Paul d'Orléans

The Motorcycle Portraits: Ashley Myhre

The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Ashley Myhre, Creative Director at Mosko Moto, a motorcycle gear brand designed for the needs ADV and off-road riders that sells only direct to consumer.  You can follow Ashley's Instagram feed of her global riding adventures and road testing of Mosko Moto gear.  David Goldman caught up with her busy travel schedule for an interview and portrait:

David Goldman's portrait of Ashley Myhre, taken in White Salmon WA, Aug. 17 2020. [David Goldman]

Tell us about yourself

"Yeah, what's up? I'm Ashley Lauren Myhre. I'm 29 years old and we're here in White Salmon in Washington and Mosko Moto headquarters. I'm the Brand / Creative Director at Mosko Moto."

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

"I had a pretty awesome introduction to motorcycling. I was  five years old. My grandparents has a big plot of land near Yosemite National Park in California, about 80 acres.  I was the oldest of 10 grandchildren at the time, not all 10 were born yet, but I'm the oldest on that side.  My second closest cousin to me is Jared, and his parents had just bought us a little 50cc Honda. And yeah, at about five years old, this was just like the most insane gift that we could have been given, and to have these 80 acres with quad trails all over. Riding the bike out there opened up this whole world of exploration for me at a really young age, that I had no idea even existed. So that was my first experience with two wheels."

Ashely Myhre from her Instagram feed. [Ashley Myhre]

Tell me a story that could not have happened without motorcycles in your life:

"Oh man - what motorcycles have given me. I always knew that I wanted to travel the world, to experience different parts of the world in different cultures, and meet people all over the place. But I had no idea that motorcycles would allow me...is this real or just playing around? When I did meet people, instead of me just visiting them, they would be equally as interested in me because of the motorcycle. That's the biggest gift that motorcycles have given me; wherever I go, whatever I'm doing, people tend to have something to talk about with me as well. I'm not just visiting them, but now we have something to come together on."

What do motorcycles mean to you:

"Motorcycling to me is  the ultimate escape.  That's so obvious, right?  You get on two wheels and you're scooting away, but I mean when I say escape, I mean just the same way that an artist opens up their sketchbook and begin to paint or draw, when I get on a bike it's that for me.  Everything else in the world disappears. It is the ultimate form of expression, the ultimate form of creativity. All of my best ideas come when I create that space in my mind on the bike.

Ashely Myhre from her Instagram feed. [Ashley Myhre]

Yeah, so the motorcycle to me is just the absolute ultimate form of freedom and expression, and traveling the world on two wheels that way just opens up so many doors. And I want to touch on being a woman: when I'm traveling all over the world, and I pull my motorcycle helmet off, and people realize that I'm a woman, their astonishment almost catches me by surprise. I don't even understand why they would believe that as a woman, I wouldn't be doing these things. And so if I can change the belief that you have to be extraordinary to be a woman riding the world, if I can make any little girl think that  she can do it too, that is huge to me. For example, when I was in Ethiopia, you don't see any women riding motorcycles. You hardly see any women out in public unless they're working in Ethiopia. And the smiles that came across the faces of the women who saw me doing what I was doing in their country, I knew how much it could empowering them to believe that they could do whatever they wanted to do. So that's huge. and the motorcycle is my ultimate form of transportation, and the only way that I will travel the world."

Explore other fascinating people in our Motorcycle Portraits series here.

 

David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here.

Thriving in Two Strokes: NYC Mopeds

Words and photos by Peter Domorak

What defines the best motorcycle for you? The power? The size? The design or the brand name?

I’m a photographer and we have a saying – the best camera is the one you have with you. Size or brand name – it doesn’t matter. What you can use at the moment when you need it matters. During the pandemic, motorcycles became more popular than ever. This story is about one shop that opened right before the pandemic hit New York the hardest, survived the shutdowns, and is actually doing very well. selling and repairing the smallest motos that you can pick up almost as a bicycle, and make them ready for immediate fun. And it comes with that vintage flair (model depending). I participated in a moped group ride organized by a Brooklyn moped shop – NYC MOPEDS.  The ride was so enjoyable, fun and crazy that I wanted to find out more about these guys. This is the story of how I invited myself into NYC MOPEDS to hear all about John-Paul Trang aka JP (the owner), and his shop.

The exterior of NYC Mopeds: it's rather obvious what's going on inside! [Peter Domorak]
NYC MOPEDS lurks under the J train rail that runs above Broadway, and is squeezed between townhouses. You can spot it from afar by the many mopeds parked along the sidewalk: the store window are also filled with the machines, luring the possible buyer.  JP sat at the front desk, greeting me with a smile, “It's a good day for a tour, we're not that busy today”. I immediately felt his nice approach, I’m sure they are busy. I see his guys in the back working hard, wrenching on bikes. While JP was finishing up few things at the computer, I snapped my first photos and took in what was around me. The place screams 'legit' to me. They're not just fixing up bikes in a garage or on a sidewalk – not that there's anything wrong with that - but it's a legit shop with employees (and helpers), a front desk area, a workshop with lifts, and a backyard full of parts. JP, my hat's off to you.

Brooklyn Moped History

I ensured my welcome by bringing few iced coffees on the hot day of my visit. The team did appreciate that. While sipping our cold brews, JP shared the local scooter history with me. He described the scene as pretty much dead before 2000. After that year, little wheels gained popularity in the 'hood. Not that mopeds and scooters didn’t exist before then, but around that time their popularity was revived. A website forum was created to connect existing and the new moped fans and the growing community, and is still alive today, called “Moped Army”. Around 2009 a group of 3 guys from a moped gang called ‘The Orphans’ opened a first shop – you could have guessed it - “The Orphanage''. They took moped fandom to the next level, from helping each other with tips and tricks on the internet forum, to the creation of a brick-and-mortar store, where you could get the help you needed.

Around that same time, in 2010 another group of moped owners / riders / moped gang members created a group called “Mission 23”.  A member of the group, Peter Daddeo and his friend Arri opened a store called The 2nd Stroke Mopeds, also in Brooklyn. That shop was around for about 10 years, and is still active, but has relocated to Florida.

JP and NYC Moped

John-Paul (JP) Trang at work in his shop. [Peter Domorak]

This is where JP’s story begins. He started to work at the 2nd Stroke Mopeds as an intern. Going to the shop, learning to be a mechanic, helping in the shop and with the bikes, whatever was needed. That was his life on and off for 7-8 years, spending his free time there. I had to ask – what made him offer his free time, the most precious commodity in NYC, to a bike shop?  "I used to be really into fixies: fixed-gear bicycles. I built a fixed gear bike that I really liked, all custom parts - and it got stolen after a month.”  Have you heard that story in Brooklyn, anyone?  Sadly it's a dark side of the hood, when parking outside or carelessly, meaning without a chain tied around a lamp pole at least. Even that is not 100%.

Some of the crew at NYC MOPEDS: Morgan, Calivn, Matt, and Dave. [Peter Domorak]
"After getting some insurance money from it, I started to look for a motorcycle but couldn’t afford one. But I found a moped for a good price," He laughs. "It kept breaking all the time. It started with little problems, then big problems came after... I took it to the only shop around, The 2nd Stroke Moped Shop” but I couldn’t really afford all the repairs all the time." Eventually he just showed up enough, and bugged them enough, so they would let him hang around and soak in the wrenching knowledge. “I asked them if they could teach me tricks, in exchange for sweeping, cleaning the shop.” Just like that, he blended in and became a regular mechanic.

With the crew working hard at NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
In 2019 the shop's owner Pete moved to Maspeth and started to import TOMOS mopeds exclusively. Soon after he decided to move the business to Florida. That moment is when JP’s life path put him in the right place at the right time, if he decided to accept the challenge. When Pete was leaving for Florida, he offered JP the opportunity to take over the business. The offer came at the right time. "Were you ever thinking that this will be your life path? That it ends like this, owning an actual business?" He said he never thought of it  back then. He had freelance jobs in fashion industry, fashion design, graphic design. But he wasn't enjoying it much, as he was always in between jobs or looking for new opportunities. With this offer on the table, he dove in.  He got a good deal to buy out the inventory and started to operate immediately, for the first few months from a temporary location, out of a shared garage.  Then he found the current location, signed a lease and opened in July 2020. Talk about a timing! This is where I applaud JP.

That tiny crankshaft and piston! No wonder riders want a big bore kit. [Peter Domorak]
Imagine starting a business, signing a lease in January of 2020. Covid was already brewing in the news but not in the States yet. Who could have imagined what would happen to the whole world in just couple of months. To commit fully to a new future, then the world throws such a bad dice as we have never seen before. JP didn’t bow down. He claims ‘he was thriving’. People didn’t want to take the subway and were looking for alternatives in transportation. It was good time to fix the moped you had or get your hands on a good deal. JP was dealt another lucky card soon after he opened: he received an offer to purchase 40+ mopeds from Ohio. The owner was moving and his wife made him sell his collection. A moment of silence for that gentlemen, please, we all can imagine how executing such an order must have felt. But this was a win for JP.

A fantastic Puch Magnum X, the apex moped of the young 1970s MX fan. [Peter Domorak]
He rented a 28 foot Uhaul, drove to Ohio and brought the gentleman’s treasured collection back. The guys started to fixing them up over the winter and Spring 2021. He proudly finishes the story with a big smile, “We sold them all in a month”.  Adding "being the only scooter shop in the area, pretty much all the traffic to buy a moped was coming to us’.” Bravo, JP, bravo, good for you. JP decided to live his dream by grabbing the destiny by its handlebars and steering it into success. Put everything on the line and do it. JP’s story reminded me of someone. I had a chance to photograph another amazing place - NYC NORTON - where I met the owner and one of the finest Norton people out there, Kenny Cummings. What a man cave, what machines, what a success story. Kenny’s story, with my photos are on The Vintagent, see them here.

One of the group rides that attracted Peter Domorak to NYC MOPEDS. [Peter Domorak]
Here I felt the same respect for the person in front of me. Very different in the scale of the shops these men worked in and the engine sizes they worked on. But the same passion, same community involvement and support. I respect and admire these men very much for living the dream and showing the rest of us that it’s possible.

The Shop Tour

The front counter of NYC MOPEDS: ripe with opportunity, like the best of old bike shops. [Peter Domorak]

"Let's start the tour then." Yessir. Let’s see the man’s kingdom, where he makes his living, where he makes his name. Iron Maiden from the speakers set the mood in the shop - let’s do this. JP showed me his bench. The first one, right behind the cash register behind the wall, so he can be quick to the phone when needed. First thing that got my attention was a tiny crankshaft on the table. Looking at this, I thought it was a scale model, like what you would buy for a mechanic as a gift, to put on a table in the office. But this thing was real. So was the tiny piston attached.

The heart of the matter: the parts supply and vapor blasting cabinet. [Peter Domorak]
JP was making an upgrade on one of the mopeds; holding a larger-sized piston for the daredevils who look down on the mighty 50cc and need more. He showed me a 72cc kit; "With the right pipe and carb etc, it will go from 1hp to like 5 or 6hp." Below $200 for the parts, I’m floored. So much fun for such a little money! As we walked next to the lifts with their mopeds, I felt the obligation to snap few photos of the team. We continued further to the back, where more parts are stored, plus a vapor blasting booth, with a cleaned-up Honda CB350 engine case for me to see. That thing looks like new. If you need something like this done – now you know where to go.

The tented outbuildings for bike storage. [Peter Domorak]
I turned around thinking this is it and started to move back to the front of the shop when JP stopped me, "there is more’." Yes, please , lead the way! We walked outside to the back of the building, where I see three ‘tent garages’ full of mopeds. Some waiting for repairs, some ready to be sold. With the great light there, I needed to shoot some more.  This was it, front to back, NYC MOPEDS. I was really impressed. It is truly a little moped empire. We walked to the front, I was ready to leave JP to his daily business and taking another opportunity for photos of him holding a moped in the air.  A few people walk into the store. "Do you work on scooters?" "No, we just work on mopeds." To make money is good, but to be focused has its value.  Another gentleman rolls in on a bicycle, interested in buying something. A few days later I saw on the NYC MOPED Instagram feed the very same gentleman smiling next to his new moped in front of the shop. He got his wheels. Ka-ching!

Examples of the variety of mopeds from around the world that make it into the shop. [Peter Domorak]
This was a great visit in a great shop with great people. It’s satisfying to see people still thriving, small business not disappearing but actually opening in the hardest of times. And it’s always a good example to see that hard work and taking risking brings reward. Now you know where to get a vintage (or new) moped and a good service when needed. It's a place with a big community of people who love these small machines Where you feel welcome. Plus - if you are looking for big fun – join one of their group rides. You will never forget the sound of 20-30 moped engines screaming around you and swarming around traffic.  Visit their website for updates.

 

Peter Domorak is photographer and an ambassador for Royal Enfield. Check his photo portfolio here, and his blog here.

 

Related Stories:

https://thevintagent.com/2018/12/02/nyc-norton/

https://thevintagent.com/2022/08/03/mopeds-to-south-america/


The Motorcycle Portraits: J Shia

The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with J Shia, whose work and motorcycle customization shop Madhouse Motors has been featured everywhere from BikeExif to The New York Times.  Her style is distinctive, a bricolage approach mixing rustic parts between brands or even functions.  She's also an icon of gender queer folks in the motorcycle community and beyond, sharing plain-spoken posts about raising her son with her girlfriend, the bonds they share, her struggles as a business person, and her mixed Lebanese/Syrian heritage.  J Shia is a true individual, and unique in many ways in the contemporary custom motorcycle scene.  David Goldman interviewed her for a Motorcycle Portrait:

J Shia of Madhouse Motors captured by David Goldman

Tell us about yourself:

My name is J Shia. I own Madhouse Motors in Boston Mass where we specialize in antique restoration, custom builds general maintenance and fabrication. We've been in business for 11 years.

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

It's funny because I don't really have a first experience or first memory with motorcycles because they were always around, I grew up with them being as normalized as having a bicycle or a car, around the house or in the yard. So I was I was a kid, motorcycles were just an item that was scattered about in my family's house, where at one point, my father went on a vintage messed up old motorcycle collecting spree and had around 70 motorcycles scattered throughout the backyard. And so growing up they were always there. It was just a very normal thing for me to be around. 

J Shia's grandmother Mounira Shia from Zahlé, Lebanon, on a 1930s Peugeot. "My grandmother was a quite a tomboy and an outgoing woman for her time. Most of the men in my family were metalworkers or mechanics," [J Shia]

Tell me a story that could not have happened without motorcycles in your life:

I don't know if I have a good story about motorcycles, specifically down to one moment or one story, but motorcycles in general, are what I credit for having met and created a lot of my friendships here at the shop. And so the stories that have kind of revolved around that, in the people I've met have been rooted in motorcycles, motorcycle culture in general. So some of my life memories that I have with my friends are at the core, started and triggered by motorcycles themselves. 

What do motorcycles mean to you:

What motorcycles mean to me is kind of forever changing. They used to mean a mode of transportation than they used to mean, you know, adrenaline rushes and racing and speed, then they turn into a way of paying my bills. And now I'm viewing motorcycles more as a creative outlet for me to express myself and my artistic interest and to use the motorcycle as a platform to create and design and make art playfully while still being around the machines that I'm so familiar with.

For more  Motorcycle Portraits on The Vintagent, click here.

David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here.

The Vintagent Selects: Moped to South America

As an homage to Graham Loft, whom we interviewed just weeks ago about his epic journey with Zachary Levenberg on 1973 Puch Maxi mopeds from San Francisco to South America [read our interview and see the photos here].   Graham left us suddenly just a week after our story was published, and in his memory, we're sharing the two short videos he assembled in 2007/8 as previews for a planned feature documentary on their adventures.  The pair filmed and photographed every part of their trip, but the video footage has yet to be edited into a film, something we very much hope will happen.  Godspeed, Graham.

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Bikes of Burden: the Habal-Habal

Notes from the Philippines from Brian Waddington

Venice is famous for gondolas. The great white north is renowned for dog sleds and snowmobiles. An iconic sight on the American highways for decades was a Greyhound bus. Anyone who has visited Southeast Asia has come away with memories of three distinct home-grown transportation modes that are endemic to the region. One is the Jeepney. It was created post-World War Two when the US military left all sorts of Jeeps in this part of the world. The locals quickly figured out how to make money by turning them into mini buses. Later they would make them larger and larger until today you can carry fifty people in one - if you're all crowded in nicely.

A Jeepney is an ex-military Jeep converted to a minibus. [Wikipedia]
The second vehicle type would be what in the Philippines is called a Trasikel. This is usually built around a Honda 155, with a sidecar added, of any type. Technically these are built to carry five people, but of course, you can put an awful lot more on them if required.

A Trasikel can carry an extraordinary number of passengers! [Mang Bokeh]
The third and simplest people-moving transport of all is the Habal-Habal.  It's still a solo motorcycle, typically starting life as a stock Honda 155.  To carry additional passengers, the chassis is modified with extra shocks at the rear, a wider bigger rear tire, a fabricated seat extension that hangs a meter out past the end of the bike, and a pair of footrails for the passengers, that can also be used for tying on cargo.  It is undeniably true that the most dangerous of all these transports is the Habal-Habal. Not because the drivers are unskilled - it takes real savvy to balance 6 people on a Honda 155 - but simply because two wheels are inherently more dangerous than three wheels or even six wheels on a big Jeepney.

The amazingness that is the Habal-Habal: the rider must be very skilled to carry a live load of this size. [Internet]
For low-income Filipinos, the Habal-Habal is truly a Jack of all Trades. They can carry four 50kilo bags of rice plus a passenger or two. You can load them up with towering bags of coconuts. The young and perhaps foolish drivers of a Habal-Habal have been known to load up eight people: one sitting on the handlebars, one sitting on the gas tank, four sitting behind the rider, and on the sides standing on the footrails foot rail you'll have somebody hanging onto another passenger, or hanging out like they're in a circus act.  I’ve being around motorcycles for about 55 years, and can unequivocally state that as a group the Habal-Habal pilots are the most highly skilled riders I have ever seen. Rain, sun, wind; almost nothing stops them if they want to get somewhere. Many of the roads they travel are merely dirt tracks little wider than one person can walk.  Dirt tracks that quickly turn into gumbo when the rains come.

Improvisation: a Habal-Habal motorcycle carries a heavy load of falcate lumber in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur. [MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas]
Our house is right beside what is jokingly referred to (and actually named) a provincial highway. Every year pre-pavement the local government would send in a grader and a big machine with a big heavy roller on the front. They would scrape the road down and level it up and make it look  really good. But they invariably did this 'maintenance' during rainy season, laying down 6 inches of new dirt and packing it down. Once the rains hit it created a 6-inch-deep gumbo road.  The Habal-Habal drivers would still ride, though with a reduced load. Only once did I see a Habal-Habal take a dive into the gumbo. And I must tell you that as soon as they hit the mud the driver got up checked his passengers, picked up his bike to make sure it was still working, and then gave the passengers their money back. Possibly out of shame.

An Interview With Gogor, a Habal-Habal Driver

Gogor has made a living for his family driving a Habal-Habal for many years, and graciously shared his story with The Vintagent. [Brian Waddington]

Brian Waddington (BW): When did you start driving as habal-habal driver and the factors behind it?

Gogor: 1988. before that I was driving for an operator whose truck is used mainly to carry logs. However, the owner/operator of the truck sometimes did business with loggers who do not have government license.  At one point, we were caught by government watchdogs ferrying illegal logging materials.  As I was only the driver (the enforcers were after the operator) the enforcers advised me to stop doing this kind of work and look for something that will not land me in jail.  This led me to become a habal-habal driver.

BW: What was your average income?  Was it enough to meet the needs of your family?

Gogor: The first habal-habal motorcycle I drove was owned by somebody else.  I merely rented the unit for 80Php a day [about $.75].  My average income from this was between 300-400 pesos [$2.50-$3].  During that time, my take home income is just good enough to buy us food and to set aside a bit of money for emergency.  It was good that my wife is a good partner and she also did a lot of things to earn us some money, such as raise some pigs, grow crops, and make roofing materials out of coconut leaves to sell.  Our combined savings allowed us to pay the down payment of a second-hand motorcycle.  I use this until now to earn a living.

Gogor's Habal-Habal in typical rainy season weather: like the mail, he drives on regardless. [Brian Waddington]
BW: How many people and cargoes you can carry at one time?

Gogor: The most number of passengers I carried was five but I usually cap it to three.  When it comes to cargoes, the  most number is five sacks of rice or feeds but I am more comfortable with three.

BW: How long did it take you to develop the skill needed to carry a full load?

Gogor: About a year.

Gogor's Habal-Habal, with doubled-up rear shocks, a seat extension, and ropes for carrying cargo. [Brian Waddington]
BW: Was there ever a time/s that you fell over?  What were the consequences?

Gogor: Yes. I can count five times: one involving a dog that suddenly crossed the road; another time as I was passing through a basketball court, an itinerant  ball rolled under my wheels; then there was that incident where a child  run towards the middle of the road; another time, another motorcycle collided with mine;  and the last one involved a failure of securing the 5 sacks of pig food I was carrying.  A part of the plastic rope I used was already too thin and it broke while I was on the road.

Damages to passengers were mostly limited to scratches and bruises.  I make sure that they are checked by a doctor, provide for the medicines they need, and provide at least a week of food support if the passenger cannot work because of the accident.

BW: Would you want your children and grandchildren to be habal-habal drivers like you?

Gogor: No.

History of the Habal-Habal

An excellent shot of the types of modifications required to turn a Honda TMX 155 into a Habal-Habal: a fabricated seat extension, a pair of footboards, and an extended/strengthened swingarm, in this case with four shock absorbers. [Internet]

The word 'habal' is from the Cebuano language, and means 'mating', as in animal copulation.  Doubling up the word to Habal-Habal means 'looks like mating', which of course refers to the number of people piled onto the hapless small motorcycle.  While the principal native language of the Philippines is Tagalog, before 1980 the Cebuano language was dominant in rural areas.  Today another term is also used for these motorcycle taxis: Iskaylab.  Some think the term refers to the Skylab space station, with is dual solar-panel wings, and some think it a derivation of the phrase 'sakay na, lab', which means 'get on, love!'

In common with other Asian countries, small motorcycles are truly 'bikes of burden'. [Jun Villegas]
The Habal-Habal may have seen its heyday pass, as rural roads are increasingly paved and plied by four-wheeled vehicles, which find the very slow, overburdend Honda TMX 155s to be an obstruction to smooth traffic flow.  They are also quite dangerous, as nobody wears protection for casual transport, and mud and rainy conditions make for slick surfaces.  Spills and accidents are not uncommon, but such is the lot of the poor: any transportation, no matter how dangerous, is a major improvement over walking long distances.   And of course, for the Habal-Habal drivers, this is their income.  There have been moves to regulate Habal-Habal service, and require licenses, but in practice this is simply graft for local police and politicians, taking a cut of the driver's earnings.

Personalized Habal-Habals are also common, and this machine also shows unique ways of preparing a small motorcycle for multiple passengers. [Internet]
Riders like Gogor still ply their trade, though, and the Habal-Habal and its cousins in other Asian countries [see our article Minutera Vietnam on 'mountain bikes'] are very useful for transporting material in the most economical manner possible.

 

Brian Waddington describes himself as "a storyteller who uses images more than words. Old school biker, pastor, lighthouse keeper, photographer." He lives in Dumaguete, Philippines.  Check out his blog here.

 


Ton-Up TV: Now Streaming for Custom Fans

Cafe Racer TV ran on Discovery Velocity network from 2010 to 2015. Fans of the show decried its loss, but the show's creator and host Mike Seate has hinted for years that something new will replace it.  Discussions progressed with the Xcelerate platform, but  Seate had other ideas. “After waiting months for the powers-that-be to begin production, we decided that the TV landscape has changed quite a bit since CRTV first aired. We realized that with our contacts, knowledge of the custom bike scene and a dedicated staff, we could produce our own series with none of the corporate nonsense associated with mainstream broadcast media."

The Cafe Racer magazine crew adding lightness to a vintage twin-Cylinder Honda, with their film crew. [Cafe Racer magazine]
The Cafe Racer magazine crew began work over the past Winter, pulling on connections with some of the country’s top custom motorcycle builders. Of course, anyone who'd been featured on the original CRTV were all for it, especially when assured that the 'cheesy concepts and unnecessary fluff' that bogged down the series would be eliminated.  Instead, the concept for the new show, dubbed Ton-Up TV, is to feature 'the intricacies of designing, building and riding handmade motorcycles.'

Seate explains, “We’ve enjoyed an unprecedented level of industry support with major manufacturers Harley-Davidson, MV Agusta and Ducati sending us new, 2022 streetbikes to customize however we want. That’s an impressive roster and quite a challenge customizing these modern, high-tech motorcycles for the first time, but with the level of talent and mechanical expertise we’ve assembled, it should prove a real blast.”  His Pittsburg team will be modifying these bikes, and filming the process, plus documenting the work of other customizers, and filming the process of overhauling a few classics, including a 1977 Honda CB750, Norton Atlas/Commando special, and other bikes seen in Cafe Racer magazine.

Da Boss! Mike Seate has deep roots in the cafe racer scene, and is a pro on TV: we wish his new venture the best of luck! [Cafe Racer magazine]
Where can you see it?  On their new website, www.tonuptv.com, which will be interactive with the audience.  The schedule for Season 1: Moto Guzzi's Centernary at their new museum on Lake Comom, Chicago’s Motoblot street festival, and the inaugural Valhalla Custom Motorcycle Builder’s Showcase.   As Mike Seate explains, “It doesn’t matter if you’re an old school British bike rider or a new school customizer who favors water-cooled, fuel-injected streetfighters - Ton-Up TV will cover all of it and then some."

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Art and the Motorcycle (3): Linocuts for the Future!

Linoleum was a ubiquitous floor covering for nearly a century between the 1880s and 1960s.  It’s invention was one of those happy industrial accidents of the mid-1800s that produced world-changing products, like vulcanized rubber. Frederick Walton noted a flexible skin of dried linseed oil in an old paint can, and thought it might be an interesting substitute for rubber.  After many experiments and a couple of patents, the killer app for Linoleum, as he coined it, was a durable flooring material consisting of linseed oil with cork or wood dust, with a burlap or canvas backing.  Linoleum is flexible, and hey, it’s organic and non-toxic, which has led to a resurgence of interest in Linoleum as an alternative to what superseded it: petroleum-based vinyl flooring.  Manufacturing began in the 1860s in England, and soon spread to the US and Europe by the 1870s. In the ‘Teens, a few artists in England and Germany began exploring linoleum as a printmaking medium that was easier to carve than wood.  Rather than woodcuts, the linocut was born, although as the material was modern and easy to work, it was considered a ‘cheap’ medium initially, and many artists (like Wassily Kandinsky) simply labeled them as woodcuts.  British artists in the ‘Teens took to linocuts with a vigor, elevating the medium with their complex multi-layered prints, often using layers of paper to create further depth and illusory effects.

'Vortex' (1929), a linocut by Cyril E. Power that literally depicts the energy of Vorticism. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]
The British artists most successful in pushing the linocut forward as a medium were the Vorticists, and later the faculty and students at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London.  The Vorticists were created in response to the Italian Futurists, whose Manifesto in 1909 shook up the art world, and basically invented Modernism as we know it.  Everything you think of as Modern Art was initiated, formalized, and declared as ‘modern’ by the Futurists: abstract painting and sculpture, sound sculpture, sonic poetry, cut-up filmmaking, free-form graphic art with wild fonts for impact, abstract costumes for theater, and performance art.  Probably more!  It was the first art movement to declare itself with a manifesto that was published across Europe, and celebrated vehicles, technology, motion, and violence.  Yes, the Futurists were complex, and turned off a lot of artists, especially when the founders aligned themselves with Benito Mussolini, and helped write the Fascist Manifesto.  There was an English branch of the Futurists founded before WW1, but many artists who dug the style but hated its politics went their own direction, and founded the Vorticists in 1914, mere months before the start of WW1.   Vorticism was to be a British style of Modernism, and their manifesto was published in their own magazine, BLAST No.1 (June 1914), which declared independence from Victorian art and culture, as well as Futurism, Cubism, and Dada.  The Vorticists were led by painter Wyndham Lewis and included Edward Wadsworth, Jacob Epstein, and David Bomberg, among others. The Vorticists brought Modernism to the UK, but they didn’t last long after the traumas of modern warfare in WW1.   The group disbanded by 1917, but by 1925, the founding of the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London took up cause of Modernism, and is best known today for the linocuts of its faculty and students.  Linocut artist Claude Flight ran school from 1925-30; he and students Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power are legends of the medium today, whose work sells in the hundreds of thousands today.

'Brooklands' (1929) by Claude Flight, founding artist at the Grosvener School of Modern Art in London. [Museum of Fine Arts, Boston]
Claude Flight was all in on the concept of modern art embracing modern activities, which extended not only through industrial and sports imagery, but included vehicle racing as well, much like their Italian artistic forbears.  I’ve often said that Futurism was the only modern art movement that embraced motorcycles, but I’ll have to amend that statement to include what is now known as the Grosvenor school, after the actual college of art that became intrinsically associated with 1920s/30s modernism in the UK.

'Dirt Track Racing' (1929) by Claude Flight.

Claude Flight made the earliest Modernist motorsports linocuts in 1929, and one can feel his inspiration taken from the energy of high-speed racing at Brooklands, and the spectacular broadsliding, rooster-tail racing of dirt track, as it was known in the day.  The compressed perspective of ‘Brooklands’ (1929) with its three hulking white cars, is reminiscent of Hokusai’s ‘wave’ woodcuts from the 1830s, as the banking and clouds threaten to crash over the cars speeding below.  His ‘Dirt Track’ (1929) is more purely abstracted, and almost Art Deco in its repeated colors and circular/checkerboard motifs, although the rooster tail flung skyward and the rider’s arm/leg relationship are the last tethers to reality to what has become a nearly pure geometric abstraction.   Both are 5-color linocuts, meaning Flight coordinated individual colorways on five different squares of linoleum carved to place those colors in specific areas. Flight was tricky with his inking, printing, and paper, often printing on very sheer Japanese paper, which was then pressed onto a thicker paper of another color or visible texture that added a subtle textural depth to his work.  When depicting vehicles (as with ‘Brooklands’), he used paper with metallic flecks beneath his Japanese paper, which translates in the aggregated image as metal bodywork.  This appears as an interesting blotchiness in reproduction here, but is beguiling in person.

'Speedway' (1934) by Sybil Andrews.

Flight’s student Sybil Andrews made one of the most iconic and recognizable motorcycle images in all British Modernism, barring purely graphic work by the likes of American expat Edward McKnight Kauffer.  Her ‘Speedway’ of 1934 (the sport had changed its name by then from ‘dirt track’) is a 4-color linocut of three riders in tight formation, with the curved trackside fence and blotches of color suggesting a crowd flashing by.   ‘Speedway’ is perhaps the most Modernist motorcycle image of all, as while it abstracts the riders and their machines into a repeated motif, they are still instantly recognizable, bearing directly at the viewer in a menacing trio totally intent on their purpose. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as rare examples of this linocut sell for a year’s wages – on a very good year.

One of five linocut blocks coordinated to create the multi-color 'Speedway' print: most of the colors are layered atop one another in Andrews' work. The depth of the cuts can be seen clearly [Glenbow Museum, Calgary)

Sources:

  • British Prints from the Machine Age. Clifford Ackley ed. Thames and Hudson, 2008
  • Avant-Garde British Printmaking, 1914-1960. Frances Carey, Antony Griffiths, Steven Coppel. British Museum Publications, 1990
  • Sybil Andrews: Color Linocuts. Glenbow Museum, 1982

For more:

https://thevintagent.com/2018/05/03/art-and-the-motorcycle-2-the-futurists/

https://thevintagent.com/2017/08/09/art-and-the-motorcycle/

 

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


The Motorcycle Portraits: Michael LaFountain

The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Michael LaFountain of Raccia Motorcycles.  Raccia builds sleek cafe racers that often mimic factory racing machinery, and suggest models the factory might have built, or did build but are generally lost to history.  His builds are highly respected for their craftsmanship, beauty, and consistency of vision, and have been featured in BikeExif and won awards at events like the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.

What Was Your Start With Motorcycling?

My name is Michael LaFountain, I’m the creator of Raccia Motorcycles. I’ve been building motorcycles for over 20 years, and it all started with a motorcycle that I had found in a friend's garage as a teenager.  It had already been in the garage for years, in a corner that no-one went to, and one day I unveiled it, an old Honda. I didn’t really know what it was, I just knew it was cool, so I begged him to bring it out and hose it off.  It was a 1966 Honda S90.  We didn’t know what we were doing -  we were just kicking it to get it to run, and finally his dad tried to get it running. They kind of gave up, but I didn’t want to give up, so I looked and looked for months for another one.  Back then there wasn’t an eBay, all we really had was magazines.  So I went to the magazine store, and the closest thing I found was someone who had two S90s who was showing them off in a  magazine. So I kept looking for about 6 months and then kind of gave up.

My mom wanted us to move to the boonies, out in the woods, and I dragged my feet and didn’t want to move. She said, “You know it’s okay, you can play your drums and we won’t bother anyone."  So we go to this house out in the middle of nowhere, there were acres of land, and I’m looking around and found this abandoned pump house with a natural stream that ran through it.  I look down and there's a motorcycle grip sticking out of the ground!  I’m like “that’s weird.” I started digging and it’s handlebars, and I’m like 'who has handlebars in the ground?'  I started digging some more and there's a wheel and then I find a tank, and it’s amazing, it is exactly the same bike that I’ve been looking for  - it’s a 1965 Honda S90. I’m like “Mom, we’re staying, this is our place.”

Raccia Motorcycles' Kawasaki W1R 650 at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering: an homage to a lost factory racer that took seven years to build. [David Goldman]

So I spent that whole summer rebuilding this bike after excavating it. Amazingly every part was there. The only parts missing was the stuff you need to change anyways, like the gaskets and o-rings that had dried up, and it took me all summer.  I mean I literally would dig with a brush and found the jets and everything.  So after the summer the bike was built, and my friend caught wind I was close to having mine done, so he started working on his.  I got mine running and the landlord came by and said “Oh, you found my wife’s old bike. You know my son had torn it apart, and left it in there years ago, and earth kind of fell on top of it over the years. I’ll sell it to you.” I had just done all this work to it. My heart sank.  You know, I was a teenager with no money, and he said 'I’ll sell it to you' and I'm like Oh man. “How’s a penny sound?” I almost broke down I was so excited.  My friend and I got our bikes running in the same week, and we met on the street and rode to school together.  That summer infected everything I do; I’m 42 years old now, and I’ve basically been doing the same thing since I was a kid.

Great Experiences With Motorcycles?

All my great motorcycle experiences have been creating motorcycles. Building motorcycles and creating motorcycles means finding parts.  One aspect that is often overlooked is the places you'll go, hunting down rare motorcycle parts. I’ve been in so many different states and literally travelled every inch of California, but even when I think I've seen it all, I’ll find some part that I absolutely need for the next build in some place that no-one goes.  Two months ago I thought I’d been everywhere, but I drove for two hours and didn’t see another car in this strange valley in this beautiful area, and I’m thinking I would never come here had it not been for my relationship with motorcycles.  This wasn’t a destination that anyone goes to, it’s in the middle of the desert.  And the people that I meet on these scavenger hunts I would never have met.  That’s one aspect of motorcycles that gets overlooked, because it’s about 'riding and experiences'. I’ve been riding, and I’ve lived in Russia and I rode there, but my experiences are not so much about riding motorcycles as about the dynamics of building them.  I still get out and see weird and amazing places.  It may not be on a motorcycle, since you got to lug parts home, but it’s a fascinating dynamic to see the places it will take you.

One of the first Raccia builds, based on a Triumph TR6, with sleek Japanese touches. [Michael LaFountain]

I go to these places looking for parts and nine times out of ten they are great people.  They are so excited to see me, excited that I’m interested, so it’s this other dynamic.  It’s not just the camaraderie of riding, it’s the camaraderie of just being interested in motorcycles.  Every now and again, I’ll meet someone and their energy is like 'I've got to get away from this guy'. It can be kind of dangerous, out in the middle of the desert, but these are the guys that have parts. And we'll strike up conversations for hours, talking about the bikes and where their bike came from, and their cousin had a bike, and it’s amazing this connection you get - not just from riding but from building motorcycles as well.  Just from trying to scavenge parts from all around the state.  I’m somewhat of a hermit, so I meet these people and they are kind of in the same place, and I find people that don’t get to talk about motorcycles that often and are all of a sudden they're talking for hours.

What Do Motorcycles Mean To You?

What does it mean to me?  I have two relationships with motorcycles: I have the relationship that hooks most people - that’s riding.  That freedom is so cliché I know.  When I was a kid you got on your bicycle. I have a really strong sense of direction and always have; my favorite thing is to ride my bicycle fast enough into a neighborhood and not look at anything, to get disoriented. My world was much smaller then, and I wanted to escape from the fact that I knew where every direction was, I knew where north was etc. So motorcycles are just kind of an extension of that you know. I want to get into places that I’ve never seen and kind of get lost. They definitely facilitate that, but that’s motorcycles in general.

A Raccia cafe racer based on a 1974 Honda CB750. [Paolo Rosas]

Old motorcycles, especially creating and riding them, is a whole new feeling. You get all that - the adventure and the freedom and the excitement - but there is really something special about creating something. Anyone can build something and get it running, but creating something that has been stuck in your brain, you have been sitting up at night and looking at the phone to piece this idea together, then having it come together and riding it. You know it would be the equivalent of writing a song, and then firing it up and riding it around town. It’s really hard to explain - it’s a rare medium of creativity.  You actually get to create, and then have that thing take you around town, and then discover new and exciting places that you have never been.

Explore more of The Motorcycle Portraits series here.

 

David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here.

Mopeds to South America

Trolling around San Francisco in 2005, I spotted a pair of young men tinkering with vintage mopeds on a sidewalk, in front of a garage stuffed with a lot more mopeds.  Clearly, the moped trend I'd been reading about had arrived, so I stopped to investigate.  Graham Loft talked about starting the first moped gang in SF, the Creatures of the Loin, and invited me along on one of their rides, with my vintage bikes.  A few weeks later, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands, a pack of furry kids on mopeds and me aboard my 1928 Sunbeam TT 90.   Unlikely bedfellows, but a fun afternoon, which we repeated once more.

Zach Levenberg and Graham Loft at Alice's Restaurant on Jan. 6, 2007, as the start of their trip. [Paul d'Orleans]
Later that year, Graham announced he was planning to ride his Puch Maxi to South America!  I admired the audacity of youth, and rode my Sunbeam to meet him and his co-adventurer, Zach Levenberg, at Alice's Restaurant on a chilly January morning in 2007.  The pair kept a blog about their trip, which has vanished into the ether, and I lost contact with Graham until this year, when we reconnected via The Vintagent's Instagram feed, and I asked him if he'd share the remarkable story.  He published a book after the trip (available here), but there's little but photos to tell the story of this crazy journey.  Here's the preface of 'Moped to South America' (2007, Colorwheel Press):

The cover of their book Moped to South America: Zach and Graham in Colombia after a difficult stretch. [Graham Loft]
"Moped to South America?

This is the story of neither fame nor fortune.  It isn't a tale of heroes, although we did meet a few along the way.  This is a story of two young men who set out on a quest to accomplish something no one thought possible - a moped trip to South America.

The Idea of the trip began more of a joke than anything else.  'Hey, we've ridden our mopeds to Los Angeles and Seattle before (500 and 900 mile trips, respectively); why don't we ride to Mexico"  "Well, if we're in Mexico, why don't we just ride to South America?"  And so the journey was born...ten willing participants, cut down to two brave souls when it came time to hit the road.  Zach Levenberg and Graham Loft - to the southern trip of South America.

Moped trips aren't an easy feat, to say the least.  This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done, and cycling across the Himalayas is no easy thing either.  This being Zach's first trip, I can't imagine what was going through his head - mine felt like it was about to explode on a number of occasions.

Five months rolled by like an eternity of mopeding.  At an average speed of 30mph - peaking out at 40 - your body becomes tired and frail.  Your mind becomes your home and riding becomes your life.  Surviving just happens, and the path traveled begins to feel like a dream.  The destination is always great, but for Zach and I, what we found along the way is what will always be with us."

A pair of Puch Maxis on Jurado island, Colombia, when the travelers were stranded for weeks. [Graham Loft]
Bike Specs:

-Two vintage pedal-start 1979 Puch Maxis

- Single speed, two-stroke engines

- 50cc and 65cc cylinders

- Biturbo performance exhaust

- Five star mag rims

- Way too many spare parts and luggage

- And some serious pedals for those hills."

Camping in Arizona on the first leg of their trip. [Graham Loft]

An Interview with Graham Loft:

Paul d'Orleans (PDO):  It's so cool to to be back in touch after 15 years, and be reminded of this incredible adventure. Your book is beautiful, really.

Graham Loft (GL):  We only printed five hundred copies of that book, they sold out pretty quick. That was 2007 and one of my friends published the book; he was running a small publishing company in the time. He recently sent three boxes of 'bad' copies that weren't colored quite right. So that's what you got.  I'm glad those re-emerged, I thought I would never see that book again.  All that stuff was shot on real film and and video. A lot of it is cross-processed slide film and to make color negatives. So, it's before Instagram filters, you made your own filter in the film age.

PDO: So I assume all the square format was your twin lens reflex camera?  Film is so beautiful, even if the color is strange.  So, I did not see you after your journey; you guys started off from Alice's and we didn't talk for 15 years.

GL:  Did you see my blog? We did a live, updated Blog, the whole time we did that journey.

PDO:  I did see that. Is that site still up?

GL:  I tried to find it, but I think it's gone.  At one point when we had like a hundred copies of the book left, I printed the blog as a Zine and attached it with all the books sales.  I don't know what happened to that; it's been a long time.  I do still have all the original hard drives but they're clicking really bad, so I only turn them on when I need to.  I just I recently backed them up after you asked me for images.

Cousins across the border: a converted moped cart in Hermilloso, Mexico. [Graham Loft]
PDO:  I learned a lot reading your book, and you mentioned two previous trips (to LA and Seattle) that gave you the confidence to undertake the longer journey. How did you prepare? What did you carry with you? I mean, you were on the same kind of moped so you could share parts.

GL:  We rode the exact same bikes. Same wheels, same engines, everything was the same. So we could just carry a lot of parts. Our front panniers were just full of parts, just everything; full bottom end rebuild, cranks, clutches clutch springs, anything you might need.  Our back bags had our tent and sleeping stuff and clothes, but we'd really brought very little clothes.  I still try to replicate how little stuff I brought on that trip when I do dirt bike trips nowadays, and I can't do it, I just I overpack. I don't know how I brought one pair of pants on that 6 month journey. It was crazy but we just figured like six months of traveling, we're going to have to  buy stuff when we need, right?

PDO: Or you can do like my buddy Sean, who rode his '36 Knucklehead chopper across the country in three weeks, and never changed his clothes.

GL: On my motorcycle trips now I end up wearing the same thing, unless it gets wet or something.  Anyway, on the back panniers we had these fold-out wire bicycle baskets. You can fold them in and we'll go flat to the bike or you pull them out for your groceries or something. We thought those were great because when we were going to have to get on boats, we could kind of collapse the bikes and make them smaller.  We carried a two and half gallon gas can and in the other one seven or eight bottles of Motul 2-stroke oil.  That's what we ran. We had all our 2-stroke oil for the trip with us, as you can't buy good oil on the road. With the baskets and panniers we had a pretty wide wide load.  For a moped.

Zach's bike packed to the gills, with panniers on the front and rear of the Puchs, and on the back rack. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Yeah, I'm sure that's still half the width of a Harley-Davidson touring rig!

GL: Yeah! We did have one shipment of parts along the way, I can't remember if it was Guatemala or Panama? My Dad sent a big package of stuff, because by the time we got out of the US we had already blasted through our parts. Zach had already rebuilt his motor a few times, and we went right through stuff like piston rings. Our first stop before we dropped into Mexico was Arizona. There was another moped gang there, so we stopped as our last little spot to see if we need anything else. The whole way from SF to Arizona, my motor was rattling. It's making this nasty sound which I didn't like, so I rebuilt my motor. And then I didn't touch it the whole rest of the trip. It was kind of crazy.  I like to do things right the first time, so I just rebuilt my motor even though it was still running, and that crankshaft lasted. Zach, on the other hand, had a lot of problems with his motor. I felt really bad.

Snake Lips

PDO:  Well, that's how you hope things are going to go, right?   Were you ever really stuck anywhere? Did your bikes ever leave you kind of in the middle of nowhere?

GL:  We got screwed pretty bad crossing from Panama to Colombia. [Note: the notorious Darién Gap]. We met a guy who we later called Snake Lips, who had this younger guy with him to trick people into getting into his boat.  He said, 'yeah I can give you a ride to Colombia for this amount of money.'  He dropped us onto a strange little Island right off the coast of the Darien Gap, just dropped us there. And we asked, okay is this Columbia? This is an island!  He said, yeah it's an island in Colombia. He said there should be other boats coming through that can take us to the mainland.  We got stuck there for three weeks, it was a little military Island and there was one store on it that sold Coca-Cola, potatoes and eggs. We didn't have any real money on us, a little bit but not quite enough. Snake Lips had a little house he said we could stay in as he wasn't going to be there, but it was totally infested with bats! They were just flying all over the place!  So after three weeks, maybe a little longer, the first boat that we'd seen came through. It was a big cargo boat carrying fuel and supplies, and didn't take passengers because it's carrying fuel and all kinds of combustibles.

A boy with a bat on Jurado island in Colombia. [Graham Loft]
I didn't speak Spanish but Zach did: he was only eighteen, and just graduated high school. So he kind of weaseled us onto that boat by talking the captain into it, after the captain found out what happened to us. If you look in the book, there's a section about Jurado, that's the island we were stuck on.  But that boat was torture, we were on that tanker a good week and half and it would just stop in every little town, picking up logs and stuff. We were like, oh my god, now we're stuck on a boat!  But the crew was being cool, they were feeding us. I don't know if the fish they were catching was inedible, but they were literally feeding us bowls of rice with fish-heads.  Were they messing with us? I don't know.  At one stop, the police came on on board and found us, and kicked us off the boat, and fined the captain for having us on there. And then the captain wouldn't give us our bikes. He's like, 'I'm keeping these until you pay me my money. I'll meet you in Cali. Colombia.'  So we had all our gear, these four bike panniers, and we're stuck on another Island. Luckily, that island had a small airport with little two-seater planes.  So we went every single day to the airport, until we convinced a pilot to let us on an airplane.  He walked us to an ATM when we got to the mainland, to give him money. It was just a huge ordeal, it ended up being four plus weeks of just getting from Panama to Colombia.

But we did save a little bit of money.

Once we got on that plane, they took us to Medellin, which is in northern Colombia.  From there, we had to take a bus all the way down to Cali, which was a whole 'nother three-day journey, and when we actually got to Cali  we had to find the right boat.  That meant visually locating the boat that we were trying to find, then find the crew of that boat and get our bikes back.  That was a fucking journey in itself, that would turn some people off of travel entirely. But at that point what are you going to do, turn around?

Zach with a sloth on Jurado island. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Did you have any issues with the FARC in Colombia?

GL: Ah, the rebels. A lot of people on our way down to South America warned us not to go to Columbia. We would get robbed or killed and all that stuff. But Columbia was the most beautiful part of the trip.  We didn't feel like we were ever in trouble. We certainly weren't going to try to ride the Darién Gap. I think I think you can ride it now, right?

PDO:  People say they've ridden across it, but that's a misnomer because half the time you're just dragging a bike with a winch up a muddy slope. I mean, you cannot actually ride the Darien Gap. It's not possible. You can take a motorcycle through it - and people have -  but it involves more canoeing and winching than being vertical on a two-wheeler. I actually know a lot of guys from Panama in the Velocette Owners Club, there's like ten guys who either grew up in or did military time in Panama who still have British bikes because that's they rode there in the Sixties.  They tell incredible stories of riding bikes to the USA, but Darién Gap has always been impossible.

On the 10-day cargo boat journey from Jurado to the mainland of Columbia. [Graham French]
GL:  Yeah, I think we determined in the end like it would have been better for us to ride to the Caribbean, and leave from that side, take a boat North to Medellin -  which we ended up in anyway. Most motorcyclists used that route, but we didn't want to ride all those extra miles. We were trying to stay on the coast and not ride too high in the mountains because our bikes just wouldn't with all that gear on them.

PDO: Some of your videos look like you're jamming right along.

GL: If it was flat or downhill, yes. Guatemala was the worst because even the coastal route takes you up in the mountains, and we'd have to hold onto trucks, like skaters. I mean we're like Full Throttle and pedaling the bike. I'm pretty sure my knee problems these days came from pedaling in weird ways.  Dirt bikers would grab our hands and drag us up these big mountains, or we'd grab onto trucks that were going super slow as long as we could hold on.  Ideally, we just used our pedals like a kick-start; you just start with the pedals and then we’re good to go. Yeah, but not in South America, you're in high elevation some points. So, we definitely used the pedals.

PDO: Did anybody give you a hard time? Like for riding a moped on these highways or was that not the issue at all?

GL: No not at all. The only issue we'd run into was at border crossings. Mopeds don't have much paperwork in the US. You basically register them once in their lifetime and they're good, right?  At every border crossing they wanted all this paperwork from us and we wouldn't have it.  We actually had our original registration card but they don't they just don't look like anything normal - it's like a bicycle registration card. It doesn't look legit. To get through the border could be a huge hassle. Luckily Zachary spoke Spanish.

PDO: I'm sure he became fluent by the end of the journey.

GL: It would be cool to talk to him as we probably have very different viewpoints of the trip.  He was in a world of hell working on his bike and rebuilding it constantly, and doing all the translating. Whereas I was just photographing everything and riding, usually I was a mile ahead and he would break down; he just broke down so frequently. I didn't always stop with him; he’d fix his bike and be gone for like an hour and I’d blast ahead to find something cool, and be taking photos on the side of the road and he'd be so in the zone he'd pass right by. I remember a few times at these cool monuments off the side of the road, like, in Peru or something, right? Like kind of wave him down like, hey, I'm over here!  He was just fried. I’d have to go chase him, but it's not like on a motorcycle where you could raise your speed, we can't, so if he's just going his constant 30 miles an hour and he's an hour ahead, I'm still going to be an hour behind.

Zach repairing his Puch, again. Somewhere in Chile. [Graham Loft]
PDO: Did you guys ever lose each other?

GL:  I'm not sure we ever spent a night apart. We were always right there with each other. We figured it out.

PDO: It must have been interesting at times, although you were pretty conspicuous.

GL: Yeah, we were definitely a spectacle, anywhere we went. People were like, what the heck?  Our hands were always just black, full of grease, and our long hair and whatnot.  Do you remember those really baggy pants called Genkos?  At one point Zach's pants turned into Genkos, they ripped and kind of bell-bottomed on both legs and he just rode like that, it was hilarious. We just looked like Goofy and Goofy.

PDO: Somebody told me that you actually didn't ride all the way to Ushuia, but it looks like from the book that you did make it?

Mano del Desierto monument on the Panamerica Highway in the Atacama Desert of Chile. [Graham Loft]
GL:  Yeah, this is an interesting story.  When we got to Argentina, I had some relationship problems come up back home, that kind of made me lose my mind, you know? I was in my twenties! I actually packed up all my shit up flew back home with my bike. Zach continued on the trip, but when he got to Ushuaia, he got robbed and they stole everything.  Luckily when I left, I took all our footage with me, my cameras and everything, but Zach took the video camera and filmed that last part of the trip.  But they stole the camera, and all his footage - they stole everything. So, early the next year, we actually packed our bikes up and flew back down to where we left off in Argentina, and finished the trip together.  That was pretty important after being on the road for six months together. You know, I was super bummed after he finished it by himself, but we made the joint decision when I left; he was going to finish the video and stuff but after he got after he got robbed it was kind of just like, wow we got to go back.

PDO:  How cool is that?   Did you fly home with your bikes or what happened to them?

GL:  I don't know if you get away with these days but we took a bike box from la mountain bike shop and broke our bikes down. Like 100% - and just called them mountain bikes. We took the engines off and drained everything, wiped it as clean as we could and wrapped them in a million pounds of Saran Wrap to really seal it in.  We brought all that stuff on the plane with like packed bags.

Zach charging uphill in Peru, with the sea in the distance. [Graham Loft]
PDO:  Crazy, I've done that too! I bought a 1902 Clément in Paris, and got quotes of thousands of dollars to get it home, and thought, screw that, this is a Bicycle. I put the the chassis in a bicycle box and bought a hard suitcase for the engine. It cost $75 in excess baggage fees for the bicycle box.

So, what about the movie?

GL: When we got back, the big Moped Army scene was happening, and we would go to these moped rallies, in all these different states. I got a rough cut of a video done and we premiered it at the Kalamazoo moped rally in Kalamazoo Michigan. And it was a godawful cut. I mean, I don't think my wife's been able to get through it.  There's so much the film could be, but I was really into film photography and then I just got busy and it just kept getting pushed off and I never got around to it. So, right now, there's still a two-hour cut, it's not done, I forget where it goes - it might just end at Chile or Argentina.

PDO:  You really need to finish it!   Are you still friends with Zach?

GL:  Totally. Yeah. I think the only way that we are still friends is because he was so young and he put up with my shit.

PDO: Yeah, exactly. And to travel that long with someone is crazy, especially in arduous circumstances.

A glacier in the Andes. [Graham Loft]
GL: Yeah, we also we slept in one tent together. Two wheels, slept in the same tent every night.

PDO: Oh my god.

GL: I would never do that now, but at that time, we just didn't have space in our bikes, so we had to downsize.

PDO:  Have you been back to South America since?

GL: No, just Mexico

PDO:  Last question: how did the trip change you?

GL: Well, actually, since I was 18 I've been traveling on bicycles. I rode with my friend Benji across China and Tibet and Nepal. I spent time overseas for a year at a time, I've always been into traveling. So this was just kind of another trip, something exciting and fun and adventurous to do, you know?  We both definitely learned a lot about ourselves on the moped trip, how much you can take.  I'd done a couple of trips but it was Zack's first big trip in his life.  It was my third big trip; I'd been in the shit a few times, you know, with a few notches on my belt.

PDO: Especially if you're traveling in a foreign country, and not one especially friendly to Americans.

GL: Yeah, not everybody likes Americans.  I've been arrested in China, and spent time in a hotel with guards outside my door. They didn't put me in a jail, but put us in a hotel with guards outside.

Still friends after all these years.  The boys at the start of their journey, in Southern California. [Graham Loft]

For more remarkable stories of long-distance overland travel, check our ADV:Overland hashtag, and our exhibit at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


5 Ways eBikes Will Change the Custom Scene

“Hackers are the new Hot-Rodders” - Dave Mucci

‘The Hack’ opinion column is written by our newest contributor to The Current, Harry Fryer.  He’s the founder/CEO of Blaise Electric, and an employee/investor in the Bike Sheds Motor Co. in London

We are in a turning point in history to invent a new culture.

1. Accessibility

The Super73 is an accessible platform for customizing, being inexpensive and simple. The E-Hooligan by Roland Sands Design is an example of the experimentation and fun possible with smaller eBikes. This machine was featured in our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [RSD]
EVs are more accessible than petrol vehicles and more fun to build from a custom perspective. They’re clean and they force builders to move away from the cut-and weld-style builds to a more advanced approach to custom design and development. However due to the clean aesthetics there’s also less room for hiding mistakes and errors. To some extent customising an electric motorbike versus a combustion one will probably accelerate the interest. Dynamics and customisation from a functionality perspective will become easier and promote the idea of individual add-ons.

2. Greater Interest To New Builders

Traditional custom builders like DeBolex engineering have adapted to eBikes, as with this stunning 'TW Steel / Oil in the Blood' converted Energica Ego sports machine for our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [DeBolex]
We will see interest in custom work grow as new riders are brought into motorcycling through electric, especially with younger generations who are used to on-demand products and deeply personalised experiences. Manufactures will have to make the most of the opportunities this new technology brings and custom designers will be ready to meet the need for an electric motorcycle that lives up to the modern consumer’s expectations.

3. Manufactures and custom designers will work together

Hugo Eccles and his Zero XP, an example of a collaboration between a brand (Zero) and designer, currently on view in our Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Museum. [Aaron Brimhall]
This new age will bring an exciting opportunity for manufactures and custom designers to work together to evolve the industry. Established motorcycle manufactures are being challenged by disruptive start-ups. These necessary brands restrained by legacy and established design language, are struggling to escape their own conventional character and respond to the challenge of electric. Custom designers think and work outside of these constraints and don’t have an extended product line to think about, which puts them in the perfect position to challenge what’s always been done and push the vision further.

4. Mechanics will become Electricians

'Hackers are the new hotrodders' - Dave Mucci.

The administration of power is done digitally, so those who know code will have immense tuning flexibility compared to gas engines. It will be really interesting seeing the state of the custom scene down the road, when todays technology can be picked up at the salvage yard for a few pounds, and everyone has their own mini- manufacturing plant at home in the form of rapid prototyping machines. Tuning engines and big bore kits will now be micro chips wired in to motors that de-restrict power. There will of course be upgrades in the form of bigger motors and more powerful batteries but tinkering will be done digitally and altering code. This can all be done without altering the shape, size and aesthetics of the bike which will make it harder to differentiate custom from factory.

5. Classic Biker Culture Will Have To Adapt

Traditional motorcycle shows like at the Bike Sheds (here), the Quail, The Handbuilt Show, and the One Show are already including eBikes in their lineups. [The Bike Sheds]

The custom motorcycle culture is so deeply routed in sound, smell and touch. These senses with the experience of riding at speed create the adrenaline fuelled excitement associated with a custom motorcycle. The vibration of an engine, sound of an exhaust and smell of fuel that brings years of nostalgia will be non-existent in electric motorcycles. So we are living in a new era of transformative emotion whereby we are the generation to create and establish this new feeling and nostalgia our great grand kids will feel. Knowing what we know and how we grew up with petrol motorcycles can give us a relative foundation to apply to electric motorcycles.

