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 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 (, 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 (

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,, 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 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, 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]

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


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 [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 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 or on Instagram,


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:

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 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

Abandon All Hope: Patricio Castelli

Vintage Popular Mechanics magazines offer up a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration. In the 1950s and 60s, Popular Mechanics carried fanciful cover images and intriguing stories predicting The Future, especially the evolution of transportation - flying cars and personal jetpacks were perennial favorites. When a young Patricio Castelli of Argentina discovered a dusty collection of old Popular Mechanics, they expanded his horizons.  As a child, Patricio (now 45)  fantasized about The Future, drawing airplanes, cars and motorcycles. Basically, he says, anything that triggered his imagination, including space and time travel.

Patricio Castelli's remarkable custom, built with aeronautic techniques from retro-future inspirations. [Juan Paviolo]
Growing up in Buenos Aires, Patricio was forever taking apart and putting back together his toys, and later his bicycles. The gift of a disassembled Lambretta scooter spurred his mechanical enthusiasm even further.  “With my cousin we began motorizing some bicycles, using industrial engines,” he says. They had limited parts and materials, though: “Everything had to be manufactured, including the tools. It is difficult to think about from a distance, but our means were scarce. We only had a drill and little else.”  The discovery of the Popular Mechanics collection provided tremendous inspiration, including how to make his own tools. “It must be one of the magazines that influenced me the most,” he laughs.

Juan Paviolo photographed Abandon All Hope as a future/alien craft: fantastic. [Juan Paviolo]
Patricio’s uncle taught him how to work a forge, hammer and anvil, and he got a job at a blacksmith shop once he finished high school. He says, “I always had the idea of dedicating myself to the design of cars and motorcycles, and after the blacksmith shop, I was able to work as an apprentice in an aeronautical sheetmetal workshop.” There, he discovered the intricacies of working with aluminum and the techniques unique to constructing airships. “That was like opening a door towards the possibility of contributing the aircraft technique in other vehicles, it is what I find interesting because of the logic of weight reduction and resource management, similar to the racing world, those guidelines are what inspire my bikes. There is a beauty in airplanes, a beauty that is different from cars or motorcycles and that has to do with the logic of aerodynamics and the fluidity of shapes. That inspires me, and it is difficult to see an airplane and not get excited.”

The machine is remarkably slim and light, and it works! [Juan Paviolo]
Now, Patricio works in a small home-based workshop, where he takes on projects like restoring motorcycle fuel tanks, as well as commissions for customers requiring one-off aluminum parts for classic or competition cars. He enjoys working with hand tools when forming sheet metal, but if a large project requires laser cutting or CNC work, he’s up to the task. “In general, I try to combine artisanal methods with some CAD design. Now, my idea is to expand the business and offer design, construction, and development services for prototypes or special projects.” He hopes to open the doors to this venture, called Futura Macchina, sometime this year.

The aero details are fascinating and unlike any custom yet seen, with a remarkable consistency of vision. [Juan Paviolo]
As an example of what Futura Macchina can accomplish, Patricio worked with his friend Matias Ichuribehere to create a bike called ‘lasciate ognie speranza’. That’s a line from Dante’s epic poem, Divine Comedy, and loosely translated, means ‘Abandon All Hope’ [from a sign over the gates of Hell, reading in full, "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate" - Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." - ed.] Patricio says, “It seemed to me that it is like a point of no return, not only in terms of design, but also for me this means no more half measures, it leaves no room for doubt. At that time I wanted to apply everything I have learned over these years, and the idea was to combine the motorcycle with the aeronautical or aerospace and some of the imaginary from science fiction.”

The turned-aluminum bodywork was arrived at after Patricio Castelli's years of experience working on actual aircraft. [Juan Paviolo]
Based on a Zanella 125cc engine (Honda Cub clone), Patricio worked for a year on the project. He started by drawing out his ideas and drafted the engineering details on a computer to determine how all of the mechanical components would work together. This included how the engine would mount and how the single front swingarm would be suspended, and quite critically, also steer. Under the aluminum bodywork, there’s a steel subframe that holds the swingarm, and that entire arm is what turns, instead of the hub of the wheel as is usually found in a hub-centered steering system. It’s a mechanical marvel, and while not road legal, Abandon All Hope is a functioning machine. There’s a drum brake hidden out back, and a thumb control throttle lever is hidden under the right side of the intricately shaped handlebar. There’s a scoop under the front nose cone to direct air to the engine and an uber-cool series of exhaust ports on the right side of the rear fuselage. Everything, apart from the engine, was custom built, foot controls and 19-inch wheel discs included.

The single-sided steering arm on Abandon All Hope is not a hub-center steered design - the wheel moves with the entire front fork. [Juan Paviolo]
“Obviously,” Patricio says, “it is not road legal although it works well. It is more about an exercise in how to translate a design concept into a motorcycle. Beyond the motorcycle itself, my intention is to cross art, custom culture and industrial design. I think the best thing is to think outside the box, interesting things happen there. I think that the ‘custom’ world usually repeats shapes and patterns, and I would like to be more free to design and manufacture and not be aware of the fashion style. But that does not mean that I do not like the classics. I love the English or American motorcycles of the 1920s or 30s, but also the first choppers of the 1960s. Having said that, I try to make my work all-original.”

Unique angles, original shapes. A masterpiece in a rarified genre. [Juan Paviolo]
Inspired by images seen in old Popular Mechanics, Abandon All Hope is certainly original, and takes ‘custom’ to a technically refined level. One could easily imagine his motorcycle featured on the cover!

Follow Patricio Castelli’s exploits on Instagram here.

The aero influence is clearest on the combined seating/steering upper frame member. [Juan Paviolo]
The workmanship is clearly exposed: this is a hand-built machine. [Juan Paviolo]
The remarkable Abandon All Hope: built with aeronautic techniques, inspired by old visions of The Future. [Juan Paviolo]


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

The Riders: Henry Von Wartenberg

Motorcycles are mechanical steeds that require a rider to harness the horsepower. Whether ridden for pleasure, for work, in competition or pure escape, a machine is nothing without its operator. Capturing the essence of that jockey is Henry von Wartenberg, an Argentinian photographer who has traveled the world, catching fleeting moments of mechanical time with his trusty Leica camera. His newest book, The Riders – published by Motorbooks – has been years in the making, but it all started for Henry when he was just 11 years old.

Henry von Wartenberg's latest book, documenting 25 trips through 30 countries: The Riders (Motorbooks)

Born and raised in Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Henry was fascinated from his mid-1970s boyhood by motorcycles. Influencing that interest was the popular American television show, CHiPs. Pretending his simple pedal bike was a Highway Patrol motorcycle, he’d tear around the streets, chasing criminals just like his hero, Ponch. “Then, in 1978, when I was 11, my mom bought me a Honda PC50 moped – and my dreams came true! Four more Hondas in a row followed, including a 100cc, 550cc 400cc and 650cc.”

