorcycle had been finished at the factory in olive green. But after carefully peeling back layers of old paint, John discovered a vivid red color hidden in the nooks and crannies of the frame. While the pre-eminent Henderson expert at the time thought he should just paint the Henderson olive green so he would not have to explain the unusual color, Mark went with the evidence and painted it red. A few changes were made, including new safety rims wrapped in modern beaded tires. Also, the front wheel was laced around a small Honda front hub to provide additional braking – the original Henderson had no front brake. Mark’s Henderson was finished late in 2018.

Mark Hunnibell with his completed 1919 Henderson in what was determined to be the original color. [Mark Hunnibell]
All the while, Mark was researching C.K. Shepherd. C.K. was born 31 May 1895, in Birmingham, England. C.K.’s father, Timothy, was an entrepreneur and inventor who operated XL-ALL, Ltd., a company supplying the pedal and motor two-wheel trade with a range of accessories. C.K.’s older brother, George Frederick Shepherd, was also an inventor and took an interest in early aeronautical adventures. After an incident during testing of a prototype aircraft engine of his own design, however, George remained firmly on the ground. Far removed from the air, George was responsible for inventing and patenting an essential piece of office equipment still known today as the Shepherd Caster. George and C.K. shared their enthusiasm for invention and applying for patents. C.K. was 19 early in 1915 when he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps and became an Air Mechanic 2nd Class and was soon in France working for the British war effort. Once there, he quickly worked his way up the ranks from private to captain but returned home in mid-1918 to resume work at XL-ALL, where the family company was now helping the war effort by manufacturing some military goods.

C.K. Shepherd with the parents of his friend Steve (Laura and Thomas Stevenson Sr) during his cross-USA journey, at 3450 Clifton Ave in Cincinnati. [Thomas Stevenson Jr]
Shortly after the war ended, C.K. reunited in London with his former comrade-in-arms Captain Thomas Stevenson, Jr., whom he knew as ‘Steve.’ Steve was on his way back to Cincinnati to see his family, and C.K., as he writes in the preface to Across America by Motor-Cycle, “…was wondering what form of dissipation would be best suited to remove that haunting feeling of unrest, which as a result of three or four years of active service was so common amongst the youth of England at that time.” That’s when C.K. decided he’d travel across the Atlantic to visit with Steve, and “have a trot round America.” On 3 June 1919, Shepherd landed in Montreal, Canada. That same day, he crossed into the U.S. and made his way to New York where he bought the 1919 Henderson Z-2-E four-cylinder motorcycle which he nicknamed ‘Lizzie.’ From New York, Shepherd proceeded to ride through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona to California, arriving in Los Angeles on August 7 and ending his journey in San Francisco where he sold the Henderson. “Roads? What roads?” C.K. said of the route he took.

'What roads?' C.K. Shepherd found no roads or only former cart tracks from the pioneer days on his journey to the West. This is the Arizona border, on a fairly good road. July 25, 1919. [C.K. Shepherd]
Along the way, the four-cylinder engine in his Henderson required plenty of attention and had been rebuilt twice. But after crossing the Mojave Desert, he describes the motorcycle’s overall condition like this, “Externally, she was a mass of string, wire, insulation tape, mud, oil and sand. Internally she was a bundle of rattles and strange noises. Everything was loose and worn; the sand had invaded her at every point and had multiplied wear a thousandfold. Latterly the tappet rods had had to be cleaned and adjusted over a sixteenth of an inch every day until there was no more adjustment possible.” He continues, “The valve rockers were worn half-way through, some more than that. One had worn right through until it had broken in the middle. I began to be afraid that the engine would not hold out even for the 200 odd miles to come.”

A cutaway drawing of the Henderson Four engine from a 1919 Henderson parts list, showing the fairly unsupported crankshaft and crude oiling system - splash cups on the connecting rods dipping into the oil sump. A recipe for trouble, but Hendersons can be amazingly reliable for the period. [Mark Hunnibell]
He managed to nurse the Henderson along, however, to Los Angeles where the machine received considerable work at the Henderson dealer, with a third and final engine rebuild. C.K. notes, “She had had a complete overhaul and several parts of the engine replaced. Numerous telegrams and letters had been flashed across the States to the works at Chicago. They were in vain. Although still under the makers’ guarantee, they would accept no responsibility. I paid the last bill that made Lizzie’s repair account just exceed the amount I originally paid for her [$480 in New York] three months before.”

Mark Hunnibell and C.K. Shepherd's grandson (Thomas Stevenson III) at 3450 Clifton Ave in Cincinnati in July 1919, the centenary of C.K. Shepherd's journey. [Dan Wheeler]
Because Across America by Motor-Cycle was not written in a diary format, Mark says it was difficult to determine Shepherd’s exact route. “I spent a couple of years going page by page, line by line, word by word to reverse engineer his book to come up with a close approximation of his route,” he says. During this process, Mark kept meticulous notes, and saw an opportunity to reprint C.K.’s original text along with hundreds of his own details in a ‘Fully Annotated Centennial Edition.’ Mark’s research and extra photographs, newspaper clippings and period advertisements help bring much deeper meaning to C.K.’s story (www.acrossamericabymotorcycle.com).

After years spent documenting C.K. Shepherd's journey, Mark Hunnibell published an annotated version of 'Across America by Motorcycle', with almost double the page count as it includes many more photos and considerable documentation of the trip. It is available here. [Mark Hunnibell]
Some forty years after being given his Henderson, on 4 July 2019, Mark was in New York City. He was staying a block away from the hotel where C.K. stayed exactly 100 years earlier at the start of his ride. Accompanying Mark was Loring Hill, the son of Henderson engine rebuilder Mark Hill, ostensibly for mechanical support and safety/escort. But it turned out, Loring also needed to be a riding instructor to coach Mark on how to ride this antique motorcycle. “This is the first motorcycle I’ve owned, and I don’t have a lot of time on any motorcycle,” he explains. Was this a rather ambitious undertaking? Yes, indeed. Proper use of the foot clutch and hand shifting the Henderson in traffic was something Mark would get better at, but Loring hopped on and rode the machine from Brooklyn, across the East River, across lower Manhattan, and through the Holland Tunnel to Hoboken, New Jersey. From there, they trailered the motorcycle to Toms River, New Jersey. The next morning, with more open roads ahead, Mark got behind the handlebars and now says, “Every hour, I got better, and at the end of the day, Loring would say, ‘Not so bad as yesterday.’” Willy Fernandez, a friend of Mark’s, had joined as another member of the support team to help maintain the Henderson.

As any Cannonball veteran knows, crossing America by motorcycle on an antique is no easy task! Mark Hunnibell at the Petrified Forest in Arizona. [Willy Fernandez]
For Mark, someone who had easily learned to master military jets and commercial airliners, he didn’t foresee his lack of experience aboard a motorcycle as a liability. But he says his inexperience certainly detracted from his enjoyment. “I couldn’t ride with second nature,” he says, “I wasn’t just riding through space and time, and it was pretty stressful for me. I’d done a tremendous amount of research on C.K. and his book, and maybe I should have spent more time learning to ride my own motorcycle before taking this on.” As comfortable as he might have been getting behind the bars, making stops to visit locations along the route where C.K. made significant observations, things changed in Kansas.

The landscape below the escarpment of La Bajada Hill, south of Santa Fe NM, a nearly-vertical cliff with a precarious trail that Shepherd described descending. [Mark Hunnibell]
Just when things were running smoothly, a mile and a half south of the first refueling stop in Burlingame, Kansas, the Henderson started making a noise like there was gravel in the transmission. Loring deduced the engine was freewheeling, that it had somehow disconnected from the transmission, but he could not diagnose the true nature of the problem at the side of the road. When they managed to open up the engine, it was discovered the flywheel was spinning independently of the crankshaft. Mark likes to joke, and claims he “tried to find a new Henderson crankshaft at auto parts stores, but they were all out of stock, and I never did get through to Henderson in Chicago to see if, after 100 years, my engine was still covered by warranty.” The trip aboard the motorcycle was halted there, but Mark was expected to arrive at the Grand Canyon, where plans had been made to meet C.K.’s son, Charles Drury Shaw. Loring flew home, but Willy and Mark continued “on tour” to the Grand Canyon with the bike in the trailer visiting some of the landmarks C.K. mentioned passing.

Shepherd wrote that 95% of the roads outside of cities were dirt or gravel, like this road, the "highway" to Baltimore. [Mark Hunnibell]
“Willy trailered the bike back home from the Grand Canyon for me, and later I brought the bike back up to Mark Hill to install a new crankshaft,” Mark says. “Our first recovery plan was to occur in 2020. We had planned to trailer it out to Burlingame where it broke, and then ride the bike for some segments of the journey and trailer it for others along the route to San Francisco. But whatever great ideas I had, COVID got in the way of them in 2020 and 2021.” But that break has granted Mark the opportunity to gain more seat time on the Henderson and become even more familiar with its idiosyncrasies. “We got off to a rough start,” Mark says, and concludes, “But I think we would have made it, without that crankshaft failure.” Hopefully, Mark will ultimately complete the ride, and write his own book, one that he’s given the working title Chasing Charles: Across America by Motor-Cycle II.

It all seemed possible, perhaps easy at the start, in Herald Square on July 3 2019, with the former Hotel McAlpin behind him (where Shepherd stayed) and a freshly restored Henderson Four and an optimistic attitude. Stay tuned for further adventures. [Willy Fernandez]

 

Want more stories of cross-country adventures?  Follow our ADV:Overland thread, and check out our Petersen Museum exhibit!

 

Greg Williams is a regular Vintagent Contributor, a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Your Man in India: Adil Jal Darukhanawala

Often referred to as the father of motor journalism in India, Adil Jal Darukhanawala of Pune, Maharashtra is a little uncomfortable with that title. “That’s rather pompous to be attributed to me,” Adil says, and adds, “as a rule I don't think too much about it, but there wasn't anyone else in India who were writing on the subject for enthusiasts and consumers.” That was in 1977.  Only a couple of motor trade magazines were being published, catering to dealers and spare parts and services providers. “Never had I come up on anyone who wrote in the way enthusiasts have taken to automotive magazines the world over,” he says. So, Adil wrote his first piece about automobiles on August 26, 1977 and saw his byline in print. By 1981 he’d progressed to a weekly page in the Business Herald section of The Maharashtra Herald newspaper. “I was always good at writing and debates in school and so when it came time to give an outlet to my pent-up automotive emotions, it just burst open,” he explains. Soon, he was writing for many magazines across India, including Sportsweek, Sportstar, The Sun, and many others. With the advent of the Himalayan Rally in 1980, Adil also penned race reports for British and German magazines.