P.S

The Ösa:work is a new category machine built by CAKE: a utility machine of a different stripe. [CAKE]
One thing to add, motorcycles are categorised by the shape, size and power of the engines which determine what style and purpose they are made for. For instance a Harley Davidson Fat Boy has a heavy, low end power engine for cruising, and a Yamaha YZ250 has a small, light single cylinder engine with quick acceleration for steep climbs and off-road terrain. With electric motors not constrained to these factors, will we develop more all around, all purpose machines creating a whole new category?

 

Harry Fryer is CEO of Blaise, selling custom parts for E-Bikes. He's an early employee/ investor of the Bike Shed Moto Co in London, and his latest custom build was featured in Built Mag and Bike Exif. His column 'The Hack' explores trends in two-wheeled EVolution.

Max Hazan and the HMW Vincent

When I first met Maxwell Hazan in 2012 at his Brooklyn warehouse, I knew we'd see more of him in the future. That day, his first proper custom motorcycle, based on a Royal Enfield single, sat on the workbench, a gleaming silver machine with quirky features marking it as the product of a unique mind. The Enfield's lines were clean, and the wooden seat spoke of his experience restoring a boat. While I admired the quality of his construction, I didn't agree with all the decisions he'd made, and told him what I felt was problematic.  He took the criticism graciously, explained his reasoning, and we've been talking ever since.

Max Hazan at PRJCTLA gallery with the HMW Vincent. The diminutive scale of the motorcycle is clear! [Andy Romanoff]
In the intervening ten years, I've had the pleasure of writing about his bikes for Cycle World, and included his Musket 2 V-twin in my first Petersen Museum exhibit, Custom Revolution, in 2018.  Fast forward to this year at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering: while I'd seen Max's Instagram tales of progress on his Vincent Rapide project, seeing the finished Hazan Motor Works (HMW) Vincent in person proved that photography doesn't always capture the magic.  All Max's bikes are ambitious and beautifully made, but the HMW Vincent was actually next-level work: this was the first alt.custom/ neo-custom/ BikeExif-era custom I've seen where a builder challenged him/herself by making their own carburetors, forks, shocks, and wheels rims from scratch.

What caught my eye: the hand-made carburetors with their extravagant velocity stacks. [Andy Romanoff]
That he built his own carburetors was enough to warrant my recommendation that the HMW Vincent take Best of Show at the Quail: I hadn't even been properly walked through the build to hear the rest of the details.  That took a conversation with photographer Andy Romanoff, who'd shot our photos for the Quail, and wanted to do more: I naturally suggested we shoot Max's bike while I was passing through LA in June.  Andy sprung into action, and pulled strings at PRJCTLA gallery in downtown LA for the use of their beautiful space on a quiet weekday morning.  The owner of Vincent, Michael Klingerman, was eager to participate, and even Max had space in his schedule.   The results you see here, a photographer's gaze at this extraordinary machine.

The short exhaust pipes exit beneath the Vincent motor. [Andy Romanoff]
Max was also game for an interview about the construction of the Vincent, and how things are going with HMW.  Our conversation follows below:

Paul d'Orléans (PDO): This Vincent build seems different to me, like you've made a big step forward in your work.  It's a very tight design, and the construction is mind-blowing.  I called it your masterpiece on the Quail stage: what feels different for you about this bike?

Maxwell Hazan (MAX): Honestly this one was very difficult for me; there was Covid, I'd just had a kid and moved houses. Usually I can just be the recluse and sit in the shop until it happens. Now my life is like stepping in and out of character - that's what I call it. It's hard to walk in at 9 a.m. and say, okay, you’ve got until 5 make it happen. I don't work on the weekends at all.

PDO:   I was just reflecting on how we met in 2012, after you finished your first proper custom, a Royal Enfield, and were pondering building your second bike, mulling over what might be next.  It was an interesting moment.

MAX: You know, I've never really said publicly that it was my dad who gave me the push to go full-time on building bikes.  He said, “Hey, why don't you give this motorcycle thing a real shot? Take some time off work. And if you need money, you know, for rent or whatever,  I’ll help you out.”   That was a surprise! My dad was always kind of a hard ass. But that offer gave me time and creative freedom, I could go any direction I wanted.  The hardest part is, it's such a blank canvas. And that's where I struggled with the Vincent; making every single part from scratch, and all the little details; there are so many opportunities to make something right, and there's a million wrong ways. And with the added responsibilities that I had, it was tough. After finishing the Vincent I started to experience a little burnout; it's like a birth, and there’s something you leave behind with each one.  Like it took something to figure out how to get that right shape.

A Rapide in shadow: the lines and proportions of the HMW Vincent are ultra tight and minimal. [Andy Romanoff]
With the Vincent, I felt like I was building the whole thing on my back foot. Everything worked out in the end, but I was not proactively designing. I designed it as I went, which is why I wound up having to use a barbell plate for the front braking surface. I was in a pinch, and it looked like I was going to have to cast my own iron braking surface and folks were saying, ‘the cast ones aren't as good as the stuff they use in brake drums.’ I was looking at different options, and then I noticed my barbells were the same diameter as the Vincent front brake drum. That was lucky.

PDO: Right? It's a kind of magic that seems to support any good creative endeavor. You know; the thing you didn't know you need appears in a flash of light.

MAX: Sometimes I really back myself in a corner and then all of a sudden an idea comes up and makes it seem like the whole thing was meant to be all along.  Anyway, with that front brake I wanted the proportions to be just right, but as you saw it winds up being a tiny motorcycle. I've always tried to make the bike proportional, so if I want to scale the bike I'll add things, so it's functional but at the same time, it's cool.

The front brake on the HMW Vincent is enormous, a double-sided drum that's suspended in short spokes to the wheel rims, all carved from solid aluminum. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: The Vincent's front brake IS proportional. But I know you also like to play with scale. And in this case because the chassis is tiny, it really highlights the engine, which is cool in a way that even Vincent couldn't do, because they had to sell a motorcycle in the 1940s.  Can we include some discussion about money? I think you're charging way too little.

MAX: A lot of people said, 'you needed to charge more for that.'  Honestly, Michael [Klingerman] does well, but he's not Bobby Haas. I charged what I gauged I could for the client. But then again, how many builders out there have people lining up to pay six figure numbers?  There's not many. I just need to learn how to slow myself down a little bit. But you know how it works, to go to the Quail and and have that result, and seeing all these people geek out over the bike; it's all worth it.

PDO: Well, it's the old quandary for anybody who makes things, whether it's art or furniture or whatever; what can you charge versus what do you really want to do? Making compromises for the money is kind of soul destroying, when you're no longer doing what you want to do and lose interest in your own career.  I speak from experience.

The shifter arm with wooden handle has the clutch operating lever attached: squeezing the clutch is surprisingly light. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX:  So that's why I actually don't how many hours I put into things. It's not healthy to count hours, man.  Don't think about it. Just give them a window, 'we'll be done in December'. No, I don't want to know my hourly rate.  People always ask, 'how long does it take you to make a bike?'  The actual fabrication is like bartending for me; I just I know where everything is, I know where all the handles are and am super fast with that. But at the same time, coming up with the idea, that's the part that takes me forever.  Then in my head I'm reverse-engineering,  figuring it out, and then another day of just staring and thinking, and then making the part is easy. Once you know what you're going to make, it's like autopilot, I love that.

PDO: I saw that you’d made some engineering drawings for your parts. Do you use CAD or digital design software?

MAX: I actually don't. I wish I knew more, and didn't waste my time in college! But I can hand draw really quickly, and I can take measurements off of that drawing for something like the carburetors.  When you draw a part out, you put your measurements down, and you also get an order of operations. With machining, it's so easy to back yourself into a corner, thinking ‘I need to flip this part over, how do I find center, how do I grip it?’ You need to have the order in your head. And I’m still using manual tools, but I do have digital readouts on my machines, because one wrong turn on the knobs then you go a little too far and you've got start over.

The 1:1 scale drawing of the carburetor, compared the body of the carb as initially machined. [Michael Klingerman]
PDO: I'm sure you speak from experience.

MAX: Oh yeah. I've done that before.  Some of the old-school people say, 'oh, I don't use a digital readout, I use the knobs.'  You know, the digital readouts are better.  You can just set it and know that if you go past zero you went too far, right?  And I try and use as many people as I can to help out with the process. I don't do it by myself on principle. On the smaller stuff, I do it myself, but on the bigger stuff, I will have someone like Mark Atkinson [See his BMW Alpha from our Custom Revolution exhibit] CNC a part like the rear wheel from a solid chunk, and give me a blank so I can do the final operations on my machines.

PDO: You have a reputation as being humble. How does all the press feel to you? Will success ruin Max Hazan?

MAX: I’ve never been good at accepting it.  I don’t have a problem with it, but it never sinks in.  It never occurred to me to use a show win to mold an ego.  I had a regular job and hated it, so I’m skeptical as this seems too good to be true, although now I have a little bit of job security, with a line of people who want my bikes.   We’re not doing anything special here, it’s just way more fun than building houses. I never felt guarded about any of my stuff – if you want to build something like it, go ahead, it’s a lot of work!

PDO: That's a question of character. Do you think you've Incorporated other builders' ideas or shapes, or is your design process strictly intuitive?

The rear shock with remote reservoir was built by Max, using various springs and valving until the combination felt right. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX: Totally on my own. I never really looked at other people's work for ideas, and I don't even think that subconsciously I've Incorporated it.  A lot of people in the beginning said, 'oh man, you're copying Shinya [Kimura].'  But I think we both just like the way certain things look.  At least now people think, okay, they're different. But I just like the way certain shapes look.  With each build, I approach it with an open mind - if it's right, it's right.

PDO:  It's your decision-making process that creates the style, that’s really what it comes down to.

MAX: It's not like you're necessarily trying to make things look a certain way.  When you're self-taught you figure stuff out on your own, and you inherently wind up with a different process and get a different outcome, because you're winging it. So it's not like "where did your Unique Style come from?" - it just came from what seemed like the best solution at the time.

In the very beginning I took inspiration from board track bikes, because I'd never seen them before; the big-diameter wheels and the proportions. I thought it'd be cool to make something like that, and one thing led to another.

The HMW Vincent has two magnetos; one at the front of the engine in the usual position, and this one at the rear, driven by the dry clutch. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO:  Were there a list of engines you'd wanted to work with?  Was there a 'Hazan 10'?

MAX: Every now and then I write things down, and then randomly see them years later, and yes there was an engine list, and it sat in the back of my head. When I first started,  I came across Brough Superior by accident.  My mom's last name is Brough, by marriage, so no family connection, just coincidence. I was looking for personalized Christmas gifts twenty years ago, so I type in Brough, and in the images pops up this engine, and I'm like, holy shit, that's beautiful!  And so I went down the rabbit hole until I found a price tag and I was like, okay, forget that!  There was the Brough and the Vincent and a few other engines that I came across that were just beautiful but unobtainable, especially in the beginning, when I was building out of my own pocket. A lot of other projects were inspired by the dual front cylinder head setup on a [Harley-Davidson] XR750.  I wanted to build bikes with two front cylinders, so I just did a much cheaper version, with ironhead Sportsters.

Max's first ironhead Sportster custom from 2013, and seen at legendary BritBike shop Sixth Street Specials in New York City, as he was tuning the engine. [Paul d'Orléans]
PDO: Sportsters are dirt cheap, but not that cheap to rebuild.

MAX:  When I first started, I was buying complete running ironheads for twelve hundred bucks in New York. No one wanted them, as they were heavy and run like crap. But you know, they were cheap and they looked cool.

PDO: Well that's one thing Harley-Davidson has always been good at: make it look badass.

MAX:  So at one point I was wondering what my next project was going to be?  And I got an email and then a phone call from from Mike. "Hey, I've got this Vincent engine. I think it's all together. Would you like to build a custom motorcycle around it?"  Get the fuck outta here!  How does this happen?  It just fell in my lap - I mean there was a little more to it than that -  but I couldn't believe it.  He wheeled the Vincent engine into the shop, way in advance, so I could wrap my brain around it.  He'd cleaned it up but I had no idea what was inside. It could have been just a total piece of shit. But I mean it was nice to have on my desk, just sitting there, for a year.  When it finally came time I cracked it open and not only was it all there, it was all perfect. Someone had just put in a new pistons, new rings and everything was there. I wound up going with a higher compression pistons and a whole bunch of things, but it was a rare, easy starting point.

PDO: That's amazing.

The rear hub is a solid piece of aluminum machined into a trumpet-curve hub and drum brake. [Andy Romanoff]
MAX: People asked me, 'how do you know how to work on a Vincent?' I don't! But they all work on the same principles. When I opened up the timing chest and didn't know where the cams or the idler gears came from, and I only saw a few faint scratches [for the timing marks] and thought, that's not right.  So I used a piece of welding rod in the cylinders to feel where the piston is, and watched the lifters move as I turned the motor.  And I adjusted the cam timing -  maybe another tooth, then another tooth  - until I got it to what seemed right.  Then I looked really close, and there were the timing marks, they were all perfectly lined up.

PDO:  So, what was your education on building your own shocks and forks? I mean, you don't have a degree in hydraulics, so how did you go about that?

MAX: Just common sense. I've got a mechanical brain, and understand the basics of how things work. When I was racing I'd watch these suspension techs spouting the biggest lines of bullshit.  I'd ask 'ever try this?', and they'd say, 'well, you know, you can't do that.' And how many times have I just said, you know what? I'm just going to get the screwdriver out and turn a few clicks and bounce it up and down until I feel like it's right.  With the Vincent, it was actually pretty easy. I had the damping rod and the seals and the springs, and I just messed around. I bought a whole bunch of different springs because it's easier to buy springs and test them out than it is to sit there and try and calculate it. As far as the damping goes, there's a Teflon disk that acts as a slider, and also it has holes in it [for the fork oil to pass through], so I made a few different ones with different holes.  The forks feel amazing, I don't know how I got it so on the money, I surprised myself with that one.

The front forks were entirely built by Max Hazan, including the hydraulics. They're an 'upside down' design, which makes for a cleaner upper fork. Note the front axle with handy manual grip, much like an original Vincent.  Note also the brake torque stays - in this case a pair of needle rollers mounted on the front brake plate that embrace the fork leg. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: And what about the rear shock? I mean, I'm trying to think of any other customizers who've built their own?  I see builders with real careers, who go to a specialty shock builder for the hydraulics. I can't think of another person who's done hydraulic shocks front and rear on a custom.

MAX: Honestly, I don't make any secret, McMaster-Carr is the best website of all time because, you know, they have a million different types of seals and wipers, all this crazy stuff for building hydraulics.  I would have bought an off-the-shelf hydraulic shock if I had found one that works on the Vincent. But suspension companies can be such a pain in the ass to deal with, condescending and with a narrow-sighted approach, 'What are you doing? You definitely can't do that.'  First of all, you can, and second of all, I just needed to know this one bit of knowledge from you.  After being frustrated enough times, I just thought, it's a hydraulic shock, we'll figure it out.

The carburetors with their vacuum floats. [Michael Klingerman]
PDO: You have a great attitude. And it's also possible that these techs and advisors have never actually built a fork from scratch, they just bolt their stuff together.

MAX: It's incredible when you actually meet like-minded peers. I don't meet that many people with that same approach, or who have gone through the same experience.  I met a famous Porsche builder when I was going to machine this massive drum brake. And he was partners with this crazy aerospace guy out in Palmdale, like really well known, building crazy, crazy stuff. He's an engineer, and I started talking to him and he was way smarter than me, but so nice. Somebody who I could throw the craziest ideas to, and he'd say 'yeah I like that. Let's do that. We'll figure that out.'

PDO:  Not many people have invested a time in in creative thinking, and creative problem-solving.  It's rare to find a person who's just making things and figuring out how to make it work, from a set of shocks to building a motor from scratch. Everything is possible, and obviously somebody thought it up in the first place.

MAX: And one big thing is, don't be scared to screw up.  Just to go for it, man. Like the amount of time you waste thinking whether you should do it or not, you learn so much more from a mistake than you do from going back and forth, or reading a bunch of stuff.  If  I don't take the chance, I'll never know. So, I just kind of jumped in and luckily now with just a little bit of experience, most of the time it works out, the mistakes are fewer and smaller.

Details, details. The tiny solar cell that powers the battery that gives enough juice for night riding using LED lights. also note the top of the vacuum fuel regulator chambers. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: So, what was your inspiration for building the carbs?

MAX: You know, honestly, I always do something unique with each bike. Originally I bought a pair of Dell’Orto SS1s, but on the Vincent they just looked like a dog.  What was in my head was velocity stacks.  The carburetors are just a mechanical object, you’ve got to machine a few things and, you know, it's been made by a human. It's not impossible. So I sat down and measured a few carburetors to see some of the proportions.  I measured the inlet tract, the inlet flange was 28mm, so that's how big the carb is going to be, and I sat down and started drawing.  There are so many little passages inside that have to make a 90degree turns and hit the next passage. You don't want them to intersect at some random point in the casting. I stole a couple of little things from many different carbs; a mixing tube, the needle and a jet. I didn't need to make the needle!

PDO: And are those floats behind the carbs?

MAX: Remote floats are sensitive to height; they have to be in line with a certain level of the carburetor. Otherwise, it'll either just dump fuel out of the carburetor, or not get enough fuel. And wherever I put them, they looked like crap. I had an idea I'd seen on a jet ski, a vacuum-operated diaphragm.  I thought that would be cool, so grabbed the diaphragm out of a Mikuni carburetor and machined the housing.  They use them on chainsaws too, and you can turn a chainsaw upside down and it still runs. So I just gave it a shot.  I wondered if I went a little too far, but once I got it within the range where it would run, and then it was responsive to turning the idle screw, I knew I was good.  The main thing is, it's using the suction in the mixing tube, not the manifold vacuum; it's actually picking up the vacuum in front of the slide. So as your carburetor wants more fuel, it produces more vacuum, and I just couldn't believe how well it worked.  I took it out and rode it with a digital O2 sensor on, and you just turn the throttle and get the normal throttle response, but the air / fuel ratio never moves. It's pretty cool.

The shifter crossover shaft and mated gears that makes a left-hand shift possible. [Andy Romanoff]
PDO: I wonder why more people aren't using them. Is there a downside?

MAX: If it's real hot out side, or even idling for a while at a light, you might have to keep on the throttle a little bit.

PDO: I have to do that with all my old bikes - I've always got a hand on the throttle!

MAX:  I'm happy Mike is so enthusiastic and happy with the Vincent. When I saw his face at the Quail it was like, yeah.  I knew damn well I should have charged double for this bike, but when it was all done, I forget all that. And I'll do it again, I'm sure.

Max Hazan in the alley outside his studio in downtown LA. [Andy Romanoff]

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

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

One Hundred Years Of Racing: Isle of Man TT

The illustrious Isle of Man TT races owe their beginnings to a stodgy and horse-minded English government. Public road competitions were banned in England by an act of Parliament, and its roads were saddled with a 20mph speed limit. The Auto-Cycle Club (later the ACU), believing that ‘racing improves the breed’, wanted a rigorous test of standard, as-manufactured machines. The Isle of Man, while a part of Great Britain, was not subject to England’s traffic laws, and local politicos saw the value in hosting such a contest of riders and machinery, with perhaps equal concern for Tourist Trophies and money. The wisdom of their decision has been borne out over the last 100 years, as the TT races became the gold standard of motorcycle road racing the world over, and thousand of visitors from all points arrive for a motorcycling holiday every June. True, other countries have held significant and important road races (the Ulster GP, the Nurburgring, etc), but the IoM TT rose to the very pinnacle of all races for the notorious difficulty of the course, with its 37 1/2 miles of narrow roads, stone walls, steep and often fog-shrouded mountain climb, and quaint villages.

Rem Fowler with the winner of the first Isle of Man TT in 1907 (multi-cylinder class) with his Peugeot-engine Norton. [The Vintagent Archive]

The first TT races were held on May 28th 1907, over a 15 3/4-mile course, which did not include the mountain road over Snaefell, as the motorcycles were all single-speed, clutchless, virtually brakeless, and incapable of such a climb, or descent! Two classes, for single- and multi-cylinder machines, had to abide by 90mpg fuel economy (for singles; 75mpg for multis). Famously, Harry Collier, an organizer of the race, on the Matchless single of his own make, and Rem Fowler on a Peugeot-engined Norton, won their respective classes in just over 4 hours time, at average speeds of approximately 42 mph. They each received a 3-foot tall sculptural trophy of Mercury atop a winged wheel, donated by the Marquis de Mouzilly St. Mars, replicas of which have been handed over to brave TT winners for 100 years. The early races were run over gravel farm tracks at speeds touching 70mph, when punctures, crashes, flaming machines, and livestock encounters were common. Boy Scouts with flags marshaled the course, waving frantically to warn of upcoming dangers. The need for improved machines (and roads) was dramatically emphasized by the death in practice for the 1911 TT of Victor Surridge on a Rudge, outside the Glen Helen Hotel. Thus was born a chorus of objections to the races by the safety brigade, as the treacherous nature of the road course claimed a mounting share of victims.

Charles B. Franklin, the Dublin importer for Indians who raced his machinery, here as part of the Indian factory-backed team that took 1-2-3 at the Senior TT in 1911 [Read our story here]. Franklin would later move to Springfield, and designed the Indian Scout. [The Vintagent Archive]

In 1911, the race moved to the current 37 ½ mile ‘Mountain’ course, to create a greater challenge to the motorcycles, which were becoming faster and more reliable, but still needed development in braking, gearing, and handling. In that year Indian ‘motocycles’ had all these things, using all-chain drive with a clutch and two-speed gearbox, and an effective drum brake on the rear wheel instead of the usual bicycle-type stirrup. Their reward was a 1-2-3 sweep of the Senior races, which lit a fire under British and European manufacturers to rapidly modernize their designs. Indians did well at the TT for another 12 years, with their last podium placement in 1923, when Freddie Dixon, the legendary racer-tuner, took 3rd place.

Freddie Dixon at the 1921 Isle of Man TT aboard a single-cylinder Indian. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the 1920s every competing manufacturer had developed recognizably modern designs, with brakes on both wheels, suspension (at least up front), clutches, and multiple gears. More entries from Europe began to appear (Peugeot, FN, Bianchi, Moto Guzzi, etc), the road surface had improved, and by 1922 the course was almost fully paved(!); race averages crept up into the 70mph range for the 500cc Senior class. The great variety of engine configurations in competition (side-valves, inlet-over-exhaust valves, overhead valves, overhead cams, and two-strokes) made for a fascinating study in the possibilities available to the motorcycle designer at the time. The keenness of competition was reflected in the sheer number of different TT makes; AJS, Levis, New Imperial, Sunbeam, Rudge, Rex-Acme, Velocette, Douglas, DOT, Cotton, Scott, and HRD all won top honors in the '20s.

Alec Bennett aboard the Velocette factory racer that became the basis is the KTT production racer [read our story here], here after his 1928 win at the Junior TT, a harbinger of the future when OHC machines would dominate racing. Factory Boss Eugene Goodman looks very happy indeed. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the 1930s all winners of the Senior (500cc) and Junior (350cc) TTs had camshafts on top of their engines, and lap records touched 90mph. Only in the Lightweight (250cc) class was mechanical variety maintained, with OHV, OHC, and two-stroke machines nudging their way to the podium. Race machinery had strayed from the original intention of ‘same as you can buy’, as European uber-bikes (Gilera, Moto Guzzi, NSU) with multiple cylinders and superchargers began menacing the track. Still, Norton, with its 500cc Model 30 (Manx Grand Prix), and Velocette’s KTT 350cc models began a long string of success on the Island, which would last until the 1960s. Race watchers were used to British wins in all but the lightweight classes had regularly broken into the top 3, so it was a shock when Moto Guzzi in 1935 won the Senior TT, with Stanley Woods (10-time winner) at the helm. His mount was notable not only for its wide-angle OHC v-twin motor, but also for the effective rear suspension. By the next TT, all serious contenders had rear shocks!

Stanley Woods aboard the remarkable Moto Guzzi 'Bicylindrica' OHC V-twin on which he won the 1935 Isle of Man Senior TT. [The Vintagent Archive]

AJS and Velocette had their own answers to the 'multi' brigade in their V-4 and Roarer twin, but BMW, using its characteristic flat-twin (but with an OHC supercharged engine) won the Senior TT in 1939, on the very eve of the WW2. Supercharging was henceforth banned from the races. Racing resumed in 1947, with the essentially pre-war designs of Norton, Velocette, and Moto Guzzi dominating their respective classes for a few years as the rest of Europe rebuilt. In the 1950’s though, Italian (Guzzi, Gilera, MV) and German (NSU, BMW) machines came to the forefront with new and sophisticated multi-cylinder designs, culminating in the amazing Guzzi V-8. Bob McIntyre made the first 100mph lap in 1957, on a 4-cyl dohc Gilera.

John Surtees in 1957 aboard the MV Agusta four in 1957, that would dominate the TT for many years to come. [The Vintagent Archive]

By the mid-1950’s most British firms allowed their factory teams to languish, refusing to spend the vast sums demanded by race programs bearing no relation to consumer motorcycles. In 1957, most European manufacturers concurred by closing their race shops, leaving MV and BMW to battle privatateer racers using Manx Nortons and AJS/Matchless production racers. By the 1960’s, Japanese machinery, led by Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha, virtually took over the Lightweight TT. Honda began contesting the larger classes as well, using technically superior 4- and 6-cylinder double-overhead-cam engines, and the battles between Honda and MV became the stuff of legend. Honda quit racing in 1967, leaving Agostini on his MV Agusta to win all Senior and Junior TT’s from ’68 to ’73 (minus the ’71 Junior). The organizing body -  ACU - introduced the Production TT in 1967, and later Formula One and 750cc classes among others, to maintain variety in what had become a Japanese and MV benefit. Racing in these new categories became as closely watched as the ‘classics’, especially the 750cc TT, where one could watch similar-to-standard Superbikes from Norton, Triumph, and Honda duke it out. The Senior and Junior races were dominated from 1974 by Yamaha two-strokes, challenged by Suzuki later in the decade. Lap averages hit 110 mph, and a clamor from top riders such as Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, and Barry Sheene, resulted in the TT losing its World Championship status in ‘76. A high note in 1978 was the comeback of Mike Hailwood, riding a Ducati to win the Formula 1 race after a 10-year absence; good publicity for the TT at a time when calls for its total cancellation had reached a peak.

Mike Hailwood at the 1978 Formula 1 race aboard an 864cc Ducati, his 'comeback' race. Read our story, 'Haunted by Hailwood' here. [Motor Cycle News]

In the 1980’s and 90’s, race averages began to reach 120mph, and Joey Dunlop began his remarkable run of 26 wins. Lap speeds now stand at over 130mph, and the increasing number of spectators and participants show the irresistible draw to motorcyclists across the globe, who want to experience the legendary race course and steep in its century of speed.  

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

 


Storm Sondors: Democratizing the E-Bike

Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d’Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of ‘what is a car or motorcycle?’

Storm Sondors, while born in Latvia, has made his fortune in the USA, first in toy manufacturing, and now in electric vehicles with his company SONDORS.  His vision was to build affordable e-Bikes, and got his start via the second-most successful Indiegogo fundraiser in history, which exceeded its goal by 7000%.  SONDORS is now one of the largest e-Bike manufacturers in the USA, and is distributed in 42 countries.   More recently, he turned his attention to disrupting the e-Moto scene by revealing the dramatic Metacycle, with a futuristic cast-aluminum chassis and an industry-beating low price tag. Vintagent Profiles Editor Greg Williams interviewed Storm for this story, and shares the back story on the creation of SONDORS.

Storm Sondors at his factory in Southern California. SONDORS is now the largest distributor of e-Bikes in the USA. [SONDORS]
As an inquisitive youngster, Storm Sondors filled some of his time constructing simple toy vehicles using a small DC electric motor, a battery, a rubber band and some wheels. Put all together, he’d experiment varying the tension on the rubber band and observe the effects. “That’s what I found fascinating,” the man behind SONDORS Electric Bikes explains, and continues, “I just loved the simplicity of it, and wondered how changing the rubber band’s tension would cause it to slow down or speed up.” That simplicity is something Storm continues to value, and it’s evident in every product the Malibu, California designer of SONDORS two-wheel electric mobility products brings to market.

The SONDORS Rockstar emtb, capable of 28mph without pedaling, or more. [SONDORS]
Born and raised in Latvia, Storm’s other passion were bicycles. With very little money to afford anything ‘brand name,’ he made do with whatever fell his way and always enjoyed the ride. “I spent a lot of time on a bike, that was my mode of transportation,” Storm says. “Two-wheelers took me further than I could walk, and as long as I had a pump, I was happy; I hated to ride soft tires. And I always paid attention to the chain because that’s super critical on a bike.” Attending an art-focused high school, Storm sat regular classes in the morning. Then, during the afternoon and evening, he’d study design and sculpture. College was never an option he considered, and today, he takes great pride in that. “I think further education would have ruined me,” Storm declares. “I had enough skill set to be pretty good from early days in that space because I had a passion for it; once you have a passion, where does the learning begin, and your lifestyle continue? It just blended together and with all that continuous learning, it’s been ‘What’s the next target? What’s the next target?’ ever since and I always have something to look forward to instead of waking up and being miserable in something I don’t enjoy doing.”

Storm with crates of SONDORS e-Bikes ready for shipping. There is no middleman, all bikes are direct to consumer; a significant method of reducing costs to consumers. [SONDORS]
At age 19, Storm moved to Chicago. He very briefly dallied with fashion design before completing an internship at a company specializing in building prototypes for model and die cast kit maker ERTL. By the time he was in his early 20s, Storm was working at Rehkemper Invention & Design, a firm dedicated to conceiving toys and other consumer products. In this bustling Illinois metropolis, his bicycling continued, and he often commuted to work an hour each way. Storm says he was not a gearhead; while he admired good-looking vehicles and motorcycles, he would be a fraud, he explains, if he claimed to occupy any of that design territory. At Rehkemper, his creative and innovative personality blossomed. It’s also where he got his first taste of fast paced design, for example, one day working on a project for Nike soles, the next a toy for Mattel. He says the number and variety of design projects taken from concept to pre-production prototype “really propelled me to start on a lifelong journey of innovation, that evolution aspect of never really stopping, that was embedded there,” he says, and adds, “I give those guys credit. It’s where I learned and got practical real life experience being surrounded by people who are better at doing something than you are.” While there he worked on projects for McDonald’s, and later became a contractor for the fast-food giant doing prototyping for the company’s Happy Meal toys. That experience took him frequently to China, where he evolved and started his own toy company in Hong Kong. “I worked there for about 10 years and our customers in that business were Walmart and Target, that’s where you could buy our toys.” The toys? They were radio controlled flying ships, and everything was electronics-based.

The SONDORS Cruiser, available at Costco. How do you sell a lot of e-Bikes? ... [SONDORS]
Storm moved to California approximately 15 years ago, and says it wasn’t long after that he saw his first electric bike. Ridden by a friend, the machine was moving at a high rate of speed, and Storm was impressed. “What fascinated me about it was you could see something so familiar, but the way it performed was just so foreign. It was so cool because it made no sense. You go through the check list -- it’s got pedal assist not gears. It’s got a tiny hub motor in a wheel. And here's a battery pack.” Put together by an old-school mechanical engineer, the electric bicycle had been garage built but looked and performed like a factory machine. “That’s what really caught my attention,” Storm says, and continues, “Here's something really interesting and undervalued, at least at that point. We were all just excited about looking at Cadillac Escalades and Ford F-150s, and I was thinking, ‘I have to fix that,’ you know what I mean? That’s what caught my attention the most, the ability to transform such a prevalent item like a bicycle into an (improved mode of) transportation.” When he got home, he Googled electric bikes. “That’s when my moment of truth came around – I can’t afford this. The reality kicked in, and wow, this sounds familiar. Even now as a grown up, I can’t reach something because it’s out of my price point and that’s when my head started to move, and I saw an opportunity to create something.”

The SONDORS Fold X, the ultimate in convenience when traveling. [SONDORS]
It started for himself, but Storm’s mindset has always been to create for scale production. “I never did any garage prototypes, I did more refined components and whatever needed to be done was done with soft tool molds -- the idea was to see if it could be executed at scale production. It’s relatively easy to put something together once, but it’s really difficult to see a gazillion pieces come together at the production level. So, right from the start, I was thinking, ‘How I could scale this?’” It was, essentially, a passion project and Storm simply wanted to democratize the electric bike industry that had been pushing exclusivity. There was no business plan. There were no five year expectations. To create his vision, Storm visited many factories in China before selecting suppliers. The challenge wasn’t so much sourcing the hardware, such as the Bafang motor; it was the battery. Storm didn’t want to use generic cells and finding the correct sized cells in optimized packaging wasn’t easy. Rather organically, however, Storm’s concept became a reality with the first model SONDORS e-bike.

Fat tires were the original concept for SONDORS electric bicycles, but their model line is more varied now. Utility in snow and wet conditions was always important to Storm. [SONDORS]
Getting the details right from the start helped bring the big picture together. When the first SONDORS model launched, the 67-pound e-bike had fat all-terrain tires, a top speed of 20 mph, and could be ridden some 25 to 40 miles. But how to get it to market? With his past working relationships, Storm could have approached Walmart or Target and pitched buyers, but he didn’t enjoy that process. That’s when he considered crowdfunding, which was still in its early stages. “(Crowdfunding seemed to fit) what I was about to do, with an audience who might be hungry for this type of product, and that’s literally how SONDORS was born. It went on Indiegogo in 2015 and never looked back. That campaign was extremely successful.” The SONDORS campaign, at that point, was the second-most successful mounted on Indiegogo -- between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, $12 million was raised. And right from that start, the price point of the product was extremely important. Storm says, “It’s what we’re dealing with right now in the motorcycle space. If you’re going to offer people something they’ve never seen and expect they’re going to pay premium, you’re in for a failure.” SONDORS first bikes were a tremendous success, with deliveries of 7,000 bikes shipping to 47 countries.

"We’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years." [SONDORS]
With the first model SONDORS, Storm says, people didn’t perceive the electric bike as something they knew, rather, they perceived it as something they wanted to experience. “I was at my first demo event in Santa Monica when an older gentleman put a leg over the bike and whispered in my ear, ‘I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.’ That was an a-ha moment for me. My revelation was we’re not going after bicycle riders, we’re going after every person in this country who has not ridden their bicycle in 20 years. That single event taught me we weren’t going after people who are riding pedal bikes right now.” SONDORS sold direct-to-consumer, and a WordPress page was set up for the company’s first website. Storm was basically a one-man operation in the earliest days looking after everything from shipping to logistics to customer support. If a purchaser had a problem or a question, they left a message and it was Storm calling the buyer back, working to troubleshoot the issue. Because the bikes were designed with simplicity in mind, every component was, and still is, a plug-and-play proposition. Problem with the controller? Unplug it, take it off the bike, and a new one is shipped out to take its place.

Storm with the original SONDORS X, produced after one of the most successful Indiegogo campaigns ever. [SONDORS]
Feedback on the early bikes led to further development, including the Fold X – a foldable bike with a forged frame to allow for easy transportation. When it launched, on its first day of sales, more than $1 million worth of Fold X machines sold. This kind of popularity increased challenges for Storm because approximately 30 forged frames were being produced per day. “In reality, we needed to be producing 300 frames a day,” he says. “We would get there, but we wanted to take things slow and get things right so we could scale. I want the product to be epic. I don’t want it to be so-so. That model was an extreme success, and then it just snowballed. Originally, I wanted to keep very few models on the electric bike side but then I changed my strategy. The space was growing, and the experience requirements were growing as well. Customer’s developed a taste, and I decided we couldn’t be stuck here.” Currently, SONDORS is preparing to launch 12 new models, including the Metacycle – a machine that moves SONDORS into the realm of the electric motorcycle. Weighing close to 300 pounds, the Metacycle employs a weld-free cast aluminum ‘exo-frame’ that surrounds a 4,000 watt hour battery. At 8 x 4 x 3 inches and just 7 pounds, the removable and transportable battery will charge in 3 hours and 45 minutes using a 110-volt U.S. home outlet -- able to take the Metacycle up to 80 miles per charge with a top speed of 80 mph.

First production versions of the MetaCycle will start shipping in a few months: it's the most eagerly awaited electric motorcycle in history, and a potential game-changer for the industry, with its low price and useful performance. [SONDORS]
“This is very similar to the e-bike mindset, where we are shying away from motorcycle riders,” Storm explains. “I don’t personally believe that motorcyclists are the right people to embrace what we’re creating at SONDORS. What we want to do, we want a mass market audience. We’d like California to be like Bali, where one lane is just scooters and motorcycles.” Storm came to embrace the idea of a more powerful, motorcycle-like machine because he felt that market was somewhat neglected. “We didn’t come in here to compete with motorcycle companies, they’ve done their work, but once you go electric it really democratizes the space. Right now, its price driven and experiential. Is the machine narrow enough? Is it light enough? Is it scary? If it’s scary, it’s not going to work for most people and that’s what drives us. I don’t view this so much as a motorcycle space, but as a two wheeler space as a viable alternative to (internal-combustion) vehicles. I think we’re on the verge of real growth here as long as we stay away from what the average person perceives as a motorcycle. We’re not here following; we want to create new riders who will get their motorcycle license to ride something that’s a legitimate alternative to their car.”

Ever cast an aluminum chassis? Getting it done without porosity issues is a vexing process, but Storm thinks he's got suppliers who can do it right at the right price. [SONDORS]
At the start of SONDORS, Storm says, “It was so crazy busy back then, once I got into production, I was more excited to be in the present and less worried about what the future was going to look like. I was in my element. I was in the factory, on the creative side, on the testing side. There was so much going on at that point that I kind of felt complete. Money has never been my motivation, and I wasn’t calling venture capitalists looking for investment,” and he concludes, “I didn’t feel I set out to participate in an industry. I simply set out to create a new option for people wanting to go electric.”

 

 

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

The Current News: June 23, 2022

Hello dear readers and riders! Before we dive into this week’s roundup, we wanted to draw your attention to some pretty exciting stuff happening over in Europe this weekend.

Reload Land, Europe’s first ever all-electric motorcycle festival, is taking place in Berlin, Germany from June 24 to 26. Exhibitors include both big-name brands, like Deus and Zero, and lesser-known EV companies, including Ovaobikes and Black Tea Motorbikes. It's being hosted by our friends at Craftwerk Berlin, so if you’re over in Germany, be sure to check it out!

Reload Land is coming up this weekend. Look for more info on their webpage, and on their Instagram page.

If you know of any cool events or new EVs we should cover, drop us a line at stephanie@thevintagent.com. Now, without further ado, let’s roll into this week’s top EV stories.

 

Citroën's Compact Khaki Buggy Sold Out in Minutes

The metallic khaki Citrôën Mehari EV was an instant hit, as is their base model. [Citrôën]

Earlier this week, French carmaker Citroën released a limited production run of their My Ami Buggy concept. While 1,800 customers wanted to scoop up their own khaki-green compact EV, all 50 buggies sold out in just 17 minutes. While the standard model costs about $9,200, the premium khaki buggy had a price tag of about $10,300. Over in Europe, Citroën has enjoyed mild success, selling around 21,000 models. Any person over the age of 15 can legally drive the My Ami on public roads because it’s classified as a quadricycle.

 

Audi to Recycle EV Batteries for e-Rickshaws

Finally, an automaker grappling with the major issue of battery recycling. Or, in this case, re-purposing the batteries for a low-demand vehicle. [Audi]
Luxury automaker Audi has partnered with German-Indian non-profit Nunam to give used electric car batteries a second chance at life. Audi will recycle the batteries they use for test vehicles to power an e-tron rickshaw fleet. To do this, Audi is funding Nunam, which is bringing e-Rickshaws to India. The startup developed three rickshaw prototypes in collaboration with Audi’s training team. A pilot project is slated to hit the roads early next year.

 

Meet the World’s First Solar-Powered Production Car

It's been mused for years, and there have been cross-country contests, but a solar-power car just might work for limited or slow runs. [Lightyear]
Netherlands-based startup Lightyear just dropped the world’s first solar-powered production car. Dubbed the Lightyear 0, the vehicle will be able to drive over 6,800 miles a year without a charge thanks to its “double-curved solar array,” which takes up over 54 sq.ft. on the car’s roof, front, and rear. The EV is powered by four in-wheel electric motors that churn out a combined 174ps of power. It took over six years of research and development to make the Lightyear 0 production-ready. The company states that their car is the world’s most energy-efficient electric vehicle, only consuming 10.5kWh for every 62 miles traveled.

 

FedEx is Going Electric

Now you can lose your packages and go green as well as red! FedEx unveils its new fleet. [Fedex]
Earlier this week, FedEx received their first batch of 150 Zevo 600 e-Trucks from BrightDrop. The vehicles are the first of a larger order that includes over 2,500 electric trucks.  The vans, available in two different models, can travel up to 250 miles on a single charge. Walmart has taken notice of the startup’s vans and put in an order for some 5,000 vehicles.

 

Volvo Developed First Hydrogen Articulated Hauler

Haulin' hydrogen: Volvo's commercial truck division is a global heavyweight, and they're looking towards a greener future. [Volvo]
Volvo recently announced that they have partnered with PowerCell Sweden and a handful of research organizations to develop a hydrogen fuel-cell articulated hauler prototype. The construction dump truck will tip the scales at 35 tons, has a four-hour operating time, and will carry 12.5kg of hydrogen.

 

 

 

Stephanie Weaver is the EV Editor at The Vintagent, and a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she's not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.

 


Brooklands History by Postcard

Dai Gibbison sent me scans of some old postcards depicting Brooklands under construction and in its first days of racing, 1907 and 1908.  The first photo shows the bridge near the Test Hill, which is still extant, and the cars don't have enough speed to utilize the banking at this date. When the course was built in 1907 by Hugh Locke-King (on his own property, using his own money), the speeds possible for cars and motorcycles would barely top 60-70mph, not enough to justify the near-vertical banking at the top of the track. Clearly someone envisioned higher speeds necessitating the banks - it took until 1913 for a car to reach 100mph on the track, and 1921 for a motorcycle. Too bad they hadn't built the track in a manner to ensure it remained smooth - the surface was notoriously bumpy on the joins between the concrete paving. There is a good timeline on the construction and history of Brooklands here.

The Members' Bridge at Brooklands, which still exists, although the track is a ruin. [The Vintagent Archive]
The second photo shows the Clubhouse with its charming green bell-dome, which now holds a museum and the offices of the Brooklands Society. Those low lean-to sheds to the left of the clubhouse are surprisingly still there as well, and now shelter racing cars before they enter the track on demonstration days. Third photo shows the 'public enclosure', which nowadays is overgrown or built over with new construction. If you click on the pic, you'll see the Victorian outfits (those hats!) and a sporting runabout parked on the grass. Anyone for a picnic? By 1909, an aerodrome was built in the middle of the track, but I don't see it these color postcards, so they must be ca. 1908 - certainly they're pre-WW1. The trees have grown considerably since then as well, and now a shiny Mercedes Benz delivery center/test track sits across the river, just behind the Clubhouse, which would sit right between those two trees.

The Brooklands Clubhouse, which also still exists, and currently houses the Brooklands Museum. [The Vintagent Archive]

The Public Enclosure was a lovely spot for a picnic, although its totally overgrown now, and partially developed as a shopping mall. [The Vintagent Archive]
The construction of the track was a feat in itself, as the banking was created by moving earth to create huge berms 30' high. The concrete track is 100' wide, and the circuit was ~2.8 miles long; all this cost £150,000, representing an enormous sum in those days. The bottom 3 postcards show the method of constructing the banking and laying the concrete, which was mostly done by hand, although a small railway was installed temporarily to help remove or create earthen hills. Clearly the name 'Brooklands' hadn't been applied to the nascent circuit, as it's still called 'Weybridge Motor Track' in these 1906 postcards. (As an aside, these photos look incredibly bleak to me, as do many from the turn of the century - is it the muddy hard work and animal smells which show through, or crude photographic composition, or?).

The construction of the banking at Brooklands, which involved an earth base and concrete poured on top. [The Vintagent Archive]
All this is in total contrast to the construction of the Montlhéry circuit in France, which rivalled Brooklands for speed events. Montlhéry is an engineered concrete and steel structure - no earthen banks, just a lot of reinforced concrete beams and posts holding up the banking (see the history here). Not enough of Brooklands remains to give a riding impression, but I've ridden the Montlhéry banking at speed on a Velocette MkVIII KTT and several other vehicles, and riding nearly horizontal to the ground at 100mph is a most unusual sensation!

Built by hand! And many horses; ironic given the nature of the racing on the track, which was intended to promote technological development of the automobile. [The Vintagent Archive]
The bottom photo was recently sent to me, showing some of the serious horsepower used to haul material and grade the banking here as the Railway Straight. This part of the track, while badly decomposing and covered in moss, can still be seen across the road from a new shopping mall in Byfleet.

Horses for (motor) courses! What it took to build the banking with an earthen base: a lot of horses. [The Vintagent Archive]
Finally, how the motoring press saw Brooklands in 1910: this is a Motor Cycle illustration, looking mighty heroic, although speeds would have been in the 60mph range...[The Vintagent Archive]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


DKW's Remarkable Streamliners

The incredible photo below was taken on October 26, 1938, during 'World Record Week', a week of racing sponsored by the Ministry for Sport in Nazi Germany, on the new autobahn just outside Frankfurt-am-Main.  It's a fairly straight and flat autobahn deemed suitable for land speed racing, and I presume the 'Record Week' meant that the various car and motorcycle factories had access to the autobahn for a period of time during each day, and the timekeeping facilities/staff were kept on hand full-time.

The future, from the past. The amazing DKW streamlined recrod-breaker from 1938. [The Vintagent Archive]
DKW participated 500cc model (a supercharged two-stroke twin of course, since that's what the factory was racing at the time), and the body was designed by streamlining expert Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, the inventor in 1936 of the chopped tail on cars (later called the 'Kamm' tail after Wunibald Kamm developed the idea). The Baron used windtunnel testing at F.K.F.S. in Stuttgart - home of DKW - to find vehicle shapes with minimal drag. The tail on this bike (not a 'Kamm' tail - that was designed for cars as a production compromise to 'ideal' streamlining) features a novel 'air brake'; the end of the tail fin has two flaps which can spread out to create drag.

Baron Reinhard von Koenig-Fachsenfeld, demonstrating the air brake on the DKW streamliner. [The Vintagent Archive]
I don't know if those flaps are hydraulic, or if the rider had a 'brake pedal' to push, or perhaps even linked braking, as seen on Rudges of the period. There were aerodynamic problems with the DKW's full enclosure, though, and a combination of handling issues (the record runs in '38 had to be abandoned due to prevailing winds), and poor rider visibility/fumes/discomfort while sealed into the 'egg' put paid to this remarkable shape.

The open-topped DKW streamliner, found necessary after wind buffeting and fumes/heat made record runs dangerous. [Private Collection]
Thus, in later runs, the top of the streamliner was cut off, to the level shown on the pic above. This version still had handling issues, and the enclosure was cut down further to the shape seen below; interesting as this progression presages the trend from 'dustbin' fairings to 'dolphin' fairings in GP racing, post-war. Dustbins and other front-wheel enclosing streamliners are extremely sensitive to side winds, and can be dangerous at high speeds. Leaving the front wheel 'in the breeze' makes a huge difference to the ability of the machine to take an angular blast of wind, and remain stable enough to make course corrections.

Another DKW streamliner shape, wtih a dummy rider for wind-tunnel testing. [Private Collection]
Several factories in Europe experimented with enclosures on their fastest machines during the 1930s, most famously BMW and Gilera, and put up some very fast speeds before the War - almost 200mph from 500cc ohc engines.  They are amazingly sculptural, but not especially stable!

The plans for the original DKW fully enclosed streamliner. [Private Collection]
DKW began building motorcycles in 1922, the 142cc Reichsfahrmodell, and by the 1930s was the largest motorcycle factory in the world.  They always used two-stroke engines, even in their automobiles, designed by Hugo Ruppe originally.  Ruppe's racing engines used the ladepumpe system, using an auxiliary piston to force the gas/air mix into the combustion chamber via the crankcase - a kind of two-stroke supercharging.  When Adolf Schnürle developed a new porting system for two-strokes (as used on every two-stroke motor since, and to this day) DKW were the first to license the technology in 1932, with Arnold Zoller adapting the design for DKW. Schnürle's patented porting system, when used with a tuned exhaust (or better, with expansion chambers), produced excellent fuel scavenging principles and much more power than a four-stroke engine: they're the reason why all GP bikes turned to two-stroke motors by the 1970s!

An earlier version of the DKW record-breaker, a 250cc model from the early 1930s. The DKW two-stroke engines were remarkably powerful, a 5-piston design with an integral supercharger! Note the 'Audi' logo on the tail - DKW was one of the four founding partners of Auto Union, with Wanderer, Horch, and Audi. Note also the gorgeous finned casting for the cylinder, and the 'egg' enclosure of the motor. [Private Collection]
But for racing, the Schnürle system was problematic, especially with a supercharger, which blew the fuel mix right through the combustion chamber and out the exhaust pipe.  DKW's solution was a split-piston design, in which fuel was drawn into one cylinder, then pushed into another cylinder for combustion, making it possible to compress the fuel mixture for maximum power, at the expense of complication!  Thus, DKW's 'twin cylinder' two stroke racers of the 1930s actually had five pistons: two pairs of split-piston combustion chambers, and one supercharging Ladepumpe!  These made wickedly fast 250cc and 350cc road racers, of the type that won the Isle of Man Lightweight TT in 1938, with Ewald Kluge riding.  The 500cc two-stroke streamliners were not ultimately as successful as their smaller siblings, regardless their wicked bodywork. After WW2, DKW continued developing road and racing two-strokes, including their remarkable 'Singing Saw' three-cylinder racers, featured here.

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Electric Revolutionaries: JT Nesbitt Interviewed

Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d’Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of ‘what is a car or motorcycle?’

JT Nesbitt is a legend for his fiercely independent status in the motorcycle world, and two of his designs - the Confederate Wraith and G2 Hellcat - are among the most distinctive designs of the 20th Century. A New Orleans native,  JT received his Master of Fine Arts from Louisiana Tech University’s School of Design.  A stint writing for Iron Horse magazine led to a job with Matt Chambers of Confederate Motorcycles, and after Confederate left New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, he founded Bienville Studios, and drove his Magnolia Special CNG car across the USA, setting a record for an alternative fuel vehicle.  When Matt Chambers changed course on his bespoke motorcycle business to focus on electric vehicles as the Curtiss Motorcycle Co., JT Nesbitt joined him once again to design The Curtiss One.  While JT’s earlier designs flexed with aggressive, exposed structures, the One is an entirely different animal: elegant in an old-world way, with Art Nouveau lines and a joie de vivre surely reflecting his New Orleans roots.

JT Nesbitt awheel on his latest design, Curtiss Motorcycles' The One, in prototype form.  The production version uses carbon fiber suspension arms. [Curtiss]
Paul d'Orléans interviewed JT Nesbitt in January 2022, with the assistance of our EV Editor Stephanie Weaver, and their conversation is below, lightly edited for clarity.  It's a long interview, and full of gems!

Paul d'Orléans (PDO): Are you in New Orleans?

T Nesbitt (JT): Yeah, I'm joining you all from the what is now our [Curtiss Motorcycles] manufacturing facility.  I'm in the electrical subassembly area of my shop, and this is where I do all the tuning; it's all done via computer, the same computer that I'm talking to you with right now.  We're going to be lifting torque values, raising the torque limits.

PDO: Whose software are you using?

JT: We've engaged with the company called New Eagle, and they do a lot of EV integration This is a whole new world for me. I mean, I've built a fuel injected wiring harness before, but I've never done anything like all this high voltage stuff, I mean it's dangerous. I've learned more in the past two years than I learned in the past 10.

You know, New Orleans actually has a pretty vibrant history of motorcycle manufacturing. Here's one for for Paul, I bet you maybe you know this; in 1952 when Indian went out of business, the second largest producer of motorcycles in the United States was Simplex.


The Simplex motorcycle from New Orleans was once the second largest motorcycle manufacturer in the USA. [Mecum]
PDO: That's right, I've written something about Simplex for a Mecum auction. It's kind of like who? Sorry Simplex!  But they became the second biggest manufacturer of motorcycles in the USA for years.  So are you in the old simplex factory?

JT: No, it's not that poetic. The old Simplex factory is now a Home Depot on Carrollton Ave. The funny thing is, it's a history that that people here in New Orleans don't celebrate because it's so crazy that it could actually happen here. But it's legit; the next motorcycle factory in New Orleans was Confederate. I'm going to call the Legacy Project, because it was serious production. So Curtiss is actually the 3rd bite of the apple.

PDO: Let's just dig right into this: how long you been working on the Curtiss project?

JT: To be a motorcycle designer. I think you have to know a lot about motorcycles.  You and I are kind of birds of a feather, we really embrace that history.

PDO: Right, nerds!

JT: Moto nerds. I'm a blood and guts kind of guy, and other designers are more conceptual. Well, it brings it brings up the whole question about contemporary motorcycle design.

PDO: And why is it so ******* awful? I wrote when the new Indian FT series came out, 'this looks like a remarkable motorcycle. But why did they make the engine so ugly?' Do people think it doesn't matter anymore?

JT: Well, you know what I think man. I think it's about who your heroes are.  In all the time that I've been interviewing interviewing motorcycle design guys, the first question you should ask them is 'who are your heroes?'  And in the EV world, it seems like their hero is Elon Musk. Not known for his exceptional taste. Elon Musk is not a motorcycle designer. He not even an automotive designer; he's a visionary, which is a different matter. Therefore, he is not my hero. Steve Jobs is not my hero.

PDO: So who are your heroes then?

JT: well, let me let me show you something - I want to ask your opinion. What's the most valuable motorcycle in the world?

PDO: The most valuable? Well...

Glenn H. Curtiss aboard his remarkable record-breaker built around his V8 dirigible motor in 1907. The machine now lives in the Smithsonian Museum. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: [Shows photo of 1907 Curtiss V8] I could tell you what that's one of them.

PDO: That's one of them.

JT: So, the Vincent [that currently holds the record for most expensive vehicle at auction] is a very cool motorcycle, right? But this is a national treasure. This lives in the Smithsonian. It's not in private hands. It could never be in private hands. So who are my heroes? Well, Glenn Curtis, who went 136 miles an hour in 1907. Yeah, I'll take that guy.

PDO: On a machine of his own construction.

JT: That's right: design, manufacture, construction and riding. Amazing what a what a person.

PDO: And he never crashed an airplane that he designed.

Glenn H. Curtiss; builder of the first American V-twin motorcycle, the first successful motorized dirigible, and the first successful airplane, among other things. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: Actually, he invented the airplane.

PDO: Pretty much so, I think: his was the first to take off under its own power, and return to its start location.

JT: The Wright brothers had a kite with a little lawn mower engine in it.

PDO: You don't have to tell me: I'm firmly in the Curtis camp on this one. The Wright brothers needed a slingshot to launch their kite with a little putt putt on the back,  and Curtiss made an airplane that you could actually maneuver.

JT: Yeah, take off:  the Wright brothers hated him.  It's about ailerons - Curtiss invented the aileron instead of the wing-warp thing the Wrights used. That's a good place to start, don't you think?

PDO: Yeah, for sure Glenn Curtis's probably the original. I mean, it's just a shame that he basically gave up motorcycle manufacturing in 1912. I mean he licensed his name after that, but only briefly, to carry on motorcycle  manufacturing. But then he just became involved in airplanes.

JT: So you know, people who are real motorcycle geeks know the Glenn Curtis story. But sadly, very few people know the history of the things they love.

PDO: Well, that's why I'm so excited to be talking to you.

JT: Because your audience gets it.

JT Nesbitt at the Electric Revolutionaries exhibit at the Petersen Museum, in which he is featured. [Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]
PDO: For sure. I love your take on design being about heroes, and who inspires you. That's great.  I'm friends with several OEM designers who are motorcycle history guys as well.  But they're also working within the strictures of an internal combustion industry which is heavily regulated, and with a Board which is in an intermediary between their passions and the product, that must ultimately be sold and delivered.  So there's a lot of compromise on their designs. I feel sorry for internal combustion designers, unless they're customizers, which I think is why a lot of very talented people go into custom machinery and not into manufacturing.

JT: Because that whole world is dead. I mean it, it's just gone, there's no way to fix it, not not in our lifetime and moving forward. Then all these cars are going to be self-driving at some point, and I think in the fairly near future everybody's going to have transportation pods...except for motorcyclists, because there's almost no way to make a computer understand how to self-drive a thing that requires countersteer. So the only freedom the only freedom  in 50-60 years is going to be on two wheels, right?

PDO: I agree, and it'll be safe because all the cars will be programmed to avoid them. It'll be the greatest time to ride motorcycles since 1912.

JT: Here's the question for you. What are the electric motorcycles that are being made now? How are they going to be viewed in 50, 60, 70 years?

PDO: They'll be the awkward Pioneers.

JT: No, they're all going to be on the trash pile. They're going to be in a landfill.  Except for the Curtiss One. Because this one is designed to last forever.

PDO: In what ways - talk to us about that?

'This motorcycle is like a tube amplifier', says JT Nesbitt. An all-aluminum prototype of the Curtiss One. [Curtiss]
JT: This motorcycle [Curtiss One] is like a tube amplifier. It has the least amount of connectivity, the least amount of circuit boards, and digital bric-a-brac. Like I said in the video, this is an analog electric experience. I have a lot of Macintosh audio equipment, and the one thing that that you can't get repaired is the CD players. Everything else you can get repaired. But when it goes that far down the digital rabbit hole, it is inherently going to become obsolete.  [The Curtiss One] doesn't have complicated displays. There's no servo motors that make things happen, there's no screens with modes to fail, our VCU is the simplest VCU we can get. We don't have traction controls. We don't have crazy modes. All of that stuff in 50 years is what's going to fail. So all the other guys, I'm not going to mention any names, but the other guys, there aren't going to be vintage electric motorcycles from them.