Bolivia's salt plains mimic the Bonneville Salt Flats, but are much more difficult to access, albeit spectacular. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
Six years later, Henry bought his first 35-mm single lens reflex camera, an Olympus OM.  “I spent long and happy days with that camera, when you had to focus really well before taking a picture. I’m completely self-taught, and I had a notebook where I was writing successes and errors. I also had a book called 'Be A Professional Photographer' - or something similar - that I carried everywhere.”

The crowded roads of India, with every imaginable type of vehicle sharing the roads, makes for spectacular photos. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
Add into the mix of motorcycles and cameras the sport of polo. From an early age he played the equestrian team sport, and horses, of course, require care. After finishing high school, Henry enrolled in vet school. In his fourth year of study in 1989, though, he received a contract to play professional polo in France. While there, he saw an exhibit of photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the progenitor of the ‘street photography’ genre, making incredible photo on the fly by capturing, as he put it, 'the decisive moment'. Working from the mid-1930s with the then-recently developed 35-mm portable Leica camera, Cartier-Bresson captured thousands of images. In 1947, he helped co-found the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos. “I understood that I wanted to be a photographer when I saw that Cartier-Bresson show,” Henry says. “I was in France for two years, and when I was not on top of the horses working, I was taking photos all the time. In 1992, when I returned to Argentina for a process with my passport, I was able to photograph a very important event that occurred in Buenos Aires (military revolt against the democratic process), and the main Argentine magazine bought them from me, and also offered me a job. I accepted that job and did not return to France, nor did I continue studying veterinary medicine, having left in my fourth year of school.”

A rider in Altai, Mongolia. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
Henry worked tirelessly for ten years as a lensman with Gente magazine, and has since collaborated with numerous other magazines and newspapers around the world. He has no less than 24 books published with his photos. “But no matter where I am or what work I have been commissioned to do, there are certain things that hypnotically attract me: motorcycles and riders is the main one of those ‘distractions.’ At some point, I realized that I could have a good book project; then, I began to really ‘search’ for the images, and not just ‘find’ them by chance.”

A rider in Santiago Chile. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
With hundreds of images of riders in his portfolio, he reached out to Motorbooks publisher Zack Miller. Henry has worked with the Motorbooks team in the past, having photographed the 2013 book, The Art of BMW. From the start, Zack was impressed with Henry’s ‘rider’ photographs, and worked to bring The Riders to life with contributions from well-respected writers including our own Paul d’Orléans along with Andy Goldfine, Peter Egan and Dave Nichols. 'The Riders: Motorcycle Adventurers, Cruisers, Outlaws and Racers the World Over' is a hardcover book of 192 pages with 150 of Henry’s images, and it’s set to drop in early April. Support your vital independent bookseller, and pre-order there – it’s $45 US.

The typical limb-lost rider tends to buy a sidecar for stability, but not this Vespa fan in Buenos Aires. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
As for Henry, he’s still very much enamored of motorcycles. Over the years, he’s tinkered with some classic machines including a 1948 Norton ES2, 1948 Harley-Davidson Flathead, 1941 Indian 500, 1948 Douglas 350 and a 1948 Sunbeam S7. Now in his garage at home in Tigre, a small city just 30 minutes north of Buenos Aires, Henry has a 2013 BMW F800GS he’s nicknamed Jimmy. Several years ago, he rode this bike from Alaska to Ushuaia. He also has a 1977 BMW R60/7, 2017 BMW 1200 NineT Urban GS and a 1999 Piaggio Vespa 150. In February, he plans to ride the Vespa over Route 40, “The most wild road in Argentina,” he says.

A trip through South America on a vintage Gilera Saturno. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]
After that, in April he plans to pedal an old racing bicycle across the U.S., riding from San Francisco to New York. He’ll spend 46 days on the road, documenting the journey with his trusty Leica camera – in fact, Leica is helping sponsor the trip. This adventure could end up in a book, as he’s already been communicating with Zack about the possibility. For now, though, Henry says seeing his life’s work of photographing motorcyclists published in The Riders, “It's the award for perseverance with a subject. It is following an assignment without anyone asking you to, but trusting that the path I take is good. We reached our destination with success!”

Laura Antoine, a regular fixture of Wheels&Waves Biarritz since the beginning, with her amazing custom machine. [Henry von Wartenberg/Motorbooks]

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

Aristocratic Motorcyclist, Issue 0

Straight from a mind from another time comes Aristocratic Motorcyclist magazine. The work of Paris-based artist Lorenzo Eroticolor, Aristocratic Motorcyclist (A.M.m) is perhaps the opposite of a mass-media publication. It is instead a limited-edition run of only 99 signed and numbered copies, comprising 32 pages of art, photography and words, hand-printed using lithography at the storied Draeger printing house – a company founded in 1886 by Charles Draeger – on a 1910 Marinoni-Voirin press. Lorenzo says this about his work, “Aristocratic Motorcyclist magazine is a manifesto. You can read and enjoy it on a simple level. You can read it at other levels, too, and you can dive into its signs. It is a testimony of the Other World. It’s all about roads, travels, inner journeys, landscapes and breaths.”

Lorenzo Eroticolor signing copies of a poster produced by Editions Anthése/ N. Draeger in Paris.  [Lorenzo Eroticolor]
Nothing about Lorenzo is conformist. He says his elders, “whispered in strange family gatherings, shared secrets, stories thousands of years old. (These were) faces and souls from another time, another People.” He adds, “I was from the start out of the century, out of society; ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, as Guy Debord wrote in his 1967 book*, this world that is organized as a theatre, this adoration of the false, this manipulation of souls. As for education, mine was simple: do what you have to do, honestly, with faith. Trust in you, don’t let anyone think for you, follow your instinct. Search, learn.”

The wonderful old lithography press that must be hand-fed sheets of paper, and the ink spread on the rollers by hand, and each sheet lifted off by hand, in a two-man production team. [Editions Anthése/ N. Draeger]
Schools did not hold much importance for Lorenzo, and once he finished with the obligatory, he immersed himself in a self-directed art education. He also dove into Philosophy, Literature and History, finding some good mentors along the way. But, as he says, from an early age he was always drawing, and enjoyed telling stories. “It was obvious I needed to find myself,” he explains. “I received keys, so my work was to find the doors, and explore for myself the real World. So, I started to create pictures, like windows on the Reality, not the actual reality that comes directly from sick brains, not this dystopia, like the most terrible ‘society of the spectacle’. I have followed this road, and I try to share this ‘map’ of the world.”