Adil Jal Darukhanawala with his Adil's 1956 Jawa 250 Type 353, a machine built under license in India, and a brand now owned by an Indian company.  Vintage version are coveted machines in India. Read Adil's story for The Vintagent, 'Jawa Day in India' [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
“In 1987,” Adil says of his motor journalism career, “I started my own automotive publication, Car & Bike International. which was also the first genuine automotive enthusiast magazine in the country. We had next to no money -- my uncle bankrolled us for a couple of years – and I didn't know anything about doing a magazine, but we learned and learned quick. I did Car & Bike International (C&BI) from June 1987 to June 1998 and then I moved to Tata Infomedia. Just as I had done C&BI, I conceptualised Overdrive magazine and for once I had the wherewithal to play out all my ideas to the hilt because we were decently funded, had the infrastructure and HR support and within three months from launch (September 1998) we had shattered all publishing records in the country. Overdrive magazine to this day is the template for all automotive mags in India and I think this is something that I am immensely proud of even though I left the mag in April 2005 because the Tata Group sold off the firm to a venture capitalist who only spoke about asset monetization - something of an anathema to us content creators.”

Car & Bike, India's first automotive/motorcycle enthusiast magazine, that proved a success, and started a career. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil then spent two years working for a new start-up called Next Gen Publishing. They separated the cars from the bikes, publishing two distinct magazines. Car India was done with EMAP of the UK, while Bike India was a “self-conceptualised publication,” Adil says, and adds, “It was pretty tough reconciling readers in the early days who didn't want to pay for two publications but wanted cars and bikes bundled in one. We managed to break that line of thought and did very well. Then came a dream project. Beginning in December 2007, the largest media house in the country - Bennett Coleman & Co., publishers of the Times of India (TOI) and the Economic Times (ET), the largest circulating daily newspaper in the world (7.2 million copies daily nationwide) and the world's largest selling business newspaper (1.5 million copies daily nationwide) asked me to set up a totally separate vertical for automotive communications. Such an opportunity comes one's way maybe once in a lifetime and I was given full freedom to set up an outfit to provide enthusiast content that even the lay persons could benefit from. We identified that we needed to be in long form print via weekly 4-page supplements in all editions of the TOI and the ET, set up a wholly dedicated website for Indian consumers and enthusiasts, pushed the envelope further to have a weekly automotive show on the ET Now national television channel and do as many ground events as possible.”

Adil at the wheel of a Tata Zest on the Geared for Great 50,000km record run. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Full of passion for this project, Adil was dismayed when the digital side of the business, www.zigwheels.com, was sold to a venture capitalist. He left in 2013, and worked with Zee Media Corporation, India’s largest television network for two and a half years before agreeing to help a protégé from his Overdrive days with Fast Bikes India, at www.fastbikesindia.com. Adil writes the editorial page, comments on the ongoing evolution of motorcycling, and mentors a new breed of journalists. He’s also documenting and preserving India’s rich motoring history in books, with several titles to his name including Timeless Mahindra; Jawa: The Forever Bike; Volkswagen In India, At 10; and Mercedes Benz Winning: 120 Years On the World’s Greatest Racetracks & In India.

Adil with a few of his books: all beautifully published coffee table editions. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
He comes by all this motor passion honestly. Born in Bombay – now known as Mumbai – Adil was raised in Sholapur, a city some 410 kilometres south of the big city. His father owned a Norton 16H, and before he was just one year old, Adil was going along for rides. Also, Sholapur was a regional hub for Indian Railways, with many lines converging in the city. Adil’s bungalow was nearby, and “every second evening I would be there to see and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the steam locomotives,” Adil explains, and adds, “I was fascinated by steam and when some friends of the family who were locomotive engineers and pilots came to see me, they would take me on a day's trip from Sholapur to towns about 150 to 200 kilometres away and back. This got me interested in things mechanical like nothing else.” Motorcycles, though, were at the core of Adil’s motor interest. After the Norton, his dad had a Rajdoot 175cc machine, and his grandfather ran a series of early Jawas that Adil spent some time riding.

Adil's 1972 Vijai Super, a Lambretta built under license. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
By education, Adil is a qualified mechanical engineer. “But I was into bikes and cars and all things with an internal combustion engine since the time I had my first solo ride on my dad's Rajdoot when I was about 9 or 10. It happened unknowingly of course but then I got caught when my cousin ratted on me, and I had a stern talking to! But slowly and surely my dad, his brother and their cousins started to show and educate me how to ride bikes, what not to do rather than just what to do and this accumulated critical mass and there was no looking back. I never knew that I would end up doing automotive journalism, but fate had a definite say in this.”

Adil with Randy Mamola for the charity event Pillion in a Billion. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
One key element that has always driven Adil; he is largely self-motivated, and is a very involved student of history, be it automotive or political or cultural history. “As such it had always pained me in my early days to not find anything chronicled on Indian motorcycling and motoring. Apart from my uncle that is. Now here is where the story is at my very heart for my uncle's grandfather -- who I never met or saw thanks to the age differential -- was the man who brought the first motorcycle to India in 1903. He was based in Poona (now Pune), having set up in business in 1895 as a sole selling agent for Singer sewing machines and safety bicycles. When Singer added motorcycles, he ordered a first batch of five units, and these arrived in 1904 and were sold out in a matter of days. Ratan Mody Sr. was also a pioneer motorist and organized the country's first race for motorcycles and the second race for motor cars. His archive was handed to me by my uncle Ratan Mody Jr who saw how dogged I was in foraging for news and reports and images and such and this bent of unearthing history and chronicling it for our future generations is my biggest driver since I started writing.”

Old habits die hard...Adil acting as the engineer on a vintage steam engine. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
As for a personal motorcycle collection, Adil has more than 20 machines and loves them all. “It isn't about one or the other being my favourite,” he says, “but just that one motorcycle doesn't do everything in every aspect so therefore it is horses for courses.” The oldest motorcycle in his collection is a 1934-35 Sunbeam 600 single. It’s currently undergoing restoration. The rest of his machines range from a Harley-Davidson to a 1948 BSA C11 with family history. He has a Jawa, Lambretta, BMW, several Kawasakis and Hondas, a Triumph and a trio of Royal Enfields. “What is important for me is that I need a bike that delights me in different ways given that the place where I live in Pune city is just half an hour away from the hills surrounding it,” he says, “so hitting out with any one of my bikes every weekend is what keeps me fresh, alive and agile.”

Adil with his 1949 Fiat 500C Topolino. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Most of Adil’s time these days is spent researching and writing, working on books such as a century of motorsport in India, the greatest cars in the country, and he is also considering a marque history of another Indian OEM. He usual refers to his own vast archives, and all the while, music is playing in his den. He enjoys a wide variety of genres from country, R&B, folk, and instrumentals. He avoids the TV but will take in live telecasts of the MotoGP and F1 races, and also the Indy 500. “I visited and covered the Indy 500 for my magazine in 1989 and 1990 and was the only Indian journo ever at the speedway.” Now 64 years old, Adil says, “Interacting with people across the societal spectrum, indulging the kids, mentoring the youth and listening to as many individuals and their stories are what I find release in and excitement alike. The wife says that I am incorrigible about so many things but then I always keep reminding her that a leopard never changes its spots or a tiger its stripes. It always has and will always be the people who are at the core of all that I do, and it is this devilishly stupid zeal to chronicle automotive history of my country that keeps me relevant and constant.”

Adil's 7000-strong model car and motorcycle collection! [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil with his wife Jayu on a drive through Udvada in Gujarat state with their Tata Hexa. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Adil with his incredible shrinking Yamaha MT 01. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
Perks of the job: Adil driving a BMW 507. [Adil Jal Darukhanawala]
[Editor's note: I met Adil Jal at the Concorso Eleganza Villa d'Este in 2018, and we immediately began corresponding on motorcycle history in India.  Adil has provided articles for The Vintagent, and sent several of his books, but his background in publishing was unclear, so I assigned Greg Williams our Profiles Editor reached out for an interview.  Thanks Adil!  We still want to publish the history of early motorcycle racing in India! - Paul d'Orléans]

 

 

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Lucky 13: Mecum Monterey 2021

It’s lucky Number 13 for Mecum Auctions and the company’s Monterey, California event. Having held its inaugural Monterey auction in 2009, the event returns to the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on the Del Monte Golf Course from August 12 to 14, 2021. Selling automobiles, engines, tractors, art, and a selection of motorcycles, Monterey ‘21 offers more than 600 lots at a time when the market seems hot. "The collector vehicle market, including motorcycles, has been very strong for us throughout the multiple auctions we've found ways to present in the last year,” says Greg Arnold, Director of Mecum Auctions’ Motorcycle Division. He adds, “(And at) the postponed Las Vegas Motorcycle auction, records continued to be set, nonetheless. We fully expect the Monterey Motorcycle auction to continue in the same vein, the line-up is diverse with an added emphasis on sporting motorcycles."

There are 59 motorcycles available at the time of writing but picking a Top 5 list is difficult. There’s a collection of small-bore Ducati singles – all cool. And there are some intriguing American singles, twins and fours (1903 Mitchell, 1927 Indian Scouts, 1917 Henderson racer), British singles and twins (BSA Gold Stars, Vincent HRD Series A and a first year 1959 Triumph Bonneville), and exotic, high-revving, high-horsepower European sport bikes (Aprilias and Bimotas). But here’s what my esoteric heart would choose at Monterey 2021.

A handsome machine, and Harley-Davidson's first with a gearbox: the 1915 Model 11-F, as used by cross-country explorers [Mecum]
1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F -- Lot F96 --

Having just written 'Almost Lost: A Cross-Country Pioneer' for TheVintagent.com, this 1915 Harley-Davidson Model 11-F piqued my interest. In that story, Canadian Motorcycle-Naturalist Hamilton Mack Laing trekked across America in 1915 aboard Barking Betsy, his brand-new 1,000cc Model 11-F. While the ride wasn’t a cakewalk, it was somewhat easier to accomplish thanks to advances made by Harley-Davidson on this particular model. For example, 1915 was the first year for a hand-shift, three-speed transmission with foot-operated clutch, and an automatic oiling system. Engine internals were beefed-up, and horsepower increased over the 1914 Model 10-F.  Nineteen fifteen was the last year for the square-style gas tank and the pedal cranks. This particular example is a stunning restoration of a machine found in the early 1970s on a Nebraska farm. It was apart, but most of the important bits, including engine case halves with matching belly numbers, were present. It changed hands in 1996 at the Davenport AMCA swap meet but wasn’t completely restored until the downtime provided by the COVID pandemic. This 11-F also bristles with period accessories including a carbide lighting system, Corbin Brown speedometer and klaxon horn. It’s not Barking Betsy, but it’s a fine example.

The rarest of the rare: one of two known Brough Superior Mk1s with a JAP 90 Bore OHV engine. [Mecum]
1922 Brough Superior Mark 1 90 Bore -- Lot F92 --

George Brough, son of William Edward Brough, left his father’s firm in 1919 to build a better motorcycle. Setting up shop in Nottinghamshire, full production of George’s machines began in 1920 and, to differentiate his models from those his father built, called them Brough Superior. The first production Brough Superior was the Mark I model, with a 1,000cc overhead valve V-twin engine produced by J.A. Prestwich, or J.A.P. The race-designed ’90-Bore’ overhead-valve engine was installed in Brough’s own solidly constructed diamond frame. Power was transferred through a Sturmey-Archer three-speed transmission and brakes were rather simplistic bicycle-style components. Chains were used for both primary and final drive when many companies were still employing belt rear drives. What really set the Brough Superior apart from everything else was the streamlined nickel-plated ‘saddle’ gas tank – and Brough, a man who had no trouble with words, described the motorcycle as an ‘atmosphere disturber’. Indeed. One of two 1922 Mark 1 90 Bore models known to exist, the restoration of this particular example appears impeccably done and was a concours winner in October 2019 at Motorclassica; the annual Australian International Concours d’Elegance & Classic Motor Show.