PDO: When I curated our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we featured the Mission One, built way back in 2009. A dear friend of mine, Mitch Pergola, who actually used to work for me, was President of a design firm called fuseproject, belonging to Yves Béhar.  He's an internationally famous product designer, who teamed up with a bunch of ex-Tesla employees who called themselves Hum Cycles, which became Mission Motors.  They built the first electric sportbike - the Mission One - and it debuted in January of 2009, and Mitch did me the favor of letting me break the story: I wrote about it for The Vintagent. When I curated Custom Revolution, I reached out to my Mitch and we eventually tracked down the Mission One.  Mission Motors only built two motorcycles.

JT: And then they got hired by Harley, the Mission Motors design became the basis of the LiveWire.

PDO: Seth LaForge eventually found the Mission One and the Mission R racer. The Mission One went to the Isle of Man, and was featured in the Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalog in 2009!  Definitely the first eBike there.  Anyway, I asked Seth, who owns both bikes, 'can we can we ride this around?'  He said, 'no man if you try to charge this thing up, it'll probably burst into flame because of the old batteries; we would have to remanufacture batteries because they're obsolete now.'  And we're talking like 9 years later, and it's an important piece of history. It was the first electric sportbike. It's a beautiful machine, and it was the first time a famous designer had put put their hands on an electric motorcycle; it's super important to history but can't be ridden.  It was an interesting lesson. I'm so used to dealing with old motorcycles, you know; it doesn't matter how old it is...1904?  Sure, man, it's just basic principles. You get the clearances right, you sort the parts, it'll run.

Since this January 2022 interview, Seth LaForge has rebooted the 2009 Mission R with new batteries, and rode it on The Quail Ride: surely the most historic machine among the 100 bikes present. [Paul d'Orléans]
JT: That is no longer true with with digital and a battery. You've seen you've seen pictures of the motorcycle, our battery is in that cylinder. That's an aluminum extrusion, and is internally and externally finned. So that extreme vision is our leader.  To be able to swap a battery pack out, once you know you're what you're doing, it's 2 1/2 hours. It's like swapping out a motor.  So, it drops, you can actually see the hardware that holds it in. When you're looking at the motorcycle, that whole extrusion drops out; the back of it comes off, the front of it comes off. You push that battery pack out and put in whatever is the latest and greatest.The EV guys who are making bikes right now, the reason why their proportions are so off is 2 reasons: one is most of them are buying in their batteries. The reason is that they're so worried about range that they're trying to stack in these battery packs that are available today, right? With no consideration for what's going to be happening in five years. The progression is a 10% increase almost every year in battery capacity. So I'll put it to you this way: our bike has less range and that's a choice that I made, because this bike is in it for the long haul, so the future is going to fix our range problem. I wouldn't call it a problem, actually. It's going to increase our range, but the future can't fix ugly.

PDO: What a great quote!

A pair of remarkable Confederate Wraiths during Pebble Beach week, 2009, after being road-tested by Paul d'Orléans and then Confederate Board President Francois-Xavier Terny (now also working in EVs with Erik Buell, at Fuell). [Paul d'Orléans]
JT: So I think, what are these guys are doing? They're so concerned with with sales that they're missing the point: good design is forever.

PDO: And so is bad design.

JT: Right?

PDO: I'm so with you. And you know the truth of the matter is, it's just my personal editorial policy, we just don't cover something if we don't like it, you know, it's like, I don't need to tell the world that this thing is ******* ugly. You know whatever it is, the world will decide this.  I'm often shocked at how little taste people can have, but in general, people vote with their feet, they'll let you know in the comments section how freaking ugly they think something is.

JT: Well, everybody thinks the Curtiss One is ugly.

Breathtakingly unique and beautiful; the Curtiss One. [Curtiss]
PDO: That's not true, actually. You you may be hearing that because you're a designer, but when I look at the comments section, when I post a photo or a video of the Curtiss One, two out of 10 are saying that's ugly. The other eight are like holy ****,  so I I don't agree with you.

JT: I think it's because we're getting lumped in with the other EVs. And not getting putting the bike in in context. All right, let's pull up the image of that Moto Guzzi.  I'm a huge fan of William Henderson, but my heroes are Glenn Curtis and Carlo Guzzi. There's something about the radially finned cylinder [of a Moto Guzzi Falcone], man, I don't know why I'm so crazy about that. I've never been able to give that radially-finned round object out of my head. It's just lovely, isn't it? It's the best part of the motorcycle.

A 1951 Moto Guzzi Falcone; an inspiration for JT Nesbitt. [Mecum]
PDO: Yeah, I mean, they're fantastic. They're gorgeous. I see where your inspiration lies.

JT: And it's funny that the Guzzi singles are not better known. I mean, Carlo Guzzi was amazing, and what a life.

PDO:  Yeah, Moto Guzzi probably, of any motorcycle manufacturer ever, had the greatest range of engine designs they explored: single cylinder, V twin, V 8,  inline triple, inline4 four It's like incredible what they built.

JT: You can't go to the Moto Guzzi Museum and not be overwhelmed with the amount of sheer joy that man lived his life with. That's my hero as far as how do you live? What's a life well lived ? And Carlo Guzzi nailed that.

PDO: Absolutely.

The 1931 Indian 402 four-cylinder has a distinctive stance and silhouette, and was a big influence on The One. [Mecum]
JT: Let's look at some American four-cylinders: Henderson, Ace, and Indian.  Look how beautiful this Indian 402 is.   So, if you overlay my bike with the Indian, and draw a line at the top of the motorcycle, and at the bottom, and here's our wheels, and distance between the wheels, the wheelbase...what you're going to find is something very, very similar to our bike. What do you see here? [Shows overlaid images]

PDO: I see your motorcycle - it's almost the same silhouette, that's amazing.

The catalog for the 1957 NSU Supermax. [The Vintagent Archive]
JT: Alright, let's look at the NSU Supermax. It was designed by Albert Roder. You know who Roder was? He's like really underrated and kind of unknown for some reason.

PDO: It's partly because NSU got sold to Volkswagen in 1969, and the problem with so many of these companies, it wasn't convenient for car manufacturers to celebrate motorcycle DNA. So they become these lost characters.

JT: Here's something you may or may not know. In 1953, I believe it was when the NSU Max debuted, Soichiro Honda bought one.

PDO: Of course he did.

JT: And they reverse-engineered it and that's what became the Honda Dream. He took this beautiful shape that we're looking at, with all these sensuous curves, which I have absolutely used on my bike. All these beautiful curves.  Soichiro Honda took this and he squared it all off.  Like everything. The headlights square and the shocks are square.  He took the most beautiful little motorcycle ever and ruined it.  But, one of the things that he did is copy the shift pattern. NSU was strange for a European motorcycle because it shifted on the left. The reason why all motorcycles now shift on the left? It's because of what we're looking at right now.

PDO: I think the Japanese had a different agenda around design. I've thought a lot about Japanese science fiction and their motorcycle designs after the War. It's just fascinating, but anyway, that's a little too esoteric for this discussion.  But yeah, as far as I know through my research, Soichiro Honda visited the NSU factory in 1955, when they were at the top of their game winning every Grand Prix race they entered.
And they shared everything with him, and he may have even - I've never been able to confirm this - they may have sold him an obsolete racing engine. And that was the true basis of the twin-cylinder overhead camshaft Honda design.

JT: Let's look at that image of the NSU one more time. One of the things I want you to notice about this, Paul is the distance between the exhaust pipe and the front fender. It's so tight. And if you look at the Curtis One in the sport position with the 27 degree rake, you'll see this super tight clearance between the front fender and the battery zone. Something you could never achieve with a telescopic front end, right?  Can we look at the Imme You know that bike?

The Imme R100 designed by Norbert Reidel. [Mecum]
PDO: Of course,  I think it's the most brilliant example of economical design in motorcycle history. It's incredible.

JT: Tell me why?

PDO: Because they use a single-diameter of tubing in the whole chassis, and duplicate functions; the swing arm is the exhaust pipe, it's crazy. He he took it a little bit too far, though, because he was into this whole one-sided thing and used a an overhung single-sided crankshaft which was the weak point, and bankrupted the company because it failed early and they had warranty claims. But what an incredible design.

JT: You know he drank a little of his too much of his own Kool-aid,  but the chassis worked. What this motorcycle represents is true minimalism.  That doesn't mean minimalism as a styling key. Because its styling is not minimalist, right? It has no flat surfaces. This isn't a minimalist styling exercise. It's actual minimalism. Minimalism is about the bill of materials and parts reuse. What I'm drawing from Norbert Reidel, from his most excellent project, is the ability to reuse parts in very creative ways. I don't know if you've noticed on our bike,  but the suspension members are all the same. Have you noticed that?

The single part for the suspension arms for the Curtiss One appear in 4 places, flipped and reversed: a difficult design choice, as any change for one use changes the design for all uses. [Curtiss]
PDO: I had not actually.

JT:  So our girder our girder blades: part #1, quantity 4. There's no fore and aft,  and there's no port and starboard. It's the same part that does all of the suspension work on the motorcycle. Which is way more difficult to design, because if you make a change on the front right, it changes the front left and the rear right and the rear left. It changes it in three other places.  So it's a lot more work, but at the end of the day, you get this melody.  The Imme has it has a melody to it, because of its minimalism.

PDO: That makes sense. It's like a Steve Reich composition, if you repeat things and then have a variation on a theme,  you create a new kind of music.

Alexander Calder's mobile sculpture 'Vertical Foliage. [Calder Foundation]
JT: Well, let's let's have a look at a Calder sculpture,  OK? It's so lyrical. This on is 'Vertical Foliage', from 1941. It's one of my favorite works. When I look at these shapes and the way that they interact, not only with themselves, but with the negative space; it makes a lot of sense. This is who I followed in school, and I was a Fine Arts major.

PDO: So was I.

JT: There you go. Who'd you follow?

PDO: I was a huge fan of Max Beckmann and the Expressionist and the Blue Rider group in Germany and people like that. This was the early 1980s, I was into punk, and for me it was about expression. But I certainly learned my art history up and down.

JT: OK, I love Calder, Calder invented kinetic sculpture. And kinetic sculpture actually translates quite well into our chosen passion. Sculpture that moves, and what we love are sculptural things that move.

PDO:  Would that more designers adhered to such a philosophy, or acknowledged it, or even looked at art. God knows what they're looking at these days.

JT: Or had any philosophy?

PDO: Can we kind of explore the importance of beauty to you? You know, a form over function almost. Can you talk about that?

Not a bushing to be found on the Curtiss One: this $75 needle roller bearing required a unique 15mm shouldered bolt to fit. [Curtiss]
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JT: OK, let's have a look at this.  So I think this is one of the most beautiful parts on the motorcycle.  This is our hardware; I designed all of our own hardware. And I designed it because of this bearing. So this is a very rare bearing; a double-row sealed needle bearing with a 15 millimeter shaft. There are no shoulder bolts for 15 millimeter shafts. Therefore you have to make one. So if you look at our bolt, you see a little lip on the inside of it. That fits a fiber washer that serves as a guard for a 15 millimeter double sealed needle bearing.  There's a chamfer on the center; that's so that our tool is self centered.  The little divot is for a set screw that actually locks the bolt in place. This system is used everywhere on the motorcycle where there's reciprocating motion. We don't have a single bushing on this motorcycle. There is no stiction anywhere. As you well know, with hydraulic fork tubes, one of their main issues is stiction. This eliminates all the stiction.  And this bearing retails for $75. When people ask me 'why is this motorcycle so expensive?' It's because this bearing is 75 bucks. Just this. So when it comes to beauty, there's a great quote by Ettore Bugatti: "There is nothing that is too beautiful or too expensive."

PDO: I love that. Sounds like something Coco Chanel would say.

The 'tool kit' of the Curtiss One: "This is every tool needed to adjust the rake, trail, compression, rebound, preload, ride height, footpeg location, 2-up or solo seat, handlebard width/angle/pullback/height, steering neck bearing tension, kickstand/centerstand height, and completely dismantle the machine. Took kits are a symbol of self-reliance." JT Nesbitt. [Curtiss]
JT: So my my point is that beauty is not a goal, it's an outcome of solid engineering.  Everything that's on this bike, every decision that was made, everything you see visually, it's 100% engineering. There's actually no styling on it. And Paul, I'm going to take you to task on that, because you said, 'oh, it looks like some architectural stuff.' I'm gonna show you why it looks like that. This is our chassis aluminum side plate. So it needs to be so it can be threaded, so that we don't have to have nuts. It's self-supporting and threaded,  so I need to have some some beef to it, but if we made the whole thing that thick it would weigh a ton. These pockets are machined to lighten it. These are lightening pockets. But they do a second job; they're also structural to connect the part that experiences the most stress to the motor mount.The part that is the most stressed is the steering neck. The other advantage of the lightening ribs is that you increase the surface area, because it's a heat sink. It's unlike any other EV motorcycle chassis, which more or less an adaptation of a tube chassis. And motorcycle tube chassis are designed to isolate the motor, to isolate the heat and vibration of a motor. Ours are different because we have two other components that get hot, the inverter and the onboard charger. You need someplace for that heat to go so these ribs, increase the surface area. These are cooling fins.

PDO: Of course they are!

The raw chassis of the Curtiss One, showing the finned battery housing and chassis ribs. [Curtiss]
JT: So the way the bike looks, what you would mistake for styling is actually thermal management. Now regarding the color, and I think this is quite clever.  There's a little lip machined on our interchangeable water jet cut chassis panels.  The panels can be any material, texture, any color of the rainbow. I can do it in powder coated aluminum, stainless steel, copper, brass, bronze, carbon fiber, aluminum, wood.  I'm waiting for somebody to ask me to give him a wood inlay bike.  It's a way doing a custom motorcycle that's not disruptive to production. They just attach panels in those little in those cavities, it's all machined to accept them. The pinstripes on the bike aren't painted, they are actually water jet cut.Now, this is the swingarm pivot and the output shaft for the driveshaft. This is a shaft-driven motorcycle, believe it or not. This is a really important invention because this is where the swing arm pivots. It's centric with the motor output, and we patented it. And also our kickstands; the reason we have to have these crazy kickstands is that the whole motorcycle adjusts, it's got adjustable rake, which has never been done before. You know that, right?

PDO: Well, Bimota SB2 has an adjustable rake.  We had one in our Petersen Museum exhibit, 'Silver Shotgun'.

JT: It has adjustable offset; functionally the same, but we can have another conversation about that. But no, it's not the same at all.  Adjusting the offset is the angle of your fork, that is not your rake. Your rake is your steering head angle, and that's fixed, right, so you can adjust the offset not the rake. This motorcycle has an adjustable steering head per se. I'm talking about an actual adjustable rake, right?  Rake is dictated your steering axis, which is dictated by your chassis.

PDO: What's your history with EVs?

The Magnolia Special, designed by JT Nesbitt, and driven across the USA on compressed natural gas. [Bienville Studios]
JT: I've built a compressed natural gas (CNG) car and drove it from New York to Los Angeles and established a coast to coast record for all alternative-energy vehicles. That was in 2011 and 2013. Elon Musk took my record from me by building an infrastructure, but he had to build charging stations all the way.

PDO: And he had a grant of $400 million from the government to do that.

JT: I was just a guy in a car with a credit card.  Leno did a did a spot on it for Jay Leno's garage.  When I got to LA, I reached out to Ian Barry. One of my fenders had a hairline crack in it, it used all aluminum fenders and I needed somebody with a welding machine to tack it up. He brought me into his shop and was real nice to me.

PDO: I'm just thinking that you two have a similar philosophy about design. When he's building custom motorcycles, I've written about how he approached reassessing design decisions on existing motorcycles. It's like, OK, let's look at the shifter mechanism on this Triumph. That part was designed by someone within certain parameters.  So how can we re-approach this design problem, and see if we can make something better,  maybe improve it, maybe make it more beautiful, maybe make it lighter. I've talked to a lot of motorcycle designers. and not a lot of them think that way.

JT Nesbitt chatting with Ian Barry of Falcon Motorcycles at the Electric Revolutionaries reception. Ian Barry designed the layout of the exhibit. [Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]
JT: That's the way that we think about a component; how can we push that farther so that we arrive at a completely new destination in terms of the final design? It's like, don't just knock it off and say, OK, that's good enough.  Good enough is not good enough, what we're received is not good enough.  I think a lot of the custom bike builders are really cool guys, but not one of them is thinking about ergonomics.

PDO: Yeah, that's true. I've ridden those bikes. I mean, some of them hurt.

JT: Why go to the trouble of coming up with all those very crafty, clever solutions, yet produce something that doesn't solve one of the most fundamental problems of motorcycles, and that's ergonomics. Something that nobody's talking about.  Now, let me let me grab a part.  [Picks up Curtiss One seat]

Stephanie Weaver: It looks like a horse riding saddle!

JT: Very perceptive - and an English saddle at that.  The problem is that motorcycles ergonomics are all based on the early days of a mashup of a bicycle with a little motor clipped into it. When you're pedaling a bicycle, you don't use the seat. You're standing on the pedals and and any friction that that you would encounter between your thighs and ass would slow you down.  Using bicycle seats on motorcycles is like putting lawn chairs in sports cars. It's crazy. Where should we be looking for inspiration? 2700 years of research and development. That's the interface of man and animal. That's where it all comes from. This is where you grip the motorcycle, and one thing that I've noticed is I can tell when I'm looking at a female riding a motorcycle. They ride differently than men: men do this manspreading thing. Women grab that motorcycle with their knees. Now, why in the hell do we have human beings grabbing a piece of painted steel with the most sensitive parts of your knee? That's crazy. All of the surfaces of of interface between man or woman and machine need to be reconciled. We have to start over with this whole proposition. First principle, originalist thinking dictates that we rethink motorcycle ergonomics, and we make them gender neutral.

The solo seat of the Curtiss One resembles and English riding saddle: "2700 years of research and development." [Curtiss]
PDO: Or toward gender-specific, that's another possibility.

JT: Well, here's the thing, Paul. You've never ridden a motorcycle where you could feel the chassis through your inner thigh, and the it's sensitive part of your knee. No one has. It's delightful because you can really understand what's going on with the exchange of information from the chassis to your body.  It gives you much more confidence, you can actually for the first time really feel what the chassis is doing. The thing is, when you eliminate, all of the vibration, all these little things that you don't really notice on a bike that's buzzing around underneath you start coming to the surface. Because your your mind is now free to think about those things.

PDO: User interface (UI) is a huge industry now.  I actually have a niece who studied brain/computer interface as her postdoctoral research at MIT, and then she went to work for the train industry. Because we haven't designed a new train in the United States since, what, the 1950s really, and you know and and the number one problem with train design is keeping the operators awake and interested.  So you've got this huge investment that's happening in user interface for very specific reasons. For all sorts of industries, but I don't see a lot of UI research going into motorcycling.

JT: It's because all people care about is the way a bike looks on the sides; that's not how how motorcycles are actually seen in the wild. They're all seen with a rider on board. So while this motorcycle [the Curtiss One] might look a little weird, once you snap the person into place, it completes the object. It's incomplete without the rider attached to it.

Can a motorcycle be art? We're in the ballpark here. [Curtiss]
PDO: It's part of the discussion around 'Can a motorcycle be art?' What makes a motorcycle unique is the experience of riding. It leaves art in the dust.  And it's impossible at the current state of museums to present that experience to you as an observer. You can look at a painting or a sculpture, and you can appreciate the design of a motorcycle, but you can't appreciate what makes it truly special until you ride it.  So in a way exhibiting motorcycles in museums is such an incomplete experience. It's like, you missed the point.

JT: You know why people treasure this object? You know it's about the experience. It's completely unique. You know there's nothing, nothing that comes close. But a Vincent, I'd much rather experience it on the side stand.

PDO: Is that right? Well, I love the experience of moving through space under under the power of my right hand, on the throttle or lever or whatever my vintage motorcycle is. And sometimes sometimes they're uncomfortable.  But it's also sheer joy.

JT: I got to tell you man, my Norton Commando is now up for sale. Because I've seen a new way and man, this is  just better.

PDO: You've been ruined!

JT: I have.  It's better because the feeling, the sensation is so much more connected.  The stress level is like down because of all the things that we've done to elevate the riding experience, that analog riding experience. It's just better in every way.  I have no desire to ride my Commando. I'm a Vincent owner who's getting rid of his Vincents.

PDO: How interesting. I can't wait to ride your machine.

JT: I hope that you'll agree with me.

PDO: Well, it's a motorcycle and I love motorcycles. I already think it's beautiful. I'm really curious to see how it feels to ride it.

"Beauty is not a goal, it's an outcome of solid engineering." JT Nesbitt. [Curtiss]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


How You Find Them #1: 1923 Douglas Racer

I'm often asked how I find such rare motorcycles; the answer is being ready to buy when the opportunity arises, and by keeping my eyes open. I found this 1923 ohv 600cc Douglas racer on eBay of all places. I was the only serious bidder; perhaps no one else recognized this seemingly rusty hulk for what it was. I knew that an intact overhead valve racing bike from the early 20's was extremely scarce proposition, especially in basically unmolested condition. I was reminded of my purchase of a 1925 Zenith supercharged JAP twin, in similar condition: a little rusty on the surface, yes, but Australia has a dry climate like Southern California, and metal might have a haze of red, but it doesn't grow real rot, and can easily be cleaned up.

The 1923 Douglas OB/OC racer as advertised on eBay. [Paul d'Orléans]

The seller knew the bike had been raced on the dirt tracks near Sydney in the 1920's and was able to provide a photograph of the machine in the day - ridden by a fellow named Ted Reese. I've subsequently found a photo of an identical machine, ridden by an L.C. Peterson; the bikes are so close in spec and geography that I have to think they are the same machine - that droop of the silencer is distinctive. Both photos were taken near the Newcastle track - Peterson is shown after winning a race on his Douglas. The OC engine of 600cc is from 1924, and would have been a capacity increase, and/or a spare engine!

Original owner! And racer, Ted Reese of Sydney, Australia.  Dirt Track racing, which later became Speedway racing, was the most popular motorsport in the world in the 1920s, surpassing Board Track Racing as that sport died down during WW1: the world had seen enough carnage. [The Vintagent Archive

Douglas was almost alone in 1923 in offering an overhead valve racing machine; almost universally among other manufacturers the norm was a sidevalve engine, as the overhead valve system was considered fragile and unproven. Douglas led the way with successful efforts at Brooklands and the Isle of Man, winning the senior and sidecar TT races in 1923 with machines very similar to this bike (Norton's Model 18 was also introduced in '23... and they fetch astronomical prices). The OB/OC used a total-loss oiling system, with an oil pump driven by the camshaft (inside the airbox). It uses two Amac TT carbs, which are linked by a rod system for synchronized slide movement.

One of legendary racer Freddie Dixon's innovations was the 'still air box' for the carburetors. Note the twin AMAC TT carbs feeding into the box. [Paul d'Orléans]

The airbox was a Freddie Dixon innovation - he reckoned that motorcycles would breathe better using a 'still air box', rather than sucking from a swirl of moving air. He was right, of course, and big ugly airboxes can still be found on motorcycles for the same reason; they make better power breathing still air. The airbox also makes a convenient air filter housing for dirt-track racing, which must have increased the longevity of the piston rings. Douglas made their own 3-speed gearbox, and the clutch is housed within the external flywheel. Two 'dummy rim' brakes, and an EIC twin-spark magneto complete the picture.

The external flywheel houses the clutch, which connects by chain to a Douglas 3-speed gearbox with a cush drive. Final drive is by chain, and all braking is by 'dummy rim'. [Paul d'Orléans]

 

Another Douglas racer of the same period/location. These early OHV Douglas racers were the hottest machines on the planet at the time. [Paul d'Orléans]

Beneath that red dirt (not rust as it turns out) is an original-paint 1923 Douglas racer. [Paul d'Orléans]

[This article was originally published on TheVintagent.com on January 7, 2007.]

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


'10 Wheels and Waves': Biarritz in a Book

Earlier this year I was asked if I'd be interested in writing an introduction to a photographic history of Wheels and Waves Biarritz. I responded, 'who else?'  Which might need a little back story if you haven't been following The Vintagent since 2009.  That's the year the Southsiders MC, whom I'd met at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, invited me to come riding with them in the Pyrenees over a long weekend.  They knew I'd had a rough year, and that the 2009 edition of the Legend concours had been canceled...so why not fly to sunny Biarritz and borrow a Norton Commando to blast around the area with a dozen like-minded vintage motorcycle friends?  

Two page spread of the Punks Peak race on the summit of Jaizkabiel mountain. [10 Wheels and Waves]
From my Introduction for the new book '10 Wheels and Waves':

"If you’d told me that a pays Basque border raid with 13 vintage bikes would come to shift the motorcycle industry, I would not have believed you in 2009.  But the ground was already shifting under our feet, and we felt it. I’d met two of the founding Southsiders MC members [Vincent Prat and Frank Charriaut] at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours in Half Moon Bay. The Concours changed my career, as I started The Vintagent in 2006 to post photos and tell stories about the event; mine was the first old-bike blog.  In 2008 The Southsiders escorted the badass custom ‘Norton Ala’Verde’ to Half Moon Bay, as the Legend was the first Concours in the world to include a Custom Motorcycle category for judging.  It’s where I met the new generation of customizers creating an alternative motorcycle scene right under our noses.  A new energy was building, and we wondered how motorcycles would change."

The ArtRide exhibit showcased exceptional motorcycles and relevant artwork/photography to the scene. [10 Wheels and Waves]
14 years later, it's pretty clear what's changed and is still changing in the motorcycle industry.  If you read my writing in either of 'The Ride' books, or my columns in Cycle World when I was Custom & Style editor, or my recent piece in BikeExif on how customs have influenced OEM design, my thoughts on how the alt.custom motorcycle scene changed the motorcycle industry for the better, dragging the big OEMs out of their slumber, and tricking them into building bikes that resembled what younger riders actually want.   That seems like a tall order for a book about a moto/skate/surf event in southern France, but that little seed of a riding event in June 2009 turned into a behemoth, and its success spawned multitudes of imitation events, but only of its parts (the Punks Peak Sprint was widely copied, for example), and not the whole thing, as that is simply impossible.

Skate and surf culture are a big part of the succesful mix making up Wheels and Waves. [10 Wheels and Waves]
An impressive list of photographers and filmmakers made it to at least one of the past 10 Wheels and Waves events; they're well documented by very talented people.  That didn't make a 200-page book covering ten years of week-long events any easier to assemble, but it did assure that the photography is first rate, guaranteed. '10 Wheels and Waves' is the only official book documenting the event, and is intended as a tribute to all the creativity and hard work it took to make this event a world-beater.  It's a photo history, set against the stunning backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Biarritz, the Basque country in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the wild mountain roads that connect them all.   Plus, of course, the ArtRide exhibits, the Punks Peak racing, the El Rollo flat track, the surfing and skate contests, and the film premieres (we brought the Motorcycle Film Festival to Biarritz twice, and premiered our film 'The Ended Summer' there too).

Some of the significant characters in attendance: the late Austin 'Sugar' Johnson, skater Steve Caballero, photographer Bill Phelps, and clothing manufacturer Keith Hioco. [10 Wheels and Waves]
'10 Wheels and Waves' is at the printer now: you can order a copy here.  The book was assembled by the team at Super Special Magazine, a cafe racer mag from Italy, and the galleys look amazing.  I can't wait to see what all those photographers captured for eternity.   If you'd like to see some of The Vintagent's coverage of Wheels and Waves in the past, including coverage of our co-production of Wheels and Waves California, click here. 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Décor Motor: Spinzi Wheels in the Spice

Decorating with vehicles, yes or no?  It depends on whom you're asking of course, and how crazy they are for their wheels.  For most, the objections of partners at oil/gas/wheels in the home precludes the use of our favorite industrial design objects as home décor, or Décor Motor as I've coined it.  For me, it's an obvious yes, but then again, I don't have a motorcycle in my living room for exactly the reasons mentioned (no names, no recriminations). I am certainly sympathetic to those who would love to gaze at an extraordinary vehicle in their home, but cannot for the sake of domestic harmony, or space.  We share this tragedy. Perhaps a few sterling examples of Décor Motor will tip the scales in our favor?  So, here we go with a new series of interior design with vehicles.

Décor Motor: a vintage Yamaha TT500 in a Baroque palazzo in Turin, with furniture by Tommaso Spinzi. [Luisa Porta]
Furniture designer Tommaso Spinzi is showcasing part of his collection in 'Design of Today 2.0', an exhibition hosted in Turin through June 23, 2022.  His work is an homage to the city’s automotive heritage: Fiat, Lancia, Iveco, Pininfarina, Bertone, Giugiaro, Ghia, and Cisitalia were all founded in Turin.  Design of Today 2.0 is the second design exhibit held in the Baroque Palazzo Martini di Cigala, and is hosted by cultural center Projec_To.  The Palazzo Martini di Cigala was designed in 1716 by Filippo Juvarra, one of the most influential Italian architects of the Baroque period.  It was bombed twice in WW2, but was fully restored to a mixed residential/commercial use from 2012-14, and is now a gem in Turin's city center.

Context is everything! And placing a Yamaha in a Baroque palace is just fantastic. [Luisa Porta]
"With his design cross-contaminating industrial shapes and the automotive world, Spinzi showcases pieces that are the manifesto of his studio’s creative attitude.  His Meccano line, designed to be essential, celebrates the world of mechanics and the lines of Milanese industrial buildings.  His Lamè modular seating can be turned into a sofa, and is influenced by sharp lines of cooling fins, borrowed from the world of air-cooled engines.  Totem, a sculptural composition of worn-out tires, is instead an art installation conceived to shed light on the themes of upcycling and recycling waste from the automotive world. Fusion, finally, is a sideboard from the 1950s that Spinzi turned into a contemporary piece by hand-applying metallic finishing on the front panels, to give a fresh look to the dated panels of this amazing cabinet."

Spinzi's 'Meccano' line celebrates the design heritage of Milan. [Luisa Porta]
A few quick questions for Tommaso Spinzi:

PDO: Is the bike yours?
TS: The Yamaha TT is mine of Course ;-)
PDO: How about the Lancia?
TS: The Lancia Fulvia is borrowed from a friend.  As I’m obsessed with Italian number plates, I wanted to be with the TO - from Turin - I always tend to have mine either with the CO (Como) or MI (Milano) -  that is where I’m from and where I live ( … I’m a pathologic case I know … )
PDO: How about designing with vehicles?
TS: Every Interior that has a style should have cool sculpture in it, right? And sculpture can also be in a form of a car or a motorbike, don’t you agree ?
PDO:  Clearly!  Do you keep your Yamaha indoors?
TS: It was parked in my loft before the exhibition, so of course !

Fins! A novel inspiration for furniture on Spinzi's Lamé line. [Luisa Porta]
Tomasso Spinzi with his vintage Lancia Fulvia in semi-rally mode. [Luisa Porta]
We just might have to make a trip to Turin to check this out; it isn't every day you see a cool Yamaha in a Baroque palazzo!

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Never Gonna Let You Go: Phil Lane's Dunstall

Very few motorcyclists have owned their machine for half a Century, and of those, rarer still is an owned-since-new cafe racer.  High-speed roadsters are the purview of youthful lust and middle-aged captivity, which means they're typically sold against the demands of adulthood, and collected again after the kids leave the house.  That Phil Lane ordered his 1972 Dunstall Norton 810 from Paul Dunstall as a teenager, and that it remains in his ownership in immaculate original condition, places it among the rarest of the rare.  In 1972, the Dunstall 810 was the fastest production roadster in the world, a position Paul Dunstall had held since 1966 with his Dunstall Atlas 750, which was road tested at 131mph.   A Dunstall 810 was tested by Cycle World at 125mph in 1971, with an 11.9sec quarter-mile time, the first time they'd ever run a sub-12sec quarter-mile, making it both the quickest and fastest road-legal motorcycle they'd ever tested. Folks unfamiliar with cafe racer history think Kawasaki held the world's fastest title with their two-stroke triples and KZ900 in the early 1970s, but Dunstall was a sanctioned manufacturer from 1966 onward, and their bikes were faster.

Winner of the Best British award at the 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, Phil Lane's 1972 Dunstall Norton 810, with Chief Judge Somer Hooker, Quail Events' Nikolette Brannan, Phil Lane, and color commentator Paul d'Orléans. [Kahn Media]
In 1972, a 19-year old college student in San Diego spent every penny he had on the down payment for a Dunstall 810, ordering it direct from Paul Dunstall via a clip-out ad in Cycle World. He'd read the test and wanted the best.  And who could blame him?  With Norton's long history of racing success, and Dunstall's current world's fastest status, ordering an 810 still seems a totally logical thing to do.  Phil Lane had years of riding experience, and was ready to up his game from dirt bikes and a Harley-Davidson XLCH, so he went all the way to the top.  The Dunstall 810 became a part of his identity he never abandoned, despite raising a family and starting a career in the auto industry.  The 810 remains his treasure today, but he's only exhibited it twice, with the second time being the 2022 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, which is where The Vintagent's Paul d'Orléans encountered Phil and his Dunstall.  Rolling over the stage of the Quail, and handing Phil the trophy for Best British motorcycle, Paul's observation that Dunstall rearsets were notoriously sloppy started a conversation that continues below.

The cover girl of the Dunstall Power catalogue of 1972: a rare yellow Dunstall 810, which may be Phil Lane's bike, as very few were built in yellow. [Phil Lane archive]
Paul d'Orléans (PDO):  Tell me about your experience at the Quail?

Phil Lane (PL): I read your article [on judging the Quail - click here] and it put a smile on my face.  I was intrigued by the judge's quandary between a classic modern versus a vintage bike for Best of Show.  It took me back to being on the field with the judges; a few guys came over and were all seriousness, judging the bike, and then [Quail judge] Brian Slark came over and said “I know Paul Dunstall, my mum worked in his shop!”  A little later the whole group came back, and they hung a red tag on my handlebars, and at that point the stern look of ‘I’m not going to talk to you' disappeared.  I asked what does the red tag mean? They laughed, but one took me aside and said ‘you already won Best in Class, and are in the running for Best of Show.' That really knocked me over! I’ve only showed the Dunstall at a 'cars ‘n coffee' in Portland!

PDO: The fun part of the judge's job is giving out the awards, but as you read, some awards get special consideration, and arguments!

PL: I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion, and weighted heavy thoughts; I’d never considered that.

Paul Dunstall's London emporium in the late 1960s, showing various finished Norton-based motorcycles and a multitude of go-faster parts. Dunstall used the factory term 'domiracer' for his Atlas-based machines in Featherbed frames, but dropped it for the later Commando-based machines. Note the lower Norton is race-only, and uses a twin-cylinder motor in a Manx chassis with magnesium brakes. [The Vintagent Archive]
PDO: Tell me how you arrived at the decision to order a Dunstall?

PL: I’d had a go kart as a kid, and raced around with it, but the first two-wheeler I found was just a minibike frame, so I took the McCullough engine out of my kart and put it into the minibike. It had these butterfly Sting Ray handlebars that were bolted onto the forks, and I had no idea about all this.  The first bump I hit, the 'bars broke, I had a major crash, and burned my leg on the centrifugal clutch. But I fixed the handlebars and went back at it.

PDO:  So how did you end up with a two-year old Sportster basket case?

PL:  There were a lot of interesting bikes out there for a kid, I’d ridden my whole life in the dirt, and had a 1967 Montesa dirtbike.  When I turned 15 I finally got a permit and could ride on the road. My heart was still in the dirt, still in the desert. I grew up in San Diego and rode on the Desert Flats, now there’s a freeway on it.  I rode every day, and there were always other bikes around. My primary transportation was a Yamaha 250, until it was stolen. When I got the insurance settlement I thought, what would be a step up? My neighbors had an H-D dealership, and I watched 'Then Came Bronson' on TV, and found a newspaper ad for a basket case 1966 Harley-Davidson XLCH. I was pretty handy at working on bikes by then, but where I got stuck was the lower bearings in the cases, so I got help at the dealership. The first time I rode the XLCH was around the block, and the second time was a 3-hour ride to Winterhaven in Yuma AZ. That’s how we sorted bikes back then! I broke my clutch cable on the way home, but rode it the rest of the way. My gas tank was flaked with rust and the fuel line would block, so I’d have to stop on the top of a hill to clear it out, then bump start it to get going, rolling in neutral then snicking it in gear.

A buddy and I saw Easy Rider, and said let’s take a trip, so we did! We rode to Canada, although my friend had bike trouble part way and had to turn back. The Sportster was a tractor, you reversed the timing to start, and primed the Tillotson carb - it was a dance to start it.  In straight lines it was beautiful, you could take your hands off on the highway.

The Dunstall Power catalogue of 1972, showing an 810 Mk2 in another color, probably red. [Phil Lane archive]
PDO: How did you hear about Paul Dunstall?

PL: About that time I saw these articles about Paul Dunstall, and I got intrigued, including that famous 1971 Cycle World test article, the world’s fastest production motorcycle. Just the look of the thing absolutely blew me away. I wrote a few inquiries to Paul Dunstall, and he’d write back personally saying 'if you have questions just ask'. I did have questions, so I called him!  Back then international calling was like ship to shore, there was a pause after each sentence, but he answered my questions, and I decided to go all in. I had saved every penny from every part-time job, and I was then in college. I lusted after that bike, and I just had to have it.

When I look back at the order form, I laugh that I wrote ‘please advise if $900 is sufficient deposit.’ I’d given Paul all my money, every penny I had! I noted that 'I hope to sell my present bike.’ I had sold my Montesa and still had to sell my Harley. Ultimately my girlfriend approached her dad, and said 'Phil is in a pinch, would you loan him the money?' Her father could tell things were going somewhere between me and his daughter, so we made an agreement – 'she can’t ride on your bike'. We honored that, somewhat! She was never a fan of riding on the back of it. She rode on the Sportster, but the Dunstall was a little different. The Harley had a custom handbuilt seat I’d made and a sissy bar, it was pretty comfortable. A little bit easier than the back of the 810; it’s a café racer, it’s so long and a bit hard to ride. If I’m laid down, the passenger is laying down too or they become a windbreak.

The day in October 1972 that Phil Lane uncrated his brand new Dunstall Norton 810. [Phil Lane]
PDO: Did you join on the Quail Ride?

PL: I didn’t ride the 810 on the Quail ride, as it still has the original fiberglass tank. I have to use ethanol-free gas, or it will dissolve the fiberglass; I filled it with ethanol gas once and it gummed up my carb slide with the melted resin from the tank. Rather than try to run ethanol with a new tank, I decided not to ride it this time.

PDO: How long did you actively ride the Dunstall?

PL: I was a rider, and that was my world, but a few years after I bought the bike came marriage, kids, a career, and a new circle of friends who were into cars. I still kept a distant circle of motorcyclists, but for me the Quail was the best reunion I’ve ever had! There’s a big group of Oregon Norton enthusiasts, Mike Tyler shot a video of my bike, he’s the President of the club. Most of those guys are retired, and they said you should go to the Quail!  I looked into it, and they said we’d love to have you!

The first kickstart of the Dunstall 810, with Phil's siamese cat watching! [Phil Lane]
PDO: Did you have to do anything to prep the Dunstall for the show?

PL: I always had bikes as primary transport, and they were never as clean as this one.  I kept it clean.

PDO:  I'll say; it's immaculate!

PL: I don't know what I’d do if I didn’t have the bike. I couldn’t part with it.  This October will be 50 years since I popped the crate.

PDO: Which is just remarkable.  How have people responded?

PL: The questions I've been asked over the years are 1. Wow what is that motorcycle?!  2. How did you keep it so long? They all kick themselves for hot having kept X. Same for me, I’ve sold plenty of things. But I couldn’t sell the Dunstall, it’s my time machine.  When I was on the podium, [Quail Chief Judge] Somer Hooker said ‘I think I’m in a time warp! I figured this was a restored bike, but it’s all original.’

Photographing Phil's Dunstall for an article in Cycle magazine in 1991. [Phil Lane]
When the Wall Street Journal article came out, [writer] A.J. Baime called and said 'Paul Dunstall’s daughter lives in the US, and loved the article.' He introduced us, then she introduced me to her father. We corresponded, and he remembered this 19-year old kid who ordered a bike. That’s a real treasure; he reminisces on life, and what he was doing at the time.

On the Norton forums, folks blast Dunstall parts for their mixed quality, but it was the 1960s / '70s, and folks built on what did. He built the fastest motorcycles in the world for 6 years! He was kind of like Carroll Shelby was with Ford; Paul Dunstall said he enjoyed working with Norton, although we were initially in competition. They were not best pleased when his bikes would beat their works machines. When Dennis Poore became CEO of Norton, Dunstall was invited to the boardroom for tea, and sold his cylinder heads and other parts to Norton, because Dunstalls were faster.  He wrote to me, “I guess the Japanese got wind of the popularity of my café racers, and I was approached by several Japanese companies. I ended up working with Suzuki to make the Dunstall CS1000, which was tested by Motorcycle News at 153mph, and we built the fastest production bike in the world again. These were great times, and I would weigh them as having never done a day of work in all those years.”

'Those leathers' that belonged to professional racer Mike Devlin, used by Phil Lane at Riverside International Raceway in 1973. [Phil Lane]
PDO: You took your 810 to the track?

PL: The Dunstall was fast.  We had a lot of motorcycles in my circle of friends, and I rode tested a friend's Kawasaki Mach III, and my 810 was faster. I did my own speed checks around San Diego, and used to go out to the desert when there was nobody on the road, in mid-week. I love the long straights, just blasting down the road; never abusing it, just fast, out by the Salton Sea. I did wind buffet tests, tucked in, sitting up, seeing how it would be impacted at speed by 18-wheelers coming the other way. I saw one coming down the highway once while doing 120mph; I don't know how fast he was coming, but the wind went BOOM, like hitting a hurricane, shake shake shake rattle rattle rattle. I pulled over onto a side road to turn around, and my leg felt cold, so I look down and saw one carb dangling, hanging by the cable. I literally parked the bike and ran away as I was sure it was going to blow up! I had some wire, and wired it up tight enough to ride back. That was probably the scariest moment I had on the bike.

Unmistakeable style, and Phil wishes he'd kept the leathers, even though they were too small! [Phil Lane]
PDO: Tell me about the leathers you wore at Carlsbad.

PL: “The” Leathers, Ha!  A friend of a friend knew a guy racing track bikes in San Diego. When I dig out my old pics the most asked question is 'what happened to those amazing leathers?!' I borrowed them to run the Dunstall at Carlsbad Raceway Drag Strip (north of San Diego). I wanted to see if I could duplicate the 11.9 seconds recorded by Cycle World in 1971. The best run I had was 12.4. But I was getting concerned about the drivers next to me as the night wore on; at first, the car guys popped their Coors cans in the pits. Later I saw drivers with cans in hand at the start line. I decided to move on. I also wore the leathers at Riverside Raceway in the pics you saw.  They belonged to Mike Devlin – a Vesco rider of some note. He was a friend of a friend; I’m 6’ tall and he was 5’8”, they were too short! I’m all hunched up wearing them. I didn’t realize the significance of wearing a racer's leathers, and they thought I was Mike Devlin riding in the Amateur class. That’s question 3. Dude, what did you do with those leathers?!  Mike wanted them back at some point. I wish I still had them.

Lined up at Riverside for a production race, with two Kawasaki triples, a Honda four, and a Norton Commando production racer (the 'yellow peril' model). Note Phil's Dunstall retains a UK registration - OBY 727.  [Phil Lane]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Quail 2022: Behind the Scenes

After the calm of an 8am booth setup for The Vintagent, the gates for the Quail opened at 10am sharp, releasing a flood of 3 years of built-up excitement.  The Quail had been shuttered since 2019, the can kicked down the road twice, and finally, the show was open, and the record crowd of 3200 was happy.  But I had work to do, and an attempted 11am rush across the Quail’s immaculate grass was balked several times by spectators circling in a slow daze around the dazzling motorcycles.  A week of little sleep (and perhaps too much drink) led me to this morning, and I reminded myself to master the urge to be rude, as the people in my way were enjoying themselves and doing what we’d all come for; to see the motorcycles, and the motorcycle people.  So, breathing deep, I steered less a bee-line to find Somer Hooker than a fly-path, hoping to catch him at the Custom & Modified section before he slipped back into the judge’s chambers.  He’d asked earlier that I join the Best in Show deliberations, and I’d waved him off saying the judges could handle it, but he said he’d like my input.  So, here it came.

The throng! But with such a mellow vibe, the Quail never seemed crowded despite record-setting attendance. [Andy Romanoff]
“We have to give Max Hazan the Best of Show award.  Have you seen his custom Vincent?”  He admitted he hadn’t yet, so we parted the crowd surrounding the low, sleek, and shining object.  “It’s his masterpiece. He’s been building up to this for years, and it's simply extraordinary.  Everything is right – the lines, the proportions, the craftsmanship, the imagination.  He even made his own f*cking carburetors, and it runs!”  Somer Hooker, Chief Judge of the Quail, is so versed in everything Vincent he can tell at a glance if an engine has been re-numbered, by the sequence of digits, the quality of the stamping, and the likelihood that those numbers matched the story being sold.  And here was a Vincent engine housed in a radical, hand-made chassis that was built solely to satisfy Hazan’s aesthetic urges, not for increased performance or to honor the hand of its manufacturer.  But Somer came of age in the 1970s, and while he is today a respected expert on period correctness, he is not averse to the inherent value of a good chopper.  He took a lot of photos of Max’s Vincent.

Max Hazan's customized 1950 Vincent Rapide, with a chassis built entirely in his small shop in central Los Angeles, by one man. [Andy Romanoff]
Max showed us a few details of the build, like the tiny solar panel built into the fuel tank to charge a battery for the lights; ‘they’re LED, so should last 4 hours on a charge.’  And those carburetors, too smooth to be production items, with integrated bellmouths and a single cable disappearing into the cap.  They looked so simple, making me wonder why more customizers don’t build their own carburetors?  I realized with a start that Max was most likely the only person among the thousands of motorcycle fanatics in attendance to have even attempted this.  Also that, by their mere presence on his custom Vincent, a line had been drawn; artisans who build their own components, like drum brakes and carburetors, and everyone else.  There were several other brilliant customs on the field, including Bryan Fuller’s gorgeous Vincent ‘Black Flash’ and Revival Cycle’s gleaming Ducati ‘Fuse’.  Superb as they are, Hazan’s Vincent was simply on another level.  “I thought it was going to be between my Ducati and Fuller’s Vincent today, but then I saw Max’s Vincent, and I knew we were toast,” said Revival’s Alan Stulberg earlier in the day, and of course he was right.

The Revival Cycles 'Fuse' custom Ducati at Laguna Seca raceway, gleaming in the mid-day sun. [Andy Romanoff]
“I’ll let you make the case for a custom winning Best in Show to the judges,” said Somer diplomatically.  The judging corps was 40 strong this year, and composed of lifelong devotees of two wheels, as dealers or restorers or club stalwarts or journalists: they knew their stuff, and had opinions. I’d begged off judging bikes at the Quail for several years, as I also have a booth on site for The Vintagent and Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation swag (this year with Kim, Nadia, and our friend Neil keeping it warm), and found the hours taken up with judging plus keeping tabs on book/tee sales meant I didn’t get to see half the motorcycles. Somer had roped me into the Chopper class - something the Quail Motorcycle Gathering invented for a concours – saying as only two had entered, it would be a quick job.  But of course, I found six choppers on the field, all of them well-built iterations on the theme of mid-1950s ‘club’ bikes; standard frame geometry, kicked up exhausts, solo seats, moderate handlebar rise, no front fender for a 21” wheel, bobbed rear fender for a 19” rear wheel, and all of them Harley-Davidsons.  So, six very similar bikes, from which I had to pick a winner.  Respecting the time invested in all these customs, I was compelled to give more than a cursory inspection, and spoke to all the owners about their build process.  So much for the quick job!  The winner, though, was the ‘Lane Splitter’ by Gene & Denise Ilacqua, built as an homage to the San Francisco club of the same name that famously used skinny bikes with narrow handlebars for doing exactly as their name implied.

The 'Lanesplitter', winner of the Chopper class, with owner Gene Ilaqua interviewed by Color Commentator Paul d'Orléans. [Kahn Media]
In the judge’s chambers, each team shared photos of their class winner for general approval, although that wasn’t required.  Feeling impatient, I blurted out the case for Max Hazan’s Vincent as Best of Show from an aesthetic and technical standpoint.  Other judges balked, preferring a 3000-mile unrestored Paul Dunstall Norton Commando in immaculate condition, still in the hands of the original owner.  “We can’t give Best in Show to a custom!” But of course, the Dunstall Commando was exactly that – a special-order custom café racer from the 1970s…but not many older fans of café racers have had the Aha! moment that the bikes they love are in fact customized motorcycles.  And likely, not read my arguments to that effect in The Ride books, nor in my two books on café racer history – Café Racer and Ton Up!  I pointed out that the concours category with the most entrants this year was Custom & Modified, which showed a majority interest among a younger demographic of builders and fans, and that the ‘traditional’ categories of antique/vintage/classic motorcycles were losing support as their owners and fans got older, and that in fact the judges who were resisting in that moment were all over 70 years old.  A vote was taken, the Vincent lost, but one of the judges changed his mind after some thought about the future for the Quail Motorcycle Gathering.  The tie-breaker was in the hands of the Chief Judge, and he saw the value in being the first Concours d’Elegance on the planet to crown a custom motorcycle Best in Show.

Phil Lane's amazing Dunstall-modified 1972 Norton 810 Commando MkII, owned since new! [Andy Romanoff]
And that, in a nutshell, is an old story of motorcycling, as a mature generation feels that the bikes they treasure, invest in, restore, and become experts on, are being passed over in favor of bikes in which they see less value. That’s the reason clubs like the VMCC in the UK were created in the 1940s, as collectors sought to bolster their love of 1920s motorcycles by labeling them ‘vintage’ – defined as ‘of fine and rare quality’ – with all other motorcycles revolving around their universe of assumed perfection.  An untenable position 100 years later!

The antique American class winners; a 1914 Yale 37 and 1936 Crocker Small Tank, formerly owned and raced by Sam Parriott. [Kahn Media]
Judging a concours is, of course, a subjective matter, but with objective criteria; condition and correctness are the gold standards with historic machines, with aesthetics and historical importance a close second in consideration.  But with custom motorcycles, the standards are reversed; aesthetics and historical importance weigh heavily, with build quality an assumed 90+points (or it wouldn’t be in consideration), and correctness nowhere.   It’s an entirely different set of criteria.  But we’re capable of weighing the merits of a perfect 1960s two-stroke lightweight against a 1920s Brough Superior, or an original-paint 1915 Harley-Davidson against a gleaming 1980s sportbike.  Having judged dozens of Concours, including the Concorso Villa d’Este on Lake Como, other factors are always in play than the obvious merits of a motorcycle, including, to be frank, ‘will it look good on the cover of next year’s catalog?’  Corporate politics and personal inclinations are always a factor, which is more in evidence at an international show like Villa d’Este than at the Quail: some judges are shockingly nationalistic, and cannot imagine a technically retrograde 1920s Harley-Davidson winning over a sophisticated overhead-camshaft Benelli, or an elegant Gnôme-Rhône with Art Deco sidecar losing out to a cobby single-cylinder Brooklands racer.

Putting in the time; a judge sorting out the dozen immaculate Harley-Davidson XR750s. [Kahn Media]
But to be honest, such internal politics are my favorite part of judging big shows! Wrestling with one’s true peers over our mutual field of expertise is an amazing experience.  These are the folks who write books and support exhibits and step up when there’s a call for their knowledge and experience.  It’s always an honor to work beside such people; they represent the best of the motorcycle scene.

Paul d'Orléans sorting out the Chopper class. [Andy Romanoff]
With BMW's /5 series a featured marque, restorer Tim Stafford brought the big guns out, and the most colorful examples of the breed. [Kahn Media]
Roland Sands' wicked MV Agusta 3-cylinder custom, sounding simply amazing on the Quail Ride. [Kahn Media]
Paul d'Orléans commenting on the inspiration for Richard Mitchell's 1951 BSA B34 custom - the Falcon Kestrel, which had rolled across the same stage in 2010. [Kahn Media]
Another machine we've had the pleasure of Road Testing; a Münch Mammut 1200TTS in original paint. [Kahn Media]
One for the Future. Support the kids' interest in motorcycles, or they'll disappear. [Andy Romanoff]
 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

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

Electric Revolutionaries: Panel Discussion

How can the next generation of motorcycles be designed better?  That was the theme of a panel discussion at the opening reception of our Electric Revolutionaries exhibit on May 14, 2022, at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Exhibit curator Paul d'Orléans moderated the panel, which included 5 of the 11 designers from the exhibit, plus Charles Fleming from the LA Times.  The designers occupy very different niches in the EV industry, from artists to owner of mass-production oriented companies, and their varying opinions and focusses made for a lively discussion.

The Electric Revolutionaries panel at the opening reception on April 14th. L to R, Storm Sondors, Joey Ruiter, Hugo Eccles, Derek Dorresteyn, JT Nesbitt, Charles Fleming, and moderator Paul d'Orléans. [Erik Jutras]
Our participating Electric Revolutionaries included Storm Sondors (Sondors Motorcycles), Joey  Ruiter (J.Ruiter Studio), Derek Dorresteyn (Alta / Damon Motorcycles), Hugo Eccles (Untitled Motorcycles), JT Nesbitt (Confederate / Curtiss Motors), and Charles Fleming.   You can watch the video, and/or read the full transcript below if you missed anything!

Electric Revolutionaries Panel:

Paul d'Orléans (PDO): I'm super excited, this is our second electric vehicle exhibit!  Our previous one was Electric Revolution - and you know that was the first electric motorcycle exhibit in a museum in the world… and this is probably the second, because there are not that many museums that are showcasing the incredible advances in design and technology that's happening on two wheels in the electric sphere. It’s fun to be at the cutting edge; it feels a little lonely at times, but the great thing is when you ask someone who's kind of put their career on the line for electric vehicles they're really grateful for the opportunity to display their work and to talk about it.  Because even though it seems like it's ‘in the air’ that electric vehicles are coming they're coming they're coming, the motorcycle industry has not had quite the push or quite the acceptance that the car industry has had.  So it's tough, you know, and so people are really putting a lot of money and a lot of career energy on the line and I honor them for their bravery, also the incredible creativity that's coming out.

So we have with us several designers here whose work is being shown.  We also have Charles Fleming from the LA Times! We have JT Nesbitt from Curtiss Motorcycles, and formerly of Confederate Motorcycles,  We have Derek Dorresteyn, formerly of Alta Motorcycles, and now he's working with Damon on incredible high-speed electric motorcycles.  We have Hugo Eccles who's an independent designer,  he's partnered with Zero Motorcycles on the XP0 that's inside.   We have Joey Ruiter who's on the far-out fine art tip he; was called an alien by one of my team and I think it's kind of suitable as his work is completely wild and out there.  We have Storm Sondors whose work is on the front of the island and who is really pushing for kind of a mass-market, high sales volume, but his designs are also really cool. I love that Metacycle, the design is really cool.

The Sondors Metacycle, a lightweight and inexpensive yet high-design eMoto. [MAF]
STORM SONDORS

PDO: So, I’ll ask each of them in turn a few questions and at the end we'll we can talk about it.  Actually Storm why don't we just start with you, um you can stand up, I like that [Laughter].

Storm: The last time I sat was a long time ago. I remember you [to Charles Fleming] from years ago, it was fun and yeah we're still talking I guess.

PDO:  I used his research for your bio placard, because he's done the most comprehensive story on you in the LA Times.  So, your vehicles are very cost conscious, you're very production conscious and production economics conscious, and in a way that seems successful.  You've found great success especially with your pedelec [electric-boost] bicycles - your beach cruisers - in fact I was at Ralph Ziman's art studio yesterday and somebody had a Sondors beach cruiser parked there…I said, 'hey he's going to be talking tomorrow night!'

Storm:  I didn't even know we have Beach Cruisers?

PDO: Well the fat tire pedelecs, let's call them that…I call it a beach cruiser.  You should put that in your marketing - I won't charge you! I look at the Metacycle with this crazy open aluminum frame and how can that be an affordable and viable low-cost production motorcycle?

Storm:  The way its frame is molded right so there are no welds on it. We just use the automotive tools to create that mold, and now you can just pour one piece two pieces and connect them, right?  So it's very cost-effective and quick to produce and assemble as well.  But the goal at Soudors, we're not part of the industry right? So we create our own customer, because the reality, the challenge with electric is it's very hard to sell electric motorcycles, for example, but if you create an audience then you have a customer. That’s kind of what I always say - don't look for people who ride motorcycles, look for people who'd never ridden one. I think last year we sold 10,000 Metacycles, and we're starting shipping now.  I would say 50 percent of them don't have a motorcycle license, maybe even more, because it's approachable. It’'s not threatening,f it doesn't look like super powerful, it just looks kind of like you know, here comes the future! So  that's what works for us - creating our own customer.

PDO: And I think that I actually said the same thing in an interview earlier, that fun and approachable are the two main points for sales success. Companies like Super 73 and stuff are doing really well with extremely approachable and inexpensive .

Storm: Yeah and also cut back on the power. I mean because we learned from e-bike market that any time we've started creating these high-power performance e-bikes that for average person is too much.  You know that was the biggest comment always - too much power - so you know of course for specialty manufacturers it's different, but for a mass approach you have to think different.

PDO:  For sure; we just reported on the Deus automobile with 2200 horsepower.  The EV automobile world seems to be thinking completely differently than the e-motorcycle -  or at least how you're thinking - it's like more power more power because they can.

Storm:  Yeah of course, they don't have to build some crazy 16-cylinder eight-valve thing to make 22 hundred horsepower.  With electric, perfect.

PDO: I like that approach though, the lower- key approachable, I think it's one avenue towards success.  Thank you, your work is great work.

Storm:  Thanks so much.