Motorcyclists welcome! The delightful printing studio of Editions Anthése/ N. Draeger of Paris [Lorenzo Eroticolor]
Figuring prominently in Lorenzo’s life are motorcycles; machines, he says, that allow a free spirit to journey and discover the world. But he has no taste for the modern. Give him the simple, the uncomplicated, that which does not come equipped with GPS, fuel-injection or anti-lock brakes. In fact, he doesn’t like what computers have forced upon us. “People accept the ease, in the case of their screens, the illusion that the machine (in the computer sense) acts and thinks for them,” he says, and continues, “It’s sad because people don’t see [computers] ‘built’ a world, a world that will ultimately not need them, and faster than they can imagine. So, I don’t need marketing to sell me another gadget, a 'cruise control'. I need to control the machine, the machine in the mechanical and original sense. Something archaic, built on a human scale and made by humans. The limits must be those of our relationship of domination over the machine and the elements, not the calculation of a digital creature.”

Three 'runs' through the press...or more depending on how many colors you want. Each color gets its own photoetched litho plate, and its own run through the press. [Editions Anthése/ N. Draeger]
His current mount is a bitza BMW, assembled from parts found in several eras of the Bavarian flat twin to create his ideal daily rider, powered by a 900RS engine. He refers to his motorcycle as ‘the Queen’. The Queen, he explains, is manageable within his means, and he cares for its maintenance. If he runs into difficulties, he relies on the help of one or two ‘wizards’. For longer rides, he has a 1987 BMW K75, and one of his treasures is a Moto Guzzi Le Mans 1000 café racer. “Keep and maintain what is well built,” Lorenzo says as he laments a throwaway society. “This eliminates the ballet of giant oil tankers, the globalization of products and requires learning, teaching, transmission. It helps to keep the world in a human dimension.”

Nicolas Draeger examining a poster as it rolls off the press. [Editions Anthése/ N. Draeger]
Lorenzo hasn’t kept track of the number of posters he’s created, but he figures it’s well over 400. His work covers all manner of subjects, not just motorcycles and the female form, but those are two of his favorites. He spends days and nights, sometimes weeks, creating an artwork. It’s a solitary process, but he does have help with the lithography: his partner and good friend in that specialized reproduction method is Nicolas Draeger of the Draeger printing company. To create his vivid posters, Lorenzo uses whatever he has at hand to get to the final result; brushes, pastels, pens, etc. “I don’t care about good drawing, or virtuosity, or demonstration of talent. I’m not a draughtsman. For me, the story the poster will tell is more important, so if you check all my work, you will see I never use the same style, I don’t want to be trapped in one idea or style.”  And yet, of course, his style is instantly recognizable, and he has a growing fan base.

A double-page spread from Issue 0 of Aristocratic Motorcyclist. The scale of each page is 12x15", meaning a double-page spread is 24" wide with the magazine open. Impressive! [Lorenzo Eroticolor]
Getting back to the Aristocratic Motorcyclist project, Lorenzo says there’s nothing traditional about that, either. It’s a ‘magazine’, but there are no subscriptions, and no schedule for when the next issues might be printed. “There are no rules about this, the magazine is a way to share a universe, a vision, to reach your soul, to offer this inner world with great people I admire, and appreciate --from Alberto Garcia-Alix to Chas Ray Krider, to Bill Phelps and others. It’s a way to share all this precious light with you.”

Framed images by photographer Bill Phelps, taken from the magazine.  Bill is a regular contributor to The Vintagent, whose work is included in Aristocratic Motorcyclists Issue 0. [A double-page spread from Issue 0 of Aristocratic Motorcyclist. The scale of each page is 12x15", meaning a double-page spread is 24" wide with the magazine open. Impressive! [Lorenzo Eroticolor]
Aristocratic Motorcyclist is available to order online, and each issue is the product of a long and elaborate process.  Being a hand-made process, printing the magazine using traditional lithography is expensive, and is not, as Lorenzo states, “adapted to the speed and emptiness of the 21st century. With Nicolas, we work on it as it comes, in a bubble of another world. We know it can’t reach masses, because it’s not created for them.”  See more of Lorenzo’s work on Instagram @aristocratic_motorcyclist.

Another double-page spread from Aristocratic Motorcyclist. The text is in French and English, with a bit of Spanish and Russian thrown in. [Lorenzo Eroticolor]
[* Guy Debord was a filmmaker and writer, and a founder of the Situationist International. Situationism was a theoretical fusion of avant-garde art and libertarian Marxism, which grew out of the post-War Lettrist movement, which was itself a development of Dada and Surrealism. The Situationists fueled the May 1968 student uprising in Paris, and later played a role in the creation of the British Punk scene, as Malcolm McLaren, founder of the Sex Pistols, was deeply invested in Situationist theory. - ed.]

A late evening in 2015 at Au Cheval de Fer in Paris with Lorenzo Eroticolor and Bill Phelps [Paul d'Orléans]
Order your copy of Aristocratic Motorcyclist here.  Not many are left!


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

Research Into Contemporary Outlaws (RICO)

Old mythologies blow the advent of ‘outlaw’ motorcycle clubs all out of proportion. These clubs weren’t formed as gangs of criminals, but motorcycle enthusiasts living life the way they chose, as working-class Bohemian riders.  The clubs were mostly composed of men who’d recently returned from the Second World War having fought the spectre of Fascism.  But almost as soon as these early clubs had been formed, the mainstream media, followed quickly by Hollywood, introduced the trope of the Hollister ‘riots’ of 1947, and created a new boogeyman: the Biker. The Hollister story was mostly fabricated for sensational news impact, and included outright lies and staged photos. Truly, fake news.

A typically evocative photo in the RICO archive: Papa Ralph's lady friend on his Shovelhead chop, which is now parked in the RICO warehouse. [RICO]
Here’s the reality. ‘Hell’s Angels’ was the name of a very successful 1930 movie made by Howard Hughes, about fighter pilots in WW1. Fast forward to 1951, when Hells Angels MC founder Dick White thought it would be a good name for a club. He was a member of the Redlands Road Runners when he had the now infamous Hells Angels winged skull logo tattooed on his arm. At the time, it was just a design his friend drew over and over again. “He really liked it,” says Bo Bushnell of the logo. “When Dick enlisted in the Army (during the Korean War) and before he went off to boot camp, he had the Hells Angels San Berdoo rockers and patch made up. If he survived, he thought he’d start his own motorcycle club.”

Papa Ralph and another Hells Angel, and a hearse! San Francisco, late 1960s. [RICO]
Obviously, Dick survived to start the Hells Angels, and a short 49-second film in Bo Bushnell’s collection documents White’s founding of the club. It’s just a fraction of what Bo has collected and documented about motorcycle clubs, including scrapbooks, photographs, arrest records, letters, denim club cutoffs, and club patches. For several years, Bo Bushnell used four Costo gun safes to store an outstanding collection of 1950s – 1970s outlaw motorcycle club ephemera in the bedroom closet of his turn-of-the-century Los Angeles home. If he was going away, even just overnight, he’d pack up his treasure-trove of memories of bikers from a bygone era, and take it with him: he was that protective of the collection.