Scooter from the space age: the Salsbury took advantage for Southern California aero manufacturing capacity. [Mecum]
1947 Salsbury Model 85 -- Lot T176 -- 

Little more than a decade after introducing his first scooter, Foster Salsbury’s eponymous company was financially on the ropes. California-based Salsbury introduced the two-stroke powered Motor-Glide in 1936 and was a pioneer in the American motor-scooter market. Chief among his innovations was a continuously variable transmission that was introduced on the third-generation 1938 and ’39 Motor-Glide Models 40 through 60. Gone was the two-stroke engine, replaced by a four-stroke Johnson in the second generation Aero and Aero 30, and that’s when Salsbury enclosed the mechanicals with a sheet metal body. The Second World War years stalled much of Salsbury’s progress, but he did come out with the streamlined Model 85 in 1946. It featured foot-operated throttle and brake pedals, just like an automobile, and looked modern and sleek in its fresh body work. There is a 6-horsepower powerplant under the rider’s seat, and a massive storage trunk at the rear. Approximately 700 to 1,000 Model 85s left the factory before bankruptcy was declared in 1948, and these machines always delight the collectors. This particular Model 85 doesn’t appear ready to ride. The entire engine has been sprayed orange (it shouldn’t have been), and the lack of a drive chain from the CVT’s jackshaft to the rear wheel sprocket indicates some fettling will be required.

The original, affordable Four. Not the first Superbike, but it did change the motorcycle industry forever. [Mecum]
1970 Honda CB750 -- Lot F2 -- 

Few machines have impacted the motorcycle market quite like the Honda CB750 Four. Arguments for other machines that have shaken the industry can be made, but when the inline four-cylinder CB750 was introduced in 1969 the motorcycle was literally a game-changer. With a four-cylinder engine featuring electric starter, Honda’s CB750 with its front disc brake became the machine that set the pace for the early part of the 1970s. The Candy Ruby Red CB750 featured here was built in October 1969 and was restored using OEM parts. It includes correct Honda keys and a complete tool kit. Some 13,000 miles are indicated on the odometer, presumably accumulated pre-restoration as the machine has never had gasoline in the tank post-resto. As good as the paint and chrome looks, the spokes and hubs appear to still be in original condition. A good friend of mine says never buy a restored motorcycle that hasn’t covered more than 500 miles since completion. If the buyer intends to ride this CB750, be prepared to work on some fine-tuning of the ride. If it’s going into a collection for display only, it’s a very pretty example.

Looking amazing in factory race team orange, this Laverda 750SF is a solidly built high-performance Italian beauty. [Mecum]
1973 Laverda 750 SF -- Lot T124 -- 

In the early 1960s when Massimo Laverda and his chief engineer Luciano Zen decided to build a powerful sport bike for the all-important American market, they studied a Honda CB77 Super Hawk. The Hawk’s 305cc engine, with horizontally split crankcase, unit construction gearbox, overhead camshaft, 12-volt electrics and push button starter was the one to emulate for their project. Laverda had a running prototype of a 650 twin ready in 1965 but nothing appeared on the market until 1968, when a 750cc prototype had been built and tested. In 1968, both 650cc and 750cc motorcycles were sold but Laverda soon dropped the 650. The larger machine became two models, the 750 GT and more sporting 750 S. In 1970-71, Laverda debuted the 750 SF with a reworked chassis, improved brakes (SF stands for Super Freni, or Super Brakes), better clutch, and lightened crankshaft. On offer here is a 1973 750 SF from the Northern California Superbike Collection that is reportedly mostly original, with 1,266 miles on the Nippon Denso odometer. It’s believed the gas tank has been repainted, but there are signs of age, with a seam separation on the seat and other scuffs and marks. All are good indicators this is an honest survivor of a rare Italian machine that would have originally been sold in the European market, with its right side foot shifter and left side rear brake lever.

[Note: Mecum Auctions is a sponsor of TheVintagent.com]

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Almost Lost: A Cross-Country Pioneer

ADV:Overland celebrates the spirit of adventure and exploration. Our Petersen Museum exhibit runs from July 2021 – April 2022.  These are the stories behind the vehicles in the exhibit, and others we need to tell because they are amazing, like this nearly forgotten story of a pioneering naturalist making his way across the USA in 1915.

The rusting remains of an old motorcycle on the edge of a Vancouver Island property stirred rumors for years.  Nobody could prove it, but they might be the bones of Barking Betsy, a machine at the heart of a story lost for a century.

Checking the map: a mere suggestion of the possible routes in an era where no roads existed west of Illinois. Hamilton Mack Laing on Barking Betsey in 1915.

In 1915, Hamilton Mack Laing rode his Model 11-F Harley-Davidson, nicknamed Barking Betsy, from New York to San Francisco to see the Panama Pacific International Exposition, carrying on northward to Portland.  Over the winter of 1915, Laing used his handwritten notes gathered on his journey to produce a manuscript, but waited until 1922 to send his 148-page story to Harley-Davidson, thinking they might serialize the tale of his epic journey in The Enthusiast magazine.  Perhaps his story was too old by then, as Laing’s article went unpublished, and his story forgotten.

More than 100 years later, Vancouver-based author and motorcycle travel writer Trevor Marc Hughes learned of a manuscript resting in the British Columbia Provincial Archives in Victoria. Realizing the significance of the story, he worked with publisher Ronsdale Press to bring Laing’s story back to life. Better late than never, Riding the Continent was released in the fall of 2019.

Barking Betsey made an ideal mobile birdwatching platform for Laing the naturalist. [Richard Mackie]
Although not the first person to make a transcontinental motorcycle trip, Laing was among the first to write a book about the journey – had it been published. In 1903, George A. Wyman rode his 1902 California motor-bicycle from San Francisco to New York, and he wrote a series of stories that appeared in The Motorcycle Magazine [Note: Wyman's story is part of our ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Museum]. And, in 1919 Captain C.K. Shepherd rode a Henderson Four from New York to San Francisco and recounted the adventure in his 1922 book, Across America by Motor-Cycle. Neither of their tales would have a naturalist's viewpoint as did Laing’s, though.

“Laing loved birds,” Trevor Marc Hughes says, “he got to know birds at a very early age, and he eventually saw the motorcycle as an ideal way to get out into nature because it was accessible and affordable. It wasn’t on rails, and it wasn’t the conglomeration of the automobile. He could just get out there, shut off the engine, and listen to the birds.” Laing was born in 1883 in Ontario, Canada but was raised on the family farm in southern Manitoba. He spent long days, essentially working as the ‘warden’ for the operation. Laing became a sharp marksman fending off natural predators with a rifle and learning to confidently recognize birds by sight and song. A teacher by 17, Laing taught at several area schools, and from 1908 to 1911, was principal of Oakwood Intermediate School. While teaching, he took a National Press Association correspondence course and wrote his first freelance story for the New York Tribune. In 1907, he bought a 4 x 5" glass-plate Kodak camera to photograph wildlife.

Hamilton Mack Laing attending his 1915 Harley-Davidson 11-F beneath a Locust tree in Pennsylvania. [British Columbia Archives]
Looking for a change, in 1911 he gave up his principalship and attended design and art school at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He supported himself writing, illustrating, and photographing stories for the likes of Recreation, Outing, Field and Stream, Country Life in America, and Tall Timber magazines. In 1913, Outing Publishing Company compiled Laing’s stories into a book called Out with the Birds. Remuneration for his writing was good, so much so that in 1914, when in his early 30s, Laing bought his first Harley-Davidson, a 978cc Model 10-F. That summer, he rode the machine, nicknamed Flying Maria, back home to Manitoba. He liked to spend the warm months at an Oak Lake camp he dubbed Heart’s Desire. This riding adventure was written up and published in the summer 1915 edition of Outing magazine as “Gipsying on a Motorcycle: How a Greenhorn Rode from New York to Winnipeg and Enjoyed the Whole Way”. By 1915, he’d given Flying Maria to his brother, Jim, and bought a brand new Model 11-F that he called Barking Betsy. Most importantly, he’d invented a new title for himself, that of Motorcycle-Naturalist, and decided to embark on his cross-country sojourn.

After his epic 1915 cross-continental ride, Laing joined the Royal Flying Corps in Canada in 1917 to become a gunnery instructor.  After the war he became a renowned naturalist, traveling the western and northern regions of Canada as a natural history specialist, working with the likes of the Smithsonian Institution and National Museum of Canada. He also sailed to Kamachatka and Japan on the HMCS Thiepval. His remarkable life was documented by B.C. historian Richard Mackie, who catalogued Laing’s papers after his death in 1982. Mackie’s book, Hamilton Mack Laing: Hunter-Naturalist was published in 1985. In that book, Mackie could only dedicate two paragraphs to the remarkable unpublished manuscript Laing had left behind.

Laing at the Continental Divide on the summit of the Rocky Mountains. [British Columbia Archive]
Enter Trevor Marc Hughes. Like Laing, his interest in motorcycles began at a later age. After graduating from Simon Fraser University’s School of Communication, Trevor was in his late 20s when he bought a Yamaha Seca 400. He rode that while freelancing for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and then stored it while he moved to London for a year to work with the BBC. There, he became fascinated by the motorcycle courier culture, but when he returned to Canada, he sold the Yamaha and focused on raising his young son. In 2008, he got back into motorcycling and picked up a 2003 Kawasaki KLR 650. “I did a ride up and down Vancouver Island,” he says, and continues, “it was probably the longest ride I’d ever done, and the biggest appeal was getting off on my own and getting to places off the beaten path where I could shut off the engine and just ‘be there.’”

In 2012 he rode another KLR 650 all over B.C. and wrote a book called Nearly 40 on the 37, a tale about the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, or Highway 37. He describes the road, the communities, and the people who live in the remote northern regions of the province – topics that don’t get much attention. Other B.C. travel adventures aboard motorcycles followed, and Trevor wrote another book, Zero Avenue to Peace Park. This is a tale of riding the highway that closely follows the 49th Parallel and the Canadian/American border.

Laing picnics with Barking Betsy in 1915, somewhere in North America. [Richard Mackie]
As a freelance writer, Trevor had submitted a book review to Richard Mackie, editor of The Ormsby Review. From their website, “The Ormsby Review is a lively and inclusive Vancouver-based online journal devoted to the literature, arts, culture, and society of British Columbia. We find BC reviewers to review books written by BC writers or concerning BC topics.” In Trevor’s bio that went with his review, he mentioned his love of motorcycles. “After that, Richard said to me, ‘I think there’s something you’d like to read’ and pointed me in the direction of Laing’s papers in the B.C. Archives.” In 2018, Trevor, who was raised in Victoria but now resides in Vancouver, returned to his home city, and held in his hands for the first time Laing’s languishing manuscript.