PDO: Yeah you can applaud him that's cool! [Applause]

Joey Ruiter with his Another Sedan and NoMoto. [MAF]
JOEY RUITER

PDO: I don't know if you've seen Joey Ruiters work inside the museum - Joey did the incredible bisected ‘Another Sedan’, he did the NoMoto, which looks like a piece of street furniture, I call it the first invisible scooter because it's meant to be ignore! You can literally park it anywhere and no one will ever give it a ticket, because it looks like something you find on the street. He also designed the incredible polished aluminum Moto Undone that's up on the island. Joey, you've also done internal combustion vehicles, but you seem to have shifted more to electric. Explain what's going on?

Joey: It's a lot easier you know, honestly there's so many less parts; the hoses the cabling the fluids.  And they usually work all the time, so it's just a simpler platform. I've only pissed myself once getting shocked in the shop! Never caught on fire though.

PDO:  There's still time! [Laughs]. Your day job is as an industrial designer, you work with Steelcase on their furniture.

Joey: Um yeah I have worked with Steelcase, Herman Miller, lots of contract furniture, and boats and all sorts of stuff, like a lot of conceptual work for the marine side of things, through Brunswick. You've probably all sat in my chairs!  A lot of my work that doesn't look like this is like Chipotle chairs or Wendy's or Whole Foods, so think about that next time you're sitting in Whole Foods -  think about one of my cars. [Laughter]

PDO: Would that they would use your cars!  Did you ever think about doing production for your vehicles or are they purely conceptual?

Joey: You know I learn a lot when I build and design the vehicle, so I take that knowledge and then bring it to other simpler things like furniture and baby products and whatnot. So it's really a learning experience, and then I get to flex my muscles a little bit in this world. That’s something a lot of auto designers can't do (or don't think they can do) especially as I have no rules, so as an artist I can freely express myself and kind of play and break rules that don't really exist yet.

PDO: Well the work is phenomenal, and we're really honored. This is the second time we’ve featured Joey's work; we actually had the Moto Undone, but only for like three weeks in Electric Revolution, so it's nice to have it back for the full year.

The Untitled Motorcycles XP Zero by Hugo Eccles. [MAF]
HUGO ECCLES

PDO: Hugo, you too are a jobbing industrial designer who's kind of stepped over into the motorcycle world. Have motorcycles become your primary focus, or are you still doing other stuff to make money?

Hugo: Yeah they're the primary focus. I'm also an industrial design professor, so I kind of keep my hand in in that way.  It's interesting, I think maybe similar to Joey, i'm not a professionally trained automotive designer.

PDO: Which is maybe why your work is so cool?

Hugo: Well thank you very much, I mean, I think it helps because I don't know what the stupid questions are, right?  You know in some strange way my ignorance is a great asset, because on a lot of occasions I don't know something's impossible, and because because I’m so ignorant of that, you know, you just go try it you know. So it helps in a way.  I think sometimes disciplines become quite dogmatic, and can suffer from the whole ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail,’ and you get a lot of automotive design solutions look like automotive design solutions.

PDO: I totally agree.

Hugo: Because I'm not trained in that.

PDO: Well I think your XP0 is a brilliant design, and you've won tons of awards and we're super happy to have it here.

Hugo: Thank you

PDO: I do want to ride it too!

Hugo: Oh well, I think that's the thing that surprises people sometimes; it's a fully functioning rideable motorcycle.  Although slightly intentionally doesn't look like one, right?  I do quite like to kind of confound expectations sometimes, so it doesn't look like it should.

PDO: Well, I think it's really cool.

Hugo: Thanks for exhibiting it.

An Alta Redshift modified by Dale Lineaweaver to compete in flat track racing. [MAF]
DEREK DORRESTEYN

PDO: I've known Derek Dorresteyn since 1985 or ’86, something like that, we used to share a warehouse in Bayview in San Francisco, and he was starting his Moss Machine business. I started to hear whispers, um gosh almost 15  years ago that he was thinking about manufacturing an electric motorcycle, and I was like wow that's like out there! That work eventually became Alta Motorcycles, and there are three Altas in the exhibit!  One that Walt Siegl built and two that are modified for racing, one of which was very successful. Do you want to tell us a story about your motocrosser?

Derek: Yeah we got involved. My partners Jeff Sand and Mark Fenigstein are here tonight. Anyway, we decided it would be really great to promote the brand if we if we got involved in some sort of racing, and the first event that we were invited to race was a professional race against factory teams, and we just took that on.  We thought, you know, why not, we'll go out and we'll try to do this.  So the bike that's on display there raced in a a one-off event called Red Bull Straight Rhythm, that was a sort of motocross track stretched out into a single line.  With the rider Josh Hill we raced against factory Honda, factory Suzuki, Kawasaki, KTM.  We didn't beat KTM but we  beat everybody else.  And that really was this sort of moment in history where electric showed the promise of being, you know, better than gas!

When it was passing the Suzuki on the track, people noticed, yeah it was a big deal, and that was literally our first race.

PDO: Wow I didn't realize that. I remember the testing rig you had in your original facility, it was this old brewery with this huge tower and you said ‘the chassis testing is to drop it like 60 feet onto a concrete floor to see if it's strong enough!  That was impressive.

Derek: Well it wasn't quite 60 feet but it seemed like a thousand!  We did drop testing; we first drop tested a competitor chassis from one of those reputable companies in Japan and we learned what the limits were, and then we made something that was a little better than that. We weren't sure really what it was going to take to survive some of the abuse you see out there in the world of motocross.

PDO: I should say that Derek was a professional racer, so he brought a particular perspective to manufacturing.  And now you're working with Damon as Chief Technical Officer.  You've got whole Damons inside plus the hyperdrive chassis; it's a totally new concept of how to power a motorcycle.  It's like monocoque chassis, battery and engine all in one, you just kind of bolt everything around it and boom.

Derek: I’m super excited about that.  I joined Damon a couple years ago when I met Dominic Kwang who's here tonight who's the co-founder of Damon with Jay Giroud, and we hit it off and started talking about, you know, me getting involved, and eventually I became involved with the company.  The Hyperdrive that you see in there, and the way that that all goes together is certainly something new, and we think it delivers some performance and some utility that really has been missing, and it sort of makes a large-scale motorcycle possible.  It makes it compete on performance, on cost, on mass, all these things that it's been really hard to solve for, right: Usually you get two of them, but you don't get all three, and with this this configuration for us is delivering all three of those things.

PDO: 200 horsepower, 200 miles per hour, yeah pretty amazing!

Derek: You know, Mr Sondors brought up this point about performance, and Damon is focused on highway legal bikes. If you have something that can go 70/ 8 0 /90 miles an hour you realize really fast that you need a lot of battery, because it takes a lot of energy to push through the air. We’ve got 20 kilowatt hours of battery within that hyperdrive; you have the option to have a lot of power too, we thought that would be fun and exciting and we thought it gave an opportunity to sort of replace the gas bike, right? You know there's no compromise here, right? You've got the acceleration, you've got the range, you've got the peak power, you've got everything the gas bike does, except it's quiet and more accessible.

PDO: If you have a chance take a look at the Damon stand over there, and ask questions, and see their demonstration, and also check out the Hyperdrive chassis that's sitting inside.

JT Nesbitt explaining the design features of his Curtiss One. [MAF]
JT NESBITT

PDO:  Inside we have another chassis, but a totally different concept and design and mentality from the Curtiss motorcycle. JT Nesbitt designed this iteration of the Curtis called The One, and it's different from everything else. The focus is on something exquisite and expensive and bespoke and unique. Do you all remember the Confederate Wraith? Brilliant bike, I actually rode one, but I have not ridden your Curtiss, yet though there's still hope!

It's a very unique approach, making something that's bespoke and expensive and beautifully designed without compromise, it's a particular vision, and it looks like no other motorcycle. I know you're a fan of big fan of technology and things like Japanese steels and durability, and you were talking earlier about things that last.  [To the audience] He's got a samurai sword that's 700 plus years old and is using that as kind of his talisman of what design can be.

JT: Motorcycles are my religion and the most important thing to me is sustainability, and I think the way that you achieve sustainability is not just through the technical design of the machine with replaceable components etc.  It's about beauty. Beautiful things very rarely wind up in a landfill.  So yeah, beauty is eternal. And I want to focus on beauty and proportion and I'm a motorcycle guy. That's what I really actually care about, it's all I care about: motorcycles.

PDO: Right on, I think you've got an audience here, and a panel of people who totally agree with you.  It's a fascinating thing and totally different to enter the market in this way and I don't even know if you're thinking about the market per se, or just producing this thing that's so exquisite that you're sure that people will want it.

JT: What you're talking about is sales.  That and money are an outcome; that's not a goal, that's something that that happens when you do the right thing.

PDO: That's a beautiful way of approaching your work for sure. It's an exquisite motorcycle.

JT: Thank you, and you haven't even ridden it yet.

PDO: I haven't even ridden it yet but visually it's stunning.

JT: Give it a give it a half an hour, and pore over the details, it's amazing.

Charles Fleming gives his opinion on the state of the EV industry. [MAF]
CHARLES FLEMING

PDO: Charles Fleming from the LA Times, who has been on our panels before,  you have five incredibly different designers with different head spaces and different attitudes.  I mean what do you see as a member of the press is - how's the electric motorcycle industry doing? I don't mean sales but in terms of the culture in general?

Charles: Well the mainstream media follows the mainstream market I think, so newspapers like the LA Times and the New York Times and Wall St Journal, because there hasn't been a Tesla motorcycle yet that has become chic, that sales have begun to run away to they can't make them fast enough… because that hasn't happened yet, I think the mainstream media is still waiting for something to happen.  And the mainstream media tends to ask about electric motorcycles the same sort of dumb questions that the average consumer is likely to ask; they'll ask you two things.  I'll say I'm riding this electric motorcycle, and it's so wonderful, and they'll ask two questions: how much does it cost, and what's the range: No matter the answer it's unacceptable.  It's unacceptable whatever the number you give them; for range they'll tell you, you could say 400 miles and then you've got to wait for three hours.  “I’m a real motorcycle guy i could never do that.”  And whatever the price is, that's too much, that's ridiculous, and I think partly this is because for some reason it seems to be perceived as an either or; fare you an electric guy or are you a gas guy, like are you a real motorcycle rider or are you an electric motorcyclist?  As if somehow you and I were talking about this; Who has one motorcycle? Nobody has one motorcycle. Almost everybody has more than one because they do different things, but this idea that somehow you're not a real motorcycle guy if you're on an electric motorcycle. Until somebody rides one, and then their mind is blown and they want to ride it!  I think the motorcycling press, the endemic press, absolutely gets it, but maybe sort of watching for something to happen.  That makes it make sense for them to cover it, for our mass market because the average consumer hasn't arrived yet, and I don't think it's because the product is not there. There's good product, there's been good product, and I don't think it's really even the price point, either.  I think there's something about the mentality of it, that somehow people are just still resistant to the idea.

I’ve riddent the Alta that Derek was behind, I’ve admired Hugo's work for a long time, I've ridden all the bikes that Zero makes and I've ridden the LiveWire and some of the others. They're magnificent experiences.

PDO: I think electric bikes are way more fun than electric cars.

It was great to see Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead at the reception: Ewan is a big supporter of eBikes, having ridden a LiveWire up the length of South America. [MAF]
GROUP DISCUSSION

Charles: Oh way more fun, yeah. Because you have much more of that ‘magic carpet’ feeling of somehow you have conquered gravity, you've conquered time, all you have this magic carpet experience of suddenly flying through the air with none of the distraction of noise and vibration and smell and so on. I think it's a magical experience.

JT: Because you don't have those distractions; suspension and ergonomics become really important.  Because there's no masking bad ergonomics, you have nothing else to think about, there's no masking bad suspension.  Because that's all there is.

Charles: And as the car makers have found a great challenge too.  If there's something that squeaks or rattles - oh my heavens - you really know, that's all you can hear!  Whereas in a you know big old gas motor car, you can make it do anything and nobody'll even notice because your brains are being shaken to bits.

Jamie Robinson AKA Motogeo making his own media around the Electric Revolutionaries exhibit. [MAF]
Derek: There’s also a magic moment when you remove the clutch, the gearbox, the torque curve or the internal combustion engine, and you're no longer putting any of your energy, any of your thought into managing the internal combustion engine.  We’ve all as motorcyclists become really great at. It's almost like one of these stories of ‘wheat controlling humanity’ kind of thing. Right like they've evolved to be able to control us really well.  Electric on the other hand is so intuitive, it is so connected, you hear the traction of the tire, you hear some other noises too that you didn't you hear before - your suspension clunking and your chain slapping, and the brake rotors and some other things.  But it's more important things, these are the things that are that are happening in your ride.  The internal combustion engine isn't really adding a lot of value besides propulsion.

Charles: There must be an industry name for this, but when you're not feeling vibration and heat and when you're not doing all those things, it feels like you see better and you hear better and you smell better.  I'm so much more aware of flowers and flowering trees and things when I'm - no seriously - when I'm on an electric bike, and it's not because you can't smell it over the smell of the motorcycle, it's that your senses are busy doing other things, and not as available for just experiencing the whole atmosphere.

Hugo: I would agree, I mean it's almost heretical to admit it, but you don't really miss gears as much as you would think. And Derek has said you end up concentrating on road positioning and smoothness and you know along the old analogy of ‘slow is smooth and smooth is fast.’ Yeah you end up riding really quickly, I think the only the only criticism I would have of electric is it's difficult to gauge how fast you're going. Without practice you end up overcooking it into corners a lot, you think you’re going into a corner you look down and say fuck! I’m going 90 miles an hour! I should not be entering this corner at 90 miles and hour.  But beyond that I mean it's incredible you know, you have power on tap, you go to overtake something, you just pull out and you punch it, it's like riding a rocket, it's done, and you can you can overtake at literally the last moment and dive into a corner because all you have to worry about is braking.  You don't have to worry about trying to drop a couple of cogs and feather the clutch back in and not break the back loose and etc.

The MAF team making it all happen: L to R - Dan Green, Sasha Tcherevkoff, Paul d'Orléans, Kim Young, George Tortarolo, Nadia Amer, and John Lewis. [MAF]
PDO: I’ve always been a huge fan of engines-off rides; whenever I’m at the top of a mountain I shut off my motor and just use handling and brakes.

Hugo:  Yeah and to reiterate something Charles said; you have this very different relationship with nature.  You know I ride to Alice's [Restaurant] near San Francisco, and you see coyote and deer and wild turkeys and stuff.  I mean not it's not like you come around the corner and there's a cow in the road, like it's not That silent, but they're still hanging around, and you can smell the flowers literally.

PDO: You know I'd love to open up, if anybody has any questions because we don't want this to go on too long because I need a drink and I can't drink before I do these panels! That man has a hand up.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS:

Man in audience:  I have a question: I’m a LiveWire rider and I love every bit of it. What about the noise – is it safer if motorcycles make sound? I'm not talking about loud pipe-save-lives mentality. [Laughter]  I'm talking acoustic beacon versus a silent machine. Is there any benefit to having a little noise?

PDO: Do loud pipes save lives?

Hugo: I think to a certain extent, I mean I have gas bikes and electric bikes, and on the mornings that I ride the electric bike my neighbors love me, and they really notice when I bring out the gas bike.  But I think very soon, we're right on the cusp of vehicle-to-vehicle communication, so in a weird way you won't even necessarily need to make a noise.  Because in the same way that line guidance will stop someone pulling into their blind spot because there's a motorcycle there. Their car will know that, and stop them doing something stupid or will apply the brakes before they rear-end you. It really changes the game I think.

PDO:  Derek, I know Damon is very focused on safety and has radar and cameras and rider warning systems; have you thought about noise?

Derek: Absolutely. We've spent quite a bit of time talking about noise and we continue to actually study it.  We have a motorcycle that has 16 ECU's on it, and has 16 microcontrollers on the vehicle.  We're programming all of them, and making this sort of symphony of microcontrollers to do all the special high-tech things that the Damon bike does. And one of those high-tech things is that we've  got radars and cameras on the vehicle that are looking behind and in front of the vehicle, and they're identifying threats; they're looking at the trajectory of objects and they're saying ‘hey that car is going to come in front of you’ or ‘you're closing on an object faster than you really should,’ and it's going to alert you to those threats.  So in the Damon we have haptics in the handlebars that vibrate to alert you to those oncoming threats. And this is something that's quite new in the industry, and it's something that the founders in particular put a lot of effort into early on, because they think that the safety issue in motorcycles has been poorly addressed, and there's a lot of opportunity to improve outcomes on motorcycles. And I'm all behind it, it's great work.

PDO: It's fascinating technology on the bike.

Walt Siegl chatting about his Rontu and PACT eBikes in Electric Revolutionaries. [MAF]
PDO: [To the audience] Are there any other questions?

Donna Michaels:  Why is this an all-male panel?

PDO: Well, we wanted to get Eva Håkkanson here -  she just commented that it's an all-male panel – sorry, we do have one woman in the show but she's in New Zealand right now.

Donna: So, the electrification of the industry to me is not just about the switch from fossil fuels, it’s also about electrifying the rider.  So, I’m 5’2” and have been riding cafe bikes and smaller bikes and I had talked to you earlier about the needs that people who might maybe not be as tall or as mobile, and not just women, to able to enjoy the [riding] experience. So, what are we going to do electrify the interest, to get more people mobile, who can ride electric bikes?

PDO: So the question is, what is the EV industry doing about access, for inclusion, especially because the motorcycle industry traditionally has been really terrible about designing motorcycles for women.

The LiveWire Mulholland custom by Alex Earle. [MAF]
JT: Can I take that one?

PDO: Yes you can.

JT: So, I think that half of the population - meaning women - has been entirely unserved ergonomically. You know I can spot a female rider from hundreds of yards away, and they always have a different posture in my eyes than male riders.  They're much more upright, they're much more alert, and they always tend to grab the tank between their knees. I think part of it is because many women have equestrian backgrounds.  I think that ergonomics can go a long way to solving problems for women - that means lower seat heights and adjustable seat heights. It also means understanding how a female body works ergonomically and then designing for that.  I encourage you to please have a seat on our motorcycle, and give me some feedback. I'm still learning.

Charles: It might be interesting to ask Storm; do you have a sense of what percentage of your  buyers have or don't have motorcycle licenses? Do you have a sense of how they're appealing to each gender or to the multiple genders?

Storm: Um yeah I would say probably 30 percent are women…

PDO: Which is 20 percent more than the typical 10 percent that are women motorcyclists…

Storm:  You know the biggest thing is step-over height, right?  So it's about seat positioning, it’s gotta go lower, that's the first thing. To accommodate shorter riders so they're safe on their feet. That's the quickest solution to a problem which intimidates a lot of people, where you are kind of tiptoeing, because we're just building bikes for tall people, or average height (what we call average height).

Exhibit curator Paul d'Orléans sitting in Joey Ruiter's 'Another Sedan'. [MAF]
Hugo: I mean I've always suspected that actually there's a really similar need in the male rider community, but they just won't admit it. Essentially.

PDO: You mean, male riders come in different sizes too?

Hugo: I'm not the tallest guy in the world you know, and it's reassuring to be able to flat-foot it, but I think a lot of guys go into a dealership, and they won't go ‘oh this is not totally reassuring. You know I remember talking to a friend of mine who's really into bicycling and he's like ‘how many frame sizes does this come in?’ I'm like ‘one’ and he's like ‘what?’

PDO: A perfect example.

Derek: I don't know what all you're talking about, motorcycles fit perfectly. [Laughter – Derek is 6’3”]]  It is really an issue and at Damon we've been trying to broaden the ergonomics and the percentage of different-size humans that we fit, and one of the ways to address that is with the transforming ergonomics that we have on the vehicles. So we've got we've got servo motors hooked up to the pegs and the handlebars and we can adjust the reach on both of them and to give, not quite an infinite number of positions, but really everything from a low sport bike position up to what would be considered a standard position for both pegs and handlebars. And people are really responding to that.  It's actually incredible.

PDO: Because normally it's such a pain in the ass to change your riding position on a bike; you’ve got to buy new handlebars and maybe buy a new seat…

JT: All of our stuff is completely adjustable, but we don't use servo motors.

PDO: Hand adjusting, that’s old-fashioned.

JT: Yeah because servo motors break.

Hugo: I mean there is that old adage ‘if it's not there it can't go wrong.’  Even if you look at Harley-Davidson’s Panamerica like there's you know it has a certain clearance because it's an off-road-ish motorcycle but it sits down when you want to get off it.  So I think there's a lot of technologies coming in where you can have adjustable suspension, so as you get to a traffic light or something, it comes down and you can put your feet on the floor, and then when you're riding it gives you the clearance that you need.  So no longer do we have to engineer these sort of compromises, the nice thing is the end the engineering or the technology is removing the compromises.

Derek: Absolutely, adjustable ride height is on the horizon for a lot of bikes, and you know when you have a very technologically integrated vehicle, you know, one more ECU is not such a big deal.

The Curtiss One designed by JT Nesbitt. [MAF]
PDO: Well historically you know there was a period from about 1913 to about 1928 when most manufacturers offered a Ladies Model, which had a frame like a girl's bicycle but it had the same power as the ‘male’ model or whatever.  And then it all dropped around the Depression, and after World War 2 it became about the scooter, right the scooter was the default women's motorcycle, so I think it's a really interesting you know.  After that the rest of the industry just seemed to [design bikes that are] bigger and bigger and heavier and heavier.  I think it's a great question, Donna.

Hugo: I think JT touched on this; the assumption is that you know female ergonomics are the same as male ergonomics, just smaller. The whole ‘shrink it and pink it’ thing.

PDO:  JT disagrees with you but yeah and they're very different

JT: They ride differently.

Hugo: There's some really interesting studies in car designs, which are literally harming female drivers because they just they're just built around the wrong assumptions.

Derek:  Yeah I think the MIC [Motorcycle Industry Council] specs or stats are that women riders are still the fastest growing segment within two wheelers, so it would serve all of us and all of our companies to focus…

PDO:  Pay attention.

JT: And ultimately the way that you solve the problem is that you make the motorcycle as narrow as possible, right?  The thinner it is, the better it works for women and men,

Hugo: And light motorcycles; light is good.

JT: Just lightness well more specifically your CG [center of gravity], so your overall CG is close to the roll center.  The closer to the roll center the better it is.

Hugo: Lightness as well really helps, I mean there is a tendency to build very heavy bikes.

JT: Top-heavy.

PDO: All right we're gonna have to continue this at the bar apparently [laughter] and you're all welcome to join in the conversation with these people having a drink but we have to wrap this up. We're way over our time but it's been fascinating talking to all of you and hearing you talk with each other thank you all so much for participating, especially in the exhibit. Thanks.

Hugo: I'll be at the bar.

Three CAKE models from their :work series: Makka, Kalk AP, and Ösa. [MAF]
Electric Revolutionaries was curated by Paul d'Orléans, produced by the Motorcycle Arts Foundation [MAF] and Sasha Tcherevkoff, with generous support from LiveWire.  Additional support by Damon.  At the Petersen Automotive Museum, April 9 2022 - Feb 9 2023.   Tickets available here.

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


My 1933 Velocette KTT MkIV: 'The Mule'

Owning a Velocette KTT had been the object of my desire for many years, having read copious stories about them, and occasionally seen genuine examples.  Velocette's production racing model has always been relatively expensive (compared to a road-going Velocette), and only 1000 were built between 1929 and 1950, when the last KTT rolled out of Veloce Ltd's Hall Green, Birmingham factory.  The evolution of the KTT is a story in itself, as over its 20-year production run, enormous changes were made from the original 1928 MkI model with its rigid frame, 3-speed gearbox, and all-iron engine, to the last MkVIII models of 1938-49, which pioneered the swingarm rear suspension with shock absorber units, although they kept their girder forks to the end, as they simply steered better!  The factory kept building 'works' racers for a few more years with telescopic forks, and took the 1949 and 1950 350cc World Championships.

A 1934 Velocette MkIV KTT, as featured in the Sep. 1937 edition of MotorCycling. The MkIV earned many riders their Gold Star at Brooklands: this is a late version with a bronze cylinder head. Note the front and rear number plates: amateur racing (as at the Manx Grand Prix) required the motorcycle to be road registered.  It was also possible to order a KTT with full road equipment, including lights and a generator! Several were delivered thus, especially the early versions. [Dennis Quinlan]
The MkIV variant was produced from 1933 to early 1935, with an engine numbering sequence of 'KTT 4xx'. The MkIV was distinguished by a new cylinder head (which became bronze mid-way through its production run), new camshaft, bigger carb, new brakes, and a bolt-on lower frame rail from the crankcase to the rear axle that improved handling.  While the MkIV was not a world beater, it was fast and handled beautifully, and was a perfect privateer racer.  Many riders earned their Gold Stars at Brooklands with them, for 100+mph laps during a race, which was rare for a 350cc machine.  They could be tuned to achieve over 105mph running on gasoline, and even more on alcohol, with an open exhaust pipe and high compression piston.  I was timed at 105mph on my own KTT MkIV on a public road in 2000.

Paul d'Orléans with 'The Mule', his 1933 Velocette KTT MkIV, which he has ridden on 10 Velocette Summer Rallies, and in the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball cross-USA rally! [John Jennings]
After years of searching, I was offered two KTTs from the estate for Velocette Club stalwart Eddie Arnold; a 1949 MkVIII (KTT929) and a 1933 MKIV, both of which he had restored and raced.  By the time I drove from San Francisco to Pasadena to buy the MkIV, the MkVIII had already been sold to a known 'flipper', so I had arranged to buy the MkIV...and the rest of the contents of Eddie's garage, which included a 1948 Velocette GTP two-stroke in original paint condition, a 1950 LE MkI also in original condition, a large pile of mostly MAC 350cc parts, and a pile of genuine KTT parts.  The MkIV cost $15,000, and I can't remember what I paid for the rest of the garage, from which the KTT spares proved invaluable.  All else was sold along, after I got the GTP and LE running, which was simple.  In hindsight, I should have kept them both, but my garage was overfull with cool old bike already.  The KTT had been run on 'bean oil', Castrol R, which is proper for racing, but I intended to run the bike on the road, and Castrol R was already scarce in the late 1990s.  I sourced a quart of 'conversion fluid', designed to flush out the Castrol R, and the KTT fired easily on the run-and-bump technique - it had no kickstarter as a proper racer.  Thus began a 25 years (and counting) relationship with KTT470.

Only a few weeks after reviving KTT470 I rode her on one of the Velocette Club of North America's annual 1000-mile Summer Rallies.  I soon discovered the machine was a revelation, weighing only 275lbs but having 35hp, with an instant power delivery that thrust the rider forward in total smoothness, like a very quick magic carpet.  The handling was impeccable and totally intuitive, and I could run rings around brand new motorcycles on the twisty roads favored by the Velocette Club.  A week in the saddle might sound torturous on a rigid-framed racer, but I thought it ideal, and fell in love with Eddie Arnold's creation.  KTT470 gained the nickname 'The Mule' on a Summer Rally (one of the ten it was used on), which I had organized.  A map-making slip-up for the rally included a 'shortcut' in far northern California, through the mountains near Red Bluff, just off the legendary Highway 36.  Mule Town Road was not really a road at all, more like a trials course, but as I'd laid out the map,  I thought it prudent to take the road!  Mule Town Road had no signage, and included several confusing branch routes, one of which I mistakenly took, and managed to kill the motor in the soft dirt.  Starting a full-race motorcycle with no kickstarter and high compression requires a run-and-bump technique, pushing the machine with the clutch in and hopping on the saddle to gain traction for the rear wheel.  Despite the 100deg F air temperature, KTT470 fired up immediately, we got un-lost, and all was well.  After the day's ride, John Jennings, who was visiting from Australia, dubbed my machine 'The Little Mule' for its accomplishment - she's tough!

A filthy little beast! And street legal in California, sans lights, horn, and muffler. [Paul d'Orléans]
Here The Mule is pictured on a dirt road in Oregon in July 2005, during another 1000-mile Velocette Summer Rally.  The map promised the dirt section would only be 8 miles, but it turned out to be 48 miles! The photos show how filthy the bike became, and because the open cambox sheds a bit of oil on the rear of the machine, dirt sticks well!  Not many 75-year old motorcycles are ridden out on the dirt, but The Mule does surprisingly well on rough stuff.  In 2012, I chose to ride her in the cross-USA Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, as she'd already done 12,000 miles of road riding, and another 3600miles seemed a piece of cake.  That required a total strip-down of the machine, a change of gearbox as Eddie Arnold's choice of a MAC gearbox proved fragile, and a new camshaft.  But as Eddie Arnold noted in the article below, MkIV camshafts are rare things, and my replacement did not arrive in time for the Cannonball, so I rooted through Eddie's spare parts stash for a suitable replacement, and installed what looked good.  The story of that journey can be found elsewhere: here's the story on how KTT470 came to be.

KTT470, The Mule, at rest in 2006 during the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours ride. The Mule has no stand so leans where it rests. Visible are the drilled front brake anchor, and evidence of a fall on the fuel tank; fast riding on a light rigid machine on bad California roads... [Paul d'Orléans]

History of KTT 470 - 'The Mule'

KTT470 was originally dispatched from the Veloce factory on May 19th, 1933, and is one of 3 KTTs sold originally to the United States, although it was supplied as an engine only, to Mack’s Motorcycles in Everett, Massachusetts.  Only five KTTs were sold new in North America between 1928-49, the others being: KTT53 a very early MKI which I owned in the 2000s; KTT102, another MkI sold originally to ‘Oglasud’ in New York (and still in New York today); KTT 454, a MkIV sold to Otto Ling in NY (where now?), and the MkVIII KTT929, which Eddie Arnold owned. As ‘road racing’ was virtually nonexistent in the USA in the 1920s/30s, racing was on dirt tracks, just as it was  in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa - the largest foreign markets for Velocettes.  The European customers (Italy, Germany, Austria, Holland, etc) generally raced on paved roads by the late 1920s, although there were plenty of dirt/pavé combos to race on as well.  We English speakers share a ‘backwater’ history as dirt racers, a tradeoff to our wide open spaces and low population density, and long may it remain so!

A photograph owned by Rick Haner, and AMCA club member in Chico CA, showed his father racing a Velocette for Mack’s Motorcycles before WW2, which is undoubtedly KTT470.  Mack’s was a motorcycle dealer and race sponsor, and KTT 470 was their ‘tool’ in 30:50cu” racing from 1933, installed in a 1928 KSS chassis,  which is how it sits today.  While the standard MkIV engine is reasonably fast when on alcohol, as allowed on dirt tracks in the ‘30s, its competition would have been Harley-Davidson ‘Peashooters’, converted Indian Princes, or Rudge/JAP speedway racers.  The Velo would have been the equal of any of these, at least in the 350cc capacity.  Most speedway racing in the US was 500cc, and so the KTT was at a capacity disadvantage.  How the KTT did in East Coast racing is something I’m still investigating.

The Mack's Motors International sign from the 1960s. [The Vintagent Archive]
By the 1970s, KTT470 sat in poor condition in a collection on the East Coast, but was rescued by Eddie Arnold of Pasadena, who restored it for vintage racing in California.  Eddie Arnold had been a development engineer for Mustang Motorcycles, and built several 100mph Mustangs with their Briggs&Stratton sidevalve motors!  Eddie Arnold built KTT470 using MkVIII KTT front forks and magnesium wheel hub/brake, while the rest of the chassis is pure KSS, including the rear wheel.  It uses a 1928 KSS fuel tank, which is smaller than a MkIV KTT, and the replica KTT oil tank is fabricated from aluminum.   It uses 19" wheels front and rear, instead of the 21" front and 20" rear wheels as standard, as it was not possible to find racing tires for the larger wheel sizes in 1981.  With a 9:1 compression ratio and 400ccs, the engine produced 35hp, and the bike weighted 275lbs dry.   The bike was geared for a top speed of just over 105mph, which it reaches easily.

Mack's Motorcycles, Everett MA

Clarence A. 'Mack' McConney owned Mack's Motorcycles in the 1930s-70s in Everett Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, which was a Triumph dealership in the 1930s, among other brands.  He was an active supporter of racing and racers, and built KTT470 as a racer in 1933 from the engine supplied from Veloce into a 1928 KSS chassis.  It's unknown if he was a Velocette dealer at that early date, or whether he had simply followed the news of the KTT's racing successes in Europe, and wanted a hot motor.  The racing history of KTT470 under the sponsorship of Mack's Motors is still being researched; apparently Erwin 'Pop' Haner raced the KTT in the 1930s.  Mack was member #1 of the East Coast regional AMA district, and sponsored many races and field events over the years. From his June 5, 1996, obituary in Cycle News:

Mack's Motorcycles was established in 1917 in Everett MA, and was a Triumph dealer by the 1930s, as this advert shows. [The Vintagent Archive]
C.A. ‘Mack’ McConney, 99, died in Amesbury, MA, on May 23rd, 45 days before his 100th birthday.  McConney was an integral part of early New England road racing in the area and was a member of the original committee that first brought the Laconia races to Belknap Park in 1938.  McConney participated in the sport of motorcycle racing on many levels including dirt track, race promotion, as well as sponsoring and tuning for racers through his successful Triumph dealership in Everett, MA.

Eddie Arnold with KTT470 at a CAMA (California Antique Motorcycle Association) rally in 1975, just after he had restored it. [The Vintagent Archive]

Eddie Arnold

A founder member of the Velocette Club of North America, Eddie was a passionate collector of Velocettes and other British motorcycles.  He finished restoring KTT470 in the mid-1970s, and only when he attempted to race her did he begin the process of improvement that made her into a winner.   Here's Eddie's take on that process from the Jan/Feb 1983 edition of Fishtail West, the Velocette Club of North America's magazine:

"A Vintage Racer the Hard Way

I spent six or seven years getting all the parts together for the ‘32 KTT, both in England and here in the US. Parts were not as hard to find in the early 1970s as now. Add to that another year for restoring it between more important things like cutting the grass, painting windows and all the other crap that comes before one can restore a bike in peace and quiet. I was proud of the finished bike and took it to all the rallies and classic shows. I even took it to riding it around the parking lots, making noises like everyone else. Somehow, the parking lots just didn't get it. I wanted to really race it. You know, turn it on and scare the hell out of myself and anyone riding near me. I joined the ARRA racing club in Southern California along with my friends Paul Adams and Richard Ong. Paul, ‘Mr Norton’, was riding a Velocette and so was Richard. The first vintage race was at the ‘Big O’; Ontario Motor Speedway. Big, fast and very smooth with banked turns, that's Ontario. On the first outing I learned that a lot of things would have to be changed if I wanted to be in the running or even finish a race.  Six laps on a two-and-a-half-mile track doesn't sound too far, but following a bunch of Gold Stars and watching the nuts and bolts bouncing along the track, I wondered what was happening to my bike? At least there was no one behind me to see my parts falling off! I remember seeing Paul go past in a turn, wide open with both wheels drifting. I could even hear the valves hitting the piston. Flying fighter planes and getting shot off aircraft carriers by steam catapults has definitely affected his mind.

Another shot showing Eddie Arnold's gleaming craftsmanship on KTT470. [Eddie Arnold]
Back to the problem at hand. Being in last place did have some advantages; no one was trying to run over me and I could evaluate the bike, but then everyone in last place says that. I noticed things such as at 5500 RPM the engine started to vibrate and at 6000 the handlebars felt like watermelons. The gearbox was all wrong and the horsepower I had in the parking lots just wasn't there on the long straights. Coming off the banking and into a tight right hander the brakes weren't too good, and by the third lap there weren't any at all. By the 5th lap the revs had dropped to 4000. I found out later that half of the exhaust valve hairpin spring had broken. I ended up asking myself why I was trying to race a 50-year old that you can't even get parts for, and why I hadn't stayed a parking lot racer. About all I can say for that first outing is that it sure was fun.

Eddie Arnold flat out on KTT 470 in 1980, during its unbeaten run of victories. [The Vintagent Archive]
Fix time: I took the engine down to the flywheels, which seemed like a reasonable place to start, and checked the balance factor. At 65% it was just right for a tractor. I do remember Jack Connors, ‘the provider of the engine’, saying something to the effect that had been used for a dirt track or Speedway engine in the ‘30s. I changed the balance factor to 71% and took a pound or so off the outside of the wheels. The KTT already has a short rod to help in the midrange. I raised the compression ratio using a mark 8 piston. After cutting the inside drop of the head and some off the cylinder to parallel it, the compression ratio is 9.12: 1.  A new manifold was made up for the head, and I ported it to take a 1 3/16th” inlet valve and an Amal 10TT9 carb. Cams were the biggest headache. Racing cams for the MkIV are just not available anywhere. The cams that came in the engine were of the 30-60-60-30 variety; tractor cams. Starting with early MkVIII cams and using a Norton Radiack, I cut the intake from the exhaust and relocated the exhaust to 75 - 45 timing, I then cut a new keyway for it. I now had the MkVIII timing but with less overlap. The MkIV rockers have 1/8 inch less cam-side length, giving the effect of ‘ratioed rockers’ which give too much of everything, overstressing the valve springs. I made up new rockers from billet, leaving just a little ratio in them. I used MkVIII hairpin valve springs, setting them at 125 pounds seating pressure. I changed the gearbox to close ratios and laced a 19” front wheel to a MkVIII hub for better stopping power. On the back I used Richard Ong racing brake lining, it won't lock and won't fade either. I won't go into all the changes I made to keep the oil in the engine oil off the rear tire.

Velocette importer from the 1960s, Lou Branch (right) and Ellis Taylor at a CAMA rally in 1975, with KTT470. [The Vintagent Archive]
Next race, Willow springs, 1979. Fast uphill, downhill 100mph turns for them that got it. A very unforgiving track; leave it and you get 100 yards of rock of all sizes. If the rocks don't get you, the things that live under them will. When you get older you think about things that way. In practice the bike ran beautifully at 7400rpm  with no vibration. Braking was excellent and the gearbox felt just right. In the six-lap race that followed the little ‘33 ran perfectly. Paul still passed me in the turns but I could zap him on the straight. It's easy to win when the bike does all the work.  I ran the 1980 season and won all the races entered. For the ‘81 season they changed the rules and let Triumph 3s, Commandos, Hondas and just about anything else compete. So I retired the bike from racing. It's not right to expect a 50-year old machine compete with stuff like that. Besides who needs 100 yards of rock... So the next time you ride your bike around the parking lot and wonder what it would be feel like to race it, give it a try. It's a lot of fun and there's nothing like old bikes and good friends. Racing does improve the breed."

Paul d'Orléans crossing Sonora Pass on a Velocette rally in 1999. [John Jennings]
For a Road Test of The Mule, read John Jennings' report after a 250-mile ride on a Velocette Rally.

KTT470 crossing the bridge over teh Merced ricer on treacherous Wards Ferry Road, just outside Yosemite National Park, in 2001. [Paul d'Orléans]
Paul D'Orleans on his 1928/1933 Velocette MkIV KTT. Motorcycle Cannonball II, for pre-1930 motorcycles. A Coast-to-Coast Endurance Run. Stage 11 - Jackson, WY to Mountain Home, ID. USA. September 18, 2012. [Photography ©2012 Michael Lichter]
 

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


'Is This Not His Fate?' Amphetamine History

Ephedra, the buzzy essence of the Ma Huang bush, was a Chinese stimulant for 5 milennia before being chemically isolated in 1881 by Nagai Nagayashi in Japan, while amphetamine, a related synthetic compound, was created the same year in Berlin. Cocaine was rampant in ‘medicines’ of the day, so the new stimulants seemed redundant, and they lay quietly in a drawer for 40 years. The great wave of early 20th Century chemical bounty hunters boosted amphetamine’s fortunes, as drug giants like Boroughs (family of William S.) and Smith, Kline and French (SKF) sidled away from alcohol, heroin, or cocaine-rich Patent concoctions (72% of the drug market in 1910), to more ‘scientific’ remedies.  Freelance pharmaceutical researchers (test-tube cowboys) were cut in on industry profits of new ‘cures’, so got busy adding molecules to the skeletons of naturally effective compounds, self-testing for results, and hawking new drugs to the public, with zero oversight.

Ephedrine was first synthesized in 1881 by Nagai Nagayashi in Japan. In 1893 Nagai using ephedrine to synthesize amphetamine. In 1919 a protégé of Nagai - Akira Ogata - synthesized crystal methamphetamine. [Wikipedia]
Gordon Alles was amphetamine’s shepherd, spending remarkably focused years tinkering with the adrenaline molecule, injecting himself and keeping dry notes while high on his creations – amphetamine, MDA, and MDMA (yes, he discovered Ecstasy).  His 1927 results for amphetamine included ‘dry nasal passages, bronchial relaxation’, reason enough for SKF to manufacture asthma inhalers using ‘Benzedrine’ strips in 1933, which clever folks like Jean Paul Sartre soaked in their coffee, each 160mg strip equaling 32 amphetamine tablets – a serious morning kick.  Soon SKF were touting other uses – diet aids, wakey tabs, attention focusers – distributing one million pills/day by 1940 for asthma; the same number for dieting.

Gordon Alles, the man who popularized amphetamines, making them their production the enormous business it remains today. [Wikipedia]
The international teeth-gritting before WW2 wasn’t diplomatic, but pharmacological, with rapid dissemination of amphetamines (in the case of Britain and the US) or methedrine tabs (Germany and Japan) to swelling armies for Modern warfare.  The Blitzkreig was fuelled by speed-laced ‘choko’ for air and tank crews, but with reports of abuse, paranoia, aggression, friendly fire deaths, and serious errors in judgement (complaints which echo in today’s military), the Germans cut back by 1941, although Hitler received 8 daily shots of meth for three years, until he shot himself. [2.]

Pass the salt, Adolf. Germany passed out methamphetamine as literal candy to fuel the Blitz. [Wikipedia]
On testing, no army found an advantage of speed over caffeine in any area save one – morale. 10mg snapped men to attention, made them order-friendly, and more willing to kill; the military had discovered the perfect soldier drug. Controversy raged within Axis and Allied commands, but the mood-altering effects of speed won over its dark side, and ‘amphetamines won the Battle of Britain’. 72 Million pills swirled in the bloodstream of the RAF, and as many as 500 Million pills in the US military.  The Japanese were up-front about speed, naming it Senryoku zoko zai (‘drug to inspire the fighting spirits’), and kamikaze pilots were cranked out of their hachimaki’d skulls, before smashing same into battleship steel plating.

'Drug to inspire the fighting spirit': amphetamine was a perfect military tool, until it wasn't. It's still handed out in strips in the US military for missions... [Wikipedia]
Postwar Japan surveyed nuclear devastation, then distributed, free, 20 million ampules of meth to crank up an ‘economic miracle’, with thousands of psychotic casualties an acceptable cost.  Elsewhere, writers, truckers, pilots, soldiers, bikers - any group needing concentrated attention - had a percentage of hyped-up devotees. Former airmen, above all in SoCal, fought the drudge of citizen life with new thrills - wingless flight, an escape from sprawling suburban boredom on cheap surplus motorcycles; their bike clubs became gangs with militaristic hierarchy, and bikers with leftover military habits loved speed.  ‘The Wild One’ missed this chemical plot point in ‘53, but ten years later Kenneth Anger’s ‘Scorpio Rising’ flourished a moto-hero sniffing ‘salt’ from a tabletop shaker as prelude to a Satanic binge…a point echo’d in 1980 when LeVille in Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Loveless’ divvies salt on a diner’s formica before white-knuckle plunging his stiletto in a vinyl banquette, as Willem Dafoe warns ‘Go easy on the vitamins’; always good advice.

Advertising amphetamines: diet pills have been big business since the 1930s. [Private Collection]
Curiously, the RAF’s pill-mountain didn’t linger with English bikers; they preferred tea. Joan Vollmer (later shot by William Burroughs in Mexico) introduced the Beats to Benzedrine inhalers, and Jack Kerouak hand-filled a 120-foot roll of paper during a week-long wakey binge, the ‘Road’ he was on dusted with amphetamine salts1. The Modernists, children of the Beats,  ‘kept sharp’ with ‘purple hearts’, slick Italian tailoring and chic buzzing scooters, ‘into it not out of it’.  Mods hated drunken discos and retro (already!) Rockers for beery sloppiness, preferring animated conversation, a fine edge of style, and dancing to the latest soul discs. Meanwhile in Vietnam, US troops popped fistfuls of Dexedrine, 4 times as much as WW2 – with drug hospitalizations four times those for war wounds. As Soviet missiles parked in Cuba, JFK (and Jackie too!) took shots of vita-meth cocktails from ‘Dr.Feelgood’ on the run-up to total nuclear annihilation. Massacres of civilians at My Lai, as in Iraq and Afghanistan today, are sometimes blamed on amphetamine psychosis, but the perfect military drug soldiers on.

Speed is for kids! And if you have college-age children, you know how popular Adderall remains for students without prescriptions... [New York Times]
Drug companies found another rich target while raking in military billions during the 1960s; children.  Amphetamine compounds like Ritalin and Adderal are now the most prescribed ‘medications’ in the US, curing nothing but keeping kids focused. Scary toothless meth-heads are modern bogeymen, lurking under beds as worst-case parent nightmares, but we love popping candy-colored uppers to our little darlings daily, making speed the biggest blockbuster drug in history.

Bikers and speed: it's a long story. Many suggest it was former airmen returning to civilian life and taking up motorcycling for thrills that permanently imbued biker culture with a taste for speed. There's certainly a story to be told about the rise of organized crime in '1%' clubs after amphetamines were made Schedule 2 drugs in 1970, and thus available only by prescription (to children, mostly). [Telegraph and Argus]
Our relationship with the fruits of the Ma Huang tree is deeply complex, so it's fitting the Chinese supply our poetic muse; the syllables ‘am phe ta min’ can be translated as ‘Is this not his fate?’

Pass the salt, Scorpio. A scene from Kenneth Anger's amazing 'Scorpio Rising': Scorpio's powder stash is hiden in a salt shaker. [Kenneth Anger]
[This essay was originally published in Men's File magazine in 2012.]

Curious on the subject?  Here's some essential Reading:

  1. On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine by Nicolas Rasmussen (an excellent overview)
  2. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (a fascinating and controversial account)
Pass the salt, Davis. 'Sportster Debbie' (novelist Tina L'Hotsky) and Davis (rockabilly legend Robert Gordon) at a diner, gritting their teeth through breakfast in Florida in a scene from 'The Loveless' (1981) by two-time Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow. [Screen shot from the film]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Walt Siegl: High Performance Attaché

Cell phones don’t work in rural New Hampshire, which is fine with Walt Siegl after 20 years of living and working in New York City.  He’s nearly off the grid, and out of the hubbub where he founded Walt Siegl Motorcycles (WSM), but hardly out of the limelight.  His career arc is definitely unique, from art-school dropout in Austria, to part-time endurance racer in France, to toolmaking engineer in Germany, to project manager in the Soviet Union, to Austrian cultural attaché in NYC, finally landing on two wheels as a career, after decades of building bikes for fun.  His was a long journey from the center of the world to a quiet 18th Century mill complex, and his life story makes Siegl a fascinating and worldly character, carrying a lifetime of experience into his work designing motorcycles.

Walt Siegl at work at his New Hampshire mill/workshop. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
Growing up in Austria, both his father and grandfather were daily riders on Puchs, Horexes, NSUs, and H-D flatheads.  Young Walt absorbed their talk about how bikes looked, and how they made them feel; “When I was 6, a local chimney sweep bought a purple Triumph 500 with polished aluminum fenders. I was completely blown away, it killed me. I would run across a bridge to see the him after school - I knew his schedule.”  By 14 he rode a Puch dirt bike, and started art school, but his schoolmates scorned his interest in bikes; “They thought I was not a real artist because I had motorcycles. I couldn’t see a conflict.”  But there was conflict at home, as his father, an electronics engineer, pressured him to think about making a living. He left home 6 months before graduating, rode his Honda 550 to Marseille, and took a job loading trains at the port.  “I was a skinny longhair artist, my co-workers were North Africans, and my boss was a Legionnaire.  It was tough!”

A simple Ducati frame on the workbench, but triangulated frames are most capable of handling serious horsepower. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
There were bright spots in Marseille; he raced time trials on weekends, and caught the eye of a privateer endurance racing team. “I did 18 months of racing with a Swiss guy, on a bus with room for 2 bikes. It was really fun, but we were not very competitive.”  A crash in Belgium ended Siegl’s race career, and he took an apprenticeship with a German toolmaker, who taught him everything from how to hold a file to running a milling machine. “That knowledge allows me to do what I do now; there’s nothing I don’t know about machining, how to work a lathe, welding etc.”  A job as an industrial welder in Padua, Italy, led to a gig in 1980 with an Austrian firm managing a huge project in the Soviet Union. Siegl was fascinated with the changes happening in the USSR, “it was all very volatile and exciting, and sometimes really scary.”  When his office was suddenly shut down, Siegl stayed in Moscow.  “The country under Andropov was really interesting, we all knew – even the Soviets – that the end was near.  I got a job in the Austrian consulate, and watched as Perestroika started, and the Soviet system dissolved.”

The same type of Ducati frame, now with a motor and bodywork attached: what a difference a little machinery makes. [Anthony Blasko / Cycle World]
New York City seemed the next logical, exciting place for Siegl, after watching the world shift on its axis.  A friend mentioned a job at the Austrian Cultural Institute, and 2 weeks later he was in NYC with a job and an apartment. He embraced “everything American”, which of course meant buying a Harley-Davidson.  “I saw a Sportster sitting on a milk crate on Lafayette Ave, and asked this guy smoking pot on his porch if he’d sell it.”  $600 later he was a real American with a Harley, and discovered the world of aftermarket parts.  Working in his carriage house studio, he transformed the bike into ‘my version of a Sportster.’  After riding a ’69 Shovelhead for years in all weathers, he “got a little bored with the performance,” and bought a GSXR.  But when the Ducati 916 came out in 1994, it blew him away.

A stunning WSM Leggero; 'better than factory' is typical of Walt Siegl's design work. [WSM]
“I started building bikes in NYC in 1985, but it wasn’t a business until 10 years ago.  I worked 2 jobs, going into Manhattan every day to promote Austrian art, then cycling back to my studio in Long Island City. I’d pick up my girlfriend (now wife) Laura after her job as a waitress, we’d stay up a while, then I’d wake up at 6am to go to work.  I did this for 20 years every day, even on weekends.”  Fate, the politics of Foreign Service work, and the NYC real estate boom of the 2000s changed everything.  “Ten years ago I was ‘offered’ a transfer to Rome - someone else wanted my job.  Laura was pregnant with our son, and my workshop space was sold.”  With increasing demand for his custom motorcycles, he jumped, leaving a secure position with the Austrian embassy, and his life in NYC.  “Laura’s family had a place in New Hampshire, and every time we’d visit I’d see this old mill outside town, and said ‘if we lose our space in Long Island City, I’m going to knock on the door.’  That’s exactly what happened; our son was born in NYC and a week later we moved to Harrisville!”

In the workshop with a finished WSM Bol d'Or. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
That was 2006, and he’s adapted well to country life.  “Not having access to toolshops is a problem, but the country keeps my head clean. At the end of the day we have dinner, I go to bed with work in my head, and wake up the same.  I look out at the lake, and tidy things up in my mind.  It really works for me.”  Despite its rural locale, Walt Siegl Motorcycles was quickly recognized as a top-tier custom shop, with a super-clean, sophisticated design aesthetic worthy of an art gallery.  Which is where I first saw a WSM bike, in the window of BDDW on Crosby St in Manhattan’s SoHo district - it was exciting to see a beautiful Ducati hotrod in a swank design store.  The bodywork, stance, quality of workmanship, and perfect paint scheme were streets ahead of the custom scene as I knew it, and I’ve been following Walt Siegl ever since.

The same MV Agusta Bol d'Or model as modified by WSM. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
That dramatic bodywork and distinctive paint/graphics are visible signature of a WSM machine, but actually the last item on their agenda.  Siegl considers the whole package; “I prefer to pick geometries for what the bike is intended to do – road or racing, but of course the bodywork is important.”  He experiments with shape using signmaker’s foam, carving away with bodymaker’s files, then honing in with 40grit sandpaper, and finishing off with Bondo to fix the fine details. That buck becomes a mold for the first fiberglass ‘splash’, and if WSM is making multiples, they 3D-scan it and make CNC-machined molds.  “We use jigs in the shop for our chassis, so a perfect, consistent fit is essential.”

The essential road test: the roads of rural New Hampshire make a perfect testing ground for half the years. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
What’s also essential for WSM is Siegl’s control over the process. “I’ve been doing all the design, it all comes out of me, I simply can’t allow it to be touched by anyone else, otherwise I couldn’t live with it. I’m not an easy person and I admit that.” He doesn’t work alone though; “I’ve got a really good guy, Aaron, we think alike in the shop, and that makes my life so much easier.”  Siegl’s wife Laura is also a critical part of the team.  Besides managing the business side, she keeps WSM projects grounded with practical feedback.  “She’s my ‘outside eye.’ Sometimes I’m so entrenched in the process after 6 or 7 weeks, it becomes too much a part of me.”  Laura provides real-world critique on stance, colors, handlebar height, and reminds Walt who his clients are; “I sometimes get too adventurous, and she calms me down, ‘Don’t forget - he’s not that person!”

A WSM Leggero built for Brad Pitt. [Daniela Maria / Cycle World]
Walt Siegl Motorcycles is nearly finished developing a new chassis for Ducati engines, with the capacity to house both 4-valve and 2-valve motors, everything from a 916 to a 1098.   It’s a bold move, to presume you can design a better chassis than the acknowledged masters of the art, but small shops like WSM have the freedom to specialize even further than factory-built, limited-production superbikes.  OEM factories have strict design limitations, especially around noise – anything smaller than 5 liters for both airbox and exhaust volume makes the music too loud.   While not particularly sexy, a new airbox was the motivation behind Siegl’s new frame. “My previous design was limited on horsepower, as there simply wasn’t enough room for an airbox. We use pods, but you can only get so much air into a charging system, that’s the reason behind the new chassis.”

The man. Walt Siegl is simply the most talented motorcycle stylist working in the industry today. [Yve Assad / Cycle World]
WSM is digging a new composite steel, Docol, from Sweden.  It’s only been available 4 years, and like most exotic materials, hails from the aircraft industry.  Docol has a higher shear and tensile strength than chromoly, and it’s also more flexible – a critical quality for trestle frames. “It’s difficult to weld, but great stuff. Chromoly is fairly stiff, and you need to leave enough flex in the chassis so the tires don’t have to do all the work. With some flex engineered into the frame, the rider gets better feedback; when you hit the brakes coming into a corner you feel it in the handlebars.  If the frame is too stiff, you find yourself on the ground with no warning.”

In 2018, Walt Siegl collaborated with Mike Mayberry (Ronin Motorworks) on a custom Alta Redshift, creating the WSM PACT, a stunning eBike design that sent ripples through the EV world.  This example with carbon-chip bodywork is currently on display (2022) at the Petersen Museum in our Electric Revolutionaries exhibit. [WSM]
Since Walt Siegl didn’t walk the engineer’s path to chassis design, his process is to pick and choose contemporary chassis geometries for the handling characteristics he wants.  “There are only certain numbers you can work with.  I start out with a 24-degree rake on the frame; by using different forks you can increase or decrease the trail significantly.”  The swingarm length and location of the pivot point create options for geometry adjustments too; “Let’s say we start with ‘corsa’ numbers, then add 15-20mm to the swingarm.  That gives us room to degree the handling to our liking, to give a more stable bike at speed.”  For example, if WSM uses a Superbike fork dropped 10mm, it alters the rake to 23.5degrees.  He’s also fond of the new TTX Ohlins forks, which are designed with an adjustable ride height, making frame geometry changes “fairly simple”.

One of eight PACTs built; this was the actual machineIt built for our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum in 2019.[Ted7]
With the motivation for the new frame inspired by better breathing, clearly WSM is interested in gaining power, but max HP isn’t the goal; it’s all about the power-to-weight ratio. “We’ve designed the frame for 120-140hp, there’s enough chassis bracing to handle that easily. We are working on more power for our race bike, and our goal is a maximum weight of 300lbs complete with all fluids.  With our street Leggero and mag wheels, we’re at 310 – 335lbs depending on equipment, with the 2-valve engine producing 110-115hp.  Tuning the 2V motor shortens its lifespan, but over 100hp in a 310lb package makes a lot of fun.”

The WSM Rontu, commissioned by the Haas Museum, and currently on view at Electric Revolutionaries at the Petersen Museum. [Haas Motorcycle and Design Museum]
WSM steers clients away from the inevitable HP conversation, preferring to discuss how handling affects the rider’s relationship to the machine. “If you have a good handling bike from the get go, it shows your potential.  If you feel safe you can hold momentum in the corners, there’s plenty of feedback, and you think ‘OMG I can do this’.”  Siegl feels neutral-handling bikes with “lots of digital stuff” like traction control and ABS don’t foster better riding skills, but high-performance machines with attention paid to suspension and geometry do make better riders.  “That’s what I’m after with my bikes, and trying to convey to my clients. If you have more fun, you feel like a better rider. I’m lucky; most my clients have had several sport bikes before they arrive at my door, they’re not your average rich guy who wants another toy.  They’re already motorcyclists.  It’s much easier for me to build them a bike that makes them happy.”   Which makes for a few lucky owners – the rest of us can be happy just looking at his gorgeous bikes.

The WSM PACT as currently installed in Electric Revolutionaries at the Petersen Museum. [Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]
[This article originally appeared in the Sept 2017 edition of Cycle World magazine. Walt Siegl's motorcycles have been featured in two of the Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation's Petersen Museum exhibits, curated by Paul d'Orléans: Electric Revolution (2019) and Electric Revolutionaries (2022)]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


'Electric Revolutionaries' at the Petersen Museum

Now on view at the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA is our latest moto-centric exhibit: Electric Revolutionaries.  Curated and concepted by Paul d'Orléans, the exhibit focusses on 11 designers making an impact on the electric mobility scene, each in very different ways; from top speed to accessible mobility, from aesthetic perfection to hand-cobbled and crude, from luxury to mass market to one-off.  Each of these designers is tackling a different set of issues, illustrating the wide-open nature of EV design at this early stage of the industry.  Our 11 designers are brave pioneers, embracing what could be the future of mobility, digging in on what design features make EVs unique, and challenging our ideas of 'what is a car or motorcycle?'

Electric Revolutionaires was produced by the Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation and Sasha Tcherevkoff, was assembled by the team at Vintagent Lab, laid out by Ian Barry, and presented with generous support from Livewire, and additional support from Damon Motorcycles.  The exhibit opened April 9th 2022, with an opening reception April 14th that was a huge success, and according to Kahn Media, has already received over 3 Billion media impressions.  It's a hot subject, and these are hot designers! It's proving to be a popular exhibit with museum-goers, and if you have a chance to visit, tickets are available at the Petersen Museum website.

Our Electric Revolutionaries:

Derek Dorresteyn

[Damon Motorcycles]

Derek Dorresteyn is a technical visionary who has designed the heart of two radical e-Moto designs: the Alta Redshift and Damon Hyperfighter/Hyperdrive. Derek grew up in a motorcycle racing family in Northern California, and was a professional speedway racer from 1983-1987. At the same time, he studied industrial design and mechanical engineering, and founded Moss Machine in 1989, a specialty CNC machine shop and consulting design house for Silicon Valley tech companies. Derek was an adjunct professor at CCA, lecturing on design and manufacturing technology.  In  2007 he observed Tesla gaining traction, and pondered the creation of an electric racing motorcycle.  He created a set of performance goals with his riding buddy, industrial designer Jeff Sand, and quickly found that no suitable components existed to meet their specifications. So they designed their own.

At the Petersen: the Alta Redshift used by Josh Hill to win the Red Bull Straight Rhythm; a Redshift Flat Tracker by Dale Lineaweaver; a Damon Hyperfighter, all part of Derek Dorresteyn's portfolio.

In 2010 Derek Dorresteyn, Jeff Sand, and Marc Fenigstein founded Alta Motors. Derek led the technical development as Chief Technical Officer (CTO), and with Jeff Sand and a small team designed the Alta Redshift motorcycle with a new high-performance electric drivetrain. The Redshift went into serial production at a factory in Brisbane CA in 2016. The Alta Redshift was notable as the first production electric motorcycle to challenge and beat internal-combustion motorcycles in professional competition.  In 2019 Derek joined Canadian firm Damon Motors (founded 2017 by Dom Qwong and Jay Giraud) as CTO.  He led development of the Damon Hyperdrive powertrain, and the motorcycles using it. At Damon, Derek and the team are commercializing new technologies while pushing the boundaries of motorcycle performance and safety, with a family of high-performance electric motorcycles. [Read our feature on Derek 'Alta in the Family' here]

Eva Häkansson

[Eva Häkansson]

Eva Häkansson was born in Sweden to a family of engineers, mechanics, and motorcycle racers, her father Sven was the 50cc racing champion of Sweden, and her mother Lena was his mechanic: both are mechanical engineers, and her brothers are electrical engineers.  In 2007 Eva built the first road-registered electric motorcycle in Sweden, the ElectroCat, with her father. While writing a book about electric motorcycle design that year, she corresponded with Bill Dubé about his KillaCycle drag racer, and soon joined his team in Colorado: they were married 18 months later.  She was the last in her family to gain an engineering degree, taking a PhD at the University of Denver in 2016.

At the Petersen: the KillaJoule dragster built by Bill Dubé with help from Eva, and KillaJoule, designed and built by Eva Häkansson.

In the midst of her PhD studies, Eva designed and built the KillaJoule streamliner, mostly by herself.  In 2014, she piloted KillaJoule on the Bonneville Salt Flats, making her the fastest female motorcyclist in the world, in the fastest electric motorcycle in the world. In 2017 at Bonneville she achieved a two-way average speed of 255.122mph, but her ambition is to take the absolute motorcycle world speed record.  For that, she designed Green Envy, a streamliner with over 1000hp, while working as a lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.  Rain has twice halted her planned record runs at Lake Gairdner in Australia, but she hopes to demonstrate Green Envy’s potential soon.  [Read our feature on Green Envy here]

Hugo Eccles

[Simone Mancini]

Hugo Eccles is British industrial and product designer, who founded Untitled Motorcycles to build custom motorcycles for private clients and brands.  Hugo studied at the Royal College of Art in London, starting at global design consultancy IDEO, and later with superstar designer Ross Lovegrove. He emigrated to the USA in 2003 to become Global Director of Product Design at Fitch, then headed the Arnell Group’s Innovation Lab in New York City.  He returned to London in 2010 to work with Sir Terence Conran as managing director of Studio Conran.

At the Petersen: Hugo Eccles' XP Zero

In 2014 Hugo founded Untitled Motorcycles in San Francisco, California.  He rapidly gained attention for his forward-thinking designs, winning several awards.  Zero Motorcycles approached him to build a special version of their SR/F sports motorcycle before it was launched, lending support with electronics and making prototypes available. The result was the XP Zero, which gained worldwide acclaim for its futuristic lines and solid design pedigree.  The XP Zero is available as a limited-production model intended for road use, and Hugo is following the EV thread with the XR Zero, a racing version of the XP Zero, and the SuperMerica, using the LiveWire platform.  [Read our interview with Hugo here]

Joey Ruiter

[Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]

Joey Ruiter is a Michigan native who is rooted to his home state physically, but his design language is purely conceptual.  After studies at Kendall College of Art and Design, he established a career as an industrial designer with J.RUITER Studio, working on a broad spectrum of objects: boats, office furniture for Herman Miller, the reboot of Buell motorcycles, etc.  But it’s his conceptual vehicle designs that have brought broad acclaim, as they are incomparable in their radical simplicity.  Joey’s vehicles on roads, snow, and water challenge the very definition of ‘car’, ‘motorcycle’, and ‘boat’ in their rigorous geometry.

At the Petersen: Joey Ruiter's Moto Undone, NOMOTO, and Another Sedan

Joey Ruiter’s refusal to cater to accepted design priorities - ergonomics and user interface – in favor of a purity of shape and concept, can make his vehicles challenging, or even threatening to a viewer.  They do not need a driver or rider to be complete, they simply exist, aloof and perfect.  His commitment to this conceptual practice makes him nearly unique in the world of vehicle design.  Such startling rigor might be impossible for actual production, but as thought-provoking statements they are unparalleled.

JT Nesbitt

[Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]

New Orleans native JT Nesbitt received his Master of Fine Arts degree from Louisiana Tech University’s School of Design.  His career has encompassed reportage for Iron Horse magazine, a stint as lead designer of Bienville Studios in New Orleans, and two stints working with Matt Chambers, founder of both Confederate Motorcycles and the Curtiss Motorcycle Co.  His motorcycle design language is distinctive and unforgettable, and includes the radical Confederate Wraith and second-generation Confederate Hellcat models.

At the Petersen; Curtiss Motorcycles' The One by JT Nesbitt

When Matt Chambers changed course on his bespoke motorcycle business to focus on electric vehicles as the Curtiss Motorcycle Co., JT Nesbitt returned to design The Curtiss One.  While JT’s earlier designs flexed with aggressive, exposed structures, the One is an entirely different animal: elegant in an old-world way, with Art Nouveau lines and a joie de vivre surely reflecting his New Orleans roots. [Read our writeup of Curtiss Motors here]

LiveWire

[LiveWire]

LiveWire is the electric vehicle (EV) spinoff brand founded by Harley-Davidson in 2021.  With an eye to the future, Harley-Davidson began investigating EV motorcycles in 2010, working with San Francisco-based startups Mission Motors and Alta Motorcycles to jump-start their R&D into this new territory. The result was the LiveWire, publicly introduced in 2014 with a tour of their dealerships across the USA, where interested riders could test this all-new EV design, from the oldest continually-operating motorcycle company in the world.

At the Petersen; the LiveWire One Carbon Fiber and Suicide Machine Co. custom

When Harley-Davidson announced the LiveWire would be available to consumers in 2019, they became the first major motorcycle manufacturer to offer a large-capacity electric motorcycle. In 2021, Harley-Davidson announced that LiveWire would become a stand-alone brand on the New York stock exchange (LVW), with a majority interest retained by H-D, and major investments from KYMCO and ABIC, a SPAC created to take LiveWire public in June 2022.   It’s an exciting project.

Samuel Aboagye

[Efo Selasi]

While he is still a student in Accra, Ghana, 17-year old Samuel Aboagye has made a big impact in Africa with his personal initiative and self-reliant designs. As early as junior high school, Samuel began cobbling together a series of useful battery-powered objects for the home, built entirely from scrap and recycled materials. The first was a solar-powered fan that doubled as a phone charger.  He also built a Bluetooth speaker set, a vacuum cleaner, and a portable washing machine known in Africa as a Veronica bucket.

At the Petersen: Samuel Aboagye's remarkable Solar Scooter and Solar Rickshaw.

In high school, working with his mentor/teacher Sam Hagan, he assembled his Solar Scooter. Efo Selassi’s excited video of Samuel’s scooter in action was broadcast to hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world, and brought him to the attention of the Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation (MAF).  The MAF has forwarded donations to Samuel for developing new projects, and hopes to further the education opportunities for this extraordinary young man. [Read our interview with Samuel here]

Stefan Ytterborn

[CAKE]

Swedish design entrepreneur Stefan Ytterborn has a long track record of successful business development.  He founded the winter sports gear company POC in 2004, which was oriented towards safety and reducing the consequences of accidents for skiers and gravity sports athletes.  Stefan’s strategic development of POC made him responsible for over 2000 consumer products, as POC was sold at the retail level in 45 countries.  In 2012 he sold his interest in POC.

At the Petersen: CAKE Kalk AP, Ösa :work, Makka :work.

In 2016, Stefan founded CAKE, an electric motorcycle company.  Their first model, the Kalk off-road bike, debuted in early 2018 and was immediately hailed as an extraordinary design, winning many design awards.  With a motto of ‘explore with respect’, CAKE’s aim was to bring positive changes to the motorcycle industry and the world, inspiring movement towards a ‘zero-emission society.’   CAKE now has three base models and many variants and options, including the Kalk AP, sent to African nature preserves to support anti-poaching efforts, the Ösa utility motorcycle, and the lightweight Makka moped.  Their recent :work series of bikes and accessories emphasizes the unique capabilities of e-Motos for utilitarian purposes. [Read our 2018 CAKE profile here]

Storm Sondors

[Sondors]

Born in Latvia, Ivars ‘Storm’ Sondors showed great promise as a sculptor, graduation high school at 14 to attend art school.  By his early 20s, he was living in Chicago building wooden prototype models for toys with big players like Mattel and Fisher-Price.  He founded his own toy company to build radio-controlled cars, helicopters, and planes, and was very successful, but unhappy.  A diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome helped him change course in life, which included selling his company, moving to Malibu, and taking up surfing.

At the Petersen: the Sondors Metacycle, and MadMods.

While recovering from a sports injury, Storm showed interest in a friend’s electric bicycle, but was shocked to learn it cost $4000.  He set himself the task of building an affordable e-Bike, and used a crowd-funding website to kickstart the project: it proved the second-most successful Indiegogo fundraiser, exceeding its goal by 7000%.  SONDORS is now one of the largest e-Bike manufacturers in the USA, and is distributed in 42 countries.   More recently, he turned his attention to disrupting the e-Moto scene by revealing the dramatic Metacycle, with a futuristic cast-aluminum chassis and an industry-beating low price tag.

Walt Siegl

[WSM]

Walt Siegl is an Austrian-born designer and fabricator of motorcycles internationally recognized for their timeless design, expert craftsmanship, and forward-thinking technology. At 14 Walt left home for art school in Graz, Austria to study metal sculpture and jewelry making. At 18 he joined an endurance motorcycle racing team. An accident stopped his racing career, so he worked in Marseilles as a shunter in a train yard, a toolmaker in Austria, and a welder in Italy. A job in Moscow for an Austrian steel company inspired him to join the Austrian Foreign Service.

At the Petersen; Walt Siegl's Rontu and PACT Carbon

In 1985 he transferred to New York City to promote Austrian art and culture, and spent 22 years there.  In his free time he customized motorcycles, and demand for his work led him to move with his family into an old mill in New Hampshire to build motorcycles full-time. Famous for his high-performance, limited-edition internal-combustion sports motorcycles, he has recently turned to styling electric motorcycles, earning great acclaim for their superb design. [Read our feature on Walt Siegl here]

Yves Béhar

[fuseproject]

Born in Lausanne, Switzerland, Yves Béhar is a superstar industrial designer and founder of the branding firm Fuseproject in San Francisco. He studied design in Europe before attending the Art Center College of Design, and in the 1990s worked in Silicon Valley on design/technology projects for clients like Apple.  He broadened his design interests to include furniture and clothing, and funded Fuseproject in 1999 to explore the integral relationship of brands with products.   His client list is enormous, and his soft, minimalist style has earned him global acclaim.

At the Petersen; the Mission One mockup and only Mission One motorcycle

In 2007, San Francisco startup Hum Cycles, later known as Mission Motors, approached Fuseproject to design the world’s first electric sportbike.  The team of ex-Tesla employees had the technical skills to meet the 150+mph expected in the sports motorcycle category, but wanted a stunning design to emphasize that a new generation of motorcycles was approaching.  Béhar’s sophisticated and elegant Mission One was revealed in Feb. 2009.  He has recently returned to the EV space, designing the Unagi Model 11, a folding standup scooter with adaptive safety features made of unique materials for lightness and strength. [See our 2009 feature on the Mission One here]

The Team:

The Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation and Vintagent Lab team: Competitions Director Dan Green, MAF co-founder Sasha Tcherevkoff, Curator Paul d'Orléans, MAF Director Kim Lohstroh Young, Electric Revolution COO George Tortarolo, MAF Education Director Nadia Amer, MAF Development Director John Lewis. [MAF]

 


The Roads Less Traveled: Bernard Testemale

Professional surf photographer Bernard Testemale began his career with analogue photography, honing his skills in the darkroom and working with large format Polaroid film, before adapting to digital photography as the industry changed.  But his focus on digital only lasted 10 years, as he became obsessed with the 'wet plate' (collodion humide en Français) technique in 2013, learning from master chemist Jacques Cousin, and diving into old books on the subject.  After a year of trial and error with this notoriously difficult and wholly artisanal process, his long experience with cameras began to shine through, and spectacular results followed.  He brought his wet plate équipe to Wheels&Waves Biarritz in 2014, and began shooting the motorcycle scene as well as his water world of surfers.  We covered his moto-photography exhibit from 2018 in our 'Art of Ride' article.

Racers Dimitri Coste and Frank Chatoukhine with one of their flat track Triumphs. [Bernard Testemale]
Bernard currently has on exhibit 'The Roads Less Traveled', at RAW Culture Art Gallery in Barrio Alto, Lisbon, Portugal.  Subtitled 'From Haleiwa to Biarritz: A Visual Journey' and curated by João Vilela Geraldo, the show documents Bernard's travels across the globe to document surf and moto cultures.  Surf fanatics will no doubt recognize many of his subjects, as will anyone who follows the Wheels&Waves events in Biarritz.

Not for the faint of heart: wild boar hunting in Hawai'i with a bow and arrow. [Bernard Testemale]
The wet plate process has a peculiar effect on portraiture; as the medium is only sensitive to blue-spectrum light (UV), any pigmentation of skin damage from the sun will darken in the image.  It's why 19th Century photographs of Native Americans make them look like their skin is leather; their skin is not actually shiny black, but the pigmentation in their skin blocks UV light, and appears darker in a wet plate.  Also, the process emphasizes skin damage, including wrinkles, which gives a face more character - a happy accident for men, and generally an unpleasant surprise when taking a wet plate portrait of women!   Some of these effects can be mitigated by using a flash in a portrait studio (the most common use of wet plate today), but natural light photographers like Bernard (and my own MotoTintype series) embrace the skin's character highlighted by the process.  If it was good enough for Abraham Lincoln, it's good enough for you.

Despite a 1-2 second exposure time, there's still room for fun with a wet plate photo. What's notable here is the detail in the photo (the silver molecules embedded in collodion are 1000x finer than in film media), and the slight solarization above the subject's shoulder. This may be the first wet plate photo taken during a haircut! [Bernard Testemala]
Bernard generally shoots in an 8"x10" format using a 19th Century portrait lens, which gives a beautiful 'bokeh' around the subject - a ring of swirly blur that lends a fascinating energy to the photo, and focusses the eye on the center of the image.  The wet plate technique uses a sticky collodion poured over a glass or metal plate that becomes 'film' when soaked in a light-sensitive silver nitrate solution.  The molecular grains in silver nitrate solution are 1000x finer than any film media, thus the level of detail in a well-focussed 8x10" original photo is extraordinary.  Basically, they can be blown up to the size of a billboard without a loss of sharpness, which is why professional architectural photography remained faithful to glass negatives through the 1940s.

[RAW Culture]
From the Raw Culture press release: "Some call it the adventure of a lifetime.  The ability to see and experience the world with your own eyes, and at your own pace.  Your terms, your rules, the way you rock. But many people have walked that line, and many more have drawn those mountains and beaches, those dusty flats and those muddy roads.  Many will also talk about it, write about it, dream about it.  So it's up to those who choose to show the roads less travelled to be extra careful about what they deliver and discover.  The doors they open into the daily routines and questions, the doubts and desires of those they meet along the way.

[RAW Culture]
Bernard Testemale brought his camera not to register, record, or to run things over.  It was his way of remembering. Thos he met, those he missed. Those he loved, those he learned to lose.  Those he listened to, and those who got loud.  That is the power of Photography.  Not to register, record, run over.  To remember.

[Bernard Testemale]
The race cars and those who build them from scrap pieces like puzzles.  Those who believe that engines are rine hearts that needs special care.  The artists of the speed tracks, the racers, the riots at the finishing line where red flags rule.  The winner and loser.  The oil which fees motors and motions.  The tools that twitch and turn, the screwdrivers that mend.  And also the ones who choose other ways to move.  By standing still first, and by sliding afterwards.

[RAW Culture]
The Surfer, riders of waves and of the wild.  Those who rise early to fee wet and frozen, most of the times fearless. Those looking to the swells and swirls, the foam of days.  Those who live in water and sand. Those who look up, not down.  These were the ones he met along the way.  Through peaks and potholes, through dunes and deserts, willow palm trees and late barbecues by twinkling lights.  The many moons watched from sleeping outside. The many hours spent going somewhere, somehow.  Some stories are made to be shared.  This is one of them."

[Bernard Testemale]

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Those Dashing Racers of the 1920s: C.T. Ashby

You can almost smell the castor oil burning off the hot motor of Cecil Ashby's 1925 Zenith 'Championship' racer at Brooklands after winning the 200-mile race in 1926.  C.T. Ashby had a rapid rise in his racing career, appearing like a meteor in 1924, and promptly winning both long-distance track events and road races in the UK and Europe.  As a former fighter pilot in WW1 with the RAF, he considered motorcycle racing relatively tame, and enjoyed riding big machines like the 1000cc Zenith below, which made smaller road racers (more typically 350cc and 500cc) seem like child's play by comparison.  "If one is used to to holding a machine capable of 100mph...the 500cc machine used for road racing feels ridiculously easy to manage" (from an interview in Motor Sports, Nov. 1926)

C.T. Ashby was a professional racer in an era dominated by amateurs. His racing Zenith Championship with 976cc J.A.P. KTOR engine racer is a very special machine, and the fastest motorcycle one could buy in the late 1920s. [The Vintagent Archive]
Cecil Ashby was an interesting fellow, who took up racing seriously only in 1922, a mere three years before the epic header shot of this article was taken.  He joined the Royal Air Force immediately after graduating from Grays College in Essex, and spent two years in relatively safe transport duty, before taking a pilot's license and indulging in two more years of 'cloud scraps' (dogfights) over Belgium, experiencing a few crashes and 'nasty moments', as he put it.  After the war he set up in London as an import/export merchant, and in 1921 he bought an Indian V-twin with a sidecar, then a Rudge Multi.  He raced neither machine, but purchased a 500cc N.U.T. V-twin, a nearly forgotten make today but one that had won the Isle of Man TT before WW1, and continued briefly after the war as a racing contender.  Ashby's first races, while not winners, certainly gave him the bug, and led to a shift of careers.

The 1923 Wooler flat twin sports machine. Note the front suspension by twin plunger spring units on the front axle; a recipe for poor handling on the limit. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1923 Ashby took a job as sales manager for the Wooler Engineering Company, makers of the famous 'Flying Banana' motorcycles using flat-twin motors that could be totally dismantled using a single wrench.   Woolers were not known for speed and were generally not raced, but in November that year Ashby took one to Brooklands, where it recorded a 67mph lap from a standing start, which astonished everyone!  Sadly the Wooler was not used to such treatment, and expired, as did the Wooler Engineering Company soon afterwards.  Ashby was undeterred, and joined Coventry-Eagle as their southern sales and competition manager.  He used a 500cc sidevalve model in various reliability trials, but soon switched allegiance to the W.J. Montgomery Co, holding the same job titles.  In the summer of 1924 he rode a 350cc Montgomery with J.A.P. OHV motor in the Isle of Man Junior TT, in which he finished a creditable fourth place.

C.T. Ashby's innovation for performance on a J.A.P. engined Montgomery TT racer: using one cylinder from the KTOR racing v-twin motor.  It worked, and Montgomery offered a TT Replica model - seen here, a 1925 model. [The Vintagent Archive]
In the search for more power, Ashby convinced J.A.P. (meaning their competition manager, Bert LeVack) to provide him with a 500cc engine using one cylinder from their new KTOR V-twin engines.  Installed in the Junior TT Montgomery chassis, and took 3rd place in the Brooklands 200-mile race (lapping at 90mph), and won the 1924 BMCRC racing championship.  At the big Olympia Show in 1924, Ashby once again took a new employment, this time from Phelon & Moore (P&M), better known as the makers of Panther motorcycles.  While looking after sales in London and racing activities in the south of England, his work agreement stipulated he could also race other makes when not racing a P&M - a very unusual contract!  Thus he was free to purchase and race the big Zenith Championship 976cc model pictured above, which was as fast a motorcycle as one could find anywhere in the world at that date.

From the 1925 Zenith Motorcycles catalogue: the Championship racing model. [The Vintagent Archive]
Zenith motorcycles held more over-100mph lap times at the Brooklands speed bowl than any other make, and the construction of the competition machines were personally supervised by Freddie Barnes, the Managing Director of Zenith from 1907-1930.  The Championship model was new for 1925, and Zenith expert Gerhard Schaukal estimates only six were built through 1930, using 1000cc OHV J.A.P. KTOR racing V-twin engines.  Very few road-going or track motorcycles were built using these motors, and all were strictly limited-production models, like the Brough Superior SS100, Zenith Super 8 and Championship, Coventry-Eagle Super 8, MacEvoy, and a few other small makes.  They remain the rarest and most coveted of all British V-twins, and rank highest among our list of Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles in the World today. Ashby's Zenith is a pure track racer, stripped down to the essentials.  Note the big pillow strapped atop the tank for rider comfort on the notoriously bumpy concrete Brooklands speed bowl. The crucial components of the Zenith include the big 1000cc J.A.P. KTOR racing engine (probably tuned by Bert LeVack), the Harley-Davidson forks with an Andre friction damper out from, a 'square' ML magneto driven by chain at the front of the engine, two big 'Brooklands can' fishtail mufflers poking beyond the rear wheel, 21" wheels front and rear, and a a dummy rim rear brake. Ashby, always a practical rider, is wearing a turtleneck sweater under his collarless leather tunic, and a kidney belt to help with the pounding he must have received while doing 110mph with very little suspension.

Ashby on his 500cc P&M racer at the Isle of Man.  The bike was fast, and lay 3rd for most of the race, but ultimately failed. [The Vintagent Archive]

 

Ashby's career blossomed with P&M, and he won numerous trials, plus a win in the German TT at Swinemünd, and a third in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.  He also won the 250cc event at the inaugural German Grand Prix at the Avus circuit on a Zenith-J.A.P., and took 3rd on the P&M in the 500cc race.  In 1926 he won a Gold Medal in the 1926 ISDT on the P&M, although an Isle of Man TT win eluded him, and though the P&M TT racer was fast, and lay for most of his races in the top 3, mechanical failures dogged the team.  His best result at the TT was in 1927, after he left P&M in favor of OK Supreme, when he took 3rd place in the Lightweight TT.  Later that summer, the European Championship - at that time decided with a single race - was held on the newly opened Nürburgring circuit, and Ashby beat the two-stroke DKW and Puch racers of of Winkler and Höbel to win with his OK-Supreme, making him the Lightweight Champion of Europe.  In the 500cc event, he rode a Rudge to 3rd place behind Graham Walker (Sunbeam) and Stanley Woods (Norton).

Cecil Thomas Ashby, 1896-1929. He was 32 years old and at the top of his racing career when a crash at the TT ended his run. [The Vintagent archive]
Ashby defended his 250cc European Championship title again in 1928, winning the Swiss GP at the Circuit de Meyrin in Geneva with his OK-Supreme, as well as the Austrian GP at Vösendorf.  He won the 500cc Belgian Grand Prix race at Spa on an Ardie that year as well.   Sadly, Cecil Ashby luck ran out in 1929 at the Isle of Man Junior TT, and he crashed his New Imperial racer heavily at Ballacraine, sustaining head injuries, from which he died in the night at Noble's Hospital in Douglas. He'd survived dogfights in WW1, 110mph laps at Brooklands, and two European Championships, but a small road racer proved his undoing, as did the lack of proper safety equipment for racers in the 1920s.

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Road Test: 1928 BMW R63

The Vintagent Road Tests come straight from the saddle of the world's rarest motorcycles.  Catch the Road Test series here.

The BMW R63 was the top of BMWs range in 1928; they had never offered a 750cc OHV motorcycle before. The R63 was an expensive machine when new, and cost about the same as a Brough Superior in the UK, due to import taxes, and I doubt many - if any at all - were imported to the USA. They remain coveted and expensive machines today, as the technical specification is impressive; 750cc OHV motorcycles for the street were rare in 1928, and none were offered in the USA at the time, and only a handful of luxury or super-sports machines in the UK or Europe were available with such a motor.  The styling is another contributing factor to their continued demand; with spare, light lines, the 'flat tank' nestling between the frame rails, and the sporty motor, the R63 is a true Bauhaus beauty.  BMW changed course in 1930 with pressed-steel frames that were also lovely, and gave an Art Deco flair to their lineup, but the R63 has a very different vibe, appearing much lighter and more sporting than its descendants.

A youthful Paul d'Orléans in 2006, giving his BMW R63 a ride in Golden Gate Park for an article by Andy Saunders in City Bike magazine. I was 'into' period riding gear at the time, although the death of a dear friend wearing an identical Davida helmet inspired me to put useless 'safety' gear on a shelf, and ditch nostalgia riding. [Andy Saunders]

I came across the R63 after selling a Brough Superior SS100 (and several other machines) in order to buy a house in San Francisco in 2001.  The SS100 left me with enough cash to buy a restored 1928 BMW R63, which looked amazing via photos. The bike was restored in Germany, but was clearly not re-built for actual riding, only for display.  I've never been so disappointed in a purchase! The mechanical noise was awful; it sounded like a cement mixer, handled like a cart, had terrible brakes which dragged and howled while riding, and a gearbox which whined like a dog with attachment issues.  I returned it to the vendor, who had warned me I should give it a test ride before buying, but he was 3000 miles away, so I rolled the dice.  He re-sold it immediately, such is demand for even poorly restored R63s.

What a beauty! The BMW R63 is from the 'flat tank' era of BMW design, with the fuel tank nestled beneath the top frame rails. A spare, Bauhaus-style design, with a 750cc OHV motor that was the most powerful machine available from BMW. [Andy Saunders]

Of course, my R63 wasn't representative of BMWs from the 1920's. I've since ridden some real peaches from the era (see this Road Test of an R16)...but after asking around for opinions on the R63, I found that although mine was mechanically suspect, they're all slightly crude compared to the later models I was more familiar with, starting with the R5 in 1936.  The chassis specs are interesting; up front is a leaf-spring front fork with a generous 7" brake, although the rear brake is via a finned clamp over the shaft drive coupling, and does little good, especially when wet.  The gearbox has three speeds, and shifting can be graunchy, but that's a problem BMW didn't solve until the turn of the Century.  The 24hp motor has plenty of torque, as you might expect, and spun up well to a satisfying if not thrilling top speed of around 75mph.  If you think I'm expecting too much for the period, my 1928 AJS K7 350cc had the same top speed, my 1928 Sunbeam Model 90TT would romp to over 90mph, and my tuned '26 Norton Model 18 was timed at 96mph.  The handling with the leaf-sprung front fork was not up to British standards of the era, but probably equivalent of an American machine of the era. Which is why the dominant racing machines of the 1920s were Nortons and Sunbeams, which handle superbly and are much lighter, quicker motorcycles.  In sum, the R63 is not a road-burner, but a beautiful grand touring machine, which is a fine thing to be.

Lest we forget: Ernst Henne in September 1929 on a BMW WR750 supercharged for record-breaking: he reached 134.67mph on the Ingolstadt autobahn. Read our 'Absolute Speed, Absolute Power' article. [The Vintagent Archive]

Would I give another R63 a try in my stable?  Of course!  What a beauty.  I met a mechanic/restorer in Germany who regularly rides his R63 from Munich to Turkey for his summer holidays; now that's a relationship worth envying.  And it should be remembered that the R63 formed the foundation of BMW's WR750 racers and record-breakers, that would record 135mph with a supercharger and streamlined bodywork.  A very different animal indeed...

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

Those Dapper Racers of the 1920s: Kaye Don

When one ponders the English gentleman racer of the Vintage era, this square-jawed charmer is perhaps the apex example of the genre, for his visage in this case foretells a great career lasting decades.  Meet the 30-year old Kaye Don at the Brooklands speed bowl in 1921, who has just set a speed record on a delicate but all-business Diamond motorcycle.  And while some might think an athlete aged 30 might be at the peak of their racing prowess, at the moment captured he was only beginning an illustrious career that would earn him global fame.  For while Kaye Don raced motorcycles for a few years in the early 1920s, it was when he abandoned two wheels for four, and wheels altogether, that he won his greatest success.  

The youthful Kaye Don photographed on April 16, 1921 at Brooklands.  He would earn legend status racing Sunbeams and Bugattis from the mid-1920s to  mid-'30s, and for holding both land and water World Speed Records simultaneously.  [The Vintagent Archive]

Karl Ernest Donajowsky (or Donsky) was born in Dublin in 1891 of Polish parentage, and adopted 'Kaye Don' as his nom de course. He began entering road trials on motorcycles in 1912, and worked as a tester for Avon Tyres, but the advent of WW1 in 1914 put a pause on his competition career.  He joined the Royal Flying Corps as a pilot, eventually serving as an artillery observer in an R.E.8 reconnaissance plane over the Belgian front. When racing resumed in 1919, he raced motorcycles, and lived in Kingston-Upon-Thames as a man of means, employing Charles Cooper as his full-time racing tuner/mechanic.  'Charlie' Cooper went on to found the Cooper Car Co. after WW2, taking two F1 World Championships with his then-radical mid-engine monoposto designs.  For a time Don and Cooper lived together at Don's address, before Cooper was married in 1923 and moved a short distance away.  Cooper earned his mechanical apprenticeship at Napier just before WW1, and gained tremendous mechanical experience during an immediately after the war, repairing and reconditioning a wide variety of vehicles.  Cooper would remain as chief engineer of Kaye Don's racing equipe through 1934.  

Another Diamond 250cc OHV road racer from 1921, with Bert Houlding aboard, who later founded Matador motorcycles. Note the differences between Kaye Don's radical track racer and this better-equipped road racer. Road registration was a typical requirement for road trials and even the Isle of Man TT at the time, hence the full road equipment, including a horn and parcel rack with toolboxes...but no muffler. [The Vintagent Archive]

The top photograph  is dated April 16, 1921, with Kaye Don aboard a pretty little Diamond 250cc OHV track racer with a 2-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox.  On that day the Diamond set a flying kilometer speed record of 69.62mph, impressively fast for such a small machine.  Note the details of the Diamond: it has no brakes whatsoever, Druid racing forks, no chainguards on the primary or final drives, and no mechanical oil pump.  Don would have pressed the manual oil pump atop the fuel tank every mile or so, and squeezed the 'front brake' lever for an extra shot of oil direct to the crankshaft's big end. The right handlebar also carried the combined throttle and air slide levers (there were few 'automatic' carbs at that time), to fine-tune the mix of fuel and air: a level of rider control no longer possible today. Kaye Don's outfit includes the typical woolen racing gear of the day (jodhpurs and an Oxford sweater), with his detachable-collar shirt, necktie with tiebar, high wool socks and street shoes. Hardly protective gear!  All the chains were exposed on his Diamond, and considerable oil has been flung onto on the engine. Plus of course, there are no mudguards to keep down weight, but without any protection from road grit or oil, it's a wonder how his sweater remains clean! Regardless, a dashing portrait of an apex racing gentleman.  The photo deserves additional scrutiny for the details in the background: note a Morgan Grand Prix parked along a safety rail with several open touring cars.  The white horizontal strip in the far distance is the Byfleet Banking of the Brooklands racing circuit, which was nearly vertical at the top and appears as a wall here.  Just behind the Diamond is a fantastic racing combination with an alloy-body sidecar, with giant dropped handlebars and a painted number roundel on the nose of the 'chair'. I can't discern the make of the bike, but it looks like a big v-twin, possibly a Zenith.

The magnificent monster - the Wolseley Viper built from a Hispano-Suiza aero engine and Napier chassis, driven by Kaye Don at Brooklands here. [The Vintagent Archive]

Kaye Don switched from racing motorcycles to racing cars later in 1921, after purchasing Harry Hawker's remarkable A.C. monoposto racer, after Hawker's death in an aero accident.  Hawker had lived near Don, and   he purchased the car presumably from his widow.  The A.C. had an OHC 4-cylinder 1.5L motor on a long chassis and an alloy body built by Hawker himself: the engine was well-developed, and was the first 1.5L car to exceed 100mph, reaching 105.14mph over a measured half-mile at Brooklands with Hawker driving.  After Kaye Don purchased the car, he recorded 100.4mph over a flying kilometer, but it was a year before a full mile at over 100mph was reached.  The second care he raced was the famous Wolseley Viper, which was not really a Wolseley at all, but an aero-engined 'monster' assembled after WW1 and raced with some success by various drivers, until such machines were banned at Brooklands in 1930.  After that, the Viper continued to serve, employed as a high-speed mobile test-bed for Avon Tyres, as it could reliably circulate the Brooklands track at over 100mph. The Viper used a Hispano-Suiza Type 34 200hp 11.7L OHC V-8 motor, built by Wolseley Motors Ltd. under license during WW1, and a pre-WW1 Napier shooting brake chassis owned by King George V, and surreptitiously borrowed by the Prince of Wales for the creation of the Viper by Alaister Miller, competition manager at Wolseley. 

The Harry Hawker A.C. monoposto racer that Kaye Don campaigned with great success. [The Vintagent Archive]

After making a name for himself with race wins and 100mph laps, Kaye Don was offered a works driver position for Sunbeam in 1925.  He drove three cars; the Cub, the Tiger and the Tigress, all of which were winners.  'The Cub' used an inline 6-cylinder OHC 1,988cc supercharged engine, and won the Gold Vase at Brooklands in 1927, lapping at over 118mph.  The motor produced 145hp and its best laps at Brooklands were over 126mph in Kaye Don's hands.   In 1925 he raced a remarkable 12-cylinder OHC 3,978c.c. supercharged Sunbeam, built to take a Land Speed Record, but also raced at Brooklands by Don, who set the Outer Circuit lap record several times, at 131.76, 134.24 and eventually 137.58 mph.   He was the only driver at Brooklands to make a 130mph lap in the 1920s, which earned him the first 'triple Gold Star'. 

Kaye Don in his 1928 Lea Francis Hyper TT racer, winner of the Ulster TT that year. [Coventry Transport Museum]

Kaye Don seemed happy driving any vehicle at speed, including the Jappic cyclecar, with which he set a 65mph 10-mile record in 1925, with a 495cc J.A.P. motor - the inspiration for the future Cooper racing cars?  Don also raced on various various road circuits, proving he was a skilled road racer as well as a brave top speed driver.  He won the 1928 Ulster TT driving a Lea-Francis, and competed at the Isle of Man TT using an MG Magnette.  He was British Motor Racing Champion in 1928 and 1929. In 1930, Charles Cooper travelled to Molsheim to assemble the 4.9-litre, straight-eight Bugatti that Kaye Don is most famous for driving, among several Bugattis he campaigned.

Kaye Don piloting the Miss England III in 1928 on Loch Lomond, where he reached 120.5mph, a Water Speed Record. [The Vintagent Archive]

Don held many World Water Speed Records, which most would agree are far more dangerous undertakings than Land Speed Record breaking; in fact, many famous record holders on land lost their lives attempting the same in boats. The list of Kaye Don's records in boats is impressive, and he travelled extensively to the U.S.A., South America, Australia, South Africa and Europe to race. Don held the World Water Speed Record four times: 1931 Buenos Aires: 104 mph. 1931 Italy: 110 mph. 1932, Loch Lomond: 119 mph. He was awarded an International Motor Yachting Union Medal in 1931.  He left boat racing in 1932, after famously reaching 120.5mph with the potent ‘Miss England III’.

Tragedy occurred at during practice for the 1934 IoM TT motor race, with an MG Magnette racer.  Don had complained to MG about the steering and brakes of his racer, and asked his racing mechanic Frank Tayler to improve them. Tayler joined Don in the evening for a test run on public roads that were no longer closed for race practice.  Of course, Don tried the MG at racing speeds, but sideswiped another car coming the opposite direction, and crashed.  While none of the 5 occupants of the other car were injured, Frank Tayler was badly injured and soon died.  As he had been driving at illegal speeds in a race car on open roads at the time of the accident, Kaye Don was charged with manslaughter, and despite the efforts of the motoring press, who testified that Tayler knew the risks of the situation, Don was convicted. After spending 5 months in prison, Don was released in Dec. 1934. 

The 1959 Ambassador Super S model with deeply valanced fenders and a 250cc Villiers 2T twin-cylinder two-stroke engine. An attractive motorcycle - I had one! [The Vintagent Archive]

Kaye Don attempted a comeback in 1936 on four wheels, but this proved difficult, and he returned to working for Avon Tyres, testing new compounds for high-speed driving, sometimes using his old Wolseley Viper racer.  In 1946, he founded U.S. Concessionaires with the intention of importing American cars, but the British gov't would only allow exports of British goods, due to the extreme national debt incurred during the War.  Don pivoted to founding Ambassador brand motorcycles in 1946, which proved successful, using mostly Villiers two-stroke engines in well-built chassis (I had a 1959 Ambassador Super S with 250cc Villiers twin engine - a lovely machine).  He sold Ambassador to DMW in 1961, and retired, aged 70.  He lived from 1891 to 1981.

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

Quail Motorcycle Gathering is Back!

After a two-year hiatus, the The Quail Motorcycle Gathering will return to Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, California, on Saturday, May 14, 2022. The 12th annual event will include five featured classes, announced as The Harley-Davidson XR-750, Two-Stroke “Braaaps,” Mini bikes | BIG FUN, and the BMW /5 Series. Additionally, one brand-new non-motorcycle class featuring hot rods and classic cars has joined this year’s line-up.

Where can you see a lineup of amazing road, race, and custom motorcycles in such a beautiful setting? Gotta hit the Quail, peeps. [Paolo Rosas]
The featured class of the iconic Harley-Davidson XR-750 will certainly attract interest.  The XR-750 is among the most successful racing motorcycles in history, and is still winning flat track races today, 50 years after its introduction!  Among its most famous riders are Mert Lawwill, Cal Rayborn and Jay Springsteen, who took their National Championship titles on the distinctive all-alloy V-twin that everyone wanted for the street.  Even Evil Knievel got in the act, giving up his Triumph and XL Sportster jump bikes for a proper XR-750, by far the most airborne of all Harley-Davidsons.

The Two-Stroke “Braaaps” display of on- and off-road bikes will fuel nostalgia for those who miss ring-a-dings and a trail of smoke. The “Braaaps” display will include a swath of pre-mixed motorcycle history from the 1960's and ‘70s, right into the early ‘80s, after which the species disappeared in the USA. Motocross bikes like the Yamaha YZ490 and the Honda CR500 will be alongside their road going counterparts like the Yamaha RD350 and even MotoGP Two-Stroke 500cc race bikes of the era.

The Rollie Free 'bathing suit' record-breaker makes semi-regular appearances at the Quail: what a stunner. [Quail]
The BMW /5 class will include 'toaster tanks,' long- and short-wheelbase versions, and every option conceivable of this popular classic. The R75/5 series were the first motorcycles made entirely in Berlin (jokingly referred to as 'Berlin Motor Works') from 1970 to 1973.  They were the first BMW to featured electric starters, and while some derided their handling as the 'rubber cow,' they were beautifully built and very reliable, and injected a sporting quality into what had been a staid lineup of Earles-fork /2 models.

Our buddy Roland Sands will be featured as the Quail's 2022 Legend of the Sport, and will present the Arlen Ness Memorial Award to a custom motorcycle builder in honor of the late Arlen Ness.  Don't give yourself the award, Roland.

JK, go ahead.

The 100th anniversary of Brough Superior was celebrated in 2019, the most recent Quail event: it was an amazing lineup. [Tosh Monday]
Hosted on the pristine lawns of the Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, the Quail Motorcycle Gathering prides itself on being 'the premier motorcycle lifestyle event in the world.'  It is certainly the finest motorcycle-only concours d'elegance in the world, and the machinery on display has improved year on year, a strategy that founder Gordon McCall applied to keep the growth of the event organic for long-term success.  It has certainly paid off, and despite the pandemic event gap, the Quail continues to develop as an awesome event, with great food and drink, a stunning venue, and a very relaxed vibe.  Plus, I'll be the emcee once again!

New to 2022, The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is offering General Public Admission Only tickets at $55, which include parking and gear valet service for those riding a motorcycle to the event. This year, The Quail is partnering with local food trucks providing a wide selection of food and beverages in the new concessions pavilion. General Public Admission + Hospitality tickets are $90 and include a lunch in a private seating area, including a buffet of culinary delights and non-alcoholic beverages. Tickets are available online at www.quaillodgeevents.com. Learn more about the event at www.peninsula.com/en/signature-events and follow the action on Facebook and Instagram, @TheQuailEvents.

If you've never done the Quail Ride on the Friday before the Quail Motorcycle Gathering, you're missing something extra-special: laps around Laguna Seca raceway! [Paolo Rosas]
Feature image: Ian Barry of Falcon Motorcycles takes the Cycle World Custom & Style Award at the 2009 Quail Motorcycle Gathering, with his amazing Triumph-based Falcon Kestrel.  Read my Road Test of the Kestrel here: we did the only road test of any media outlet of this extraordinary machine.

Ian Barry accepts the Cycle World Custom & Style Award for his Falcon Kestrel in 2009. [Paul d'Orléans]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

Actually, It IS Rocket Science

Dr Robin Tuluie’s meteoric career on two and four wheels

Full disclosure: due to an unpredictable path through life, I have rubbed elbows with, hung out with, ridden motorcycles with, done work with a lot of very famous individuals.  Major rock stars, huge television personalities, film stars, and ravishing beauties men tuck themselves into bathrooms to privately celebrate.  All have been interesting in one way or another, mostly for highlighting the strange separation of an actual human being with a famous simulacra the world adores.  From all these meetings with remarkable men and women, there is only one who consistently astonishes me with a combination of genius, enthusiasm, accomplishment, and humility: Dr. Robin Tuluie.  He also happens to be the one I’ve known the longest, as indeed I knew him when, having stenciled the logo of our long-defunct café racer motorcycle club on his leather jacket in 1987.  Back then he was Rob the Roadholder, the egghead kid doing undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, who rode the same Norton Commando on club runs that he campaigned at our local track, Sears Point.  He was the same fellow then as now, being enthusiastic with a goofy humor and shy humility, and the ability to dig two layers deeper in a technical conversation than the rest of us, all of whom happened to be fellow alumni of the UC system, and no dummies, regardless our relatively harmless shenanigans aboard obsolete British motorcycles on the late-night streets of our sleepy city by the bay.

Rob the Roadholder in 1988, somewhere in Mexico on his full-race daily rider Norton Commando. [Dr. Robin Tuluie]
Robin hid motorcycle racing from his parents in fear of losing financial support at University, and slipped through his years at Berkeley undetected.  He’d moved to the USA from Germany in 1982, but had visited the campus before that with his Persian father, and happened across John Gallivan’s legendary TT Motors, the café racer hub of the Bay Area.  “I saw all these amazing café racers and custom bikes, and asked ‘you can ride those on the road?’ After that, I said I’m moving there!” California has yet to reach the bureaucratic pinnacle of the TÜV, and Robin had been nicked multiple times for hot-rodding his moped in Germany.  A native-born American might not comprehend the breath of fresh air such freedom provides, and in many ways Robin’s tale is a classic American immigrant saga: taking full advantage of our laxity, and joining the culture of mavericks that flourishes in our peculiar soil.  At first, this expression was limited to the happy hooliganism of fast motorcycling and a no-money racing effort with an aging classic.  “I started racing at Sears Point, the best and worst track to learn racing, every corner is so difficult.  At Laguna Seca, all the Roadholders came, and I managed to get on the podium, and we had one hell of a party!  I was the only racer sleeping in a tent on the infield - just a student working at a parking garage.  I loved that time, it was simple and fun. Vintage car racing is still like that.”  But a few podium places and even victories in vintage racing over the years gave no hint of what was to come.

30+ years later, Dr. Robin Tuluie still has his Roadholders MC jacket - and it still fits. [Paul d'Orléans]
After graduating UCB, he moved to UT Austin for doctoral studies in Astrophysics, and carried on racing not just the Norton, but also an AJS 7R and a Yamaha TZ750, the fearsome two-stroke beast that defined ‘wickedly narrow powerband.’ After earning his Doctorate, the now Dr. Robin Tuluie pursued post-doc studies at U Penn, and applied new methodologies to his racing machinery.  The result was the Tul-Da Eccentric 500 built in 1993, his first attempt at total chassis design.  Tul-Da’s frame is shockingly simple; a robust triangulated girder fork connecting steering head to swingarm pivot.  The ‘Eccentric’ was an all-empirical design feature, mounting both the fork stem and swingarm pivot on adjustable mounts, to alter the handling characteristics. Hung between straight chromoly tubes was a Honda CR500 MX-racing two-stroke engine, on which Robin worked black magic to produce an astonishing 75hp. The all-up weight of the Tul-Da was 197lbs (89.4kg) - a fighting man’s razor one could “just think through the corners.”  It won 13 of 16 race starts and two Grand National Championships, as well as taking first at Daytona in the 1995 AHRMA Sound of Singles race.

Your author Paul d'Orléans on his Norton Atlas road/racer in 1989, two years after he founded the Roadholders MC with Adam Fisher and Mark Merat. [Paul d'Orléans]
All of this occurred, mind you, in the middle of post-doctoral research on gravitation at Penn. But Robin would soon abandon the cosmos for Polaris, as his racing prowess attracted an inquiry from legendary moto-technical journalist Kevin Cameron: what did he know about snowmobiles? Kevin introduced him to Polaris, the USA’s largest wintersports manufacturer, and his first real job, designing the chassis for a new motorcycle project called Victory.  Sales of ‘cruiser’ motorcycles were robust enough in 1996 for the giant snowmobile company to leap into the shark-filled waters of moto manufacture, which proved generally profitable, although the Victory line was dropped in 2017 to favor their acquisition and development of the Indian brand, which they reckoned had longer legs (‘1901’ and all that).  And so it has proved.

Dr. Robin Tuluie with his Tul-Da racer, with a racing Honda CR500 MX motor tuned for 75hp, and a chassis built by Rob, with eccentric adjustments of the swingarm pivot and steering head. It weighed 192lbs dry. [Dr. Robin Tuluie]
Proximity to racing snowmobile engines at Polaris led to the inevitable.  In 1998 Robin designed a new racing motorcycle – the Tul-Aris - around a 700cc two-stroke snowmobile motor, pumped to 780cc and tuned to suit.  It was the first motorcycle designed totally by computer, and the subject of his first SAE paper. Of all Robin’s racing motorcycles, the Tul-Aris is the best remembered, a featherweight beauty with gorilla performance.  “I built the Tul-Aris as I’d always wanted to ride a GP bike, but quickly found out I wasn’t good enough!  The power was absolutely terrifying – the bike still makes more torque than any MotoGP bike, and it only weighs 270lbs!”  The Tul-Aris was a handful, a 120kg machine pushed by 183hp that wheelied right through fourth gear and gained 50hp within a 500rpm rocket-boost zone. In the hands of professional riders it collected enough wins and lap records to earn their living, and has the distinction of being the first home-built motorcycle to win a Grand Prix. It was also Robin’s first experience building a racer with a team of talented enthusiasts, a skill that would prove immediately useful when the Tul-Aris racer was abruptly packed away in 2000 for a move to the F1 ghetto of Oxfordshire.

A remote dirt campground, a little clutch trouble, and a lot of paper towels. From the Mexican adventure by Commando. [Dr Robin Tuluie]
But we’re getting ahead of the story. After the launch of the Victory, Robin made a career shift more in line with his research into fluid dynamics at Penn, to work with Materials Testing Systems (MTS) in Minnesota.  MTS is the sexiest engineering company you’ve never heard of, providing dynamic testing services to the automotive, construction, aircraft, and space industries.  If you want to be sure your space shuttle won’t crack up from the stresses of atmospheric re-entry, call MTS.  Or, if your 110-storey skyscraper needs certification that a 100mph wind won’t topple it, call MTS.  Or, if the seven-post hydraulic ram testing platform for your F1 chassis needs tweaking, call the company who built it, and they’ll send their man out for a look.  For a time that man was Dr. Robin Tuluie, who brought a physicist’s toolkit to the thinking behind hydraulic testing devices and computerized stress models, for structures large and small.  It was a life-changing job, with world-class mentors like Neil Petersen, “who was so cool.  If I had a question and he’d say, let’s sit down and figure it out, and he’d work it out all the calculations on paper with me.” Around 1980, Petersen adapted the tuned mass damper to stabilize skyscrapers in the wind: in a building, that’s a 400-ton chunk of concrete sliding around on the 59th floor, counteracting lateral forces via inertia. Automotive crankshaft dampers work on the same principle. “I have a 1930s Alvis with an aftermarket tuned mass damper on the bumper.  On old cars you can get axle tramp - left/right/left/right - and you mount this on the bumper, connected to the axle, so if the axle started twisting, it counteracts the twist.”   The past, as they say, points to the future.

A Roadholders club ride in 1988: Rob the Roadholder talking with Adam Fisher on the left. [Paul d'Orléans]
The amazing 7-post hydraulic ram simulators at MTS are used to replicate real-world stresses on automobiles and trucks, and the auto industry relies heavily on their feedback. They can also replicate an entire F1 race using data retrieved from sensors, and can accurately predict lap time changes to the hundredth of a second from minor chassis adjustments.  MTS is where Robin mastered the art of chassis design through data and simulation. “I started in the vehicle dynamics group, which is where I learned my craft.”  Among the industry heavyweights he met at MTS was Bob Bell, who leveraged a doctorate in Aeronautical Engineering at QUB to become the man making F1 cars slippery in the wind, first at McLaren, then Jordan F1, then, around the time he met Robin, at Renault F1. “Bob is really good, we got along well, and he ended up as technical director at Renault F1.  I visited Renault in the UK to improve a 7-post simulator, and Bob asked how I was doing. I said, ‘I’m getting a bit bored of hydraulic oil.’  He said, ‘that’s good - I think I have a job for you.’  ‘What job?’  ‘I was thinking Head of R&D.’  ‘Yeah, that would be great!’  That was it: I moved to England.”

The Menasco Pirate, using an aero engine manufactured by Albert Menasco in a period chassis and bodywork to match, here being raced by Robin at the VSCC Silverston races in 2018. [The Automobile]
Kudos to Mr. Bell for recognizing talent. While Robin had never designed an F1 car, he already had extensive experience modeling, testing, and making them faster at MTS.  The most significant idea he carried to England was an adaptation of the tuned mass damper.  “Neil Petersen re-invented the idea for buildings, and I re-invented it for F1.  It took off 3/10sec per lap, and it helped us win the World Championship.”  Twice.  His F1 system was essentially a mass and spring counteracting unwanted chassis movement.  For example, when the tires grow lighter as the chassis bounces upwards, the mass pushes down on the chassis, providing more grip. The device was compact but heavy: Renault used 5, 7.5, and 10kg masses depending on the track.  But F1 cars also carry tungsten ballast to bring them to the regulation minimum weight, so the damper simply meant less ballast. “It’s worth it” is Rob’s typical understatement: his tuned mass damper brought the under-funded Renault team the World Championship in 2005 and 2006, when the system was banned.  While every other F1 team immediately copied his device (there are only temporary secrets in F1), they didn’t have someone with Tuluie’s background designing them.

The Tul-Aris was Robin's second major home-made race bike, using a Polaris snowmobile engine in his own chassis, designed entirely on computer. It has a better power-to-weight ratio than any current GP bike, and more torque too. [Dr Robin Tuluie]
After winning two World Championships for Renault, Mercedes-Benz F1 called. “I moved to Mercedes because if they get involved, they’ll win.”  Several F1 teams are located near Oxford, so the job swap was simply a new commute.  With the mass damper outlawed, Rob invented a wildly complex, but passive, ride-height regulator. A typical F1 car has about 6000 parts, and his passive ride height system had a further 2000 parts, connecting the front and rear of the car to keep it level under all conditions: full acceleration, deep braking, and hard cornering.  “You don’t want to dip the nose too much in braking, as instability comes when the weight is too light on the rear, it’s instant, even with a 15mm dip.  That doesn’t seem like a lot, but negating that 15mm gained half a second per lap!  At every point on the track the body was within a millimeter of where we wanted it. It was a flying hydraulic computer, with dozens of passages and jets and pistons and shafts and seals, with elements in the front and back.  We also invented a fully tunable air spring, so there were no coil springs, no torsion springs - all air.”

The gorgeous Alvis Speed 20 SA, a weekend driver full of appeal. [Paul d'Orléans]
While in Oxford, he fell into the vintage car scene with an original-paint 1932 Alvis Speed 20 SA with a Vanden Plas body. It’s a near-daily driver with enough room for the whole family, including an old friend from the States, whom Robin insisted should drive the car, despite an active load of un-belted ladies and children in the back seat.  I can report that years of experience with 1920s motorcycles using manual throttle/spark advance/shift were of little help with the Alvis’ peculiarities. I found myself approaching a left turn with more speed than desired: Robin noted the fluff, and casually yanked the steering wheel around, slewing the whole (screaming) family sideways around the bend.  “Old cars are so forgiving, the tires squirm and scrub off speed!” Indeed, nothing was harmed but my pride.  The Alvis is an elegant old girl, spacious and relaxed in proportion yet still sporting enough to excite, an utterly classic British open sports car of the early ‘30s, with timeless lines.  A car full of appeal, in short.

TLC for Robin's Kellison sports racer, while the Menasco Pirate lurks behind. [Paul d'Orléans]
In the thick of a wildly successful F1 career, Robin decided to build his own race car, using none of the technology he’d developed at his day job.  A rising tide of very cool aero-engine specials in the 2000s spoke to his years of combining unrelated powerplants and chassis into potent racers, so his search began for a suitable donor.  He found it in a Menasco Pirate engine from the USA.  Albert Menasco was a fascinating character, who mechanic’d for pioneer barnstormer ‘Birdboy’ Art Smith in the early ‘Teens, racing midget cars at the 1915 Panama Pacific Int’l Expo (see, ‘Race Around the Rainbow Scintillator’), and taking the whole equipe to Korea and Japan for expositions.  Menasco was a wing-walker, then a flight instructor in WW1, and turned to aero engine manufacture in the 1926 as Menasco Motors.  His inverted four- and six-cylinder engine design of 1929 became the most successful American race-plane motor of the 1930s. Ever the engineer, Robin found the engine’s architecture superior, “I thought wow this is neat, it’s a lot better than a Gypsy or Cirrus engine.” As Menasco’s engine design was certified in 1929, Tuluie thought it a perfect match for a ’29 Riley chassis. He mated it to a Rolls Royce 20hp gearbox and a locked Ford Model A rear rend.  “The gearbox blew up almost instantly, so I had new internals made with a different tooth shape, and stronger.

The four Amal TT racing carbs feeding the Menasco Pirate aero engine. [Paul d'Orléans]
With a bare chassis complete, he turned to Richard Scaldwell for an appropriate body. “He has a sculptor’s feel for how the car should look.  I needed to make it look like an old car, learning how to use my eye to judge when something is cool and interesting and age appropriate.” The Pirate was finished in 2008 after an 18-month build, and first raced in 2009.  “When you follow your own path you don’t waste a lot of time asking people.  From an engineering perspective it was not that difficult, it’s not like modeling a modern race car at all.  I did use computer simulation because I can’t help myself, so that’s modern, but the bits are mostly old.  I wanted the car to say ‘aero engine car’ without putting a sticker or a propeller on it.  I’d seen the instruments of a zeppelin at the London Science Museum, they’re all hanging from skimpy little brackets that scream ‘airship!’, so that was my inspiration for the dash.” As one might expect, a man who’s won the Daytona 200 four times can handle a car.  The Pirate can be seen slinging itself sideways in various hillclimbs and VSCC events, and it had a win at Spa in 2019, the last time Robin could race it.

The Tul-Aris currently sits in Robin's hallway at his home near Oxford, England. [Paul d'Orléans]
You’ll no doubt have noticed another, very black and very sexy racer in these photos: a 1957 Kellison.  It is in fact the very first Kellison racer, serial #1, the one Jim Kellison called ‘the grandaddy’ in his 1959 advertising, because ‘our new car is so much better looking.’  A debatable point, as Serial #1 could pass for ten years younger.  An open two-seat sports racer, it’s the only Kellison with dual headrest cowls matching the rear wheel arches.  It’s a Frankenbeast of a car, with Chrysler bones and heart, and is pretty crude beneath that sexy fiberglass body. “Jim Kellison was an engineer with the Air Force, so the design isn’t stupid, but the suspension geometry isn’t ideal.  The rear end has a solid axle on vertical coil springs – how stable is that going to be at 140mph?”  Air Force experience informed Kellison’s famously sleek bodies, but Kellisons aren’t the best handling machines, as noted in period tests. “I raced it once and it needs to be improved to be safe.  It’s very fast and weighs only 2000lbs, but I want a bit more shakedown time. I raced it on a hillclmb and didn’t get out of 2nd gear - I was slower than with the Pirate!”  So, expect more from Robin’s Kellison, which will surely inherit a period-correct yet computer-modeled rear end in the near future.

Robin racing the Kellison at Impney in 2019. [The Automobile]
Fast forwarding through Robin’s CV, after four F1 World Championships with two teams, he was ready for something new.  “I get bored easily.”  As a side gig, he’d been helping out with the Ducati MotoGP team, arranged by the CEO of Bentley, Wolfgang Dürheimer. That led to a new gig at Bentley, doing totally new kinds of simulation, “We were simulating audio systems for great sound, and the climate control system, to make it an amazing driver experience…it’s nice because these are simulations for making people happy!”  Robin had 1000 engineers at his disposal for any project he wanted, including for Ducati/Porsche/VW/Audi but also jet and yacht design, Indycars, and more.  And while all that was fun and new and interesting, he still had to answer to The Man, “stuck having to justify everything by expense and ROI.”

Dr. Robin Tuluie at his home in 2019. [Paul d'Orléans]
In 2019 Dr. Robin Tuluie bailed out the window of the corporate jet to start his own business, PhysicsX.  “I’ve got a great team that’s mostly younger than me, and we have offices in Bicester Heritage as we don’t want to be in a grey office park.  We’re under the radar, with the benefit we can smell the old cars.”  Not that old cars is the business of PhysicsX, “It’s going gangbusters now, we have 8 clients, and they’re big, like an F1 team, McKinsey, Ducati, and a medical company to develop a new type of mechanical heart.”  Wait, what? Yes, it all makes sense: a genius at modeling fluid dynamics taking on the most important pump in the animal kingdom, a human heart. “We’ve looked at the field to see what people are doing, like modeling he human circulatory systems, they’re modeling like they’re circuits. I think ‘this is ridiculous’, these are hydraulic systems - we are hydraulic systems.  It took me over Christmas to model the human circulatory system.” How does it feel to shift from relatively frivolous pursuits like racing to working on human beings? “There’s a bit of deep swallowing, but we keep following the physics. I feel 20-something years old again.”

 

[Note: this article originally appeared in The Automobile magazine in April 2021, with photos by Any Shore.  It's definitely worth checking out the print version, but Rob's photos (and mine) tell another story...]

Paul d'Orléans founded TheVintagent.com in 2006. He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Valen Zhou: The Railway Engineer

In 2013 The Vintagent had the pleasure of introducing the work of photographer and custom bike builder Valen Zhou of Chengdu, China to a wide audience ('A Truly Global Custom Scene').  His work on the 'Monstub' custom soon appeared in BikeExif and subsequently all over the Internet.  The Monstub was his first customized motorcycle, and indicated considerable talent in Valen's hands.  We're happy to share his second custom motorcycle, which he calls the 'ER' as an homage to his grandfather, a railway engineer, who helped raise Valen.  His absorption of the tools of his grandfather's trade into the very body of his latest motorcycle is a beautiful statement of Valen's sincerity as a moto-artisan.

Valen Zhou in the wee morning hours under a freeway in Chengdu, China, with the ER. [Valen Zhou]
Valen updated us on his story:  "In October 2013 I built my first custom motorcycle. The story of the motorcycle was published in The Vintagent shortly after. A lot of people wanted to know what I would do next. I've finally finished my second motorcycle, which is to honor my grandfather, which I call 'ER' —the engineer of the railway.  I lost my grandfather (who was 86 years old) in 2012; I grew up with him, and was proud I had such a cool grandfather.  He was a railway and mechanical fuel technology engineer, working in the early 1950s, forming a new nation of Chinese industry. In those hard times, he was the one of engineers who built the four important railways in China. When he retired in 1986, I liked to sit next to my grandfather and watch him make toys. I still remember that time. I liked bicycles so much, my grandfather said: “If you want one, just build it yourself,” and perhaps that’s why I like doing things all by myself.

A dramatic shot revealing a few of the eccentric details of the ER. [Valen Zhou]
After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother gave me a box, and told me it was my grandfather’s treasure. My grandfather treated that box just like his own life.  When I opened the box there were so many tools in it, some of them I was familiar with, but some of them I had never seen before. All of those tools were used by my grandfather when he worked on railways. I incorporated these tools on my new motorcycle to show respect to my grandfather, and felt my grandfather would be there with me when he rode this new motorcycle."

Steam fittings and specialized (obsolete) tools used by his grandfather were incorporated into the ER. [Valen Zhou]
Valen Zhou totally rebuilt a 1987 Kawasaki 250 in a very different manner from his previous machine, the Monstub.  His intention was for it to be more efficient and practical, while integrating his grandfather’s tools to make the motorcycle special. He used one of his grandfather’s screwdrivers instead of a gear lever, and he bent a wrench to use for the kickstand. He cut two fire extinguishers apart and reassembled them to make the oil tank. The handlebars were angled for riding comfort.  Valen obsessed over these details, and spent whole nights sewing his seat and polishing his rear wheel hub, to create a motorcycle capturing the spirit of the railway.  Or at least, a memory of the railway as lived by his grandfather.

A hose tap, a screwdriver, spanners and hammers all made their way into the build. [Valen Zhou]
Valen projected his second hand-made motorcycle would take three or four weeks to build, which of course proved impossible.  There were many solutions required to problems of construction and unique design, and at times he struggled expressing his inspiration in metal.  "I am so new to the world of motorcycles. Nevertheless, I finished it." After the Chinese New Year in 2014, Valen moved to Milan, which "is like a paradise to me. There are a lot of Italian classic motorcycles on the road, and I can find any type of motorcycle that I want.  I will learn more skills about how to rebuild motorcycles, to make my work better."

The overall aesthetic of the ER was vexing for many readers in 2014! [Valen Zhou]
Since this story first appeared in The Vintagent in 2014, Valen did indeed move permanently to Milan, where he's found work as a professional photographer.  Sadly, he hasn't followed up with the 3rd custom build yet, but we're still hoping to see more, someday.  His photography is featured regularly on The Vintagent, especially on our social media channels: Instagram and Facebook.

The stance is unique, but retains the standard chassis geometry of the Kawasaki 250. [Valen Zhou]
Valen Zhou's photography is his primary calling, and his current profession in Milan. [Valen Zhou]
 

Paul d'Orléans founded TheVintagent.com in 2006.  He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Diane Brandon: The Gold Star Girl

By Diane Brandon

I was cruising the bike displays during the Northwest Thunder weekend at Portland's Expo Center, and spotted a motorcycle that brought on the memories. It was a 1962 BSA DBD34 Gold Star.  That's a single-cylinder 500c.c. British bike produced by Birmingham Small Arms. It had an authentic blue tank and chrome fenders, and every detail appeared to be just as I remembered; it was THE bike to have in the late 1950's and early '60's. You see, I bought one just like it in 1958.  Nothing remarkable in that, except that it was 1958 and I was - and still am - a girl.  I was 18, having just graduated from high school, and knowing that the Fall would bring my enrollment in an all-womens' college, and with it the rapid onset of adult responsibilities ... which in 1958 spelled marriage/kids/dog/station wagon (or the only other alternative: becoming a librarian).  This was my last chance for freedom.

A 1958 photo of Diane Brandon from her High School yearbook. Sadly, no photos of her with the BSA Gold Star, for the reasons outlined below. [Diane Brandon]
The bike was new, the bike was blue, and I was a very inexperienced rider. I had occasionally gone for a putt by myself on a boyfriend's AJS and another boyfriend's Triumph TR6, but this was a new adventure. My considerable experience showing horses aided balance and coordination, my love for all things mechanical provided the enthusiasm, and my lack of years provided the ignorance I must have possessed to just get on the thing and go. There were no motorcycle safety classes or license endorsement requirements in Kansas City, Missouri, circa 1958. My dad wouldn't speak to me. My mother spoke to me of her horror that I would be killed in a terrible accident, but she was even more horrified that one of her friends might see me. My boyfriend at the time, who also had a BSA, was pretty silent on the subject, but I think he liked the extra attention it reflected onto him. No other woman I had ever known rode her own motorcycle. My girl friends were pretty indifferent to the whole idea as well. I learned then for the first time what we now see on the tee shirts, "If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand."Learning to ride well on the Gold Star taught me two things: courage and patience. I learned that if I possessed the passion for something, had the courage to make the necessary sacrifice and follow through, I could do just about anything. I also learned patience... waiting on the side of the road for the engine to cool enough for me to change the fouled KLG spark plug, or patience when a tiny oil leak would escalate to a steady drip, and I couldn't afford the repair until the next payday. These were good lessons to learn at the age of 18.  By the end of the summer, with about 5,000 miles on the clock, I was riding pretty well, and hadn't dumped it yet. Well, maybe once or twice, but no one saw me and nothing or no one was hurt, so it didn't really count. It was time to stretch my skills and enter a widely-publicized upcoming race. It was to be a two and a half mile "road race" in Dodge City, Kansas on Labor Day. I sent in the entry form, and when the week-end arrived, I fibbed to my mother: something about staying overnight with a girlfriend. I strapped a borrowed Bell helmet and a denim jacket to the back of the seat, crammed a five dollar bill into my jeans (gasoline was 17 cents a gallon that summer) and rode that thing all night the 350 miles to Dodge City, stopping only for gas and a bottle of Nehi orange soda.

The BSA Gold Star was the factory's premier model, and could be ordered for any type of competition: scrambles, road racing, trials, or normal road use. [The Vintagent Archive]
Morning found me at the hot and dusty race site which was the dirt runway of an old airport. The course had been defined by hay bales (hey, this was Kansas, remember.) My bike was checked over, everything was stock, so the headlight was taped,  and I was told to go to the pits (and they were the pits) to wait. I munched on a tepid hot dog and waited for my race to be announced, mentally ticking over my personal check list in preparation for my time on the track: long hair tucked up under the too-loose helmet to help anchor it to my head a bit, cowboy boots, 501's tight as a second skin on my 5'9" 100 pound frame, topped off by one of my dad's white dress shirts with the sleeves rolled up and the tails flapping. This ensemble comprised my protective race gear. No goggles, no leathers, no gloves, no brains. The other 20 or so entrants in the novice class were similarly attired (except they wore tee shirts, not their dad's Arrows) and were riding an assortment of stock 500 and 650 c.c. bikes, mostly British; Triumph, AJS, Matchless, Ariel, Norton and of course, BSA. The race was of the cold start variety: wheel the bike to the assigned starting position and at the drop of the green flag, start the bike and begin the laps. That was it. The first six finishers would receive a trophy. Piece of cake! My race was announced, and along with the other inexperienced riders; I donned that miserably uncomfortable helmet (some things never change), wheeled my thumper to its designated spot, swung a leg over its stock bolster-style seat and waited for the flag to drop. As it dropped I acted on my mental list...I knew the bike was in neutral since I had just pushed the damn thing 100 yards in the 90degree midday heat. Stay calm, just reach down and tickle the carburetor, retard the spark advance lever over the left grip, pull in the compression release lever under the left grip, open the throttle halfway, place right boot's arch on the kicker and kick down while simultaneously releasing the compression lever.  Started first kick, thank goodness. Advance the spark a bit, pull in the clutch lever, lift the right cowboy-boot under the gear lever and snick it into first and get outta there. Rev'it 'til it screams, kick down through the next three gears, and stay close to, but don't hook, one of the hay bales with a peg. Low gears up, high gears down, and with the right foot. British bike... I remember very little of the race itself except that in about ten seconds I was screamin' past the checkered flag. Hey, I placed fourth!

There were definitely women riding in the Midwest in the 1950s, and in every era, but sadly Diane didn't know any of them. [Pinterest]
There were two more heats to watch and then the awards ceremony. The race organizers had built a clumsy wooden platform in the center of the hay bale course as a stage and over the screeching mike feedback, I listened carefully to each trophy recipient's name being called. When my name was heard, I trotted proudly up the steps to the platform, finally remembering to remove the helmet and when my long brown hair fell down below my shoulders, the announcer took another look at me, mumbled something about a mix-up, and the fourth place trophy I expected to receive was handed to the fifth place rider. I can still feel the humiliation and the accompanying hot red flush coloring my face, but cannot recall how I must have hurriedly stumbled off the stage, made my way back to my bike, nor do I remember much about the 350 mile ride home in the late summer evening's oppressive heat. I was disqualified because I was female!From that moment on, every time I looked at that sweet bike, I felt sick. My thrill in placing fourth in my first race had been replaced by embarrassment. My enjoyment in riding was gone. I put the bike and the memory of that afternoon away for the winter and the next spring, I just couldn't face riding again. Another boyfriend suggested I buy a different bike so I wouldn't associate that disappointment with riding. Good idea! I traded the BSA in on a 1960 Triumph Bonneville, a 650 c.c. vertical twin configuration and if I recall correctly, this was the first year of the dual carburetor. It had dual carbs anyway, the left one leaked, the right one didn't work much at all. As gorgeous as this new bike was, my heart just wasn't in it. I even tried some drag-racing since there weren't any rules forbidding women on the drag strip. But, for me, it was all over and within a few months, I had sold the Bonnie, and bought an MGA roadster. I didn't look back for thirty-five years.

The Dyna that brought back that two-wheel feeling. Diane Brandon out on a road run. [Diane Brandon]
Fast forward...It's 1995 and after selling my car and waiting more than a few months, I took delivery of my '95 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide. I've put thousands of miles on it, mostly riding weekends alongside my husband on one of his stable of bikes. The passion and the thrill of riding is back. Now it's a giggle to pull off my helmet revealing my silver hair (my husband, Paul, says, "It's chrome, not gray.") and watch the reactions of those who seem to be amazed that an older woman is riding a Harley, and who still think riding a bike is akin to being a convicted felon. I've also noticed that on many of the rides we participate in with our HOG group, that often more than half of the riders are women! It's a whole new world out there, and it only took thirty-five years!

That obscure object of desire...a blue 1958 BSA DBD34 Gold Star. Still the hottest big single around! [Mecum]
[Ed- Diane notes that the Kansas City dealership where she purchased her 1958 BSA Gold Star is still in business - Engle Motors.  It's ironic that the BSA Gold Star is named for a pin given to riders who had lapped the Brooklands speed bowl at over 100mph in a race.  Women were banned from riding or driving there between 1908 and 1928, and were finally allowed to race against men from 1932.  Three women won Gold Stars on motorcycles; Beatrice Shilling, Frances Blenkiron, and Theresa Wallach.  We tip our cap to them, and to Diane - a badass before her time.]

Diane Brandon has been a judge of Rolls-Royce and Bentley at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance since 1984. She currently resides in Tualatin, Oregon.

A Suzuki Hayabusa from Paper

Like meditation, the art of modeling is a kind of prayer, and the ultimate homage to an object.  We've featured models on The Vintagent before, but nothing quite so extraordinary as this wildly detailed Suzuki GAX1300R Hayabusa - made entirely from scrap paper by 'Yoshiwo Models'.  There aren't words to describe the process and result of Yoshiwo's work, it is simply mind-blowing.  Not in the model's veracity or trompe l'oeil realness, but in the thoroughness of his pursuit, and the sheer otherness of the result.  The finished model is cool on first glance, but as this film demonstrates, what's inside makes it truly special.

Perhaps that's sufficient metaphor for Yoshiwo, who explains: "Do you like the Hayabusa? Of course I love it. I'll never forget the acceleration when I got on.  Paper craft is my hobby.  I'm making a motorcycle. When I was a high school student, I started my hobby because I wanted to get rid of a bad habit, so I started making models while looking at motorcycle parts catalogs. As an aside, my lover is depressed and is hospitalized in a psychiatric department."

The completed paper model of a Suzuki GAX1300R Hayabusa. Cool, a little lumpy, but wait... [Yoshiwo Models]
'Paper Modeling - 隼 - SUZUKI HAYABUSA 2021 How I made bike with paper' runs 23:40, and is an appropriately thorough document of Yoshiwo's process.  It's abundantly clear how they made this extraordinary model, which in no way diminishes its magic.   Scaled-down blueprints and parts catalogs found online were the plans, and non-recyclable paper and cardboard the materials; notebook covers, printed paper, and heat-transfer receipts.  The process is basic: an impromptu lightbox is used to transfer the outlines onto pieces of paper, layer by layer, part by part.   The tools used were equally basic; a scalpel, hole punches, tweezers, and starch glue - because it's natural and non-toxic.

The beginning: tracing online blueprints and specs at scale, directly onto waste paper. [Yoshiwo Models]
There are paper-sculpture traditions in Japan, origami (folded paper) and kirigami (cut and folded paper), but neither uses glue, and this model falls outside of their Venn diagram. If anything, the paper Hayabusa is a masterpiece of Outsider Art, from a presumably self-taught artisan, constructed with an attention to laborious detail that is less concerned with exactitude than obsessive thoroughness.  Yoshiwo's paper sculpture is simultaneously humble, and humbling.

The gearbox...it was the gearteeth that blew my mind, and the connecting rods. [Yoshiwo Models]
From the video: "Light boxes are very useful. When I didn’t have this, I pasted a paper on a bright object and copied it. PC monitors, daytime windowpanes, etc. I also covered my smartphone with transparent paper to copy [images]....  I started using starch glue. There are two reasons. The first is to think about micro-plastics, it’s a very fine plastic waste, and its said that it may have an adverse effect. I usually use an adhesive made of vinyl acetate, so I changed to something which is not harmful to the environment. The second is that paper and [starch glue] are good friends. Both are made from plants, so even if the humidity changes, both will expand and contract in the same way."

The Hayabusa uses and extruded aluminum beam chassis, which adapts well to a paper translation. [Yoshiwo Models]
"Making the details are a special time for me. Because, it makes me think of the people who made [the Hayabusa]. I think, one day the gasoline engine will be gone to prevent global warming. But at that time, I also think that it should not be remembered as a symbol of global warming. Because I don’t think a good future will come without accepting the past. It would be nice to remember that it was a development process, necessary for the world to unite and develop through environmental issues. And I hope that the engineers who contributed to the development of vehicles today will be better remembered by people."

Every detail attended, including seat and subframe construction. [Yoshiwo Models]
The finished engine is all the convincing required for this extraordinary work of art. [Yoshiwo Models]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

America's First Motor Vehicle Race: 1895

The Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895

On July 9 1895 the Chicago Times-Herald took a cue from the French to announce a race for motor vehicles, the first in the USA, "A Prize for Motors".  The world's first motor vehicle race had been held only a year prior, running from Paris to Rouen, and imports of the first production automobiles had only reached the USA in 1893.  Motorized carriages were considered a passing fad, but H.H. Hohlsaat, publisher of the Times-Herald, was a far-sighted fellow, and wanted to promote the nascent industry of motoring.  He lured entrants to his contest with a $5000 prize for “inventors who can construct practicable, self-propelling road carriages.”   The course was a 54-mile route from Chicago to Evanston, and back.

A handsome photo of the Duryea car, hand-built by J. Frank Duryea, who wears a baseball cap (of the period) and is driving. It is perhaps the most recognizable 'car' among the entrants. [Detroit Public Library]
The promotion of the race quickly revealed a linguistic inadequacy: there was as yet no agreed-upon word for motor vehicles in English.   Once again, the Times-Herald stepped into the breach, inviting its readers to invent a new term for a new technology.  You've heard some of the names offered: Horseless Carriage, Vehicle Motor, Automobile, Automobile Carriage, and Moto Cycle, or motocycle as it was thereafter printed. Motocycle isn't a term much remembered these days (unless you're a fan of early Indians), but before 1900 it did become the blanket term for anything roving the public roads with a motor and wheels, as you will read anon in the Scientific American article reporting on the Time-Herald race.

E.J. Pennington's motocycle was among the first gasoline-powered two-wheelers in the USA, and was patented the next year (1896). Steam cycles had been built since 1867, first by Sylvester H. Roper, and then by others, and the invention of the Otto engine (using gasoline) spurred new designs like this. Pennington was a con artist of the first order, and fleeced wealthy patrons in the USA and England with sky-high promises for his motorcycles and cars, which could not deliver. But, he did coin the term 'motorcycle' in 1893. Note the three seats, balloon tires, and the twin-cylinder engine out back. [Detroit Public Library]
The race was originally planned for November 9th, but most of the 80-odd builders who expressed interest in competing had not yet finished their vehicles.  Playing for time, Hohlsaat announced there would be a preliminary contest between the two cars that were ready on Nov. 2: a Gottlieb Benz driven by Oscar Mueller, and a Duryea, constructed  by J. Frank Duryea, who also drove it.  The Benz won that race after the Duryea struck a horse carriage and broke its steering arm.  Both cars were under-powered, and had trouble crossing even the mild rise of railroad tracks, over which they had to be pushed; spectators on bicycles proved far quicker than any of the motocycles.  It was not an auspicious start to a new industry, which most considered of interest only to the very wealthy.  It was bicycles that people got excited in 1895, and all the social changes they allowed (especially for women), with new opportunities for socializing. Motocycles seemed an expensive pain in the ass, and the 1895 race did little to dispel that notion.

Pennington's four-wheel motocycle looked reasonable, but did not get far. Concealed under the bodywork is a laid-down V4 engine. [Detroit Public Library]
America's first motor race was held in miserable conditions after an unseasonable blizzard, with 6" of fresh snow on the ground, and the temperature hovering at 30degrees F.  The roads were mostly unpaved and slushy with icy mud, and for the new-fangled motocycles, the race was a daunting if not impossible situation.  Of the nearly 80 entrants that signed up for the race, perhaps a dozen appeared, but half were deemed un-roadworthy after a quick test in Holstaat's barn; only six vehicles lined up to race on the day, all cars.   The vehicles entered were an amazing mixed bag, reflecting the state of the motoring industry in the day, on the cusp of modernity, but unclear whether it would be electricity, gasoline, or steam power that would emerge victorious.  The entrants included an interesting steam car built by A.C. Ames, using two bicycle frames holding a sleigh body, with the steam engine out back.  It was immediately disqualified as it could only run for 100 yards before running out of steam.  Two electric vehicles were entered: the Sturges Electric Car, built by Harold Sturges, did not have enough power to battle the built-up slush on the roads, and soon ran out of juice.  The Electrobat had a promising name, but also struggled with a lack of energy on the rough roads, and failed sooner than the Sturges.  Still, the Electrobat was given a Gold Medal award for efficiency.

"We think that this new means of transportation is destined to play an important part in the question of city traffic," - Scientific American

The notorious flim-flam man E.J. Pennington arrived with two vehicles: the two-wheeled 'motorcycle' (as he called his motorized two-wheelers, becoming the first to do so, in 1893) with which he eventually fleeced investors, and a larger vehicle made by doubling up his motorcycle.  Interestingly, the Pennington machines were one of only two vehicles using rubber balloon tires recently invented by John Dunlop (1888), which everyone admired for their greater ability to handle the slush, and the smooth ride they provided compared to the solid tires of every other vehicle.

The doubled-up Safety bicycle chassis of A.C. Ames. [Detroit Public Library]
Max Hertel and G.W. Lewis both built motor vehicles for the race: Hertel's did not start the race, and Lewis' did not finish.  Jerry O'Connor drove a Benz sponsored by Macy's department store that crashed three times.  It should be noted that none of the vehicles entered had brakes, and although they typically averaged 4-7mph, horse-drawn carriages were still an obstacle.   The cold was a serious issue, as all the vehicles left the drivers exposed, and vulnerable to the frequent snowballs thrown by jeering children.  Mueller actually passed out from exposure while driving his Benz; luckily each vehicle had an umpire from the race seated beside its driver, and Charles King simply shoved Mueller aside, supporting him on his shoulder, and carried on driving so the car would complete the race.

The second Benz sponsored by Macy's...their first Thanksgiving Day Parade? [Detroit Public Library]
Only two vehicles completed the course: the Benz imported by Hieronymus Mueller & Co. of Decatur IL, driven by Oscar Mueller, and the Duryea, constructed  by J. Frank Duryea, who also drove it. The Duryea was the winner of the race, making 54.36 miles in 7 hours and 53 minutes, averaging 7 miles per hour, and burning 3.5 gallons of gasoline.  Every one of the competitors dealt with mechanical calamities en route, and Duryea had to dash into a tinsmith's shop (after rousing the owner at home) to straighten his steering arm after a collision with a carriage.  Jerry O'Connor, in the Macy's Benz, had three accidents, all with horse-drawn carriages: a streetcar, a towing rig carrying another race competitor that had failed, and a hack (single horse with light two-wheeled carriage), which broke his spokes and his steering arm, after which he gave up the competition.  After 8 hours and three accidents in the freezing, windy conditions, that was understandable.  Still, the race planted a flag for motoring competitions in the USA, and only time stood between this first, feeble attempt at a proper motor race, and the popularity of motor vehicles as everyman transportation.

Max Hertel's entry used a small motor that proved inadequate on the day. [Detroit Public Library]

From Scientific American, Dec. 7 1895:

"It was extremely unfortunate that the weather should have interfered so seriously with the Chicago Times-Herald motocycle contest, which came off at that city on Thanksgiving Day. The recent storm had left the roads heavy with snow and mud. We are told that for miles on the west side the boulevards were unbroken fields of snowbanks and slush. Six machines lined up for the start : The Duryea, of Springfield, Mass.; the Morris & Salom Electrobat, of Philadelphia; the H. Mueller motocycle, of Decatur, Ill, the R. H. Macy, of New York; the De la Vergne. of New York ; and the Sturges electric motocycle, of Chicago. The Roger motocycle, with a view to giving it a long distance test. was started from New York to Chicago by road on November 15; but it was stalled by snow when it reached Schenectady.

The Sturges Electric vehicle. These construction detail photos (taken on glass 'dry plates'), show the curiosity this new technology aroused, and the many ways builders addressed issues of steering and translating a power source to the wheels. [Detroit Public library]
Two of the machines covered the distance fixed for the race ; the first being the design of an American inventor, Charles E. Duryea, of Springfield, MA. His vehicle, a gasoline motocycle, covered the fifty-four miles in 10 hours and 23 minutes ; a really creditable feat, when we consider the wretched state of the roads. The H. Mueller, also an American machine, was second, making the journey in 1 hour 35 minutes longer time. The De la Vergne, the Morris & Salom, and the Sturges electrical machine made no effort to cover any great part of the course. The R. H. Macy had to retire after covering half the distance on account of broken running gear.

The Columbia Perambulator 3-wheeled electric coach, built by an old coachworks branching out into new turf: Columbia became a proper manufacturer not long after this race.  Not the driver sat above and behind the passengers, with a tiller steering arm.  [Detroit Public Library]
Although it is to be regretted that the recent storm should have spoiled this most interesting contest as regards the number of contestants and the rapidity with which the course was covered, we must bear in mind that the great severity of the test speaks all the more favorably for the excellence of the vehicles which completed the journey. The storm of a day or two previous had completely paralyzed vehicular transportation in the very district where the Duryea motocycle completed a fifty-four mile journey at a five-mile gait, and came in to the winning post none the worse for the trying ordeal. No better proof could be given of the all-round excellence of this vehicle. The greatest care must have been exercised in the proportioning of parts, and the general setting up, both of the motor and carriage, to enable it to battle for ten hours against the combined obstacles of mud and snow. It is, moreover, greatly to the credit of the manufacturers that all this strength should have been obtained without the sacrifice of general appearance. As shown in the illustration, the Duryea motocycle is certainly an elegant turnout, and for looks it could hold its own with the average horse carriage of today. Undoubtedly the motocycle has come to stay.

The Electrobat built by Morris and Salon gets my vote for the best name! It's clear from this photo it uses front wheel drive, with larger wheels up front than the rear.  It's not the first front-wheel drive motor vehicle - that credit goes back to Cugnot's 'fardier a vapeur' of 1770! [Detroit Public Library]
For private use, as compared with the horse carriage, it has many points in its favor. The space required for stabling would be merely that occupied by its own bulk; and its running expenses would be limited to the fuel consumed and such repairs as might occasionally be required. We think that this new means of transportation is destined to play an important part in the question of city traffic. In the main thoroughfares of the larger cities traffic is badly congested. The adoption of the motocycle will largely relieve this, for the reason that it occupies only about one-half the space of the horse carriage; moreover, it turns in a much smaller circle, and is in every way more flexible in a crowded thoroughfare. The metaphorical allusion to a flow of water in speaking of city traffic is well chosen. The stream of traffic is subject to the same laws as any fluid moving in a fixed channel. The more easily the particles adjust themselves to each other, the more rapid will be the flow, other things being equal. Nothing hinders the flow of traffic so much as a line of vehicles moving on a fixed track and having the right of way over ot her traffic. If such a thoroughfare as Broadway, in New York City, were asphalted from end to end, and its vehicular traffic carried on by various forms of the motocycle, its capacity would be largely increased.

A rare close-up of the Pennington four-wheeler, with exposed connecting rods and large flywheel for its horizontal V-4 motor.  As with all Pennington motors, it had no cooling fins, and soon seized.  The certainty of dirt entering the exposed cylinder bores also guaranteed a short life.  The motor used train technology to transmit engine rotation to the rear wheels, using the wheels or in this case a flywheel, via the connecting rods. That branch of motor vehicle development was popular in the pioneering years, including with the first production motorcycle, the Hildebrand&Wolfmuller of 1896. [Detroit Public Library]
The force of this statement will be realized by any one who has watched the ease with which the bicycle can thread it way through a crowded thoroughfare. Making allowance for its larger bulk, the motocycle shows an equal facility of control. The general adoption of this vehicle, and the consequent removal of many thousands of horses from the streets of our cities, would result in greatly improved sanitary conditions. The introduction of the trolley and the cable car removed the nuisance in part, it is true, but it still exists. A gusty wind will raise at any time in dry weather a cloud of dust, which is composed more than anything else of pulverized manure. The gravity of this nuisance, viewed from a sanitary standpoint, is not generally appreciated. The adoption of any device, such as the motocycle, which will abolish the horse from a city’s streets, would be welcomed by its sanitary officers as largely conducive to public health."

The steamer in all its confusing jumble of pipes and fittings. [Detroit Public Library]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Top 10 Mecum Las Vegas 2022

"P[/dropcapeople just seem to hate their money right now."  That was the explanation from Sam Murtaugh, COO of Mecum Auctions, on why prices for collector vehicles are going crazy in 2022, as evidenced by their amazing run of successful auctions over the past two months.  Mecum's January collector car auction in Kissimmee Florida was the highest-grossing motor vehicle auction in history, with over $200M in sales. Let that sink in a moment.  Much like their just-concluded Las Vegas motorcycle auction (which brought in ~12% of that figure), well over 1000 vehicles rolled across the podium, making each auction the biggest in the world by volume alone.   This year just hit different, though, and the Mecum crew were riding high on Kissimmee juice when they set up their auction in the South Point Hotel & Casino, well off the Las Vegas strip.

This 1973 Honda CL450 Scrambler with Flying Dragon bodywork fetched $58,300, a world record for the model. [Mecum]
While Mecum's motorcycle auction, held Jan 25-29, did not set a world record for sales, the prices reached were consistently high, and many world records for individual machines were realized.  Perhaps the premier example was a 1972 Honda CL450 Scrambler with 'Flying Dragon' bodywork, the psychedelic hand-applied water-dip paint scheme available as a swap-out from Honda dealers, that fetched an astounding, world-record $58,300. If you've ever wondered at the beauty of marbled book endpapers, the Flying Dragon bodywork kits used the same process: drip paint colors onto a still water tank, swirl them around a bit, dip your part into the water, and let it dry. It's unknown how many of these bodywork kits were made in 1972/3, but four color combinations were offered: gold/purple, silver/purple, green/purple and blue/dark blue.  About 650,000 CL350s were built from 1968-73, so this machine can hardly be called rare.  But, the Flying Dragon bodywork is: former owner Bob Kelly says it's the last of the bodywork kits he's dug up NOS from old Honda dealers, and estimates there may be 20 examples left...including the one he sold at Mecum in 2021, that fetched 'only' $13,200.

#10 - 1931 Henderson KJ Four $154,000

This 1931 Henderson KJ sold for $154,000. [Mecum]

American four-cylinder motorcycles were always rare and expensive, as opposed to the V-twins making up the mainstay of most manufacturers' sales.  Big twins were relatively inexpensive and fast, whereas their four-cylinder counterparts took the title of 'fastest production motorcycle in the world' many times.  This last-year Henderson KJ is a rarity, as Igaz Schwinn, who owned both the Excelsior and Henderson brands under his mighty bicycle empire, decided that the Depression wasn't going anywhere soon from the perspective of 1931, and just like that, he announced 'today we quit' to his Board of Directors, and pulled the plug on all motorcycle manufacturing that year.  Too bad: the KJ was designed by Arthur Constantine, and had nothing to do with William Henderson's original four-cylinder design that Schwinn had purchased in 1917.  The KJ was a superbike of the era, actually capable of pulling from 10mph to 100mph in top gear, and looking like a sleek freight train in its 'streamliner' bodywork.  This machine was from the esteemed collection of Dr. J. Craig Venter, which meant no surprises for the buyer.

#9 - 1940 Indian 440 Four, $154,000

Such a beauty: the 1940 Indian 440 Four was the first year of Briggs Weaver's iconic styling. [Mecum]

The Indian Four was the last American four-cylinder motorcycle produced until 2014, when Motus debuted its V4 sports machine.  And this is almost the last of the Indian Fours, a 440 model built in 1940, the first year with Briggs Weaver's iconic deep-fender styling and plunger rear suspension.  It's a stunning machine from the collection of Bob Mitchell (more on him later), which I had the pleasure of judging at a Fort Sutter AMCA meet in the 2000s, at which it earned an almost-impossible 99.5-point score.  The problem?  A washer on the points condenser was nickel instead of zinc plated...and who knew that?  Not me - ask the AMCA chief judge from the era, he really knew his stuff.   That was typical for Mitchell's restorations, and any machine passing through his hands was definitely deserving some extra cash.

#8 - 1932 Indian 432, $154,000

So much motorcycle for 1932: the Indian 432 was the jewel in Indian's headdress. This one sold for $154,000. [Mecum]

The 1932 Indian 432 was among the first all-Indian fours, shedding its vestigial origins as a rebadged Ace, and joining the Indian family with an all-new chassis and bodywork, and plenty of engine upgrades.  Indian joined the four-cylinder game the easy way - they bought the defunct brand Ace from its previous owner in 1927.  Ace justifiably laid claim to being the fastest production motorcycle in the world when introduced in 1919, and was the love child of William Henderson.  Henderson sold his eponymous brand to Ignaz Schwinn in 1917 after 5 years of no profits, and worked briefly under the giant Schwinn enterprise.  Henderson was pissed that Arthur O. Lemon, Excelsior-Henderson's chief engineer under Schwinn, suggested changes to the Ace design for more reliability, and quit to form a new company, with a new design that infringed none of his previous designs sold to Schwinn.  When Indian bought the brand, they hired - you guessed it - Arthur O. Lemon to improve the design, but first they assembled the stock at hand for the Indian-Ace of 1927/8, basically a red Ace.  Lemon gradually improved the design with a 5-bearing crankshaft and a heavier chassis, and this beautiful 1932 432 is the result.   And yes, three American four-cylinder bikes each sold for $154k; did someone promise their partner they'd 'only' spend $154k on a bike, then do it thrice?

#7 - 1942 Harley-Davidson TA, $154,000

A military machine to its core, Harley-Davidson's TA featured automobile tires and a 38hp motor. It was say too fun for the Army, apparently. [Mecum]

You're forgiven wondering what the big deal about a Knucklehead-engined Servi-Car might be, but this is not really a modified production trike: it's one of 18 prototypes built for the US Army to evaluate as a General Purpose (GP) vehicle capable of carrying 4 soldiers plus their guns and ammunition just about anywhere.  It was one answer to BMW's R75M military bike with a driven sidecar wheel, and is a far better vehicle for the North African campaign that inspired its creation than the legendary WLA military flathead soldiers were stuck with.   With a detuned EL motor giving 38hp, and twin shaft-driven rear wheels, the TA, as it was labelled, was a potent tractor, with better ground clearance than the R75M.  It coulda been a contender, but another GP vehicle took the contract, becoming known by that label, phonetically, as the Jeep.  I bet the power-to-weight ratio on the TA made it much more fun than any Jeep!  Anyway, only 7 are known to survive, unlike the thousands of WLAs out there, which made it one valuable military machine.

#6 - 1939 Indian 439 Four, $159,500

Perfection in line and décor, the 1939 Indian 439 was from the last year of the 'open fender' Indians, which are the prettiest of all. [Mecum]

If you aren't a little weak in the knees looking at this stunning Art Deco masterpiece, I'm not sure you really love motorcycles.  In my opinion, it's among the prettiest things on wheels, especially in World's Fair colors provided by Indian's owner DuPont, whose paint technology (and gunpowder) made the DuPont family very rich indeed.  Luckily for Indian, E. Paul Dupont (read our full story of the DuPont family here)  really loved motorcycles, and had $100,000 or so invested in Indian; when the company was foundering after the Wall St crash of 1929, he stepped in and bought the company.  DuPont turned Indian's fortunes around, and their period of ownership (1930-45) were Indian's most profitable years of all.  The gorgeous silver-over-blue paint job was all about the 1939 New York World's Fair, and combined with the flowing, almost feminine lines of the Indian, make for an all-time beauty, and one of my favorite motorcycles.

#5 - 1919 Harley-Davidson Model J, $165,000

A 1919 Harley-Davidson Model J for $165,000? That was the first sale I heard about when landing in Las Vegas last Thursday evening. [Mecum]

OK, I admit being a little perplexed with this one.  I reckon the $165k spent on this machine is at least $100k over its comparables of that year and model, so what gives?  Is a secret map to El Dorado etched inside the gas tank?  Auctions are funny things: sometimes you get bargains, sometimes you get two people in a room who want THAT bike, and are willing to spend what it takes to get it.  My father once bought me a BMX bike at a police auction, spending way too much because there was another dad bidding against him, with His son egging him on too.  Anyway, the Model J was Harley-Davidson's mainstay for almost 15 years, a solid, reliable, and robust motorcycle that cemented the Motor Co's reputation as builder of exactly that.  This bike was part of the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection, which fetched a little over $4M for the 98 bikes at the Mecum sale.

#4 - 1936 Harley-Davidson EL 'Knucklehead', $203,500.

This immaculate 1936 Harley-Davidson EL is a first-year Knucklehead, and highly coveted among collectors. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]

Prewar Knuckleheads have been strong sellers for the past six years, so a $200k sale price for a beautifully restored, fully documented first-year EL is on par.   The Knucklehead, as it became known for the shape of its rocker covers, was a game-changer for Harley-Davidson, setting the stylistic tone forevermore for a V-twin cruiser.  It was H-D's first OHV V-twin roadster, although they'd built racing OHVs since 1915, and OHV singles since 1925. Still, the jump from big sidevalve motors to OHV roadsters in the hands of Joe Public held terrors for the conservative boys from Milwaukee, who feared calamity from such exotic technology in the ham-fisted garages of Americans.  They needn't have worried, the EL was a big hit, eventually, but for 1936 it appeared in no factory advertising or catalogs; as such, sales were small for '36, and first-year Knucks are rare indeed, and correctly restoring one is not at all easy, as many parts were one-year-only.  I had the luxury of riding an immaculate '36 over the 11,000' Independence Pass in Colorado on the 2014 Cannonball: I found the power turbine-smooth and the ride comfortable, but the handling left much to be desired.  But, I'd been riding a 1933 Brough Superior 11.50, so was spoiled!

#3 - 1917 Henderson Model G, $203,500

This 1917 Henderson Model G is from the last year of William Henderson's control of his eponymous company. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list [Mecum]

The original Hendersons, under the watchful eye of William Henderson himself, are known as the 'Duesenberg of motorcycles' for good reason: they're long, beautifully finished, and surprisingly reliable.  So much so that a first-year production Henderson Four (1912) became the first motorcycle to ride around the world under Carl Stearns Clancy.  William Henderson was obsessed with four-cylinder motorcycles as a boy, and sketched out notional designs of a four that his father - chief engineer of the Winton car company - would give feedback on.  Eventually young William's design was beyond criticism, so his father sponsored the building of a prototype in 1911.  It was good enough to inspire a major investment from the family's car-building friends, and the Henderson Motor Co was on its way.  It's reckoned the company lost money on every Henderson sold, despite already being the most expensive motorcycle made in the USA, and by 1917 the company was looking for a buyer.  They found one in Ignaz Schwinn, the Chicago bicycle manufacturing giant who had bought the Excelsior motorcycle co. in 1911.  Things changed with the newly badged Excelsior-Henderson Fours, and collectors reckon the 1912-17 models are the ones to buy.

#2 - 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow, $231,000

The best of the best? A perfectly restored 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow tops all expectations. This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]

Let's drop some knowledge here: the Vincent Black Shadow is not especially rare, nor is it faster half a Century after its production than its Rapide stablemate.  But, the power of a good name endures, and the Black Shadow is the #1 target for most beginner collectors with a wad to spend and not enough confidence in their motorcycle education to branch out to other, more genuinely rare machines.  As a result, the Black Shadow is the canary in a coalmine for collectable motorcycle prices: I've watched Shadow prices seesaw wildly since the 1980s, and lose 80% of their value at times.  A good Shadow is an $80k bike these days (and a couple sold for that at Mecum this year), which is way down from 4 years ago, when $150k+ was the norm.  Still, nobody can fault a nut-and-bolt perfect restoration with a bunch of show wins under its belt.  This machine is the most expensive Black Shadow ever sold at auction, and is probably the best, too.  There are more expensive Vincents, like White Shadows and pre-war Series A Rapides (check our Top 100 for details) , but this bike is the ultimate Series C Black Shadow, which is saying something.

Number 1 With a Gun - 1938 Brough Superior SS100 $236,500

Top price of the auction went to my old 1938 Brough Superior SS100, which fetched $236,500.  The price would have been higher had the engine and chassis numbers matched: read the story below.  This machine joins our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list. [Mecum]
The top price made for the week was actually a machine I once owned: a 1938 Brough Superior SS100 with Matchless MX motor.  I found the motor of this bike in the early 1990s via a print ad in a motorcycle magazine, showing a pile of four SS100 motors at an Argentine dealer.  I already owned a 1938 11.50 model (since 1989), but presented with the chance of owning an SS100 was too much temptation: I contacted Hector Mendizabal by fax, and he assured me the motor was "the most virginal, fresh, and unmolested SS100 in the world."   With desire overtaking common sense, I wired $7500 to a bank account in Florida, and hoped for the best.  Then I waited, and waited, and faxed, and called, and Mendizabal reassured me the motor would be sent 'soon,' but soon turned into 18 months, and I despaired of ever seeing the motor or my money again.

If you had seen this photo in 1992, what would you have done? That's 3 of the 300 MX-engine Brough Superior SS100 motors ever built, in one place, near Buenos Aires. I only bought one, as that was all I could afford. [Paul d'Orléans]
A chance conversation about an early Parilla racer for sale in Florida changed my fate. On discovering its owner, Dr. Ruben Nasio, was from Argentina, I inquired if he knew Mendizabal?  "Oh yes, I know him well...he is, how you say, difficult to hold."  "You mean slippery?" I asked.  "Yes, exactly."  Mr. Nasio gave me succinct instructions on how he would help resolve the situation: "You tell Mendizabal that I will be traveling to see my mother in Buenos Aires in one week, and that if the engine is not in your hands at SFO before then, I will pay him a visit."   I was most grateful for the help, and faxed those very words to Mendizabal.  72 hours later I was contacted by United Air Freight that I had a package waiting at SFO.  I rushed over the find a stout wooden crate that had clearly been sitting for a long time, and opened it right in the parking lot to find, amazingly, the most unmolested SS100 motor on the planet.  And several really big cockroaches, which I quickly dispatched with my hammer, not wanting to introduce an invasive species.

No cockroaches inside! Investigating the inside of the 1938 Brough Superior SS100 engine - in pretty good shape, actually. [Paul d'Orléans]
Dr Nasio had performed a miracle, although I had to wait a few weeks for him to return to the USA and explain himself.  I wondered - was he a 'doctor' for the Argentine military junta with a feared reputation?  Not quite; when I finally reached him back in Florida, he laughed at my query.  "The explanation is simple.  I had a problem very much like yours with Mendizabal, and he was very late delivering a rare motorcycle.  So I brought my friends, and they quickly resolved the situation."  "Who were your friends?"  "Ah, the Misters Smith & Wesson, they solve many problems in Argentina!  I never had a problem with Mendizabal again." Nor did I, actually, and later he brokered the sale of a complete rolling chassis for a Brough Superior 11.50 model discovered in Uruguay, in which I hoped to house the SS100 motor.  In the early 2000s I decided it was time to buy a house in San Francisco, so I sold the project to Bob Mitchell, the NASA engineer who was head of the Cassini space probe project, whose restorations are legendary for their no-expense-spared perfection.  My only regret was not being able to afford the SS100 once Bob had finished it!

She used to be mine! But she was a wreck when I loved her, and I didn't have the time to fix her. Now she's a supermodel, the star of the show, and way out of my league. [Paul d'Orléans]

 
 
 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


Winnie, Queen of the Desert

When Winnifred Wells was 11 years old, she stood tall in her mother's kitchen and declared she wanted a motorcycle. That was in 1939, and it should be noted her father George was an ardent motorcyclist, despite his day job as owner of a furniture factory in Perth (GF Wells), and that Winnie was the third of his four daughters.  It took her 5 years to age up to a motorcycle license and buy a BSA 250, with which she upset the local motorcycle club by attempting to join their ranks.  She simply wanted to improve her riding skills after a spill, and thought more experienced riders might instruct her, but they balked at the prospect. That was 'typical male chauvinism' she said, but it didn't deter her; not much did.  She pushed her way into their ranks, practiced scrambles riding on a Triumph 350, and soon realized she had a lot more gumption than her club mates.  For example, when she declared her intention in 1950 to ride solo across the south of Australia to Sydney (and back), she was roundly discouraged - certainly none of them had attempted it, and crossing the Nullarbor Plain alone on a motorcycle was considered suicidal.   The Nullarbor Plain, part of the Great Australian Bight, stretches for nearly 700 miles, with no water, few animals, and even fewer humans. It was described in 1865 as a "hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of Nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams."  Still, her father George was encouraging; "Nothing short of a major breakdown will stop her accomplishing this trip."

Plucky! Winifred Wells and her abbreviated riding kit for a 21-day ride across the Great Australian Bight, solo. [State Library of Western Australia]
Winnie's plan was to ride a new 1950 Royal Enfield Bullet 350, but she didn't have the ready cash, so approached the local dealer - Carlyle & Co - for sponsorship.  Owner Carl Cohen took a gamble on her plan, no doubt because she seemed determined, and was very attractive, and it would be great publicity for his agency.  He sponsored Winnie's trip with the princely sum of £25, and sorted a financing plan for a new Bullet through IAG...who had to give her permission to take the bike across state borders.  She set out on Boxing Day (Dec. 26) 1950, and it was 105degrees in Perth.   Her riding kit was very simple, with two leather pannier bags and a canvas gym bag strapped to the Enfield's carrier.  She wore a simple riding kit of a light zipped leather riding jacket, khaki jodhpurs, high boots, a scarf and sweater, and a peaked cap under which she tucked her hair.  She carried a single spare set of clothes, a groundsheet but no tent, and £25, which she reckoned would be enough for her planned 3-week round trip of 5504miles.  "I was full of myself, as you are at 22."

After her original 5500 mile journey, Winnie was road-worn but shone like a star. [State Library of Western Australia]
She found accommodation her first night in the hamlet of Southern Cross, from which she entered the Nullarbor, and sleeping in the rough. She'd had a spill on loose gravel (the route was entirely unpaved) that day, and that first night was dismal.  Her third day was no better, as she crashed again; “I was haring down these terrible corrugations and had the biggest spill you could imagine, a full locker and high side that sent me sprawling.”  She found a small mining settlement, at which she was encouraged to ride right back to Perth, as she'd scraped up the side of her face, and bent her bike.  Local bush mechanics helped her straighten things out, and she carried on, reaching Sydney in ten days, where she spent the weekend taking in the sights.  Then she turned right back around and crossed the Nullarbor again, for a 21-day round trip.  Back in Perth, she was celebrated by the Lord Mayor, interviewed for the press, and presented with a silver trophy by the Australian Royal Enfield importers, at a ceremony on the local speedway track.

A silver vase was awarded by the Australian Royal Enfield importers to Winifred Wells after her successful solo journey. [State Library of Western Australia]
She was the first woman to ride solo across Australia, but that hadn't cured her desire to break new boundaries.  A year after her first trip, she upped the ante, planning a ride around all of Australia.   At this point her father George stepped in, telling her "you're not going alone."  He was 59 years old, had once worked in the north of the country on the Kimberly Coast, and had experienced the issues with driving in the area, especially the Great Sandy Desert.  Another new Royal Enfield Bullet joined their équipe, which Winnie rode, while her father rode the original Bullet, saddled with the bulk of their luggage.   This time they set out northward from Perth, on Sep. 23 1952, in the hopes of missing the monsoon season, and the large number of heavy trucks expected to supply Australia's nuclear weapons tests on Monte Bello.   The dirt roads were well packed and the going relatively easy, until they reached Pardoo Sands.  Winnie reckoned that was the most difficult part of the trip, as the Enfields weren't powerful enough to fly over the sands, and they struggled mightily, paddling along with no traction or balance for 200 miles.   On the other hand, when the road was smooth, Winnie had a habit of crossing her legs atop the Enfield's tank, and rolling along at 60mph; she reckoned the top speed reached on her Enfield was 78mph.

Winnie and George Wells on the start of their round-Australia journey on Royal Enfields in 1952. [Wikipedia]
As Winifred Wells was already famous from her first trip, their journey was slowed by obligatory press opportunities in every proper town they passed through. In Sydney, Winnie and George were celebrated with a street fair in front of George Bolton's Royal Enfield showroom, and press stops and celebrations en route added 10 days to Winnie's original 9-day journey between Sydney and Perth.  The entire journey took just over two months, and the pair reached Perth on Nov 26, 1952. They had averaged 300km/day for their 10,000 mile journey, their bikes sipped fuel at 90mpg, and while they had plenty of flat tires, their Enfields had no major breakdowns.  There were more celebrations at home in Perth, and Carl Cohen purchased Winnie's first Enfield for display at his showrooms.  She kept the new Enfield as her daily rider, and while both bikes seem to be lost to history, Winnie's story is evergreen, as are the photos of this plucky young woman.  At 23, she was 5'5" and 110lbs, but made of strong stuff, with the heart of a lion.

Winifred Wells celebrated in Perth after her first journey at the local Royal Enfield dealer. [State Library of Western Australia]
Winifred Wells and her 1950 Royal Enfield Bullet would have been a perfect addition to our ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum!  Unfortunately, the whereabouts of both her Bullets is currently unknown, but we celebrate her remarkable story with these terrific photos from the State Library of Western Australia.

Winnie awarded a silver platter inscribed with a map of her round-Australia journey in 1952. [State Library of Western Australia]
[Thanks to the many articles used to source this information, including the UK Mirror, Old Bike Australasia, and especially the State Library of Western Australia]

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection

Nearly 100 Exceptional Motorcycles Covering 60 Years of History

Complete. Thorough. Representative. Connoisseurs might possess such goals when building a collection, but in truth most vehicles are purchased with desire, emotion, and impulse rather than single-mindedness.  The Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection is exceptional, though, in the sheer breadth of the timeline it represents, from the earliest years of H-D production to the end of the company’s classic era.  They’re all heading to Mecum’s blockbuster Las Vegas auction in January 2022, and will surely be the center of attention in the arena, with nearly 100 beautifully restored models covering every year of the Motor Co.’s history from 1910 to 1969.  That timeline includes two World Wars and several ‘difficult’ years when production was extremely limited, and rare models that have nearly been forgotten to history. And as most of the collection’s motorcycles were restored by one person to an extremely high standard, it’s remarkably consistent in quality and universal appeal: they’re all beauties, even the military bikes.

 

Parsing out digestible segments from the Heritage Collection is made easier by the interruptions of military service over its 60-year timeline.  Before WW1, Harley-Davidson offered a Fordian choice of color options: you could have any color you liked, as long as it was Renault Grey.  Those early machine are discretely lovely with their blue pinstripes, but everything changed as it became clear the USA was headed to war in Europe.  At least, it was clear to the William Harley and the Davidson brothers, who were men of great ambition, but whose factory was far from being #1 in the marketplace, that spot had being held by rival Indian. Indian expected that, as the top manufacturer in the country, they would naturally be chosen first for military contracts in the event of war.

While most of the H-D Heritage Collection is accurately restored, a few are barn find original, like this remarkably complete 1914 Model F. [Mecum]
The clever gents at Harley-Davidson had in mind to leapfrog their way to the top, and indeed they did, by offering free rider training and repair schools to the military, plus guarantees for a robust spares supply. Thus H-D’s representatives were literally on base with soldiers all over the USA, developing relationships that would last for years after the war, regardless repair instructions covered all motorcycles in the military arsenal.  The generosity of the Harley-Davidson offer was not lost on the military, and the success of Harley-Davidson’s strategy was the beginning of the company’s long focus on military, police, and institutional clients as a stable source of revenue.  And in case anyone missed the message that H-D were 100% behind the US military, they changed their monochromatic color scheme from Renault Grey to a military Olive Green in 1917, for all models, and for the next decade.

The 1920 Harley-Davidson WF 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]
The pre-WW1 1910-1916 Harley-Davidsons in the Heritage Collection include both the original single-cylinder models, and the later V-twins that would become the hallmark of the company for the next 100+ years.  The single-cylinder models include both belt drive and chain drive examples, of the type that have recently won the cross-USA Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, twice. Clearly, the original H-D single was a robust machine, and set the pattern for all models to come.

A mainstay of the 1920s, a 1923 H-D JD in Brewster Green, a two-year color option, and a break from 14 years of Olive Green! [Mecum]
The Collection’s inter-war models from 1919-1941 include a multitude of interesting and rare machines from a period of experimentation by the factory.  After WW1, Harley-Davidson had few rivals, but Indian and Excelsior built popular motorcycles in a variety of configurations and capacities, which forced H-D to respond. Indian’s small-capacity Scout V-twins were big sellers, and Excelsior also built a 750cc (45ci) model, the Super X, that opened up a whole new sales category.  Harley-Davidson responded with new single-cylinder models for the road, and the Collection includes several, including a very rare overhead valve 1929 Model B with lights and fenders.  The Collection also includes one of only two flat-twin models in H-D history, the 1920 Sport Twin Model 20WF, which was proven be sporting indeed, but was not popular, and quickly dropped.  The Sport Twin is thus scarce, and increasingly collectible for its technical fascination and obscurity. The rest of the 1920s was dominated by the J series V-twin, which had a 15-year production run in various iterations, and proved a very reliable and robust motorcycle with good performance. The Collection includes 16 examples of the J series, from the prototypical 1915 Model 11F with the factory’s first 3-speed gearbox, to a 1929 JD model, the mainstay of the decade, with full electrics and classic lines.

The Art Deco style of mid-1930s H-Ds is undeniably elegant: this hot 1936 VLH looks superb in it two-tone paint. [Mecum]
Everything changed for Harley-Davidson in 1930, which was unrelated to the Depression: radical model changes for that year had been in development for years. The factory foresaw the end of the line for the F-head engine configuration, which Count DeDion had popularized in 1898, which established the motorcycle industry worldwide.  The F-head was less reliable than the sidevalve engine both on the road and in racing, so from 1930-36 H-D made the switch for all its roadsters.  The Heritage Collection includes many examples from the era.  Two examples of the original 45ci Model D series from 1930/31 are important rarities, being the factory’s answer to the Indian Scout and Super X, which became the foundation of their future racing program all the way through 1968!  There are also several classic, beautifully restored Big Twin sidevalve models from the era, including several from the V and U series, which were produced all the way up to 1948, and are increasingly sought after for their clean lines and stone reliability.

The 'Liberator' as it was known, the prosaic 1943 WLA sidevalve, with 80,000 or so built, and few original survivors. [Mecum]
Of course, the big news in 1936 was the introduction of Harley-Davidson’s first overhead valve Big Twin, the EL ‘Knucklehead’, with an all-new chassis and 4-speed gearbox, adopted across the whole range.  Pre-War Knuckleheads are among the most hotly collected Harley-Davidsons, and the Heritage Collection includes beautiful examples from 1937, ’38, ’39, and ’40.  Moving to the war years, several military machines in the Collection are real standouts for rarity: a Model XA, one of only 1000 produced in response to a War Dep’t request for a machine suitable for North African desert fighting, much like a BMW R71.  A captured BMW was sent to Milwaukee, and voilá, the XA was born, incidentally with the Motor Co’s first use of rear suspension, and shaft drive.  Other WW2-era rarities in the Collection include an unusual military UL Big Twin, and a beautiful civilian Model 44F Knucklehead from 1944, when ‘no’ civilian models were produced.  The bulk of the War years in the Collection are classic WLA military machines as supplied in their tens of thousands, which became known as ‘the Liberator’ for their role in winning WW2.  All six of the Collection’s WLAs are perfectly restored and include decommissioned Thompson sub-machine guns in their leather scabbards.

Post-war Big Daddy: a 1948 FL Panhead, a first-year model with springer forks, and the most collectible Panhead of all. [Mecum]
Postwar treasures include an ultra-collectable, first-year 1948 FL ‘Panhead’ model with springer forks and a rigid frame, plus every significant iteration of the Panhead afterwards, with the transition to full suspension from the first-year Hydra-Glide telescopic forks and a rigid rear end, to the Duo-Glide with rear shocks, and finally the Electra Glide with an electric start.   A few Sprint, Topper, and Sportster models are interspersed with the full 22 years of the Panhead represented, plus ten years’ worth of the new Shovelhead after that model was introduced in 1968.