The PANtom of the opera in front of the RICO vault, with a distinctive organ pipe exhaust, a 1957 Panhead and a famous machine in its day. [RICO]
Now, he travels a bit easier. With backing from a partner, Paul Zuckerman, Bo has his growing collection tucked away in a secret 5,000 square-foot Los Angeles warehouse, cleverly called RICO (Research Institute of Contemporary Outlaws).  The RICO Federal racketeering law has Kryptonite-like powers against motorcycle gangs, as this 1970 statute was successfully used to arrest whole clubs in the 2010s, in an era when 1% clubs were prosecuted as organized crime rings: mere mention of RICO to a known member of a 1% club who threatens, say, a collector of club memorabilia, is enough to send them slinking away.   Now two professional archivists – a husband and wife team -- are hard at work at the RICO archive scanning and cataloging the entire collection. And it’s no longer in four Costco gun safes, but stored in a walk-in Class II bank vault, with cameras and alarms everywhere, with backup power in case someone pulls the plug.

What lies within: tens of thousands of 'forbidden' photos of outlaw motorcycle club members, all purchased from the members themselves, or their descendants. [RICO]
Preserving the ephemera, plus a few original choppers, of outlaw motorcycle clubs wasn’t something the now 40-year-old Bo thought he’d be doing when he was a 13-year-old skater roaming the streets of Los Angeles. Growing up with little parental supervision, he hung out with punks, graffiti crews and gangsters. His interests later turned to American low-rider cars such as a 1964 Chevy Impala on hydraulics. But his early influences proved beneficial when he began working in 2011 with documentarian Byran Ray Turcotte on ‘The Art of Punk’, a series of shows that dissected the imagery behind seminal hardcore bands Black Flag, Crass and Dead Kennedys.

A period photo of Sonny Barton, an original Galloping Goose, with his Panhead that currently lives in the RICO warehouse. [RICO]
“I spent about two years working with Bryan and his collection,” Bo explains, and adds, “I’d always been a collector of strange things, and Bryan really inspired me.” With Bryan, Bo began haunting West Coast art book and zine fairs [which is where I met Bo – ed.]. At one event, he tried to purchase a collection of 400 Polaroids documenting the Crips. When that deal ultimately fell through, he recalled getting an email from someone who had inherited from their parents a Straight Satans photo album. Bo was offered the opportunity to buy an album that held hundreds of images of the motorcycle club that had been based in Venice Beach; a club with connections to Charles Manson and his Family at their Spahn Ranch headquarters. Bo negotiated a deal, and this Straight Satans collection was his first acquisition of 1%er biker material. “I got the album, and in all these photographs I saw the human stories within them,” Bo says. He wanted to learn more about who these people were, hoping to interview them, talk to them, and by working to understand their past, preserve a unique era of Southern California motorcycle culture. Trouble was, all of the people in the images were identified only by their nicknames. For Bo to have any hope of locating a living person represented in an image, he’d need to find their birth names, and have more help.

Three of the titles recently published by Western Empire: the third editions of 'Halfway to Berdoo', 'Grubby Glen', and the masterpiece of the bunch, the 'Coffin Cheaters', a worthy heir to the mantle of Danny Lyons' 'The Bikeriders', with amazing period photos, and contemporary interviews with surviving members. [Paul d'Orléans]
Serendipitously, there was a series of police booking photos taped into the album. Carefully peeling these images back revealed full names and dates of birth. Working in Excel, Bo created a spreadsheet to link club monikers with real names. And that’s how he became friends with Droopy. One of the early original members of the Straight Satans from 1961 to 1963, and then a member of Satans Slaves, Droopy had Stage IV cancer when Bo met him. Bo would bring food and drink to Droopy, and then stay and visit, talking about the past. It was Droopy who helped him pull together a few more scraps of information about other club members in the photos.  Another connection was made, and this one suggested that if he was interested in locating more MC photos, he’d have to find Mother Ruthe – one of the only women allowed to sit in on many Hells Angels meetings. According to Bo, everyone trusted her, but no one knew her real name -- making tracking her or any of her progeny a difficult task.

Still from a film of Sonny Barton during a club run to Bakersfield. [RICO]
Droopy also helped put Bo in touch with a member who was now living on a boat. Bo showed him the Straight Satans album, and while at the docks, a San Bernardino Hells Angles’ member named Harold was pointed out. “He was with the San Bernadino Hells Angels,” Bo says, and continues, “he said most of these guys are my friends. I asked if he had any photos, and he said no, the cops had taken all of his stuff. I told him I’d make him copies of all I had for him.” Meanwhile, a year has gone by and Bo was still trying to track down the real identity of Mother Ruthe. He managed to learn that she’d been married – and he’d already met her ex-husband, Harold, at the boatyards. Through him, Bo finally managed to put a full name to Mother Ruthe – who had died in 1996. “I started looking for her daughter, and it was a very generic name. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack in Los Angeles,” he says. But he found her, and was shown several photo albums that included family and MC activity. “I offered to buy them, but she said she couldn’t sell them without her sisters knowing.”

It's all in the details: a bit of surviving fancy paintwork on the PANtom of the Opera. [RICO]
The trouble with that was they only corresponded via letters to a post office box. Bo found her sisters, and asked if they’d be OK with him buying the family albums with the funds going to them. They said yes, and wrote a letter to their sister stating if she had the books, they were fine with Bo completing the purchase. After that, he says, “I began finding more and more photos, and was posting a lot of my stuff to Instagram and was also working on my book, Halfway to Berdoo.” That was in late 2015 and into 2016. Many challenges stood in the way of Bo publishing the book that would ultimately total 144 pages and include more than 70 large-format portraits taken between 1961 and 1965 by Mother Ruthe at her Baldwin Park, California home. These were all Southern California bikers who stopped at her place, as it was the midway point for rides between Venice Beach and Berdoo; Berdoo being the shortened form of San Bernardino.

Johnny Orvis' Panhead inside the RICO warehouse in downtown LA. [RICO]
As Bo himself writes on his website (, where the third edition of Halfway to Berdoo is now available after being out of print for three years, “It's difficult to self-publish any book, but try self-publishing one that explores the history of several major outlaw motorcycle clubs. I wore every hat imaginable: I wrote it, edited it, designed it, published it, marketed it, shipped the books, and stood up to the most powerful outlaw MC in the world, on my own.” While he was working on the book, Bo lived off the grid with only a post office box for an address.  He adds, “The storms I weathered in order to release this book, back in 2016, could be a book itself; from extortion, to death threats, a shady publisher, greed, and lawsuits. My determination and persistence allowed me to document the real stories of early Outlaw Motorcycle Club members in SoCal. It is the definitive behind-the-scenes look into the day to day lives of the Hells Angels, Straight Satans, Satans Slaves, Galloping Goose, Road Regents and Coffin Cheaters motorcycle club members of the early 1960s. No fluff, no gimmicks, no crime, no undercover law enforcement, no bias.”

A subtle detail embedded in the paint of Johnny Orvis' 1950 Panhead chopper: the Zig Zag man. [RICO]
It was two years after releasing the first edition of Halfway to Berdoo that Paul Zuckerman reached out and offered to lend a hand. With Paul’s backing, the pair were able to locate a suitable warehouse, renovate it completely and install the bank vault and establish the Research Institute of Contemporary Outlaws archive. “Publishing the books helps us track down, and preserve, more items,” Bo says, “We’re not trying to exploit any of this; it’s just about getting the stories out there. And nothing in the archive has come from eBay or anywhere else. It’s all been properly obtained directly from those involved and their families. “I do deep ancestry checks, find children or wives, explain that I have photos I’m able to share if they’re interested in seeing them, and get to know them if I can.”

Johnny Orvis in a period photo with his 1950 Panhead. [RICO]
Bo regularly posts to his @outlawarchive Instagram account, where he showcases a small sample of the 35,000-plus pieces in the collection. In the future, once the entire collection has been archived, Bo would like to see it become a non-profit organization, and he’d attempt to secure a government grant to mount an exhibition or traveling show. He concedes, “This isn’t a profession most people would sign up for, and perhaps there’s a little bit of insanity mixed in with what I do. But, regardless of what happens, I’d always want the archive to remain in Southern California. This is where it all started for outlaw motorcycle clubs.”

RICO also houses a collection of 'Andy's Pipes', which are extraordinary examples of 1960s handmade ingenuity. Originally based on Zippo lighters, these multi-purpose tools for getting high include a clever telescoping pipe stem for smoking weed in the cap of the lighter, a slide-out cocaine tube, and a detachable roach clip on a hand-carved chain. All of these pieces are intricately carved, with gorgeous enamel work baked on. This was Johnny Orvis' pipe, and includes his name, astrological sign (Leo), and his chopper, all surrounded by exquisite enamel work. [RICO]


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

'The Motorcycle': Ultan Guilfoyle

Twenty-two years ago, the ‘Art of the Motorcycle’ rolled into New York City’s Guggenheim Museum. In a few snooty sectors of the art world, sensibilities were offended that something as base as Motorcycles had camped in the rotunda gallery designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. But most critics and every Motorcyclist certainly got it. So did hundreds of thousands of others. Two decades later, AotM is still one of the most well-attended shows in the museum’s history, with 301,037 visitors. As reported here earlier, it’s only taken two decades for another gallery to pay attention to powered two-wheelers as the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Brisbane, Australia has opened its doors to ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’.

Lines around the block on opening day for 'The Motorcycle' exhibit in Brisbane at QaGOMA. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
Just who is behind these displays? They are the work of co-curators Ultan Guilfoyle and University of Arizona optical physics professor Charles M. Falco. Ultan spoke to me early in December, just days after the doors opened at GoMA to reveal ‘The Motorcycle’. Our discussion arced back to the beginning, and this conjunction of architecture, art and motorcycles lays firmly at Ultan’s feet. In the late 1980s, Ultan was an independent filmmaker working with Bob Geldof. They contributed arts programming to the BBC, and were interested in telling the story of Frank Lloyd Wright. That led Ultan to the Guggenheim, where he met then-Director Thomas Krens. “When I met him, we were talking and he showed me a document that he’d started writing,” Ultan explains. “It said that Harley-Davidson was the first motorcycle, and that he’d like to, one day, put together a motorcycle exhibition.”

Ultan Guilfoyle at home with a few of his motorcycles. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
Ultan says he wasn’t a motorcycle historian, but he knew that Harley-Davidson did not build the first motorcycle. He returned home to London, found some good books on motorcycle history, re-wrote the paper, and sent it to Krens. Not long after, Krens hired Ultan to put together the Guggenheim’s nascent film department. Ultan moved to New York to work at the Guggenheim, and Krens pulled out Ultan’s re-written document and suggested they get to work on mounting a proper motorcycle exhibition. Ultan says he didn’t immediately commit, and took some time to think about the proposition, but finally agreed.

Among the most remarkable machines at the Art of the Motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum was the amazingly original 1871 Perreaux steam cycle, that lives in the Sceaux Museum in Paris. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
As a young lad, Dublin-born Ultan spent hours on his bicycle. “We went to school on bikes, delivered newspapers on bikes – bicycles were freedom for us,” he says. “I’ve still got bikes, and enjoy riding. Back then, we didn’t have mountain bikes, and had they been around when I was 10 years old my life might look much different than it does now.” His early pedal bikes included both a single-speed and then a three-speed Raleigh, and while not ideally suitable for rough stuff, he rode them in the dirt. One of his favorite bikes was his father’s old VeloSolex moped. The motor, which sits in front of the handlebars and drives the front wheel via friction roller, had seized. Ultan stripped off the engine and says the ‘bicycle’ rode like nothing else he had – with low gearing and a now much lighter front end, he could wheelie for blocks. Because of his predilection for rough ground, as a teenager his attention turned to internal combustion engines and trials riding aboard an OSSA Mick Andrews Replica. Scholarly training was obtained at Trinity College Dublin, where he read English, Philosophy and Art History. Ultan adds, “Those were truly the days of a liberal arts education.”

Ultan Guilfoyle in New York City in 2017. [Paul d'Orléans]
After moving to London, Ultan rode a Norton Commando on the street. When he arrived in New York to work at the Guggenheim, he picked up another Norton, this one a wrecked 850 Commando with a bent front end. He recalls, “I brought it into my office in the Guggenheim, laid a sheet down on the floor, and took it apart there. It wasn’t long before I was told I couldn’t be doing that in my office, so I worked on it in the Guggenheim’s workshop.” It was while toiling on AotM that the Guggenheim’s chief curator Lisa Dennison suggested Ultan needed some intellectual backup for the event. “She said, just get somebody academic,” Ultan recalls. “I knew Charles, and I knew he had one of the best book collections on motorcycles in the world, and he had an academic approach to motorcycles. He was someone who could tell you the facts, and we asked him to be a curatorial advisor. That’s how we became known for the Art of the Motorcycle.”

Ultan with his BSA B33 hybrid, a back-lane bike perfect for his Catskills weekend which he's spent many months this year. [Paul d'Orléans]
With 150 machines on display, the AotM became one of the most important shows thus far highlighting the motorcycle. After its successful June 26 to September 20, 1998 run at the Guggenheim, it traveled to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, then Bilbao, Spain before appearing in 2001 at the Guggenheim Las Vegas followed by the Guggenheim-Hermitage. Combined, more than two million visitors saw the show at these four museums. Years later, when Charles was conducting a lecture at GoMA – also known as the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art, or QAGoMA – director Chris Saines approached Charles about mounting another motorcycle show. Ultan was quickly brought into the discussion, and the three met over lunch in New York City. “Chris said he didn’t want to rehash the Guggenheim display, and asked what did we think we could do? We suggested looking to the future and the rising prominence of electric bikes,” Ultan says, and adds, “This was to be about personal transportation in the 21 st century, but with a few highlights from the Guggenheim mixed in.”

The truly awesome 1994 Britten V1000 displayed in the Guggenheim: the same Britten is on display in Brisbane, and appropriately graces the cover of 'The Motorcycle' exhibition catalog. [David Heald]
One example, in particular, was the Britten. “The Britten is,” Ultan says, “The greatest motorcycle ever designed and built, and especially in Australia, you’d have to have a Britten as it’s from New Zealand. In fact, my first call after that initial meeting was to Kristeen Britten, John Britten’s widow. She couldn’t loan her motorcycle, but she said she’d find us one, and it turned out to be the original Jim Hunter bike that we had at the Guggenheim. The new owner/lender is thrilled to show it – and that was all a coincidence.”

...aaand the catalog in question, which is available now. Shameless plug, it lives next to Paul d'Orléans book 'The Chopper: the Real Story' in Ultan's living room! And the keen-eyed will recognize the original 'Art of the Motorcycle' exhibition catalog below. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
The other was the c.1871 Perreaux steam velocipede from the Musée Sceaux in Paris. “Apart from those two that were included at the Guggenheim, we wanted to look at every other bike and change it up,” Ultan says. “Whether that was a different bike, or one that represented the same design ideas. Some bikes you can’t change, like the Vincent Black Shadow – but you can decide whether to go with a later Series C or an earlier one. Same with a BSA Gold Star; that’s one of the most important bikes in British motorcycle history – the DBD engine was ubiquitous. But instead of a DBD34 Clubman Gold Star, we wanted to find a Catalina Gold Star rather than repeat what we’d done at the Guggenheim.”

The curators on site: Charles Falco and Ultan Guilfoyle at the GOMA Bodhi Tree Terrace, wiht one of the display Indians, and 8-Valve racer. [QaGOMA]
Ultan and Charles prepared initial lists of machines, and swapped them between themselves. Then, their combined list was handed to QAGoMA, where it was soon noted there wasn’t a chopper on the list. “I like bob jobs and cut downs, but eventually we made a decision to put in a Panhead chopper we found in Australia,” Ultan says. The exhibit would not be laid out in chronological order; rather, Ultan chose to create themes, including Sport, Custom, Speed and Electric. In the last category, the team wanted to highlight many new machines, but Ultan tells an interesting story about finding Swedish-built CAKE bikes. “I was in Sydney at Deus ex Machina and saw a CAKE bike there. I talked to them about it, and made a note to myself to look into it. Soon, I had a call from a fellow in Sweden, and he talked to me for a bit as we’d both contributed to a book called Spoon (100 designers, 10 curators, 10 design classics). I still wasn’t really sure who he was, but it turned out to be Stefan Ytterborn.”

The design brilliance of the CAKE Kalk, one of the electric bikes chosen for 'The Motorcycle' exhibit, which looks more timeless every year in its spare simplicity. [CAKE]
Stefan had at one point operated his own design consultancy and had worked with the likes of Swedish furniture powerhouse IKEA. “Turns out, Stefan had gone from design consultant to designing all his own POC Gear (cycling, skiing, sunglasses, etc.),” Ultan continues. “He’d always been irritated that dirt bikes left a big footprint on trails, and thought an electric bike with a mountain bike tire would leave a smaller footprint on the environment, and designed the CAKE. He was calling me because the people at Deus had told him I’d taken an interest in the CAKE, and the conversation went on from there.”

A local hero on display, the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning originally raced in Australia by Jack Ehret, that famously fetched nearly $1M at auction, and is the star atop our 'Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles' tree. [Bonhams]
By late February 2020, the majority of 100 bikes for the QAGoMA show had been chosen. Ultan had the loans all lined up, and says they’d cherry picked many motorcycles without yet having any formally signed agreements. Then, Covid hit. “March 13, the shit hit the fan,” he says. “Many of those loans just disappeared, from Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, everyone shut down their operations. About 30 per cent of the exhibit was coming from Europe, and those loans just evaporated, leaving us scrambling.” By July, QAGoMA confirmed they had the green light from the Australian government to go ahead with the show, mainly due to low Covid case numbers. Could Ultan and Charles deliver? They said yes. “We were already heavily into both David Reidie’s Harley-Davidson and Crocker collection and Peter Arundel’s Indian collection, but it forced us to go much deeper into other Australian collections to find machines that told similar stories to ones we’d lost. And, we found some very good examples of Australian-built motorcycles, such as the Spencer, Tillbrook and Whiting. Covid caused me my biggest problem, but it offered me great solutions with opportunities we’d not have otherwise recognized. With the time difference between here and Australia, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night I was on the phone talking to collectors.”

Even with all the bikes chosen and agreed, COVID threw a wrench into the works, and many bikes had to quickly be re-sourced from willing exhibitors, like this 1914 Whiting, and 1927 Douglas DT5. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
Ultan says they wanted to have 100 motorcycles on display, simply for the fact that in motorsports, 100, or the ton, is a mystical number. One of the 100 motorcycles telling a distinctly Australian story is the Spencer, a machine made by David Spencer in Brisbane c.1906. Spencer made bronze and cedar molds and patterns – several are on display with the machine -- for his components, from crankcases to carburetors to control levers; all pieces are numbered and bear his name. It is thought Spencer produced 10 engines, and one of the two complete surviving machines in ‘The Motorcycle’ has been restored with its 475cc single-cylinder engine, bearing the number 3, in its frame. At the other end of that spectrum is the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning ridden by Jack Ehret in 1953 to set a 141.5 mph Australian land speed record. It set another record at Bonhams’ 2018 Las Vegas motorcycle auction when it hammered closed for $929,000; making it the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction.

Dare Jennings and Carby Tuckwell, the founders of Deus Ex Machina, with one of their signature modified Yamaha SR500s. This is the 'Drover's Dog', which comes complete with a surfboard. [Dare Jennings]
Just as AotM had an outstanding 432-page catalog to complement the exhibit, Ultan and Charles worked together to write a 320-page hardcover exhibition catalog for ‘The Motorcycle’ complete with fresh new photography. Published by Phaidon Press, The Motorcycle is, according to the QAGoMA description, “An essential and compelling exploration of the design, history, and culture of the motorcycle – an icon of the machine age.” Ultan and Charles made two visits to Australia pre-Covid to meet with collectors and discuss the displays with QAGoMA staff. The last time they were there was February 20, just before the world pivoted to lockdown mode. Although ‘The Motorcycle’ was permitted to go ahead, with no international travelers allowed into Australia, this meant the entire installation was done at arm’s length – again, with Ultan working long into the night via telephone and online conferencing to set up the galleries. Now, with the doors open, Ultan says, “In the end, we’re very happy with the exhibition.” Will the show be able to travel, as AotM did after its run at the Guggenheim? “That’s always in the conversation, but now I think all bets are off with Covid,” Ultan says, and concludes. “I don’t know, maybe with vaccines on their way, it might be realistic to travel it.”

A pleasure temporarily limited to Australians: visiting 'The Motorcycle' exhibit in Brisbane. The exhibition design includes extensive wall graphics and continuously running motorcycle films. [QaGOMA]
We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, Australian art, design and motorcycle enthusiasts are the lucky ones; they have the opportunity to attend an exceptionally curated, landmark motorcycle exhibition.

2015: Ultan Guilfoyle joined the judging team for the Motorcycle Film Festival. l-r: Mark Hoyer (Cycle World), Jack Drury (co-founder MFF), Ultan Guilfoyle, Marin Cianferoni (La Mala Suerte Edicioines), Corinna Mantlo (MFF co-founder, now Editor for Film at The Vintagent), Melissa Holbrook Pierson (The Perfect Vehicle), Cliff Vaughs (Easy Rider), Paul d'Orléans (Chief Judge MFF), Stacie B. London (LSR racer), Larry Marcus (Easy Rider). [Mark Hoyer]
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

Shooting for Us All: Shane Balkowitsch

In a well-tuned internal combustion engine, ten seconds at 5,000 revs per minute is enough time for a crankshaft to rotate 833 times. Ten seconds for the average person is at least a couple of eye blinks and a few inhalations of oxygen. And that ten seconds, to wet plate photographer Shane Balkowitsch of Bismarck, North Dakota, is a lifetime. Ten seconds is roughly how long, after pulling the lens cap off his large-format camera, a sitter would have to remain motionless for a clear portrait to be captured on glass plate.

A wet plate/collodion self portrait of Shane in his natural light photography in his North Dakota studio. [Shane Balkowitsch]
“There’s no getting back that ten seconds of exposure, there’s no getting back that part of your life, that’s gone,” Shane says in the inspirational documentary about his art, simply called Balkowitsch. Created by Chelsy Claravella and Gregory DeSaye, this is a film that provides insight not only into Shane’s wet plate photography, but also the importance of pursuing one’s passion regardless the creative endeavor. In the film, Shane continues, “I can sit you in that chair and we can do the same pose and we’ll never get back to that ten seconds of life. So, I’m capturing some person’s life in silver, and that silver will be here for generations to come.”

Shane in 2013 with his outlaw Porsche 356 and BMW R75 custom, from a Vintagent article that year. [Shane Balkowitsch]
Having never owned a camera or been intrigued by photography, wet plate photography is a process Shane knew nothing about until he was 44 years old. Creatively wandering, Shane had dabbled with oil painting, marionette making, and motorcycle building. In 2010, Shane was nearing the completion of a 1965 Porsche 356 restoration. He’d enjoyed that project to the extent he wanted to do something similar, but this time with a German-engineered BMW motorcycle. Having zero motorcycle experience didn’t bother him. Instead, he searched for a competent builder and discovered Josh Withers of Los Angeles. Although a renowned creator of café-style BMW machines, Josh earns his living working as an award-winning professional photographer and instructor; some of his commercial clients include Beats By Dre, Diet Pepsi and Nissan. He’s also famous for shooting musicians, such as the Foo Fighters, Faster Pussycat and Tame Impala. While collaborating with Josh on his 1971 BMW R75 build, Shane learned of the archaic wet plate photography format purely by accident. Searching for motorcycle images and other information online, he stumbled across a photo of esteemed editor/photographer Paul d’Orleans standing in the back of his Sprinter van, working on the wet plate process for one of his Moto Tintype projects. For a reason Shane can’t completely comprehend, he was deeply moved by that image. “What was he doing in the back of that van?” Shane wondered.

The work of MotoTintype team Susan McLaughlin and Paul d'Orléans inspired Shane's deep research into the archaic photographic medium: this dual self-portrait was taken in Dodge City, Kansas, at the site of the old Dodge City board track, where this 1915 Harley-Davidson (owned by Bill Rodencal, archivist at the Harley-Davidson Museum) won an important 200-mile race in 1915. [MotoTintype]
He sent a note to Paul, who was happy to answer Shane’s questions about wet plate photography, a rather involved process of capturing a picture by exposing light on a piece of plate glass specially prepared with chemicals and liquid silver. “Paul told me about wet plate photography, and I got started by getting John Coffer’s book, The Doer’s Guide to Wet-Plate Photography,” Shane explains to me during a telephone interview. “I sat on the couch, got out my highlighter, and started learning all I could about the process.”

What the photographer sees: an inverted, backwards image on a ground glass focusing plate. This is Britney Olsen with her racing Harley-Davidson. [Shane Balkowitsch]
Forty-five days later, on October 4, 2012, armed with a great deal of enthusiasm, a large-format field camera he ordered from the Star Camera Company and two lights, Shane set up in the back corner of a warehouse. Used for the family business, Balkowitsch Enterprises, the warehouse is where Shane created a rudimentary studio/darkroom. His brother sat for that first image. And Shane has never looked back. “I wasn’t calling myself a photographer,” Shane says, and adds, “I didn’t want to insult anyone. But without having any previous camera experience or other photographic knowledge, I was under no constraints. I was just focused on getting an image, and I didn’t even realize I was using light to take these portraits. ‘Oh’, I said to myself, ‘I can move these fixtures and change the result or alter the mood of the image.’”

The finished result: a unique portrait from a highly technical, hand-made photo process long thought 'obsolete' as commercial considerations overtook the inherent qualities of the medium. Just like old motorcycles, wet plate photos take skill to make work, but have unique rewards. This photo of Brittney Oslen is spectacular! [Shane Balkowitsch]
Many of his first portraits were of family members; his brother, his wife Bonnie, his mom, his children. From the very first plate, Shane began numbering the images, and he began posting some of his results online. Word of his work spread, and soon others were inquiring about sitting for a wet plate photograph. While not short of volunteers, Shane also looks for interesting people to photograph, and in 2015 that’s how Brittney Olsen of 20th Century Racing found herself posing for a portrait with her 1923 F-head Harley-Davidson flat track racer.

Another portrait from the Britney Olsen photo session in 2015. Her JDH racer was built at home with her husband, restoration specialist Matt Olson. [Shane Balkowitsch]
“I found out about Brittney through the motorcycle community, and when I realized she lived relatively nearby in South Dakota I invited her in to pose,” Shane says. “The day she came into the warehouse with her bike, I set it all up but didn’t have enough lights to illuminate both her and the motorcycle. It was raining outside, but I came up with the idea to open the warehouse overhead door and have Brittney and the bike just under the awning. We got some images, and those images are a marriage between natural light and studio light – that experience led me to the realization that a motorcycle was too big a prop for me to illuminate with the studio lights I had at the time.”

A remarkable portrait of World Champion prizefighter Evander Holyfield, now part of the Smithsonian Museum Collection. [Shane Balkowitsch]
Chalking that up as a learning experience, Shane carried on honing his craft through 2015 in the warehouse studio/darkroom, including working with champion pugilist Evander Holyfield.  “He must have thought I was nuts,” Shane recalls. “Because I had no dividing wall between the studio and the darkroom, here he’s sitting in this dark warehouse while I capture his image on a plate, and then with red lights on while I’m loading the plate and then developing it.” But that plate caught the attention of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Shane offered the image as a gift to the NPG, and it was after that the North Dakota Historical Society told him they’d take every plate he created. “Prior to that, the Historical Society had an approval process, and they’d take one or another of my images that I offered, only taking what they wanted,” Shane says. “After the Smithsonian took the Evander Holyfield image, the Historical Society called and said ‘Anything you want to give us, we’ll take’”

Shane's natural light photography studio, which he reckons might be the first built in generations using natural glass for full UV penetration. [Tom Wirtz]
While Brittney and Evander were important sitters in Shane’s first makeshift studio -- in fact, every person who has sat for Shane has, as he says himself, entered his studio as strangers, but left as friends -- his life’s work in the wet plate medium truly began when he photographed Sitting Bull’s Great Grandson, Ernie LaPointe, on September 6, 2014. Less than two years after learning the intricate art of wet plate photography, Shane took the image titled “Eternal Field”. It’s a significant plate, because on July 31, 1881 wet plate pioneer Orlando Scott Goff took an image of Sitting Bull in Bismarck, North Dakota. Some 133 years later, in the same state, Shane made an image of Sitting Bull’s Great Grandson, and this experience opened a door no one was expecting to open. Shane, after taking Ernie’s image and following up with subsequent portraits, from youngsters to elders belonging to many Native American tribes, began a series now referred to as Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective.

The first step on a new path in life: this photo of Ernie LaPointe was Shane's first of a Native American, and has led to a remarkable relationship with Midwestern tribes, whom Shane is continuing to document in his series 'Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective'. [Shane Balkowitsch]
“This is the most important wet plate made for this series, in fact it represents the first steps taken on this journey,” Shane notes in the Acknowledgements printed in the back of his outstanding book, Northern Plains Native Americans.  “Ernie was the first Native American to trust and believe in my camera.” The book, the first of four volumes that will comprise the entire series, contains more than 50 wet plate images of Native Americans, all taken by Shane. Ultimately, he plans to photograph 1,000 Native Americans for the series, creating a contemporary record using an antiquated process.

Frank Albert 'White Bull' with his customized Indian motorcycle, part of Shane's 'Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective'. [Shane Balkowitsch]
Four years after taking up wet plate photography, Shane found he was somewhat limited by what he could do in the warehouse. He doesn’t have any misgivings about working in the space; in fact, some of his favorite images were made in the warehouse. And, he adds, good results can be obtained in a rather simple environment. However, to further grow in his wet plate hobby, Shane sketched out on the back of a napkin a natural light studio featuring a large area of north-facing glass, in both the wall and the ceiling. Regular glass has UV coatings, and research showed panes of glass used in agricultural greenhouses were required. According to Shane, it’s the first natural glass wet plate studio built in the U.S. in over 100 years.

A panorama of the interior of Shane's natural light studio in North Dakota. [Tom Wirtz]
Located on his family’s property, Shane only works in the studio on Friday. From Monday to Thursday, Shane steers Balkowitsch Enterprises, but spends much of his time considering and mentally preparing for his Friday studio time. “Every day is a creative day for me,” Shane explains, and continues, “but it’s so nice to consider one day a week as a chance to play; we need those safe havens where we can toss aside what we do as adults and just play, and I do consider this playing.” When the studio is not in use on Shane’s Friday, with a remarkable generosity of artistic spirit, he leaves the door open for other creative individuals to use the space. Painters, musicians and photographers have all availed themselves of the opportunity. And, Shane says, “At no time have I ever been let down by anyone else using the space.”

Shane's most famous image, of climate activist Greta Thunberg, during a brief window he arranged for the photo process during her tour of the Native American resistance camp against the now-blocked Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).  Shane was granted 10 minutes to take the photo, but Greta was so charmed by the process, she posed for this, second photo, which is now in the collection of the Library of Congress. [Shane Balkowitsch]
Shane most recently gained a degree of notoriety after he took two wet plate images of internationally known climate activist Greta Thunberg. In October 2019, Shane met with Greta at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas. He donated one of the images, called “Standing For Us All”, to the Library of Congress. Working with a Bismarck building owner and local bakery, Shane proposed to install a 7-foot-tall mural of the image on the exterior wall of the downtown business. Shane planned to cover all costs. However, as soon as the proposal was made public, threats were made to either boycott the business, or deface the mural once it was up. Cancel that idea. He didn’t want to put a family-operated business in jeopardy over his artwork. Shane has two other murals in downtown Bismarck, and one of these was egged in response to his photographing Greta. The controversy was, he says, one of the most painful things he’s gone through.

A gorgeous glass plate of Ira High Elk 'Scares the Eagle', a member of the MHA Nation / Lakota tribe, from Shane's series 'Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective. [Shane Balkowitsch]
But he didn’t let it weigh him down. Instead, he focuses on creating more work, and teaching neophyte wet plate photographers the intricate process. One of his students was Josh Withers. Yes, the Josh Withers who built Shane’s 1971 BMW motorcycle. In a note to me about his friendship with Shane, Josh adds, “Shane is a generous, sincere, soulful and intrepid person. With zero photography experience he decided to fearlessly embark on one of the most difficult, and oldest photographic processes known to the medium. Then, years later and with my career as a photographer, I found myself in North Dakota learning from him. His passion towards his process is truly infectious. He quickly became a master of his craft and an inspiration to others. Now, every time I shoot with collodion, I use the same techniques and even the same phrases he uses.” Reflecting on the creative path he’s traveled, and continues to move along, Shane says, “Josh is such an accomplished modern-day photographer, and I’m so proud that I was able to teach him wet plate photography. If you’d said to us when we’d first met, ‘Josh, one day Shane is going to teach you wet plate photography’, we’d have just laughed.”

The finished 1971 BMW R75/5 'toaster tank' custom built with Josh Withers. [Shane Balkowitsch]
What of that gateway vehicle, the 1971 BMW café racer, that helped Shane stumble upon the wet plate photography process? After completing the collaborative build, Shane learned to ride and kept the R75 a few years before finding his time occupied pursuing wet plate photography. The machine was sold, but when Shane isn’t behind the lens of his camera, he remains mechanically dedicated to maintaining and driving his ’65 Porsche 356.

You can follow Shane's work on Instagram and Facebook: there's also a documentary on his wet plate work -  'Balkowitsch' - and you can watch the trailer here.


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