“First of all, I was overwhelmed by the sense of how long these pages had been in existence,” Trevor explains. “And then, holding the actual handwritten journals that Laing kept in his panniers while crossing the country – the feeling of the time it all comes from is quite special and it’s a very cool experience.” But technology has changed our lives, and using his iPhone, Trevor photographed every page of Laing’s manuscript. Returning home to his computer, Trevor began transcribing and editing Laing’s work. He sent pitches to a few publishers, and the first to respond favorably was Ron Hatch of B.C.’s  Ronsdale Press, ‘a literary press specializing in Canadian poetry, fiction, belles lettres and children’s literature’. And now, a pioneering motorcyclist’s story of crossing North America in 1915.

In 1917, Laing owned a third Harley-Davidson V-twin, a Model J, the last motorcycle he owned before moving to Vancouver Island and giving up personal mechanized transport entirely.

In his book, Laing wrote of his 1915 Harley-Davidson, “We were off. I say ‘we’ for always I feel that the machine Betsy is more than an inanimate steed; rather a partner, a comrade of the Road, alive, and yet somehow, too, a part of me. I always address her in the feminine. In spite of her gruff voice she has very feminine traits. Anyway, it is far more poetical to call her Betsy than Bill. If she had not been christened Betsy then it must have been some other sweet and euphonious female name. I confess it came near being Growling Gertrude.”

When Laing and his brother Jim met on Berthous Pass after climbing the Rockies. [British Columbia Archives]
Riding the Continent is not divided by chapter, rather ‘Meter’ readings, or the mileage Laing had traveled each day as he crossed the U.S.A., from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California. In Nebraska, he met his brother Jim, who’d ridden Flying Maria down from Manitoba. The two traveled westward together from there, and picked up a third traveling companion in the West when fellow Harley-Davidson rider ‘Tan’ joined the adventure. “Laing wanted to get away from people, and leave New York after being there for four years,” Trevor says. “What’s interesting in the book, though, are his moments of discovery, from the descriptions of bird and natural life to the times when he did meet people and some of the friendships and insights he learned on the road.” Here’s a sample:

“At Moline a brother rider picked me up and led me at a furious pace to Davenport. He was a road-burner, I was not. But as he had volunteered to pilot me out of the next city I tried to keep him in sight. He could not understand why I would wish to stop on the long bridge and take off my dusty cap in silent homage to the great Mississippi, the Father of Waters. To him I think this huge aorta of a vast continent was doubtless at its best but a muddy old river. For, with most of us, familiarity and contempt are two little sisters walking hand in hand.”

Laing rode for a short while in the Midwest with a motorcyclist he nicknamed Texas. On one of the roads they traveled, Laing recalled, “The running was much better that we spun along rapidly, and once I spun where I should not have. A little wet patch on the road scarce bigger than a tabletop was deemed too insignificant to be worth dodging, although Texas who was leading deemed it so, and I picked myself up from the side of the grade where Betsy prone on her side had dug a furrow with her foot-boards and her face. That mud patch was alkali! My comrade ahead heard the rumpus and came back, and after we got Betsy on her feet and the half-dried mud detached from parts of her, also got the handlebars straightened, she was ready again. But she had a new dreadful appearance. There was not more than a square inch of glass in the lamp and it was knocked awry and jammed and battered shockingly. Texas who was an authority on cyclones said we had the appearance of having weathered a good one.”

A hand-written diary entry from Laing's 1915 trip, using the date and 'meter' (distance traveled) as chapter heading. [Trevor Marc Hughes]
Laing’s feathered friends are prominent throughout. At Meter 1842, for example, Laing described the morning like this, “There was a sunrise of marvelous color-loveliness to greet us at dawn. It was a plainsland day birth where all the sky is in sight and the clouds to the east and west and north and south all catch the tints of morning holding them suspended for awhile. And the world of sound was as harmonious as was that of color. Here we heard the first real singing of the lark buntings. The black and white males were very full of dawn song and the species was abundant. They filled earth and air with a tinkling, rippling, sylph-like chorus that seemed to come from everywhere, yet from no spot in particular.”

Trevor Marc Hughes and his BMW F650GS, which led to his discovery of the Laing diaries. [Trevor Marc Hughes]
What’s interesting to learn in Trevor’s afterword, is although Laing bought one more Harley-Davidson, a 1917 J Model, he soon gave up riding to focus on his expeditionary work. He also soon realized mechanized progress was degrading the environment. Laing lived for decades in Comox, B.C., on Vancouver Island. There, he’d not have a vehicle at all. “He would become what we would now term an environmentalist,” Trevor says. It’s not known if any of his motorcycles survived, and those rumored rusted remains of Barking Betsy will never be verified. But thankfully, Laing’s book survived and has been given the life it deserved. Riding the Continent is an enriching read, and it’s available from http://ronsdalepress.com/riding-the-continent/.

 

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

PostIndustrial with Carmen Gentile

Anthony Bourdain, the late chef and CNN host of “Parts Unknown”, toured West Virginia in his first episode of Season 11. Originally airing in the spring of 2018, in the first minutes of the show, a West Virginian says, “There’s so much negativity surrounding this place, that no one ever focuses on the positive. They see us as ignorant or hillbillies. There’s really so much more here than just poverty and illiteracy and drugs. There’s a lot of good people here.” In his own dialogue, Bourdain said the area was “…a place both heartbreaking and beautiful. A place that symbolizes and contains everything wrong and everything awful and hopeful about America.”

In this photograph from 2019, Carmen Gentile talks with Nawzad Hawrami, the manager of the Salahadeen Center, where Kurds and other Muslims in the community gather to pray. [Nish Nalbandian]
Journalist, author, and war correspondent Carmen Gentile agrees. As founder and editor-at-large of the multimedia news outlet Postindustrial, Carmen works with a talented team of writers and photographers, sharing stories that help redefine the Rust Belt and Appalachia region of America, an area that was once the backbone of the country's industrial output. With a website, print magazine, podcasts, events, and short documentaries, Postindustrial Media is not a conventional media outlet with a narrow focus on a specific town, city, or state. Rather, “Our work reflects the history, legacy, and culture of one of the most important regions in America. We show where those regions are going — in the spirit of reinvention and renewal so emblematic of Postindustrial America.”

Telling stories with motorcycles: from The Vintagent's 2017 story 'The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper'. Carmen explains, "Taleb, our mechanic, and Ahmed, an off duty cop, ride our Ural out of Mosul for us" to avoid being ambushed by insurgents! [Nish Nalbandian]
Carmen Gentile often uses motorcycles to help tell these stories. The Vintagent last heard from Carmen in August 2017 with his article 'The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper'. In that tale, readers learned about his travels through Afghanistan with photojournalist Nish Nalbandian, collecting stories and photos while riding a 2004 Ural sidecar outfit. It was a return to a country where Carmen had, in 2010, lost the use of his right eye to a Taliban-fired rocket-propelled grenade. The grenade didn’t explode, but it shattered the right side of Carmen’s skull and destroyed the vision in his eye – it’s blurry, and very light sensitive: he now sports a pirate-like patch. He deftly tells the tale in his 2018 hardcover book 'Blindsided by the Taliban: A Journalist’s Story of War, Trauma, Love, and Loss'. In The Notorious Mosul Moto Caper, however, Carmen said, “Now we’ve got a taste for this kind of storytelling, combining our work as journalists with stories about motorcycles and places to ride.” He was thinking at the time he'd next be motorcycling through the Balkans, an area that ”20 years ago…was in a war similar to what Iraq is going through, and people haven’t heard much about it since then.” Carmen wanted to explore how parts of the region were reinventing themselves in the post-war era.

Carmen Gentile was literally 'Blindsided by the Taliban' in Afghanistan, when stuck by a rocket propelled grenade that failed to explode, but blinded him nonetheless. [Carmen Gentile]
I recently caught up with Carmen and learned more about him and his ventures with Postindustrial, a media outlet founded in 2018. “We started a media company at a time when a lot of Americans were hurting, and the media and other news outlets were slashing budgets,” Carmen says. In other words, small town daily newspapers have been progressively disappearing from many communities. “Three years later,” he muses, “we’ve managed to grow and thrive.” He can chalk up some of that success to his style of moto-reporting, where the motorcycle acts as a conduit for dialogue. “The motorcycle is the oddity that captures people’s attention. When I was reporting in Iraq by motorcycle, that was my introduction and the means by which I could get people to talk to me.” For example, Carmen recently toured Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland with friend and fellow reporter Jason Motlagh (who writes for Rolling Stone, and is producing a separate story for them) and photojournalist Justin Merriman. Carmen and Jason rode 2021 Royal Enfields, an Interceptor and Continental GT. Along the way, most folks were interested in the bikes and wanted to know more about them. Motorcycle enthusiasts will understand that the machines themselves are powerful icebreakers.

Postindustrial Media held an event in 2019 to highlight how residents, Penn State University, and investors are revitalizing New Kensington. Here, dozens of participants walk through one of the business districts. [Carmen Gentile]
Raised in a town near Pittsburgh in an area that had once been a thriving center for aluminum production, Carmen’s father owned a small machine shop. “In the early 1980s, aluminum was the industry that drove our region. When things were going wrong, you got a feeling about how things were going by how much work was going through the shop. Manufacturing, fabrication and welding jobs were part and parcel of what made the Rust Belt and Appalachia areas a part of my past; I was working a metal bandsaw at six years old.” Regardless his machine shop background, though, Carmen did not immediately gravitate towards motorcycles, and says, “I was an outlier. I wasn’t one of those kids riding dirt bikes, and often thought those things looked tall and would be easy to fall over and wondered how anybody could ride one.” However, when Carmen was in his early 30s, living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the thought of swinging a leg over a machine became an attractive proposition. “I’d taught myself to surf and wanted to learn how to do something (as risky as surfing), and that was motorcycling.” He wisely took a how-to-ride class, learning the skills aboard a small Honda. His instruction was offered in Portuguese, and not only was he learning to ride, but he was also learning the language.

From the 'Notorious Mosul Moto Caper': Carmen sits on the Ural he discovered in Mosul, his first opportunity to get on the bike, as a bunch of Iraqi neighbors watch. "In the striped shirt is Talib, a mechanic who rode the bike out of Mosul for us so we could get the bike past checkpoints." [Carmen Gentile]
When Carmen returned to the United States in 2006, he moved to Miami and bought a 2005 BMW Dakar. Aboard the motorcycle, he had an advantage over other journalists when commuting to news assignments for the likes of Time and Newsweek. “I could split lanes and make good time to often arrive first on the scene,” he explains. His BMW was purchased used, with only a year’s worth of someone else’s miles on the machine. Carmen still has this BMW, and it now has more than 66,000 miles on the odometer. “Other bikes have come into my life, but that BMW is the through-line; we’ve been through thick and thin together,” he says, and continues, “When I’ve been overseas for months at a time, we’re often apart, but she’s been one constant lady in my past 15 years.” Is he at all mechanically inclined, given his machine shop background? “You’re going to laugh,” Carmen begins, “but I’m probably the least motorcycle knowledgeable motorcyclist. You couldn’t ask me the specs on my own bike that I’ve owned for 15 years, I wouldn’t know, I’m just not that guy. I can fix small things; other repairs are beyond me. I’d love to take a basic motorcycle maintenance course!”