Rare in original condition, this 1972 FX Super Glide Night Train was Willie G. Davidson's answer to the chopper craze of the 1960s and 70s. [Mecum]
If you have any interest in owning a true classic, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection represents a veritable supermarket of delectable, appropriately restored machines.  It is truly a remarkable collection, and will make for sensational viewing in Las Vegas, as such a display of Harley history has never been seen in such a complete and expansive timeline. Buy one, or buy them all to make an instant museum!

A masterpiece of design, marred by an ordinary motor, the 1978 XLCR was H-D's first cafe racer, and a bold step to answer a global challenge in the 1970s. [Mecum]

 

 

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Summer of Brough

By David Jackson

It is said no plans survive first contact with reality, and for me things started to go wrong from day one. It was the 90th birthday of my Brough Superior SS80 and I planned to celebrate with a 2,000 mile trip around Portugal and Italy. I’ve got to know the foibles of this bike after 15 years of ownership and thought I’d been pretty thorough, having rebuilt the mag, replaced tyres and chains, checked and greased suspension, replaced cables, etc.  I’d put around 300 miles on her around my home town of Hay in the Welsh borders without a hitch and even the dynamo seemed to be generating a feeble but optimistic glow.

David Jackson's 1931 Brough Superior SS80 is a very hi-spec model, with JAP KTC motor, Bentley&Draper rear suspension and Castle forks - rare options for the SS80 model that provide a very comfortable ride and excellent roadholding, but limited ground clearance. [David Jackson]
I was cheating a bit – my friend Russell seems to enjoy driving and had taken the bike, together with 8 others, to Porto in a truck. We only had to jump on an Easyjet and meet him there.  What I didn’t know was that Portugal did not accept the NHS Covid certificate and I was turned away at the gate. An uncomfortable night in the van at Bristol Airport followed, after which I got tested, and another flight to Lisbon the following day. I had to try to figure out how I could get to Porto, find my bike and catch up with the rest of the group. It had been left at a farm house just outside the city, so after an anxious journey by taxi, tram, tube and train I finally got started by late afternoon, about 8 hours behind the pack.

A clever idea that didn't work: wedging the valve cap in place with pieces of wood. Even the low compression of the sidevalve engine was enough to blow them out. [David Jackson]
My head was pounding without sleep, but I thought I’d try to get two hours riding in before dark. The other riders I figured were about 150 miles north over the border with Spain. There was no way I’d get there that night, but decided the next day to head 200 miles straight to the north eastern town of Chaves where they were due the following night and I could stage a surprise interception. After all that hassle perhaps I would only lose a day’s riding. I found a hostel and feeling relieved to be finally making progress, crashed into bed. It was so deep a sleep I was oblivious to the pounding of the overnight rain and the next day saw the place enveloped in cloud and drizzle, every bit as cold as home. One of the features of my Lucas mag is a mysterious short to the frame in bad weather, and Vaseline in great dollops around the pickup is the only cure. I'm still nervous about the magneto in the rain, and I must have slathered on half a tub before I set off that morning. Despite all I was feeling rested and very positive, determined to make the hero’s entrance at the hotel that night. All the same, alone and abroad on an old bike in the cold and wet with no phone reception, every squeak and rattle begins to sound ominously threatening.

Riding a vintage V-twin through the mountains is an experience one remembers for a lifetime. [David Jackson]
The north of Portugal is not the Algarve; it is mountainous, thickly forested with spruce trees and has some excellent motorcycling roads which are largely free from traffic. Roads climb and plunge through steep valleys as high as 1000metres and I could really feel the engine richening up, losing power it really couldn’t afford. Throughout the day the rain continued and at times visibility fell to just a couple of hundred yards, but the Brough plodded along happily and I began to feel like I was on holiday. The JAP SS80 engine was already obsolete by 1931. It is a 1000 cc side valve total loss design generating something like 25hp, which consumes about a pint of oil every 100 miles depending how you set the pilgrim pump. The bike itself is a handsome but long slow steering machine of about 220 kgs, with very poor ground clearance. First to ground is the nut securing the footrest, which I’ve learned to use as a kind of skid providing feedback in a corner. They rarely last longer than a day so I always keep a handful in my pocket. Such an underpowered heavy bike with a hand change Sturmey-Archer three-speed gearbox makes the Brough a handful in mountainous terrain. Steep descents depend heavily on engine braking in second.  Regular dabbing of the back brake helps, but over use quickly leads to fade and the effects of the front brake are barely discernible.  The only thing to do is to plan far ahead, hope the unexpected doesn’t happen and if things get out of hand look for somewhere soft to bail out.

The replacement valve cap in situ, also showing the external shift mechanism of the Sturmey-Archer 3-speed gearbox (an 'ankle shifter'). [David Jackson]
The knack of getting the best out of the engine is not to overfeed it with fuel, but to aid its digestion by regular use of the advance retard lever. A hill start for instance means a burst in first at full advance, followed by a panicky hand shift to second, then full retard for a slow pick up gradually advancing the spark as the engine begins to speed up. Missing second is easily done, after which you just grind to a halt and repeat.  Uphill switchbacks and hairpins offer a unique challenge; swing it around in second with as much speed as you dare, move to full retard, try to keep momentum and hang off the bike to minimise lean angle whilst trailing a shower of sparks from the unfortunate footrest nut.  None of this would have featured in George Brough’s promotional material, but then neither do I ride in with a tie, a Fair Isle sweater and a pipe. With only 20 miles to go, disaster struck. A sharp crack from the engine halfway around a corner and I immediately lost power. Pulling over I noticed a hole in the top of the cylinder - one of the “fir cone” valve coolers had blown off. This was bad news – even if I managed to find the thing it was most likely to have stripped its alloy threads which screw into the harder cast iron head. After a short search by the roadside I found it and sure enough only a couple of threads were intact. I screwed the cooler back in as best I could knowing it wouldn’t last long, and within a mile sure enough it blew again, this time ripping off what remained of the threads. Being so close I was determined to make it to the hotel under my own steam, nursing the bike along at 20-30 mph on one pot. One cylinder pulled okay without it having to fight the compression of the other but with a hole to atmosphere downstream of the carb I was very wary of it offering too weak a mixture and potentially damaging the front pot too.

Repaired an under way! Testing the Brough Superior's road-holding around mountain corners on the MotoGiro. [David Jackson]
I arrived in a haze of smoke and oil, relieved to be amongst friends and we set about thinking about how to repair the cooler. It’s not a complicated thing – a large 2 inch diameter alloy nut with 16 tpi threads would do the trick – something which could easily be knocked up in 30 minutes on a lathe. The best idea came from Nick, a carpenter by trade, who thought he could hold the old cooler in place with wooden wedges placed between it and the bottom of the tank. The hotel staff kindly obliged and we set to work in their workshop. By 10pm that night Nick had quite skilfully put together a series of interlocking blocks holding the cone in place and I tightened the tank down to increase the pressure on the top of the cone. It was a crackpot idea but the best we had. I took a tentative swing on the kickstart. Suffice to say an explosion at 6 bar of compression smashed the whole lot to pieces and I was lucky not to ruin my fuel tank. It was not to be. Accepting defeat we loaded the broken Brough on the truck and I joined a couple of other casualties in a hired Fiat Panda. Stewart had fried the ignition on his 1960s MV Augusta and Clive had seized the engine on his Triumph Terrier. We had a pleasant couple of days touring the spectacular Douro Valley in our Panda jealously watching the other riders enjoying themselves.

MotoGiro particpants: combined age 260 years for a pair of Rudge Ulsters and the 1931 Brough Superior SS80. Vintage motorcycling at its best. [David Jackson]
My thoughts were turning to the next leg: the Motogiro Rally of Italy which was beginning just over a week later.  I really wanted to take the Brough – it would be its third completed Motogiro and it had become a bit of a celebrity there. Most Italians have heard of Lawrence of Arabia and it always seems to attract attention. I spoke to Mark Upham in Austria and he agreed to send a couple of fir cones out straight away, but you can never tell with post Brexit customs and I wasn’t sure I’d get them in time. I decided to get one made anyway and I watched fascinated as my local machine shop knocked one up in about 20 minutes. It was big and ugly, but it did the job and a week later, thanks again to Russell and his truck, there I was in Rimini on the Adriatic coast ready to start stage two. The Motogiro d’Italia has been an annual fixture since the 1950s, originally established to race small capacity Italian machines over 1000 miles of the toughest terrain in Italy. It is still a big deal: the organisers select different courses each year and carefully signpost the route ahead. There are stops organised roughly every hour, and local people come out in force to spoil us with pizza, cakes and sandwiches, often in beautiful medieval squares otherwise closed to traffic. Oh and wine, from 10 am throughout the day. A few mounted Carabinieri police accompany us, often shepherding us through traffic with sirens blazing. It all makes you feel very special.

Wild in the streets: the Brough leads a Rudge Ulster through a town on the MotoGiro. [David Jackson]
Nowadays bikes of all ages are welcomed but its heart is still old 1950s Italian tiddlers, and the winner must come from a prescribed list of machines. Around 20-30 Brits made it this year out of, I guess, about 120 riders from all over Europe and the US. A special “vintage” pre-war category had been created for me and Jeremy, also from Hay, who rides a 1936 Rudge Ulster. Jeremy and I tend to ride together but are fiercely competitive and up to this year had each won it once. Another Brit joined us in the vintage category also on a Rudge together with a nice old Italian on an a Moto Guzzi Falcone. By the end of the first day the Italian was way ahead of us on points and we guessed this year he was pre-destined to win. It’s a mystery, but it often seems to work that way. With apologies to George again I have to say a 1936 Rudge Ulster is streets ahead of a 1931 Brough Superior both in design and quality. A drip free alloy cast primary drive, four overhead valves, a four speed foot change box, a circulating oil system, interlinked brakes which work, a light short wheelbase flickable frame, about 10hp more from half the capacity and a bike you could buy for a fifth of the price. I could go on. But as Richard Thomson says it doesn’t have the soul of a Brough 31.

A Triumph Terrier under a punishing rally schedule and torturous roads? Only for the brave (ie, Clive). [David Jackson]
The first day was a wash out. It rained torrentially and got worse the higher we climbed. Off the main highways the roads were in dreadful condition, with large land slips to the sides, strange undulating ripples and huge nut crunching potholes often lurking around blind bends. Choose your line and speed on the Brough and you must stick to it, whatever lies ahead. A dry afternoon spell brightened things up until - wham! - the front end washed out and I found myself sliding across the oncoming lane at 20 mph towards the Armco.  The brunt of the damage was to my dignity and the poor old footrest, but looking at the road, my speed and impact point I can honestly say there seemed no reason why it happened. I don’t mind falling off due to my own idiocy but its unsettling when you suddenly find yourself on your arse and don’t know why. A lorry was labouring uphill and 20 seconds later I would have been under its wheels. On the first day too – but either I was going to spend the next six days worrying myself into a neurotic mess or I was going to pretend it never happened. I banned Jeremy from laughing about it until after the trip and we carried on.

An impressive Doric facade dwarfs a legion of riders, but that's Italy - the architecture is amazing. This is likely a pagan temple converted to a church perhaps 1800 years ago. [David Jackson]
Who else should be at the start line by the way but Clive on his Terrier, who had found an equally knackered spare engine on his shed shelf and hastily installed it for Italy. Whatever my woes, I always consoled myself that Clive’s lot was infinitely worse. A big man, he was always to be found in the 121st position of the pack, hunched mournfully over his machine labouring up yet another mountain billowing smoke. Each night found him spannering in the car park, head and piston akimbo and surrounded by helpful advice. A sheared rocker feed and lost cover ended with him directly injecting oil into the exposed valve springs by syringe every ten miles or so. I’m surprised that wasn’t a feature of JAPs. The next six days blended into a whirlwind of magnificent countryside, good weather and ancient but seldom visited Italian towns. Some days were as long as 8-9 hours riding, with little time to grab a sandwich en-route. The condition of the roads, together with the fact that you are always busy on a Brough, left little chance to look up and enjoy the scenery. The relentless pace of the event is perhaps its only drawback, but the compensation is that you don’t have to map read and are led through some marvellous country which few visitors know exist. We criss-crossed the Apennines  numerous times, from the Adriatic to the Med, back and forth, up and down, at one time through the snowline with the temperature falling to 3 degrees. Altitude stretched the Brough’s slender reserves of power to its limit, and at one stage it refused to pull in top gear at all.

Twisting roads though the Italian hills are the norm on the Motogiro. [David Jackson]
No day was entirely incident free. I snapped my rear brake cable twice, one of the things I’d carefully made up in my shed before the trip. The bike is hair raising enough with a rear brake, but losing it adds entirely new layers of excitement. Without brakes you have to time your entry onto an Italian roundabout between vehicles, as if you were shuffling a deck of cards. A mountainous descent felt like a dance with death. I kept thinking about pilots on the western front, fluttering to earth in a spinning string bag and how much worse life was for them.  Jeremy and I tried our best to make another cable, only for it to fail again. I don’t know the reason why, the frayed soldered thistle just pulled its way out of the nipple on both occasions. Perhaps I’d been using softer electrical solder, it’s something I will look into. At one stage we were concerned that Nawal, the other guy with a Rudge and aged in his 70s, had failed to appear by 9pm. It had got dark three hours earlier, he had lost the course, fallen off and smashed his helmet visor. His eyes streaming with cold he had navigated home on mountain tracks using the light from his phone.  We had to laugh. There is a special bond which develops between people on the Giro and by the end of it you feel you have been in a bubble of kind, funny, adventurous, like-minded people you are sad to see go.

In the end, it's all about the connections you make with people that make international travel rewarding. [David Jackson]
Finally the last day came, my rear brake cable snapped once more and it was with relief and exhaustion that the bike and I plodded over the finish line back at Rimini. The poor old girl had completed 1100 miles in 6 days on terrible roads, was starting to oil its plugs and misfire, was burning a lot more oil than usual and was generally ready to give up. It felt like I’d been bullying an elderly dowager through an assault course and she seemed not to appreciate her birthday treat.  I myself may never walk normally again. But the prize for sheer British pluck must go to the indefatigable Clive and his Terrier, whose arrival in that tell-tale cloud of blue smoke was heralded by applause and back slapping from all nationalities. He looked ready to throw the bloody thing in a skip. The best bit? I beat Jeremy on points.

 

For more on Brough Superiors, check our many articles on the subject here.

For info on riding the MotoGiro d'Italia, click here.

David Jackson is a long-time Brough Superior enthusiast living in England.

(Re)Born in Flames: the Top Mountain Museum

What one never wants to see: a relatively new motorcycle museum atop a private mountain in Austria, totally engulfed in flames.  Photos of the disaster on January 17, 2021 at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum reached me in minutes, so I could watch almost in real time a precious collection of the world's rarest and most interesting motorcycles simply evaporate.  Some of those motorcycles had been subject to Road Tests on The Vintagent, and included the ultra-rare sister of the 1925 Sunbeam OHC Grand Prix racer I had ridden only a few months prior at the Auerberg Klassik hillclimb event.  It's difficult to convey the utter bewilderment and deep upset these images caused: I did not know exactly what was inside the museum, but knew who had loaned their machines, as well as the owner of the venue, and could only imagine how they felt at the news.

The fire and its aftermath at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum on January 7/8th, 2021. [Mark Upham]
The devastating fire at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum brought back memories of the equally disastrous fire at the National Motorcycle Museum almost twenty years prior (2003).  Are motorcycle museums doomed to burn?  Why do they build them with wood? How could this have happened?  Terrible speculation ran rampant on social media: it must have been incompetence by the architects, or maybe insurance fraud by the owners - the whole gamut of paranoid speculation and rumor-mongering when the inexplicable happens.   And none of it was true.  It's hard to imagine a stricter permitting, building code and inspection system than in Austria.  The Top Mountain Museum was totally up to code and recently inspected, so what went wrong?  Simply put, it was an electrical fire from a faulty large-screen TV display that gamed the system.  There isn't a fire suppression system anywhere that's 100% foolproof, and sprinklers can be overwhelmed in the wrong situation.  The result was catastrophic: a total loss of the mostly wooden upper floor of the museum, while the concrete lower floor and adjacent gondola barn were unscathed.

A disheartening scenario: hauling precious history like scrap metal. [Top Mountain Museum]
Author Stefan Knittel is a curatorial advisor to the museum (and a Vintagent Contributor), and explains, "Why didn’t the fire stop?  Everything was planned, inspected and tested and passed the test for fire safety.  The commissioner for fire safety lives ten miles from the museum, and was in charge of the qualifications and tests; he had to report to the police, detectives, insurance, and state attorneys, for technical faults.  He said nothing was wrong, that the museum was built to the highest possible standard.  The problem is wooden construction takes longer to burn than a steel hall.  This is a safety aspect; if the museum would have been open the time for escape is 20 minutes instead of a few minutes.  The sprinklers are designed to pour water on particular spots, there is not a sprinkler system that drowns a space in water, but now there are better sprinklers.  It was built to the best standards at the time, nothing failed, it was a terrible loss.  The only good thing is the fire was during the night and nobody was harmed."

The Scheiber brothers, Attila and Alban, who own the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum in Austria. [Fabio Affuso]

The Building and the Collections

While the ashes were still smoldering, the co-founder of the museum, Attila Scheiber, said 'we will rebuild immediately.'  That seemed ambitious in the middle of a global pandemic, and the middle of Winter.  But the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum is located in the Ötztal valley in the Autrian Tyrol, near the Italian border, and the Scheiber family (the museum is owned by brothers Attila and Alban) have deep family connections in the region.  The brothers were planning to build an extension of the museum in 2021, and thus had full plans, the necessary permits, and the construction bids in hand and ready to go before the fire struck: thus one hurdle was already gone, and the rebuilding project was greenlighted immediately.   Stefan Knittel noted, "All the contracts were valid to build the extension already, and all the builders  - wood, concrete, technical – is contracted to local companies in the valley.  The Scheiber family has a 4th generation skiing business, and is the largest employer in the valley, and is more or less a team of family contacts and contractors.  To rebuild the museum quickly would have been impossible anywhere else! In Germany, just to get the permissions would take a year."

A nearly inconceivable task: to quickly provide an insurance value for 360 rare motorcycles. [Top Mountain Museum]
But first, the site had to be cleaned up, and the bikes sorted out for insurance, with the accompanying triage of which machines might be saved, and which were simply scrap.  That job fell to Mark Upham, long time motorcycle dealer through his British Only Austria emporium, and owner of Brough Superior Motorcycles (meaning the 1919-40 originals: he is no longer associated with the current French production model).  "I had to do the insurance estimates for all the bikes that burned. It took about 4hrs per bike on average, for 360 bikes, to arrive at the insurance value. Without The Vintagent's 'Top 100 Most Expensive' list this would not have been possible.  I can find all sorts of evidence for particular machines, but to have the top prices documented was very helpful.  If bikes were under-insured the Scheibers had to pay the margin between the agreed value and the current value; in the case of loaned bikes the Museum had to pay the owners out of pocket."

Mark Upham, Attila Scheiber, and Stefan Knittel meeting at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum in November 2021 [Fabio Affuso]
Who insures such a collection of priceless machines?  Upham puts it in context: "Remember the total value of all the bikes in the museum was nothing compared to a ship stuck sideways in the Suez canal!  I was dealing with Unica, under Reifeisen Bank, and 10% was offset with a Munich insurance company, and 70% by Lloyds of London.  It took some research with these companies to sort the situation."  Unlike with the National Motorcycle Museum fire, most of the motorcycles at the Top Mountain museum were on loan from collectors across Europe.  It was a very complicated situation, and the valuation process takes considerable time, as 'comparables' of extremely rare machines are hard to find, or simply non-existent in the case of unique motorcycles, so reasonable estimates from similarly unique and historic motorcycles had to be suggested, and justified.  "People should insure their bike for market value, that’s all the insurance companies will pay."

The sweeping banked wooden board track display was a feature of the original Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum, and has returned to the reborn museum. Bikes visible are a Harley-Davidson JDH racer, a Moto Guzzi C4V, and a Brough Superior SS100 Pendine. [Fabio Affuso]
Then there is the question of what happens to the remains of motorcycles often worth half a $Million?  Any motorcycle can be rebuilt or replicated by skilled craftspeople, and the fact that many of these machines were extremely historic and desirable - Grand Prix winners, Land Speed racers, Brough Superiors of all stripes, etc - drew unwanted attention from speculators.  The twisted hulks were still smoldering when the owners of the museum, and the owners of the collections known to be on loan there, were approached about selling the remains of this or that motorcycle.  The ambulance-chasers all expressed condolence over the disaster, but their motivation was pure greed, masquerading as a concern for History (read 'Death, Taxes, and Old Bike Fever').  It's a situation seen many times in the old motorcycle scene, as greed is evergreen.  But, to answer the question: what happened to the damaged motorcycles?

The 1930 Brough Superior-Austin BS4 'three wheeler' that was the subject of a Vintagent Road Test, currently awaiting its Phoenix resurrection at the workshop of Brough expert Sam Lovegrove in England. [Sam Lovegrove]
Mark Upham explains, "What are the bodies worth after the fire?  That was a big question.  We thew away over 250 bikes, all low-value machines, mopeds, etc.  For a few bikes there was nothing left, only parts of the frame.  Any aluminum, magnesium, plastic, or ceramic was all gone.  Once the insurance was paid out, all the motorcycles were sold in one lot to a salvage company, after a bidding process.  They own all the bikes now.  Let's hope some phoenixes come out of the fire."

A Museum Reborn

The reconstruction of the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum seen in moments from February through November of 2021. [Mark Upham]

Amazingly, the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum was completely rebuilt in 10 months.  It took the tireless efforts of hundreds of people to achieve the nearly impossible. Mark Upham notes "we got the whole museum together and open, it has been exactly ten months, a major feat!  Attila has 250 employees, and I counted 80 people working on the museum before they opened it."  Plus, all the local contractors, suppliers, and tradespeople who lent their efforts in the midst of the pandemic, and the midst of winter, working between occasional lockdowns.  Stefan Knittel observes, "The rebuilt museum now has an extension, the side hall was ready to build a year ago, and all the concrete was in place before winter.  The architecture is the same, by the same architect, of the same manner - adjusted to suit the mountain slopes.  From the front the museum looks the same, and you don’t see the extension as it’s off to the side from the entrance.  Inside, the board track is the same, with podiums.  It's fully wood-paneled inside and out, but now with concrete walls.  It was built with absolutely modern standards, up to the minute fire security, specified and tested by the authorities, with fire walls installed.  There were some changes beyond the originally planned addition: most significantly, the walls of the museum and now all concrete, with wooden panelling."  The wooden paneling  lends the same Tyrolean vibe of the original museum, while providing peace of mind after the trauma of the fire.  The Scheiber family has built up four generations of goodwill in the area, and the whole region immediately expressed support to rebuild the museum after the fire.  Stefan Knittel notes, "The whole area said on the night of the fire, we are ready to build when you are.  All the exhibitors and loaners, the owners of KTM, etc, said on the night of the fire, we are ready to rebuild when you are.  An interview on the smoldering remains with Attila was broadcast on TV and moved many Tyrol politicians.  A major German collector was already planning to send 100 motorcycles from the now-closed Hockenheim Museum, so all those bikes went straight to the Tyrol.  Nathalie from Deutsches Zweirad and NSU Museum offered that museum's reserve bikes, so we took 70.  Plus KTM offered some contents of their museum, and some simulators, on which your mother-in-law can ride the Timmelsjoch pass in winter!  They lean and everything."

A stunning location at the top of the Austrian Tyrol, now fully functional and open for business. [Fabio Affuso]
The opening party for the reborn museum was held on November 21, 2021.  A full re-opening party will have to wait until 2022, when restrictions are lifted from the pandemic, but it's currently possible to visit the museum and see the remarkable collections. The grand, sweeping banked board track that was a feature of the original museum is back on display, now with an even more rare collection.  Machines include the earliest of banked track racers from the Noughts, like a pair of Alessandro Anzani-designed 3-cylinder W-triples from 1903 and 1905; motorcycles like that can be seen nowhere else.  Early racers from Indian, Harley-Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Brough Superior, AJS, Clément, and Magnat Debon are displayed in proximity to contemporary factory KTM racers from MX to MotoGP (the KTM Motohall).  A few classic and rally cars are also on display (the Porsche Heritage collection), as is the Rausch Collection of round-the-world Steyr-Puch machines - barring Max Reisch's 1933 Puch 250 'Indian Dream', which is still on display at our ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Museum.  The rest of Max Reisch's two- and four-wheeled expedition vehicles are on display, with all their original equipment and traveling gear.

Priceless machines on display include this factory NSU Rennmax DOHC racer, a machine that dominated GP racing in the mid-1950s. [Fabio Affuso]
The grand opening is planned for March. What's there now?  Stefan Knittel sees "ten cars ten or so, 450 motorcycles, mopeds, scooters.  It will be thinned out a little, the expressions of support and the loans were overwhelming.  KTM is still bringing MotoGP and other products.  The Museum will be open again once the current lockdown is over in Austria, and the official opening is in March, date TBD but in connection with the MotoGP race in Austria.  A huge motorcycle festival is planned for the new extension."  It's an event to plan for, and The Vintagent will spread the news once the date is fixed.  Until then, the local tourist board has great info on how to get there and where to stay: check out their site here.

The museum's cafe is adjacent to the exhibition space, so you're never far from amazing motorcycles. [Fabio Affuso]
Installing a pair of unique, home-built British four-cylinder DOHC racers: the Jones Four and Ron Philips Four. [Fabio Affuso]
A rare Paton twin-cylinder GP racer in the competition hall, during installation. [Fabio Affuso]
Mark Upham wheels a a still-radical ELF-Honda two-stroke GP racer with hub-center steering and extravagant exhausts (see our 'Two Wheeled Icons of the 1980s'). [Fabio Affuso]
The Max Reisch collection of round-the-world and overland vehicles from the 1920s-40s are all on display: the 1933 Puch currently at our ADV:Overland exhibit in Los Angeles will move directly to the Top Mountain Museum in April 2021. [Fabio Affuso]
A Burt Munro streamliner that survived the fire in the concrete basement is now displayed in the main hall. [Fabio Affuso]
Attila Scheiber wheels a Max Reisch Puch, the 1929 250cc model he rode to Africa in 1932. [Fabio Affuso]
Situated at the top of the Timmelsjoch alpinestrasse, the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum is simply extraordinary, and deserves a visit by any motoring enthusiast. [Fabio Affuso]
 

 

 

Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


The Current News: Dec. 23, 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022 (a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum), we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene via The Current.  It’s an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you.  

Hello dear readers and riders! We want to wish you all a very happy holiday season. As folks are settling in and slowing down to enjoy a relaxing holiday with loved ones, the world of EVs is only ramping up. From an electric apparatus that is truly art in motion to Rivian’s expansion into the deep south and a first look at Ducati’s first electric racing motorcycle, here are the EV news stories we think will matter the most to you.

See something of interest? Shoot us a message at stephanie@thevintagent.com.

Let’s roll.

Art You Can Ride

The Doehmers TD-MP1 emoped is a spectacular design concept from the talented hand of Torkel Doehmers, based in Mälmo Sweden. [Doehmers]
Art is subjective. So is how much fun you can have on a motorcycle. Remember, a bike’s engine capacity does not dictate how exciting it will be to ride. The Moppe Apparatus TD-MP1, an electric moped concept by Swedish designer Torkel Doehmers, is an embodiment of this testament. Drawing inspiration from the itsy-bitsy Honda SS50, Doehmer’s unique vision fuses together classic café aesthetics with modern moped appeal, including low-mount grips and a skateboard seat with a ducktail flip. But this bike goes way beyond traditional design. It’s literally rideable retro-futuristic art. With a nod to mid-century architecture and innovative, modular elegance, the Moppe Apparatus TD-MP1 breathes new life into micro mobility.

 

Huge Adventures in a Tiny Package

The latest from august manufacturer Citroén, whose beach buggies of the 1960s defined a particular kind of fun: the My Ami Buggy. [Citrôen]
Get ready to hit the pavement, sand, dirt, or wherever you fancy! Citroën’s new electric buggy concept, called My Ami Buggy, caters to your wanderlust by allowing you to travel the beaten path silently and with zero emissions. The buggy boasts bull-bars, an LED light bar, and numerous savvy storage solutions.  It's a worthy heir to Citroën's Méhari, the cheap and cheerful Euro version of the Baja buggy.

 

Prius, Step Aside for Toyota’s New BEV Lineup

Boom. Suddenly, Toyota throws down a full lineup of new EV models, coming soon to a dealer near you. [Toyota]
This week, Toyota Motor Corporation revealed 16 new Toyota and Lexus battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs), including a pickup. The new models will make up half of the 30 EVs the automaker plans to release by 2030. The lineup included Toyota’s bZ series, which stands for “beyond Zero,” and Lexus’ first EV, dubbed the RZ, a production version of the LF-Z electrified concept. The shining star of the show was Toyota’s EV Tacoma-esque truck. The company also plans to invest $70 billion in EVS globally, with the first $35 billion going toward BEVs.

 

First Look at Ducati’s e-Racing Motorcycles

The new Ducati Moto-E racer, the V21L, which will fill the grid of Dorna's new racing series. [Ducati]
Ducati finally released its first e-motorcycle prototype this week, giving us an initial peek at the bike that’s slated to take the track at the FIM MotoE electric motorcycle racing series. Called the Ducati V21L, the EV prototype was already put to the test on the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli track, with Michele Pirro in the saddle. “We are experiencing a truly extraordinary moment. I find it hard to believe it is reality and still not a dream! The first electric Ducati on the track is exceptional not only for its uniqueness but also for the type of undertaking: challenging both for its performance objectives and for its extremely short timescales. Precisely for this reason, the work of the whole team dedicated to the project has been incredible and today’s result repays us for the efforts made in recent months. We are certainly not finished yet; indeed, we know that the road ahead is still very long, but in the meantime, we have laid a first important ‘brick,’” Ducati’s e-Mobility Director, Roberto Cane, said.  Ducati had announced its commitment just a few weeks ago, with no bike or even concept model to back it up, which seemed a very ballsy move.  Apparently they were further along the development track than everyone assumed!

 

Rivian Expands in Georgia

The new Rivian R1T truck at the Georgia statehouse on Dec 16, for the announcement of Rivian's $5Bn auto plant just outside Atlanta. [HYOSUB SHIN / AJC]
EV manufacturer Rivian had its first earnings report as a publicly traded company this week. The company is also expanding production capacity of its Illinois factory from 150,000 to 200,000 EVs annually and building an additional factory outside of Atlanta in 2024. The company’s new factory aims to produce 400,000 vehicles per year and will also include a co-located battery cell production facility.  The State of Georgia agreed to a massive incentive package of hundreds of $Millions over five years, including tax breaks and abatements, infrastructure improvements to nearby freeways (I-20), and Georgia's cash rebate to large employers of $5250 per job per year, which would total $200M if Rivian employs the 7500 workers it expects to hire and train.   That's a big push for a company that's already valued more than Ford and GM, but if it were my business, I'd take it too!

'Electric Revolution' exhibit at the Petersen Museum Garners 6.3Billion Media Impressions

The numbers don't lie: Electric Revolution was huge. [Kahn Media]

The Vintagent team, along with our partners at the Motorcycle Arts Foundation, always knew our first-ever exhibit of electric motorcycles at the Petersen Museum (2019) was big news.  We didn't know how big until we asked for an analysis this week from Kahn Media, the PR agency supporting the Petersen Museum.  The numbers are staggering: Electric Revolution made 6.3 BILLION media impressions across all mediums, from print to web and TV.   We expect our Electric Revolution Live! event next May 2022 will generate even larger numbers, as the first event of its kind in the world: an entertainment event centered around EVs of all kinds, with racing and demonstrations, kids events, test rides, food and wine and music at night.  Mark your calendar for Memorial Day weekend in Walla Walla WA!

 

 

Stephanie Weaver is the EV Editor at The Vintagent, and a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she's not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.

 


The Motorcycle Portraits: Paul d'Orléans

The Motorcycle Portraits is a project by photographer/filmmaker David Goldman, who travels the world making documentaries, and takes time out to interview interesting people in the motorcycle scene, wherever he might be.  The result is a single exemplary photo, a geolocation of his subject, and a transcribed interview.  The audio of his interviews can be found on The Motorcycle Portraits website.

The following portrait session is with Paul d'Orléans, publisher of The Vintagent.  David Goldman caught up with Paul in November 2021 at the Petersen Automotive Museum while wearing his Guest Curator hat, and shooting a short film with David Martinez about Paul's current exhibit, ADV:Overland.  David Goldman asked Paul a few questions about motorcycling: here are his responses.

Paul d'Orléans captured at his gig as Guest Curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Nov. 15 2021. [David Goldman]
"I'm Paul d'Orléans, publisher of The Vintagent since 2006. I'm also a guest curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum, an author, a motorcycle nut, a historian and an event producer and TV presenter/ event host.

"What started me off in motorcycling wasn't really the beginning of my motorcycle career because it was strictly utilitarian: I was 15 years old and wanted to graduate from high school a year early.  The only way to do that was to take night classes at the local Community College, so I bought a little Honda 50 to ride at night in Stockton.  I did graduate a year early, and was super grateful to the motorcycle, but I didn't ride too much through University - it wasn't till after UCSC.  I'd set up a little printing press in my mother's basement in San Francisco and had a partner who was a journeyman printer by the name of Jim Gilman.  We published books and printed posters for punk and political events, and Jim rode a 1950 BMW R50 that he'd found under a staircase. Jim had every issue of Classic Bike and The Classic Motorcycle which in 1984 had only been publishing for a couple of years, and one day he gave me 3 milk crates full of the magazines.  I just devoured those magazines and it ignited a passion for motorcycle history for me - I became really hungry for learning about motorcycles, and that started me reading books about bike.

That led to owning about 300 motorcycles, and kind of put me on the path to where I am today. I've had so many amazing experiences that I could only have had on motorcycles: I've ridden motorcycles literally all over the world and all across the United States four times on the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally.  One trip in particular that stands out as unique was in 1987 my girlfriend Denise Leitzel and I each bought MZ motorcycles (little 250cc two-strokes from East Germany) in London, and we rode into the Iron Curtain countries - Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany etc.   We tried to get into the Soviet Union but they wouldn't let us!  That trip was amazing because the Berling Wall fell a year later.  You know, we would not have seen that other world unless we had those motorcycles.  We were able to explore all the nooks and crannies of those countries, off the freeways and outside of towns, where no trains went, no buses went.  We saw an amazing and actually beautiful and now vanished world.

What motorcycles mean to me - that is a big and loaded question for a professional in the motorcycle industry! I've carved out a niche in this world without resorting to any sort of professional employment, so obviously motorcycling means a tremendous amount to me. I've just found so much richness in my life: I found personal growth I found a kind of strength and overcame a lot of my own demons and weaknesses just by dedicating so much time to motorcycling;  solo long-distance or really really fast.  I've made friends all around the world because of motorcycles, and feel like I owe motorcycles a lot.  My life is basically dedicated to giving back to something that has given me so much."

 
 

David Goldman is photographer and filmmaker who has traveled the world on projects documenting human trafficking, maternal health and marginalized people. He also interviews and photographs motorcyclists in this travels for his series The Motorcycle Portraits. You can follow his website here, his IG here, and his FB here.

Four59: A Mille Miglia Story

'Four59' follows the story of a spectacular and unique car: a 1955 Ferrari 25oGT Competition Boano (chassis #6) that first raced in the 1956 Mille Miglia.  Its current owner dug in on its history, finding several mysteries, but tells the back story and meets the original family that owned and raced 459.  He also determined he would drive the car in the Mille Miglia himself after a full restoration.  Filmmaker Sean Fannin followed the team from the USA to Italy, and on the Mille Miglia itself.  It's a spectacular film that The Vintagent is proud to support!

We have the full film above, and Nadia Amer's interview with Sean Fannin below:

Nadia Amer (NA): Your film about the Mille Miglia and the Ferrari 256 GT Boano (#459) is spectacular. What compelled you to make a film on this particular race and how did the project come about?

Sean Fannin (SF): Thank you! Filming the Mille Miglia has been a bucket list event since I started shooting automotive content. I have shot other races, but the Mille Miglia has always been special because of my family's Italian heritage. My grandmother has always told me stories of where her family is from, but I had never spent any substantial time in Italy to properly take in the culture. As for this opportunity coming about, I was at a dinner with Eric Oberlander and his family the night before a project in Baton Rouge. Eric mentioned that he was going to participate in the Mille Miglia in a couple months, to which I told him that I would love to shoot such a project. To my surprise, Eric invited me to shoot a piece that documented his involvement in the race. We didn’t have much time to fully plan for a project such as the Mille and it’s many moving parts, but we decided that this was an opportunity neither of us wanted to pass on.

A stunning vehicle from any angle, the 1955 Ferrari 250GT Competition Boano was hand-built with an aluminum body and a racing heart. [Sean Fannin]
NA: You seem to have a passion for cars.  Have you filmed other races? How does filming the Mille Miglia compare with other projects you have done?

SF: I have filmed La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, the World Stratos Meeting in Biella, Italy and Peking to Paris, which traverses from Beijing, China to Paris, France. Each of these races has their own trials and tribulations, but the production process is relatively the same. You keep up with the car(s) you are shooting as best as possible and grab footage whenever possible. The Mille differed in the sense that the other races introduce competitive sections where the drivers main goal is to be faster than the rest of the field. The Mille has competitive sections, but they do not rely just on speed. Instead, these regularity sections require the driver and navigator to work in unison to drive over pneumatic tubes at a predetermined interval. This doesn’t mean the Mille is void of speed. Speed in the Mille is introduced when trying to get to your next time stamp. Drivers don’t want to be late, or early, or they will be penalized, so they reduce their chance of missing their checkpoint by arriving as soon as possible. This allows them to drive up and collect their stamp right on time.  As you’d imagine, the competitive bug hits pretty quickly and driving from checkpoint to checkpoint becomes very spirited.

NA: How long was the planning process and what kind of crew and equipment did you have with you?

SF: The planning process for this project was shorter than usual because I met Eric only a few months before the race started. Throw in the requirements to travel under a pandemic and logistics became very tight. In terms of filming crew, it consisted of just myself, with my wife Abigail as my assistant. Adam Martin, Eric’s crew chief, doubled as my production driver and occasionally grabbed a shot for me if needed. In all, Eric’s team came together whenever needed to get the job done. They were a great group to work with. As for equipment, I brought all the goodies. Two camera bodies, two GoPros, gimbal, car mounts, drone, external recorder and mics for that lovely engine note. Being a run and gun style project I made sure that everything would fit into two smaller sized cases, which allowed us to stay light on our feet and not have to rule out any locations due to gear restrictions. 

The Mille Miglia is a feast for the senses. Especially following a spirited Austin-Healey 100M. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What camera systems did you use and at what resolution and frame rate?  Was there an artistic or technical requirement that drove the decision making?

SF: I have always used a Panasonic LUMIX system when shooting my own projects. For the Mille Miglia I brought my LUMIX S1 with a LUMIX S 24-70 2.8 Pro lens. This pair handled all handheld  shots. For stabilized shots I paired my LUMIX S5 with the 24-70 on a DJI Ronin S. A Sigma 100-400 paired with a 2x converter was used to give us reach on those long shots. This two camera setup allows me to be as quick on my feet as possible when dealing with so many unknown shooting scenarios. We shot 4K UHD ProRes 422 and ProRes RAW at 23.98 FPS by pairing the LUMIX cameras with an Atomos Ninja V recorder. A DJI Mavic 2 Pro handled all aerial shots. The main driving force behind this camera system is the need to be compact as possible when operating in such hectic and unknown situations. You find that there is limited time to set up shots on a project like this because you are constantly on the move, so you only get one chance at a shot for most of the race. So, I wouldn’t say that there was a specific artistic direction that drove the decision making, we were more focused on the ability to keep up with the pace of the competitors. However, we knew that we wanted to pull in the highest data rate possible when recording, so we shot in RAW as much as possible. 

NA: You have such a wide range of shots.  Were you given an all access pass to shoot or were you required to get permits from each town? Were there any obstacles to shooting in a foreign country? Did you find the production process to be different in Italy vs. other projects you have done?

SF: We were not required to get permits from each individual town, but we were required to get credentials from the Mille Miglia organizers that allowed our production vehicles into the city centers. There is a race route that the race participants follow, but not all vehicles following the race, mechanics and such, are allowed to stay on this route in certain areas. A media pass gave us access to important areas of the route. We are forever grateful to The Vintagent for partnering with us on this project and providing an outlet to gain the credentials needed. The obstacles that you face when shooting in a foreign country are typically the language barrier and not being familiar with the area. These are obstacles that can be easily managed, but every once in a while a communication barrier will turn a simple issue into something much bigger. Bad weather can be another factor that provides a bit of a headache, it rarely brings shooting to a halt, but it does complicate the shooting process when there are many moving cars and people. Luckily, the weather cooperated and we had sunshine for the majority of the race. If you have never participated in a race like this you may not be familiar with the Tulip road books that are used to navigate the race route. A tulip is a pictorial representation of the route. Each junction along the route is drawn as a small diagram which shows the design of the junction, and the route to follow at that point. This can be an issue if the driver and navigator aren’t seasoned at reading these directions. As I mentioned before, Eric’s crew came prepared and Adam Martin was well acquainted with the navigation skills needed. I had previous experience with the Tulip books during the Carrera and P2P, so I shared navigation duties in our car as Adam always got us exactly where we needed to be. You can always plug in a GPS coordinate if you get lost, but you are likely to not take the race route, which is where all of the action takes place.

Blasting through the Italian countryside and numerous small towns and villages, the Mille Miglia is nominally a rally, but inevitably becomes a race. [Sean Fannin]
NA: There are some very engaging mounted angles that make the viewer feel like they are part of the race.  How did you get these shots?  Did you use gimbal heads or some other mount?  Can you provide any more detail on the techniques and equipment used in getting the various shots?

SF: The mounted shots were captured using GoPro 9 Black cameras. Once the cameras were mounted in the morning they stayed on until we had an opportunity to meet up with Eric and rearrange or pull the cameras. I prefer to mount my S5 for these shots when I am shooting in a controlled environment, but the nature of the race didn’t allow for this as there would be multiple hour stretches before we could pull the cameras. So, we decided on various mounting points for the GoPros and placed the cameras wherever a mount would stay. Eric and Scott were gracious enough to start and stop the cameras at points of interest, while also handling their driving and navigating duties. With myself being the sole camera operator we knew that simply having coverage of the race was going to provide great leverage in post.

NA: Can you explain a bit about how you chose your shots and how you decided to position yourself to get the best shot and/or capture the “story” or moment?  Did you ever feel like you were in danger?  Were you as stressed as Eric Oberlander described his state of mind?

SF: When it comes to getting shots for a project like this it is a constant mix of selecting a few points of interest from the route book paired with simply showing up to a location and quickly seeing if anything jumps out to your eye, sometimes within minutes of the subject driving through. With only one camera on the ground I knew that variety was going to be key, so my main goal in each location was to get as many shots from as many different angles as possible. I always go for quality over quantity, but for a shoot like this the extra footage in post really paid off. Danger is inherent in races like this, fast cars on open roads with a lot of moving parts and people, but at no point did we ever feel like we were in harm's way. We probably were in harm's way, it just never feels that way once you slip into the speed of the race. As for Italy itself, we always felt welcomed throughout the entire route. Italy as a whole was a perfect backdrop for such a historic race.

Seeing and hearing historic racing cars on narrow streets, the exhaust note reverberating everywhere, is stirring stuff for spectator and driver alike. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What was the most difficult part of shooting and the production process in general? Did you have to make any tough decisions?

SF: The most difficult part of shooting was capturing the higher energy driving while traversing roads that were still open to the public. Now, this is nothing new when it comes to races like the Mille, but you always want to get the best footage possible while staying safe and out of the way of the race car and other drivers. Another tough part about this project was that we only had one person shooting. We captured plenty of footage along the way, but there was the constant struggle of deciding which locations were most important. We had to skip some of the areas that were of interest, but we needed to use that time to get to our next location before Eric and Scott. However, we are very pleased with the results and I would like to believe that these restrictions only made us more creative when making decisions. Overall, this was a difficult project to wrangle with a skeleton crew, but everyone involved came together to pull it off. 

NA: The B-roll of the towns and people is breathtaking.  What kind of drone did you use? Did you need a permit for that? Did the permitting process differ in Italy vs. your other productions? 

SF: The drone used is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. My kit is based around being light and compact, the Mavic 2 Pro’s form factor fits perfectly into this equation as it travels in my main camera case while producing a great picture. You can have the Mavic 2 Pro out of the case and into the air within a minute or so, making it a significant tool to have in the kit. It was essential to capture the atmosphere of the Mille. There is no better way to do this than by immersing yourself in the crowd and by also showing the point of view that only a drone can capture. The race cars are the star of the Mille, but it’s the supporting cast of people and places that makes the Mille special.

On the way to a fantastic meal and a rest for the evening in a celebratory atmosphere. [Sean Fannin]
NA: The archival footage and photos really add depth.  Where did they come from? And did you use the parallax technique for animating the photos?

SF: The archival footage was purchased by Eric OBerlander. It is an authentic reel of film that his team found for sale on eBay. We didn’t know if there was any footage of car 459 or Franco Marenghi, but Eric was willing to acquire the footage regardless. After we received the digital conversion we realized that neither made an appearance, but we were thrilled with the footage that was present. It gives a great sense of the atmosphere that surrounded the Mille in that time period. The photos came from Eric’s own dive into the history of car 459, along with the photos that the Marenghi brothers gifted to Eric. I wanted to make the photos more dynamic, so I created a simple parallax effect using Photoshop. Nothing too crazy when it comes to the world of animation, but hopefully it brought the photos somewhat to life.

NA: It was a touching scene where the son of Franco Marenghi, the original owner of the car, got to drive his father’s car that participated in the 1956 Mille Miglia.  What was it like to meet Alberto Marenghi and his brother? 

SF: We were thrilled when we heard that the Marenghi brothers agreed to be a part of this project. It was special to have such a direct line to car 459 and its original driver, Franco. They were gracious enough to share the photos and stories that they had accumulated over the years, some of which answered unknown questions about the car and its involvement in the 1956 Mille. It was a special moment to ride along with Alberto as he manned the wheel of the car that he had been told so many stories about. Both brothers shared stories of their father that added an extra layer to the story that Eric Oberlander can now add to the history of car 459. Alberto and Vittorio were the key piece of the puzzle that made this story come full circle, showing once again that car culture traverses all boundaries.

It's not all groomed roads and cosseted driving for these precious vehicles...note the Mercedes 300SL with the 'gullwing' open for a bit of air in the notoriously hot cabin. [Sean Fannin]
NA: How many hours of footage did you shoot and how long did it take to edit? How many days did you shoot?

SF: I am not sure exactly how many hours of footage we shot, but we shot for nine days. Eric participated with a team called Scuderia Sports. This team spends three days training for the Mille while also enjoying the sights and food of the area. We shot Eric participating in the Scuderia Sports exercises and then in the race. Once the race started our shoot days typically lasted anywhere from 17-19 hours. You wake up early and get the car to the start, this is when I would place the GoPros for the morning session. Eric would set out for the day and we would hang with him for a few hours. Once we captured enough car to car footage we would then jump ahead and look for locations to shoot passing shots and drone footage. We would repeat this process, basically leapfrogging throughout the day. We would then arrive at the final checkpoint at night and head to the hotel. We would then prepare to do it all over again in a few hours.

NA: Eric Oberlander, Scott Laroque and the rest of the team seem like a fun group.  How did you meet them?  What was your relationship like and do you have any behind the scenes stories you care to share?

SF: I met Adam Martin years before I met everyone else on the team. I filmed his father-in-law’s Paul Newman Datsun 240z in my hometown of Cincinnati. I met Eric and Forrest in Louisiana while shooting Eric’s Baja Bronco for a separate project. Adam is friends with Eric so he showed up to hang out during the shoot. I met Scott during the Mille. The team was a fun bunch, always laughing and making the most of the experience, but also very focused when it came time to compete. For this being their first time competing in the Mille, Eric and his crew hit the ground running and never looked back. They finished as the top American team, which was one of their personal goals. I was proud to cross the finish line with team 459.

As cars go, a 1950s Ferrari competition coupe is about as good as it gets. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What was it like for you personally to be part of such an historic race?  What is your overall feeling of the experience? Would you care to share your most difficult and joyous moments?

SF: My head is still spinning from taking part in the Mille Miglia. The people, the landscapes, the food, the wine, the cars, the history… with the added layer of being able to capture such a unique story along the way. I can’t think of a better way to see Italy than chasing a vintage Ferrari through the Italian countryside. My most joyous moment of the Mille was definitely crossing the finish. Energy is always extremely high and everyone is celebrating the completion of a common goal. Also, it was special to have my wife along for the ride. She acts as my assistant on bigger projects, but had yet to come along for a race or rally. I’m not going to say that she was a fan of the 19 hour work day, but she loved the experience of the Mille and finally was able to see what a race like the Mille is all about.

NA: The sheer number of unique shots lends itself towards a hectic shooting schedule. Are there any entertaining statistics you would like to share?  (ie. how little sleep, how many locations, etc.)

SF: Sleep? What is that? All jokes aside, sleep was one of the aspects of the race that we weren’t too familiar with. Eric and Scott had a later start time due to the Ferrari being a 1955. Because of this, we would typically get to the hotel each night around midnight. Food, showers and a cold beer were a must upon arrival. For myself, this was then followed by two hours of prepping for the next day. Transferring footage, charging batteries, arranging all of the gear and having another look at the schedule for the following day usually allowed for roughly two to three hours of sleep each night. Eating from the hotel vending machines wasn’t out of the question if no surrounding food options were available. Nonetheless, you understand the machine and you roll with it. 

Enzo Ferrari and the three winners of the 1956 Mille Miglia standing behind '459' in an amazing period shot. [Sean Fannin]
NA: Thanks for the interview!  Would you like to film this race again and what is your next project?

SF: Thank you for your interest in this project. I would love to film the Mille again. You become part of a bigger family when you take part in these types of races. You leave with incredible stories and lifelong friendships. I fully plan to make it back to the Mille, as well as the Carrera and Peking to Paris, to capture the amazing stories of the people who compete in these events. What’s next for me is wherever my camera takes me. I love to shoot, and all the technical aspects that come with it, but what I love most is the adventure of exploring new areas and meeting interesting people. I have no doubts that I will return to the Mille to tell more of the fantastic stories that it has to offer.

A whole lotta racing history in a line...Austin-Healey, Lotus, AC, Mercedez Benz, Alfa Romeo... [Sean Fannin]
[Ed: Thanks to Sean Fannin for his special 'Vintagent edit' of Four59, to Nadia Amer for her interview, and Nadia Fugazza for introducing Sean Fannin to The Vintagent]

Related Vintagent Stories:

Nadia Amer is Director of Education Initiatives at Motorcycle Arts Foundation, a Contributor at The Vintagent, a journalist and a filmmaker.  Instagram / Linkedin

The Current News: November 18, 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022, as a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene.  It's an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you.  

A warm welcome to all of you readers and riders! If this is your first time checking out The Current, we’re your one-stop-shop for all of the latest EV news that matter to both electroheads and traditionalists. This week, we’re covering some pretty exciting stuff. From President Biden’s recent Social Policy Bill that includes a whopping $4.1 billion tax break for folks buying e-Bikes to North America’s first affordable highway-capable e-Motorcycle, we deliver valuable stories to your inbox each and every week.

Have you seen a story that you think we should cover? Drop us a line at stephanie@thevintagent.com!

Let’s roll.

Want a Hefty Tax Break? President Biden Has You Covered!

President Joe Biden tried out an EV Hummer this week. [AP Photo Evan Vucci]
President Joe Biden’s new Social Policy Bill will include a $4.1 billion tax break for people buying electric bikes. As part of his nationwide White House tour promoting the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that provides $7.5 billion in funding to build out America’s EV charging network, Biden climbed behind the wheel of the electric Hummer SUV yesterday for a test drive. "You know, up until now, China has been leading in this race," the President said when speaking about EV manufacturing. "That's about to change.”   We will surely invite POTUS to Electric Revolution Live, maybe he'll dig one of the classic EV conversions on display.

Kollter ES1: North America’s First Cost-Efficient Highway-Capable e-Motorbike

The Kollter ES1 range: Made in Germany, and highway capable. [Kolter]
The Germans certainly know something about making high-quality vehicles. And Kollter’s new thrilling and highly affordable ES1 is a testament to the country’s superior craftsmanship. Recently rolled into North America and priced to please at just $5,990, the highway-capable e-Motorcycle boasts 70+ mph speeds, allowing it to seamlessly hang out with the rest of the two-wheeled herd on the highway. The bike also features an 80-mile range, a prompt 4.5-hour charging time, and an 11 kW (15 hp) peak-rated single-stage reduction mid motor.

Huffy Releases a Folding e-Bike

Huffy! An old name in a new game, now with a folding ebike. [Huffy]
The EV realm isn’t just for motorcycle manufacturers! Huffy is enjoying its slice of the pie with the recent release of its Oslo folding e-bike. The easy-to-fold commuter bike is equipped with a 36-volt battery that powers a 250-watt rear hub motor and collapses in the pedals, middle, and handlebars to be easily tucked away when not in use. Clocking in at just 45 pounds, the Oslo Electric is perfect for people who live in small apartments or who work desk jobs.

BMW Plans to Enter the e-Scooter Market

Prototypes, prototypes, prototypes. We featured the BMW Concept Link in our book collaboration with Gestalten - The Current - and saw it on its unveiling at Villa d'Este. BMW says it's now likely to build an escooter, and soon. [BMW]
With so many big-name brands entering the EV market, it’s no wonder nobody wants to get left behind, including BMW. The company is hoping the innovative styling and next-gen technology of its new CE 04 e-Scooter will attract new customers to the brand. The retro-futuristic two-wheeled bike was showcased at the Los Angeles Auto Show earlier this week. Slated to arrive in showrooms early next year, the CE 04 will have a starting price tag of $11,795. Able to seat two, the e-Scooter boasts 42 ponies and 45 lb.-ft. of torque, along with an 80-mile range. Do you think this scoot can compete against HD’s Livewire or Zero Motorcycles? Let us know in the comments below!

Hongik University Releases Smart Life Concepts at the 2021 Industrial Design Online Degree Show

Seoul-based Hongik University’s industrial design department recently hosted its 2021 online degree show that showcased the state-of-the-art projects of 95 forward-thinking students. Some of the key pieces included:

The SITT connected showroom mobile space. [Hee-Soo Kim and Jae-Yeon Kim]
  • Sitt by Hee-Soo Kim and Jae-Yeon Kim, an autonomous showroom service where users can sit in eight different comfy, interior settings.
The VOCO is a self-parking ebike concept. [Kwang-Seuk Go and Hye-Won Kim]
  • VOCO by Kwang-Seuk Go and Hye-Won Kim, a near-future e-Motorcycle that promotes autonomous driving.
The Harmony eScooter promotes safety and portabiliity with rider warning systems and adaptive road lights. [Min-Ji Park]
  • Harmony by Min-Ji Park, a pioneering form that aims to provide portability and safety solutions to e-Scooters.

These amazing concepts only go to show that the future is clearly electric.

Breaking Battery News

Lithium polymer batteries from mobile phones ready for recycling...but where?
  • Elemental Holding, a metals recycling company, is building an EV battery recycling facility in Poland. The facility is slated to start operations in 2023.
  • Recent research has found that materials recovered from spent lithium-ion batteries actually perform better than the virgin materials found in new ones. All the more reason to recycle, people!

 

 

 

Stephanie Weaver is EV Editor for The Current vertical on TheVintagent.com, and a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she's not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.

 


'One Man Caravan' in ADV:Overland

After 18 months of hibernation, the world is primed for adventure, and the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum has it in spades. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space, as a welcome breath of freedom after pandemic shutdowns.  ADV:Overland is on display through April 2022.  See all of our exhibited vehicles here.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr's 'One Man Caravan' round the world 1932 Douglas Mastif as it exists today. [Fulton Family Archives]

Pictures from an exhibition: Robert Edison Fulton Jr.'s 1932 Douglas 750cc H32 Mastif motorcycle.  (by Clement Salvadori and Paul d'Orléans)

Back in 1885 the brothers William and Edward Douglas established a foundry in Bristol, England, making bits and pieces for the burgeoning industries cropping up in the region.  Eventually that meant cars, tractors, and castings for a local motorcycle start-up in 1907, Joseph Barter's Light Motors Ltd, who designed a neat little flat-twin engine with opposed cylinders sitting fore and aft in the frame, which he called the Fée (fairy).  Barter soon ran out of money, and the Douglas Engineering Co. acquired the business, thinking the new business of motorcycles might have a future.  The Fée led to other flat-twin designs from Douglas, an engine configuration to which they remained faithful throughout their production, although by the mid-30s they had turned their motor through 90degrees, where it remained until their 1957 demise.

A Douglas won the Isle of Man TT in 1912, and the marque had many successes in worldwide competition, and during WWI they provided many thousands of 600cc sidevalves to the British army.  Douglas was among the earliest manufacturers - in 1921 - to adopt overhead-valve cylinder heads and 'hemi' combustion chambers, which made them fearsome competition machines, and the next year an RA model became the first 500cc motorcycle to record 100mph, with Cyril Pullin riding at Brooklands.  In the 1920s the company was quite successful financially, with regular race wins at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT, and also the burgeoning world of Dirt Track racing, in which the low-slung weight and long wheelbase of the hot RA model proved a perfect fit.  By the mid-1920s the Douglas DT5 and DT6 (600cc) Dirt Track (later known as Speedway) racers were al-conquering on dirt tracks around the globe, right through 1930, when a combination of the Stock Market crash and the JAP speedway motor dealt the company a mortal blow.  In 1932 Douglas was sold to a group of investors headed by Kenton Redgrave, and this is where our story begins.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr on his 1932 Douglas Mastif, modified by the factory for his journey with racks and an extra-large fuel tank over the rear wheel, plus a skid plate, where Fulton hid a revolver. [Fulton Family Archives]
A young fellow named Robert Edison Fulton Jr., son of the founder of Mack Trucks, had been studying architecture in Vienna after graduating from Harvard in 1931.  After a year abroad, he was headed back to the USA via London, and on an early summer's eve in 1932 he was invited to a posh dinner.  As the 24-year old son of a wealthy industrialist, Fulton was the sort to be invited to such parties. When asked at the dinner what he planned to do next, he replied off-handedly that he would not sail back to New York, but would rather ride a motorcycle around the world!  Kenton Redgrave happened to be at the table, and immediately offered him a Douglas motorcycle, thinking such a journey would be good publicity.

Fulton had only briefly owned an Indian motorcycle while in college, which he soon crashed and was pressured to sell by his family: that was the extent of his motorcycle experience. To undertake a round-the-world (RTW) journey was an act of youthful hubris: Fulton did not even know if it had been done before (it had – see our 1912 Henderson exhibit).  A few weeks after that fateful dinner party, Fulton appeared at the Douglas factory to meet his Mastif: the machine had been specially modified for the journey, and was a very rare 750cc model to boot, with perhaps only 30 ever made.  The factory had added an extra gas tank over the rear wheel and bash plate under the motor, where Fulton wedged a revolver ‘just in case’, and which he never removed. The factory also thought it prudent to bolt a Douglas sidecar onto to the ‘continental’ side: left, as most countries he would be riding through drove on the right side of the road. Fulton rode off in July of 1932, heading east back to Vienna, then turning south to the Balkans. By then he had discovered how bad the roads were away from large European cities, and soon decided to get rid of the sidecar. Shortly after, in Turkey, he abandoned much of his cooking gear and other items he realized were non-essential, including the tuxedo he’d packed away ‘in case of an embassy dinner’.  What he kept included a cine camera  with which he shot 40,000' of film in the course of his journey.

A lot of this! The deep desert sands of the Middle East were without roads or even markers in many areas, with bandit nomads a constant worry. [Fulton Family Archives]
Fulton had a positive attitude on his journey, and was fascinated at the differences between the cultures he encountered, as well as their similarities.  For example, Fulton famously noted that in small villages all over the world, he was warned against traveling to the neighboring village, which was invariably described as full of thieves and murderers.  On arriving there, he found people just as accommodating as the previous town, but was warned against the next spot on his map in the same terms. Concerning the Mastif in our exhibition, few things went mechanically wrong in his 18-month trip, other than half a dozen flat tires. In Waziristan a king-pin in his transmission sheared, but the company had given him a small bag of spare parts, including such a pin, and he fixed it himself, obviously having some mechanical skills. After his successful journey, Fulton wrote a classic account of RTW travel – ‘One Man Caravan’ (Harcourt, Brace - 1937) – which inspired many other would-be travelers to undertake this ultimate adventure on two wheels.  'One Man Caravan' records being shot at by Pashtun tribesmen in the Khyber Pass, running from bandits in the Iraqi desert, spending a night in a Turkish jail, and being lavished with attention by Indian rajahs, although Fulton is modest and discretely charming throughout, and is never self-aggrandizing...which turns out to be a common theme among RTW travel writers to come.  Fulton did capitalize on his journey and book with a lecture tour of the United States, where he shared his film footage and tales of his adventures. In 1983, he produced (with his filmmaking sons Rawn and Travis),a 90-minute film compiled from his film footage, 'The One Man Caravan of Robert E. Fulton Jr. An Autofilmography',  and later in his life a second film, "Twice Upon A Caravan."

Robert Edison Fulton Jr. went on to become an airplane enthusiast (including a P-51 Mustang for his personal use), and a prolific inventor.   He invented the first ground-based flight trainer, the first ground-based air gunner trainer, a functional flying car, and the Skyhook system for pilot rescue or personnel retrieval by an aircraft - without the need to land. He kept his faithful Douglas Mastif close by the rest of his life, but only shared it publicly at local Connecticut motorcycle shows on occasion.  ADV:Overland is the first time Fulton’s famous machine has been exhibited in a museum, and his sons have kept it in running condition in homage to their remarkable father.

Fulton came across many animal, and the occasional human, that had succumbed to the desert. [Fulton Family Archive]
Fulton in Japan photographing Mt Fuji. [Fulton Family Archive]
Robert Edison Fulton Jr later in life, at his desk, where the ideas for new inventions poured forth. [Fulton Family Archive]
Vintagent Contributor Dennis Quinlan visited RE Fulton Jr in 1994, capturing him with his Douglas at Flying Ridge, Connecticut. Fulton died in 2004: read his NYTimes obituary here. [Dennis Quinlan]
 

 

 

Clement Salvadori is a veteran moto-journalist, world traveler, and author of No Thru Road, 101 RoadTales, several travel guides through California and Baja, and more.

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

The Current News: Nov. 4 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022, as a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene.  It's an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you. 

Hello dear readers and riders! Are some of you feeling the frosty bite of winter in the air yet? Have you busted out your winter riding gear? Thankfully, we have some hot EV news this week that is guaranteed to warm things up! From a café racer e-Motorbike and an itty-bitty caravan to a former Tesla employee shattering the Cannonball Run record aboard the manufacturer’s Model S, our weekly EV roundup always brings stories that matter the most to EV enthusiasts and traditionalist riders alike.

As always, drop us a line at stephanie@thevintagent.com if anything out there catches your eye.

Here we go!

Enigma Reveals Café Racer e-Motorcycle

The Enigma eBike is a cafe racer from India with an 85 mile / 85mph spec, and is meant to be affordable. [Enigma]
India-based EV manufacturer, Enigma, revealed its EV “café racer” earlier this week. The bike, planned to be manufactured at the company’s plants in Bhopal, Mandideep and Uppal Hyderabad, will feature a 72V, lithium ferro phosphate battery that delivers a 140-km (86.9 miles) range on a single charge. Enigma promises that the bike will reach top speeds of 136 kmph (84 mph) and have a peak power of 5.6 KW. The e-motorcycle will go from 0 to 80% charged in just three hours and will be available in five colors. “When we started designing our motorcycle, our ambition was to create a motorbike that would serve as a powerful exploration tool but also balance the everyday commuting without breaking the bank,” Enigma founder and CEO, Anmol Bohre, said.

World’s Smallest (and Cutest!) Towable Caravan

Officially the world's smallest caravan, the QTvan is meant to be towed by small EVs, even mobility scooters. Fancy a cross-country trip? [QTVan]
Skip those Royal Wedding queues once and for all! Designed by Yannick Read and Britain’s Environmental Transport Association (ETA), the QTvan is the world’s tiniest and most adorable towable caravan. Measuring just 2.39 meters in length and 1.53 meters in height, the QTvan caters to Britain’s three biggest obsessions: tea, queuing, and caravans. Occupants can enjoy watching the next Royal Wedding on the 19-inch TV or make a cup of PG Tips via the caravan’s tea-making facilities. It is effortlessly hooked up to a mobility scooter or other micro EV, and is priced at £5,500 ($7,421).

Meet the Ford F-100 EV Pickup

Retro Ford F-100 Eluminator EV? Yes please! [Ford]
We are losing our minds over this retro-inspired electric pickup truck concept recently unveiled by Ford. Harkening back to the aesthetics of the ‘70s, the all-electric F-100 Eluminator is a zero-tailpipe-emissions demonstration truck that features all-wheel drive and two electric traction motors that are capable of producing 480 ponies and 634 lb.-ft. of torque from a 'crate motor' out of the Mach E GT Performance Edition.  You can't buy this truck, but you can buy the powerplant from Ford to put into your own vintage F-100 chassis...serious suspension upgrades required.

EV Personal Aerial Vehicle is a Whole Lotta Fun to Fly!

Meet George Jetson! Or at least, the Jetson personal electric aircraft, which requires no pilot's license to tear around the sky. [Jetson]
Sweden’s Jetson Aero just announced that it is completely sold out of its 2022 production of the personal eVTOL, a cute little single-seat EV aerial craft. Capable of zooming along at 63 mph, the craft features an aluminum/carbon fiber spaceframe, eight props mounted on four arms that put out 118 horsepower, a throttle/joystick control combo, and a display dash. So, if you want an airplane that you can stash in your garage, now you know where to look!

OTTOEDGE Releases Its First Campaign for AMO Electric Mobility

The OTTEdge AMO escooter in a virtual display setting. [OTTEdge]
Listen up all of you marketing gurus out there! OTTOEDGE, a global independent agency, recently deployed a successful marketing campaign for AMO Electric Mobility that really resonated with youths positioned to change the world. Released primarily on digital platforms, the campaign has garnered 2+ million views on YouTube with unique 1.5 million views. The campaign will also appear on National Television and regional news channels. Amongst all the marketing static the EV space has produced, it’s nice to see a campaign that really stands out.

Fresh Funding:

All-singing, all-dancing, but all-performing? The towering valuation of Tesla belies its actual revenue, but that hasn't stopped speculators. [NY Times]
  • Tesla hit a trillion-dollar market valuation earlier this week when shares increased thanks to Hertz’s announcement of plans to purchase 100,000 of its EVs.  With revenues of around $50Billion, this makes Tesla the lowest-revenue company to hit the 10-figure valuation, which worries some economists.
Rad Power gains power through investment: the compact utility eBike maker looks stronger every year. [Rad Power]
  • Rad Power Bikes, the fat tire EV manufacturer, raised $154 million Series D from existing investors, bringing the startup’s total funding to $329 million.
The Rivian RT-1 [Wikipedia]
  • EV startup, Rivian, is looking to raise $8.4 billion, which would give it a value equal to Honda.  Does this make sense?  It seems market valuations have more to do with anticipated value than actual production capacity or products available...then again, Amazon wasn't profitable for many years when it sold primarily books...

Former Tesla Employee Uses a Tesla to Shatter Cannonball Run Records

Ryan Levenson used a Tesla Model S Long Range to knock 2 full hours off the cross-USA 'Cannonball' EV record from a Porsche Taycan. [Ryan Levenson]
We’ve all secretly dreamed of getting payback on employers we downright loathe. Well, that’s the story behind Ryan Levenson’s staggering Cannonball Race record. The former Tesla employee and EV enthusiast rented a Tesla Model S and outfitted it with 19-inch-rimmed racing tires to increase its range. Ryan and his team could race 1.5 to two hours between stops, thanks to the Model S’s 405-mile range and Ryan’s minor tweaks. Using the quick-charge capacity of Tesla's coast-to-coast facilities, he set a new record at 42 hours and 52 minutes, of which around 7 hours was spent on charging time.   The current IC record for a Cannonball run is 25 hours 39 minutes, by comparison, which included only ten minutes for refueling!  Several fuel cells were packed into that car...could a Tesla (or other EV) be packed with batteries for a shorter run?

 

 

Stephanie Weaver is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. When she's not locked to her laptop, she can be found riding horses and motorcycles.

 


Vesuvius to Etna, Powered by Solar

Editor's Note:  Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer covering all types of motorsport and fashion, with a particular interest and gift for motorcycle photography.  He has contributed stories about The Great Mile and most recently the all-electric Elektrafuture event in St. Tropez, which gave him the inspiration to try an off-grid off-road journey in his native Italy, between two legendary volcanos.  He had generously shared his photographs and travel diary from his journey with The Vintagent: it is a pioneering exploration of what will surely be possible for eBike journeys in the future, completely off-grid using solar energy.  A longer version of this story with video clips is coming soon.

From Fabio Affuso: POWERED BY SOLAR

When in the middle of a total world lockdown this bonkers project first came to mind, nobody had any idea if it was gonna work, but that didn’t matter: its true essence was challenging ourselves and tasting freedom once again. For the friends and ballsy brands I approached it was a salivating mix of excitement and perplexity…”It’d be amazing to ride between the volcanoes! How can you do an enduro trip with electric motorcycles?? Nobody’s done it yet with solar, is it even possible? Total Outlaws…I’m in!”

Solitude on a stunning mountain landscape was the reward for making a pioneering eBike ride into the Apenines and volcanos of southern Italy.  Jose S picks his way through the rocks for a stunning view. [Fabio Affuso]
Truth is, the project was a bet and a challenge, and one we so sorely needed. Being able to rely on our own abilities and resources was what we really wanted, something our modern society has ultimately taken away from us, making everything terribly homogenous, safe and controlled. Motorcycling, and now electric motorcycling cross-country, became our time machine to feel alive again. A risky jump, not for the cautious, but the daring wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. After all, riding electric motorcycles off-road between the two most dangerous live volcanoes of Europe is not an everyday task, with no guarantee of success. Riding Vesuvius (near Naples) to Etna (on Sicily) while charging the bikes from a self-converted camper van with solar power is even less so…a technological as much as a personal challenge. But isn’t that what the future looks like anyway?! It’s just that we wanted to do it on our terms. In the end, the allure of being totally off-grid, free camping, riding wild across mountains, and even getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was too much to resist for this wild bunch.  So we went.

The équipe included a converted ambulance with solar panels to be used for charging the bikes. Off-grid, but still dependent on a petrol vehicle...a compromise for the present. Malaka manhandles the CAKEs for a dawn ride. [Fabio Affuso]
Some six months after Powered by Solar first bubbled up, at 6am five of us were up on top of Vesuvius. Equipped with the raddest gear from El Solitario, Sena and Kriega, we were ready to head down south for the next 6 days.  With Lesley, Mia the wolfdog and Malaka driving 2 self-made camper vans, with Josè, Adelio and I riding 3 electric off-road motorcycles by CAKE.

Adelo L bushwhacking: riding on seldom-explored or abandoned trails was a big part of the challenge and the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
Off-roading in the middle of nowhere with silent motorcycles is a rad and surreal experience, especially while talking to each other via hi-def intercom. All you can hear is the live forest, the sound of the chain, and your pals laughing and crying as you’re powering through thorny woods (that’s if you don’t put your Spotify on). Wild enduro is not for everyone, but if you're into it, you know the true taste of exhilaration. From abandoned hiking paths cut by landslides and dubious homemade bridges, to thick pine forests with fast trails and fallen massive trees, we rode all sorts of terrains like a squad on a mission. Everybody knows Italy has amazing roads to ride, but not everybody knows there are more unpaved than paved roads in this country, so the choice is endless [ed. note: it's the same in the USA!].  The further south in Italy you go, the easier it becomes when you bump into forest rangers, who often wave rather than chase you...like in Sicily, when we rode between wildfires, we stopped to chat with fire brigades and police under the flying water scooper planes. Italian heat in August is serious business that can leave a mark [ed note: especially in 2021, when Sicily hit 120deg F, the highest ever recorded in Europe].

Camping near a wildfire: climate change in Italy looks much like California - drought, heat, and fires appear to be the new normal in late summer. [Fabio Affuso]
Because of the heat, most days between 2 and 4pm we either rode like camels in the Sahara, or slept  like wolves at the equator.  On the first day, when drowsy and tired we found a huge dam to swim in, eat and sleep. We were on a fine enduro adventure, but first and foremost we are a bunch of friends getting lost into nature, because we can and because we need to. Far from actually getting lost, we rode amazing tracks laid out by friend and enduro tour guide Ugo Filosa (www.offroaditalia.it). Weirdly, the Southern Italian mountains are pretty much free of people in the summer, as most prefer the beach to the high altitude. Riding under those tall trees up high on the Apenines, we found respite from the beach bums' mayhem, and only in the evening descended to the coast to have a swim  and the occasional shower. After all, it is summer, and we need to sink it in before it’s gone.

Malaka watching fire crews drop water by plane onto an advancing fire. A sadly common sight in California, Greece, and Spain too! [Fabio Affuso]
The CAKE Kalk bikes we used are super light and fun, but we had to plan well and monitor battery power all the time if we are to make it to the end. Driving the vans to the best meeting points, Jose, Adelio and I tested the CAKEs’ gazelle capabilities until the last drop of power, like when in Calabria all three of us decided to continue into the mountains with half power, to then descend on the other side with none. Reckless, probably yes, but intoxicatingly beautiful.

The CAKE Kalks proved well able to handle the roughest terrain, but it's still hard work! Lesley B takes a break on the black volcanic soil. [Fabio Affuso]
Fully stocked with cold beers and snacks, Lesley and Malaka are always on the ball, criss-crossing the mountains on tarmac to reach our designated meeting points, be it light or dark, or at some emergency rescue points, as it happens twice when we got unrepairable punctures or when we rode the bikes until the last drop of CAKE juice. Yet we have to do it this way, we have to touch the technical limits to know where they are and to finally push them, or else we are only restrained by our own mind’s limits. I know a hippy or two who would ask…what’s the worst that could happen!?

Jose S exploring classic Italian mountain village architecture, with the added bonus of silent exploration, and no harrassment. [Fabio Affuso]
Once we learned that running the batteries flat is not good for our charging technique (swapping batteries and charging off solar), we made peace with the fact we needed to hook into the grid for once, with the bonus of a proper shower at the empty camping park by the beach. Flexibility and adaptability is what ultimately takes us all the way to Sicily, through wildfires and then finally atop Etna, where mother earth fulfills our ecstatic ambitions with a mind blowing nightime eruption. ‘Illegally’ free camping on the volcano itself, it’s hard to find a better way to end this crazy trip inspired by nature, technology, and our obstinate aspiration for a world that could be free once again.

Malaka enjoying the cinders! Direct from the volcano, and not on the Speedway track. [Fabio Affuso]
Adelio and Jose S find sketchy trails not intended for motorcycles! But all part of the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
The heart of fire, but not a fire per se: an eruption on Mt Etna was a reward for a long journey. [Fabio Affuso]
Keep an eye out for the full story coming to Thee Vintagent soon…

Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.

The Vintagent Original: ADV:Overland

https://vimeo.com/571452961

The Vintagent Original: Stories We Need to Tell.

ADV:Overland (2021)

Presented by Harley Davidson, The Motorcycle Arts Foundation and The Vintagent

FILM MAKERS

Vintagent Labs is the new content creation arm of The Vintagent.  A collaboration between Nadia Fugazza, Mark MacInnis, and Paul d'Orléans, incorporating the skills and contributions of talented friends and collaborators around the world.  Nadia Fugazza is a film producer and editor and now Executive Producer for Film at The Vintagent, who spent 8 years creating award-winning video content for Petrolicious.  Mark MacInnis is a film producer and now Managing Editor for The Vintagent, whose films have been featured for years on The Vintagent ('Sugar & Spade' and 'Sugar & Spade in Morocco').  Paul d'Orléans is the founder and CEO of The Vintagent.
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SUMMARY

A film about adventure travel, in support of the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, July 2021 - April 2022. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space.

In the beginning, every motor trip was an adventure, and every motorist a mechanic. Some heard a different call, seeking adventure in overland travel to far-distant places. In 1903, crossing the USA on wheels had never been done, but that changed when George Wymans rode a California motorcycle for 50 days from San Francisco to New York. In 1912, nobody had circled the globe on a motorcycle, but that changed when Carl Stearns Clancy straddled his Henderson Four and headed east. In the next 100 years, brave men and women struck out to see the world on wheels, making epic journeys recorded in books, films, and television. Folks more technically-oriented imagined travel off-world, on the Moon or Mars or beyond, in science fiction and actual space programs.

Exhibition curator and Motorcycle Arts Foundation co-founder Paul d’Orleans explains: “ADV:Overland celebrates the spirit of adventure. These remarkable machines tell a human story, of dreamers and reckless youth, stubborn visionaries and dogged competitors, all together in one place. It also includes the ultimate overland dream of surface exploration on other worlds, which is happening on Mars right now - and we have some of the NASA/JPL rovers. We told lenders not to wash their overland veterans: we wanted to show good honest dirt as proof of their rough duty.”

The contrast between the extremely simple overland machinery from the early 20th century to Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire from Long Way Up is great, but the journey still had to be made on wheels. “The genesis of overland travel can be seen in the early bikes, like the 1912 Henderson Four that Carl Clancy rode around the world. These rudimentary machines captured the public’s imagination and fueled overland travel and competition we see today, like the Baja and Dakar rallies, and films like Long Way Up,” added MAF co-Founder Sasha Tcherekoff.

If 100-year old dirt-covered bikes don’t inspire you, then come to ADV: Overland for the far-out space exhibits. Two sci-fi overlanders from the Lost In Space series, including the spectacular 1960s tracked glass house, keep company with a futuristic 3-D printed electric “Lunar motorcycle” from Hookie.co. For an inspiring comparison between real and imaginary off-world overlanding, NASA/JPL loaned two actual Mars rovers - models of Opportunity and Sojourner - that have logged more miles on other worlds than any other vehicle.

Also on display is Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire customized by Harley-Davidson for the Long Way Up television series. The Motor Company is also a sponsor of ADV: Overland in support of the 2021 launch of the Harley-Davidson Pan America. The Pan America marks Milwaukee’s first-ever adventure-touring motorcycle meant to compete in the growing ADV motorcycle space.

ADV: Overland opens on July 3rd, with an opening reception on July 15th, which will be a drive/ride-in event on the Petersen rooftop. The exhibit is produced by Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF) and Sasha Tcherevkoff in partnership with Vintagent Lab, the just-launched content creation arm of The Vintagent.com.

CAST AND CREW

Executive Producers: Nadia Fugazza, Mark MacInnis, Paul d'Orleans
Producer: Mark MacInnis
Director: Tiziano Niero
Director of Photography: David Martinez
Editor: Nadia Fugazza
Key Cast: Dan Green
Videographer and additional photos: Jeremy King
Composer: Giacomo Lamparelli
Voice Over: Paul d'Orléans
VO Engineer: David Darling

RELATED MEDIA / PREVIOUS PETERSEN MUSEUM EXHIBITS

The Vintagent Original: Silver Shotgun
The Vintagent Original: Custom Revolution


Lyndon Poskitt on his RoundTheWorld KTM, struggling in the sand. [Lyndon Poskitt]

Anton Gonnisen in the Peking to Paris Rally on his home-built homage to the original 1906 Contal Mototri that ran the first PtoP race in 1907. [Anton Gonnisen]

RE Fulton Jr in Japan, 1932, from 'One Man Caravan.' [Fulton Family Archives]

 


ADV: OVERLAND Exhibition @ The Petersen Museum, July 2021 - April 2022

In The Heart Of Los Angeles, The Road Ends And The Adventure Begins

Motorcycle Arts Foundation  announces new adventure-themed exhibit at the 

Petersen Automotive Museum with support from Harley-Davidson

After 18 months of hibernation, the world is primed for adventure, and the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum has it in spades. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space, as a welcome breath of freedom as we emerge from COVID.

In the beginning, every motor trip was an adventure, and every motorist a mechanic. Some heard a different call, seeking adventure in overland travel to far-distant places. In 1903, crossing the USA on wheels had never been done, but that changed when George Wymans rode a California motorcycle for 50 days from San Francisco to New York. In 1912, nobody had circled the globe on a motorcycle, but that changed when Carl Stearns Clancy straddled his Henderson Four and headed east.

In the next 100 years, brave men and women struck out to see the world on wheels, making epic journeys recorded in books, films, and television. Folks more technically-oriented imagined travel off-world, on the Moon or Mars or beyond, in science fiction and actual space programs.

Exhibition curator and Motorcycle Arts Foundation co-founder Paul d’Orleans explains: “ADV:Overland celebrates the spirit of adventure. These remarkable machines tell a human story, of dreamers and reckless youth, stubborn visionaries and dogged competitors, all together in one place.

It also includes the ultimate overland dream of surface exploration on other worlds, which is happening on Mars right now - and we have some of the NASA/JPL rovers. We told lenders not to wash their overland veterans: we wanted to show good honest dirt as proof of their rough duty.”

The contrast between the extremely simple overland machinery from the early 20th century to Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire from Long Way Up is great, but the journey still had to be made on wheels. “The genesis of overland travel can be seen in the early bikes, like the 1912 Henderson Four that Carl Clancy rode around the world.

These rudimentary machines captured the public’s imagination and fueled overland travel and competition we see today, like the Baja and Dakar rallies, and films like Long Way Up,” added MAF co-Founder Sasha Tcherevkoff.

If 100-year old dirt-covered bikes don’t inspire you, then come to ADV: Overland for the far-out space exhibits. Two sci-fi overlanders from the Lost In Space series, including the spectacular 1960s tracked glasshouse, keep company with a futuristic 3-D printed electric “Lunar motorcycle” from Hookie.co.

 

For an inspiring comparison between real and imaginary off-world overlanding, NASA/JPL loaned two actual Mars rovers - models of Opportunity and Sojourner - that have logged more miles on other worlds than any other vehicle.

Also on display is Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire customized by Harley-Davidson for the Long Way Up television series. The Motor Company is also a sponsor of ADV: Overland in support of the 2021 launch of the Harley-Davidson Pan America. The Pan America marks Milwaukee’s first-ever adventure-touring motorcycle meant to compete in the growing ADV motorcycle space.

ADV: Overland opens on July 3rd, with an opening reception on July 15th, which will be a drive/ride-in event on the Petersen rooftop. The exhibit is produced by Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF) and Sasha Tcherevkoff in partnership with Vintagent Lab, the just-launched content creation arm of The Vintagent.com.

Music for the July 15th opening reception curated by @RedLightVinyl.

Tickets: Opening Reception - July 15th, 2021

Media Contact:

kim@motorcycleartsfoundation.org

Motorcycleartsfoundation.org

 


Paladin: 'Nobody is Born a Biker'

Paladin.  If you were part of the nascent Old Motorcycle scene in Berkeley in the late 1970s/80s, you probably encountered him.  He was typically seen hanging around T.T. Motors on Ashby Avenue, giving unsolicited advice and a deposition on any subject to anyone nearby. Sometimes that was me, after I'd ridden whatever was running, from San Francisco to the East Bay to check out the bikes for sale at T.T. Motors, visit my friends, and inevitably have a chat with Paladin.

Paladin on a Triumph TR6 sold to him for $45 by John Gallivan of TT Motors in Berkeley [Berkeley USA]
He was a devoted Triumph man, and I owned several of his 'hardtail' Triumph conversions over the years, each honed closer to the 'bob-job' ideal than anything made today - they were fast, light, and no-frills. He could appreciate other brands though, and enjoyed discussing their relative merits. His arms were covered with amazing self-applied Triumph tattoos, images from long-ago advertising, logos, and graphic imaginings of motorcycles and women. He applied tattoos on others, occasionally.

John Gallivan in his TT Motors shop in Berkeley. [John Gallivan]
John Gallivan, owner of T.T. Motors, said of Paladin,  "I liked and respected him a great deal. I sold him that bike [a Triumph TR6] for $49.00, and he stayed. His writing in Iron Horse magazine and others are classics. He coined the word 'unobtanium' referring to rare British parts. His centerfold in Iron Horse with a girl and real rats crawling all over is a classic."   As mentioned, Paladin was a regular contributor to Iron Horse, and had a column, 'Paladin's Notebook', with illustrations of his ideas for choppers and cafe racers, some of which were prescient, and predated the third-wave cafe racer scene of the 2010s by 20 years.

'Paladin's Notebook' ran in Iron Horse for many years, and mixed Paladin's illustrations with thoughts on motorcycle design and culture. [Iron Horse]
Paladin knew a heck of a lot about motorcycle history, their care and customization, and motorcycle culture in all its diversity.  He knew a lot about everything else too, and shared what he knew in a distinctive voice, like a pirate that had swallowed Sylvester the Cat: thufferin' thuccotash, arrr.  As he spoke, one eye would squint, then the other, and as he waved his arms he jingled the tools hung on chains from his filthy leather jeans.  He carried a sheathed knife he'd made himself, and made them for others too, occasionally.  And he was a performance poet, in a now-vanished tradition of Bay Area poets who ranted and broke boundaries, were extremely political and sometimes had the cops intervene in their readings, like Peter Plate, for whom I printed several books.  His friend Arnold Snyder recounted one of Paladin's poems from the mid-1970s from memory on his blog:

Every damn body was born to die
So while you’re waitin’ you better get high
’Cause the trip is whatever you manage to buy
And you pay for it soon as you’re born

Now, me, I get off on women and sin
Hard partyin’
Getting’ righteously wasted
But mostly a big ol’ Milwaukee V-twin

’Cause there’s nothin’ at all like a righteous machine
About dynamite fast and say, medium clean
And if you’ve been hangin’ out there
You flat know what I mean

Tearin’ up empty streets around dawn
Tearin’ down highways out on a run
With a few or more bros, out havin’ fun
The wind in your armpits, your chrome in the sun

And like the wind, you’re gone
On a knucklehead, or a panhead, or a shovelhead
’Cause once you’re gone, you’re gonna stay dead
So, meanwhile, Get it on!

Another 'Paladin's Notebook' featuring a design that predates the current Tracker custom style by 30 years. [Iron Horse]
Paladin was 5' tall and full of surprises.  The first time I rode a Velocette to T.T. Motors in 1985, Paladin brought out a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and washed it!  "Such a finely made motorcycle as this should NEVER be dirty!"  He, on the other hand, didn't mind being dirty.  He was spiritually inclined towards old Norse religion, which was odd for a Jewish guy from New Jersey - his real name was Martin Rosenberg.  But, this was Berkeley, so while his chosen religion was remarked on, it was never judged.

Martin Rosenberg aka Paladin, from the book 'Berkeley U.S.A.' [Berkeley USA]
Paladin died of heart failure in his sleep in 1988: he was only 45. He had suffered a mighty knock to the head in a motorcycle accident a few years prior, which definitely altered his personality. And, who knows what he put into his body for fun.  His wake was amazing, and set the pattern for every wake to follow that I had a hand in: a ram's horn was filled with whisky, and passed from person to person, with each raising a toast in turn, a collective shout 'To Paladin!', and telling a story or remembrance of the man.  A proper wake, and how I'd like to be remembered too.

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Paladin, from the book, 'Berkeley U.S.A.' (Anne Moose, Alternative Press, 1981):

"Essentially, everything that I do relates at one level or another to motorcycling. I make my living by writing for motorcycling journals and doing illustrations for them... I'm into motorcycle paint work and uh, you know, it's kind of dull if you ain't into bikes, but I'm into bikes so I find it all quite fascinating....Twenty years ago, it didn't matter if you rode a Harley, or if you rode a Triumph, or if you rode a BSA. If you rode, you rode. You were committed. The other people who rode were your brothers, except you didn't use the word brother because you didn't have to. This was all just, you know, understood at almost a back brain level.

Now then, when the Japanese started bringing their bikes in, what they brought was nothing new in the sense of engineering. What they did was... a publicity campaign. They brought in a form of advertising to make the motorcycle, shall I say, socially acceptable. Well, people that are stone bikers, as opposed to motorcycle operators, don't really care much about social acceptability... But what this did, brought a whole new kind of person into the riding scene, and it brought in a lot of divisionism. In 1963, you break down on your bike on the side of the highway, you know that the next guy who comes by is going to stop and help. And it don't matter what brand of bike you're riding, or if his bike is chopped or not, or who's in a club and who isn't - that's jive. You're a biker or you're not. Since the Japanese bike has become popular...it's brought this new element ...this whole concept of antagonism and divisionism which we've had to deal with for about the past twelve to fifteen years.

The notorious 'rat bike' cover of Iron Horse, with Paladin, a model, and his ratty Harley-Davidson. He later became a cafe racer fan. [Iron Horse]
Personally, I can't stand Japanese bikes. I don't care how fast they are, or how many camshafts they have, or if they win races. I just don't like the aesthetics of the damn things. But at the same time, it doesn't matter what kind of sled you've got under your ass - when you're in the wind, it's like, the same wind, and that's the policy we're pushing.

As far as I'm concerned, the only group that really matters in this country, per se, is the bikers. And this may sound like an off-the-wall statement, but I think if you'll check back you'll find that during that whole big so-called cultural revolution of the sixties, language, style, and everything was copied from the bikers. Our influence is a lot more subtle than many people would imagine. We're simply living our own lives, and in living our own lives we're setting such a rare example in modern times...

Some intriguing cafe racer designs from 'Paladin's notebook, including a Morini V-twin. [Iron Horse]
The thing is, you're born black, you're born Chicano, you're born Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Jewish, Polynesian, whatever. Nobody is born a biker. It's something you do by choice. A biker is under a complete psychic necesssity, right, in that he is one half of a symbiotic organism of which the other half is a motorcycle. And if you wish to make any value judgements on that, go ask your mother how she likes her valium.

One of the things that a lot of people that I'm close to are into, is trying to get more women into riding. I guess you could say it's part of our highway beautification project. I personally think that women and men both - and everyone - should know how to handle machines... that, to me, is the only way we're ever going to have what I'd consider to be a sane and healthy culture... If people are going to band together, it must be through recognition and respect of their own strength, and of the strength of those about them. It always starts at the inside and works out."

May you long be remembered, Paladin. [Berkeley USA]

 

Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

1914: the Whirl of Death

Was the Wall of Death invented in San Francisco in 1914?  That's the claim made in several press clippings from the scrapbooks of pioneering board track veteran Erle 'Red' Armstrong.   News stories from 1914 and later stake the claim that Armstrong invented the vertical wall of death attraction, after many years of riding on slant-wall motordromes and racing on banked wooden board tracks in the 'Noughts and 'Teens.   Photographs of his vaudeville attraction 'Whirl of Death', set up at the Empire Theater in San Francisco, confirm a 1914 date, and make a previously unknown connection with the 'Race for Life', the combined slant-wall/vertical-wall motordrome consctructed at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.  Photographs dug up at the San Francisco Public Library archives reveal details of the Race for Life, and finally we know the story of who set up and rode that motordrome - Erle 'Red' Armstrong and his partner, 'Reckless' Vernon.

The entrance to the Whirl of Death in a carnival tent setting, on tour somewhere in the West in 1914. [A Century of Motorcycling]
Erle Armstrong was born in 1888 in Moria, Illinois, but moved to Colorado with his family ten years later, where his father was a mining engineer in Denver.  Erle had flaming red hair (hence his lifelong nickname) and a strong physique, and took up bicycle racing in 1904 at age 16: he soon became the Colorado State Champion.  By 1905 Erle made his living as a delivery boy for a Denver dry goods store, using an E.R. Thomas motorcycle: he was the sole source of income for his family as his father had died earlier that year. Regardless, Erle doubled down on racing, and shifted to motorcycles, using his own single-cylinder Orient as his mount.  With a natural feel for pulling the best from his motorcycles, Armstrong's Orient brought him records for the 5, 10, and 25-mile races in his very first event.  He was soon racing in the nearby states of Wyoming and Kansas, and traveling a circuit between those three states and earning a name for himself, and the notice of manufacturers.

Erle 'Red' Armstrong with a factory racing Indian 8-Valve board track machine, the most technically sophisticated American motorcycle when it was introduced in 1911. This example is rare in having front suspension, and as the photo was taken at the Dodge City board track, presumably it was set up for one of the 200-mile races held there. Note also the cushions strapped to the tank, to stop busting the rider's chin over bumps and give some support when in full crouch. [Indian publicity photo]
By 1907 Armstrong was working for the Denver Indian dealer, and became the Rocky Mountain State motorcycle champion, a title he retained through 1909.  He raced Indian singles and V-twins, and Excelsior singles too, and opened Armstrong Motor Sales in 1910, selling Thor, Wagner, and Minneapolis motorcycles [read our story on the Minneapolis here].  In 1911 he sold his dealership - it took time from his racing - and moved to California, where he raced on board and dirt tracks.  He rode mostly Indians and Excelsiors at events as far-flung as Chicago, Dodge City, Oakland, Denver, and Atlanta, as well as at his home Los Angeles turf.   In 1913 Armstrong appears racing Excelsior V-twins on the boards, taking wins and being featured in Excelsior advertising, at the moment Ignaz Schwinn pumped money into his recently acquired (1911) motorcycle brand to push sales. After WW1 he joined Indian full-time and moved to Springfield, and managed the factory racing team

A 1914 press publicity photo of the actual Whirl of Death, built of cedar planks and steel bands, with Erle Armstrong and his partner 'Reckless' Vernon.  Shown clearly are their specially adapted Excelsior board track racing motorcycles with rigid forks, tiny fuel tanks, and no brakes: the sheen of their satin carnival costumes is clear even in this mediocre reproduction. [Clymer Publications]
In 1914 Erle Armstrong supplemented his racing career in the winter months with touring a carnival act of his invention and construction: a vertical-walled motordrome built of wooden slats held in place with steel bands, 19' in diameter and 12' high.  The act was called the Whirl of Death, and it toured throughout the West, inside theaters and under canvas tents.  According to Armstrong's biographer Butch Baer (a family friend), he built three motorcycles to run on his Wall, and as oil was not allowed in theaters due to fire regulations, he modified his machines to run for 2 minutes each without oil(!).  Baer claims there was never a serious accident in any of Armstrong's tours, a remarkable record given the inherent danger of the act.

A view of the Empress Theater on Market St in San Francisco, after it was purchased by the Loews entertainment chain. The building no longer exists. [San Francisco Public Library]
According to a later press report on the 'cylinder of death':

"A wooden cylinder with spruce slats three inches apart, 19 feet in diameter, and 12 feet high, two 61 cubic inch 'ported' motorcycles, and two daredevil riders attired in spangled costume, were the ingredients of one of the most hair raising vaudeville acts ever to tour the old time 'three a day' circuit.  Conceived in the brain of 'Red' Armstrong who was also one of the performers, this act toured the top billing of the country in company with such greats of the theater as Eddie Cantor, and Weber and Fields."

"The act consisted of riding the inside of the cylinder - with two riders going in opposite directions - blindfolded! Traffic was controlled by a 'ringmaster' who sounded a shrill blast on a whistle if the top man approached the open apex of the cylinder, and two blast if he came too low.  This early day 'sonar' system worked out fine until one night in 'Frisco when the whistle failed!  Red remembers riding right out of the top of the contrivance, and soaring off into the wings in an unscheduled exit!  He was right back in the next performance despite a somewhat damaged big toe - his only souvenir of the accident."

The original Race for Life in 1914: a more solidly constructed motordrome than the presumably earlier Whirl of Death, combining a slant-wall section with a narrow vertical at the top. [A Century of Motorcycling]
Armstrong's Whirl of Death took up residence in San Francisco in 1914 at the Empress Theater at 965 Market St.  He seems to have liked San Francisco, where he seems to have lived for two years with his wife Maude.  He took a day job as service manager for Hap Alzina's Indian dealership, while still hitting the boards in both the racing and vaudeville scenes from 1914 through 1916.  It was a golden era for 'Red', and he became one of the winningest board track racers in the country.  According to Indian ads, Armstrong held more track records than any other rider, for example at the new Tacoma 2-mile board track (the first of that length - there was a lot of wood in Washington) where he on the inaugural 300-mile race, breaking speed records for 100, 200, and 300 miles.  In the winters of 1914 and '15, when racing was dormant, he toured his Whirl of Death.

Construction details of the 1914 version of the Race For Life, with Erle Armstrong's notations ("note steepness" on the banking angles and very narrow 90deg section at the top. This version of the Race For Life appears to be a smaller diameter than the enormous motordrome set up at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. [A Century of Motorcycling]
At some point in 1914, it appears Armstrong changed both the construction and name of his attraction, to the Race For Life, if the date notations from his scrapbooks are accurate.  Armstrong's photos suggest he built a far more elaborate motordrome in 1914, with far more robust construction and a mix of banking angles, from 45deg to a fully vertical 90deg section.  The large banked sections might seem retrograde after the radical  vertical Whirl of Death carnival act, but the Whirl was too fragile to accommodate automobiles, and cars running banked motordromes were very popular since 1909 in Coney Island.  The 1914 'taken in the morning' photo above from the Race For Life includes a racing car with a boat-tail rear end, and a ramp for its entry, so clearly Armstrong was expanding his act for a greater draw.   Now that we know the Race For Life and Whirl of Death were both touring attractions in 1914, it should be possible to dig deeper on the subject and find period press confirming the dates and locations Armstrong toured - watch this space.

An aerial view of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition, showing the still-extant Palace of Fine Arts buildings by Bernard Maybeck on the right side. All the other buildings for the PPIE were demolished or moved in 1916, and the neighborhood developed as the Marina District, then as now a haven for young, upscale couples. Not shown in this retouched photo are the Zone and racetracks on the far left of this view.  The neighborhood above the PPIE (in gray) is Pacific Heights. [Wikipedia]
In 1914, Armstrong applied to install his Race For Life at an upcoming world's fair in San Francisco, which was in the planning stages. San Francisco was in the middle of a building boom at the time, after recovering from the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906.  To proclaim to the world that 'San Francisco is back', a consortium of politicians and developers combined civic pride with blatant self-interest, and contrived to convert a large tract of swampy bayside land known as Harbor View into a major development opportunity. Harbor View sat on the north side of town between the Presidio military base and the city's shipping piers (Fort Mason and Fisherman's Wharf), which was then occupied by hundreds of working people displaced by the '06 earthquake, living in shacks and tents on the grazing land of local ranchers.   The pretext for developing Harbor View, and ultimately reaping enormous wealth, was the creation a world's fair ostensibly celebrating the 1913 opening of the Panama Canal.

The PPIE was conceived as the Jewel City, illuminated by rainbow-colored searchlights operated by Marines (the Rainbow Scintillator), and lighting through gem-like lenses of Czech glass. This souvenir booklet of the PPIE shows the impact and scale of the exhibition. [San Francisco Public Library]
It was called the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE), a pearl in a long chain of grand industrial expositions originating in 1798 in revolutionary France, that grew in popularity and scale in the 1800s, culminating in the first truly international and expansively conceived Great Exhibition in 1851 of London at Crystal Palace, an enormous steel-and-glass structure built for the occasion.   Such fairs are still popular today - the most recent was in Milan in 2015, that focussed on food production.

The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck, and is the only PPIE building still on-site from 1915, although it has been extensively re-engineered, three times, to stabilize what was intended as temporary construction. It was simply too beautiful to destroy! [Wikipedia]
Creation of the PPIE was a major undertaking, regardless the grand halls were constructed of temporary materials, mostly wood and plaster.  The 635 acres of land were purchased by the City (for a little over $1M), which then had the job of stabilizing the sandy tidal wetlands and beaches.  The PPIE was planned like a small city in itself - the Jewel City-  as a mix of high-style Beaux Arts architecture for great halls celebrating the arts, sciences, and manufacturing, and a large central fun fair called the Zone.  The color palette of plasters used in construction were carefully regulated, and even the sand used on its broad avenues were brought in from Monterey Bay and oven-roasted to the correct shade of tan!

The entrance to the Race For Life attraction at the PPIE: the noise alone must have lured customers! [San Francisco Public Library]
The Zone was planned as a mix of food halls and entertainments, enticing entrepreneurial vaudevillians and carnies from across the USA to dream up for-pay spectacles.  It was expected the PPIE would be hugely popular, despite the fact that much Europe was at war by the time the fair was open.  Regardless, 18 Million people eventually purchased tickets and strolled the grounds.  One carnie didn't have to go far to set up his attraction: Erle Armstrong was approved for his exciting, headliner act, and installed the Race For Life at the PPIE.  The PPIE version of his motordrome was an even larger and more robustly constructed attraction, with four banked sections allowing for an easy transition for cars and motorcycles entering the 'drome.  A wide 78deg banked section was topped by a much taller 90deg section, measuring about 6' high, with a 1' deep lip allowing the audience to literally stand on top of the riders and look directly below.  The taller vertical section was wide enough for a car (or two), and Armstrong included a 1914 Stutz GP car in his act, as well as several racing Indians and Excelsiors, one of which was adapted to carry his wife Maude on the handlebars.

Erle 'Red' Armstrong riding his board track Indian on the vertical section of the Race for Life in 1915. [San Francisco Public Library]
We documented the Race for Life story here on The Vintagent in 2017, but Erle Armstrong's story was the missing piece of the puzzle. I speculated in the article that the 1915 photos of the Race for Life might be the first properly documented Wall of Death, but a recent purchase of 'A Century of Motorcycling, Vol I and II' (self-published by Butch and Tom Baer in 2006, no ISBN) included the terrific 1914 photos included above, and the news that Erle Armstrong also created the Race for Life, and was considered at the time to be the inventor of the vertical-wall motordrome, now known as the Wall of Death.

'Red' Armstrong and 'Fearless' Vernon 'racing' on the vertical section of the very large Race for Life attraction in 1915. The attraction had a canvas roof that could be closed in case of rain. [A Century of Motorcycling]
It makes sense: who but a hardened board track racer would have the experience of banked wall riding, the machinery capable of riding fully vertical, and the bravery required to do it first?

The site plan of The Zone showing the layout of the Race for Life: 40' in diameter with a canvas roof. [San Francisco Public Library]
Game for a ride: Maude Armstrong rode on the handlebars of husband Erle's Race for Life board track racer. This photo was her entry pass to the PPIE. [A Century of Motorcycling]
There's a very good biography of Erle 'Red' Armstrong here on Archive Moto, and plenty of mentions of his racing in Stephen Wright's American Racer books, as well as in Dom Emde's excellent new book The Speed Kings: the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing, as well the aforementioned A Century of Motorcycling, by Butch and Tom Baer, which might prove difficult to find!  Other photos and information used in this article are from the San Francisco Public Library.


Ted Talk

By Larry Morris

On the very day the US military occupation of Japan ended following WWII, on April 28th 1952, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published a critical essay claiming the occupation left Japan’s people “irresponsible, obsequious and listless...unable to perceive issues in a forthright manner, which led to distorted perspectives.”

Honda's very first international race in São Paolo Brazil, 1954, with an R125 racer. Note the girder forks, knobby tires, and tall chassis compared to the Puch racer beside it with road race tires, telescopic forks, full-width aluminum brakes, clip-on handlebars, and rear suspension! [Honda]
Less than two years later, in January 1954, Soichiro Honda’s fledgling Honda Motor Company participated in its first overseas motorsports event at the São Paulo City Fourth Centennial Celebration International Motor Race. It took four days for Honda's staff of 3 to travel from Tokyo to Brazil.  Racer Mikio Omura, riding a modified Dream E-Type racer, rode hard to finish thirteenth. The performance gap between Honda and the European motorcycles was wide, but Soichiro was undeterred. Two months after Brazil, on March 20, 1954, Honda nonetheless published a “Declaration of Entry” to compete at the ultimate road race, the Isle of Man TT.  Setting his company in pursuit of this remarkable man-on-the-moon objective, Soichiro Honda boldly exclaimed, “My childhood dream was to be a motorsport World Champion with a machine built by myself. I have decided to compete in the Isle of Man TT races… This aim is a difficult one, but we have to achieve it to test the viability of Japanese industrial technology, and to demonstrate it to the world… I here avow my definite intention that I will participate in the TT races and I proclaim with my fellow employees that I will pour in all my energy and creative powers to win..."  Honda wasn’t simply building engines for cars and motorcycles: they were powering Japan into the modern age.

Distorted perspectives? Perhaps. Irresponsible, obsequious and listless? Hardly.

Honda's first sophisticated racer, the RC71 or C71Z, with their new twin-cylinder OHC motor, seen at the second running of the Mt Asama volacano races in 1957. The first Asama race was 1955, the last in 1959. The track was all cinders, hence the knobby tires. [Honda]
At the time, Honda was only beginning to export motorcycles to the “advanced countries”. Racing, however, offered an opportunity to compete with the rest of the world. Never before had there been a Japanese rider competing at the TT with a motorcycle made in Japan. While no Japanese motorcycle had ever raced at the Island, a Japanese rider had, back in 1930 when Kenzo Tada, the  Japanese champion and Velocette dealer for Tokyo, was invited by Veloce Ltd to race at the TT.  Tada finished a respectable 15th, and brought stories of British and European race teams back to Japan, fueling the dreams of impressionable youth like Honda.

Soichiro Honda supervising his team of racers in 1957 on the Mt Asama track. Note the changes on the racers, from higher pipes and bigger tanks to full-width hubs and lighter bodywork. [Honda]
Soichiro Honda knew the winner of the Isle of Man TT would be known across the globe....along with any vehicle that completed the race safely. “I will fabricate a 250cc (medium class) racer for this race, and as the representative of our Honda Motor Co, I will send it out into the spotlight of the world. I am confident that this vehicle can reach speeds exceeding 180 km/h.”  In 1955he embarked on a world tour, making the rounds of British and European manufacturers who would meet with him.  Their reception was generally friendly, and in their Colonial mindset, they saw no threat in the courteous Japanese fellow who built inexpensive lightweight motorcycles.  It is said that the racing department at NSU were only too happy to show him the blueprints for their all-conquering 125, 175, and 250cc Grand Prix racers, with their sophisticated OHC and DOHC motors, pressed steel frames, and beautifully made castings.  NSU made a strong impression, and shared the most information: some say Honda was able to purchase an obsolete NSU Grand Prix racer and bring it to Japan for study.

Mt Asama in the background, and the simple infrastructure of the 1955 races. Competition was fierce as every Japanese manufacturer fielded their prototype racing bikes. [Honda]
Within two years Honda had transformed his product line into very sophisticated unit-construction OHC engines with forward canted twin-cylinders, in a simple pressed-steel spine chassis with short leading-link forks. The NSU influence was clear, but Honda did not copy NSU's street bikes for their new lineup, but took the technology of hand-made NSU Rennmax racers into mass production [how this was possible can be studied in another article here].  With this new architecture, Honda competed at the Isle of Man TT for the first time in 1958 on a modified version of their twin-cylinder 250cc design, the RC71Z.  NSU had dropped out of racing the previous year, along with BMW, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, etc, as the European motorcycle market hit a rough patch due to the growing popularity of cheap cars, but the Japanese market was booming, as was the American scene.  In 1959 Honda established their first dealers in the USA, and just two years later, in 1961, Honda factory rider Mike Hailwood claimed his first of many victories at the TT, winning both the 125cc and 250cc classes, with the factory race team sweeping first through fifth places in both classes overall.

Distorted perspectives - certainly. Listless? Ha!

The 1961 Isle of Man TT, where Honda swept the 125cc and 250cc classes.  Tom Philips, Luigi Taveri, and Mike Hailwood, with Mike's father Stan directly behind him. [Honda]
Fast forward a generation.  By the time most teenagers take the fateful leap from drooling over bike magazines, to actually riding motorbikes, their tastes firmly eschew “classic” or “vintage” as old and uninteresting; much as they saw their parents generation. When that first motorbike is decades old, its hardly by choice; rather, its a compromise driven by budget, hand-me-down or practical happenstance. A rite of passage, a first step on the road toward the ultimate grail: the latest shiny and sparkly machine they (nay, we) could get our hands on. History can wait until later in life.

Takeshi Maejima, or Ted, of Ted's Special Motorcycle Works in Japan. [Larry Morris]
An outlier of the old-is-boring, new-is-better view common among his peers 30 years ago, Takeshi “Ted” Maejima had just one occupational goal for his life, one all-consuming passion: to revive, preserve and celebrate Honda’s remarkable legacy of motorcycle racing. To Ted, his first bikes were “too new”- he was determined to travel back in time. Today, his motorcycle shop, Ted’s Special Motorcycle Works in Kanagawa Prefecture is a treasure trove of racing history. Ted is the go-to expert for vintage Honda service, restoration and parts, particularly CB72 Hawks and CB77 Super Hawks, for both track and street.

At Willow Springs Raceway, 2014: Ted is on the left, on the 72x Honda CB160, while Larry is on the right, not that they knew each other at the time.  [Philip Graybill]
Willow Springs International Raceway, April 2014. This image, shot by my friend, photographer Phillip Graybill, who joined me while I was racing at this AHRMA event, is how I first “met” Ted, who had no clue who I was until years later. The photo ultimately led to a connection on social media and eventually, in-person in Japan where I now live, just 30 minutes away from him.

I asked him a few question for The Vintagent:

Larry Morris (LM): How and where did you get the nickname Ted?

Takeshi Maejima (Ted): 1996, in the USA. Americans had a tough time saying and remembering my name, Takeshi; so they began calling me Ted. I had an opportunity to move to LA for two years to help my friend Ken Awae, who had a workspace inside famed Hollywood stuntman (and top desert racer) Bud Ekins’ legendary repair shop in Los Angeles. Bud was well known as Steve McQueen’s stunt double and close friend. When McQueen wasn’t filming he was usually riding dirt bikes with Bud. By the time I arrived, Bud was retired. His son-in-law ran the shop and rented space to my friend Ken. I helped Ken fix Honda and Kawasaki street bikes.

A Honda CB77 with full factory race kit: curved carb bellmouths, special seat, megaphone exhaust, rearsets, clip-ons, etc. [Larry Morris]
LM: Is that where you learned how to take apart and repair motorcycles?

Ted: No, when I was 20 I attended Honda’s International Technical School for two years.

LM: Ahh, this is all starting to make sense to me now. How did that come about?

Ted: Back then there were so many more kids trying to get into university than today in Japan. To be honest I didn’t do very well on my exams, so I was not accepted into university. Thats when I realized my destiny was to learn about and be around motorcycles as much as possible.

A rare CR110 production racer with period patina, sitting in the library of Ted's shop. [Larry Morris]
LM: I always think of you as the “Honda Hawk/Superhawk Guy” (CB72/CB77) . When and how did you develop such a particular knowledge about these motorcycles?

Ted: After I finished Honda Technical School I moved to Osaka and spent two years working for a guy who at that time was very well known and trusted for fixing and restoring these bikes.

LM: Tell me why these are such special motorcycles.

Ted: The Honda Hawk was the first “Sport” bike. Everything was designed and built from Honda’s victories in TT racing beginning in 1961. There was nothing better than the Hawk as a street bike. At the time the CB750 came out, it cost about $2500. The Hawk was nearly $8000. These were really the best and most advanced machines. You see this design in your beloved Laverda twins, and elsewhere. Now the world was following Japan, following Honda. This was very special to me.

A Honda CB450 'Black Bomber', the bike that truly put the world on notice that Honda would soon dominate the global motorcycle market, with its DOHC motor with plenty of power, and good handling. [Larry Morris]
LM: Lets talk about racing. Every time I turn around it looks like you're racing...or around racing. When was your first race and where?

Ted: I did my first race at Tsukuba on a CB77 when I was 20 years old. I’ve been racing Honda’s ever since. When I went to the States, I was very fortunate because I joined AHRMA (American Historic Race Motorcycle Association). It was there I raced with and learned about racing from some of my heroes, such as Gary Nixon and Dick Mann. I just wanted to be at racetracks and I wanted to be around racing, as much as possible.

LM: You're 46 now. How much racing are you still doing these days?

Ted: About 8 events per year. Four LOC (Legends of Classic vintage racing) and four BOBL (Battle of Bottom Link Supercub amateur vintage racing).

LM: I’m sorry for crashing your BOBL racer. Three times.

Ted's Special Motorcycle Shop, filled with treasure for those with eyes to see. [Larry Morris]
Larry Morris is the proprietor of New York City Motorcycles in Venice, California and Chigasaki, Japan. Instagram: @newyorkcitymotorcycles

First Four-Cylinder at the Isle of Man TT

What was the first four-cylinder racer at the Isle of Man TT?  No, it wasn't Japanese, or even Italian ... it was Belgian. In the second Isle of Man TT, held in 1908, Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (or F.N. - still in business, but making only armaments today) sent two of their little inline 4-cylinder shaft-drive Model F machines to the Island, and R.O. Clark managed third place in the multi-cylinder class (which Rem Fowler won on a Norton the previous year), averaging 37.79mph, and 90mpg! The race was held on September 22 over the 'short' St. John's course over 10 laps,  giving a race total of 158 1/8th miles. Harry Reed on a 5hp DOT twin was the winner of this class (at 38.57mph), while Jack Marshall won the Single Cylinder class on a 3.5hp Triumph (40.4mph).  It was typical in these early days for twin-cylinder machines to lag behind singles.

R.O. Clark speeding to 3rd place in the 1907 Isle of Man TT on his FN Model F four. The St. John's course was almost entirely unpaved. [The Vintagent Archive]
The FN had a serious weight handicap compared to its competition, tipping the scales at at well over 300lbs, while the Triumph single weighed in at under 200lbs.  the FN was 50% heavier than its competition, but weight in those days was roughly equated with durability, and the FNs ran smoothly and consistently through the race. These early TT races were true tests of endurance for the temperamental motorcycles of the Pioneer days, which had trouble completing a 15o-mile road trip, let alone a race. The TT course was almost totally unpaved, and full of hazards like horseshoe nails and stray dogs or sheep. Flat tires were commonplace, as were get-offs, and the need to open and close gates when passing through farmer's fields.

They're still out there! A 1907 FN Four in original paint condition, coming up for sale at Mecum's delayed 2021 Las Vegas auction. [Mecum]
FN returned many times to the TT, with their last foray in 1931, using a single-cylinder purpose-built racer. Their 4-cylinder bikes were soon outclassed in the following years, and by 1913 they could only manage 33rd and 36th place, as by now their role as 'touring' motorcycles, and luxuriously smooth ones at that, made them unsuitable as 'tourist trophy' contenders.

Pioneer motorcycle designer Paul Kelecom, who was hired by FN in 1904 to update their motorcycle line. [The Vintagent Archive]
The FN Four was designed by Paul Kelecom in 1904, after he was hired by the armaments/bicycle manufacturer with a brief to design a new motorcycle line. Kelecom had experience designing single-cylinder motorcycle engines for several years, which were used under license by a host of Pioneer manufacturers, including Triumph and Veloce. Kelecom began working for FN in 1903, and after improving their existing line of single-cylinder 300cc sidevalve engines, the management gave him a new brief - to design a four-cylinder motorcycle. All of Kelecom's design work was completed within the year, and the first prototype of this revolutionary machine began testing in 1904. Its maiden voyage was a publicity tour in November and December of that year, in which the FN engineering dep't tester, a Messr Osmont, rode through France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and back through Holland and Belgium, in bad weather and worse road conditions. The new 4 performed faultlessly, and debuted at the 1905 Paris Cycle Show. The interest and enthusiasm for this novel motorcycle is hard to describe - Kelecom had created the very first practical four-cylinder motorcycle, which had a smooth and quiet engine, with genteel road manners.

The first, 1905 version of the FN Four wi