Carmen Gentile with his Royal Enfield on Friday, May 21, 2021 in Cynthiana, Kentucky. [Justin Merriman/American Reportage]
While on the topic of education, he says he never did take a Journalism class in his post-secondary career. “I went to Villanova University just outside of Philadelphia,” Carmen says. “It took me six years to graduate with a liberal arts education (he has a degree in Philosophy with a minor in Islamic studies), but I never took a Journalism class. I was inquisitive and I could write, and as long as you can keep people engaged, that’s what it takes to be a good reporter.” Carmen worked as a reporter for two summers at a newspaper in Western Pennsylvania before, as he says, “I kind of lost my direction.” It was a professor who taught Arabic who suggested Carmen should travel to Cairo to continue learning. There, Carmen found a small English language newspaper and he worked there from 1998 to 2000. He was back in the U.S. on September 11, where it was all hands on deck for reporters and, from Washington, D.C., he had a front row seat to a breaking story.

Carmen Gentile, Vintagent Contributor and founder of PostIndustrial.com. [Carmen Gentile]
The story of a region emerging from the pandemic led Carmen, Jason, and Justin to take their most recent moto-journalism tour through the Rust Belt and Appalachia region. “By the time we departed, stuff was opening up and our team was fully vaccinated; we could all get together again, and we wondered, how has the pandemic changed the area? What’s the new face of the region?” There are now 10 stories on Postindustrial.com documenting their journey. “We just scratched the surface with our stories, the pandemic has rearranged lives, livelihoods and families – I don’t believe it will ever be the same as it was before.” One poignant post was 'Day Two: Seasoned Truth-Tellers'. On the second day of their motorcycle tour, the team stopped in Youngstown, a city Carmen describes as a “…once-thriving steel and manufacturing center in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley that has fallen on hard times.” There, he spoke to Bertram de Souza, a veteran journalist for the Youngstown Vindicator, a newspaper that saw fresh ink roll off the press for 150 years. “The paper’s now closed,” Carmen says, “and that’s one of the biggest threats we’re facing right now, the loss of local news. When these outlets go under, there’s no one being held accountable. People used to revere their local paper, but the papers have been systematically undermined by other media outlets who don’t understand the irony – there’s no sense of irony or shame in this country.” With the decline in the empire of print journalism, Carmen is determined to continue newsgathering in communities in the Rust Belt and Appalachia – and beyond - that are underreported and underrepresented. He echoes the voice of the West Virginia resident, who said at the beginning of the Bourdain episode that there was much more than bad news to come out of the region. Carmen concludes, “There are all types of people here with stories to tell.”

Follow along at Postindustrial.com or on Instagram, @postindustrial.media

 

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Walking the Paths of Fire with Andrew Nahum

From massive steam engines to scale glow-plug model engines; from vintage motorcycle and automobile engines to aircraft engines -- Andrew Nahum has spent his life dedicated to pistons, crankshafts, and jet fuel. Andrew was until recently the Principal Keeper at the London Science Museum, is an author and, as an extension of his interests, an engineer. Born in Cheshire, near Manchester, England, Andrew’s young life was imprinted upon thanks to family contacts in the Lancashire textile trade. At eight or nine years old, he toured one of the cotton mills and was mesmerized by the large steam engines located on the ground floor that powered the entire operation. “That was fascinating, I remember holding onto the railing by the crankshaft end of one and watching the big end hurtle down towards me and then stop and fly back -- they were open crank mill engines dating to the 19th century. The steam engine that I remember best, by the way, was run by the grandson of the guy who first looked after it when the mill was new, which I thought was amazing.”

Author and Curator Andrew Nahum with his Earles fork BMW R50 at Folly Farm in 2018. It's a machine he reckons is mighty comfortable to ride. [Sebastian Conra]
As a youth Andrew also visited the cotton spinning floors above those steam engines in the mill. He noticed that when a thread broke, the person working the machines joined the broken ends with a special knot. “I was intrigued because they could grab the two broken ends and join them in an instant with a flick of their fingers. I recall they all had new knot-making machines, a bit like a paper stapler, hanging on a cord at their waists, which could do the same job, but the ladies working the machines enjoyed showing that they could make the real knot by hand, and just as fast.” Andrew adds, “I guess it made me feel that machines need humans, and that humans interact with machines -- and that this relationship was extraordinarily fascinating.” In another seminal moment, when Andrew was 10, his mother went to Italy with an old friend and her husband, who was an engineer. “His name was Desmond Molins -- an outstanding engineer who designed the industrial machines that make cigarettes. In the window of a model shop in Genoa they spotted a beautiful miniature glow-plug outboard engine, and Desmond said, ‘Andrew would love this’. She brought it home as a present. I spent hours running it in the garden shed, breathing methanol and castor oil fumes, and listening to the crackling exhaust. Later I built a boat for it. That was my first engine and it started everything.”

His own design of functional two-stroke diesel aero motor from 1960. [Andrew Nahum]
For personal transportation as a youth, Andrew had a Triumph bicycle with a three-speed Sturmey-Archer rear hub. Family vehicles were British cars, “some stodgy, and some almost too exciting, like my mother's Triumph Vitesse which married a surprisingly lively six-cylinder engine to treacherous swing axle rear suspension (VW Beetle style).” As a teenager his interest in machines grew more focussed, “Much of my youth was spent building powered model aircraft, and I loved to hang out in a machine shop which made competition model aero engines.” He attended English boarding school, where he says most of the teachers were good, while others were near psychopathic. He muses, “Maybe they had been affected by the Second World War.” However, in senior school, Andrew found a metal shop class run by a teacher who had a three-wheeler Bond Minicar. “He used to start it at the end of the day by opening the bonnet and putting one foot in to kickstart the engine, which was a Villiers motorcycle engine,” Andrew says, and continues, “But I don't recall we ever laughed at him because the whole process seemed so unusual and fascinating.” In that shop, Andrew started to build a model diesel aero engine. “For my aero engine, the teacher wouldn’t let me start cutting metal until I had a proper design, so I spent a lot of time reading about valve timing in Phil Irving’s book on two-strokes, and then learned a bit about marking out, filing, turning, milling, screw cutting, case hardening, honing, and lapping. But it was just a short glimpse of machining and manufacture. Even so, there are a lot of processes and techniques in an engine that’s just 1cc in capacity (about 0.8 cubic inches) which is why most model aero engineering companies never made any money. I still have that engine - and it runs at about 12,000 rpm on a six-inch propeller.”

Halcyon days in Normandy with an open Salmson: 1976. [Andrew Nahum]
Andrew had friends with motorcycles, but they were ridden in secret: his mother didn’t like them.  Among his first rides was a Triumph Tiger Cub, and compared to his bicycle, the Cub seemed amazingly powerful. “Then at university I rode a friend's four-valve Rudge which was delightful and really got me involved with classic bikes.” At Edinburgh university, he studied biology and zoology. “After that, by way of some postgraduate work -- or not enough work -- in immunology and genetics, I moved sideways into the most junior curator job in the engineering and technology section of what was then the Royal Scottish Museum, really because of the bikes and cars I loved. By then I was more intrigued by machines than by biology and had rebuilt a Vincent twin in the bedroom of my ground floor apartment. I call that job the second degree I never got in engineering. I had worked up to the Vincent through that four-valve Rudge, a lovely 175 cc OHC MV Agusta, a veteran 550 cc Triumph and a vivid 600c Scott two-stroke twin, even a Danish four-cylinder Nimbus.”

Among the first: a Vincent Rapide Andrew picked up in 1969. [Andrew Nahum]
Andrew recalls that in the late 1960s and the 1970s, vintage British cars were fun and inexpensive, compared to moderns. He ran a 1935 twin-cam Lagonda Rapier and a Lagonda LG 45, and then traded them in for a 1925 twin-cam Salmson. “This was a tiny torpedo-bodied sports car that I did quite well with in vintage sporting trials (mud-bashing),” Andrew says. “With girlfriend Fiona -- now my wife -- we used to tour northern France in the summers in it. Salmsons had been legendary French light cars, made in Billancourt, western Paris, a famous centre of small-scale car production, and we always got a terrific welcome and much hospitality. People would stop, look at the radiator badge and exclaim: ‘Ah-hah ! Salm-son!’”

Barreling down the road on a Ducati 750 Sport in the Cotswolds for a magazine photo shoot, 1986. [Andrew Nahum]
Because of his love for automobiles and motorcycles, Andrew strayed quite a long way from the university departments to the car dealers and mechanics of Edinburgh. “They were tough people, often working in railway arches or grimy workshop streets where scholars would never go. Curiously, they seemed to accept me, or at least put up with me kindly, though I must have been an oddity in that world and not much dirt under my fingernails. I think maybe it was the insatiable curiosity about everything mechanical that was my passport,” he says. Thanks to this exposure, Andrew learned that intellect and imagination was not simply the domain of universities and laboratories. “Somebody, under a car lift, or with an engine on a bench, can have a brilliant insight -- how do I fix this? Or undo it?  Intelligence is not expressed just in words or on paper. It can in be the perfect blow of a hammer. The right size of hammer. Nowadays, the museum world and the cultural commentators have begun to understand this and there is a recent interesting and helpful phrase: ‘making is thinking.’”

Another magnificent Ducati: the green-frame round-case 750SS Andrew owned and rode for many years. Here on Shap Fell, near the Scottish border. Round-case Ducatis are amazing touring bikes! [Andrew Nahum]
Looking for advancement and a broader role, in 1980 Andrew took a position in London at the Science Museum – a facility with roots that stretch back to 1857 and the creation of the South Kensington Museum. Today, the Science Museum houses a tremendous collection that ‘forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical advancement from across the globe.’ Andrew’s first boss at the Science Museum, John Bagley, was a former aerodynamicist from Farnborough. From John, Andrew learned a tremendous amount about aviation history, “but also about the way government science had worked in the Cold War years,” Andrew recalls. “John was not interested in engines, which I loved, and so I was able to immerse myself in aero engine history and to find my way in learning to explain and to display artefacts in a museum setting.” In his early years at the Science Museum, Andrew says he was privileged to meet and talk to many important aero engineers including the father of the jet engine, Frank Whittle and several of his colleagues, Rod Banks, who directed aero engine development at the end of WW2, and influential Rolls-Royce designers -- from the Merlin engine to the jet age.”

At the Science Museum’s Wroughton warehouse in April 2000, transporting a 1935 Lockheed L10 Electra to London for permanent display. Vintage aircraft expert Tim Moore and Skysport engineering made the angled support to reduce the width for road transport, as well as the fittings that suspend it in the Science Museum gallery. [Tim Moore]
In time, Andrew became the overall curator for all engineering and transport collections and eventually Principal Keeper. “Then, in 2000, as part of our millennium project, I led the team that put together a major permanent gallery, ‘Making the Modern World’ -- a timeline of some of our most important relics of science and technology from 1750 to 2000. Through that I learned an immense amount about the broader history of technology, science, and engineering.” In terms of a favorite transportation object at the Science Museum, Andrew says it just may be the 1897 Holden motorcycle, made by Henry Capel Lofft Holden. This early machine features a horizontal four-cylinder engine with direct drive to the rear wheel via connecting rods, similar to a locomotive.  The Science Museum’s collection is searchable online and is a treasure trove of information: https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects-and-stories.

Andrew with a 1936 Lagonda LG45 in 1969, at Tollcross in Edinburgh. When such vehicles were affordable for young enthusiasts! [Andrew Nahum]
Andrew’s life as an author began back in Edinburgh, he says, when the Scottish section of the Vintage Sports Car Club had its own newsletter. As its editor, Andrew found himself writing most of the articles. From that point, he began contributing to UK classic car and motorcycle magazines. “I knew that the famous makes like Ferrari and Jaguar were well-covered by established writers, so I did not compete with them -- and I also had a passion to know more about the odd engineering byways,” he says. “It turned out that motoring tours and adventures were much more fun when combined with a writing project, so I chased the histories and the collectors of oddball cars like twin-cylinder Panhards, Salmsons and all French light cars. Also, I had a passion for Saab two-strokes – the era in which Eric Carlsson won the Monte Carlo rally three times -- and met Carlsson and the Saab design engineers.” His wife Fiona, however, prompted him to become more mainstream in his writing interests and to visit Italy, so “we went often to Italy to visit the famous design houses and makers, and in the 1980s and 1990s we visited Giugiaro and Ital Design, Bertone, Pininfarina, Ghia, Michelotti, Zagato, Maserati, Lamborghini and also Fiat many times. The Italian car industry was full of enthusiasm and friendliness. Those missions were pure pleasure and brought me into contact with so many passionate and congenial designers and engineers. These projects were mostly for features in UK car magazines like Fast Lane and Motor, but also for the new design and architecture magazine Blueprint.”

An impromptu ride on one of the late Patrick Godet's Egli-Vincents, in 2010. "I had arrived wet and tired on the Ducati 750SS. Patrick looked it over and said ‘if you like café racer you must try mine’. The next day, while viewing his assembly shop he wheeled it out." [Andrew Nahum]
As an author on the history of technology, Andrew says his first book project was ‘The Rotary Aero Engine’. He attributes inspiration for the book to his early work in the Science Museum. And in a museum in Paris, he spotted what he guessed was the first Gnome prototype built for early tests – because it had no cooling fins. Of the fascination with rotary engines, Andrew says, “In 1914 rotaries were the lightest engines for their power and so rotary engined aircraft were for a while the most effective fighters.  But why did the Gnomes, Le Rhones, Clergets, and Bentleys disappear so abruptly after the war? I wrote a slim book -- I generally prefer slim books -- outlining the history of the rotary engine and arguing that rotaries were abandoned because their geometry limits gas flow.” He goes on to say that the lure of writing and historical research is fuelled by a “love of ‘truffle hunting’ and finding records in archives and books that make things add up and show how one event leads to another. I almost always start a project because it is something I want to explore.”

Andrew's latest: Paths of Fire: the Gun and the World It Made. An exploration not of warfare per se, but of how the science and engineering of guns and artillery shaped modern thinking and industry. [Reaktion Books]
His most recent book, published in May 2021, is ‘Paths of Fire: The Gun and the World it Made’. “This isn’t really a such slim book, in spite of what I said,” he explains. “It started a long time ago, on holiday in Sicily. I had just read a biography of Colonel Colt and I was fascinated by the wider effects of gunnery and gun research, beyond war itself, (although that has to be there too). For example, I trace the origins of artificial intelligence and cybernetics to WW2 developments in fire control for anti-aircraft guns. And the origins of modern physics to Renaissance experiments in ballistics which ultimately provided part of the experimental data that put Galileo and Newton on the path to formulating the laws of motion. I look too at the surprising liberty that traditional craft workers had until their world was displaced by the new systematic manufacturing and gauging system, invented in France, but perfected in the armories of the USA. It then traces the legacy of those techniques through Henry Ford to all the stuff we consume today, from smartphones to hot dogs.” He continues, “I also discuss the Kalashnikov and the M16 carbine in terms of the Soviet and American cultures which generated them and even touch on Reagan’s Star Wars and Edward Teller’s promised X-ray laser - in a sense the ultimate and ideal gun - in ending the Cold War.”

Riding the historic Kop Hill hillclimb in 2017 on a friend’s 1920 ABC flat twin. [Andrew Nahum]
Andrew first started writing the book 10 years ago, and it took him far longer to complete than anything else he’d worked on. “Other projects muscled in. On the way, I authored an exhibition on a fascinating topic - British science in the Second World War and its legacy - ‘Churchill’s Scientists’ - at the Science Museum. Then I got the chance to devise and curate a major exhibition at the Design Museum called ‘Ferrari: Under the Skin’ which was a fabulous opportunity - too good to pass up. More recently I jointly curated another exhibition at the Design Museum called ‘Moving to Mars; Should we Stay or Should we Go’ which looked at the emerging design thinking for Mars - architecture, clothing, food - so I had to work on the book in bursts.”

"Flying my radio-controlled, electric-powered model helium airship at the Model Engineering Exhibition, Olympia, c. 1995. I originally built it as an interactive display exhibit for the Science Museum." [Andrew Nahum]
As a passionate motorcyclist, Andrew says he’s spent 50 years looking for the perfect machine, and says, “I had a real Aermacchi 250 Ala d'Oro catalogue racer that steered as finely as a bicycle and pulled like a roadgoing 500. My two Scotts (1928 and 1938) had a wondrous wail and pointed exactly where you wanted them to go, in spite of the unsprung back end. Anyone who has ridden an old belt-drive single, like my 1918 Triumph, on back roads, will know the smoothness and effortlessness of those late veteran machines for the motorcycle truly came of age with those bikes. When I got my Vincent Rapide in about 1969, I thought it was just the most wonderful thing I'd ever ridden. I rode it from Yorkshire back to Edinburgh over the border hills and as I rode it, I realised that it could pull like a vintage 500 single -- but would also rev amazingly well and soon found I was overtaking the holiday makers in cars three at a time. You climb a range of hills between England to Scotland on the east coast and, in early summer, as you ascend, a warm day turns chill, but the air is like champagne. And then you start to descend on the Scottish side, and, on the right road, the whole of the border country is laid out before you -- even Edinburgh, as a smudge in the distance, the farmland, and the huge electricity generating station on the shores of the Forth.”

A lovely 1908 Moto Rêve V-twin gives a little vexation: "I never made the Brighton Run on this one." [Andrew Nahum]
But all was not rosy in Andrew’s relationship with his Vincent. When problems surfaced after his second rebuild, he says he became a little depressed and sold the machine to fund the purchase of a 1974 Ducati Sport. “I thought that was a simply fabulous motorcycle,” he says. Later, he found a true ‘green frame’ Ducati 750 Super Sport, a machine he rode to Scotland and once to Normandy to visit the late Patrick Godet. “I sold the 750SS recently,” Andrew says, and adds, “It gave me some fabulous experiences and I am not sad."

any trip with an old motorcycle takes twice as long because of the conversation

Does Andrew have a favourite motorcycle? He says, “When I was in my 20s, in Edinburgh, a dear friend, biker and engineer said, ‘if you're going to ride a crazy thing like a Vincent that’s always going to go wrong, you need a sensible motorcycle too -- so buy my 1960 BMW R60’. I did. It was lovely, but I didn't realize, back then, just how good it was. Fiona and I rode out to dinner in the country for our first date, and it didn't even give a tiny slip although the snow was starting to fall on the way back. It’s partly because the power is so smooth, and the controls are so progressive. Then, after owning or riding dozens of motorcycles, I found a 1956 BMW R50, so I've almost gone back to what I had in 1970. It’s an Earles fork model R50, maybe a bit less power than my R60 but the 500s rev amazingly well for a pushrod motor, and if you have the right solo gearbox, and the solo rear bevel ratio, the gears are wonderfully long, and the bike just flows. I use it a lot and I think it is pretty perfect -- probably the best motorcycle in the world when it was made.” He waxes philosophical: “I love to be in some little country village with a coffee shop or pub, with the bike outside, thinking that such a simple and slim, economical and refined piece of engineering has brought me there. I’m more of a rider and less of a tinkerer now. The important part of it is people. In the car, or boat, or motorcycle world I love talking to the enthusiasts and people who can do work that I can’t do. My family say that any trip to do with these things will take twice as long because of the conversation.”

The Vintage Sports Car Club (VSCC) Scottish Hillclimb, circa 1973, with a Salmson 1926 twin-cam VAL 3 model. [Andrew Nahum]
When asked what makes up a typical day in his life, Andrew says the coronavirus pandemic has, of course, upended much of what was once normal. Regardless, he says every morning starts with strong, good coffee. “I grind my own beans. Dark roast. That's breakfast.” Then, much of his day is spent working at a laptop or screen, “hoping to progress the next book, an article or an exhibition idea. That work often used to be in the Science Museum and I’m keen to get back there soon to find the raw, unfiltered history in the archives and records. And two or three times a week, in summer, I aim to get into the country on a bike. I visit friends who build and restore vintage aircraft, cars and bikes and we talk about life and machines. I cook, because I enjoy it, read a lot, mostly non-fiction, connected to my research projects, and occasionally take down the old guitar I've owned most of my life. I love looking into all those other worlds with their own crafts and enthusiasms like boatbuilding, vintage aircraft restoration, musical instrument making.”

At the 1995 Banbury Run with his 1918 Model H Triumph and his children Chloe and Adam. [Andrew Nahum]
A book Andrew is currently working on takes a look at early Cold War aviation. “The formative years immediately after WW2 when the first generation of jet fighters and jet bombers were being designed,” he says. “It’s looking at the nuclear war that so fortunately was not fought, the new technology, the politics, and especially the people who made the aircraft and the systems.” He spent time several years ago at the London School of Economics researching the British aircraft industry of the Cold War era and so this project will turn much of that research into a popular book. “Serious, but not just for scholars.”

At the Bike Shed show in 2018, with David Lancaster and 'Lamb Chops Revenge'. [Bike Sheds]
As his life has revolved around internal combustion and jet fuel, Andrew returns to motorcycles when he concludes, “We must be the last generation of connoisseurs for gasoline motors. We did not know about CO2 and the environmental downside at all when we fell in love with bikes. We were very lucky to experience them when it seemed like an innocent pleasure and when engines were at their finest, because there is nothing like the sound and the feel of a good Vincent motor, or a bevel Ducati 750 with Dell’Ortos and Contis when you roll back the throttle and the accelerator pump kicks in.”

For the curious, a list of Andrew Nahum's published works:

James Watt and the Power of Steam. 1981 (for children)

The Rotary Aero Engine. Science Museum, 1987/1999

Flying Machine, 1990 (for children)

The Rolls-Royce Crecy. (co-author), Rolls Royce Heritage Trust, 1994

Alec Issigonis and the Mini, 2007

The Making of the Modern World, (executive editor and contributor), John Murray/Science Museum, 1997

Cold War and Hot Science; Applied research in Britain's Defence Laboratories. (Contributor), Science Museum, 1997

Tackling Transportation. (Chapter on the British exploitation of German defence science following World War 2). Science Museum, 2003

Frank Whittle; Invention of the Jet. 2005, Totem Books

Fifty Cars that Changed the World.  Design Museum / Conran Octopus, 2009

Ferrari: Under the Skin. (Editor and contributor), Phaidon / Design Museum, 2017

Moving to Mars: Design for the Red Planet. (Contributor) Phaidon / Design Museum, 2019

Paths of Fire: the Gun and the World it Made. Reaktion Books, 2021

 

 

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

Top 10 Mecum 2021

Covid continues to throw spanners into the works of daily life, and routines aren’t so routine. Last fall, Mecum Auctions planned to go ahead with its traditional late-January Las Vegas Motorcycle sales event. Just before Christmas 2020, however, Mecum announced that due to restrictions on live events laid down by the State of Nevada and the city of Las Vegas, the famous auction would be postponed. New dates of April 28 to May 1 were announced. Not only are the dates different, but due to a scheduling conflict, the 30th Annual Vintage & Antique Motorcycle Auction has had to pack its saddlebags and change venue; instead of the South Point Hotel, the machines will roll across the block at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

“With Las Vegas capacity restrictions still in place toward the end of 2020, we had to make the decision to change the dates from our historical January date to late April,” explains Sam Murtaugh, Chief Operating Officer of Mecum Auctions. “While everyone looks forward to the annual motorcycle pilgrimage to Vegas in January, I believe our customers were pleased with the decision as it provided more time to allow the pandemic to calm down to safer levels. As soon as we changed dates, the consignment roster grew exponentially, and we are now looking forward to having a fabulous auction at the convention center starting on April 28 with over 1500 motorcycles to choose from.”

Mecum's Las Vegas motorcycle auction is the largest in the world, and there is literally a bike for everyone who rides in their 2021 auction list.  Will there be records set?  With amazing bikes like a 1950 Vincent Black Shadow, a 1939 Crocker with patina, and a collection of every year H-D Knucklehead made, keep an eye on our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list!

Here are 10 machines on my personal ‘ones to watch’ list from Mecum’s bolstered sale roster:

1. 1939 Crocker Big Tank (ex-Bob Ross, Motorcycles Only LA)

This 1938 Crocker has an amazing patina, with classic American custom styling of the period. [Mecum]
Years ago, I gave a Crocker T-shirt to an old friend who promptly said, “That’s a crock of shit, what’s a Crocker?” The legendary machines were built by Albert Crocker. He started his engineering career in the early 1900s with Thor motorcycles, manufactured by Aurora Automatic Machine Co. Later, Al worked with Indian, and in 1930, bought an Indian shop of his own in Los Angeles, and proceeded to construct overhead valve kits to fit Indian 45 cubic-inch twin engines for speedway racing. Fast forward to 1935, and Al, with Paul Bigsby as an employee, developed the Big Twin – a 62 cubic-inch V-twin with hemispherical overhead valve heads and cast aluminum fuel and oil tanks. These tanks were enlarged in 1938 – giving rise to the term Big Tank -- and the hemi heads were revised with a different combustion chamber profile. His motorcycles were built to order, and it’s thought only 72 were produced. So, this example from 1939 with custom pipes and a sweaty paint job sprayed in the 1950s when it was restored by then-owner Bob Ross (of Motorcycles Only) is one to watch – simply because it’s been mechanically restored without removing any of that character.  It's a stunner, have a look.

Looking good from every angle, this and two other Crockers are expected to be among the top sellers at Las Vegas this year. [Mecum]
2. 1942 Indian Big Base Scout Racer ex-Ed Kretz

The ex-Ed Kretz Indian Scout racer is a well-documented machine with a chain of ownership as long as your arm. Great history - and a Von Dutch paint job! [Mecum]
“Some motorcycles ooze and dribble lubricant. Some ooze charm, charisma and history. A perfect example of the latter is this 1939 Indian Big Base Scout, a motorcycle built for no other reason than going fast on dirt tracks. That this machine is connected to several important figures in the world of motorcycles including Ed Kretz, Shell Thuet and Kenny Howard -- aka Von Dutch -- just adds to the entire package.” I wrote those words 12 years ago for an article in Motorcycle Classics about this very Indian with serial number FDB 381. In 1941, Ed Kretz received two Indian race engines, FCI 173 and FDB 381. The first engine, FCI 173, is in Ed’s famous blue and white race bike; FDB 381 is seen here. Starting in 1946 and through his Los Angeles Indian dealership, Ed had had many top riders campaigning FDB 381 in Class C racing, including Floyd Emde, Jack Horn, Bob Holt and Bobbie Turner. In fact, Holt took third in 1948 at the Daytona 200, and fourth in 1949 with FDB 381. When Kretz sold the machine in 1952, it passed through the hands of Galen Brookins, tuner Shell Thuet, and then Pate Killian – who had the bike painted three times by his friend Von Dutch. It’s the last paint scheme that adorns this machine today: have a look.

Number 38 was Ed Kretz' racing number of course, this Indian's most famous former owner. [Mecum]
3. 1913 Dayton Big Twin

Pretty as a picture, the Dayton was a significant player in the 'Teens motorcycle scene, with dealers across the USA. [Mecum]
Pre-’16 motorcycles are rare enough, but this 1913 Dayton is one of a handful thought to remain in existence – and it’s a beautiful example, having been restored by master craftsman Chris Cutler. Dayton motorcycles were introduced in 1911, and were an offshoot of the company’s bicycle-building business. Powered by the 998cc F.W. Spacke engine, a powerplant also found in Sears, Minneapolis and DeLuxe machines, the Dayton shows off the polished and engine-turned alloy crankcases and nickel-plated top end with aplomb. The Spacke featured a shaft and bevel magneto drive, a rarity for the early days of the American motorcycle industry. With all chain primary and final drive, this ’13 Dayton is a single-speed. By 1915, Dayton was building their own V-twin engine with two-speed gearbox, but the company couldn’t viably continue building motorcycles after the First World War – instead, they focused on their bicycle production under the Huffman Manufacturing Company and in 1924, these were branded Huffy bicycles. This Dayton Big Twin is reported to run, and has rare accessories including a Stewart speedometer and Hine-Watt Columbia headlight.

The Spacke engine was the prettiest American motor, with lovely castings and nickel-plated cylinders. [Mecum]
4. 1938 Zündapp K800

The most Art Deco motorcycle produced in Germany, Zundapp's K800 is a stunner. [Mecum]
One of the most elegant motorcycles built in Germany is the K800 from Zündapp. Introduced in 1933, the K800  featured a flat four-cylinder powerplant with four-speed transmission and shaft final drive – that’s what the K stands for – Kardanantrieb, or Cardan drive, after Giralamo Cardano, who invented the driveshaft. Designed by Richard Küchen, the K800 was the top of the Zündapp range, and smartly displays Art Deco styling with the pressed steel frame finished in classic black set off with the right amount of chrome. Produced for six years, the ’38 is the last of the line for what was an expensive, low-volume machine and finding one in America is extraordinarily rare. This one in restored condition with matching engine and frame numbers is, quite simply, a stunner.

Beautiful details - a jockey shift, a cover over the carburetor, and twin spark plugs to remind you you're riding a four-cylinder. [Mecum]
5. 1977 MV Agusta 750S America

Long considered among the most beautiful motorcycles of all time, any MV Agusta four is a coveted object. [Mecum]
This is one Italian-made motorcycle that is rapidly appreciating – but the 750S America was never an inexpensive proposition. In America, two men were involved in the MV Agusta story; Chris Garville of Commerce Overseas Corporation in New York and dealer Jim Cotherman of Freeport, Illinois. Both had been working with MV Agusta when together, in 1974, they approached the MV factory with an idea about producing an exotic 750cc sporting motorcycle that would suit the tastes of the U.S. market. The result was the 750S America, a four-cylinder, 789cc machine with shaft final drive that was produced from 1975 until 1977, when MV Agusta curtailed motorcycle production. That’s when they offered the remaining supply of 750S America machines to importer Ernest Wise of Cosmopolitan Motors. Ernest’s son, Larry Wise, says the retail price of the bike was $6,000. Cosmopolitan brought in 50 of them, and Larry was disappointed not to have kept one or two behind. Just a few years after selling the last one, the machines were changing hands for more than $35,000. This example is an original paint survivor with apparently only minor cosmetic touch ups. It’s one to watch.

It's only original once...and this beauty retains it paint from the Varese factory. [Mecum]
6. 1963 Triumph Bonneville TT Special

Made for America: the TT Special (or T120C0 is a coveted machine for its run of success on the West Coast especially, where this do-everything bike did best. [Mecum]
Also built solely for the American market is the Triumph Bonneville TT Special. In the U.S., parallel-twin Brit-bikes were being used to campaign in off-road events, and the TT Special was introduced late in 1962 for the 1963 season as the T120C West Coast, or TT Special. The machine featured Triumph’s latest unit-construction crankcase system, which became standard in 1963 across the 650cc range of machines including the Thunderbird, Trophy and Bonneville models. There were new, wider timing gears for quieter running, a smoother clutch and a nine-stud cylinder head and rocker boxes with fins instead of the plain boxes found on the earlier pre-unit engines. The last of the TT Specials left the line in 1967, and this original early machine at auction had of late been in New Zealand in the John Howard Collection. Displaying the right signs of age, the bike will go home with a new owner together with its original MSO straight from Johnson Motors – the famous Los Angeles Triumph dealership – where the TT Special was sold new. This one is a beauty.

Twin hi-pipes and no lights mean this is a competition-only model from Triumph. [Mecum]
7. 1950 Vincent Black Lightning

Awesome in visage and presence, the Vincent Black Lightning is celebrated in history and song. It's a blast to ride, too! [David Martinez Studios]
Essentially a made-to-order motorcycle, the Black Lightning was designed for racing and record-breaking. It was equipped with various go-fast goodies, including rear set controls, aluminum fenders, alloy rims and special lightweight brake backing plates. What really makes the Black Lightning special is the 998cc engine, specially assembled with hand-selected racing components, including modified heads with larger intake ports and polished valve rockers, beefier connecting rods, Lucas racing magneto, Amal TT carburetors and straight through exhaust pipes. Only 31 examples were built, and this particular Black Lightning, with serial number F10AB/1C/1641, was originally ordered by Danish sidecar racing champion David Axelson and delivered on March 20, 1950. It was raced before being disassembled in 1965 and stored in boxes before finally being resurrected by Sivert Bomberg over the winter of 1998-99. With a fully documented history from new, this well-sorted and strong-running Black Lightning will surely attract international attention.  Our publisher Paul d'Orléans road-tested this machine extensively, and made the film below with filmmaker David Martinez in 2020.  Paul says it runs like a beast, and sounds like one too!  Watch the film of him riding this bike, below, then check out the bike at Mecum.

8. 1937 Velocette MSS

Proper motorcycles have fishtail exhausts...just ask any Velocette owner! [Mecum]
A proper motorcycle has a fishtail silencer, and this 500cc Velocette MSS that appears to have been recently restored (although metal preparation on parts such as the toolbox, for example, is a letdown) is selling with no reserve. Starting in 1933 with the 250cc MOV, then the 350cc MAC in 1934, the MSS (for Super Sport) debuted in 1935. All M-models featured high camshaft overhead valve pushrod engines, and the pre-war examples with rigid frame and girder fork are great handling motorcycles. Plus, they just look ‘right’. Velocette was an innovative company, and developed the ‘footstarter’ and later, a positive stop foot shift mechanism. In 1922 Velocette introduced their unique clutch, an affair that sees a slim chain ring/basket and plates and all bearings inboard of the final drive sprocket. This clutch made Velocette a favorite among racers, as the drive sprocket can easily be changed to alter final drive ratio. If this MSS stays in North America, the buyer should join the Velocette Owners Club of North America (VOCNA for short), as the group is a tremendous resource and has hosted an annual 1,000-mile riding rally every summer for 35 years.  Who says Britbikes are unreliable?  Take a look.

A handsome machine with a Grand Prix pedigree, the MSS was Velocette's pushrod super sports model, which will cruise all day at 60mph. [Mecum]
9. 1978 Kawasaki Z1R

The Kawasaki Z1-R was one of the first Japanese motorcycles with an integral fairing. [Mecum]
Moving beyond the idea of the UJM (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) of the mid-1970s, Kawasaki introduced this model with handlebar mounted quarter fairing and square-shaped gas tank, tail section and triangular side panels. Essentially, the machine is a styling exercise, with limited upgrades to the KZ1000 engine and frame of 1977. While the machine’s physical appearance with its 4-into-1 exhaust and racy lines was a hit, performance was less than impressive (according to the motorcycle press of the day) and in North America, the Z1R was dropped for 1979. Kawasaki returned in 1980 with a significantly revised Z1R, making the ’78 with its pastel blue paint a one-year only model. Prices, though, remain strong for Z1Rs of 1978, and this particular example in survivor condition might present itself as something of a bargain.

She's a bad motor scooter, with the heart of a lion. The Z1 was the fastest motorcycle in the world for several years. [Mecum]
10. 1970 Honda CL350

The best of the 1970s middleweights, the Honda CL350 was fast, reliable, and bulletproof. [Mecum]
As little as a decade ago, the once ubiquitous Honda CB/CL350s were available for the proverbial ‘dollar per cc’ price tag. Not so anymore. These mild-mannered yet eager to please and easy to handle mounts have since become harder to find in good, original condition as many of them have been heavily modified for racing, or have succumbed to the custom builder’s touch. This one is still in its original candy ruby red paint (although it appears to have been very well polished when compared to the patina showing on the headlight bucket), unmolested screw and bolt heads, rubber-tipped control levers and a paltry 1,564 miles showing on an unfaded speedometer that hasn’t seen a lick of UV light in decades.  Check it out.

Precious metal: despite hundreds of thousands sold, it's very difficult to find a really good, original paint CL350 these days. [Mecum]
Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics

'Balance And Power'

The word Motorcycle is nowhere to be seen in the Audrain Automobile Museum’s official title, but that doesn’t mean powered two-wheelers don’t play a critical role in their collection. In fact, of the over 400 vehicles in the Newport, Rhode Island collection, approximately 70 are motorcycles – and powered three-wheelers, such as a Harley-Davidson Servi-Car. Seven years after the museum first opened its doors to the public, it was time, according to Audrain CEO Donald Osborne and Executive Director & Curator David de Muzio, to put motorcycles front and center.

A little TE Lawrence history with your 1929 Brough Superior SS100? He owned six after all. [Audrain Automobile Museum]
'Balance & Power: The World on Two Wheels, 1885-1995' is the Audrain’s current exhibition, running through 16 May 2021. Donald Osborne explains, “Motorcycles have always been a part of the collection, but this is the first show we’ve done that has no automobiles in it at all. We have put some of the motorcycles in other shows that were largely automobile, but this is the first time that the two-wheeled wonders get to shine on their own." David de Muzio adds, "I was very happy to do this, it’s something we talked about doing from the very beginning, but it took this long on our busy exhibition schedule to get critical mass and feel it was the right time to do it – so, here we are.”

Audrain Automobile Museum CEO Donald Osborne and Executive Director & Curator David de Muzio. [Audrain Automobile Museum]
Where we are, specifically, is the Audrain Building on Bellevue Avenue in downtown Newport. Designed by architect Bruce Price of New York for merchant Adolphe Audrain, inspiration was drawn from the 15th century Florentine Renaissance period of architecture, noted for its inclusion of Roman elements such as arches and domes. When the two-story Audrain Building opened in 1903, it featured high arched windows and polychromed terra-cotta façade and roof balustrade complete with lion finials. The first floor was home to six retail businesses, while the second floor had 11 offices. Over time, elements such as the balustrade and finials were lost, and the building eventually fell into disrepair. However, in 2013, the entire structure was given a makeover, with the second level office space restored and, in 2014, the lower level completely redesigned to house the automobile museum.

The musuem inhabits a spectacular building in Newport, Rhode Island - the Audrain building. [Audrain Automobile Museum]
To support the weight of vehicles, the floor was reinforced and, to provide clear span floorspace, new steel trusses replaced interior load bearing walls. Using period photographs for reference, many of the original exterior design elements were replicated by artisans and re-installed. The building is stunning, and David says the museum sees more than 30,000 visitors a year. Spanning more than a century of two-wheeler and three-wheeler transportation history, 'Balance & Power' includes seven themes, starting with 'The Beginning – Velocipede to Bicycle to Motorized Bicycle to Motorcycle'. Two of the earliest wheeled exhibits include an 1886 Rudge Coventry Rotary tricycle and an 1885 Columbia ‘Ordinary’ high-wheel bicycle.

A pair of Pierces: a 1900 women's safety bicycle, and a 1910 Pierce Four, both using a shaft-and-bevel final drive. [Jonathan Porter]
“The story of motorcycles parallels that of automobiles,” David says, “in that you went from horse drawn carriages to horseless carriages to automobiles. And, in the case of motorcycles, you went from the earliest velocipedes to bicycles, and in this case, we have five or six bicycles and tricycles in the exhibition that really talk about the Victorian era and the popularity of being under your own power and pedalling a bicycle, and how the manufacturers of those bicycles quickly go to motorized bicycles and then motorcycles in a very short period of time. It’s also a story of the development of technology; the modern motorcycle could not have existed without the technological work that was done in developing the bicycle from the velocipede and the high wheeler to the safety bicycle and some of those things carried over into the auto world, and the technology of chains and direct drive led to the motorcycles we know in the 1920s. Our story goes on to tell how motorcycles developed through World War 1 and people’s exposure to it in the first mechanized war and then World War 2 and, afterwards to a place where the motorcycle eventually integrated into everyday life in America in the 1960s.”

The Postwar exhibit includes fast bikes of the era, like a Velocette Venom, Triumph Tiger 100, BSA Gold Star and Vincent Black Shadow. [Jonathan Porter]
'Balance & Power' carries the narrative forward in 'Between the World Wars', and includes important machines from the era, including a 1929 Brough Superior SS100, a 1930 Rudge Ulster and a 1930 Indian 101 Scout. 'Post-War Power Through the 50s & 60s' is followed by 'Scooters & Small Displacement and Scrambler & Dirt Bikes.' Most fun, however, might be the 1970s 'Superbike Shootout' display. “In the 70s, Cycle magazine published their shootouts,” David says. “Now, we’re all used to comparative performance stories about cars and motorcycle, but back in the early 70s it was really a new thing, the idea of picking British, European, Japanese and American bikes and comparing them directly. We have a nice presentation of Kawasaki, Ducati, Honda, Triumph and Norton that really speak to that moment. We actually reference two main Cycle supberbike reviews from 1970 and 1972, and then we go beyond that to early superbikes with a Bimota, Ducati and MV Agusta -- showing what was becoming prevalent in the late 80s and early 90s: a 1995 Ducati 916 is the newest bike in the show”

Machines from the 1970s and 80s include a Kawasaki and Triumph triples, a Ducati 750 Sport, MV Agusta America, and Honda CBX. [Jonathan Porter]
The curatorial team had difficulty narrowing their wish list of bikes down to the 65 that ultimately appear in the show. Their initial list quickly ballooned beyond 100, but with only so much room for the display, some of the machines have been left to appear in a future motorcycle exhibit. They intentionally stayed away from too many race bikes, and have focused more on the everyday rider and consumer. That’s not to say there aren’t references to the importance racing development played in the overall industry – there is a 1913 Indian board track racer and a 1925 Moto Guzzi factory racer on display. “We’re starting to plan our exhibitions a couple of years in advance, and there’s definitely room for a motorcycle race theme show,” David says.

Indian vs Harley in the late 1920s, with an Indian 101 Scout and Harley-Davidson Model JD. [Jonathan Porter]
Opening during the covid pandemic hasn’t slowed down response. Seventy-five people are allowed in the gallery at any one time, and the museum has been managing to move visitors through without having a line outside the main door. “We’re seeing over 100 visitors a day on weekends, and we’ve been able to function pretty normally during covid,” David explains. The Audrain was closed for two months at the start of the pandemic, however, and that gave the museum time to ramp up digital initiatives, including posting videos on their YouTube channel. Motorcars and motorcycles, by their very nature, offer an aural and visceral experience. “Curatorially, one of the biggest challenges we have when we’re in the gallery is, you’re looking at a wonderful object, but it does not get people to understand the visceral experience of riding or driving – and that’s behind the idea of producing more videos so people can learn what they sound like and look like when they’re being ridden,” David explains.

How much is that doggie in the window? Don't ask: a 'Teens Indian 8-valve board track racer is a very rare and desirable machine. [Audrain Automobile Museum]
The Audrain is always exploring ways to connect with the riding and driving public and, as an example of how they interact with the community, the museum serves as the starting point for the annual Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride. Since its inception, the ride has taken place in September. To accommodate riders living in northern locations, however, beginning in 2021, the date of the ride has moved to May – the next ride takes place on Sunday, May 23 – a week after 'Balance & Power' closes its doors. For those not able to visit Newport prior to that, an extensive preview of 'Balance & Power' is online at audrainautomuseum.org. Follow the museum on Instagram @audrainautomuseum.

Something for everyone, including BMW's first factory cafe racer, the R90S in Silver Smoke. [Jonathan Porter]

 

 

Greg Williams is a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics