Paul d'Orléans

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 with 362cc, slim and minimal, but still 50% heavier than its competition at the Isle of Man. [The Vintagent Archive]
This first machine had a capacity of 362cc, using side exhaust valves and 'automatic' inlet valves (ie, weak springs, no pushrod - the engine suction pulls the valve open). It was a 'wet sump' engine, and each connecting rod had a small dipper which flung oil around the crankcase. This was also one of the first motorcycles which used a magneto rather than the horrible battery ignitions of other Pioneer machines.

FN's first motorcycle of 1901, essentially one of their bicycles with a small motor attached. [The Vintagent Archive]
The frame was a full cradle, which suspended the motor from twin rails. Most impressively, Kelecom used an enclosed shaft drive, with full ball bearings and enclosed crownwheels, which then as now makes the cleanest and least labor-intensive drive system. The engine was started by bicycle pedals attached to the rear wheel by a chain on the 'other' side of the bike - so the FN had a shaft AND chain... until 1913 in fact, but this held no terrors as the engine would have been very easy to spin, with very low compression and little mechanical drag from encumbrances like strong valve springs, or a gearbox. There were two brakes - a coaster-type (actuated by backpedalling) in a rear drum, and a stirrup on the rear rim, which was hand-lever operated.

A wonderful Beaux-Arts poster introducing the FN Four in 1905. [The Vintagent Archive]
The very first four-cylinder TT machine was likely still direct-drive, although aftermarket kits manufactured by Englishman Sydney Horstmann (OBE) provided a two-speed kit with a clutch by 1908 (he also made an overhead-cam kit for the FN, which I'd love to see). The engine capacity in 1907 was increased to 410cc, and it is likely the TT machine was overbored to nearer 500cc.  Many of these early FNs are still on the road, including one that was ridden around the world in 2012 by Ron Fellowes, as documented in his book 'No Room for Watermelons.'

Showing off all the goods: automobiles, motorcycles, and guns in this 1906 poster for FN. [The Vintagent Archive]
The original four-cylinder motor designed by Paul Kelecom, the first mass-produced four in the motorcycle industry, with separate cylinder castings, automatic inlet valves, no oil pump, direct drive, and a magneto. [The Vintagent Archive]
A symphony of levers controlled the magneto spark advance, air mixture, and oil pressure. [Mecum Auctions]


Thousand Yard Stare

Every picture tells a story. *

We have all, at some impressionable moment, been moved by a photograph.  And sometimes, the energy in the image misaligns with our own so perfectly it changes every molecule in our being.  Our expression of that impact might be as simple as a wardrobe change and new music on our playlist, or as profound as a wholly new direction in life.  For Wil Thomas, the discovery of a late 1940s image of two Black men on distinctive motorcycles was the inspiration for both study and creation: a close observation of what is shown and implied in that photo, the history suggested, the mood and lifestyle of those riders, their choice of machines.  Eventually, the photo inspired a replica of the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead bob-job under one of the riders - the one with the 'thousand-yard stare'.

Lucius P. Dawkins on his Series B Vincent Touring Rapide, and his friend on a Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead bob-job. [Vintagent Archive]
We know the identity of one man in the photo: Lucius P. Dawkins purchased a Vincent Series B Touring Rapide brand new, presumably with pay from the military shortly after WW2.  He was not the only Black American motorcyclist to purchase the fastest motorcycle in the world at that date - several others can be seen in rare photographs from the era - but he was distinctive enough that his name is attached to this photo, and a few others with his Vincent.  The gentleman on the Knucklehead, though, remains anonymous.

Lucius P. Dawkins was not the only Black American rider with a Vincent: this early 1950s photos of a Columbus, Ohio 'dress club' shows two riders on Vincent Black Shadows. Both have been customized as full-dress machines, with extra lights and chrome, and flank a BSA Golden Flash. The rest of the lineup in this (cropped) photo are on Harley-Davidson Hydra-Glides and Knuckleheads. [Vintagent Archive]
The story implied in the picture resonated with Wil.  As an ex-Marine, he deduced that given the approximate date (late 1940s), and the oufits of the riders, both were likely recently returned from WW2.  While the men wear fashionable turned-up dungarees, Dawkins wears a Navy watch cap, while his friend wears something else - the look of a hardened combat veteran.  That thousand-yard stare might or might not have come from military service, of course, as Blacks in the 1940s were restricted from full participation in Jim Crow America, and plenty had traumatic experiences right at home.  That would include, dropping the veneer of a writer's objectivity, my own brother-in-law Leon Allen, who left Shreveport Louisiana for good after his best friend was lynched in 1940, and headed to LA, like hundreds of thousands of others fleeing the South for work and an easier life out West in the 1940s.

The inspirations Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead bob-job of classic proportions and detail, that inspired Wil Thomas to build his own. [Vintagent Archive]
As a fan of Harley-Davidsons, Wil was especially intrigued by this very early EL custom, with its chromed springer forks, no front fender, high handlebar risers, bobbed rear fender, and fishtail exhaust.  It is the very definition of the postwar bob-job, still full of appeal as a perfected custom style, and still the most popular custom motorcycle trend, with two factories producing 'bobbers' even today.  Ultimately, Wil was moved to build a replica of this machine, as Greg Williams documents in his story below.  Wil's hommage created a bridge spanning decades of  history, binding the past with the present, and adding a chapter to the almost untold story of Black motorcyclists in America. Where no heritage for our story exists or is celebrated, we must create our own from neglected scraps, that shine like diamonds for those with eyes to see them.

Wil with his Knucklehead homage at Perform Under Pressure in 2018. [Wil Thomas]
Greg Williams gives this report on Wil Thomas and his back story:

Cresting the gravel drive filled with weeds and ruts, a weatherworn wooden shed with a grimy window appears at the end of the road. A heavy door locked with a rusty padlock yields easily to a pair of bolt cutters. Creaking open on rusty hinges, dim sunlight shines through dust motes to reveal a piece of greasy old chrome. It’s a motorcycle, and not just any machine, but a custom 1947 Harley-Davidson stashed away by its builder, Wil Thomas.

None of the above is true, apart from Wil having built the Knucklehead. Rather, the Los Angeles-based creator says it’s a romantic vision; a possible scenario of what he’d like to see happen to the machine he built. “We all dream about finding an old motorcycle or parts in a shed,” Wil tells me. “That’s romantic, and that’s cool, and that feels real. The bike was here long before me, and it will be here long after I’m gone. Maybe someone with a grander vision will blow it apart and make it better, or maybe someone will think it special enough to preserve it. Somewhere in the middle of that is the truth, but for just this period of its history I’m its custodian.”

Wil Thomas at his Seal Beach garage in 2014, captured on wet plate by the MotoTintype team. [MotoTintype]
Long before Wil found his ’47 Knuck, he grew up fascinated by western movies and especially those including John Wayne. His favorite? The Cowboys, a film where Wayne’s rancher character employs a ragtag group of youngsters to help him drive his cattle to market. “Growing up in the ‘70s, there weren’t a lot of images that reflected us,” Wil explains. “But I saw that movie on TV, and in my mind, I wanted to be a cowboy – I never saw it as anybody else’s sport.”

During summers, Wil worked on a horse ranch near Potosi, Missouri, a community 72 miles south of his hometown of St. Louis. For $10 a day, he labored in the barns and looked after tack and equipment. “There’s a culture around horsemanship – and the motorcycle is similar. There’s a command of the horse, and there’s a command of the motorcycle; it’s a perfect analogy.”

Wil Thomas in his Marine Corps days with his coveted Harley-Davidson tee. [Wil Thomas]
Wil grew up without a father figure in the house, and didn’t have a mechanical mentor. While his grandfather and his uncle would tinker in a basement workshop, no one gave him hands-on tutelage. He and his friends did wrench on their BMX bikes, and he tells a story about helping his neighbor remove the governor on a riding mower before racing it down the alley. But he didn’t grow up around motorcycles or have much to do with mechanics, either.

After high school, Wil played university-level soccer for a couple of years, but gave up athletics and school when he enlisted in the United States Marines. Aboard the USS Ogden, he saw active duty for four years, and inactive duty for another four. Initially, he was stationed in California and was involved in the first Gulf conflict during 1990 and 1991. “When you’re sitting on a ship, during down time or while cleaning weapons you tend to dream off of the real world and we were always talking about one of three things; food, chicks or motorcycles,” Wil explains. “I was walking around in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt, but felt I was living a lie and said I would never wear another motorcycle shirt until I got a bike.

Wil's first real bike: a Kawasaki Eliminator ZL600 that served him well. [Wil Thomas]
“Now, you’d expect the minute I got off the ship I’d get a bike but that still didn’t happen right away,” Wil says. Instead, he moved to Chicago and got a job in the security field. It wasn’t until 1998 when he was back home in St. Louis to visit a girlfriend that a motorcycle materialized. Walking down Forest Park Parkway, Wil saw a Kawasaki Eliminator ZL600 parked outside a motorcycle shop. It was for sale, and exactly what drew Wil to the Kawasaki with its transverse four-cylinder engine and shaft final drive he still doesn’t know. “But, it called to me,” he says, and continues, “with $600 in my pocket, I went into the shop and asked if I could buy the bike on layaway. They took the $600, and the bike stayed in St. Louis. I’d send money to my then girlfriend and she’d go and pay it down – she wasn’t too stoked about this, because I wasn’t focused on the relationship.”

Although the girl didn’t last, Wil says he kept and rode the Kawasaki for quite a few years. And, because he didn’t know all that much about motorcycles, he took a part time job working weekends on the parts counter at Illinois Harley-Davidson in Countryside. That’s when he invested in a Big Dog chopper – a bike he says didn’t end up meaning much to him. “I got a Sportster shortly after that, and once I started tinkering with and modifying the Sportster I never rode the Big Dog again. When I started working on my own bike, and modifying it to my aesthetics, that’s when it really started to evolve for me.”

A selection of Wil's early bikes, including a couple of H-D Panhead customs. [Wil Thomas]
To get his fix on the scene, he’d head to the magazine stand at Tower Records and pore over motorcycle and hot rod titles; the hot rod books because there were occasionally bike stories on the pages. One weekend in April 2004, while cruising Chicago on his Sportster, Wil says he pulled up on a show with old cars and motorcycles. He recognized one of the hot rods from a magazine and started talking to the builder, but he drew up sharp at the sight of two custom bikes parked behind the car.

“He told me if I liked the bikes, I had to go to the Flatiron Building at Six Corners (a well-known convergence of three streets in Chicago) and go in the basement,” Wil recalls. “He said there were two guys there who built them. So, one day I found myself on that corner and I walked on down there. I talked to a guy about learning a bit more about the bikes, and he just said, ‘Bring beer.’” Wil spent $44 a week on Bud Light and, while listening to live traditional roots and blues music, learned even more about motorcycles and the custom-building community. Shortly after, he spotted an ad in the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Wil's garage today, where a Sportster chopper lives with his Knuck in the garage. [Wil Thomas]
He says, “In this little classified were the words, ‘1952 Real H-D Chopper’ and a contact number.” Calling the seller, Wil was invited to see the motorcycle. It was, according to Wil, something of a 1980s monstrosity with disc brakes but it was a Harley-Davidson Panhead engine in a rigid frame. Just like he did with the Kawasaki, Wil managed to pay a substantial deposit, telling the seller he’d be back on August 6 with the balance; the day he’d get his bonus check from work. “The beginning of all this for me was that Panhead from northern Illinois,” he adds, “none of the other bikes matter until that one.

“Over that winter, I put my aesthetic on the Panhead, and I drew heavily from images of a green Panhead on the cover and in the pages of DicE Magazine’s issue No. 4,” he says. “It had Z-bars, and I modified mine with a set of those, a Frisco Sporty tank and a Wassell fender. My Panhead granted me entrance to the lifestyle and the people, and I was invited to shows and runs, including my first El Diablo Run in 2006.”

Wil's Panhead as modified to his taste as he joined a new generation of chopper fans in a revival of early-style chopper aesthetics. [Wil Thomas]
From that point, Wil essentially built 12 bikes in as many years but one of the most important might be the 1947 Knucklehead alluded to earlier. That all starts with his mom, and it’s a long story. “When I was in college, I picked up an affinity for Asian aesthetics, and I told my mom about it. This was a case of be careful of what you say,” Wil explains, and continues, “my mom is a junker, she loves to go to thrift stores. For a long time, I got every tea set or trinket that looked Chinese or Japanese – she just wouldn’t quit. At some point, I said, ‘Don’t buy another thing.’ But that’s just mom, she was looking out for me. So, instead, I told her, here’s something you cannot find – try locating a 1942 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead.”

Wil chuckles, “From that day on, if someone had a big beard or looked like they knew something about Knuckleheads, my mom would go up to them and ask if they knew of one for sale. She focused her energy on that search.”

And, wouldn’t you know it, Mom came through. Once after visiting Wil, while flying home, she had a copy of a motorcycle magazine in her hands. Sitting next to her was a fellow who asked if she was into motorcycles. Not personally, but she had a son who was, and say, you wouldn’t know anyone with a Knucklehead for sale? “This guy knew a guy who did, though, and I got a contact number,” Wil says. “I called him, and talked to him for a bit. He wasn’t looking to sell it then, but about a year later he phoned me up and said he was moving on, and offered me the Knuck.”

The Knuck transformed. The patina today gives the impression the machine has always been in this configuration, lending a kind of gravitas to its simplicity and lack of flash. [Wil Thomas]
A poorly constructed chopper with a butchered neck and 10-inch over front end, Wil says he rode it like that until the frame broke nearly in half between the sidecar loop and the front motor mount. Considering what he’d do next with it, he began to draw inspiration from a photograph of Lucius P. Dawkins astride his Vincent Rapide. Alongside Dawkins is another rider, but instead of a British machine, he’s on a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead bob-job. The front fender is gone, the rear has been shortened at the hinged joint, and Stellings & Hellings bars and risers sit atop the chromed springer fork.

“I have that photograph framed and on the wall in my garage and in my office,” Wil says. “I walk past them every day, and there are not a ton of images of brothers on bikes. I’d always trip off the brother on the Knuck, and wonder about the story. It looks like its 1947 or 1948, and I wonder if they’d just got back from the War and said, let’s buy bikes and ride to New Orleans. I’m making up the story, but they look like military men to me. The guy on the Knuck, he’s so intense, and in his eyes, he looks like he’s seen beyond.”

Wil Thomas today as proprietor of TriCo Store in Los Angeles, among many other projects he pursues in film and advertising. [Wil Thomas]
It was the era of narrowed forks and tanks with a whole lot of metal flake paint jobs on the tins when Wil began reconstructing the ’47 Knuck. “I didn’t see a whole lot of originality or honesty in those builds,” Wil says. “It’s in my nature – if everyone’s going one way, I’ll go the other way, and the Knuck in the photo was speaking to me in an honest, different way.”

He started with the frame, getting help to return it as close as possible to stock dimensions. With those repairs completed, he mounted a set of stock gas tanks, a chromed springer fork with Stelling & Helling risers and bars and an abbreviated rear fender. All of the parts were well-used pieces he’d picked up over the years at various meets – none of the bits came from sources such as eBay. The exhaust set up, Wil says, was not his favorite part until he put it on the Knuck to cut it up. “I went from hating it to liking it, and sometimes the piece you don’t like is the thing that ends up making the bike,” he says of the exhaust, and adds, “I let the bike tell me exactly what it wants to be.”

Wil looking vintage himself on his Knucklehead homage, captured in a (solarized) wet plate/collodion by the MotoTintype team.

Wil emphasize that he’s still no mechanic. He relies on others with specialized skills to ensure a motor or transmission is built and set up correctly. When it comes to building a bike, however, Wil’s specialty is his innate sense of line and what looks ‘right’ and his ability to fit the pieces together. Since finishing the ’47 Knuck, it’s essentially not been changed, and the machine truly has an identity of its own. After spending years living in an L.A. loft where he can pull into the garage, load a bike into the freight elevator and bring it up to his living room (he currently has eight bikes up there), Wil is contemplating a change.

“It looks like something out of a dream, but there’s a heavy dose of reality that goes along with living where I do,” Wil says. “It’s a very cool chapter of my life, but I always said I was going to go back to the country and horses. If I do, I’d like to put that Knuck away in a shed, perhaps leaving it there for someone else to find long after I’m gone. Now, that feels real.”

*from Rod Stewart's seminal 1971 song and album of the same name.

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

 

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.

BikeEXIT: the Chris Hunter Interview

You never know when your work might change the course of a multi-billion dollar industry.  The influence of BikeEXIF on motorcycling has been tremendous, spearheading a global custom motorcycle movement that spread all over the 'Net, in print, in garages, and ultimately into the design rooms of the motorcycle industry itself.  Arguably, without BikeEXIF there would be no factory Scramblers, Bobbers, Cafe Racers, or Trackers.  Another website would have sprung up in its place, such was the energy of the initial wave of the 'alternative custom' scene that began in the 2000s, but BikeEXIF was already there, and pretty soon seemingly everyone into bikes was watching.

The simple, classic BikeEXIF header has been copied a hundred times. [BikeEXIF]
Chris Hunter founded his website in 2008, after spotting an interesting trend emerging in Japan and Australia - custom motorcycles that were not based on Harley-Davidson V-twins, and were not the fat-tire choppers currently dominating TV and magazine coverage.  In the early 2000s, a custom motorcycle WAS a Harley-Davidson chopper of some sort, or at least it seemed that way.  There were always others - 'streetfighters' in the UK, the retro-cafe racer scene, retro Trackers, etc - but it was V-twins that occupied the niche called Custom in the mind of the world.  That all changed with BikeEXIF.

It's hard to recall just how moribund motorcycling had become in those days, prompting a NYT article in 2009 to ask, "Is Motorcycling Over?"  Well, it WAS over, for the moment.  But as riders around the world began focussing on other types of machines to customize - cheap CB Hondas, Yamaha Viragos, etc - the idea that anyone could customize anything to make a cool daily ride caught fire.  Small shops cropped up, built bikes, and disappeared, or went professional and rode a wave of popularity not seen since the 1970s.   The people wanted something different than what factories were offering, and so began making what they wanted themselves.

Chris Hunter captured at a rare visit to Wheels&Waves in Biarritz. [Paul d'Orléans]
The designs were not usually perfect, and certain trends (radically shortened suspension, board-hard seats, ubiquitous pipewrap, vintage Firestone tires, no fenders, etc) were ridiculed even as they emerged, but that's fashion: it changes with the season.  What mattered was new life grew in the motorcycle scene, with an explosion of creativity in every related medium.  Suddenly, short films about motorcycles became popular, new websites and magazines sprung up to cover the scene, new clothing brands catered to stylish riders, books like The Ride were published, and events like Wheels & Waves and the One Show gave folks a place to gather.  It was a motorcycling renaissance.

BikeEXIF republished my column from Classic Bike Guide magazine, 'Instafamous/Instabroke', on the cost of mistaking popularity on social media for the financial requirements of running a business. [BikeEXIF]
The OEM factories took note, and began by 2010 offering motorcycle designs that reflected home-grown trends.  The Ducati Scrambler, BMW rNineT, and many other designs would not have been made without the popularity of 'alternative customs', and these models based on 'outsourced R&D' have typically proved the most popular in their respective factory lineups.  In other words, BikeEXIF changed the industry.

Chris Hunter recently sold BikeEXIF to the Iron&Air team of Adam Fitzgerald and Gregory George Moore. In a press release last week, they stated:

“We’ve long thought that ​Iron & Air Magazine​ and Bike EXIF would be the perfect complement to one another. Now that we’re two sides of the same coin, our combined resources will make the two properties even stronger and enable us to provide the most robust view of the custom culture within the motorcycle industry. We’re excited to offer enthusiasts even more premium analog and digital experiences via our magazine, website and social ecosystem.”

Greg and Adam from Iron&Air. [BikeEXIF]
By way of a 'BikeEXIT' interview on the passing of his torch, I asked Chris Hunter a few questions so the world might better know whose fault all this might be.

Tell our readers how you came to start a custom motorcycle blog: what were you doing before that? What inspired you to start BikeEXIF? Was there any competition in 2008?

It started as a lunchtime experiment when I was a creative director working at an ad agency in Sydney, Australia. I was scouting around for a bike to buy, and absorbing information on motorcycles in general, and was feeling uninspired by the quality of moto sites at the time. I knew of Deus, which was starting to take off, and I found the Japanese and European custom scenes fascinating. I needed to upskill on the nuts and bolts of digital, so I started BikeEXIF. The idea was to focus on a sweet spot: the best photography of the best custom bikes. I think Return Of The Cafe Racers was going at that point, but I don’t think I was aware of it at the time.

Chris Hunter relaxing after a ride at his home in New Zealand. [Chris Hunter]
The custom motorcycle landscape has shifted dramatically in 13 years: tell us what you've seen from your beginnings to today? Where have you seen the greatest improvements?

I’ve enjoyed seeing the move away from chrome and bling, and towards a more ‘industrial design’ vibe. There’s been gradually less emphasis on the ‘retro’ side of design, and more on finding a new aesthetic language. The cafe racer as a genre is no longer dominant—scramblers are everywhere, plus a lot of bikes that are difficult to pigeonhole. Choppers have died a death but the grassroots bobber scene is still going strong.

I think the overall quality of construction has improved a lot too—there are some seriously talented amateurs out there, as well as a handful of pros who can build a bike to OEM factory levels. A few years, dodgy welding and dubious engineering was quite common; nowadays, people seem to take more care and research things a little better. The advent of CAD has helped too, with more and more builders using it to raise quality levels, doing limited runs of parts to recover costs, and making kits.

The overall quality of photography has improved remarkably, too. Most builders understand that effort needs to go into the images as well as the bike itself.

Pipewrap. Firestones. I think the storm has passed now, but there was a long stretch when seemingly every custom motorcycle used them. [Anonymous]
Are you willing to take personal responsibility for Firestones & Pipe Wrap?

Please, no! I’ve never really been a fan of pipewrap, but I don’t get my knickers in a twist over it either. And for many custom bikes, classic sawtooth-type tires are fine. When I lived in Sydney, I once rode cross-city with Matt [Machine] Darwon: he was on a classic Guzzi with old school tires, and I was on a modern V7 shod with normal rubber. It was pouring with rain, the streets were twisty, and I was having trouble keeping up with Matt. I don’t think vintage-style tread patterns are a good idea for a 100hp sportbike, but for older or slower machines, they’re just fine. Don’t forget it’s as much about the rubber compound as the tread pattern.

The new media powerhouse, Iron & Air and BikeEXIF. [BikeEXIF]
It must have been a hell of a lot of work to put out customs daily. I told you so! Tell us about the work you've put into making BikeExif the heavyweight it is today?

It was indeed a massive amount of work, but over the past couple of years the workload has been manageable. My editor Wes Reyneke has been a great help in that regard.

Running a successful digital business is kinda like making mayonnaise … you have to have all the right ingredients in the right proportions. So the content is obviously the main ingredient, and it needs to be high quality. Then there’s the technical stuff like the coding and server setup, and search engine optimization. Plus social media, and making sure that you’re using it for your own purposes, rather than getting used yourself.

Time management is another critical ingredient; I used to work all hours, but now basically work in blocks of time in the morning and evening. And I’ll still be working on the business for a while with the Iron & Air guys, they’re a great team and I’ve known them for a while, so it was the perfect fit.

In 2014, German publisher Gestalten approached Chris Hunter to put the trend on paper, and 'The Ride' was the result. It was quickly followed by 'The Ride: 2nd Gear', and both sold very well. Paul d'Orléans contributed to both. [BikeEXIF]
Finally, I'll toss back your questions from the BikeEXIF questionnaire you sent me in 2010:

What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money?

A Moto Guzzi V7, about 13 years ago in Sydney. I had a Vespa before that, which was perfect for zooming around the city, but not so good for longer trips. Today I ride a Husqvarna Svartpilen 701.

What do you think is the most beautiful production motorcycle ever built?

The original Brough Superior SS100. More recently, the Ducati SportClassic. Of current production bikes, I love the Kiska-designed ‘Pilens and I think the BMW R nineT has perfect visual balance.

Ten years past! Our publisher Paul d'Orléans was honored to be the first of a new interview series for BikeEXIF, in Sept 2010. [BikeEXIF]
What motorcycle do you despise?

Despise is a strong word … there are some corners of the industry and brands I think are well past their sell-by date. And you’ll never find me posing next to a custom bagger being ‘ridden’ by a pinup girl. But generally, each to his own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A day with with no faffing around on social channels or dealing with email! A week exploring the snow-capped Southern Alps of New Zealand with my wife and three kids. An evening sitting by the fire with a glass of Islay single malt in hand, a magazine on my lap, and the dog asleep at my feet.

Chris Hunter was kind enough to provide the foreward to Paul d'Orléans latest book, 'Ton Up!' (2020 Motorbooks)

Electric motorcycles: Yes or No?

Big yes. I love what brands like Zero, Cake and Ubco are doing. I think it’ll take a while for ICE motorcycles to be phased out, but electric is definitely the future. I’m just waiting for Zero to set up shop in New Zealand!

Which ‘everyday’ modern bikes do you think will become future classics? The equivalent of the Honda CB750 or Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, if you like? Who are your real-life motorcycling heroes?

I think the Ducati SportClassic is a contender, along with the MV Agusta F4, Aprilia RS250 and some of the better Japanese superbikes. Generally speaking, I think it’s going to be the sportier end of the market that appreciates. But really, it’s anyone’s guess.

Are you optimistic for the future of motorcycling?

Yes. I was worried when COVID hit, but sales have been generally unaffected and have risen in some places. The cost and utility aspects of motorcycles will always be positive, and they’re also the ultimate social distancing activity!

What is your current state of mind?

A little besieged at the moment, with handling the transition to Iron & Air, and planning for the future. But thankful and hugely optimistic too.

Thanks Chris!  We at The Vintagent wish you all the best for the future.

Hard work yields results. We congratulate Chris Hunter on his success, and wish him well in the future. [BikeEXIF]

The Promenade Percy

In the beginning was the sea…or more accurately, the seaside. A promenade is a public walkway constructed along the strand to keep the sand from our shoes. Promenades attracted droves in the 19th Century - what else was there to do -  and soon pleasure piers, amusement parks, and music venues became their principal attraction, compounding the interest of a fun-seeking public.  Even in the midst of the Depression, the period examined here, Youth found a way to its opposite sex, and a tourist-laden seaside resort was a happy hunting ground for perambulators of breeding age, whether the hunter was on foot or awheel.  To the newly mobile, places like Southend-on-Sea became the hottest pickup spots outside of a London dance hall, and motorcyclists of a certain age and inclination were naturally drawn to them for the same reason: unintended procreation and forced marriage (kidding / not kidding).  Thus we have the creation of seaside promenades, upon which one promenades, in a typical Anglophone example of verbing a noun.

Hello, Percy. An unknown but stylish rider aboard a mid-1920s Coventry-Eagle Flying 8 with rakish zeppelin-bodied Mills-Furford sporting sidecar, an apex fairy-catching machine! [The Vintagent Archive]
The introduction of any new technology brings unforeseeable cultural consequences, and so it was with the motorcycle: who knew it would become an essential tool for the mating rituals of a certain youth subculture?   Beginning in the Twenties, a subset of mostly London-based motorcyclists made their gathering point exactly these seaside promenades.  They were noted for riding ‘modern, sporting mounts’ resplendent in extra chrome and straight-through exhausts, dressing snappily, and doing their best to attract the attention of so-called ‘seaside fairies’, or young ladies expecting to be courted by just such fellows.  These mostly male riders were disparagingly called the “seaside promenade Percy”, presumably in reference to Percy Shelley, the notorious 19th Century libertine, anarchist, and dandy, who died young and beautiful in 1822. Shelley was scandalous for his Bohemian lifestyle and free love antics, so decamped to Italy to live a hassle-free life with his young genius bride, Mary Shelley, who wrote the first, most profound, and most misinterpreted treatise on the unexpected consequences of technology, called ‘Frankenstein: or, a Modern Prometheus.”

Success! Perhaps a first-generation ca.1925 Brough Superior SS80 with Milford zeppelin sidecar is the ticket. The Stormgarde coat and flat cap help the effect, and the Flapper in her cloche hat seems quite happy with the situation. [The Vintagent Archive]
In the typical English gift for abbreviation, our obnoxious inter-war heroes were soon called simply Promenade Percys: a perfect double entendre. Calling a young motorcyclist Percy implied their amorous antics were not the proper focus of a young man’s energies: that would be war, not love.  Or at least, a battle substitute like sport. Finger-waggers made their displeasure plain via letters and editorials in the mid-1930s motorcycle press, when Percys were compared unfavorably with ‘real men’ like Jimmie Simpson, the square-jawed hero of the Norton factory racing team, who retired in 1934 with five European Championships under his belt.  Real men, it was implied, risked their necks in battlefields and on racetracks, while Promenade Percys (and later cafe racers) merely jousted for the attention of girls. [Sadly, I have yet to discover a similarly derided Promenade Pamela]

The Promenade Percy phenomenon was not limited to England, or even the sea, as this 1930 riding gang from southern Germany attests.  Terrific examples of stylish riding gear from leathers to woolens and every type of flying goggle! [The Vintagent Archive]
It's been claimed the Promenade Percy was the origin of the species of what became known as cafe racer culture, but it's not so. I argue in my book ‘Ton Up!’ that a subculture attracted to ‘racers on the road’ is evergreen, and simply human nature.  Included in the book is an account of the joys of speed on two wheels from 1869, on one of the very first Michaux pedal-velocipedes.  While not the first, our Percy is the direct ancestor of the Ace Cafe denizens of the 1950s, and were excoriated in the press in exactly the same manner. From the Western Gazette of Feb 12, 1932: “Pukka riders must not be confused with those ‘bright Percys’, the promenade pests, who float up and down their main streets and sea fronts adorned in spotless suits with carefully oiled hair, looking for some fair damsel to adorn their pillion seat.”  A 1934 letter describes Percys “engaged in ‘Simpsoning’ up and down the seafront with their pillions bedecked in beach pyjamas.”  From 1932 onwards such letters blossomed in The Motor Cycle every Springtime, but their condemnation sounds more like envy to our modern ears.  And frankly, I can’t imagine much better than riding a chromium-plated 1930s sports motorcycle along the seaside, in a fantastic tweed suit, with my fairy damsel on the back.

Fun by the seaside: even motorcycle parts can be leveraged for fun, as demonstrated by Stanley Woods (top) and his pals near the sea wall at Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1928. [The Vintagent Archive]
Rakish Promenade Percys with competition from pedestrians! But this is Sao Paolo, Brazil, in 1930, where only the very wealthy could afford a 1928 Moto Guzzi C4V racer to use as a street machine. The whole ensemble here is amazingly attired! [The Vintagent Archive]
Not to forget our Australian friends, who have nothing but beach on which to promenade. This 1928 picnic gang includes Phil Irving in regulation University woolens and his then-characteristic beret for rakish effect. [Harry Beanham photo: The Vintagent Archive]
Here he is: Percy. Aboard the hot crumpet-catcher of the 1920s, a 1925 Norton 16H Sports with sidecar. His outfit is impeccable, including collarless leather racing jerkin, woolen jodhpurs, white shirt and tie, summer gloves, and woolen fishing socks pulled up high, an affectation adopted by the classic Ace Cafe Rockers of the 1950s, but with engineer's boots, which had yet to be invented in this period. [The Vintagent Archive]
By popular demand, here's the North American style of sporting riding gear circa 1929, from my own hometown of Stockton California. A gang of riders on Harley-Davidsons, a a few of which hint at a new style of motorcycle emerging at this time, the 'California Cut-Down', or simply Cut Down as it became known, the first widely copied style of motorcycle customization. The gents are snappily but not too formally - no neckties required in Stockton! [The Vintagent Archive]
[This essay is adopted from a column originally published in Classic Bike Guide.  As CBG no longer includes columns in their pages, we are adding this content into The Vintagent so more readers can enjoy the thoughts of our publisher, Paul d'Orléans.  The photographs included here are all original and unpublished photos, included in his book 'Ton Up! A Century of Cafe Racer Speed and Style' (2020, Motorbooks), an exploration of the evergreen love for fast motorcycles since 1869.  If you want a signed copy, we'll set you up with one 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.

Sturgis 2020: $12.2 Billion Health Cost

Contravening all public health guidelines, the 2020 Sturgis Rally has proved to be exactly the Covid-19 'superspreader' event that experts feared.  An estimated 250,000 new cases between Aug. 2 - Sep. 2 2020 are directly linked to the rally, which is nearly 20% of the total new cases in the USA in that period, and the public health costs are estimated at $12.2 Billion.  A recent study by IZA Institute of Labor Economics (click for a pdf) made the story abundantly clear: Sturgis this year was a bad idea, but the price tag in the aftermath dwarfs any economic benefit gained by local businesses or the South Dakota economy as a whole.  But, local businesses and the state of South Dakota will not pay that price, as nearly all rally attendees were from out of state, and returned home to spread viral souvenirs.

This virus's for you: social distancing and mask-wearing were virtually nonexistent at the 2020 Sturgis Rally [Daily Mail]
With as many as 500,000 riders attending this year, the Sturgis Rally was perhaps the largest mass gathering of any kind, anywhere on the planet, during the Covid-19 pandemic.  The refusal of attendees to wear masks, coupled with close proximity in large crowds, was a recipe for disaster, and now the costs, physical and financial, are rolling in. ‘This is enough to have paid each of the estimated 462,182 rally attendees $26,553.64 not to attend," noted the IZA paper.

Anonymized cell phone data shows Sturgis rally attendees returned to 61% of all US counties. [Tektonix]
"The Contagion Externality of a Superspreading Event: The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and COVID-19" was released today, and picked up by numerous news outlets, from The Economist and Forbes to The Vintagent.  The IZA Institute of Labor Economics is one of the most highly regarded economic research groups in the world, and is based in Bonn, Germany, and has over 1300 international research fellows and affiliates.

 

Sturgis 2020 was the worst PR disaster for motorcycling since 'The Wild One' of 1953.

 


'Confessions of a Vintagent' - 1943

Vintagent - wither the term? It was in currency in the 1930s in British automotive publications, and as noted in the following article there were already clubs formed to promote the reputations of automobiles of certain eras as 'vintage' - defined in Webster's dictionary as "adj: of old, recognized, and enduring interest, importance, or quality."  The term begs the question, what machinery qualifies?  In the motorcycle world, Vintagents were late to the scene, as noted in the article reproduced below, which is the first mention of the term Vintagent as applied to motorcyclists: all credit to staff writer Dennis May.

The original article in The Motor Cycle, illustrated with 8 machines, six of which your editor has owned...being a Vintagent himself apparently. [The Motor Cycle]

From the Dec. 16 1943 edition of The Motor Cycle - By Dennis May

In the car world they have a thing called the vintage cult.  Its members, an ardent and disdainful body of men, style themselves Vintagents.  A Vintagent is a citizen who turns misty-eyed and maudlin in the presence of a 30-98 Vauxhall, reaches instinctively for a bell, book, and P.100 Lucas [car headlamp - ed.] at the sight of a sibilating soft-sprung roadster, and hangs admiringly upon Mr Forrest Lycett's Bentleygyrics in the dear-sir columns of The Autocar, a collection of despatches which, if piled one on top of another, would make a smashing bonfire.

The 1923 Vauxhall 30-98, 900lbs lighter than a Bentley with similar power, a car worth of cult status. [Supercars.net]
Where is the motor cycling vintage cult, if any? What were the vintage years of our industry? How, in your own mind, would you define a vintage motor cycle? Upon which particular models would you confer the title 'vintage'?

If we take 'cult' to mean an articulate and vocal body of opinion, then, obviously, no such thing exists as the motor cycling vintage cult.  What, on the other hand, does exist is a substantial school of thought which, perhaps perversely and irrationally, insists on preferring, say, the 1931 Whatsit to its 1939 antetype. In the eyes of that school, then, 1931 will be a vintage year in the annals of the Whatsit factory.  A cold-blooded comparative analysis may show that the 1939 model was faster, better braked, more comfortable and better protected than the 1931, but your Vintagent hasn't cold blood and he doesn't analyse - he is a creature of instincts and capricous zests.  Perhaps if he did start analysing he would find that it was the relative discomfort and poor protection of the earlier model, together, perhaps, with a certain clean-cut classicism of line, that endeared it to him. Vintagents are odd in some ways.  You mustn't coddle them and expect any thanks for it.

From the VMCC website: "On 28th April 1946, a band of 38 enthusiasts assembled at the Lounge Cafe, Hog's Back, Guildford, Surrey, with the object of forming a Motor Cycle Club for owners of machines manufactured prior to December 1930." [VMCC]
Though the motor cycling Vintage cult undoubtedly exists, it is an underground movement - unsung, unpropagated, inarticulate. Its members, unlike the too-vocal car Vintagents, do not form themselves into clubs and pin badges on themselves and declaim a clamant gospel in the public prints. [It would only take 3 years for that to happen...ed.]

The 1912 B.A.T.-J.A.P....an ideal? [The Motor Cycle]
Now for the question No. 2 - what were the vintage years? Perhaps the only reasonable answer would be that the vintage years were what any individual rider chooses to think, and good luck to him if he ups and proclaims the 1911 B.A.T.-J.A.P. a shining vintage example.  But no, I'm not having that.  Ordinary common sense, sone shred of which even a confirmed Vintagent like myself must retain, cries aloud that a 1911 B.A.T.-J.A.P. viewed in the light of modern motor cycle performance could in no sense be deemed a desirable property.  Of course it is important to have tasted the best that the immediate pre-war designs had to offer if one's avowals of vintagism are to carry conviction.  The owner of a 1932 Model 18 Norton who boasts of it as the superior of a 1939 OHC, then admits to having never ridden anything later than '35, can legitimately be pooh-poohed.  For my part, I would rate the decade from 1925 to 1935 as the vintage epoch of motor cycling history.  That was the period, in other words, which produced the greatest number of machines that, give the choice, I would own in preference to the pick of 1939's.

The original Rudge racing replica, the 1929 Ulster, based closely on Graham Walker's factory racer, the first machine to average 80mph in a Grand Prix race. [Paul d'Orleans]
When it comes to defining a vintage motorcycle the temptation is strong to forestall the execration of the Editor's correspondents by writing the matter off as one of purely personal opinion; and after mentally trying over a few tags suitable to such occasions (de gustibus, etc, or perhaps quot homines, etc), and rejecting them all as badly shop-worn, one is right back where one started.  Perhaps the issue might be narrowed by asserting that vintage machinery burgeons exclusively in the thoroughbred class, which is practically the same as saying the race-bred class. I don't ever remember The Motor Cycle applying that epithet 'thorough bred' to any mount of non-racing pedigree, good though many of these undoubtedly are and were.  It would not, of course, be true to say that all, or even most, race-developed products qualify for the exclusive vintage class, whether or not produced during the decade specified.

A picturesque stop in Glacier National Park, your editor and the 1925 Brough Superior SS100 he rode across the USA in the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball. [Paul d'Orleans]
And now for some examples, chosen more or less at random and without regard to chronology: The early International Nortons, circa 1934 and thereabouts. The hottest and least luxuriously equipped S.S.100 Brough Superior of 1926 et seq. yclept Pendine [yclept being olde English for 'by the name of' - ed.]. The 350 big port A.J.S. of the latish 'twenties; the Flying Eight Coventry-Eagle with long-stroke overhead-valve J.A.P. motor - roughly 1928, speaking from memory (an exception this to the race-bred rule); and the pre-saddle-tank 350 Cotton-Blackburne, catalogue version of the mount that won Stanley Woods his first T.T.  The pre-low frame two-port Sunbeam five-hundred, preferably the one with a small taper tank; the 499cc T.T. Replica Rudge with the radial valves and spidery exhaust pipes, which really was a replica of the Senior winners of that era, except, perhaps, in some of the materials used; and the road-equipped edition of the dirt-track Douglas of the early 'thirties, called the S.W. if I remember rightly (you very seldom saw one on the road)' this job was sold primarily as a grass-trackster, but the scantily shod, mudguarded and muffled version which I was lucky enough to ride a time or two - thanks to Francis Beart, its owner - was a most exuberant piece of machinery.  And the least bulbous and elaborate of the early O.E. C.s with naked pushrod 350cc Blackburne engine, contemporary of the Cotton recalled above.

Stanley Woods in the 1921 Isle of Man TT aboard his flat-tank Cotton with Blackburne motor. [The Vintagent Archive]
Of Scotts I shall say nothing, beyond confessing that one Scott is very much like any other to me. And if this heresy doesn't petrify the whole passionate army of Scott fans in their tracks, they are at liberty to take the dangerously esoteric subject off my hands an into the Correspondence pages.

Reverting from the particular to the general, it will probably be asked: 'What did these relics of the motor cycling Middle Ages have that the moderns haven't got?'  Frankly, nothing.  Rather, their attraction for us stubborn Vintagents lies in what they didn't have.  They shared almost to a bike that lean and hungry look...not a surplus pound of what the ads for slimming diets call Ugly Fat.

The ultra-rare 1925 Sunbeam 'Crocodile' OHC racer your editor was privileged to ride in the Auerberg Klassik Hillclimb last September. An example of a wholly uncluttered machine, although the rider has gained a bit of Ugly Fat in his middle...years. [Uwe Rattay]
They were simple and uncluttered with gadgets and accessories of the kind that make good sales talk for slick-suited spilers [salesemen - ed.] on the Earls Court stand, but are neither here nor there when you're battling into a barrage of gale-borne sleet at sixty.  Their unpretentious starkness bore testimony to the designer's conviction that  motor cycle should be a motor cycle and not a single-track chaise longe.

A rolling chaise longe, for sure! A typical 1970s Harley-Davidson Big Twin tourer, in this case 'Lee Roy', an original paint Electra Glide I road tested in 2010. [The Vintagent Archive]
The contempt of the Vintagent - contempt is scarcely too strong a word - for what he considers overblown moderns is analogous to the contempt of the sailing dinghy owner for a puttering cabin cruiser with inbuilt cocktail cabinet and electric gramophone.  Surplus avoirdupois, under which heading he lumps all poundage not directly contributory to performance in the purest sense, appears to him as anachronistic as an air-conditioning plant on a trotting gig [lightweight horse cart - ed.]. An incorrigible puller-to-pieces to see what makes the wheels go round, he deplores with great oaths the tendency to put a sheetmetal box round any or every part of the motor cycle which might remind you that it is a machine.  He remembers with unfeigned nostalgia an era when pushrods were not shamed to be seen pushing in public, rockers rocking and springs springing.

Motorcycle Cannonball II pre-1930 Coast-to-Coast Endurance Run. Stage 10 - Yellowstone, WY to Jackson, WY. USA. September 17, 2012. Paul d'Orleans riding his 1933 Velocette Mk4 KTT - a thoroughbred machine if ever there was one. [Michael Lichter]
To a true dyed-in-the Ethyl Vintagent, the faults of his vintage motor cycle are almost as dear as its virtues.  Indeed, when that little word 'ideal' starts peppering the Correspondence pages, signifying a fresh campaign of designer-chasing, I am sometimes pessimistic enough to wonder whether in the course of years our Turners and Heathers and Goodmans may wearily succumb to this constant tyrannous importunity and eradicate the whole gamut of lovable faults that have made the modern motor cycle what it is.

But no, perish the thought!

Surely they couldn't be so heartless...

Dennis May

 

 

 


Minutera Vietnam

By Lorenzo and Pilón

We'd always had in our minds traveling to Vietnam. Its culture, people, landscapes and the ease of finding a bike to ride around the country, made this trip really appealing. But what really triggered us were  pictures our friends Lucía and Pixi (responsible for "Perder el Rumbo" and both bike lovers) had sent us the year before, when they traveled around south-east Asia. Their pictures showed several motorbikes that had been absolutely transformed to make them suitable for forest and agricultural work in the jungle - the Jungle Men. That made our interest in the trip to grow, and for a year we planned our vacation to find those machines, their riders, and the mechanics who devised them.

Mountain bikes! The heavy lifters in the mountains of Vietnam for the Jungle Men, who modify their 150cc Hondas for extreme duties. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
At the beginning we only considered ourselves curious observers, but the idea of documenting the trip in some way came up. We didn't like the thought of taking cameras and film and shooting just like everyone else.  We didn't feel like editing our work, and besides, today a lot of people document their trips very well. Then we came up with the idea of building a 'street box' camera we could transport on a motorbike, so we could come close to the people, take the picture, give them a positive print and keep the original negative with us.

A woman from the Katu people, in the northern mountains of Vietnam, one of many ethnic minorities still living in their original territory. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
We called our good friend Karlos H. Nogales, a photographer who works with a street box camera in Santiago de Compostela, our city, and we asked him what he thought about the idea, and if it would be possible to bring this kind of camera on the bike with us.

Traveling north...by train! To avoid the madness of Saigon, our travelers skipped town on a rail. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
In this technological era of drones, tiny digital cameras and tons of trips around the world, we wanted to travel with a camera using 19th century technology.  The type of camera that made photography popular, and took the photographer out of the studio to make affordable portraits on the streets. [Street cameras like this are still in use in some countries, like Afghanistan - ed.]. Karlos thought it was a good idea and offered to build the camera for us, making it robust so we could travel with it as hand luggage, without the hassle of checking it in.

The process: the camera box is also a darkroom, where the negatives are developed, and positive images contact-printed on the spot. Early 20th Century Polaroids! [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
We flew from Madrid to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon), and after getting a feel for the city for three days we rented a couple of bikes: a Suzuki 110cc and a Honda 150cc, which we equipped with racks to transport the camera and the necessary chemicals. We knew the location where our friends had seen the working bikes we were interested in, but in order to avoid Saigon traffic around the industrial areas (and because we thought it was romantic), we left the city on an old train with freight cars, with our bikes and bags on it, and headed to Phan Thiêt.

The Mechanic: one of the builders who modifies ordinary utility motorcycles into extraordinary workhorses. Note the triple rear shocks, long swingarm, heavily reinforced frame, utility fuel tank, and doubled-up forks! An extraordinary custom machine, for a purpose. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Once there, we loaded everything onto the bikes and headed north on a small country road.  We were soon in the mountains, with wooden houses and a lot of coffee plantations, and that's where we first encountered the Jungle Men and their modified motorbikes. We immediatley stopped to unload the camera: it was only the second time we'd used it, and it took time to mount the camera on our tripod, and prepare the chemistry and all the associated paraphernalia for developing and printing the images.

Everything they needed on two lightweight motorcycles, including all their camping gear and photography equipment. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
And then, it was nap time.  A healthy habit the Vietnamese share with our country (Spain), but little by little the villagers emerged from their homes as they saw us taking photos of their machines. Without effort or fanfare, there we were, with those gentle people, who looked surprised but quiet. We showed them our love for their bikes, and their pride in the machines made our job easier.  We shot 5"x7" negatives, and once we finished shooting and developing these, we printed positives as gifts for our subjects.  I love to think that in a few houses in a remote Vietnamese village, those pictures hang on the wall...

The process: photographing a village elder, with plenty of interested bystanders... [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
The motorbikes used by the Jungle Men are 110cc semi-automatic Hondas and some old Chinese copies of the same. Even if they have a ramshackle look, their owners spend a great amount of money in improving their motor efficiency. They relinquish everything not needed in order to remove weight, install longer swingarms to scale steep slopes.  Then they're equipped with 4, 6 or even 8 rear shock absorbers, and a double front fork to be able to load the bikes with coffee, sacks of corn, or hunks of wood they pull out the jungle.

...and the elderly woman herself. Hopefully she treasures the print left as a gift! [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
The Jungle Men also modify their frames to reinforce them, and carry a set of chains for the rear wheel to keep traction in the muddy areas that come with the rainy season, and they also modify the gear boxes for strength. These are true mechanical devices, taking loads like a bulldozer into unbelievable places. Watching them riding in crews is quite a sight. Actually they most resemble 1930s American hillclimb racers.

A young Jungle Man with his machine, outside his rough-and-ready clapboard home. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
These workhorse machines are illegal in Vietnam, and both riders and mechanics have to be on the alert for traffic police, who can confiscate their machines and give them big fines, especially for those who take precious wood from the jungle. We really wanted to stay longer with the Jungle Men. They are modest people, proud of their work and machines, hospitable and even in some occasions offered to accommodate us, so we slept in their humble houses.

A handy place to dry prints... [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
During our trip we didn't focus only on the Jungle Men, who are in very specific areas in Vietnam. We wanted to go across the whole country, and visited National Parks, temples, ruins and villages where ethnic minorities live, as the Co tu people, Red Dao, and Hmong.  Our total journey was about 4500km (2700mi), going from south to north on the legendary Ho Chi Minh Road, and into the northern mountains on Chinese border, one of the most mountainous and steep areas in the country. This is the area where most of these ethnic minorities live.

A home-made map of the Jungle Man route through the length of Vietnam. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
The trip was a touchdown. We loved the country, the people, the landscapes and the food, but when we had only a week left before returning to our routine (we spent 45 days there), we knew it was an unfinished job. We made contacts, we knew the Jungle Men and their villages, and have a pulse on the country, so we are organizing another trip, as soon as we can, to finish our project.

The Dragon's Tail, a globally famous stretch of motorcycle road, for obvious reasons. Just as fun on an overloaded Honda 150 as on an expensive ADV bike! [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Next time we will again take our street box camera, to finish the job, and will go deeper into the the jungle, bringing enough material to make a photobook.  We will show the daily life of the Jungle Men, their families and the mechanics who build their wonderful machines. With that purpose we will launch a crowdfunding campaign with suggested rewards, and will be open to financing suggestions from those who want to be a part of the project. Do not hesitate in contacting us via The Vintagent with any questions.

Shooting fields at the foot of the mountains. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
The fertile plains at the foot of the jungle mountains in Vietnam. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Lorenzo and Pilón made a 4500km trip in 45 days, taking hand-made photographs en route. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
A Jungle Man with a modified Honda. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
A Jungle Bike. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Jungle Bikes make useful drying racks for prints! [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Portrait of Lorenzo with his rented Honda. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]
Portrait of Pilón and her rented Suzuki. [©LaIslaDelTesoro and Buena_H_Onda]


John Wallace and the Duzmo

By Tim Walker & Paul d'Orléans

At the tender age of 14, P.J. 'John' Wallace had an epiphany at a motorcycle exhibition, and knew he would build his own motorcycle. He bought a set of unmachined engine castings for £2 10s, and proceeded to build a workshop in his father’s garden, teaching himself to use a few simple machine tools. He soon realized the finishing work required of the castings was beyond both his equipment and his ability. So he bought a frame and wheels from a local cycle maker, plus a secondhand engine, and built his first motorcycle, which he promptly sold.

 

John Wallace racing his own Duzmo at the 1920 Kop Hill Climb. Dr. A.M. Low, another motorcycle designer, officiates. [Vintagent Archive]
In 1912 (age 16), John landed an apprenticeship with Collier & Sons, makers of Matchless motorcycles, at the time the most successful British manufacturer in racing, having won the single-cylinder class of the very first Isle of Man TT, and many races at Brooklands after that.  Unfortunately John had an industrial accident at the Matchless factory,  and his father put a stop to his employment with the Colliers.  The pill was sweetened by his father buying both John and his brother a T.T. model Rudge, which was a single-speed belt drive machine, stripped for speed. The brothers both joined the British Motor Cycle Racing Club (B.M.C.R.C., or 'Bemsee') and took to racing at Brooklands as typical 'clubmen'. However, things did not go as planned (ah, racing!) and in short order John crashed his Rudge, which was damaged beyond repair.

Herbert LeVack, who would later gain fame working for J.A.P. in engine development, both raced for and developed John Wallace's engine for Duzmo in 1920, including at the Isle of Man TT. [Vintagent Archive]
With this meager Brooklands experience under his belt, in 1913 he secured a job as a test rider for the J.A. Prestwich (J.A.P) experimental department, where testing motorcycles at Brooklands was part of the job description. When the Prestwich family became aware of his age they promptly sacked him! Wallace spent the the next year studying engineering and training to become a draughtsman. With the onset of WW1, Wallace felt there would be little demand for motorcycles, so took a job at Scottish car makers Arrol-Johnston, as an aero-engine designer. This employment too was short-lived; it was over by mid-1915. However, his lengthening resumé was enough to land him a job with the design team at Westland Aircraft Company (Petters Ltd), which was to last until the end of the war.

One of Wallace's engine designs, this for a DOHC racing single-cylinder of very advanced specification. [Vintagent Archive]
Late in 1918 Wallace returned to his first love, and laid out a design for an advanced high-performance motorcycle engine. When drawings were finished, he cleverly advertised his design in The Aeroplane, knowing aircraft builders would need to diversify after their war contracts had ended. One such company was the Portable Tool & Engineering Co. of Enfield, who were impressed enough to employ Wallace as Chief Designer. Their plan was to sell 'loose' engines to motorcycle manufacturers, and by September 1919 the prototype was ready for trials. Clearly, Wallace had learned a few tricks from cutting-edge aircraft technology, as his engine used Overhead-Valves and was 'oversquare' at 88.9mm bore x 76.2 stroke, giving a capacity of 475cc, using a fully-recirculating oil system with two oil pumps on the timing cover; all very advanced for 1919.

After Herbert LeVack left Duzmo, John Wallace hired Harold L. Biggs as his development engineer, and this is the original 'Duzmo Biggs Special' of 1921, using a single-speed chassis. [Vintagent Archive]
Herbert LeVack had been employed during the war assembling and testing aero engines, and his services were secured by P.J. Wallace to build his new motorcycle engines. LeVack proved a valuable asset, with an uncanny ability to produce wonderful results from ill-fitting components. He built the prototype engine and got it running satisfactorily; a second engine was then fitted into a motorcycle chassis, and used by Le Vack in demonstrations to the trade and the public, and in competitions. LeVack's development and riding skills produced excellent results from Wallace's design. The motorcycle was first christened the ‘Ace’, then the ‘Buzmo’, before ending up as the ‘Duzmo’ in 1920.

Harold L. Biggs and John Wallace outside the Duzmo premises, 1921. [Vintagent Archive]
LeVack won many speed events on his tuned single-speed belt-drive Duzmo, winning over 100 awards. Racing success created demand from the public, but the business plan with Portable Tool called for engine manufacture, not motorcycle manufacture, and Duzmo was barely a company! There was no chance of fulfilling orders for whole motorcycles with the small workshop that P.J. Wallace ran near the Enfield highway. Wallace suggested to the Board of Portable Tool that they take Duzmo 'public' and sell stock to raise capital for proper motorcycle manufacturing facilities, but they balked, and wound down production. A silver lining emerged when a kindly Board member loaned Wallace enough money to create his own company (John Wallace Ltd) to build his Duzmos.

The 1922 version of the Duzmo racing special at Brooklands, now using Wallace's engine and chassis design, developed by Harold L. Biggs (left). [Vintagent Archive]
Ever looking forward, in 1920 Wallace and Le Vack altered their single-speed frame to fit a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox, for all-chain-drive. This machine completed the 1920 London to Edinburgh trial, and was then shipped to the Isle of Man for LeVack to ride in the 1920 Senior T.T.   LeVack was no stranger to the T.T., having raced there in 1914 (the last T.T. before WW1) finishing in 15th place averaging 45mph on a Motosacoche, and winning a gold medal. Road conditions on the Isle of Man were atrocious, more resembling motocross than road racing to modern eyes, as the roads were mostly unpaved farm tracks, and the racing machines had almost no suspension, used narrow high-pressure tires, and had virtually no brakes.

After leaving Duzmo, Herbert LeVack made a real name for himself as one of a rare breed: designer/tuner/racer, who actually won. Here he is in 1921 being carried aloft at Brooklands after winning the 500-mile race on an Indian. [The Motor Cycle]
At the 1920 T.T., our man LeVack took number 69 on his Duzmo, while a second Duzmo was entered by N.C. Sclater (number 67), who actually rode a Norton in the race (more on this shortly). Le Vack had some fierce competition from his Sprint and Brooklands rivals such as George Dance (number 65, on a sidevalve Sunbeam), Tommy de la Haye (also on a SV Sunbeam) and F.W. 'Freddie' Dixon (number 52) on an Indian.

John Wallace on the second-generation Duzmo circa 1920, before he was quite ready to manufacture motorcycles. [Mortons Archive]
Press reports state Le Vack’s Duzmo arrived on the island via the Saturday morning boat, leaving little time to practice. Another report mentions Le Vack laboring over his machine since its arrival, working almost night and day, being rather handicapped by a lack of spare parts. Reading between the lines on these reports, it is possible Sclater’s Duzmo was sacrificed to keep LeVack's machine alive, and might be why Sclater ultimately rode a Norton in the TT that year.

The 990cc V-twin Duzmo, made by doubling up the single-cylinder model. [Vintagent Archive]
The Senior race was held on Thursday, June 17th, in favorable conditions. Le Vack on the Duzmo had an excellent start, but on the second lap he had a bad skid at Governor’s Bridge and fell, bending his rear stand enough to rub the tyre; he was delayed eight minutes while he removed it and left it behind. He was reported passing through the grandstand on his third lap at speed, with his engine emitting a healthy bark. The fifth lap saw 16 competitors still in the race. Le Vack tried to overtake another rider near the Bungalow, when his quarry suddenly shot across his racing line, and Le Vack was brought off, damaging the Duzmo and forcing him to retire. The name of the fellow who supposedly cut off LeVack was never mentioned - was he forced into a ditch or did the Duzmo simply blow up? It was common practice for manufacturers to disguise mechanical calamity by blaming chains or magnetos or a spill. The race was won by Tommy de la Haye on a sidevalve Sunbeam.

The Duzmo decal used on the fuel tank and in advertising. [Vintagent Archive]
Herbert LeVack could see the writing on the wall at Duzmo, and had greater ambitions, so by early August the press announced that he had severed his connection with Duzmo, joining Freddy Dixon in the Indian camp. LeVack's track career blossomed at Brooklands where he so regularly broke speed records, he became known as 'The Wizard', and by 1921 he had joined J.A.P. developing their racing engines for all customers.

The last-generation Duzmo single, with their own loop frame and curved gas tank. [Vintagent Archive]
Wallace soldiered on racing with himself as tuner/rider, with much less success than LeVack. In a move which foreshadowed the legendary Vincent tale of 'doubling up' his single cylinder machine, in 1922 Wallace created a new 992cc OHV V-twin for racing at Brooklands by adding another cylinder to his original OHV design. He also designed a new single-cylinder chassis that year, with a unique sloping petrol tank, and while it was an attractive machine, sales were poor, and Duzmo was finished by 1923.


8 Valves for the Road

It was clear from the earliest days of 4-stroke engine design that multiple valves in a cylinder head had clear advantages over just two; the valves themselves would be lighter, making an easier life for valve train components and valves less likely to break. It's also possible to move more air through two (or more) small valves than one big one, as the total surface area of multi-valves could be larger than a single valve port, without risking a crack across the cylinder head from a weak structure with one mighty hole.  Smaller valves meant a lighter valve train, and higher revs for the motor, which meant more power and less wear, as it's easier to shift heat away from many small parts than a couple of big ones.

The original 8-Valve roadster?  This very interesting special was built in 1925 in England, using a 1914 Hedstrom motor with Indian 8-Valve cylinders and heads, according to the notebooks of Harold Biggs,  the bike's builder/tuner, who documented all the changes necessary to create this machine.  The bike is road registered and includes one of the earliest flyscreens I've seen on a motorcycle.  Wish I'd found this photo before publishing my history of fast road bikes - 'Ton Up!' - which includes lots of such lost evidence of a continuous thread of hot rodding road bikes from the earlier days of the industry. [Vintagent Archive]
Thus, in the 'Teens and '20s a lot of factories experimented with 4-valve single cylinder or '8-valve' V-twins, especially in the racing world. Indian was first with their pushrod 8-valve twin racer in 1911, that dominated board track and dirt track racing for several years, but was a fairly crude and fragile design, with poor lubrication to its delicate valve train.  The Indian 8-Valve did well in European and Australian racing too, but to my knowledge, only one or two were ever converted to a road bike, as photographic evidence here demonstrates.

Jean Péan aboard the amazing 1914 Peugeot M500 8-valve parallel twin DOHC beast. This machine is road registered, as long-distance street racing was the norm in France until 1923, when the Monthléry speed bowl was built.  This machine also raced at Brooklands before WW1. [Jean Bourdache]
The 8-Valve concept was greatly expanded  in 1913 by Peugeot, who revealed a parallel-twin double-overhead camshaft racing motor with four valves per cylinder, based on their all-conquering Grand Prix racing car, designed by Ernst Henry and 'Les Charlatans.'  The Peugeot 500M was raced at Montlhéry and Brooklands, and was fast, but not dominant like the water-cooled GP Peugeot cars.  It would take years of development after WW1 for it to become competitive, which required the loss of one camshaft and four valves!  Still, a remarkable technological achievement.  Sadly, none survive, and it appears none were ever used on the road.  Read more here in our article 'The Lost Peugeot Racers.'

One of Harry Hacker's remarkable conversions, using replica Harley-Davidson racing cylinder heads atop JDH twin-cam crankcases. This is the 8-Valve version, which looks fearsome indeed: the 2-Valve version with Peashooter cylinder heads puts out 70hp! [Paul d'Orleans]
Harley-Davidson, finally interested in catching up with Indian on the race track after abdicating all factory involvement for years, revealed their own 8-Valve V-twin racer in 1915, and built several versions through 1927.  None to my knowledge were converted to road bikes in the day, although the rise of small-batch manufacturing of reproduction 8-Valve engines (both H-D and Indian) has broadened specialist builder's horizons.  One such is Harry Hacker in Germany, who has combined both Peashooter 2-valve racing cylinders and heads with twin-cam JDH V-twin crankcases, making a powerful special with 70hp.  He's also used replica 8-Valve cylinders and heads atop a JDH base, which is a fearsome beast indeed.

The Croft was one of several small manufacturers to use Anzani 8-Vavle V-twin engines: this one is clearly intended for road use, with a parcel rack on the rear fender! [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
In Britain, an 8-Valve V-twin was produced commercially by British Anzani, who supplied engines for all applications, from aviation and boating to cyclecars and motorcycle.  The Anzani 8-Valve motor was designed by the Belgian Hubert Hagens, who had considerable experience in racing before joining British Anzani.  Company founder Alessandro Anzani was by then wrapping up his involvement in his several branches in England, France, and Italy, and retired in 1927 at age 50.  The Anzani V-twin was also produced in a 2-valve configuration, and sold as the Vulpine.  But for racing, and a very few road bikes, several manufacturers took the bait, including Montgomery, McEvoy, Croft, and Zenith, all of whom produced 8-Valve motorcycles in the single digits.  Those that survive (the cynical would say, more than were ever produced) are spectacular motorcycles, and extraordinarily valuable in their rarity and technical savoir faire.  All of these producers found 2-valve V-twins to be more reliable for regular use, but there's no denying the appeal of such a fearsome engine in a hot road bike.

The 1924 Montgomery roadster with Anzani 8-Valve engine that sits firmly on our Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles list of all-time highest prices paid for a motorcycle. [Bonhams]
It should be noted that several British marques built 4-valve single-cylinder road bikes, like Triumph's Ricardo (1921-24) and the Rudge 4-valve/4-speed line (1924-40).  Many specialist builders over the years have adapted these well-proven 4-valve cylinder heads onto V-twin engines of JAP or Harley-Davidson manufacture, with mixed results. The immediate increase in power meant of course, increased heat in the engine to deal with, and no direct lubrication to the valves until the late 1930s Rudge motors with enclosed valves.  The new-found power also exposed weaknesses in the clutch and gearbox (as Vincent-HRD found with their first OHV V-twin Series A Rapide in 1936), as well as the frame, forks and brakes, which were well adapted to a 24hp sidevalve V-twin, but not to 60hp from a far better-breathing upgrade.

The Triumph Ricardo 4-Valve cylinder head, designed by Sir Harry Ricardo, and produced from 1921-24. Lubrication for the rockers and valve stems is by grease, and hope. [Vintagent Archive]
And back in Europe, it appears the German Wanderer company built an 8-Valve V-twin motorcycle in the mid 1920s. The cylinder heads are closely based on the Anzani pattern, but retain Wanderer's distinctive horizontal finning.  This machine was spotted at Rétromobile in 2011, and I'd love to know more.  How many other companies built 8-Valve V-twin in the 1920s?  I'd love to know about more obscure examples: it Italy Moto Guzzi built the C4V 4-valve racing single, for example, based on their 1921 prototype designed by Carlo Guzzi: clearly the concept was explored in many countries.

Seen at Rétromobile in 2011 on the Motos Antiguas stand, a Wanderer 8-Valve. [Paul d'Orleans]
Today's tinkerers adding 4-valve cylinders and heads to antique V-twin motors are hardly alone, as the game is an old one. Way back in 1924 the Excelsior importer for Belgium, a Mr Taymans, decided to fit a pair of Triumph 'Ricardo' 4-v cylinder barrels and heads atop an American Excelsior V-twin, making a very handsome road-going OHV roadster, the 'American-Excelsior-Triumph'. According to The Motor Cycle magazine, he built several of these beasts, although this article is the only evidence I've seen of one...have any survived?

The elegant Excelsior-Triumph special built in limited numbers in 1924 by Mr Taymans of Brussels, Belgium. A robust chassis, a powerful motor, but still no front brake! [Vintagent Archive]
From The Motor Cycle, July 24th, 1924:

AMERICAN-EXCELSIOR-TRIUMPH

An American V-twin Fitted with British Four-valve Cylinders

Something new in ‘hybrids’ has been evolved by Mr. R. Taymans, a well-known motor cyclist and motor cycle agent of Brussels.

Agent for the American Excelsior, he has a great admiration for the strength, rigidity, and excellent steering qualities of this machine; he has also an equal admiration for the productions of Britain.  So he has manufactured an eight-valve American Excelsior, employing two four-valve 500cc Triumph cylinders adapted to the Excelsior crank case.

Standard Parts

With the exception of a slight alteration in the cams to produce greater efficiency, entirely standard parts are used, and the only structural alteration has been the dropping of the engine almost two inches in the frame.  The standard Schebler carburetor is fitted, and with it the machine will do 78mph; this is increased to 82mph with a three-jet Binks.

According to the constructor, the acceleration is terrific.  Altogether, the machine has been on the road for a full year, and with a sidecar.  It is not purely an experimental machine, but is actually on the market, many of them having already been sold all over the continent of Europe. Complete with electrical equipment, the machine is priced at £132.  Mr. Tayman’s firm is Taymans Fréres, 641, Chausée de Waterloo, Brussels, Belgium.

Another Indian 8-Valve racer converted for road use.  The chassis is clearly from a roadster model, not the short-coupled and minimal chassis of the board track racer: it's still a single-speed machine, though, with a clutch and all-chain drive as standard from 1901 on Indians. I don't know anything more about this photo - who what where? [Vintagent Archive]

 


Benelli Four-Cylinder Racers

As the technological high points of 1920s motorcycle racing began to look - and perform - like the antiques they'd become by the 1930s, the fratelli (brothers) Benelli took stock of the obvious trends of Grand Prix racing. The future of racing was clearly headed towards extracting more power from multi-cylinder, supercharged engines.  Moto GuzziGileraBMW, DKWNSU, and even AJS and Velocette in England were racing or developing such engines by 1938.  As champions in the 250cc racing class, Benelli set about that year designing a new 250cc racer, with four cylinders, twin overhead camshafts, a supercharger, and watercooling.  Trends in chassis development were also attended, and as sketched, the new machine would retain the hydraulic-damped girder forks and rear swingarm suspension of their singles, plus large-diameter alloy brakes to manage the inevitable blistering speeds to come from such an engine, given Benelli's expertise with tuning small engines, especially in cam design, intake porting, and carburation.

The original Benelli four-cylinder DOHC racer of 1939-41, with integral supercharger and a 146mph top speed. [The Motor Cycle]
The gem of an engine designed by Giovanni Benelli produced in 1939 had a short stroke (42mm stroke x 45mm bore), with 12:1 compression pistons, and spun to 10,000rpm, which was astronomical at that date. At peak revs the motor cranked out 52.5hp, good enough for 146mph on test runs - the fastest 250cc racer by a long shot, and fully 16mph faster than their nearest rival, the brilliant supercharged 250cc flat-single from Moto Guzzi.  With such devastating performance (exceeding by 20mph the factory 500s of Norton and Velocette!), Benelli were confident of another European Championship, but the little 'four' wasn't ready for the 1939 racing season.  By the time the 'engine bugs' were sorted, it was 1940, and the competition was no longer playing nice.

The original 1940 Benelli 250-4 still exists today. [The Vintagent Archive]
Lacking martial confidence in their native Italy, Benelli race chief Vincenzo Clementi stashed the entire racing fleet in rural areas away from their industrial base in Pesaro.  It was rumored their precious new 250cc 'four' engine was hidden at the bottom of a dry well, while the chassis slept under a haystack, inside a barn. Their decision proved wise, as during 1940 and '41, Pesaro was bombed heavily; the Benelli factory had been converted to aero engine production (Daimler-Benz and Alfa Romeo designs), and when the Allies advanced northward in Italy, all the precision machine tools were moved by the German army to more secure territory inside Austria and Germany.

An exploded view of the 1960 Benelli four-cylinder motor, with gear-driven DOHC and no blower...and 16hp less than the pre-war motor! [Motorcycle Sport]
When the company returned to single-cylinder racers postwar (netting them a World Championship in 1950), by 1960 Benelli's line of small-capacity motorcycles was selling very well, even in the USA through the department store Montgomery Wards.  With profits in hand, funds were allocated for the design of a new four-cylinder Grand Prix racer. Race chief Ing. Savelli and Giovanni Benelli designed an entirely new engine which bore resemblance to the 1938 design, but in truth, by 1960 a DOHC four with gear-driven cams had become the accepted pattern for a racing engine, having been developed by Gilera (from the original CNA/Rondine 'fours' dating back to 1926!), copied by MV Agusta, and then again by Honda, who won the 250cc World Championship title in 1961.

The complete 1960 Benelli four-cylinder 250cc GP racer, on its press lauch. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The new Benelli four used an even shorter stroke than the pre-war motor (40.6mm stroke x 44mm bore), a 6-speed gearbox, weighed only 264lbs, and gave 40hp at 13,000rpm (oh, how supercharging was missed!  This was 12.6hp less than the blown 1939 design).  The completed machine was revealed with great publicity in June of 1960, but wasn't ready to race until 1962, and Silvio Grassetti had only one 'win' that year, at Cesenatico, but it sounded a bell at Honda, as both Jim Redman and Tom Phillis were bested on their Factory Honda 4s.  MV had withdrawn from the 250cc class the year before, to concentrate on retaining their 350cc and 500cc GP dominance.

Tarquinio Provini on the 250cc Benelli 4 in 1965; note the 7" dual disc brakes. These are American Airheart brakes from Go-Kart racers, and were possibly a first in GP racing, but proved inadequate on at 143mph, especially in the wet. While the concept was sound, the brake pads hadn't yet evolved for serious high-speed use. Benelli used them only in '65, retreating to reliable racing drums... [Motorcycle Sport]
Tarquinio Provini, a veteran racing star with two World Championships, joined Benelli in 1963 to develop and race the new four. He shortly increased power to 52hp at 16,000rpm, with a 7-speed gearbox, and 141mph top speed. A new frame lowered the center of gravity and pared weight down to 247lbs. Years of ignition troubles with the high-revving engine were finally cured by fitting an American racing magneto...from a Mercury two-stroke boat engine. Provini won every race in the Italian championship in '64, and the Benelli shocked the world by out-running the Japanese opposition at the super-fast Monza GP in 1965.

Tarqunio Provini hard at it in 1966. [Motorcycle Sport]
By '66, the Four had 8 gears, and a larger version with 322cc was introduced to compete in the 350cc GP events, going head to head with the 'big boys', MV Agusta, Honda, and Yamaha. Provini had a bad crash at the Isle of Man TT that year, and injured his spine enough to retire from racing. Benelli had never fielded a 'team' of professional riders who came and went with lucrative contacts; the family business had close bonds with the one or two racers they supported, and Provini's injury took the steam out of Benelli's race department for over a year.

The immortal 'Paso', Renzo Pasolini, in 1968. [Motorcycle Sport]
Benelli re-entered the racing fray with rider Renzo Pasolini, who won second place in both the 350cc and 250cc classes at the 1968 Isle of Man TTs, and dominated the Italian Championship in both classes the rest of '68, giving Giacomo Agostini and his MV and excellent view of the Benelli's tailpipes all year long. In 1969, Kel Carruthers joined Pasolini, and the pair made an unbeatable team, each winning three GP victories that year, giving Benelli their second World Championship title.

Renzo Pasolini leaping Ballagh Bridge at the 1968 Isle of Man TT, which he won. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Kel Carruthers joined Yamaha in 1970, but Pasolini took third place in the World Championship that year. That year the Benelli family sold the factory and name to Alejandro de Tomaso, more famous for his automotive exploits than two-wheeled savvy, and support for developing the racers waned. Still, Jarno Saarinen was hired in '72, and won his début races at Pesaro in both 350cc and 500cc classes.

Renzo Pasolini with Kel Carruthers in 1968. [Motorcycle Sport]
Both Saarinen and Pasolini left Benelli for '73 (for Yamaha and H-D, respectively), and Walter Villa became Benelli's top rider. With horrific irony, Villa's 350cc Benelli was blamed for leaving a trail of oil during his race at Monza, which was then not cleaned up for the 250cc race, in which a multi-machine crash killed both Saarinen and Pasolini. The details of the accident have been debated ever since, although it seems a catastrophic seizure of Saarinen's Yamaha (not an uncommon occurrence) may have led to the chain-reaction melée.

Kel Carruthers at the 1970 Isle of Man TT. [Motorcycle Sport]
Benellis interest in racing plummeted when new FIM rules limited 250cc racers to two cylinders and six speeds, which guaranteed an unstoppable rise of two-stroke racers, as their double-time combustion could only be opposed by outrageously sophisticated four-stroke engines, such as the Honda 6-cylinder... and a secret Benelli 250cc V-8 which was under development.  That would certainly have put Benelli on par with Moto Guzzi as masterful creators of racing exotica. The FIM, in their wisdom, preferred the crackle of two-strokes to a technical war of miniaturized-miracle racers, a decision that eventually killed Grand Prix motorcycle racing entirely, and led to the birth of MotoGP.  But that's another story.

Jarno Saarinen...with his wife Soeli famously giving pit signals in her bikini. It was certainly hot in Italy... [Motorcycle Sport]

La Mala Suerte Ediciones

Habla Español? Our friends, new Spanish publishers La Mala Suerte, are ramping up their publications list with Spanish translations of books originally printed in English.  Regardless that Spanish has the second-largest number of native speakers in the world (Chinese is first), at 450 Million people, the truth is very few motorcycle publications bridge the language divide. My own books 'Cafe Racers', 'The Chopper: the Real Story', and 'Ton Up!' have been translated to French, but never Spanish, for whatever reason: perhaps because the right publishing partner had not yet appeared?

'El Vehiculo Perfecto' by Melissa Holbrook Pierson: the perfect book to start with. [La Mala Suerte]
I met La Mala Suerte co-founder Marina Cianferoni when she lived in Italy, and had written a comprehensive thesis on motorcycles in film.  I asked her to help with a chapter on choppers in film for 'The Chopper: the Real Story' (along with The Vintagent's future Editor for Film, Corinna Mantlo), and she was soon drafted as a judge for the Motorcycle Film Festival.  Marina announced several years ago her intention to create a Spanish-language publishing house after a move to northern Spain, and she's fulfilled that promise first with the publication of Melissa Holbrook Pierson's 'El Vehículo Perfect0' , the perfecto first book for a new publishing house dedicated to motorcycles.  They have also translated Matthew Biberman's 'La Leyenda de Big Sid y la Vincati', and up next is Brian Belton's amazing, no-holds-barred biography 'Faye Taylour: la Reina del Speedway.'

'La Leyenda de Big Sid y la Vincati' by Matthew Biberman. [La Mala Suerte]
As for the future? "We are currently working on the publication of the third book in Spanish - the biography of Fay Taylour - and on the fourth, the tour of the world by Elspeth Beard.   The Italian editions both of Elspeth's and Biberman's books are expected to be available early next year, if we have luck with the money, you know, this is the worst moment to start an activity... Actually I feel extremely coherent with the name La Mala Suerte!!!"

Coming soon: 'Fay Taylour: la Reina el Speedway'. [La Mala Suerte]
It's likely a title or two of my own will finally be available en Español:  if you support Spanish-language motorcycle books, visit La Mala Suerte, and give them a little love: they're doing a good thing.

Marina Cianferoni from her days as a judge for the Motorcycle Film Festival. [Marina Cianferoni]

The Vintagent Archive: 'Shilling in the Slot!'

The Mar. 19, 1936 edition of The Motor Cycle included this intriguing story of a future motorcycle ride, with famous brands of the day - Norton, Rudge, B.S.A., Triumph, Scott, Sunbeam - that have all evolved different power sources, including steam and electric. The story is possibly a response to the first-ever road test of an electric production motorcycle earlier that year, of the Belgian Socovel electric scooter, which the magazine called 'gentlemanly in every aspect.'  Food for thought for a writer with a bent on prognosticating...and the scenario imagined here could in fact be from 2020!

The fabulous hand-drawn Art Deco lettering of the original 1936 article in The Motor Cycle magazine. [Vintagent Archive]

Shilling in the Slot

An Imaginative Tale of Motorcycling in the Year 1986, by K. Fairfoul

Bill Sanders, the club secretary, shut off his engine and swirled into the forecourt of the Eastern Counties M.C.C.'s headquarters, and pulled up alongside a little group of men and machines.  Ironical cheers greeted his arrival.

"What ho! Here's the Sec. and his kettle."

"Tea-water boiled yet, Bill?"

A club secretary is used to this sort of greeting. Sanders merely grinned and hauled his B.S.A. steamer on its stand.

"If some of you explosion merchants kept pace with the times and tried steam you'd get along faster than you do."

Jimmy Farrant, one of the internal-combustion die-hards, eyed a thin wisp of steam that curled upwards from the B.S.A.'s condenser with grim disfavour.

"You've got a leaky gasket there. 'Pon my word, I don't know what this game is coming to. It's steam, steam, or Government Power all the time.  Nowadays half the boys don't know the difference between a camshaft and a gear box. All they seem to care about appears to be squirting oil into a burner or putting a shilling in a slot and twisting a grip."

The future imagined by a motorcycle designer, Laurie Jenks, who actually built his ideal machine, the Mercury: read about it here. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]

Self-change Gears

"Not quite so bad as that yet, Jimmy," said the Sec. "There's just as much to play about with in a steam motor as in a petrol bike. I thoroughly agree with you about Government Power , though.  The fellows who use that are beyond the pale. Thank goodness none of our boys have fallen for it yet.  Anyway, there's as many petrol bikes about as any other type."

Jimmy groaned. "And what bikes! When Norton went over to four-cylinder two strokes and self-changing gears they knocked the bottom out of the game. I bet I get a bigger kick out of that old '36 Norton, that was doing duty in a field as a scarecrow until I picked it up, than any of you chaps with your modern machines.  That old bus was doing seventy during the Old Crocks race at Brooklands last week.  When your bikes are fifty years of do you think they'll do that? Not on your life!"

The exponents of modern design were joining forces to tear the diehard to pieces when the arrival of the captain provided a diversion.  His totally enclosed Ariel swept up, dropped is retractable side-wheels, and came to an upright standstill. He swung back the transparent cockpit cover and stepped out.

"Hullo, you fellows, rowing again?"

Jimmy grunted. "I'm merely telling all you steam and two-stroke merchants where you get off. I'm all for the good old days of singles and camshafts."

"Well, what with steam and Government Power, i.c. motors would only be seen in South Kensington Museum nowadays if it wasn't for the two-strokes," said the captain. "Look at that mass of fiddley bits on your Norton.  Yet even in its prime that old single could whip up the horses of my two-stroke 'four' of half the size."

"That's the stuff, Skipper," cut in the Sec.,  "let him have it."

"The amazing thing is," continued the captain, "that old brigade had the key to real power under their hands for nearly forty years before they discovered they'd got it. About the only use they had for a two-stroke was in a potter-bus. Why, it wasn't until that four-cylinder Scott wiped up the field in the 1948 Senior T.T. that the boys started talking in terms of end-to-end scavenging and multi-stage supercharging.  You read the moor cycling history and find out."

"Carry on, Skipper," said somebody. "What happened after that?"

"Why, Nortons and Rudges and the rest of the pack found that they couldn't get anywhere near those Scotts, so they scrapped everything they'd done and started designing all over again. They had to. Nortons brought out a four-cylinder supercharged two-stroke, which was something on the lines of an old D.K.W. that was running in 1936, except that the Norton had four cylinders and self-changing gears.  Douglases designed an axial five-cylinder swash-plate job with the whole unit lying horizontally in the frame. And Rudges abandoned internal-combustion engines altogether and came out with the first steamer."

What the Future looked like in 1935, courtesy Meccano magazine: enormous monowheels, which crop up regularly even today! [Vintagent Archive]

"Government Power"

"Between them they swept the board, and everyone else fell into line.  B.S. A.s and Triumphs went over to steam and the rest to two-strokes.  Ten years later the only four-strokes were side-valve potter-buses. Funny how things move in circles, isn't it?"

There was a hum of rubber tyres on the road, and a yell of horror interrupted the yarn.

"Hey, look at that bike Harrison's just brought along. It's running on Government Power!"

All eyes turned to look at a black-and-gold Sunbeam that had glided silently up to the group. It was entirely sheathed in metal and beautifully streamlined.  The only outward proof of its propulsion was a small slot in the instrument panel.  Harrison detached himself from his machine and addressed the clubmen with lofty condescension.

"Well, what do you think of my new bus? She's one of the first Show models on the road. Marvelous bike!"

The clubmen were speechless.

"Oh, I know exactly what you're thinking," went on the heretic, "but you take my word for it that there will be nothing else on the road in a year or two.  It knocks all your old-fashioned bikes into a cocked hat. Do you know that if I give it full throttle the acceleration is enough to rip most of the tread from the rear tyre?  Come and have a look."

He opened an inspection door in the metal shell, revealing a large electric motor driving the rear wheel direct by shaft.  Mounted above the motor was a box containing a complicated mass of electrical mechanism.

"That's all there is," he said. "The Government power stations transmit electric power in teh form of wireless waves, and this arrangement here picks it up, rectifies it back into ordinary current, and passes it into the motor. The beauty of it all is that you pay for your power through this slot meter in the instrument panel.  As soon as you run through twenty units you pop in another shilling an carry one. No fooling about with garages or running out of fuel miles from anywhere. Anyhow, the Government is selling its power as cheap as dirt."

2020 nailed in 1930! Ladies on their mobile phones, chatting with beaus or babies, just like today. From a remarkable set of collector cards out of Germany, from the margarine company Echte Wagner. The back of the card reads, "Wireless Private Phone and Television. Everyone now has their own transmitter and receiver and can communicate with friends and relatives. But the television technology has also improved so much that people can speak to each other in real time. Transmitters and receivers are no longer bound to their location, but are always placed in a box of the size of a camera." [Vintagent Archive]

Not So Good!

"Of course, they are," growled Jimmy. "It's all a gigantic stung.  Power will be cheap until all the petrol and steam motors are driven off the road, and then the Government will be able to do what it likes.  Why, ever since motoring began Governments have tried entirely to control it, and now it looks as if they are going to be nearer to doing so than ever before."

"Oh well," said Harrison, "I think I'll be getting along.  I just thought I'd drop in to show you a decent bike."  He straddled the Sunbeam and gave the clubmen an airy wave of his hand. "Cheerio!"  He twisted his grip slightly and the machine ghosted away.  After a dozen yards or so it came to a standstill again.  The clubmen strolled over.

"Anything the matter?" enquired Jimmy.

"Only run out of power," said Harrison. "Now note the ease of it all. If I had been one of you fellows I should probably have had to walk a mile or so to the nearest garage.  As it is, all I have to do is to put a shilling in the slot."  He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out a handful of silver and copper.  For a moment he sorted the coins over.  "I say, and any of you fellows change half-a-crown?"

The clubmen felt in their pockets and withdrew a miscellaneous collection of money.  Then they smirked at each other.

"Hasn't anyone got a bob?" moaned Harrison.

Nobody had a shilling!

Georges Roy in 1928 with his New Motorcycle, a unique design with monocoque chassis. His Majestic would be even more radical in appearance: perfect for a steamer, multi-cylinder two-stroke, or even Government Power! Read more about the Majestic here. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Notes: In 1936, who would have imagined that 50 years later, in 1986, there would be no British motorcycle industry at all? The story gets a few things right, as advanced four-cylinder two-strokes dominated Grand Prix racing by 1986, producing far more power than any other engine type.  Electric motorcycles were nowhere though, and are still struggling with enough staying power for long rides.  If motorcycles could tap into Government Power running on the airwaves, all those battery issues would be solved, and electric motorcycles would surely dominate the market.  A charming 'what if' story, in any case.


Charles Burki: Streamliners

Charles Burki is not well known in the English-speaking world, as a Dutch illustrator/designer whose work was primarily published in Europe in the 1920s-70s. Burki was actually born in 1909 in Indonesia when it was a Dutch colony (the Dutch East Indies), in Magelang, Mid-Java, where his father was an architect. He received his primary education there, and showed an early aptitude for drawing, and a love for motorcycles and cars, a passion he apparently inherited from his father.  By 1924 his drawings of motorcycles were being published in Holland in Sport in Beeld,  That year, at age 15, he purchased his first motorcycle, a BSA 500cc Sloper, which began a lifelong love for fast British motorcycles.

Charles Burki circa 1937 with his beloved Norton International M30 500cc, the top of the line of British sports motorcycles, with an enviable pedigree in the Isle of Man TT. A stylish and handsome man on a stylish and handsome motorcycle!  [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
He moved to the Netherlands in 1929 to pursue a degree in architecture, in Delft, and was an enthusiastic supporter of motorcycle racing, especially the Dutch TT at Assen. At races he would sketch the riders and their machines, noting their various riding styles and of course the details of their mounts, in a golden age of 1930s racing.  In 1932 he moved to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and remained there for three years, making connections at Moto Revue and regularly contributing illustrations for the magazine.  That includes these spectacular 1932 studies of fantastical streamlined racers, for an article discussing the need to split the air efficiently, as opposed to simply applying more power (puissance in French) to push against the atmosphere.

From the article 'Streamline ou Puissance' in the Jan-March 1933 edition of Moto Revue. Note the resemblance of the machine to the OEC-Temple-JAP record-breaker of 1930 (with Duplex steering system), while the bodywork looks much like the later Brough Superior bodywork of 'Leaping Lena'. [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
When Burki's father died in 1935, he was forced to give up his Parisian life, and returned to the Hague to secure his reputation as an illustrator, and earn his own living.  He met and married Sophia in 1938, and the couple took a honeymoon in their Norton International M30 with a Steib sidecar, riding to Genoa in Italy in high style.  From Genoa, they took a boat with their sidecar to the Dutch East Indies, and decided to remain in there.   In 1942,  Japan declared war on the Netherlands, and occupied Indonesia: Charles and Sophia Burki were taken as prisoners of war, which began an extremely dark period of their lives.  Burki documents the nightmare of imprisonment in his 1979 book 'Achter de Kawat' ('Behind the Barbed Wire'), which includes drawings he was able to make while imprisoned, on scraps of paper, while at a camp in Bandung for 14 months.

Burki in 1938 with a Steib sidecar attached to his Norton, and his lovely new bride Sophia in tow, likely en route to Genoa on their honeymoon. [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
When he learned he would be transferred to Japan as part of their slave labor force (1944), Burki carefully rolled up his drawings in cotton sheets inside a sealed zinc tube, which was placed in a tarred wooden box and buried near the entrance of the prison camp. Burki was shipped to Nagasaki on the ill-fated cargo ship Tomahuku Maru, which was torpedoed by a US submarine the USS Tang (SS-306), and 560 of the 772 prisoners were killed, within Nagasaki harbor.  Burki survived, and was sent to the Fukuoka 14 labor camp.  On August 9, 1945, the Fat Man nuclear bomb exploded a mere 2 kilometers from the Fukuoka camp, yet miraculously, Burki survived unharmed, while 40,000 others perished directly from the bomb.  The Japanese surrendered after this second nuclear attack, and eventually Burki was able to return to Indonesia, where he located his wife Sophia, who had survived her own harrowing experiences as a prisoner.

An illustration from Burki's account as a prisoner of war in Indonesia. [Christie's]
In December 1945, Charles and Sophia Burki returned to the Netherlands, where he took up his illustration career once again, which was extremely successful.  A talented illustrator proved invaluable during the period of rapid economic growth in Europe in the 1940s and 50s, and Burki's client list was impressive: besides numerous magazines, he became the visual voice for DAF, Shell, Philips, KLM, Goodyear, etc.   His futuristic ideas for cars and motorcycles were an inspiration to designers, and he also provided illustrations for hundreds of books of literature and poetry.  He lived in the Hague until 1994: sadly, the only books published about/by him are in Dutch, but we reviewed one of them here.

More speed! And clearly, more horsepower, in another notional speed machine from the Jan-March 1933 edition of Moto Revue. [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
A smaller machine with extensive streamlining out back - in line with thinking of the 1920s, and barely advanced in the early 1930s when this was drawn. [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
Burki's book 'Achter de Kawat' is available, but only in Dutch. [Dutch National Library]
One of the drawings Burki made from memory while imprisoned, of a factory racing Norton at the Dutch TT in 1937. Buried in a zinc tube within a tarred wooden box at the entrance of his prison camp, Burki was able to enlist a friend after the war to retrieve the box. [Hockenhiem Museum Archive]
Talk about Puissance! A six-cylinder inline engine in a very beefy chassis, ready for a land speed record. [Hockenhiem Museum 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.

Mecum Gallery: Vehicle Sales Online

What's an auction house to do when all public gatherings are cancelled, and everyone is sitting at home with their computer?  Go online of course. Mecum hosts the world's largest motorcycle auction in Las Vegas every January, and fingers crossed our current requirement for isolation will pass by then.  Mecum includes bikes in their 'car' auctions too, finding a few well-placed premium machines have an audience among the four-wheeled afficionados too...and of course, all two-wheeled fans have cars as well.  The crossover of interest is complete on Mecum's first online sales floor, which is not an auction at all but a showroom for direct negotiation.

A 1938 Zundapp K800 four-cylinder sidevalve: a fascinating machine that's turbine-smooth and has remarkable styling and technics. [Mecum]
The Mecum Gallery currently features 18 vehicles, four of which are motorcycles, all of which represent an intriguing variety of machinery, from a 1922 Brough Superior Mark 1 with OHV J.A.P. '90 bore' engine to a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB long nose coupé.  Mecum have themselves mooted the creation of an online auction, which is a complicated business, as many have found, requiring considerable online and real-world infrastructure that will take time and a major investment.  Surely Mecum and other auction houses must balance such an investment against the fact that our current quarantine must pass eventually, begging the question of whether they will continue with online auctions.  For now, a simple gallery of machines they know are available seems much simpler.  And, it's likely to be a buyer's market soon.  Have a look at the Mecum Gallery here.

A 1953 Series C Vincent Black Shadow, looking immaculate. [Mecum]
Sex on wheels: a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB long nose. [Mecum]
Flat tank BMWs are so rare and so coveted: love this 1927 BMW R42. [Mecum]
Note: Mecum Auctions is a sponsor of TheVintagent.com. This is an advertorial. We are grateful that companies like Mecum support what we do!  Want to support TheVintagent.com?  Contact us! 

 

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.

National Emergency Library

In response to the shutdowns of schools and universities during the COVID-19 crisis, the Internet Archive, a non-profit digital library, has launched the National Emergency Library.  Now anyone in the world can access their 1.4 million (and growing) books for free, without a waiting list: each book can be 'checked out' for 14 days, so its online reading only, after which access must be re-granted.  But, it's a great way to check out some of the 495 books listed in a 'motorcycle' search, as well as the million+ other titles of sometimes amazingly obscure works.

Start browsing on your 'motorcycle' search...[Internet Archive]
The National Emergency Library, according to DesignBoom, "addresses the immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as the ongoing crisis has shuttered the classrooms for one-in-five students worldwide, plus an additional one-in-four from higher education classes (according to UNESCO). The internet archive’s suspension of waitlists will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever comes later.  After that, waitlists will be dramatically reduced to their normal capacity, which is based on the number of physical copies in open libraries."

One preview sample, 'Dream Garages'. Give it a look. [Internet Archive]
You might have found the Internet Archive on a search for old websites: it's a non-profit  digital library of Internet websites that includes 'snapshots' of literally everything on the Internet, and their storage capacity is enormous.  I've even used it to refer to lost Vintagent posts!  The Archive provides free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print-disabled, and the general public. And now, it's available to anyone with an internet connection, without a wait.

Because this is what the Internet was intended to be... [Internet Archive]
The Internet Archive's digital librarian Brewster Kahle states, "the library system, because of our national emergency, is coming to aid those that are forced to learn at home. this was our dream for the original Internet coming to life: the library at everyone’s fingertips."

Start digging in 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.

Jan Hoek: Boda Boda

Amsterdam artist Jan Hoek (b.1984) collaborates with and photographs particular subjects, who might be identified as outsiders to 'normal' society, and overlooked.  That has included photos series about an ex-heroin addict who fantasized about being a supermodel, and Maasai tribesmen who reject their 'jumping' image: he's also a writer, whose work in print is equally unusual, like a psychedelic 'zine about the sex tourism capital of the world, Pattaya in Thailand.

"Machete" rider. [Jan Hoek]
Hoek's latest work was inspired by the boda boda (motorcycle taxi) riders of Kenya, who typically customize their motorcycles to attract customers in a highly competitive field.   Their motorcycles are painted and accessorized with fantastical themes, from comic books and sci-fi films, but Hoek envisioned the boda boda riders taking their style one step farther, by making costumes to match their bikes.

"Red Devil" rider. [Jan Hoek]
Hoek worked with Ugandan-Kenyan fashion designer Bobbin Case (!) to create customized outfits to match their machines. They selected sever riders whose machines they thought were "the most awesome", and worked with each one to create outfits to "complete the characters."   Hoek then photographed the riders with their machines "in the style of real life action figures, in front of Nairobi landscapes."

"Mad Max" rider. [Jan Hoek]
While the collaboration created works of art, the boda boda drivers also found their income rose with their new outfits, so they continued to wear their costumes for daily work. "Maybe if you by chance visit Nairobi one of them will be your taxi guy."

"Rasta Man" rider. [Jan Hoek]
"Lion" rider. [Jan Hoek]
"Ghost" rider. [Jan Hoek]
"Vibze2" rider. [Jan Hoek]
Jan Hoek and Bobbin Case with the Boda Boda riders. [Jan Hoek]
 

 

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: Design, Art, Desire

From the curation team that brought us the 'Art of the Motorcycle' exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998, comes a new motorcycle exhibit in a very different location.  The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Brisbane, Australia will host 'The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire', and exhibition of over 100 motorcycles, from a c.1871 Perreaux steam velocipede (also seen at AotM, and on loan from the Musée Sceaux in Paris) to contemporary electric motorcycles of impeccable design.

A 1930 Majestic is a must in any exhibit combining 'art' and 'motorcycle'! Designed by Georges Roy in Paris, the hub-center steered machine is a landmark of radical design. [O. DeVaulx]
The 1930 Majestic, designed by Georges Roy, is a landmark of motorcycle design. [Serge Bueno]
This exhibit reunites the Guggenheim curation team of Ultan Guilfoyle and Charles M. Falco on a new museum show for the first time since 1998.  Ultan Guilfoyle is a filmmaker focussing primarily on architecture, who was given the task of organizing a groundbreaking motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim by then-Director Thomas Krens.  Guilfoyle brought Charles M. Falco, a Professor of optical physics at the University of Arizona, on board to help with the monumental task of organizing the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition, which featured over 150 motorcycles in the stunning context of Frank Lloyd Wright's New York City museum.  The exhibit seemed made for the space, with its descending spiral galleries making a seamless 130-year chronological timeline, with the Perreaux steam cycle on the floor of the Guggenheim's atrium as the star attraction.  It remains the top-attended exhibit of that museum, and it's a wonder it took over 20 years for another major museum to mount their own exhibit on the theme of motorcycles.

Curator Ultan Guilfoyle with a few of his friends in New York. [Ultan Guilfoyle]
Guilfoyle and Falco (both friends of the writer) have dropped hints for the past year that something big was coming in Brisbane, and now the news can be spread.  The new exhibit at GoMA Brisbane (also called QAGoMA) will cover new ground from the AoTM exhibit, and is more focussed on motorcycle design per se, with an almost entirely new cast of 'characters', including hugely important developments in the motorcycle industry since 1998, including the then-nonexistent electric motorcycle scene.  The exhibit will run from November 28 2020 through April 26 2021.  Plenty of time to plan a visit, in other words!

Physicists and motorcycle historian Charles M. Falco as seen on the 2018 Motorcycle Cannonball with his 1928 Ariel single. [Paul d'Orléans]
The exhibition has received significant support from the Queensland government, who expect a boost in tourism. Tourism Industry Development Minister Kate Jones explained support for ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’: "We invest in events because they support local jobs. Tourists want to experience something they can’t get anywhere else when they’re on holiday. Bringing this exhibition exclusively to Queensland will be a major drawcard for thousands of tourists. We expect this exhibition alone to generate more than 63,000 visitor nights for local businesses."

The Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) in Brisbane, Australia. [Wikipedia]
The AotM Guggenheim exhibit was criticized in its day for receiving major sponsorship from BMW, who included a display of newly available models in the Guggenheim: today such commercial sponsorships are common, and even vital given the drastic cuts in US gov't funding of the arts since the 1980s.  TheVintagent's parent organization, the non-profit Motorcycle Arts Foundation, has itself gratefully accepted donations from commercial sponsors for our exhibits at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles: such is the modern dilemna, and funding solution, for arts orgs. The Queensland gov't understands that a major exhibition is an excellent tourist draw: with over 350,000 attendees to the AotM exhibit at the Guggenheim alone (the exhibit also traveled to Las Vegas, Chicago, and Bilbao, Spain), surely the impact on its various host cities' economies was significant.

The Perreaux steam velocipede, now thought to be built circa 1871, seen here in front of its home, the Musée Sceaux in Paris. [Olivier Ravoire]
The 'Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire' exhibit will of course be accompanied by a gorgeous hardback catalogue: let's hope Charles Falco updates his excellent bibliography found in the AotM catalogue!  We'll keep you posted on developments with the exhibit as we're allowed.

The Britten V1000 racer of 1991, worthy of inclusion in any art museum. [Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.]

 

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.

Paean to the 'Thruxton'

Only a monumental fool would deny the Velocette Thruxton its rightful place upon the mount of Olympus, to drip oil beside Zeus and Apollo, glowing modestly while the gods beside it trouble the earth. I know all this because I am a Thruxton's caretaker, so blessed for 31 years now, and the machine told me so.

My 1965 Velocette Thruxton, VMT260, otherwise known as 'Courgette', pictured in 1989 outside San Francisco's Ace Cafe [Paul d'Orleans]
I retain my marbles, nor is my walnut cracked; the Velocette spoke over tens of thousands of miles in my company, providing an embarrassment of pleasure, enough that should she take on human form, I would feel compelled to give her my wages entirely each week, and happily so, while protecting her from the burden of children and other mundane obligations, retaining her in a gilded, perfumed, and pillow-strewn room for the sole purpose of my selfish excitement.

A dawn ride to the peak of Mt Tamalpais in Marin County circa 1990, with the author and his Thruxton. [Andy Saunders]
I was introduced to Velocetting via Classic Bike magazine, discovering that formerly-essential quarterly Bible of Old Bikeism in its earliest days, the first years of the 1980s. I'd never seen a Velo in the metal, but I studied those magazines until the pages turned to ragged tissue and the staples wore holes in the covers, which I mended with clear library tape. I have them all, from issue #1; they were equally my education and my pornography.

On the occasion of the 3rd anniversary of Don Danmeier's 50th birthday, a model hired for the occasion poses with Paul d'Orleans' jacket and Thruxton. [Paul d'Orleans]
The first Thruxton I encountered in the wild was all-black with gold pinstriping, plus a half-fairing and shortened hump seat; it had been ridden 90 miles from Sacramento to San Francisco for an unworthy local swap meet in 1985; my day was spent gazing rapt, annoying the owner with questions. Not long after, a friend gained employment at an open-secret motorbike museum deep in Oakland; a visit revealed this cave of moto-gems contained a green Thruxton, in truth the lowliest machine among the 300 ultra-rare Broughs and prewar Vincent twins which crowded those dark halls. Yet it was that green bike which I coveted, longed for, dreamed about.

The author with the 'Velocette' jacket beside Josiah Leet in his 'Norton' jacket; jacket art by Paul, from a period of many such paintings for riders of everything from Vincent twins to Panther singles. Easter Morning, 1989. [Vintagent Archive]
The 'museum' owner was caught with $3M in cash and 6 tons of amphetamine powder, necessitating the scurried removal of 300 machines to a new, secret, location, and the rapid sale of same to pay lawyer's fees. As I'd made my desire known (many times), the Thruxton was offered in exchange for an $8900 bank cheque, within 24 hours. At 27 years old I was an under-employed layabout, earning just enough to cover my rent, my fun, and my motorcycle parts, but I borrowed the money, and my sweaty and nervous palms shortly held the title to that green Velocette. It cost 8 times any motorbike I'd ever bought, and I was actually scared to ride it those first few days. Trepidation soon disappeared, and within the month we'd cracked across the Golden Gate Bridge at 4am, at over 115mph.

Bestie Velocettists, still today: Bill Charman and Paul d'Orleans circa 1989 at Alice's Restaurant in Skylonda. Denise Lietzel's blue Venom Special, Paul's green Thruxton, and Bill's black original-paint MSS. [Denise Leitzel]
My Thruxton gained a name ('Courgette') and a reputation, as I attempted piecemeal to duplicate Velocette's famous 24 hours at 100mph record. She let me down once only - my fault - being otherwise flawless and peerless, even enduring a two-year stint as my sole transport and daily commuter. We have been from Los Angeles to the Canadian Rockies and every twisted road between, earnestly scrubbing away sidewall rubber as her gaping carburetor sprayed petrol vapor on my right knee. She fires right up and scampers away, is dead smooth at 80mph, with the confluent sound of intake, exhaust, piston rattle, and valve gear symphonic beneath me.

Touring through Canada by Velocette, the author on his Thruxton on a Velocette Owner's Club Summer Rally, circa 1990. [Denise Leitzel]
Together we are invisible to police, having never been stopped, and I am revealed as a half-green Centaur of prodigious speed and agility. She is as important to me as my own liver, and as familiar. My greatest blessing would be to wish you a long a fruitful marriage to a Velocette Thruxton, such as I have experienced, and it's a great pity more riders who imagine they enjoy motorcycles will not have such an opportunity. The beasts are simply too rare, so I am required to tell the truth about this machine, as it has been told to me by the Thruxton herself, all these many years.

 

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.

Pacific Northwest Hillclimbing Circa 1930

As the death toll from board track racing mounted in the 'Teens, and public condemnation of the sport grew, two new styles of racing took over in the 1920s as the most popular moto-sports in the USA.  While dirt track racing was by default the original American competition venue (as there were hardly any paved roads in the USA until the 1930s), so-called dirt track racing on half-mile ovals echoed around the world in the mid-1920s, and became the most popular sport of all.  American racers like Sprouts Elder became racing ambassadors in Australia, and in the early 1920s the sport became enormously popular there, drawing crowds in the tens of thousands.  Soon, a global dirt track circuit emerged, with professional riders moving from the USA to Australia and South America to race, circling back to England for year-round racing that was extremely lucrative.  With regular race attendance of 50-80,000 people, both promoters and riders got rich, and spectators loved the newly developed art of broadsliding.

A Harley-Davidson 'Peashooter' racer, with 350cc OHV motor, is better known for its dirt track prowess, Here one is modified with chains on both wheels (!) for hillclimbing. [Jeff Decker Archive]
But another, peculiarly American form of competition emerged in the 1920s: hillclimbing. American hillclimbing was completely different than the rest of the world's understanding of the term, as point-to-point racing up a paved hillside road.  As paved roads were nonexistent, American riders found it plenty entertaining to find the steepest nearby hill, and challenge themselves on who could make it to the top, and make it in the shortest time. Given the crude suspension of the day, hillclimbing more resembled bull riding in its requirement of strength and agility for the rider: the basic strategy was the pin the throttle and wrestle your machine up the best path.

The view from the bottom: how fast can you get to the top, if you make it? [Jeff Decker Archive]
As the sport developed, hillclimbing began to attract big crowds, at times equalling dirt track with tens of thousands of spectators crowding what became National Championship events.  Starting around 1925, the Big 3 factories (H-D, Indian, and Excelsior) developed specialized, alcohol-burning hillclimbers, with increasingly long frames and riding positions that perched the jockey directly over the engine for better control. These were essentially uphill dragsters, and what had been board track racing engines were installed into freakish hillclimb chassis that were useful for only one event, and bore no resemblance to road machines.

One mean machine: a factory Indian A45 750cc overhead-valve hillclimb special, capable of 125mph on alcohol. The rider looks as tough as his bike! Note the abbreviated exhaust stacks, the huge rear sprocket, at the chains around the tire. [Jeff Decker Archive]
Plenty of amateur riders loved hillclimb competition, and modified their ordinary road bikes for competition.  In the 1920s that meant simply stripping down a machine with no lights or front fender, and an abbreviated rear fender, with chains around the rear tire for traction. As the sport developed in the 1930s, racers stretched their wheelbase with longer rear subframes, in an echo of factory practice, and today a hillclimber is a wildly specialized machine that resembles no other motorcycle.

A factory Harley-Davidson DAH overhead-valve 750cc racer, in what is likely a factory promotional photo. The DAH was a very rare machine, built for a purpose, with 25 built between 1929-33. They took the National Hillclimb Championship starting in 1932, with riders Joe Petrali, Windy Lindstrom, and Herb Reiber. [Jeff Decker Archive]
This collection of photos from the late 1920s through the mid-1930s was originally part of John and Jill Parham's personal collection (the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa Iowa), which have recently passed into artist Jeff Decker's archive.  They're from the water-damaged photo albums associated with a Portland motorcycle dealer, East Side Motorcycle Co., and include a mix of Brownie snapshots and professional photos by the likes of Bill Hupp.  Sadly, it's almost impossible to distinguish who shot what, as the albums have disintegrated, and only selected photos survive, but what we have is still a spectacular chronicle of a poorly documented era of American riding and racing.

A home-built hillclimb special Harley-Davidson JD, with 1200cc motor, and specially modified cylinders. Crude but effective. [Jeff Decker Archive]
As the bulk of the machinery pictured was manufactured by Harley-Davidson, I'll assume East Side Motorcycle Co was an H-D dealer.  There are Indians and Excelsiors in the mix too, but the variety of Harley-Davidsons is striking, from modified JD twins and single-cylinder Peashooter racers, to factory special FH twin-cam and DAH overhead-valve hillclimbers that were built in very small numbers from 1923 onwards. Among the Indian machines is a very special overhead-valve alcohol-burning overhead-valve 45ci (750cc) racer, a factory job of which only about 25 were built in 1926, and which dominated hillclimbing until 1928, when Excelsior built a few very special machines that took the National Championship from 1928-30 under the likes of Joe Petrali and Gene Rhyne.

Rider Chuck Ferrier aboard his Excelsior Super X hillclimber special, likely an early F-head model circa 1928, before the Big Bertha F-head and OHV factory racers in distinctive green livery. Chuck gives a smile and a thumbs up! [Jeff Decker Archive]
The factory specials from the Big 3 are among the most interesting and rare racing motorcycles of the 1920s, and not enough has been published on them.  These hillclimbers were the most potent racing motorcycles of the era, and their development in the hands of factory designers and tuners made them the equal of any motorcycle in the world at that date.  As an example, a factory Indian A45 racers built only in 1926/27 had a 15:1 compression ratio and produced over 60hp from their 750cc motors.  That was serious power in 1926, and proof of concept was provided at El Mirage dry lake in 1928, when Jim Davis was timed at 125mph on his unstreamlined A45. To put that speed in context, the motorcycle World Speed Record in 1928 was held by O.M. Baldwin on a Zenith-JAP 1000cc OHV racer at...124.27mph.  But the American governing motorcycle sports body of the era, the FAM, was having a spat with the 'global' motorcycle sports agency (the FIM) at that time, so American companies didn't bother with FIM certification of speed records. But that's another story...clearly these were badass machines for backwoods racing, in the crazy sport of hillclimbing that's still popular today.

The Indian team from the Seattle dealer with their special A45 racer. Note the rabbit's foot on the dealer's belt! [Jeff Decker Archive]
Another Harley-Davidson factory hillclimber, a circa 1925 FH racer with twin-cam engine and F-head cylinders, the precursor to the roadster JDH. [Jeff Decker Archive]
A view from the top, with a professional sports photographer crouched for action, but in the way. [Jeff Decker Archive]
Stuck in the muck! An Indian Altoona sidevalve 61ci hillclimber. [Jeff Decker Archive]
A Harley-Davidson Peashooter hillclimber with extra wide handlebars for full control. [Jeff Decker Archive]
Oops! Hillclimbs are spectacular for this reason - amazing aerobatics, and riders are rarely injured. [Jeff Decker Archive]
Ladies out for a day at the races circa 1930. [Jeff Decker Archive]
The track. Getting traction on a raw surface like this is half the battle. [Jeff Decker Archive]
A home-modified Harley-Davidson JD model. Note the extra reinforcing strut on the forks. [Jeff Decker Archive]
An Indian rider on what looks like a factory special. [Jeff Decker Archive]
The cars are lined up on the road, and the full track can be seen. It's a long way down! [Jeff Decker 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.

Mecum Glendale Auction Preview

Mecum is following up its blockbuster 2020 Las Vegas auction with a full slate of motorcycles at their Glendale AZ sale next week, March 11-14.  With 'only' 100 motorcycles on offer, the selection is digestible, and one can look over the entire online catalog in a few minutes to find something you can't live without.  That might include a genuine and achingly beautiful 1954 Matchless G45 production, or a super rare 'upside down' Indian Four, or an awesome bruiser of a Maico 500cc two-stroke motocrosser.  Have a look at our faves below, and check out the whole catalog online.

1954 Matchless G45

Poetry in motion: the 1954 Matchless G45 combined good looks with raw power. [Mecum]
The first 500cc production racer from AMC (AJS/Matchless) was not the single-cylinder OHC racer everyone expected, but an adaptation of their G9 500cc twin-cylinder road bike engine in the chassis of the AJS 7R single.  The engine had terrific speed and acceleration, as parallel twins tend to, but as Triumph found with their Grand Prix models, early success does not guarantee continued success.  The G45 had some early wins in serious competition, including victory in the 1952 Manx Grand Prix, which was controversial because the model was a factory job, and not yet offered to the public. When deliveries began in 1953, the limitations of the roadster-based engine became an obstacle to development, and mechanical gremlins could not easily be rectified.  Only 80 G45s were sold between 1953-57, making this one of the rarest production racers of the postwar era.  It's also perhaps the most beautiful of all, with the lovely deep finning of the twin-cylinder motor and heart-shaped timing cover, combined with the perfection of the AJS 7R chassis, makes for a heart-stoppingly gorgeous motorcycle, that's capable of 130mph.

1955 Nimbus Four

Made by a vacuum cleaner factory outside Copenhagen, the Nimbus is a charming anachronism that can be used every day. [Mecum]
At the other end of the performance scale is this Nimbus four-cylinder machine, which simply oozes charm.  The specifications were quite advanced when it came out in 1934, with an overhead-camshaft motor (albeit with exposed valve springs) and shaft drive, and a simple frame built of flat strip steel.  The design proved good enough for a 25 year production run, and one ride on the Nimbus tells why: it's built for the long haul, not the short burst, and proved perfect for utility work with the Danish Post Office and military.  They're fun and smooth and simple, and are often hitched to a sidecar, which suits them well and adds to the fun factor.  They're lovely machines, in short, and are full of character, which is welcome in an age of jellybean cars and plastic motorcycles.  They've been ridden around the world (even recently), and their stately performance reminds you that winning isn't always about being first.

1936 Indian 436

The 1936 Indian 436 is a very rare bird, with beautiful lines. [Mecum]
The famous 'upside down' four was Indian's first full redesign of their four-cylinder engine since they purchased their design lock, stock, and cylinder barrel from Ace in 1926.  The 436 moved the exhaust valves upstairs (and the intake below, in an inverted F-head design) in a successful bid to increase power, which made the 436 a real hotrod, but also a hot ride.  Riders complained that the exhaust system gave them hot leg syndrome, but their complaints seemed more resistance to change than an actual issue.  Regardless, Indian swiftly changed the design, making the 436 a rare machine.  Also, it was built at the absolute apex of Indian's Art Deco styling era, with gorgeous sweeping fenders complementing the teardrop fuel tanks, and the best DuPont paint scheme Indian ever devised.  Let the sayers nay: the 436 is an exquisite motorcycle, and faster than any other Indian four.

1971 Maico MC501

King of the jungle: the Maico 501 was the most powerful motocrosser for many years to come. [Mecum]
If you've raised children, you know that getting what you asked for does not always mean you get what you want.  The Maico 501 was such a case: when released, it was the most powerful motocrosser ever made, and just oversize enough to compete in the 750cc class of AMA competition - hillclimbs, ice racing, motocross, what have you.  The 501cc capacity was built at the request, of course, from the American importers of this German beast, and significant development was required to make the crankshaft/rod/piston successful for such a large two-stroke without vibration issues.  It worked, and the 501 became legend, mostly for being outrageously potent.  Cycle magazine testers thought most riders would never get out of first gear, while pros could hardly keep the bike flat out in second gear: nobody could keep it wide open in third.  And that was it: the earliest 501s only had 3 speeds, as more were not necessary...but any bike imported to America had 4 gears, for the sake of normalcy if not utility.  It's hard to describe the impression this bike made on the MX scene in the early 1970s, but let's just say it blew everyone's mind that such a monster was even built, let alone raced.  If you like dirt, you need this awesomeness in your life.

1930 Excelsior Super X Overhead Valve Factory Hillclimber

This ex-factory Excelsior OHV hillclimber is one serious piece of badass, from a lost era of vertical drag racing. And, it comes with a glass case! [Mecum]
Here's the deal: this Excelsior is a bona fide, blue chip, jaw-dropping factory racing motorcycle.  Also the deal: most collectors are sheep, and buy what they know other people want.  Not many contemporary motorcycle collectors really understand the importance of hillclimbing in the American racing story: factory hillclimbers are super-exotic racing motorcycles that had big money thrown at them, because hillclimbing was the most popular motorcycle competition in late 1920s America.  Board track racing was over, and dirt track racing was coming up to replace it, along with vertical drag racing, otherwise known as hillclimbing.  The Big 3 (Excelsior, Indian, and H-D) duked it out in a National Championship series, and sent their best stuff to the game, which by 1930 included alcohol-swilling monsters with 80hp developed from overhead valve engines they didn't offer to the public.  Excelsior was kicking everyone's ass in 1928/9/30, with Joe Petrali winning the National Championship via 31 straight victories in '28/9, and Gene Rhyne winning the Championship in 1930 with a bike identical to this one. Was it this bike?  We don't know.  What we know is its next owner (Excelsior called it quits in 1930) was Indian dealer Al Lauer, who painted this bike red and raced with an Indian jersey, fooling exactly nobody.  The next owner, George Hass of San Francisco, wisely left the Excelsior in exactly as-last-raced condition when he bought it from Lauer in 1988, and also built this cool glass case for it!  I would be happy to stare at this bike every day forever.

Note: Mecum Auctions is a sponsor of TheVintagent.com. This is an advertorial. We are grateful that companies like Mecum support what we do!  Want to support TheVintagent.com?  Contact us! 


'Chai Racers' of Mumbai

Photographer Thierry Vincent  spent two years in India in 2009/10, documenting the changing motorcycle culture in Mumbai: his show 'Mumbaikers' was displayed in 2010 at Tendance Roadster in Paris, a Royal Enfield dealer (what else!) in the Levallois district.  Vincent's photographs offer a glimpse of an emerging world, one which we take for granted in the 'developed' countries - motorcycling as a leisure/lifestyle activity, and not a basic and cheap mode of transportation.

Perhaps the first custom motorcycle builder in India? Akshai Varde with one of his creations. [Thierry Vincent]
As India explodes into a capitalist powerhouse, a vast middle class has emerged, who have money to spare on our favorite pastime.  Okay, maybe second favorite, but I mean motorcycles of course.  Suddenly, Royal Enfields and other home-grown products (Rajdoot, anyone? How about an industrial diesel?) are viewed with new eyes, as the raw material for customization and personalization.  The patterns of modification are inspired by English Café Racers and American Customs, both of which are now global currency thanks to television shows, books, and countless photoblogs.

A custom motorcycle taking shape in Mumbai. [Thierry Vincent]
The first Custom builder in India (apparently), Akshai Varde  uses mostly Indian powerplants in his specials, entirely hand-built in a small workshop, using the most basic hand tools.  He begins with an idea  -no sketches, no bucks, no CAD programs-  and begins hammering steel sheets with to realize his desired shapes.  The same working methodology is employed to build frames from scratch or modify existing chassis - a true garage artisan.

Chopper style on the Indian subcontinent, using a Royal Enfield Bullet as the raw material. [Thierry Vincent]
The small capacity of his engines and obvious nods toward American Customs give an odd impression to eyes raised on Harley- or Triumph-powered creations. In this, they are reminiscent to late 50s/early 60s Japanese motorcycles, which blended Teutonic angularity with Sci-fi film props...at least to Western observers; they made perfect sense at home. Now of course, a Suzuki Colleda is simply the height of cool. Will this happen with nascent Indian creations? Time will tell.

Easy Rider Mumbai style. A classic chopper configuration with an unusual flat-twin two-stroke motor. [Thierry Vincent]
Varde's customers are often Bollywood actors, looking for a little flash, perhaps some badass cred... the popular response to his art has afforded the purchase a new workshop, double the size of his previous garage (pictured above). The newly well-heeled are looking for a status symbol...and I say this with intention, as India has very strict laws against any kind of modifications to a motorcycle.  Thus, all of the machines pictured here are completely illegal: café or chopper, they're literally outlaws.

How do you photograph empty streets in Mumbai? Shoot at 5am! Note the envious looks from the scooter boys. [Thierry Vincent]
The prospect of riding an unregisterable machine is daunting to a degree, and all of the 'riding' photos are taken at the crack of dawn, when little attention will be drawn to the bikes; plus, there is less traffic than the usual sardine jam typical of urban Indian roadways, making a photograph possible. Ultimately, the solution to riding an illegal motorcycle is bribery, but I suspect the new owners are more interested in possessing a unique creation from a celebrated artisan, than feeling the diesel-choked breeze in their hair.

Ashkai Varda's mother is an accomplished painter, and applied a sutra about Hanuman to the tank of one of his customs. [Thierry Vincent]
Speaking of diesels...in the 1960s and 80s a spate of industrial single-cylinder diesel engines were produced in India, which have become fodder for custom builders. These machines are quite slow (80kph tops) but return amazing fuel economy (200+mpg) and stone reliability. Concerning speed; with the country's incredible population density, there are virtually no roads on which one can ride over 50mph, so a huge, powerful engine is an exercise in futility. In this context, a chuff-chuff diesel has a kind of slow-motion elegance, especially housed in a 'Captain India' chopper frame! 'Jatu' has ridden this machine with sleeping bag strapped to the rear fender, all across the subcontinent, thousands of kilometers at a stretch, in true 'Easy Rider' style. Only, slow.

A way forward for a uniquely Indian form of decoration? We hope so. [Thierry Vincent]
While all of Vincent's photos are interesting, what fascinates me is the seed of Indian-ness emerging from the adopted format of these bikes. In these last photos, Ashkai Varde's mother, a celebrated painter, has been commissioned to paint a sutra about Hanuman (the monkey god) on a tank for a Bollywood actor. These shots are a whisper of the Possible - what could be a genuinely native design aesthetic. Incorporating the incredibly rich visual language of India as source material for innovative motorcycle design is a very exciting prospect indeed.

Thierry Vincent in 2010. [Paul d'Orleans]
Many thanks to Thierry Vincent for allowing the use of these lo-res images, my photos of his photos, on The Vintagent.  His actual photographs are beautiful, technically very well done, and for sale!

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: 1925 Sunbeam 'Crocodile'

It takes quite a draw to lure me onto an airplane and cross the Atlantic for a ride on a motorcycle lasting only a few miles.  But, oh what a motorcycle, and oh what a ride, were dangled before me last Spring, and it all suddenly made sense: yes, I'll make the trip to the second running of the Auerberg Klassik hillclimb.  The motorcycle in question is an ex-factory racing Sunbeam, one of 5 built in 1925, Sunbeam's heyday, with an experimental overhead-camshaft valve operation.  Four machines and one loose engine remain, which is remarkable given the bike was only used for one year, and not further developed by Sunbeam, who missed the boat to the Future by sticking to what it knew best: pushrod OHV single-cylinder motorcycles.

The factory experimental Grand Prix racing 1925 Sunbeam 500cc overhead camshaft 'Crocodile' [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The experimental OHC Sunbeam was given the memorable title of 'Crocodile' by factory staff, supposedly because it went 'tick tock' like the crocodile in 'Peter Pan'.  That croc had swallowed a clock, and unnerved Captain Hook whenever he could hear it ticking.  Having ridden its namesake, I can't understand where the reputation for noise arose, as the Sunbeam's cam drive neither ticks nor tocks nor even rattles: it is as all Sunbeams are, mechanically quiet and civilized.  Well, slightly less civilized than my 1928 Model TT90, but that's another story: the path Sunbeam took instead of developing the Crocodile.  The Model 90 is genteel in its approach, and can be left in third gear most of the time, relying on its heavy flywheels to hurtle its slight 250lb mass from a jogging pace to a terrifying actual 90mph-ish.  The Crocodile, by contrast, felt like a real Grand Prix machine, and responded best to a wide open throttle to wind the engine out in the gears: to paraphrase TE Lawrence, it's 'a slightly skittish creature, with a touch of blood in it.'

The engine's the thing. With new crankcases, tower shaft, and cambox, the Crocodile has a distinctive design that compares favorably with the Velocette K series that appeared the year prior. Some consider the magneto chaincase to be unlovely, but I think the whole design is lovely and purposeful. Note the forward extension of the crankcase, which on close inspection has been welded up to create a wet sump engine. Note also oil - evidence of hard use! [Paul d'Orléans]
Despite the difference in its valve operation from every other pre-War Sunbeam, the Crocodile is remarkably orthodox.  Everything but the motor is identical to the overhead-valve Model 9 of 1925, and even that is familiar.  The Crocodile shares its cylinder barrel and head with the pushrod job (the dual pushrod cutaways in the cast-iron barrel and head are still there) with suitable modifications for a tower shaft cam drive, and a cambox bolted atop the iron cylinder head. As well, a wet sump was welded onto the crankcases, which is unusual, because the crankcases are unique to the Crocodile, or at least the timing side is, of necessity.  Whether the sump was an afterthought or it was simply expedient to gas-weld an extension, I don't know, but it does hold oil, which is circulated with the usual Sunbeam mechanical oil pump.  Doubly unusual for a dry-sump motor is a typical Sunbeam oil tank bolted to the saddle tube!  Apparently the external tank was only used in long-distance events like the Isle of Man TT, when more oil for the total-loss lubrication system was needed to finish a race.

The Sunbeam Crocodile was in use for one year only apparently, and saw its greatest victories in Italy, as noted here with Piero Ghersi (and Italian Sunbeam agent Ernesto Vailati) in the Sept 30-October 7, 1925 issue of Motociclismo: "The machine that serves the valiant Genovese to achieve a beautiful victory." [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
There wasn't much lacking in 1925 with the Sunbeam chassis, as compared with every other make available, and Sunbeam relied on light weight, good balance, and a moderate steering head angle for excellent handling.  There's very little in the way of suspension, with the back end rigid, and the Druid side-spring front forks boasting perhaps 2" of travel, with André friction dampers attached to moderates even that limited movement.  Thus, with beaded-edge tires inflated to 40lbs, one feels every pebble in the road, and the extra light weight of the whole machine means it's easy to get the whole plot airborne over bumps...but it's also easy to keep the thing in line, as it weighs nothing.  Thus it would be wisest to pick smooth roads for a road test, or any other hot ride, but my Crocodile's test track had plenty of bumps and corners, giving a full feedback on how the animal tracks over undulations and corners, and combinations of both.

My test ride was taken over a timed series of sprints just outside the village of Bernbueren, deep in Bavaria, for the second running of the Auerberg Klassik hillclimb.  As the hillclimb track was lined with a mere 10,000 people watching, cheering, and wanting entertainment, one might say this road test was conducted under unusual circumstances, and just a little pressure.  It's fair to say I was determined that the crowd's entertainments would not include watching a priceless factory racer skittering sideways across the blacktop.  A few facts conspired against me: the Crocodile has, typical with most 1920s machines, very poor brakes, but also possesses stirring acceleration and a top speed in the 90mph range.  And, as it handles beautifully, as Sunbeams do, I found it joyful to move swiftly under full throttle, and had to keep reminding myself the gorgeous creature between my legs was not mine.

A spectacular venue for a road test: the Auerberg Inn at the top of the hillclimb, with shade for a lovely Autumn day. [Paul d'Orléans]
The Auerberg course proved a perfect test track, in a way, being fairly steep, and very winding, with straight stretches on which to build speed.  A light motorcycle has advantages on such a course, and I was on a greyhound of a racer.  Which, as it proved, bore racing #1 for being the oldest machine of 200+ racing motorcycles competing over 3 timed runs on the weekend.  Thus I rode the Crocodile both first and last: first up the hill, last down, and downhill proved more worrying than the fast bits: there were moments when I Fred Flinstone'd the tarmac to avoid other riders, who had the audacity to stop mid-course for an orderly lineup back to the starting gate: how perfectly Germanic, but not much fun for a man with no brakes.  Oh yes, that happened too: on the second downhill run, the antediluvian rear brake material simply gave up, and began flaking off in smoky bits!  Yabba dabba doo!

The 'Beam getting love from its handlers, Gernot Schuh and Michael Paula, in an attempt to restore some semblance of braking. [Paul d'Orléans]
But that wasn't a problem going uphill, because brakes only slow you down. Keeping up momentum around corners is the key to riding an old motorcycle quickly, so apex braking was out of the question anyway: I simply eased off the twistgrip throttle (a very early one at that, although I'm not sure if it's an original piece - my TT90 has a lever throttle, which is typical pre-1930).  The short wheelbase and easy handling meant course corrections mid-corner were easy, and the throttle could be applied as early as one dared towards the corner exit.

"All else is waiting." Although in truth it was not long, and the scenery was gorgeous. [Uwe Rattay]
The Crocodile, like my TT90, is remarkably easy to start: tickle the carb, knock the ignition timing lever back 1/8", push the tank-side gear lever into first, roll the whole machine back onto the compression stroke, squeeze the clutch lever, then paddle (in the saddle) forward three paces, drop the clutch, and voila, 9 times out of 10 you're bonking away merrily.  No run-and-bump is necessary, as the compression isn't high, and the flywheels heavy enough to keep momentum going over the second and third compression cycles, to ensure an easy start.  On a road run, I would simply have driven off gently after that, to warm up the engine for a mile or three, before winding up the revs to explore speed, but there was to be no touring on my test ride. I rhythmically revved the engine to warm it up, treating the other riders behind me, and the crowd, to a glorious bark from the Crocodile's twin exhaust pipes.  (As one can see in the video above)

And he's off! The Auerberg Klassik has a fantastic atmosphere, and was a delightful place to test such a fine machine. Period dress is encouraged at the event, and I did my best with contemporary leathers from Himel Bros. [Uwe Rattay]
On being flagged off, the throttle was twisted all the way back, and I let the engine run through first gear, which on a 3-speed 'box is a surprisingly long time: the ratios are very close, and unlike a 4-speed, one actually uses first in a race in slow corners - it's very high-geared.  The engine is remarkably smooth throughout the rev range, and despite the ultralight chassis, there's no harmonic vibration through footrests, saddle, or 'bars.  Yes I could feel the engine, but somehow the Sunbeam engineers knew how to keep spinning iron smooth.  I doubt I exceeded 5500rpm, while 6200rpm is the typical redline for a crowded-roller big end bearing, and I wan't going to lurk in that rev region anyway.

Ready to heel over for one of the many corners lined with soft crash barriers, which luckily I didn't meet. The slimness of the Sunbeam can be seen here: a real greyhound. [Uwe Rattay]
Within 200 yards it was time to shift into middle gear, which was easy as the clutch worked cleanly, and the shift gate is positive in locating the long lever securely.  That soon brought me to the first left-hand curve, followed by some left-rights as the road changed from field to trees, before straightening out for a steeper open uphill section of perhaps 1/2 mile, where it was possible to shift into third gear briefly.  It was hardly worth the effort, though, as another series of bends of increasing complexity loomed, and second was the cog of choice almost the whole way up.  I say almost, because just near the top, after emerging from a tunnel of forest, was a sharp right-hand turn followed 100 yards later by a hairpin and the steep final curve to the top of the hill.

A 1000-year old church tops the Auerberg, which has been upgraded inside to 17th Century Baroque style, and is stunning. Not many competitors made the hike, but it was worth it. Note the typical Sunbeam cast-aluminum primary chaincase with clutch inspection cover: no clutch issues even with hot starts. [Paul d'Orléans]
It was much quicker to sail around that hairpin in first gear, shifting back to second on exiting while heeled hard over to take the last broad hairpin up to the finish line, and the short finishing straight beneath the large outdoor dining area of the Auerberg Inn, where refreshments awaited.  For me, there would be 199 other motorcycles to await as well, so there was plenty of time to observe other riders making their way speedily or slowly or firmly or wobbly on the last corners, with a few having minor mishaps usually caused by insufficient ground clearance!  Luckily there was plenty of grass on the hillside at that spot. The view was amazing, and a stroll through the forest gave cool respite from the sun.

Not a bad place for a racetrack, in the Bavarian countryside. The first morning was misty, which kept the temperatures down, while the second day was sunny all the way, and gorgeous. [Paul d'Orleans]
I was only able to complete two timed runs, with a difference of 1.3 seconds between them, which put me in 5th place of the 200 riders at that point, but travel demands meant I had to miss my third run. Still, the winner of the event, Jürgen Buschkönig on a 1933 Rudge 500GP, had a total difference of only .72 seconds between 3 runs!  Now that's consistent.  Winning wasn't my goal, riding the Crocodile was, and that was a very special experience indeed. It isn't every day one is invited to ride an ultra-rare and storied 90-year old Grand Prix racer, and the Crocodile proved delightful.  It's a mystery why Sunbeam didn't push forward with overhead-camshaft development, although the Crocodile proved no faster than its pushrod stablemates. It took Eugene Goodman at Velocette to point a stroboscope at a running KSS engine in 1926, before the aha moment, and the realization that pushrod engines rely on valve float for good breathing, while an OHC motor needed a different cam shape to release the power potential inherent in better valve control. After that, Velocettes won 3 Isle of Man Junior TTs in a row, and a pushrod-engined motorcycle never again won that race, nor the Senior TT after 1930.  It could have been Sunbeam in the mix too, as a worthy rival of Norton, but there you have it - we're left with a few beautiful examples of the Crocodile to appreciate the effort.

The glory of the Sunbeam Crocodile on the cover of the Sep.30-Oct.7  1925 issue of Motociclismo, with Achille and Anacieto Varzi, Petro Ghersi, Ernesto Vailati, and Angelo Varzi: the "raggio di sole", or boys of the sun! [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The Auerberg Klassik is a delightful event, with real history, having been originally run from 1967 to 1987.  One of the event's 5 organizers, Hermann Köpf (of Brummm Chronicles - an excellent magazine of motorcycle photography), grew up in the nearby village - Bernbueren.  Working with his team members, it took little convincing to bring the village back on board for such an event, and while the first Klassik event in 2017 was rainy, it still drew 5000 people to this tiny country village for the weekend.  This year attendance was over 10,000, with festivities in the town square, and spectators lined up the mountain course, giving full-throated approval to the proceedings.  It was the first time I've experienced such enthusiastic support of a vintage event from spectators, organizers, and locals, creating an extremely friendly vibe with small-town charm.

A fantastic event full of genuine charm and warmth, with a bit of vintage fun thrown in the mix. Thanks for the Auerberg Klassik for hosting me, and Sandra Retrocat for this great photo! [Uwe Rattay]
For a 'local' vintage motorcycle hillclimb, the attendance at the Auerberg Klassik was enormous, and provided a much-needed injection of optimism for the old bike scene. It wasn't a hipster crowd, there was no ancillary skating or surfing contest, and the sponsors did not dominate the visual landscape.  It was locals making cakes and pastries, serving beer, and making sure everyone was having a pleasant weekend, which gave the event a genuine feeling, and that seemed organic to the life of the village.  Simply fantastic: I congratulate the organizers on their success, and long may it continue.

Rupert Karner on the Crocodile at the Montlhéry autodrome, where he and team-mate Jackson rode the 1925 French GP. [BNF - French National Library]
Many thanks to the Hockenheim Museum collection for allowing this precious machine to be used as the maker intended.  I was honored to be invited to twist its throttle, and share the unique sound of this machine with 10,000 people!  And thanks to the gracious organizers of the Auerberg Klassik, especially Hermann Köpf for poking me to attend. I wish you all success in the future.

 
 

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.

Bonhams Autumn Stafford 2019 Preview

The Bonhams Stafford sale is always the biggest and most important motorcycle sale in Europe, held every Spring and Autumn during the Classic Motorcycle Mechanics Show at the Stafford fairgrounds.  This month, over 450 lots will come under the hammer on October 19th and 20th, and the range of what's on offer is mind-bending: from rare photographic collections of British racers like Stanley Woods, to Mike Hailwood's gold Heuer chronograph wristwatch, to project bikes like Manx Nortons, and hundreds of amazing complete motorcycles from every era, from Veteran to modern, Broughs to Bimotas.  Truly, something of great interest to everyone!  Here are a few of our favorites:

c.1955 Vincent Amanda Water Scooter 

The first of its kind: the Vincent Amanda personal watercraft [Bonhams]
Not many know Philip Vincent, besides dreaming up the legendary singles and V-twins that etched his name in history, also invented the personal watercraft? Decades before the Sea-Doo, Vincent knew how to stimulate the yeehaw center in our brains, and dreamed up this fiberglass-hulled water scooter with a 75cc two-stroke engine.  This is legend: you know you need one.

1982 Triumph TR65T Tiger Trail

The furious (very) few: a 1982 Triumph TR65T Tiger Trail, one of half a dozen built, and in excellent condition. [Bonhams]
Is this the ultimate Triumph dirtbike?  Probably, as it was certainly the last from the old Meriden works, built by the Co-Op that took over production when an incompetent Board of Directors decided to shut the plant down in the strongest labor union era in British history. The 650cc Tiger Trail is rare as hen's teeth, and it's estimated perhaps only six were built!  We love the color scheme and graphics, and the very vintage-ness of its configuration, a slightly clunky but fabulous and incredibly chic machine today.  Don't take it to Dakar - ride it on the high street and be famous.

c.1974 Egli-Triumph 750cc OHC triple

Wicked cool: a factory converted OHC Triumph triple engine, installed in an Egli chassis. [Bonhams]
Go ahead, kick every other 3-cylinder Triumph or BSA into the dustbin: this is one of two factory OHC prototype motors ever built! Cobbled up at BSA's Kitts Green factory in 1974, it was Bill Crosby who took the engine and installed it in an Egli spine frame for racing.  This is badass on a far deeper level than the average garage special, this is factory racing goodies put to work in the best chassis of the period.  Put lights on it, and kick butt in the corners and at the Ace Cafe.

1930 Ascot-Pullin

Rare and futuristic, the Art Deco 1930 Ascot-Pullin. [Bonhams]
This is a simply awesome Vintage-era machine, bristling with innovative technology, with a lot of firsts when introduced in 1928.  'The New Wonder Motorcycle' used automotive ideas, like a pressed-steel monocoque chassis and hydraulic brakes. The OHV 500cc flat-single engine drove through helical gears, and the whole package is light and handled beautifully...and kept your trousers clean like a scooter.  A real rarity too, as only 400 or so were built.  For more info, check out The Vintagent's Road Test of an Ascot-Pullin here! 

1938 Matchless Model X

The reasonably priced, cruise-all-day Matchless Model X. [Bonhams]
Matchless nailed it with the name: the Model X.  Does it get any better?  If you're put off by the cost of a Brough Superior, here's your huckleberry, as the engine is the same AMC-produced 1000cc V-twin as the late SS80 model, but the better-braked Model X is half the price.  With a shorter wheelbase and lovely Art Deco styling, the Model X is a superstar in its own right, and a lovely thing to ride.  How do we know?  Check out our Vintagent Original film, 'Model X' by David Martinez, here! 

1979 Yamaha TZ750F

Wild and wooly smoker: the TZ750F was the ultimate in brutal 1970s two-stroke production racers. [Bonhams]
Beside the Yamaha TZ750, every other factory production racer pales. The 750cc two-stroke monster defined an era of wicked power delivery and affordable Grand Prix technology.  It was the big-bore racer that brought up an era of incredibly braver riders who mastered the beast, and won races around the world.  Less than 800 of the TZ750 series were built, and they pretty much define 'awesome'.  Watching old film clips of these raced in the 1970s is inspirational, and of all the bikes at Bonhams this year, this is the ultimate living-room special, unless you have enormous huevos and want to campaign the thing.

Check out the whole Bonhams Stafford catalog 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.


Rocket Cycles, Part 1: Fritz von Opel

It's summertime, and a young man's fancy turns to... attaching rockets to his motorcycle! Except, in each of these cases, a middle-aged man is actually behind the project, which lends a Freudian question mark to their motives...

Fritz von Opel, the grandson of the Opel company founder, with his amazing rocket-boosted Opel Motoclub in 1930, which was a Neander built under license. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Fritz von Opel was the grandson of Adam Opel, the founder in 1862 of the Opel bicycle and sewing machine factory, which moved into automobile production in 1899.  In the 1920s, the factory adopted Fordian mass-production techniques, and sold an early 'people's car', the Tree Frog (Laubfrosch), sold in any color you liked as long as it was green lacquer. By 1928 Opel had a 37.5% share of the German auto market, and was the largest exporter, which attracted investment from General Motors, who were looking for a foothold in Europe.  In 1919 GM bought 80% of the company, and 100% of it in 1931.  The Opel family took in $33.3Million from the sale of the factory, making them among the wealthiest families in Germany.

If you're not scared, you're not paying attention. The Motoclub in its original six-rocket form.  The Opel looks fairly standard, but we can't see the gearing behind the rocket mounts. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Wealthy families tend to produce cavalier offspring, and the 1920s was a heyday of Gatsbian conspicuous consumption, with a newly created international press corps to spread their antics far and wide.  And Fritz von Opel (the family gained a title in 1917 for services to Germany) was a risk-taking, dashing, and flamboyant extrovert in the finest 1920s style.  With his slicked-back hair, owlish glasses, love for adventure, and access to amazing vehicles, he appeared to be a unique mix of a dashing Jazz Age playboy and Teutonic rocket scientist, which in fact describes him perfectly.  Fritz leveraged the family fortune into a personal campaign of well-publicized adventures using cars, motorcycles, boats, and airplanes.

Looking like a character in an Expressionist film, Fritz von Opel was certainly an intense figure. [Wikipedia]
In 1928 he began attaching rockets to racing cars, a special high-speed train car, an airplane, and a Neander/Opel motorcycle. The bike in question was an Opel MotoClub 500SS to which 6 solid-propellant rockets (with a thrust capacity of 66lbs combined) were attached. The rider activated the rockets with a foot pedal, after using the motorcycle's engine to reach 75mph; Opel calculated that 220km/h (132mph) was then possible. The World Motorcycle Speed Record in 1928 was held by O.M. Baldwin on his 996cc Zenith- JAP, at 124.5mph (taken at Arpajon, France): theoretically, the World Record was within reach!

Making a lot of smoke in front of a crowd of 7000, with 12 rockets. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
On May 19, 1928, the rocket-boosted Motoclub (dubbed 'the Monster', for obvious reasons) was demonstrated at the Hamborner Radrennbahn, with much smoky drama, before a crowd of 7000. In early testing, it was clear six rockets didn't give enough boost, so Opel doubled down on the concept, adding 12 rockets for the demonstration.   He seriously considered an attempt at the absolute World Motorcycle Speed Record, but simply strapping on rockets isn't a guarantee of success even in a straight line.  In truth the boost was unpredictable and frightening, and the ordinary roadster motorcycle chassis, even if if was a fine specimen like the Neander design, was asking for stability issues.  The German racing authorities thought so as well, and forbade the use of the rocket-cycle for a speed attempt, on the grounds of safety.

And you thought the bike was trouble: the racing car was far more dramatic: this is his second iteration of the concept, the Ope RAK-2, which reached 143mph. Look at those skinny 1928 tires! [Opel Archives]
Fritz von Opel attached rockets to cars: the RAK-1 and RAK-2, as well as two aircraft (also RAK-1 and 2), and a rocket train that reached 157mph, but crashed.  He also raced boats in this intense period of activity, 1928 and '29, but left Germany by 1930, spending his time in Italy, the USA (in 1940 even) and Switzerland, where he died in 1971.  Fritz von Opel was the original Rocket Man.

The Opel RAK-2 car in profile, with a very innovative set of wings to keep it all on the ground. [Opel Archives]
The world's first rocket-propelled aircraft, the RAK-1, which was destroyed in a crash before Opel could fly it. [Opel Archives]
Smoke and speed. Had he persevered, no doubt von Opel would have taken the World Record, but not in Germany. The concept was sound, and many speed records have been taken by rocket-boosted cars. [Opel Archive]
For our Road Test of a 1930 Neander (without rockets!) take a look 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.


Auerberg Klassik 2019: Uwe Rattay

Is the Auerberg Klassik hillclimb the finest vintage motorcycle event in Europe?  If you were there, as I was this year, it certainly felt like it.  Good vibes, great bikes, perfect weather, charming village, challenging course, excellent organization, beautiful outfits, smiles and rising throttles and German beer and what else could you want?   We'll follow up with a proper story on the event, but for now, photographer Uwe Rattay was kind enough to share some of his photos from the weekend.  It's bi-annual, so mark Sept 2021 on your calendar, and be there!

10,000 reasons why he liked it: Paul d'Orleans and Sandra 'RetroCat' with the incredibly rare 1925 Sunbeam 'Crocodile' overhead-camshaft 500 he rode, courtesy the Hockenheim Museum Collection [Uwe Rattay]
Mid-course, a series of straights, gentle bends, tricky decreasing-radius corners, and hairpins, made for a challenging regularity run. [Uwe Rattay]
Women and men raced, solo and sidecar, and all were given an enthusiastic send-off, and cheers from the crowds lining the course. [Uwe Rattay]
Sidecars from pre-war BMWs to post-war 'worms' made for exciting spectating in the tight corners. [Uwe Rattay]
Vintage dress is encouraged, making the Auerberg the Bavarian version of the Goodwood Revival, with no 'tiered access', no velvet ropes, no helicopter billionaires, no look-at-my-money bullshit. An event for the people. [Uwe Rattay]
How fast can you go? As fast as you want, if you can be consistent, and don't crash! There were few 'incidents', and the event ran smoothly. [Uwe Rattay]
The lady in disguise - no flaming silver torpedo? Amelie Mooseder is normally on the start-line, but her Spitfire dragster is post the 1979 cutoff date for the Auerberg. [Uwe Rattay]
Not quite original, but definitely period. Berhard Elflein's Indian 101 Scout with real brakes! [Uwe Rattay]
Another day, another Sunbeam. This Model 9 gets a shove from Salzburg restoration expert Gernot Schuh (who revived my old supercharged Zenith 'Super Kim' - read the story here). [Uwe Rattay]
It's all in the details. 'Revolutions in the Hundreds' sounds like a history of the 1960s. [Uwe Rattay]
The reception from the crowd made for an all-smiles event. [Uwe Rattay]
Neither aerodynamic nor a safety feature, a grand beard is nonetheless a welcome accessory on an ancient machine. [Uwe Rattay]
Between the bales: lots of good viewpoints along the route, if you wanted to climb the hill! [Uwe Rattay]
The mix of riders' ages was refreshing, from young to old, and plenty in between, with men and women taking the handlebars, even of sidecars. [Uwe Rattay]
The landscape is incredible: from gently rolling farm country to mountains, with a 1000-year old church at the summit, and an inn serving lunch to racers at the end of the climb. [Uwe Rattay]
Check out more of Uwe Rattay's photography here! 


David Martinez: Bonneville 2019

Vintagent contributor and film partner David Martinez made the 9-hour trek from his home in San Francisco to the Bonneville Salt Flats for the first time last month. Like anyone with a visual orientation, the place wowed him: "It's impossible to take a bad photograph there."  He also dug the scene - speed nuts laboring for months builing machines, and risking their safety to break records, addicted to the sheer glory of going fast, with little hope of reward barring recognition from their peers.

A Triumph Speed Twin in the morning light, ready for a run. [David Martinez]
David spent time with 'Slim' Jim Hoogerhyde's equipe, and Alp Sungertikin's team, and got to know a few of the regulars who ply their skills on the salt.  They were generous with their time despite ever-present struggles with technical problems, time pressures, and exposure to the sun and heat. About the salt this August: it was crap. Soft, wet, and rough, it played havoc with cars and motorcycles, and many of the faster runners were loathe to risk life and limb on the unpredictable surface.  Several cars went into high-speed spins, and some folks went home rather than push harder, hoping for better on the next organized run in September.

The salt this year has been atrocious: wet and loose and bumpy. Not how it clings like snow to the underside of boots. [David Martinez]
The salt is a strange surface in the best of times, hardly smooth and surprisingly greasy.  We imagine tabletop-smooth whiteness, which might happen twice in a lifetime, but mostly, the surface is a chaos of riffles and bumps, which need to be leveled, sorta, by heavy dredges pulled across the surface, creating semi-smooth runways for the record breakers, on the long 'international' course, or the shorter course for slower machines. Regardless the quality of the salt, it's always highly corrosive, and gets into every cranny, so everything touching it requires many hours of cleaning to avoid rapid corrosion.  Better than wet sand, I suppose, as it gives a much larger surface to play with at Bonneville, but it's nothing like traction and smoothness available on asphalt.

A classic Bonneville shot of a streamliner headed out on a run, into the vast unremarkable whiteness of this alien landscape, with only far distant markers to guide you. [David Martinez]
Enjoy these photos from David Martinez' first encounter with this fascinating tribe of speed freaks. And check out his work: he's directed 3 films for TheVintagent.com: 'The Ended Summer', about surfer and motorcycle racer Richard Vincent: 'Model X', a test ride of a 1933 Matchless V-twin: and 'Summer Ride', about the 2017 Wheels&Waves festival in Biarritz.  We're currently discussing a new short film about the Vincent Black Lightning - check out his videos, and stay tuned!

'Slim' Jim Hoogerhyde was the first man to break 200mph on an electric motorcycle, and is a tech inspector for the SCTA. [David Martinez]
Team Lowbrow Customs prepping for a run with their lowdown Triumph. [David Martinez]
Tyler Malinky had salt-related issues with the handling of his Lowbrow Customs Triumph, and crashed out, breaking a few bones. He'll be back. [David Martinez]
An Aermacchi single and Triumph twin in the glorious sunshine of the Bonneville Salt Flats. [David Martinez]
Cyrillic messages carved into the engine case of this DKW RT125 or derivative - H-D Hummer or BSA Bantam. Neither of those was ever supercharged, though! [David Martinez]
The pilot of the Cyrillic DKW, likely come from abroad to run the legendary salt flats. [David Martinez]
A supercharged Velocette KSS readies for a run. Not many records were set this year, the salt was nobody's friend. [David Martinez]
Lower and lower: a 3-wheeler kneeler almost invisible on the surface. [David Martinez]
Experiments in chassis design are common at Bonneville, including this ultra-stable and ultra-low hub-center device. [David Martinez]
Alp Sungertekin, a young legend on the salt who's gained wisdom and guidance from the old timers on the use of nitro, but has brought his own ingenious designs to the table, and won. He currently holds the world record for fastest unfaired Triumph pushrod twin - 175mph.  See his 'Asymmetric Aero' build from our Custom Revolution exhibit here. [David Martinez]
This year, Alp built a Triumph for Bryan Thompson, and the team used Bonneville to sort out carburation and ignition issues. [David Martinez]
The Thompson Cycles Triumph built by Alp Sungertekin. The bike will head to the Mooneyes show in Yokohama this year. [David Martinez]
A Confederate Hellcat on a high speed run. [David Martinez]
Cars too! Like this cool early 1950 Mercury coupe hot rod. [David Martinez]
More hotrod action, plus accomodation! [David Martinez]
An Indian Chief modified for speed. [David Martinez]
Jalika Gaskin, Alp Sungurtekin's crew chief, and wife, gleaming in the sun. [David Martinez]


Martin Chambi: "I Am Not Hispanic: I am Pre-Hispanic."

It was the Indian Chief that caught my eye, and the irony that a pureblood native Peruvian was riding it in Cuzco in 1934. There’s always a story behind such a photo, as not may Native (South) Americans are photographed on motorcycles in the first half of the 20th Century: large motorcycles were an expensive luxury, so this fellow must have been successful.

Mario Perez Yáñez poses on Martin Chambi's c.1925 Indian Scout on the streets of Cuzco, Peru. [MartinChambi.org]
So Martin Chambi proved to be, extraordinarily so, both in his own lifetime and beyond, as a chronicler of the people of Peru for over 50 years, in a stunning body of work that’s been celebrated from MoMA to National Geographic. Martin Chambi was born a peasant in 1891 (Nov 5 – a Scorpio) near Lake Titikaka. His father worked in a gold mine for the Santo Domingo Mining Company, where young Martin first encountered a photographer documenting the mine in 1905. This inspired a move to Arequipa, where he became a pupil and studio assistant to photographer Max T. Vargas, where he learned the trade.  His obvious talent led to his first exhibition at the Arts Center of Arequipa in 1917. He was then 26, married to Manuela Lopéz Visa, and had two children, Celia and Victor, and chose to move shortly after to Sicuani, where he opened his own photographic studio.

Portrait of a native man wearing a typical Andean chullo knit cap. [Martin Chambi]
Sicuani was then a prosperous town as center of industrial production of alpaca and llama wool, and Chambi’s studio was successful enough to prompt a move to Cusco in 1920, where he opened a new studio, and had three more children – Julia (a photographer who became the Chambi archivist), Angelica, Manuel, and Meri. He remained in Cusco for the rest of his life, where he developed his huge body of work, and was able to explore the breadth and depth of the Peruvian people and their culture.

A wedding party emerges from the candle-lit darkness of a church in Cuzco. [Martin Chambi]
As well as a portraitist and visual ethnographer, he worked as a photojournalist for the Peruvian newspaper La Croníca, and for newspapers and magazines around the world, such as Variedades y Mundial, La Nacíon (Buenos Aires), and the Feb 1934 National Geographic. His work was exhibited in art galleries in La Paz in 1925, Santiago de Chile in 1936, and finally at MoMa in New York in 1979, after an effort was organized by his son Victor to have his archive of 30,000 glass and film negatives preserved in association with volunteers from the EarthWatch Foundation, under the direction of photographer and anthropologist Edward Ranney.

Martin Chambi at Macchu Picchu, which was 're-discovered' (and plundered) in the 1860s/70s, after laying hidden for nearly 300 years. The Spanish never found it, so unlike most Inca cities, it remained unmolested. [Martin Chambi]
Of his luminous body of work, Martin Chambi said:

“I have read that in Chile they think that the Indians have no culture, that they are uncivilized and intellectually and artistically inferior to white people and European people. I think the graphical evidence proves different. It is my hope that an impartial and objective group examines this proof. I feel I am a representative of my race; my people speak through my photographs.”

An pedal-organ player in an acoustically friendly niche. [Martin Chambi]

Chambi’s photographs are a window into a seemingly magical lost world of Andean Indians still living near the ruins of their ancient, magnificent civilization, who seem not to have been bowed by the colonization of their lands, but exist with a unique identity within a new context. There are giants, grand structures, amazingly dressed locals, organ players, miners, potato farmers, ordinary children, policemen, and of course Chambi himself, who projects a stunning wisdom and warmth. Many of his earliest photos (6000 of them) are on glass plate negatives, and glow with detail (the silver-saturated collodion used to coat glass plates capture far more detail than gelatin film stock, as the plates are larger, and the silver particles 1000X smaller).

A native boy in warm clothing. [Martin Chambi]
The lenses used in Chambi’s large-format bellows cameras of the 1920s and ‘30s were already antiques, and the softness of the images they produce is more visually akin to the work of Edward Curtiss than August Sander. Curtiss was an outsider looking in on Native American culture in the early 1900s, and August Sander (working in the late 1920s/30s) was a peer of the Germans he famously photographed in their working attire, while Chambi was the Native American insider looking deeper inside his own culture, with a warm and loving eye that eluded both his obvious photographic parallels.  But Chambi had a poet's eye, and his images are imbued with mystery and depth, suggesting a world we cannot know but will be endlessly fascinated watching.

Here Chambi addresses the camera directly from his Indian - one of very few motor vehicles on the roads in Cuzco. [Martin Chambi]
I've only seen two Chambi photographs of himself on his Indian, in the same location but at different times. The motorcycle must have been a treasure and a source of tremendous pride, as there are very few vehicles of any kind on Cusco’s roads in his photos. He photographed very few vehicles, at least, and that he chose to photograph only himself with a vehicle was a warmly humorous message, ‘owning’ the questionable branding of a North American capitalist enterprise as a badge of success, and identity: an Indian on the move.

'Two Giants'. [Martin Chambi]
A woman in typical Peruvian dress. [Martin Chambi]
The family of Ezequiel Arce with their potato crop. [Martin Chambi]
A man carrying a ceramic pot. This is likely an early glass plate image, as the collodion process is sensitive to the UV spectrum, which makes skin with a high melanin content appear as shiny black, much like the photos of Edward Curtiss. [Martin Chambi]
A costume party. [Martin Chambi]
The empty streets of Cuzco, a combination of Spanish colonial and adapted Inca stonework. [Martin Chambi]
A reed-built boat on Lake Titicaca, in the shape of a tiger. [Martin Chambi]
For more information and photos, visit the Martin Chambi Archive here.


The Bilbao TT: 1932

[Translated and edited from Cesar Estornes' blog of Bilbao sporting history]

A short history of the little-known Bilbao Tourist Trophy race, held on Aug 14th and 16th, 1932.

One of the first Spanish riders at the Isle of Man TT, in 1914: Luis Arana [The Vintagent Archive]

Since 1907, the Tourist Trophy race has been held on the Isle of Man, between Great Britain and Ireland.  The current course, established in 1911, crossed through towns, going up and down the only mountain on the island, which thirty-three miles long and thirteen miles wide. The first Isle of Man TT was held on May 28, 1907: the circuit was 15 miles and 10 laps, in an urban circuit closed to the public.  The English decided to organize a race on this island because open road races were banned in Great Britain, and since 1903 the blanket speed limit was 20mph.  As the Isle of Man has its own Parliament and laws, there were no such limitations on speed or public racing events, and the government there proved amenable to the idea of racing (both cars and motorcycles) as a possible tourist attraction. How right they proved to be, as the race is currently attended by tens of thousands of fans, and provides the bulk of tourist income to the Island.

Santiago Herrero racing an Ossa two-stroke single at the 1970 Isle of Man TT [Pinterest]

On June 10, 1970, racer Santiago Herrero died while racing on the Isle of Man, which deeply impacted the Bilbao motorcycle community: he was a person closely linked to motorcycling in Bilbao.  But the love of motorcycling goes way back in Bilbao, including racing at the Isle of Man TT: Pedro Sorriguieta and Luis Arana participated in the 1914 Isle of Man TT.  Together with other partners they created the Bilbao Sports Club with its own premises to promote the love of motorcycling. Sorriguieta was a model of expertise and softness while Luis Arana was a force of audacity and energy, destroying and burning his motorcycle frequently, seemingly unable to move forward with the same agility of his thought.  

Pedro Sorrigueta at the 1914 Isle of Man TT [The Vintagent Archive]
In a telegram sent to his family Pedro Sorriguieta once noted of his race: "Broken gearchange and a blowout, but I have reached the first of my team and I have qualified in the eighth position of the general."  Luis Arana, in a cablegram sent to the newspaper Euzkadi, reported he was "third in the last lap, but had a fall caused by a collision with another racer, which disabled his motorcycle, and came in fifteenth place." These two bikers, along with the shirtmaker and tailor Rodolfo Cardenal, who was champion of Spain in 1915, formed the Bilbao Sports Club.

Members of the Pena Motorcycle Club horsing around for a club photo in the 1930s - BSA, Ariel, Douglas, and AJS machines are clearly visible. [Cesar Estornes]
The Club germinated a group of good and excellent riders years later: first of all Alejandro Arteche the motorcycle master, Oswaldo Filippini (the dentist), Eduardo Rubio, Fernando Ripalda, and Juan Palacio. There were others with more national and international renown such as Luis Bejarano, the manufacturer of the house Lube, Ortueta, and Alejandro Arteche. The Peña Motorista was founded in 1926 and took on an official charter in 1927. In 1928 it organized small races without official sanction, which woke up Bilbao racer fans, a hobby which had been asleep since the time of the Bilbao Sports Club.  In 1929, they officially organized races including the fifth Cuesta de Castrejana hillclimb, the first Circuito de Getxo-Berango (Vizcaya Championship) and the first Cuesta de Cristo hillclimb.
Races they organized for 1930 included the sixth Cuesta de Castrejana hillclimb, the Ordiuña hillclimb,  the second Circuito de Getxo-Berango.   In 1931, they organized the seventh Castrejana hillclimb, the third Circuit ode Getxo-Berango, the second hillclimb Cuesta de Cristo, etc.

A very wet hillclimb in Spain...yes there is 'rain in Spain', and it falls mainly in the mountains! Senor Andorilla- Luis Martin LaFont, principal organizer of the Bilbao TT [Cesar Estornes]
In the year 1932, the club organized the First Tourist-Trophy in Spain, at Bilbao, as well as the Championship of Spain for 250cc and 350cc machines.  The Peña Motorista was formed by many members of the Bilbao Sports Club, such as Eduardo Lastagaray, José María Picaza (Excelsius journalist and expert in the motor world), Eduardo Rubio, Gregorio Pradera, Jacinto Miquelarena (sports journalist), Juan Palacio, Luis Arana and many others who put dedication and enthusiasm to motor racing.

Senor Andorilla- Luis Martin LaFont, principal organizer of the Bilbao TT [Cesar Estornes]
But one of them stands out above all, he was nicknamed "Andorrilla" and his name was Luis Martín Lafont. He plied his trade at number 8 Carrero St., "Tailor made clothing, fancy ties, novelty socks, good tastes and not expensive."  This man was the organizing soul of all these motor races, supported by a good staff of employees. He was one of the founders of the club and was then honorary president.  Andorilla told many anecdotes of motorcycling, such as when British racing superstar and Norton team member Jimmie Guthrie arrived in Bilbao to race, and demanded more money to race than had been agreed! Lafont replied: "Well, don't race, but this conversation will be made public tomorrow, that the famous racer got scared and didn't participate in the race." Another rider named Alegre, who was full of enthusiasm but with empty pockets, arrived convinced that he was going to win a prize, but won no title or prize. Andorrilla gave him money from his pocket to return home.

Local Spanish riders of the Peña Motorista c.1931, including l. to r. Ortueta (on a Rudge Ulster), unknown on a Rudge Ulster,  Bejarano on a Douglas TT Model, and Palacio on a Douglas T6.[Cesar Estornes]
On Saturday, September 13, 1930, a tribute was given to Luis Martín Lafont, of the many he would receive throughout his life, with the assistance of the president of the Peña, Mr. Francisco Ibarra, at the Torróntegui Hotel at 9.30pm.  The guests participated with joy and good humor, with this excellent menu:  Ox-Tail soup,Lobster Parisien, chicken en Cocotte, French peas, house made ice cream and pastries, fruit and coffee, and sangria. The rider Juan Palacio supplied the red wine and spirits, and the whole meal was offered for the economic price of 18pesetas. Hungry yet?

Spanish rider Fernando Aranda and his Rudge Ulster racer [Cesar Estornes]
The Bilbao TT, August 14th and 16th, 1932

Martín Lafont finalized the preparations for this important race, held on the 14th at 3.30 in the afternoon. The organizers were assured the presence of several professional English racers, especially from Norton and Rudge, who have promised their best men. French riders included Clermont, Nandon, Lafon, Terige, Boulanger and more. The President of the Italian Federation promised to send Alfredo Panella, Ricardo Brusi, Carlo Fumagalli, who would be accompanied by their 250cc and 500cc Moto Guzzi racers.  Contacts were made with DKW for their star riders as well. Two Portuguese riders particpated as well: Jorge Black, the Portuguese champion with a 500cc Rudge, and the engineer Feixeira with a 350cc Norton. Among the Spaniards wre Fernando Aranda, JMA, Manuel Alegre, Ernesto and Joaquin Vidal father and son, Ignacio Faura. from Biscayn came Luis Bejarano with a Douglas, Alejandro Arteche and Careaga, both with a 500cc Ariel Red Hunters. Madrid's Santos Mateo rode a 500cc Moto Guzzi.

Fernando Aranda and Javier Ortueta. [Cesar Estornes]
The Bilbao team worked with total activity to have the circuit ready for the August 11th and 12th practice period. The grandstands were raised in Basurto, in front of the hospital, and were admirably located, picking up a wide field of vision.  The price for bleacher seating was 7.50pesetas, and 60pesetas for a box: there were six entrances to the field. The winner's trophy cup was donated by the President of the Spanish Republic, Mr. Niceto Alcalá Zamora, while the City Council donated the Junior trophy and the Provincial Lightweight trophy. These trophies were replicas of those awarded for the Isle of Man TT.  Bilbao Mayor Don Ernesto Ercoreca delivered the trophies to the winners.

Professional racer Graham Walker of the Rudge factory team, the year after he won the Isle of Man Lightweight TT on this make. [Cesar Estornes]
The champion rider Arthur Simcock arrived, made his entrance through the Achuri train station, and awaiting him at the platform was Careaga, Arteche and Palacio.  Simcock was the earliest of the arrivals, on August 6, and stayed at the Carlton Hotel, and he retired early at nine o'clock at night and says: "I have to prepare my body and my machine for tomorrow's training."  This is inconceivably early for the Spaniards, who usually don't dine until 10 or 11pm!  Rumors swirled of the arrival of Felice Nazzaro the Italian champion and Grahan Walker, who replaced Ted Mellors in participating in the 250cc and 500cc events.

Ernest Loof and his Imperia in the wet 350cc race. Loof raced Imperia and BMW motorcycles, and contributed to the design of the BMW 328 sports race car. Postwar, he was co-founder of the Veritas race car company.[Cesar Estornes]
In the garage of Alejandro Arteche the motorbikes of the English and Catalan racers rest until the day of the race. The Portuguese racer Black made the trip from Lisbon with some friends, bringing his Rudge motorcycle in his car. José Miguel Careaga, known by the nickname of "Morrosko" is a solid proponent of Ariel, but he had an absence of something and that something he carried in his heart: the loss of his dog called "Techi," who traveled thousands of kilometers on the tank of the Careaga's motorcycle.  Techi will not do it again, leaving his master in the greatest grief.

A sea of umbrellas in the stands for the 250/350cc Bilbao TT. [Cesar Estornes]
As the the '32 TT was the first time it was held in Spain, it was important for motorcycling due to the importance of this competition in the motorcycle world. Fans came from all over Spain and abroad. On August 14th, from five in the morning onward it rained until shortly before starting the race, continuing with more or less intensity and did not cease until the end of the race. In spite of everything the audience was numerous, which looked in the stands and surroundings to be a sea of umbrellas.

A wet start to the 250/350cc Bilbao TT. [Cesar Estornes]
The two displacements of 250cc and 350cc came out, with the larger bikes starting first, then a minute later those of 250cc. This is the list of participants of the 250cc race, held over 15 laps with a total 135.75km:

#1 Graham Walker, English - with a Rudge
#2 Edmond Boulanger, French - with a Terrot
#3 Marcel Clermont, French - with a Rudge
#4 Antonio Moxó , Spanish - with a Rudge
#5 Emilio Tintoré, Spanish - with a Dunelt
#6 Valerio Riva, Italian - with an Aquila
#7 Francis Beart, English - with a Cotton
#8 Leo H. Davenport, English - with a New Imperial

Winners: First Walker with 1h.43m.10s won the T. Trophy trophy of the Vizcaya Provincial and a cash prize of one thousand pesetas and one hundred pesetas for the fastest lap.  Second Moxó with 1h.43m.47s. Champion of Spain, Minister of Public Works Cup (Indalecio Prieto) and four hundred pesetas in cash. Third Davenport with 1h.44m.22s. and a cash prize of three hundred pesetas.

A wet hairpin bend proved slippery and took down several riders. [Cesar Estornes]
In the displacement of 350cc, 17 laps with a total of 153.85km:

#19 Sid Gleave, English- with a New-Imperial
#20 Arthur Simcock, English - with a Velocette
#21 Fernando Aranda, Spanish - with a  Rudge
#23 Roxey, Spanish - with an AJS
#24 Marcel Goedhuyss, Belgian - with a Norton
#25 Eric Fernihough, English - with an Excelsior
#27 Felice Nazzaro, Italian - with an Aquila
#28 Ernest Loof, German - with an Imperia
#29 Ernesto Vidal, Spanish - with a Norton
#30 André Naudon, French - with a Velocette

Graham Walker winning the 250cc race on his Rudge. [Cesar Estornes]
350cc race: Aranda had a bad start, started late and was unlucky. He left the race, it was the rain that soaked his magneto and produced ignition deficiencies. The English do not neglect these things, as they are more accustomed and take precautions. Ernesto Vidal had a mishap and collided with another motorist and was in fifth place. In the first round, Loof stood out and made his machine respond very brilliantly. He was the favorite, the German champion, a modest boy and with great sympathy, he put the audience in his pocket and won the race, followed by the Italian Nazzaro, with Eric Fernihough third.  The English riders Arthur Simcock and Sid Gleave both had falls and retired.

Ernest Loof of Niendorf and his 350cc racing Imperia - note the strutted Druid racing forks with speedometer clamped to the fork tubes. [Cesar Estornes]
First Loof with 1h.51m.12s. won the T. Trophy trophy of the Bilbao City Council and 2750 pesetas in cash and 100 pesetas for the fastest lap. Second Nazzaro with 2h.3m.25s.with a cash prize of 1,100 pesetas. Third Fernihough with 2h.5m.35s. 825 pesetas cash prize.

On the second day, August 16th, 1932, the 500cc race was held, with 18 laps and a total of 162.90km. 29 riders were registered:
#1-Manuel Alegre (England) with a Rudge
#2-Manuel Ruiz (Spain) with an Ariel
#3- Valerio Riva (Italy) with an Aquila
#4-Joaquín Vidal (Spain) with a Norton
#5- André Naudon (France) with a Velocette
#6-Alejandro Black (Portugal) with a Rudge
#8-Marcel Goedhuyss (Belgium) with a Norton
#9- Alejandro Arteche (Spain) with an Ariel
#10-JMA (Spain) with a BSA
#11-Ernest Loof (Germany) with an Imperia
#12- Craker (Spain) with a Norton
#14 -CT Atkins (England) with a Cotton
#15-Graham Walker (England) with a Rudge
#16-Luis Bejarano (Spain) with a Douglas
#17-Ignacio Faura (Spain) with a Rudge
#18- Eric Fernihough (England) with an Excelsior
#19-Jean Terigi (France) with a Rudge
#20-Leo H. Davenport (England) with a Sunbeam
#21-Fergus Anderson (England) with a Cotton
#23-Emilio Dubois (Spain) with a Sarolea
#24-Edouard Lafon (Belgium) with a Soyer
#25- Marcel Clermont (France) with a Motosacoche
#26-José Miguel Careaga (Spain) with an Ariel
#27-Clemente Picas (Spain) with a Motosacoche
#28-Juan Gilí (Spain) with a Rudge
#29-Giovanni Paze (Italy) with an Aquila

Eduardo Rubio on a Velocette KTT, perhaps one of three delivered originally to dealer Manuel Conto of Madrid? [Cesar Estornes]
On this second day, the riders were much faster, and the enthusiasm from the public also grew. The departure was spectacular, as it was clogged by a dog! Aranda lost several minutes and Anderson had to stop because of a machine breakdown. In the second circuit Aranda is in the lead due to the mechanical failure of Castrejana, but Walker is standing out from the rest of the group.The audience is already focusing on these two runners - Aranda and Walker. Ortueta from Madrid left on the third circuit due to a break in the gearchange, and in the fourth circuit Luis Bejarano retired, the great Basque hope. Alejandro Arteche stopped on lap 16 due to breakdown. Walker is placed at the top of the race and it takes Aranda a minute to follow. A win by Walker, followed by Fernando Aranda.

Alejandro Arteche and his Ariel Red Hunter, which was a popular club racing machine. [Cesar Estornes]
Classification of the 500cc test: First Graham William Walker time 1h.45m.0.6s. Winner of the President of the Republic trophy, 3500 pesetas cash prize and 100 pesetas for the fastest lap. Second Fernando Aranda time 1h.46m.47s. Winner of the Spanish Champion Cup for 1932. 1400 pesetas cash prize and 500 pesetas for the Spanish Championship. Third Joaquín Vidal time 1h.50m.36s. 1050 pesetas cash prize. The fastest lap was given by Walker at 96,304kmh.

A grainy picture of the start of the 500cc Bilbao TT. [Cesar Estornes]
Thanks to Frank Charriaut at MotArt for the article!


The Current News: Aug 10, 2019

As we enter the third fiscal quarter of 2019, we’re seeing an even greater influx of activity in the EV realm as the emerging sector continues to pick up steam. This week we were treated to a number of noteworthy happenings including yet another stunning ebike from Curtiss, a sleek new electric enduro from university students in Spain, more involvement from auto-makers, and a host of new prototype and future production models from France, Germany, Russia, and China.

Spanish Students Build Off-Road E-Racer

Students of Elisava University in Barcelona with their Eray off-road prototype. [Eray]
Created by a dozen design and engineering student’s from Barcelona’s Elisava University, the Eray is a fully electric off-road motorcycle built to compete in the 2019 Barcelona Smart Moto Challenge in Catalonia. The Spanish students designed the cutting edge machine from the ground up before 3D printing and custom producing all the necessary parts. The Eray also sports a 7-inch screen and a smart-phone connected app. A lot of attention also went into the MX-style machine’s ergonomics, which were fine-tuned in a long-term study.

The subject of deep research, the Eray project is a practical proposition. [Eray]
Overall the Eray sports a remarkably finished aesthetic. Everything from the bodywork, to the seat, to the frame, to the headlight all possess a factory-level finish. And not only is the Eray a looker, but the thing also boasts high-end running gear and solid performance chops — both of which it will need when it goes head-to-head with the other electric two-wheeled student-made creations at the 2019 BSMC.

Universities have been at the forefront of ebike technology for decades, building land speed racers and now off-roaders: surely a sign that the technology is growing in interest to researchers. [Eray]
Of course, it’s not just the existing manufacturers and startups that are spearheading the evolution of the electric motorcycle. The work being done at Elisava University is just the latest example of college students continuously pushing the EV technology envelope. In the last decade, we’ve seen numerous universities like MIT, Ohio State, the University of Nottingham, and  Kingston University, all design and build their own electric race bikes to compete in high-profile events like Pikes Peak and the Isle of Man (Zero) TT.

Curtiss Takes Aim At H-D With New eBike

The Curtiss Psyche has hallmark design cues from the hand of former Confederate designer JT Nesbitt. [Curtiss]
For the third week in a row, Curtiss has pulled the cover off yet another new motorcycle. Dubbed, the “Psyche”, the bold new machine has a design just as unique as the Zeus and Hades, however, the Alabama-based brand says its latest bike will be markedly more affordable at “only” $30,000.

With dramatic shapes and an architectural silhouette, the Psyche looks like no other ebike. [Curtiss]
The fact the Psyche is priced in the same ballpark as Harley’s new Livewire is no coincidence, and Curtiss is squarely taking aim at the MoCo. The Psyche affords a 160-mile range, an “approximate weight” of 375lbs, and will reportedly be sold with either a 36kW (48hp) or 72kW (96hp) motor.

The Psyche, if built, would be a striking addition to the street bike universe. [Curtiss]
Like the rest of the new models in the Curtiss lineup, the Pysche is constructed around a skeletal, tubular frame and swing-arm with a suspended powertrain, bobber-style saddle, girder-inspired front-end, and heavy use of carbon fiber. Curtiss has yet to release specs on the drum-shaped batteries or charge times, though it did announce the Psyche is slated to go on sale sometime in the Fall of 2021.

Malle Mile Festival Goes Electric

Over the weekend at the Malle Mile Festival in London, a fun new event was added to the lineup called the “Midnight Mile”. One of just eight events, the nighttime event consists of sprint races in the dark across a dirt course only lit via colored glowing orbs. The riders are also covered in glowing neon kit, giving the races a video-gamey feel, only furthered by the exclusive use of electric bikes. As electric motorcycles continue to become more prevalent, we’ll surely start seeing more and more grassroots electric race events and classes popping up, which is definitely a good thing.

Audi Enters The eScooter Game

Audi enters the EV market with the 'e-tron' four-wheeled scooter. [Audi]
This week high-end automaker, Audi, revealed its own take on personal, battery-powered, urban mobility with what it calls the “e-tron” scooter. The four-wheeled device is operated via a single handle with a twist-grip accelerator and also features a fear foot-operated brake, and a quad-micro LED headlight and tail/brake-light situation. The 26lb machine has a joint at the base enabling it to fold up for easy storage or carrying. The range on the last-mile machine is 12.5-miles, as is top-speed. The battery and electronics are neatly tucked inside the neck of the steering handle, which also shows battery-level via a glowing circular display.

The minimal information feedback on the 'e-tron'. [Audi]
The e-tron isn’t expected to go on sale until 2020, and when it does it will reportedly carry an MSRP of €2,000 (or $2,240). Two-grand gets you a lot in 2019, and will almost certainly only yield even more in 2020. A brand new Grom-style electric from the California Scooter Company called the City Slicker retails for $2,495 — only $250 or so more than the e-tron, granted the latter sports Audi logos, and that’s worth a lot to some people.

Bio-Hybrid Introduces New Micro-Vehicles

The new Bio-Hybrid micro EV. [Bio-Hybrid]
A German company, Bio-Hybrid revealed its new zero-emission urban mobility platform this week, showing off two versions of its pint-sized electric car-bicycle hybrid. The modular vehicle platform features pedals assisted by a 250-750watt motor that goes up to 15.5mph before cutting off. Because of the minuscule powertrain, the Bio-Hybrids can be operated in most regions without any license, registration, or insurance. Plus, they only take up a fraction of a regular parking space and aren’t much wider than your average bicycle.

Two Bio-Hybrid models, for passengers and cargo. [Bio-Hybrid]
The two variants produced thus far are a passenger model, which has tandem, two-person seating, and a cargo version, which is a single-passenger model with a large pickup-style cargo area in back. Thanks to a large roof and windshield, these stable, four-wheeled “bicyicars” can be piloted in any weather. The German outfit definitely has a unique concept on its hands, which blends a variety of benefits borrowed from other contemporary city-focused electric transports. It should be interesting to see how the public reacts to the novel machine, and whether or not it’s widely embraced.

IndieGogo’s Ultra-Trick Pedal-Assist “Ultrabike”

The Ultrabike is a sleek, well-designed ebike. [Ultrabike]
While electric pedal-assist bicycles are nothing new, they are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as evidenced by this week’s reveal of the new Calamus One “Ultrabike”. The sleek custom-cast unibody frame is coated in a premium automotive-grade paint job and hides all the internal cable and wiring, as well as an array of high-tech features. The Ultrabike comes with blindspot detection, which alerts the rider via haptic feedback in the handlebars. Bar-end turn signals and a color touchscreen are also standard fare, and the bike is Android-enabled, meaning its weatherproof screen can run Android programs like Google Maps. Plus the system supports multiple rider profiles and real-time diagnostics, though the latter won’t get much use considering how little maintenance the Ultrabike requires.

Simple and clean design, with minimal maintenance expected. [Ultrabike]
Another trick feature is the pedal-assister’s biometric fingerprint scanner which unlocks the ebike and turns off its alarm. And with built-in alarm and GPS, Calamus’ ebike has a 4G anti-theft tracker and geofencing capabilities. Making the two-wheeler even more impervious to thieves is its special patent-pending “security fastener” system used in the Ultrabike’s construction, making it exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) for individual components to be removed with conventional, non-specialized tools. The Ultrabike is sold with one of three Bafang mid-drive “Ultramotors”; a 250W; 500W, or 750W unit. The smallest of the trio offers a top speed of 20mph, while the 750W motor tops out at just under 30mph. Buyers can also choose from either a 504Wh or 674Wh battery — both of which are housed in the down-tube and easily removable — that affords a range of up to 60-miles. The hardtail frame is paired with a front mono-shock and a sprung saddle, and braking duties are handled by hydraulic discs front and back.

Triple disc brakes, 30mph top speed, $2300 price tag - what's not to love? [Ultrabike]
At the moment, the Ultrabike is still in the crowdfunding phase on IndieGogo, however, the company is offering pretty significant discounts to early buyers/investors. Right now Ultrabikes can be purchased for between approximately $2,000-$2,300 depending on the battery and motor, which is supposedly 35-40% cheaper than the eventual retail price. As of the time of writing, the Berlin-based outfit has raised just north of $113K, 452% of its original goal, so there’s a very decent likelihood the Ultrabike will see production.

Rizoma Design Challenges Award Mini Ebike First Place

The Tryal ebike is a good design winner. [Tryal]
Back in April, premium Italian parts and accessories purveyor, Rizoma, launched a design challenge, inviting designers, students, and engineers to digitally submit their concepts for “the future of motorcycling” in one of two categories; aftermarket product design; and motorcycle design. Some of the submissions were pretty stunning, but ultimately the moto design class went to one Erik Askin for his bike, dubbed the “Tryal”. As mentioned, the basis for the design is centered around the future of motorcycling and Askin believes the industry’s survival is hugely dependent on bringing new riders into the fold. So instead of focusing on uber-high performance, or wildly aggressive aesthetics, the RISD alum and associate design director by day set out to pen a fun, super approachable offering with a “friendly” and inviting appearance.

Make it fun and they will come. The Tryal embodies good design principles. [Tryal]
The result is the Tryal, and it’s as cute as it is easy to pilot. The fully-electric little runner travels on spoked 14-inch wheels and boasts a comfortable, upright riding position. Anyone, regardless of experience (or lack thereof it), can hop on and go with confidence. Askin’s modern mini features a triangular frame that houses the powertrain and links to fore and aft suspension (a mono-shock and inverted fork). It also has a pint-sized single-piston hydraulic Brembo disc brake out front. Other elements such as the flat seat, bobbed fender and swooping bracket, and customizable DOT matrix headlight set the Tryal apart from other existing micro ebikes and escooters. There’s no word on what Askin or Rizoma have in the works for the Tryal in the future (if anything), but at the very least the highly publicized mini ebike will hopefully inspire and influence future designs.

France’s New Woodclad eCruiser

Sci-fi shapes with organic materials: the Newron from France. [Newron]
Curtiss wasn’t the only one to pull the cover off a radical electric cruiser this week, as France’s Newron unveiled its own extreme battery-powered cruiser design. The star of the show is a large cylindrical battery unit that runs parallel to the frame. Rows of backlit, color-changing LED strips wrap around the barrel-shaped cell housing, giving the scoot a thoroughly futuristic vibe. The sci-fi-inspired battery is enclosed in a wooden chassis that’s paired with a metal single-sided swing-arm and a girder fork in the front.

While the battery enclosure is the LED-lit showboat, the sweeping wooden chassis is surprisingly strong. [Newron]
The sweeping shape of the timber frame on the French ebike provides a surprising amount of strength and structural integrity while mimicking the silhouette of an early 2000’s chopper. The lower wooden section caps off the bottom of the machine and matches the round shape of the wood on top. The use of wooden components on motorcycles is becoming more and more popular, with noteworthy custom builders like “George Woodman” heavily utilizing the material, as well as on electric motorcycles like the breathtaking Essence E-Raw. It’s definitely a unique design, and according to Newron, it’ll be partnering with the Advan Group and Dassault Systems to deliver one dozen examples to a few lucky customers in 2020.

Russia’s Bonkers “Electro Horse” Three-Wheeler

The Elektro Horse: a robust Russian trike. [Anton Filipenko]
While arguably more ebicycle than emotorcycle, another ebike reveal from this week was Anton Filipenko’s “Electro Horse”. The rather unusual machine is built around a stellar one-off tubular frame married to a conventional telescopic front-end off a mountain bike, while out back the Russian fabbed up a pair of swing-arms connected to a rear axle, each with their own wheel and suspension. The kooky three-wheeler has a maximum range of 105 to 125-miles, and can be fully recharged in 1.5-hours via a standard 220V home outlet.

100 mile range at 50mph: the Elektro Horse is a zippy prototype. [Anton Filipenko]
With full-size spoked rims and full suspension, the E-Horse is said to be surprisingly competent off-road, albeit the seating position seems less-than-conducive to off-roading. On the pavement, the thing can reach speeds of up to 50mph, too. At the moment, Filipenko is having the Electro Horse undergo the necessary testing prior to getting the green light for production, so this idiosyncratic ebike may actually see production.

NeuWai Unveils Futuristic Electric Sportbike and Cruiser

The big reveal: NeuWai shows off its new models. [NeuWai]
China has been a major player at the forefront of the two-wheeled EV industry, however, it’s much more invested in small-displacement-equivalent bikes and scooters than it is full-size electric motorcycles. That’s why this week’s news of an electric sportbike and cruiser from a Chinese firm raised eyebrows. Unveiled at the recent Seoul Motor Show, Chinese marque NeuWai introduced its MF 104 and MT 104 prototypes (plus two electric scooters; the CN 104; and CL 104).

E-zee rider? The MT104 is a bruiser of a cruiser. [NeuWai]
The MF 104 is a modern take on a sporty electric, with a Buell-style frame that runs diagonally across the entire bike from the swing-arm to the nose, which almost resembles a futuristic Suzuki Katana shape. Hanging from the chassis and enclosed in polished metal covers is the MF’s 19kWh battery and a motor with 25 continuous kW’s and 40 peak. The MF is reportedly good for a top speed of 124mph and a range of 93-miles.

On the sportier side: China's laws restricting IC vehicles in cities leave the field wide open for larger electric bikes. [NeuWai]
The cruiser-style MT 104 gets the same 19kW battery as its sportbike brethren, though it has a slightly less powerful motor with 20kW continuous and 35kW peak. Top-speed is 93mph and a single charge will cover a maximum distance of 87-miles. Like the MF, the MT is a modern interpretation of the classic cruiser genre with more than a dash of sleek contemporary visual traits. Unlike the sportbike, the MT offers seating for two, as well as a much more laid-back, relaxed riding position.

The MF104 in profile, with an interesting, if heavy-looking, architecture. [NeuWai]
NeuWai is owned by Songuo Motors Co, which is a large Chinese company focused on the development and manufacturing of EVs of all shapes and sizes, with more than 600 employees, more than half-a-dozen separate facilities, and some seriously deep pockets. With Songuo and its extensive resources fully behind the MF/MT 104 project, NeuWai should have everything it needs (and then some) to bring these futuristic full-size ebikes to market by their scheduled shipping date of Q1 or 2020. There’s a decent chance the initial release will be limited to NeuWai/Songuo’s native Chinese market, though based on the fact the western markets purchase a whole hell of a lot more sportbikes and cruisers than in the east, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the MF and MT eventually comes to European and American shores.

China already dominates the EV market, with over 3 Million ebikes already zipping around its roads. Will the entry into big-bike turf put them at the top of this market too? [NeuWai]

2019 Velocette OC Summer Rally

This was my 30th running of the annual Velocette Owners Club of North America summer rally, traditionally a 1000-mile tour of the West, which has meant back roads from LA to Vancouver, and Alberta to New Mexico.  It isn't required that one own or ride a Velocette, but it's encouraged, and while I own several, my partner Susan prefers the comfort of our '65 Triumph Bonneville, at least until we buy a touring Velo (all mine are racers). The VOCNA is the only vintage motorcycle club in the world that has traditionally run rallies of this length, although the Australian VOC has followed suit for many years, after a few of their members made the big trip to join our event.

Susan regards the slopes of Mt.Shasta in her custom Triumph jacket (painted by me), with her '65 Bonneville. [Paul d'Orleans]
This year the rally was centered at Mt. Shasta, a jewel of the Cascade mountain range, one of a chain of dormant volcanos stretching from Mt Lassen all the way into Canada, across 3 states.  'Dormant' doesn't mean dead, as the Mt St Helens eruption 39 years ago proved, and the number of hot springs near all these peaks reminds us the earth moves on geologic time, and change is the only constant. We may not see another eruption in our lifetime, but can clearly see the record of past events near Mt Shasta, with lava flows and major explosions changing the landscape for hundreds of miles, some with still no vegetation after hundreds of years.

Evidence: an enormous pyroclastic flow of pure glass, mostly pumice (glass with air bubbles), but an occasional vein of obsidian in shades of black, green, and red. Glass Mountain, in the Lava Beds National Monument. [Paul d'Orleans]
Age and time have taken a toll on rider participation on this rally. I was 'the kid' in 1989, when I showed up on my green Velocette Thruxton, and my girlfriend Denise Leitzel rode her blue Venom.  Most of the riders were in their early 40s, while I was only 27, and Velocette had only been out of business 18 years.  Now Velocette has been gone nearly half a century, and I'm no longer the kid of the group, and many of the founder members of this ride have passed away, or are passing into their 70s and 80s, with attendant physical limitations.  Kudos to those who still ride, or even show up for a weekend to simply say hi.

Visit glass mountain on street tires at their wear limit, and you might get 3 flats as we did! Luckily two tires held air long enough to get back to camp, while the other needed the spare. Four new tires pronto! [Paul d'Orleans]
The peak year of rider participation was in 2005, the centenary of the founding of Veloce Ltd, and although no motorcycles of that era exist, nearly 100 machines showed up at the Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite, where I organized a rally crossing 8 Sierra passes over 8000', which is very good fun.  The rigors of a 1000-mile week keep any bikes older than the late 1920s at bay, and my 1933 KTT Mk4, the Mule, is among the oldest regular entrants. It's been off the rally since I attempted to run the Cannonball with it in 2012, but it will return,  as it's too fun to ride to lay idle forever.

Better moments: on the narrow road leading to? What we found was a fire lookout at 6500', and that the road ahead had vanished in a landslide years ago. [Paul d'Orleans]
Since club membership is aging, several younger members have taken to inviting non-Velocette owners to join the ride for fun, as the gateway drug to someday buying one.  That strategem has generally worked, as watching a few dozen bikes from the 1950s and '60s burble swiftly over hill and dale is inspiring, and a beautiful sight.  The chance to borrow a machine for a day or the whole week is generally all it takes to convince one that ownership is inevitable, as few motorcycles possess the charm and smooth competence of these hand-built, engineer's machines.

Pete Young on his 1938 Velocette MSS
can reads signs, but followed us anyway. 'Road closed 14 miles'. It was, but it was worth the trip. [Paul d'Orleans]
This year we managed to find considerable mileage on dirt roads, which I prefer, both for the challenge, and the intimacy one feels with nature, with the greenery at arm's length, and the feel of our planet's skin rolling beneath one's wheels, not the invention of Mr. Macadam.  Plus, with no other traffic whizzing past, it's a far calmer riding experience, although the concentration required for surface irregularities does detract from the scenery.  Our most inspiring ride was a 90-mile journey off-piste from old-growth redwood forests at sea level, up a narrow mountain path to a fire lookout at 6500', with a 360deg view for a hundred miles. As we were well off the rally route, this was an experience we could only share through photos and stories, and no vintage motorcycles had ever visited the place in ranger John's 28 years manning the post.  Despite the danger and rigor, all of our batteries were recharged by the adventure, and we'd done something memorable.  I encourage you to take the 'other path' sometimes, regardless getting lost, as you never know what you'll find - it will definitely be an adventure.

A 1963 Sikorsky S61N used for logging sat in a field near the Forks of Salmon road, one of the most remote areas in the state. It leaked as much oil as a British bike! [Paul d'Orleans]
The Forks of Salmon road, revisited. 40 miles of winding, cliffside, one-lane road, with an unguarded sheer drop to the river. Spectacular! [Paul d'Orleans]
How tall are California's redwood trees? The tallest in the world, actually: 300' on average, and about 700-1000 years old. They get bigger and older, but this is an average large grove. Each tree delivers nearly 2 million pounds of lumber, and are worth $Millions each, which is why they've needed Federal protection from logging, as very few old growth groves are left of Sequoia Sempervirens. [Paul d'Orleans]
Summer is a terrible thing to waste, as are swimming holes. A remote wooden bridge across the Scott River, not far from the charming town of Etna. [Paul d'Orleans]
Velocettes hold up better than sheds, because they get more love. This lovely 1963 MSS gave a trouble-free week to Olav Hassel. [Paul d'Orleans]
Photographers are insufferable, always stopping to capture the inevitable rotting car-casses dotting the roadside in rural areas. This pair of 1930s Fords was especially seductive. [Paul d'Orleans]
JP Defaut's ex-Swedish Police BMW R60/2 was a welcome change in its (dirty) all-white and chrome livery. [Paul d'Orleans]
Scottie Sharpe's 1952 BMW R68 cuts a dashing figure anywhere. [Paul d'Orleans]
A giant donut is a terrible thing to waste. Pete Young makes his desires explicit. [Paul d'Orleans]
As far as the eye can see...the Siskiyou mountain range in the distance, seen from the Coastal Range. [Paul d'Orleans]
Larry Luce in shades of umber, with his MSS ridden two-up all week. [Paul d'Orleans]
Truly green transportation. Are raspberries the best use of a 1980s Ford Ranchero? [Paul d'Orleans]
The things you find, the people you meet, out on the road. This VW trike was a family heirloom for its owner, and scooted along pretty well. [Paul d'Orleans]
Some Triumphs are shinier than others. It's hard to beat a 1950s Trophy for style, although the short chassis isn't especially stable at highway speeds. Great on dirt, though. [Paul d'Orleans]
Paul Adams has owned his 1961 Velocette Venom Clubman Mk1 since he bought it new. [Paul d'Orleans]
It followed me home, I swear! A chance meeting at a gas pump led to a transfer of ownership of this 1964 Honda CL72: it's headed to its spiritual home, Baja Mexico. [Paul d'Orleans]
His uncle raced this MSS on flat tracks in Oregon, and it's now back together and on the road, complete with TT carb and megaphone. [Paul d'Orleans]
Ride 1000 miles with no maintenance? Not likely on a 54 year old bike! Just minor adjustments though, in the field. [Susan McLaughlin]
Some Bar sounds nice on a hot afternoon. PS: thanks for the awesome Rascal pants, El Solitario! They're sooo comfortable. [Susan McLaughlin]
A bachelor pad par excellence, with an unparalleled view: the Six Rivers fire lookout. [Susan McLaughlin]
On the way up! Before the 17-mile coast back down in an hour. Mt Shasta in the background, with Blaise Descollange on a borrowed KSS. [Susan McLaughlin]
Old barns and old motorcycles are natural companions. [Susan McLaughlin]

 

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 July 26, 2019

This week Italian companies announce their ebike plans, a Polish startup reveals a prototype, a German company releases a model, Yamaha shows off yet another EV, more police departments go green, Curtiss unveils another wild ebike, and more.
Energica & Dell’Orto Join Forces To Build New Electric Models

The Energica Esse Esse 9 [Energica]
This week it is was revealed that the Energica Motor Company is partnering with fellow Italian outfit, Dell’Orto SpA to develop all-new electric powertrains to be used in a lineup of new ebikes. Unlike Energica’s existing wares, the forthcoming electrics will be small-to-medium-sized models, with an 8/11kW machine, and a bigger runner with “up to 30kW” of power. The joint agreement will combine Energica’s electric powertrain knowledge and expertise with Dell’Orto’s “production and commercial reach”, particularly in the markets in China and India where the segment is booming and Dell’Orto already has facilities setup.

Two esteemed Italian motorsports companies team up. [Energica]
The new venture — which will use a 50/50 revenue sharing model — not only allows Energica to tap into a more affordable product space, but also gives Dell’Orto the opportunity to pivot into the EV game after spending more than 85-years in the internal combustion engine business. The press release makes no mention of price, but it’s assumed the models born out of this partnership will be markedly more affordable than Energica’s current crop of roughly $20K motorcycles. Energica and Dell’Orto aren’t the only Italians looking to get in early on the EV racket, with MV Agusta announcing its own plans of selling off-road ebikes under the dormant Cagiva banner back in March of 2018.

Poland’s 3D-Printed Protobike

Piotr Krzyczkowski with his Falectra 3D-printed ebike, a collaboration with Zortrax. [Piotr Krzyczkowski]
As the technology evolves, 3D printing increasingly has the potential to radically alter the motorcycle world, from prototyping, to production, to customization. This week Polish designer, Piotr Krzyczkowski, showed off a 3D-printed prototype of his new Falectra ebike. The reveal of the protobike comes after two-and-a-half-years of development, and was made possible thanks to a collaborative effort with Polish 3D printing firm, Zortrax.

The Falectra ebike is real. [Piotr Krzyczkowski]
Thanks to Zortrax’s 3D printing, Piotr says he was able to reduce prototyping costs by as much as sevenfold. Without the hugely reduced costs Piotr says bringing the prototype to fruition would’t have been possible, and without a prototype, a concept for a bike isn’t much more than vaporware. The high-tech Polish outfit used its special LPD (layer plastic deposition) 3D printers to make the parts which are largely composed of the company’s Z-ULTRAT filaments, a type of highly durable, heat-resistant ABS plastic blend. All of the bike’s body panels, headlight mounting pieces (and shroud), and the air inlets cooling the battery are all 3D printed.

An alternative styling study of the Falectra. [Piotr Krzyczkowski]
The ebike boasts a 50-60-mile (80-100km) range, 2-6-hour recharge time, 43.5mph (70km/h) top-speed, and a 3kW, 72V powertrain with low-mounted batteries, helping to lower the 198b (90kg) bike’s center of gravity. As of now, Piotr plans on churning out an additional 10 prototype machines to undergo further testing, and while there’s no word on production, the Polish ebike is expected to go for around PLN 15,000 ($3,900). Fun fact: Krzyczkowski and Zortrax previously joined forces back in late 2016, when they came together to 3D print a set of sleek new bodywork for a Triumph Daytona 675.

Yamaha Standing Three-Wheeled Scooter

The 2017 concept version of Yamaha's tilting Tritown escooter. [Yamaha]
The Japanese brand was in the EV news again this week with the release of its new standup, leaning scooter, the Tritown. First shown in concept form in 2017 at the Tokyo Motor Show, the sub-90lb (40kgs) three-wheeled machine is probably best described as a Segway that tilts. Powering the small-wheeled oddity is a 500W electric motor paired with a 380Wh Lithium ion battery. The powertrain offers a top-speed of around 15.5mph (25km/h) and a range of around 20-miles (32km). A complete recharge takes less than three-hours. Not sure who exactly Yamaha is targeting with this machine, but it’s just one more example of the Tuning Fork Company’s commitment to embracing the EV inevitability of its field.

GOVEC Unleashes ELMOTO LOOP Delivery eBike

Govec's ELMOTO-LOOP, the future of two-wheeled delivery [Govec]
This week also saw the reveal of yet another new ebike that falls somewhere between a motorcycle and bicycle. Europe’s GOVEC just pulled the cover of its new ELMOTO LOOP ebike, that it’s touting as the lightest two-wheeler in the class of L1E mopeds. Because of this classification, the Loop doesn’t require a motorcycle endorsement to ride, and is legally operable with a standard drivers license. GOVEC makes it abundantly clear that it aims to target the delivery sector, and as such has built what it feels is the ideal modern delivery scoot. Despite only weighing in at around 130lbs (59kgs), the Loop is capable of hauling more than 300lbs of cargo. At the heart of the little runner is a 2kWh direct drive hub motor that affords a top-speed of 28mph (45km/h). The batteries offer a 50-mile (80km) range, are removable, and require four-hours for a full recharge.

The Loop is intended for commercial, or gig, use, with a rugged and inexpensive design. [Govec]
The Loop sports a hydraulic telescopic fork up front and dual coilover shocks out back, a single disc brake fore and aft, and, unlike most other delivery-oriented ebikes, the thing features large diameter wheels for better real world performance on the street. Other standard amenities include a steering lock, USB socket, and connectivity to a smartphone app. The Loop is slated to roll into European dealerships starting in September of 2019, though official pricing has yet to be released.

Chinese E-Scooters & Tariffs

The NIU escooter charging up, and figuring out how to survive a trade war. [NIU]
Over the last couple year’s China’s NIU Technologies has been expanding its reach across its own native market and Europe. The company’s affordable electric scooters make for practical modes of personal transport, however NIU is now facing a major hurdle as it aims to tap into the US market: steep tariffs imposed by President Trump and his administration. While the Chinese brand’s electric scooters regularly carry an MSRP of between $2,500 and $4,500 (in the Euro market), these same offerings are facing a 25% tariff in the USA.

The NIU escooter: will an extra $1000 for the USA market hurt sales? They are already DOT approved and ready to roll.  [NIU]
Adding an extra grand onto the sticker price of a sub-$5K scooter is undoubtedly a major blow to NIU, which is left with no choice but to pass the increased prices on to the consumer. NIU’s scooters already received DOT certification and it still plans on entering the American market in the Fall, though the price hike is sure to negatively impact sales for the otherwise prosperous outfit. China has emerged as a key player in the electric scooter game, and with literally millions of units expected to sell in the US over the next half-decade, it’s hard to overstate the significance of these tariffs and their repercussions.

Police Continue To Go Electric

The Zero DSRP: the silent approach to police enforcement. [Zero]
This week Mississippi State Univeristy’s Police Department added one of Zero’s electric bikes to its fleet, adding to the more than 125 law enforcement agencies from 25 states around the country (and two Canadian provinces) that patrol on battery power. Electric motorcycles actually make a lot of sense for law enforcement use. They’re stealthy, easy to throw off curbs or down stairs, require minimal maintenance, and offer gobs of torque instantaneously. A little over half-a-decade-ago a couple police departments purchased Zero bikes and modified them, adding their own lights and crash protection and whatnot. This ultimately prompted Zero to release an official law enforcement-spec of its DSR model, known as the DSRP. The model has been incredibly successful, leeching sales from Harley-Davidson, and on average, seeing two police departments per month going electric. Since then Zero has added a second P-spec of its FX model (the FXP). With Harley having just released the Livewire, it should be interesting to see if police departments show interest in the Milwaukee-made electric, though it has a much heftier price tag.

The Zero DSRP in polic guise. [Zero]
Zero’s bikes are cheaper, but aren’t cheap. Fortunately, law enforcement agencies are able to receive Alliant Energy Bright Ideas grants and funding to help shave off some of the MSRP on these up-specced electric patrol bikes. Make no mistake, the future is electric my friends.

Curtiss Unveils Another Concept Update

The Curtiss Hades is a huge hit on social media: will orders follow? [Curtiss]
Fresh on the heels of the release of Curtiss’ new Zeus Radial V8 bike, the boutique brand has now unveiled the next rendition of its Hades model. Designed by J.T. Nesbitt, the same person responsible for the Confederate Wraith and Hellcat, the machine uses a powerful electric motor paired with a unique, bullet-shaped, underslung 399VDC, 16.8-kWh battery. Like the Radial V8, the Hades makes a whopping 217hp and an even more ridiculous 147ft-lbs of instantly tappable torque.

The details by designer JT Nesbitt are intriguing and textural. [Curtiss]
The structural elements on the newest Curtiss are also pretty fascinating. The main chassis itself is slim but cleverly engineered to support the immense weight of the battery hanging beneath. The frame also features a circular cutout similar to the ones used on prior Confederate models like the P51. The front-end consists of a girder-style setup with sharp angular lines and large cutouts to reduce weight. In back there’s a matching fang-like swingarm, pivoting from the center of the motor to ensure the belt drive remains taught regardless of travel. There’s also an unusually long linkage to a horizontally-mounted mono shock above the battery.

The Hades has a unique profile: is that a battery, or are you happy to see me? [Curtiss]
Another noteworthy element of the Hades is its split saddle that slopes up at the back, supporting the rider and providing just enough view underneath to spy the under-seat taillights. Carbon fiber is everywhere too, from the frame and suspension, to the robust belt cover. The Hades and Zeus will obviously be produced in extremely limited numbers, and will both retail for $75,000.

 

Dallas Commuter Takes Sharable Scooter on the Highway

I don’t know if this really qualifies as news, but it made headlines and it involves an electric scooter so I’ll take it. Earlier this week a video went viral of a guy riding what appears to be a Bird or Lime-style, rentable scooter on the highway in Dallas, Texas. Caught by the dashcam of a much-amused driver, the short clip shows a brave, albeit foolish man rolling along in traffic, and merging six lanes from the far left to the right. I’m not only baffled by why someone would think this was a reasonable idea, but also by why he felt the fast-lane was the best place to be while on the highway on a machine not capable of breaking 25mph.


Concorso di Eleganza Villa d'Este 2019

My route to Lake Como for the annual Concorso di Eleganza Villa d'Este last month was circuitous, including side trips to Vintage Revival Montlhéry and Oxford.  A museum crawl in that ancient university town netted a hot tip: if you want to miss the crowds, and spend personal time with artworks, the Western Art Print Room of the Ashmolean Museum is the ticket.  With an appointment, we were able to hold original Da Vinci drawings, Turner watercolors, and Dürer drawings, examining them at our leisure, alone in a room, barring the curators.  Mere days later in Amsterdam, we swam up-throng in the Rijksmuseum to see 'All the Rembrandts', or attempt to see them, which we did, briefly, before being jostled aside.  Two museum experiences defined the sublime versus the ridiculous, and having once held precious artwork in your hands, the allure of battling crowds to see a painting is lost.  Luxury today could be defined as privacy, and quiet.

Best of Show! Thomas Buisson shows off the family jewel: his father Dominique's 1929 Koehler-Escoffier 'Quattre Tubes' racer. Dreamy! [Paul d'Orleans]
And how, you may ask, does that relate to the Concorso?  Only this: you (yes you) are not invited to attend this event, and thus there are no throngs to battle on Friday and Saturday at Villa d'Este and Villa Erba, the two nexii of the Concorso weekend. True, one may attend Sunday's public day and see all the vehicles, and it's nowhere near the 'overcrowded clusterfuck' of Pebble Beach (as noted in my 2013 review for The Automobile), but Erba's 19th C. portico and lawns are no match for the grand old lady downshore for strolling between priceless vehicles. Elegance isn't an expression of wealth or the presence of money per se: it's a difficult vibe to capture, and Villa d'Este has it in spades, so adding amazing cars to the mix is a big win for event owner BMW, whose purchase 20 years ago looks more prescient annually.  Good gamble on the long game, team BeeM.

Journalist and author Mick Duckworth 'splains the '68 Triumph Trident in original paint, that Giacomo Agostini received new with factory mods (rearsets, special gear ratios, tuned engine, 'Ace' bars, etc.). Now that's provenence! [Paul d'Orleans]
That said, for the first year the BMW presence at the Concorso felt a bit intrusive.  They've always strategically planted lineups of new or historic Rolls, Mini, and BMW models around both venues, and emceed every reveal and party with corporate execs making speeches, and taken the invaluable PR opportunity of dramatically rolling out their latest moto or auto project on Friday's cocktail reception.  Their presence is unavoidable, and hey, they own the event, but we've reached a saturation point: for instance, in the moto judge's sacrosanct chamber, there were five people receiving paychecks in the room, with seven other judges.  Not all were voting or sharing opinions, but if the Concorso results are to be factory-neutral, the judges need breathing room.

A 1952 Ferrari 342 America, simply stunning in blue, on the grounds of Villa Erba, with Lake Como in the background, and a willing impromptu model - BMW thankfully didn't hire any 'girls' this year... [Paul d'Orleans]
So what was good this year?  Dig the photos - it's always an exceptional car show, and the motorcycle exhibit this year continued an upward quality trend, after a few less than perfect seasons.  Cutting to the chase, if BMW is shooting to host the finest Concorso di Moto in the world, we need to see a lot more one-off GP bikes, record-breakers, and prototypes, and a lot less production roadsters. It's a difficult ask for motorcycle collectors, who rarely seek the ego boost craved by car collectors in being included in such an event, and it might require throwing down cash to get bikes from around the world.

The essence of cool: Gordon De La Mare with his 1938 Moto Guzzi GTCL cafe racer, a factory original with magnesium racing engine and lights. [Paul d'Orleans]
More importantly, Pebble Beach failed at their moto project by expecting motorcyclists to be cut from the same cloth as car guys: we're not.   The flattery of being asked to participate in a Concours will get you nowhere with most motorcyclists. Whether our bullshit detector is in-born, or acquired on the saddle of a potentially lethal pleasure object invisible to 90% of road users, is immaterial.  Very few old-school collectors care about shows, because their experience has proven them populated by ignorant fools who know jack about their life-long passion.  Prove you know what you're talking about and why you need their machine, and you have a chance.  Just sayin'.

The big reveal: BMW's concept version of the soon-to-be-produced R18 model, with 1800cc pushrod motor in an R5 'softail' chassis. "Most of this bike is on the production model, plus an airbox and mufflers, but you get a clear idea of what we'll build" said designer Edgar Heinrichs. It's already a big hit on social media. [Paul d'Orleans]
No less than 9 category winners in the car Concorso were from American collectors this year, which must be a record.  I explore that theme in my annual report for The Automobile this year: expect more from me in that mag soon - I've been writing for them since 2013, and more collaboration is afoot.  I was happy to see three unrestored cars at Villa d'Este, all in immaculate condition, especially the Maserati Merak Spyder in metallic teal - simply gorgeous.  The motorcycle exhibit had many more original machines, from a 1969 Honda CB750KO to a 1905 FN four, which were all in fine condition, if not as sparkling as the cars.  Are motorcycle finishes inherently less durable?

The 'Promenade Percy' class of cafe racers, with Alessandro Altinier herding a 1957 BSA DB34 Gold Star and '58 featherbed Norton International. [Paul d'Orleans]
The 'restoration question' loomed large in our jury room, and for the first time it seemed the tide had turned against restored machines, in favor of motorcycles having the good(?) fortune of being ignored for decades.  This was new for me: I've sung the praises of original paint for many years, mostly in an effort to halt the tide of unnecessary and over-restorations filling the grids at motorcycle shows.

Vintagent contributor Adil Jal Drukhanawa was also present, and shows the diminute size of a 1953 Siata 300BC at Villa Erba.
[Paul d'Orleans]
Yes, too many perfectly good machines in their maker's original paint have had their history stripped away in favor of acrylic paint jobs and reproduction parts...but the value of a restorer's work cannot be underestimated.  The best of them are the real keepers of historical accuracy, and detailed knowledge of how old machines are assembled and made to work, and a good restoration as a joy to behold.  The flood of reproducers has made the work of a historian much harder, and de-valued a poorly documented restoration.  Who can trust a shiny old bike these day?  Lord knows what's underneath the paint, unless you've got a file of 'before' photos and a solid paper trail.

Bests of Show! Two judges of the Concorso di Moto - Spanish motojournalist Beatriz Gonzalez Eguiraun, and Italian Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Sara Fiandri. Oh, and the Koehler-Escoffier. [Paul d'Orleans]
Still, we awarded a restored machine Best of Show - a 1929 Koehler-Escoffier 'Quattre Tubes', owned by Thomas and Dominique Buisson.  It's a racer, and has been timed at 107mph on various tracks, regardless its priceless 1-of-7 provenance, and rarity as one of the very few OHC V-twin roadsters built before 1930. It's elegant, mechanically bold, and very fast, and not well known aside by real connoisseurs of two wheels, and was a natural choice.

Cops! Regardless the excellent turnout for costume and 1968 Moto Guzzi V7 Police of Stefano Bartolotta, the jurors had little love for the 'Two Wheeled Guards' category...I mean, how many bikers like to see cops? [Paul d'Orleans]
Since our esteemed Chief Judge (Francois-Marie Dumas) happens to be French, and a bit of a jingoist, he made sure the best machine on display was, in fact, a French bike!  Can't fault him for his choice, though. There were many other exceptional machines, and my personal favorite was the 1904 Achilles, as complicated as a fancy watch, and a double handful to ride, which owner Horst Klett did on Saturday on the showbike street run, and across the gravel terrace at Villa d'Este, sans clutch or gears or brakes.  Well done!

Complication! Riding the 1904 Achilles requires the skills of a clarinettist, which owner Horst Klett demonstrated admirably on the street run and flyover at Villa d'Este on Saturday. [Paul d'Orleans]
The fun factor came in a batch of nine 50cc motorcycles from the 1960s and '70s, all from the Zappieri collection, many of them ridden in a noisy, smoky pack at Villa d'Este, in periodish gear, and a middle-aged hooligan vibe.  Thanks for lightening up the proceedings, lads.

Hooligans! Senor Zaparelli with his collection of nine 50cc bikes livened up the proceedings Saturday at Villa d'Este. Bring the noise! [Paul d'Orleans]
Amongst the dramatic prototypes, racers, and luxury expresses stood on the gravel at Villa d’Este, a solitary motorcycle lurked, and was un-remarked on, for it was clad in bodywork. The 1967 Gyro-X was a car cut in half and healed up, and is claimed to be the sole gyroscopically-balanced auto still functioning.  It's more a convertible missile than a traditional motorcycle, but the fact remains, its got two wheels, mostly: why on earth it needs a complicated gyro system to stay upright begs more questions than I care to delve into, but speaks volumes about a fear of motorcycles.

After the motorcycles, the rain. The deluge began with the first car, a BMW Mille Miglia special, and continued for the rest of the automobile parade across the Villa d'Este terrace. The awnings were out, but the convertibles became water buckets anyway. "Cars aren't made of sugar," said one wag. [Paul d'Orleans]
Got a fantastic motorcycle or two you'd like to present at Villa d'Este next year?  Give me a shout: they're looking for top-tier machines, especially from American collectors who can foot their own bills.

Ducking out of the rain in an inappropriate hat is Bloomberg auto journalist Hannah Elliott. [Paul d'Orleans]
Champion of the Villa Erba, whether his bikes win or not, is perennial supporter Benito Battilani, here with his unique second-built 1914 Bianchi C75A two-speeder. [Paul d'Orleans]
Seeing double-ish: the NMoto update of the 1934 BMW R7, which sits beside it for scale. [Paul d'Orleans]
When it's not raining, the view is sculpted from heaven. Lake Como with a Riva water taxi, used between Villa Erba and Villa d'Este on Saturday. [Paul d'Orleans]
Got spare? Love this plexi vented sidescreen on a '54 Ferrari 340 America. [Paul d'Orleans]
Sebastian messes around with a 1953 BMW R68 cafe racer, with great period accessories. Get under the paint! [Paul d'Orleans]
My party suit: when asked by a Norwegian journalist what the guns were about, I replied, "A celebration of 100 years of the temporary cessation of armaments production by BMW." The suit was a fortuitous find on London's Brick Lane, and hand-painted by a local artist. [Susan McLaughlin]
Ladies who Rolls. Ducking out of the rain in the most elegant of cubbys. [Paul d'Orleans]
Sets hearts racing! Sofie Verheyden enjoys her moment of glory, as her 1969 Kawasaki H1 wins Class D: Trendsetters. [Paul d'Orleans]
The interior of the car that should have won Best of Show: the simply amazing 1967 Lamborghini Marzal. Silver inside and out, and absolutely shouting with 1960s optimism and exuberance. [Paul d'Orleans]
Dr Giordano Diena with his 1954 Taurus BB Super Sport. [Paul d'Orleans]
La 'cremeuse' - the first-generation egg tank of the 1929 MGC, with all-aluminum chassis and integral tanks, in original paint. [Paul d'Orleans]
As one does. a 1936 Mercedes roadster in the mix at Villa Erba. [Paul d'Orleans]
Got fins? The 1964 CD Panhard LM64 has the lowest drag coefficient of any race car in history, and with its 850cc flat-twin pushrod motor could reach 135mph! [Paul d'Orleans]
New York Six shooter. A 1937 Bugatti 57S originally sold in the Big Apple. [Paul d'Orleans]
Wolfgang Staab's lovely 1905 FN four waiting for its moment to shine at Villa Erba. [Paul d'Orleans]
Let's take a drive by the lake! A wonderful 1938 Delahaye 135M, which is in fact a regular driver for its owner Emma Beanland.[Paul d'Orleans]
Got brakes? This 1906 Rene Gillet has two - both on the rear hub, and both contracting-band type. [Paul d'Orleans]
The details marking this 1914 Bianchi C75A as special: unlike the production models that followed, this has an integral 2-speed gearbox, among other details. [Paul d'Orleans]
Peter Ehinger with his fantastic proto-AJS, the 1901 Holcroft, from Stevens family. [Paul d'Orleans]
Racers on the road! The 1953 Gilera Saturno Corse of Marc Mezey, and the R68 of Hans Keckeisen, as Moto emcee Roberto Rasia dal Polo approaches to discuss. [Paul d'Orleans]
Four wheels good: the 1955 OSCA MT4 1500, and '53 1450 behind at Villa d'Este. [Paul d'Orleans]
Take a bow, Carlo! The incomparable Carlo Perelli, former Chief Judge at the Concorso di Moto, is now Emeritus, but still a presence. He began working as a teenager, delivering Motoclismo magazine in 1949, before working his way up to Editor, and soon celebrates his 70th year with the magazine. An irreplaceable storehouse of anecdotes, delivered quietly as required. At the Concorso di Moto, it was the true origin of the Moto Guzzi V7: the Italian Prime Minister was on the verge of ordering a fleet of Harley-Davidsons for his escort! Moto Guzzi stepped up with a wholly new design, and the modern Moto Guzzi lineage was born. [Paul d'Orleans]


The Original Triple: DKW's 'Singing Saw' -

How the mighty do fall. DKW was once the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, but hard economic times in the German motorcycle market in 1956 led to the eventual demise of this once enormous, and very famous motorcycle factory.  DKW's heyday was the 1930s, when it had grown from tentative steps in the late 'Teens to produce small two-stroke bicycle motors of 122cc, to ride the wave of motorcycle popularity in 1920s Germany, to becoming the largest in the world by 1931.  This growth was ill-timed, coinciding with the Depression, but a clever tie-up with car manufacturers Audi, Wanderer, and Horch - creating Auto Union - saved all these companies, and placed them in an advantageous position for the economic revival of the mid-1930s.  DKW's supercharged two-stroke racers of the 1930s were miracles of complication and development, with 5-piston 'twin-cylinder' supercharged twins taking wins on tracks all over Europe, including the Isle of Man TT in 1938.  DKW's racing department had 150 employees in 1939, surely the largest for any motorcycle factory pre-war (and maybe post-war too!), although their brilliant work was dispersed during WW2, and the ban on supercharging by the FIM post-war.

The 1954 version of DKW's 3-cylinder two-stroke racer, with one horizontal cylinder and two vertical. This is the first iteration of the second series machine, designed byHelmut Görg ('George' in English) in early 1954. [Paul d'Orleans]
Germany was banned from international racing competition until 1951, and their first racing machines for that season were single- and twin-cylinder two-strokes, designed by Erich Wolf.  Without forced induction, Wolf could not find the power he needed from his two-stroke, although he tried everything: disc valves, different piston shapes, different cylinder barrels and heads, and extreme light weight.  Fitting an expansion chamber exhaust made a big difference for 1952, and marked the beginning of the science of two-stroke tuning using exhaust resonance, which would reach its peak in the 1980s and '90s, as GP racing became synonymous with the two-stroke howl.

The source of the din! An extremely compact, air-cooled triple. Note the hand-made nature of the whole machine: the rough welds for the frame and fuel tank, and the beautiful hand-hammered aluminum tank. [Paul d'Orleans]
DKW also unveiled a 3-cylinder machine in 1952, with two upright cylinders and one forward-facing horizontal cylinder, which had echoes of their extremely complex 1930s racers of similar architecture.  This time, the forward cylinder wasn't a 'ladepumpe' supercharger, but a working unit, which required a few interesting tricks with the crankpin positions to deal with the fierce vibration inherent in two-stroke multis (a trick Japanese companies poached for their own two-stroke triples and fours).  The new motor had three 116cc cylinders, making a 348.8 capacity, and used a six-cylinder magneto from a BMW 328 for sparks, driven at half speed.  Three Dell'Orto 28mm carbs fed the motor, and 3 crude expansion chambers helped breathing,  while a 4-speed gearbox was kept within the small unit-construction crankcases, which fitted neatly in the chassis of the 250cc twin racer.

The devil is in the details! The triple air lever for the 3 Dell'Orto carbs, which apparently only August Hobl truly mastered. Love the hand-cut nature of this one-off device, with every file mark visible, and not polished out - because why bother on a racer? [Paul d'Orleans]
The 1952 3-Cylinder DKW wasn't a huge success, although it looked promising, and had a good turn of speed, albeit without reliability.  Veteran DKW star Ewald Kluge took 6th at Solitude in front of 400,000 spectators, in spite of a broken shoulder blade after a fall, while Siegfried Wünsche took 7th at the Barcelona GP.  For 1953, designer Erich Wolf made changes for more power, and better reliability, including an oil pump for direct injection.  At the season-opening Isle of Man TT, he was seen testing his own machines at over 100mph in his rolled-up shirt sleeves, and no helmet! The 350 triple was an incredibly loud machine, as noted in the press of the day, as Motor Cycling notes: "Ouch! What an attack on the eardrums as No.90 Siegfried Wünsche's DKW screams up to its high pitched war song!"  That ear-splitting noise was the basis of the racer's enduring nickname, 'Singende Säge' (Singing Saw)... or chainsaw, if you prefer.

Rev-counter, clip-ons, steering damper, and very useful earplugs! Note smooth fork triple clamps, fuel tank breather hose, and very hand-made fuel tank. [Paul d'Orleans]
The 3-cylinder racer needed a redesign to be competitive with the best of Italy in the mid-1950s, and luckily, the factory was in a position to invest money in racing.  Sales of DKW motorcycles and cars were booming in Germany's 'economic miracle', and its workforce had doubled to 10,000 between 1950 and 1954.  That year, Robert Eberan von Eberhorst was hired as Technical Director, after a stint at Aston Martin and BRM, and he transformed the racing department by putting Helmut Görg in charge of all racing activities.  It was decided that the 3-cylinder racer held the most promise for GP success, so the single- and twin-cylinder two-strokes were dropped, and Görg himself totally redesigned the engine from first principles.  The new crankcase was narrower, for better gas compression, and the flywheels of the six-piece crankshaft were full circle to further increase internal compression.  Flat-top pistons were used instead of Wolf's deflector pistons, and the cylinder heads used a squish band for better combustion.  The length and shape of the expansion chambers was recalculated, and it was found that among the most critical pieces of tuning was the location of the rubber-mounted float chambers feeding the Dell'Orto racing carbs.

A new magnesium 2LS front brake for '54: by the next year enormous hydraulically-operated brakes were used. Note the short leading-link forks, with springs inside the fork leg, and the hydraulic damper rod external. The brake hub has a shrunk iron liner inside an aluminum half-hub, while the 'other' half of the hub is magnesium, as is the brake plate. Note also the grease nipples for teh axle and brake arm pivots - extravagant (and very German) details for a machine only running for a few hours at a time for the longest races (ie, the Isle of Man TT).  [Paul d'Orleans]
The new engine had a reduced maximum RPM (10.5k instead of 12k) for more reliability, the ignition was switched to a coil and points, the gearbox gained a cog for 5 speeds, and the front fork was changed to a very light, and very strong short leading-link item, with stronger magnesium brakes.  Unusually, each carb was equipped with an independent air slide control controlled via  three levers mounted on the left handlebar.  It was said only one rider was truly capable of using these levers: August Hobl, who took the 350cc German Championship in 1955, and took third in the 350cc World Championship.  That year the magnesium brakes grew larger and were hydraulically operated, and the machine was equipped with an aluminum 'dustbin' fairing. For 1956, the 3-cylinder racer was further refined, giving a reliable 46hp at 9700RPM, and a top speed of over 140mph. Hobl took second place in the World Championship, but hadn't ridden in every Grand Prix, as the German motorcycle industry was in a crisis, including DKW.

Jelly mould! Hand-hammered fuel tank to suit the rider's knees and arms, and help with flow to the rubber-mounted float bowls. Note the fuel taps, front and rear, with deep reservoirs for both to ensure good fuel flow for front and rear float bowls.  The twin rear carbs shared a float bowl. [Paul d'Orleans]
1956 should be considered 'the year the music died', as the disastrous state of the European motorcycle industry led the premier factories to halt Grand Prix racing: DKW, NSU, BMW, Gilera, Moto Guzzi, etc.  That left the field wide open for MV Agusta, the private fiefdom of Count Domenico Agusta, who seemed to regard production as an afterthought to his first love - racing.  DKW never entered another Grand Prix, as in common with every other German motorcycle producer, they had greatly over-estimated future sales at a time the public was finally able to afford small cars.  DKW happened to produce these too, which kept the company afloat while others brands were failing, but motorcycle production was transferred in an amalgamation of the DKW, Victoria, and Express brands under Daimler-Benz, creating a new company, Zwierad Union in 1958.  While motorcycles were still sold with the DKW badge for many years after, the proud years of DKW as an independent company with a tremendous racing lineage were over.  They built an estimated 519,000 motorcycles after WW2, and had once been the largest motorcycle company in the world: now we have incredible machines like this 1954 Singing Saw to remember them by.

Have a go? 143mph from a 350cc was really going in 1956. Love the ergonomic fuel tank shape for 'tucking in'. The flat seat is pre-bump-stop saddle. [Paul d'Orleans]
The machine in these photographs is part of the Hockenheim Museum Collection.  It has been fully restored to its original specification, and is regularly demonstrated at vintage racing events in Europe, where a new generation of fans can learn the meaning of 'ouch!', and understand why earplugs are kept in the lightening holes on the steering damper knob!  It's the original 3-cylinder two-stroke beast, a mantle taken up in 1969 by Kawasaki's H1: the howl of three two-stroke pistons working in unison is not easily forgotten!

August Hobl aboard a '54 DKW triple of this specification, in a slightly later form, with bump-stop seat, and larger rear wheel fairing. Note the fuel tank is slightly larger - apparently each machine had 11 fuel tanks of different capacities, to suit different circuits! [Hockenheim Archive]
The magnesium SLS rear brake and hub, which is all-magnesium, unlike the front brake. [Paul d'Orleans]
The back side of the front wheel hub, showing the leading-link fork to advantage. It's an extremely light and very stiff design, although wheel travel is limited to the length of the link's arc. This fork probably has about 4" of travel, while most road-goin short leading link forks have 2".  [Paul d'Orleans]
Beautiful shapes on the hand-beaten alloy tank.   Note the locking fuel cap, and the architectural braces for the front brake torque arm support, and pivot support for the fork link, which must of course be of identical length.[Paul d'Orleans]
The rear fenders creates partial streamlining, although the dustbin fairing was used for the whole team in '55. [Paul d'Orleans]
The view most other riders had of the DKW 3-cylinder racer, which was lightning fast. [Paul d'Orleans]

 

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.

Vintage Revival Montlhéry 2019: Just the Motors

The bi-annual Vintage Revival Monthléry just enjoyed its fifth iteration.  It is, simply put, the finest old car / bike track event in the world, because it's free of barriers, tiers, or VIP ropes: everyone can go anywhere, except onto the track itself (unless you're a competitor or press), for understandable reasons.  Regardless the enormous value of many of the cars and motorcycles flung around the track, VRM is incredibly democratic, and everyone is free to enjoy, annoy, take photos, ask questions, and get in the way.  In short, it's glorious.  The following are photos taken by my iPhone, of various (mostly) motorcycle engines.  All the vehicles participating are pre-1940, and many are pre-1910!  A further exploration of the event will follow.  This photo set is a pure indulgence in the beauty of early 20th Century industrial design.

A genuine Norton Brooklands Road Special ca.1916: motorcycling at its most basic, with a sidevalve 500cc motor, a direct belt drive, and a rear brake (the front wheel has a stirrup brake, but it's useless). I consider this machine the world's first factory cafe racer, being a racing replica built explicitly for road use. Norton also built a Brooklands Special for track use, proving that motorcycle manufacturers knew what riders really wanted from the dawn of the industry was a racer on the road. [Paul d'Orléans]
A 1934 New Imperial 350cc Grand Prix model, from a company whose light- and middle-weight racers did extremely well in the late 1920s and '30s, winning plenty of TTs and GPs. [Paul d'Orléans]
One of the very rare OHC V-twins built before the 1980s! This Koehler-Escoffier 1000 'Quatre Tubes' is one of perhaps 6 survivors, and this example is reckoned as the most original. A fantastic beast! Much like the Cyclone, it has a total-loss oiling system for its camshafts. [Paul d'Orléans]
If you've never seen such a machine before, that's because nobody has seen one for half a Century: it's a reproduction of a Motosacoche DOHC V-twin built in the 1920s, and an amazing job. The cam drive is by shaft-and-bevel, then gears. [Paul d'Orléans]
The backside of the terrific Motosacoche V-twin. I'm always amazed at the work involved in making such a machine from scratch. [Paul d'Orléans]
Another incredibly rarity - one of one!  This 1912 Contrast racer uses a 350cc OHV JAP V-twin, one of three made for the Isle of Man, and probably the only vertical-valve survivor of this type. [Paul d'Orléans]
A gorgeous Terrot sidevalve V-twin in Art Deco style. Love the green! [Paul d'Orléans]
A moped attachment by Le Poulin, circa 1950s, being put into traction mode by its rider. [Paul d'Orléans]
A TT Replica Panther! Panther made a small number of very special racers and replicas for the Isle of Man TT in 1929. The frame had extra struts from atop the cylinder head, as seen here. It's a 500cc OHV big single, and a lovely, perhaps original paint example? [Paul d'Orléans]
The aero engine brigade! I'm not sure which WW1 era OHV V-8 this is, but it's become a trend to install such in an old auto chassis and built a hot rod around it. Amazing! [Paul d'Orléans]
Another fantastic aero-engine special with V-8 power! [Paul d'Orléans]
Another lovely Terrot, this one likely a 250cc sidevalver from the early 1930s. [Paul d'Orléans]
Gnome et Rhone produced some of the best aircraft radial engines in WW1, and turned to motorcycle production afterwards. This 1928 500 D2 racer has a lovely OHV motor. [Paul d'Orléans]
A flat-tank Norton Model 18 is always a joy to behold; this example is especially clean. [Paul d'Orléans]
An Indian 8-Valve from Yesterday's: I asked 'Is it real?', and they said 'What do you think?'. There are no real ones is what I think! It's a beautiful bruiser though, and Montlhéry is the only place you see authentic board track machines in use - there was a whole racing class devoted to them! [Paul d'Orléans]
One of Harry Hacker's amazing Harley-Davidson specials using JD bottom ends and 8-valve top ends, with built-in patina. This was the fastest and meanest-sounding bike at Montlhery, with 70hp at the rear wheel! [Paul d'Orléans]
Another use for a big JAP V-twin: powering a Morgan trike! Twin carbs and likely 80hp, they sound amazing and are fun to watch! [Paul d'Orléans]
The King of Brooklands! A big 1914 Zenith with Gradua gear belt-drive, and a later twin-cam JAP racing engine. Power! The big casting up front is a clutch system. [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.

'Shared Lady Beetle': the Sweetest Rebuke

I was dumbstruck on seeing the Shared Lady Beetle, both to the sweetness and rightness of the design, and to its kinship with the contemporary custom motorcycle scene.  Its hand-wrought wabi-sabi fabrication, emotionally evocative shape, and mobility make it kin to work by our favorite moto-artisans.  It could have been built in a motorcycle fabrication shop, but it wasn't.  The ladybug-shaped mobile children's book-share library by Beijing's LUO Studio embodies a 'do good work by doing right work' design ethos that's wholly missing from contemporary motorcycle culture.  Which begs the question: why aren't we doing work like this?  The success of LUO Studio's ladybug is an exit sign from the echo chamber of the custom scene, highlighting design possibilities not currently pursued in the motorcycle community.  We aren't creating projects for children (or the mobility challenged, etc), or choosing to work with recycled materials, or addressing larger societal challenges, but we could be: our team is damned clever.

The Shared Lady Beetle in children's share-library mode, with its wings open [Jin Weiqi]
The Shared Lady Beetle is built from scrap bicycle components, discarded building materials, and car panels, and was created in response to the mountains of confiscated share-app bikes, the heaps of metal waste created in Beijing, and the need for innovative mobility solutions.  The Shared Lady Beetle is a designed object, its structure developed in 3-D imaging software, as a solution to a specific problem: design a mobile 'maker's studio' to replace a shopping cart for hauling tools to teach children.  In the design process, LUO Studio realized its mobile-carry nature could be adapted in many ways, and the shape (inspired by Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion car) was especially evocative to children, and its scale perfectly child-size.  Thus, it was adapted as a mobile library for children, who could exchange the books secured on its shelves, and reach neighborhoods not served by public libraries or bookmobiles.  LUO Studio deserves big props for creating a sophisticated design that doesn't pander to children's sensibilities (ie, no ladybug paint scheme), but stands as a brilliant example of possibility: the Lady Beetle could be fabricated anywhere, and, to a motorcyclist, suggests new avenues for exploration.  It's a sweet rebuke for fabricators, and also, an inspiration for new avenues of design, for a totally new audience.

The lowest shelf acts as a simple shelf, strong enough to support a child reading, with the wing affording privacy and a sense of space [Jin Weiqi]
From the LUO Studio website:

Shared Lady Beetle — A Micro Movable Library for Kids

1. Reflection on "Sharing"

Though born from the good intention of resources conservation, green commuting and making life more convenient, shared bicycles are becoming "monsters" under the unbridled commercial sprawl. They have consumed plenty of industrial raw materials, encroached on scarce urban public space and been dumped in horrible piles. A large number of shared bicycles, without any quality problems, have been forced to "retirement". Do we have any better solutions to handle this problem instead of recycling them in a simple and crude manner? As a designer living in the city, I have been thinking about the possibility for friendly reuse of those abandoned bikes.

The Lady Bird library in use [Jin Weiqi]
2. A Mobile Maker Classroom for Children

I have a friend who [is] specialized in maker education for children. He made some teaching props by himself, which often need to be moved in and out from his office. He usually tied those teaching materials to a grocery cart and wheeled it around the school to explain them to the children and parents. Having seen this, I wanted to create a small and ingenious storage cart to support his maker education for kids. By use of an abandoned bicycle, discarded iron car sheets, and leftover materials of eco-friendly boards, it was possible to make a mobile maker classroom for children. The goal was to make it creative, interesting and lively, and bring hope to reuse industrial waste in a natural and artistic way.

The hand-wrought shell was built from scrap auto panels source in Beijing's junkyards, and was kept in a raw state to highlight its origin [Jin Weiqi]
The shared bicycle was transformed into a tricycle with large loading capacity, in order to display more items. To protect the items and avoid moving them repeatedly, we designed a special cover on the shelf, which drew inspirations from lady beetles, a type of beneficial insect that kids are familiar with. The way that lady beetles open and close wings was applied to the cover, appealing and creative. Because of the beetle-wings-shaped cover, the shelf needs to be relatively long. With a view to ensuring the stability of the tricycle, we added an auxiliary omni wheel to its end. For the enclosed inner space, a multi-layer display  structure was designed, which strengthens the whole installation and makes it more convenient to store items. From top to bottom, the layers gradually become larger in size, with the lowest one enabling kids to sit and lean on.

The Shared Lady Beetle is a designed object, worked out in 3-D design software before fabrication [LUO Studio]
3. A Micro Shared Library

Although it was originally designed to be a children's mobile maker classroom, I also hoped to endow it with multiple functions. The interior space for displaying items are flexibly partitioned into several smaller storage areas by plates, which can be freely adjusted according to users' needs. Besides, all the partitions can also be removed, through which  a complete big space will be formed. The installation can be customized based on different needs,  making it versatile and "universal". For example, it can be used as a micro shared library, where second-hand books collected from my friends were arranged. Each friend provided one or more books, and they were invited to write a sentence on the books they shared. This tiny shared library can be placed in somewhere in the city. Everyone are allowed to read the books and put their idle books here to replace their loved one.

Shared bikes have been abandoned in cities. However, it brings promising possibility for book sharing.

Internal lighting makes possible an evening reading room [Jin Weiqi]
4. Shared Lady Beetle in the unknown city

Urban development constantly creates new things, which may bring hope or cause great disappointment. Facing the unknown development in the city, we should stay positive, strive to change waste into treasure and tackle changing situation responsively, so as to better take care of the city and the earth. The Shared Lady Beetle, is like a "beneficial insect" walking on the "urban leaf ", which can be used as a mobile library , a stall, or a maker classroom for kids, etc.

Or, it is merely well-meaning reflection on unknown urban development...

While human-powered, the notion of a more robust, electric-powered mobile library is clear [Jin Weiqi]
Designers: Luo Yujie, Lu Zhuojian

Size: 3180 x 3100 x 1400mm

Photographer: Jin Weiqi

Design time: December 2018

Completion time: March 2019

Instructions for construction: DIY. [Jin Weiqi]

Selling Speed

The first motorcycle race started when the second motorcycle was built. And the first motorcycle advertisement was placed immediately post-finish, crowing the winner's superiority. Motorcycle ads have a natural ‘hook’ in the lure of Speed, although manufacturers have had mixed feelings about selling what riders really wanted, deep down in their speed-demon souls. From the first days of the 20th Century, builders and buyers of motorcycles have played a complex dance around the subject of Speed, with the Industry anxious to spread a message of respectability and docility for their noisy, horse-scaring moto-bicycles, keeping a low profile about the exhilaration of pulling the throttle lever all the way back. Customers were savvy to the game, navigating the great restrictive forces of Love and Law - parents, spouses, and the police – who could not abide an explicit celebration of the narcotic draw of Competition and its handmaiden, Danger.  It took decades before the public acknowledged that a dangerous, speed-crazed hooligan lurks in the puritan hearts of all motorcyclists, hell-bent on going faster than anyone on the damn road.

Even in 1903, the makers of this Phoenix promoted 'dropped' handlebars and a racing crouch...the original Café Racer. [Vintagent Archive]
Strangely, while companies like Indian, Phoenix, and Mars were among the first to sell (and advertise) motorcycles built exclusively for racing, they relied on the vast support system of ancillary suppliers (tires, chains, magnetos, etc) and especially the emerging motorcycle press, to tell the story of Speed. Magazines were desperate to show what it was really all about; tales of speed and racing sold more paper than road tests and club reports. Magazines had no need to veil the magnetic pull of fast riding, as their audience were already under the two-wheel spell, and few non-motorcyclists scoured trade publications. The accessories trade and the press tore the brown paper wrapper from bikes, glorifying competition and competitors in equal measure, and selling, by magical association, the adrenaline high of splitting the atmosphere at lethal velocities. Thus, we see Dunlop tires regularly advertising race wins, Lodge spark plugs documenting bold-type heroic victories, and Castrol, always Castrol, selling oil on the back of a racer flat on the tank, ‘speed whiskers’ streaming from his back.

One of the very first 'production racers'; the 1906 Mars 'Renntypus'. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
In the early days of motorcycling, racing had a dual purpose; the simple thrill of competition was justified by the rapid technological development which followed continual failures. If bikes were fast, reliable, and good-handling from the start, the industry would have evolved slowly, but early motos were far from those things, frequently catching fire, breaking their frames, flattening tires, and skidding off the ‘roads’ of the day. Similar to war's stimulus of new technology – though far less traumatically - endurance trials and racing kept manufacturers’ toes in the fire of continual improvement, even if they didn’t participate. When Indian swept the Isle of Man TT races in 1911, winning 1/2/3 on the new ‘Mountain’ course, the press (and Indian) made quite a fuss over their 2-speed gearboxes, which was exactly one more ‘gear’ than any other maker, beside Scott (who won two years later). Even manufacturers who never supported race teams or offered 'Race Replicas’, realized the jig was up for the belt-drive, and started experimenting with epicyclic hub gears, twin chains, and proper gearboxes.

1908; Indian's Charles Gustafson giving his 'torpedo tank' some stick, and winning the race. [Vintagent Archive]
The motorcycling press grew hand in hand with the industry, commenting then as now on the whole wide range of Motorcycling, saying what manufacturers could not by reporting on what motorcyclists wanted to read. Given the tiny number of riders who actually prepared their machines and risked their lives on a racing track made of dirt or worse (splintery boards), the early press devoted a huge percentage of copy to racing, and very little to boring but respectable owner’s club or technical matters, because of course, racing is damned exciting stuff. And better still when accompanied by photos…the best possible advertisement for the sport being a small, grainy image of some track hero crouched over his crudely evolved bicycle, kicking up dust from the back tire. Two paragraphs with a shorthand tale of neck-and-neck struggles were enough to stir the imagination of thousands of readers. Racing became the stuff of dreams immediately… even before motorcycles had proper races to themselves.

A 1909 ad for NSU, with Eddie Lingenfelder aboard, after winning several races at the Los Angeles motordrome Board Track. A built-for-racing v-twin of purposeful design. [Vintagent Archive]
The earliest days of motorcycling are beholden to the bicycle in ways not obvious; yes, we inherited two wheels from our pedaling brethren, but more significantly, the first truly visible motorcycles were used as ‘cycle pacers’, allowing bicyclists on banked tracks in the US and Europe to ‘draft’ the noisy, exhaust belching monsters, wobbly and prone to crashing in the heyday of cycle bowl racing of the late 1890s. The fascination of the press helped promote the idea of motorized two wheelers as fast and worthy of further development, independent of bicycles. Its no accident that many of the first production motorcycles were built by former bicycle racers, race team managers, or the bicycle companies themselves…they were already using ‘pacers’ on the track, and pretty soon, the pacers left the pedalers behind and raced each other, developing their machines into proper motorcycles. With competition already in their blood, it was natural they wanted to race their newfangled machines as well.

Brooklands racing in 1910: a Triumph leads on an already ragged-looking track surface. [Vintagent Archive]
In 1909, while Indian was selling its first ‘torpedo tank’ racing motorcycles to the public, making a name across the globe, in Italy a group of radical artists were creating a completely new approach to the romance of Speed and the impending mechanization of the world. The Italian artist Filippo Marinetti published his wild and deliberately provocative Futurist Manifesto on the front page of France’s respected newspaper, Le Figaro, on Feb. 20 1909: "We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed….A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” This from an age when automobiles and motorcycles were only recently freed from repressive 20kph speed laws on the horrid, unpaved roads of the day, and when vehicles were slow and unreliable in the extreme… the Futurists stood on the edge of a promontory, shouting about what was to come, way ahead of the curve.

Futurist Mario Sironi's charcoal drawing 'New Man' of 1918. The Futurists were the only Modern Art movement to embrace motorcycles. [Vintagent Archive]
Being by self-definition an excitable bunch of Italians, the Futurists had plenty to say, and invested their artistic energy in new forms of typography and layout, attempting to capture movement via the pattern of words and images on the page. Their aesthetic impact rippled around the world, creating a new vocabulary of motion; graphic artists took note, and gradually the fussy late 1800s Beaux-Arts style of busty, corseted goddesses floating on clouds near parked two-wheelers gave way finally to ‘speed whiskers’, urgent movement, and the adrenalin romance of Speed. Big-breasted goddesses would return, but not until the 1960s!

The old Beaux Arts style of depicting motorcyclists, in this case an 1898 poster for Comiot. [Vintagent Archive]
By the ‘Teens, motorcycles were good enough to use as basic transport, even a strictly utilitarian object, but each country had a ‘tipping point’ when cars outnumbered motorcycles on the road, and bikes gradually evolved into pleasure objects (or even luxuries) rather than necessary transport. In the United States, that change happened earliest, thanks to Henry Ford, whose Model T - so basic, yet surprisingly complicated to drive - suddenly rendered ‘exposed transport’ semi-obsolete. Initially costing and enormous $850 (1909), by the early 20’s the price had fallen to $290, which was little more than the price of a new Harley-Davidson, and much less than the best of motorcycles, such as the Henderson 4-cylinder ($435).

Accessories suppliers were free to advertise our inclinations to speed; 'Clincher' motorcycle tires of 1917. [Vintagent Archve]
Motorcycles were still terribly exciting though, and the liberation of bikes from ‘labor’ or necessity was akin to casting off the yoke of a burdened horse…suddenly, it was fun to ride for its own sake. Of course, it had always been fun, the little secret amongst bikers, but with the liberation of motorcycles from work, fewer excuses were necessary. Manufacturers and advertisers were freed to tell a more true story of the pleasures of two wheels, while 'Grapes of Wrath' author John Steinbeck had a few words to say about the Model T: " Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford [ignition] coil than about the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.” Bikers may not know their constellations while out on a clear night, but without a roof they see can those stars twinkling on high, riding swiftly to demonstrate knowledge of their lady love’s anatomy…

Proper ladies enjoyed the comforts of a zeppelin-style sidecar attached to a speedy flat-tank Norton! [1926 Norton catalog]
The Model T and its international cousins (the Austin 7, the Peugeot Bébe, the BMW Dixi) changed motorcycling itself, freeing two wheels to be what they are best at; delivering an erotic injection of Life to the rider, providing thrills, excitement, prestige, and danger in equal measure. Very few automobiles, no matter how sexy, deliver the all-senses stimulation of a motorbike; the nature of all but the most sporting automobiles is to insulate the driver from the assaults of Nature and the road, whereas the motorcyclist embraces all these as the essential appeal of a vulnerable, sensate Life. The mundane and inexpensive car increased the public’s desire to travel, they saw value in being taxed to improve roads and infrastructure, which of course benefitted motorcyclists as well; while smoothing the way for good citizens to drive to work, newly paved highways meant the increasingly fast bikes of the 1920s could leave long black streaks on those roads.

A 1914 NUT (Newcastle Upon Tyne) ad, after a good run at the Isle of Man TT on a 500cc v-twin. [Vintagent Archive]
During the 1914-18 'Great War', the only advertising with speedy motorcyclists showed dispatch riders (a new feature of war) high-tailing it across shelled fields, narrowly avoiding burst bombs and certain death. Motorcyclists have always understood the rest of the world holds lethal threats – the road, the car, the dog- but in WW1, they were literal moving targets…"just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to kill you!" After the madness of the Great War, the market was flooded with ex-military machines painted to civilian colors, while factories needed a moment to transition away from military production, and introduce new models to a public eager to forget the horror.

By 1921 NSU ads were aggressively modernist and nearing abstraction...but still looked fast. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
In prosperous England and the US, and eventually the rest of Europe, the late ‘Teens became the ‘Roaring 20s’, which were exactly that, echoing with the blast of powerful engines from increasingly reliable motorcycles and cars. While lightweight bikes dominated European roads and much of the English market, they nearly disappeared in America, which grew its own heavy-duty branch of the motorcycle tree. Even in countries crowded with fizzy, smoky little two-strokes, all eyes were on the big machines, winning important international races and setting World Speed Records. Motorcycle advertising, which had its ear bent by the Futurists, was soon treated to a one-two punch of graphic design; Art Deco and the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus comes to two wheels: a BMW brochure from 1930; roaring past obstacles at a time of economic chaos in Germany. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Art Deco began to change the ‘look’ of bikes in the 1920s, with general prosperity reflected in shiny nickel, and pressed-metal shapes of mudguards and tanks which were suddenly ‘styled’, rather than collections of well-arranged boxes. Deco also transformed the visual representation of motorcycles in advertising, as graphic artists competed to out-style each other in presenting two-wheelers as geometric, hurtling masses, slanting towards the horizon - in imitation of Jacques Henri Lartigue’s large-format camera distortions of racing cars of 1911 onwards, his accident of the lens (created by a slow horizontal shutter plus a panning camera motion) inspiring generations of designers.

Cunning use of a slow horizontal shutter and panning camera motion invented the 'oval' racing wheel distortion. Jacques Henri Lartigue, 1912. [Vintagent Archive]
Such imagery changed how motorcycles inhabited people’s thoughts, by planting visual clues that motorcycles were now chic accessories for well-paid, or merely aspirational new owners. The very concept of advertising, which can be stretched to cover industry press coverage, is an attempt to change the perception of the public towards material goods, in order to make them appealing enough to part with hard-earned cash.

Ernst Henne on the fearsome BMW WR750 supercharged 750cc record-breaker with which he recorded 150.73mph at Tat, Hungary, in 1932. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
As the 1920s progressed, the development of German Bauhaus typography and graphics integrated both the Futurist and Deco languages, codifying the ‘modern look’ of advertising, and much of the publishing world as well. The spare and balanced geometry of the Bauhaus, its love of color blocks and collaged photos and paper, led to a Golden Age of motorcycle brochures and posters. Probably the best example is closest to the source; BMW, whose very logo could have been lifted from a Bauhaus instruction book, and whose bikes rapidly evolved from their first (1923) rather pokey models, to the sleek, fast, and elegant machines of the late 1920s, as the factory grew into devotees to the cult of Speed to a degree matched by none other in the industry.

Global domination, anyone? A 1938 BMW brochure depicting the soon-to-be all-conquering BMW RS255 Kompressor, with which Georg Meier would win the '39 Isle of Man TT. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Not just fast, but Fastest; BMW obsessively pursued the World Motorcycle Speed Record with single-minded vigor, and was among the first adopters of superchargers on motorcycles, bolting on blowers a mere two years after the founding of the company in 1923; these supercharged toddlers wobbling at first, but gaining in strength and confidence over a short few years. It was BMW against the world in the ultimate speed stakes of the 1930s, opposed only by rag-tag, privateer British teams using comparatively outdated, oversized, supercharged JAP-engined v-twins, which were also surprisingly fast. After taking the Land Speed Record 6 times in 7 years, BMW was crowned with the ultimate speed laurels on both racetracks and record books…at which point they promptly declared war on the whole world. Their ads might have been a warning of certain imperialistic intentions…

Shades of JMW Turner: a 1935 Velocette poster proof, for an Isle of Man victory that never came. [Vintagent Archive]
A parallel branch of graphic advertising was less stylized, less avant-garde, and rebelled against the geometric tendencies of modernist design, embracing the very counterpoint of abstraction, hewing closer to the Expressionist artists of the ‘Teens and Twenties, true heirs to those first attempts at capturing mechanical motion by JMW Turner and the Futurists.

The French OSA concern used expressionistic, Futurist painting techniques in its ads. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The Expressionist motorcycle artists, best exemplified by the fantastic French painter Geo Ham, used gouache as their medium rather than photography, and depicted romanticized motorcycles and riders hurtling through moody, multicolored fogs, towards victory, or eternity. Tension in the world of fine art, between the competing schools of disegna and colori, had been the story of Art since the Renaissance - those who loved tight design and draughtsmanship versus those who needed an emotional impact... Raphael vs Michaelangelo, Manet vs Monet, Classicism vs Romanticism.

'Rain, Steam, and Speed', 1844, JMW Turner; 23 years before the invention of the motorcycle, a train of the Great Western Railway in England crosses the Maidenhead railway bridge crossing the Thames river, out of London. A small hare can be seen running on the left side of the painting, terrified of the dark and noisy monster approaching. [Wikipedia]
The root stock of all Expressionist motorcycle painting was JMW Turner’s incredible ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’, the first successful attempt of a Fine Artist to grapple with mechanized motion (in the form of the Great Western Railway). The entire Futurist Manifesto of 1909 might be summed up as a cocaine- and alcohol-fuelled dance around this singular painting! Credit for the ‘swoosh’ style of expressionist motorcycle advertising can be laid directly at Turner’s doorstep, not because motorcyclists are particularly fond of his painting, but the graphic artists hired to sell bikes had all been to art school and had their noses rubbed daily in the Masters. 80 years after Turner painted ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed’, his moto-acolytes were churning out homages - ‘Wheels, Smoke, and Speed’ – exhibited on posters and the pages of Moto Revue. The cat was fully out of the bag now, and the allure of Speed itself became the favored sales tool.

The Swiss Motosacoche firm used fantastically abstract and dramatic imagery in the 1920s and '30s. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
In this Golden Age of moto-advertising, manufacturers competed with each other to hire the finest artists and graphic designers, each giving their client a distinctive ‘look’, all of them seeking to out-Turner or out-Bauhaus each other. We are left with a body of exquisite graphic works from the period, dozens of offerings to the gods of Speed. Distinctive regional styles emerged by the late 1920s, with artists from the United States heavily influenced by the naturalistic school of American Scene Painting and the Social Realists. Advertising for Harley-Davidson motorcycles were highly romanticized, but rejected European modern art tendencies, following instead the lead of Grant Wood and Norman Rockwell. While their paintings and drawings still celebrated speed, the unwholesome, messy passion of the of the Futurists was scrubbed away, and riders are generally rosy-cheeked, squeaky clean gents in tweed suits.

A 1930s Harley-Davidson magazine ad: exhaust like thunder, blasting through clouds, a missile on the road. [Vintagent Archive]
While they still ‘split the air like a rocket’, to quote the H-D ad, the American riders weren’t possessed by demonic spirits or seeking to transform the world into tidy geometric shapes, although these were fabulous metaphors for the developing political situation in Europe in the 1930s.

The clean-cut, well dressed Harley riding fellow, still beating hell out of town on his 1929 machine. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The finest American moto-art almost universally depicted civilians in street attire, even when hauling ass down the road; a distinct contrast to the helmeted, square jawed, battling heroes on the cover of European catalogs. This aesthetic dialogue between the international community of motorcycle manufacturers can be read like a deck of tarot cards, portending the future, as an obliviously civilian America would shortly be drawn into militarized conflict, the madness of Fascism, and war in Europe.

Prototype HRD-Vincent Series B Rapide as painted in 1946 By RC Reyrolles...bobby sox and rolled jeans, although the man's petite red scarf reveals the artist to be French! [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
After those 6 years of war, conscription, rationing, and fear, the immediate postwar period saw motorcycles depicted as vehicles of liberation. Freedom to roam the countryside, freedom to seduce women, freedom to blast down the road on “the fastest standard motorcycle in the world – that’s a fact, not a slogan”, or so said the Vincent HRD brochure. The first brochures and posters of the late 1940s followed the prewar patterns, although Bauhaus geometry was a painful association, and Modernist tendencies were dropped in favor of the old ally of Turner’s moody speed…but wait, the solitary knight of the prewar days has been joined by a hot girlfriend, as our hero hurtles down the road to prove he is no Model T owner…thus the Baby Boom begins in earnest.

RC Reyrolles' 1946 paintings, as used by HRD-Vincent in their first postwar brochures. [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The early 1950s were a mix of, once again, the necessary yoke of utility for most machines, as much of the world struggled to rebuild lives and jobs, combined with an increasingly frantic focus on making ‘range leader’ bikes bigger and faster. America, un-bombed and un-rationed, had an insatiable hunger for fast motorcycles, and skewed the world’s production towards its peculiar landscape of vast open spaces, and blossoming competitions on the sands of Daytona, the dirt of Laconia, or the desert of California.

If you happen to be the importer of Norton Manx racers, why not put yourself on the brochure, racing one? [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Brochures and advertising focused almost exclusively on racing machines, and romantic paintings were less common, increasingly replaced by photographs of racing heroes on the latest model, flat out at the Isle of Man TT or leaping dirt humps in the Catalina Island Grand Prix. Our old friends the artists were still employed at times to give an emotional push, to make bikes look faster, and when they painted, the old regional artistic tendencies still showed, with Rockwellian Americans gunning their new Sportster in blue jeans and a windbreaker, while the Brits might still morph into hurtling, helmeted hulks, at one with their fire-breathing Turner-cycles.

This 1963 ad for the Norton Atlas (showing a production racing event) definitely harks back to JMW Turner...[Vintagent Archive]
As the 1960s progressed, a potent mix of the Joint and the Pill meant clothing, sexual mores, and advertising went through radical changes. While ‘swinging London’ had laconic, miniskirted babes draped over Nortons and Triumphs, Harley preferred to show clean-cut, wholesome couples having fun on their bikes, and downplayed speed as a sales element. H-D was grappling with a serious image problem in the States, as the exploits of a few hundred ‘1%’ bikers in patch clubs drew media attention completely out of proportion to their actual influence. Of course, press attention being another form of advertising, tales of wild bikers fueled a craze for customization in homage to the Outlaw machines, which the crewcut squares in H-D management tried desperately to avoid.

The 1962 James Superswift needed a bit of sex appeal, although the unfortunate model on the right found herself re-touched out of this ad...[Hockenheim Museum Archive]
And suddenly, an entirely new gang of bike makers burst onto the global scene, from Japan and Europe. The infamous unthreatening sex-neutral ‘nicest people’ Honda advertising campaign of the 1960s brought many thousands of new riders to the fold, and mimicked the Harley philosophy of showing young, healthy riders out for some good clean fun, and not too fast please. The other Japanese makers showed not-so-nice riders actually using their bikes for what they did best, with speed whiskers and moody landscapes replaced by speed-blurred photography, capturing unfocused dragstrip launches, peripheral-vision wheelies, and moto-babes in sharp detail.

Fantastic 1968 Kawasaki Mach III ad...no more Mr. 'Nicest' Guy...[Vintagent Archvie]
The Kawasaki Mach III did “the quarter mile in 12.6 seconds. You know what you can do with your Honda.” Ouch. The pattern was set, and hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years; colorful photography and clever by-lines touting drag strip times and top speeds, as increasingly specialized motorcycles are divided into camps; touring, naked, dirt, and sport. The motorcycle press is in love with wheelies, stoppies, smoky burnouts, and stunters, but there’s little Romance left in the selling of Speed.

Finally, after nearly 100 years, images of women who ride began appearing, the start of another thread of advertising entirely...[Hockenheim Museum Archive]
This article originally appeared in the Dec.2011 issue of the French Café Racer magazine.

 
 

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.

Gillian Freeman, Eliot George, and 'The Leather Boys'

We've just learned that Gillian Freeman, whose 1961 novel "The Leather Boys" was made into the seminal Rocker/Ace Cafe/Cafe Racer movie of the same name, has died age 89 in London. The novel was commissioned by the London publisher Anthony Blond, who reputedly suggested she write a novel depicting 'Romeo and Romeo in the South London suburbs'.  Freeman wrote the book under the pen name Eliot George, an inversion of 19th Century writer Mary Ann Evan’s nom de plume George Eliot, used to conceal her identity as the female author of the astounding "Middlemarch", and the equally famous "Silas Marner". Freeman's novels were not literature in the same league as George Eliot's, and "The Leather Boys" is a one-night read, and a pulpy novella that was nevertheless groundbreaking for its frank depiction of a homosexual relationship as spontaneous and free of even the consideration of shame.

Gillian Freeman, author and screenwriter of "The Leather Boys". [New York Times]
Freeman's novel is entirely more scandalous than the film adapted from it, although she wrote the screenplay as well, under her own name (the film still credits the book as written by Eliot George).  The first edition has a graphic cover by Oliver Carson, with its overleaf exclaiming,

“The leather boys are the boys on the bikes, the boys who do a ton on the by-pass. For their expensive machines, they need expensive leather jackets. They are an aimless, lawless, cowardly and vain lot with a peacock quality to their clothes and hair style.”

The two main characters, Reggie and Dick, become part of a casually organized gang of criminals who hang out at cafes much like the Ace Cafe.  After committing rather senseless acts of vandalism and a successful robbery with the gang, Reg and Dick plan a robbery on their own, and Reggie is beaten to death by the gang members in retribution, which is followed by a trial in which the gang leader is convicted of murder.

The first-edition cover of the 'Eliot George' 1961 novel "The Leather Boys", with illustrations by Oliver Carson, and published by Anthony Blond, London. [Vintagent Library]
Freeman adapted her book for the 1964 film The Leather Boys, altering the story line significantly, as the book treated crime, violence, and homosexuality with a frankness that would have been unacceptable in film (for example, Britain banned The Wild One until the late 1960s!). The film starred Rita Tushingham (in her first film role) as teenage bride Dot, and Colin Campbell her husband Reggie, whose relationship becomes a love triangle with Reggie the prize, and Pit (Dudley Sutton) her unexpected rival. Reg rides a Triumph Tiger 110 at the film’s start, and graduates to a new Bonneville, while Pit buys a Norton 650SS, and the pair enjoy fast times at the Ace Café, with fantastic shots of period café racers in the parking lots and on the road. Actual motorcyclists will cringe at a long-distance race featuring a 250cc Ariel Leader keeping up with a Bonnie and Dommie, but in general, the film is surprisingly authentic in its depiction of the Ace Café scene and social standing of the Rockers as generally young, working-class boys and girls.

Reg (Colin Campbell) on his Triumph Tiger 110, and Pit (Dudley Sutton) on his Norton 650SS. A couple of likely lads, denizens of the Ace Cafe scene, in this promotional still for "The Leather Boys" [Allied Artists]
In the novel, the relationship between Reg and Dick is consummated (many times!), but in the film, Reg and Pit’s relationship is apparently innocent - two boys bunking together out of convenience and friendship. But the implications of an intimate male bond were still threatening in working-class culture, which leads Dot to spit out – “Men? You look like a couple of queers.” It turns out at the end of the film, after the boys have sold their motorcycles to ship out of Cardiff as merchant seamen, that Pit is well-known to gay sailors, and Reg, confused and ultimately heterosexual, walks away, lost and disappointed.

Dudley Sutton as Pit in the film version of "The Leather Boys", wearing a Lewis Leathers 'Bomber' jacket. [IMdB]
Gillian Freeman wrote several novels for Anthony Blond before "The Leather Boys", including “The Liberty Man" in 1955,  followed by “Fall of Innocence” in 1956, and “Jack Would Be a Gentleman” in 1959.  She wrote 12 novels in all, and commented in an autobiographical essay, “I have always been concerned with the problems of the individual seen in relation to society and the personal pressures brought to bear because of moral, political or social conditions and the inability to conform. This is reflected in all my work to date, although I have never set out to propound themes, only to tell stories ... My first six novels are in some way concerned with the class system in England, either as a main theme ("The Liberty Man", "Jack Would Be a Gentleman") or as part of the background ("The Leather Boys") ... [They] illustrate my interest in and compassion for those unable to conform to the accepted social mores."

Ms. Freeman also wrote several screenplays after "The Leather Boys", including for an early Robert Altman Film ("That Cold Day in the Park" - 1969), and also collaborated on scenarios for ballets with Kenneth MacMillan, including his “Mayerling,” about the Austrian crown prince Rudolph, and "Isadora" about Isadora Duncan.  To motorcyclists, though, she'll always be remembered for "The Leather Boys", which remains the only semi-realistic account of working class Rockers in the early 1960s, and films their milieu with an accuracy only possible with the use of actual Ace Cafe denizens in the period.  Godspeed, Gillian Freeman.

Rita Tushingham as Dot in her first screen role: she's wearing 'Reggie's leather jacket, emblazoned with 'Dodgy', which she dons in their wedding scene: her character is only 16 in the film. Note the actual Rocker girl lounging on the Norton - most of the characters and extras in "The Leather Boys" were real cafe racers, recruited at the Ace Cafe itself, which plays a pivotal role in the film.  [IMdB]

T.T. OK!

Among the many 'lost' motorcycle brands that once made headlines and won races, OK Supreme has become one of the most obscure. In the 1920s and '30s, though, they were a well-known British make, with some of the best graphic transfers in the industry, and a string of podium finishes in the Isle of Man TT.  They had only one win on the Island, though, in the 1928 Lightweight TT (250cc), with Frank Longman riding.

Frank Longman winning the 1928 Isle of Man Junior TT on an OK-Supreme. [MotorSport magazine[
The OK firm was founded as a bicycle manufacturer in 1882 by Ernie Humphries and Charles Dawes.  This was 3 years before the introduction of the 'safety' bicycle, so the first OKs were high-wheelers, although by 1899 they were building in the modern chassis style, and experimenting with adding engines to join the nascent motorcycle scene.  It wasn't until 1911 that they offered a proper motorcycle, using a 2-stroke Precision engine, and over the next few years they offered motorcycles with a variety of engines, from Precision, DeDion, Minerva, and Green.  They entered the Isle of Man TT for the first time in 1912, only their second year of motorcycle manufacture, and earned 9th place.

The 1928 TT-winning OK Supreme with special JAP racing engine and cylinder head designed by G.H. Jones of OK-Supreme. [Bonhams]
Race wins were considered the best advertising for British brands in the 'Teen and '20s, and the competition was keen. Most competitors in the era used bought-in racing engines from JAP, Blackburne, MAG, or Bradshaw, giving them special tuning at the factory, and designing a chassis around them.  In the 1922 TT, OK racers placed sixth and seventh using JAP engines, with the fastest lap being set by Wal Handley at 51 mph (82 km/h), but typically for Wal, who did better at Brooklands, he failed to finish the race.  In 1926 Charles Dawes left the company to return to bicycle manufacture, and the firm was re-named OK Supreme.

The newly-named OK-Supreme had inspired tank graphics!

Perhaps the addition of 'Supreme' did the trick, for in 1928 they finally won the Lightweight TT, using a racing JAP engine.  OK Supreme had a troubled practice period before the TT, as their new duplex-tube frame designed by G.H. Jones proved fragile, so Jones actually returned to the factory in Birmingham to fetch the previous year's racing frames, a traditional 1920s open-cradle design with the engine acting as a stressed member, with a triple-stay rear end to aid stability.  The frame swap was slightly problematic, as the factory had already submitted paperwork for the machines with the A-CU for the '28 TT, so the 1927 frames had their VIN numbers stamped over by Jones to match the entry paperwork.

Frank Longman after his race win in 1928. [Bonhams]
Despite the trouble during practice, the 250cc JAP racing engine proved excellent.  Jones had designed a new cylinder head (still in cast iron) for OK Supreme's JAP engines, with a 12degree downdraught inlet tract, which integrated the recently published gas-flow experiments of both Harry Weslake and Harry Ricardo.  The cylinder head proved the critical piece, as much of the Lightweight entry used the same JAP motor, but the little OK Supreme was a flyer. Frank Longman led the race from the green flag to the checkered flag, and averaged 62.9mph, which was a mere 0.32mph slower than the 500cc Senior TT-winning Sunbeam (but to be fair, the Senior was run in terrible weather). Longman's OK Supreme team-mates (George Himing, C.T. Ashby, and Vic Anstice) came home in 4th, 5th, and 6th places respectively, and only renowned Brooklands competitor Ashby using the new 1928-type frame.

Longman's TT-winning 1928 OK Supreme has survived nearly a Century in mostly unchanged condition, and was registered for the road in 1932 under the registration CG 1150.  An ex-TT winner must be the ultimate café racer for a Promenade Percy, the name attached to racy young men who rode flashy competition machines on the street... I'll explore the full history of the Promenade Percy in my next book, coming this fall.  Check out my previous exploration of cafe racers for Motorbooks - Café Racers (2014).

The special cylinder head that made the win! Complete with AMAC TT carb, the dog-ear JAP motor was the finest racing engine of its day. [Bonhams]
Frank Longman's TT-winning OK Supreme 250 is coming up for auction at the Bonhams Stafford Sale on April 27th/28th, and a full writeup on the machine is here.  There's a huge file of history on this bike, and it's the kind of documentation of a bike's provenance you'd hope to find, but so rarely do, with a competition motorcycle.  The Bonhams catalog is online, and choc-a-bloc with amazing stuff - bikes and parts and projects and ephemera.

The following is a period account of the 1928 Junior TT race from Motor Sport magazine:

"PURSUING the meal-time analogy, the 250 c.c. race should, perhaps, be described as the" soup" of T.T. week, though this year it would have been more appropriate if the Junior race were described as "cocktails," the lightweight as the hors d'oeuvres, and the Senior as the soup—in which element the riders were certainly involved! The Lightweight entry list promised a fierce tussle between Handley (Rex-Acme) and Bennett (O.K. Supreme), but during practice it became apparent that Frank Longman was seriously to be reckoned with, whereas Handley seemed to be treating this year's races with considerable diffidence. 

Alec Bennett on the winning factory Velocette racer in the 1928 Isle of Man TT [Keig Collection]
As the starting hour approached, it was realised that a large part of the course was thickly covered with mist—a state of affairs familiar to "amateur" competitors, but strange to "pukka" T.T. riders. However, mist or no mist, the twenty-five riders were sent off on their race with time and each other. During lap one the clocks showed that Handley, who elected to return to a Blackburne engine for this race, Porter, and Longman, were making good progress, each having overhauled one or more earlier starters. Handley completed the first lap first in just over 36 minutes, which seemed adequate in view of the poor conditions. However, when the whole field had passed, it was found that Frank Longman was actually nearly a minute ahead of the Rex-Acme, while another O.K. (Vic Anstice) was running third. Barrow (Royal Enfield), Meageen (Rex Acme) and E. Twemlow (Dot) completed the leading sextet.

Alec Bennett had evidently experienced trouble as he was not in the leading dozen, and after a very slow second lap, he retired with baffling ignition trouble. Thus, the issue was simplified, and for five laps Longman drew steadily away from Handley who, in turn, drew slowly ahead of the field, led by the consistent Hampshire rider, C. S. Barrow. 

Frank Longman with admiring Boy Scouts in the 1926 Isle of Man TT, in which he finished 3rd on an AJS. [Stilltime Collection]
Anstice, Twemlow, Meageen and Himing (O.K.) were the other riders in the picture while Handley was fighting his losing battle, all of whom were riding steadily at about 59 m.p.h. A little rain fell during lap two, but in spite of this, Longman put in a record lap at 64.45 m.p.h., and from that time onwards the weather conditions steadily improved until visibility and road adhesion became practically normal. Somewhere on the Mountain during the sixth lap Handley's motor ceased, and he coasted home to retire, thus leaving Longman with the substantial lead of 14 minutes over Twemlow, who, for the moment, was ahead of Barrow, whose engine was misfiring slightly. C. T. Ashby on his four-speed O.K. was now fifth, while Anstice who had run out of petrol at Governors Bridge yet managed to keep in the first six.

The 1928 Junior TT-winning OK Supreme [Bonhams]
During the last lap, Longman still further increased his lead and Barrow's Enfield recovered sufficiently to repass Twemlow and finish second--by 25 seconds only. Thus, Longman at last reaped his deserved and long overdue victory by an almost unprecedented margin. The performance of the O.K.-Supreme was altogether remarkable, and but for Bennett's unfortunate retirement they would have won the team prize. Eleven finished, the following nine gaining replicas.

1. F. A. Longman (246 O.K.-Supreme) 2. C. S. Barrow (246 Royal Enfield)  3. E. Twemlow (246 Dot) 4. G. E. Himing (246 O.K.-Supreme) 5. C. T. Ashby (246 O.K.-Supreme) 6. V. C. Anstice (246 O.K.-Supreme) 7. S. H. Jones (246 New Imperial) 8. J. A. Porter (246 New Gerrard) 9. S. Cleave (246 New Imperial)"

[Full disclosure: Bonhams is a sponsor of TheVintagent.com]

 

 


Mecum Phoenix 2019 Preview

For its first-ever auction at Phoenix-Glendale AZ, Mecum is adding 100 motorcycle to its roster of 1100 cars.  The March 14-17th auction will be televised on NBCSN, and we'll be interesting to see how the mix of four and two wheels will affect motorcycle prices, after their blockbuster, record-breaking all-motorcycle auction in Las Vegas last January.  The featured lots include the mixed collection of Buddy Stubbs and the all-Triumph focus of the Hamilton collection, which seems of consistently high quality.  While I won't be a TV commentator on the motorcycle auctions this March, my regular Las Vegas partners Scott Hoke and John Kraman will liven up the action on the small screen (check TV times here).

The ex-Bob Schanz 1934 Brough Superior 11.50 [Mecum]
Featured lots include a 1934 Brough Superior 11.50 formerly owned by Cycle magazine editor and DomiRacer owner Bob Schanz, who ran quite a few Broughs through DomiRacer's showroom over the years.  His 11.50 looks to be a beautiful restoration, and as an owner of the same model, I'm always curious to take the temperature of the market, and it will no doubt prove an indicator of bidding strength for the new Phoenix auction.  The 11.50 was the sleeper Brough for many years, as the uninitiated could easily remember models with an SS and a number attached, which only proves George Brough's acumen for selling very expensive motorcycles.  Secretly, though, the 11.50 was well-known as his favorite model in the 1930s, having big torque and a soft power delivery that can still deliver 90+mph performance and very secure handling.

The ex-Buddy Stubbs 1967 Velocette Thruxton [Mecum]
One of the big surprises at Mecum's Las Vegas auction was the strength of Velocette Thruxton prices, as three examples sold at over $30k, with the top machine hitting $52k, definitely a record for a Thruxton without racing history (the 1964 Barcelona 24-hour / Isle of Man Production TT winner sold at Bonhams' 2008 Spring Stafford auction for about $75k).  Buddy Stubbs' 1967 Velocette Thruxton isn't 100% original, but if you care, the correct bits (clipons, headlamp, taillamp, etc) are easily available.  More importantly, Velocette put the combined wisdom of many TT wins into the Thruxton, which is a remarkable machine to ride even today, with smooth and tireless power combined with peerless handling and extraordinary good lucks.  I've owned one since 1989, and it's my only 'cold, dead hands' bike.

A gorgeous cafe racer - a 1973 Healey 1000/4 [Mecum]
Another rarity is this 1973 Healey 1000/4, based on an Ariel Square 4 Mk2 motor in a special lightweight spine frame.  The Healey brothers did for the Squariel what Egli did for the Vincent, providing a modern chassis for an engine far ahead of its frame in the 1940s and '50s.  Don't laugh - the 1000/4 was magazine tested at 126mph, which was faster than a Honda CB750, using a 1950s engine!  The quality of construction, engine tuning, and styling is first-class, and this is a machine I'd dearly love to own, as it's a fantastic café racer.

Class from the past: a 1915 Excelsior V-twin with Goulding sidecar [Mecum]
This 1915 Excelsior with Goulding sidecar is a terrific period piece, an older restoration of a superb American design, with a period-correct Australian sidecar.  Buddy Stubbs found the outfit in New Zealand, which explains the Goulding, and the paint chips and minor rust spots take the lollipop gleam down a notch, and give the bike an air of authenticity. This bike participated in the first Motorcycle Cannonball in 2010, and has had a total mechanical overhaul since then.  It's a magnificent piece!

Another view of the 1967 Velocette Thruxton [Mecum]
You can find all the motorcycle lots at Phoenix here: check out the terrific variety, and excellent Hamilton Triumph collection.

 


'Rekordjagd auf Zwei Rädern'

The esteemed motorcycle museum in a fabulous old schloss in Neckarsulm, Germany, has a new director, Natalie Scheerle-Walz, who has expanded its program of exhibitions, with the ambition of transforming this charming cabinet of curiosities (and the oldest motorcycle museum in Germany) into a living cultural history center.  Formally known as the Deutsches Zweirad-und-NSU Museum Neckarsulm, the space has long housed the nicest display of two-wheelers in Germany, including ultra-rare factory racers from NSU, who were based in a factory nearby, on the Neckar river. If you've ever drooled over photos of the gorgeous, World Championship-winning 1950s NSU Rennmax racers, this museum is your chance to see them in the metal and up close - definitely worth the visit.

They don't have to be big to be fast: this 1967 Kriedler Florett record-breaker is a supercharged and streamlined 50cc beast. It took the world 6hr record, but the attempt on the absolute 50cc World Record was scotched by bad weather. It was ridden by Jan deVries and Rudolph Kunz. [Deutsches Zweirad Museum]
The current exhibition, 'Record Hunting on Two Wheels', features 18 amazing, one-off factory land speed racers, from the United States, England, and Germany. Stars of the show include Ernst Henne's all-black-everything 1935 BMW supercharged WR750, the 1930 Zenith-Temple-JAP that was the first motorcycle to exceed 150mph (and which was the subject of a scandal - see our 'Stolen Record' article), the awesome 1951 supercharged Vincent Black Lightning built for Reg Dearden, and the remarkable NSU Baumm I, III (the first 200mph motorcycle), and IV streamliners.  The machines date from an original-paint brass-era 1904 Alcyon 1000cc V-twin, to the 1984 Henk Vink 'Blue Stratos' rocket-powered dragster, that recorded sub-6second quarter mile times!  'Rekordjagd' is a collection of pure mechanical badass, ranging from the dawn of speed record attempts, through the golden age of World Records in the 1930s, to the early streamliners that define our current era of splitting the wind.

The 1950 Vincent Black Lightning built at the factory with a supercharger for Reg Dearden. Remarkably, the bike was kept in completely original condition, and is mechanical mayhem personified. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
The exhibit was concepted by Andy Schwietzer, and expanded in Neckarsulm by Manfred Ratzinger, and contributors include BMW Group Classic and Audi Tradition (Auto Union/Audi purchased NSU in 1962), but most of these machines are in private collections and not available to the public.  To see these unique and amazing motorcycles is a very rare opportunity, and to see them in one location is a unique event.  Make plans (or bend plans) to see the show before it closes on October 6th, 2019: you won't regret it!

While housed in a charming 1800s German building, the interior of the museum is delightfully modernized. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
An extraordinary survivor: the 1904 Alcyon racer, a big 1000cc OHV V-twin with twin-cam action...for the exhaust valves only, as the inlet valves were 'atmospheric', sucked in by the piston vacuum, as was common in the earliest motorcycles. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
The 1904 Buchet engine used in the Alcyon racer: a masterpiece of design, from the era of total French dominance of motorcycle innovation. French designs, especially the DeDion motor, were the foundation of the global motorcycle industry. Buchet built the most advanced engines of all, especially after they hired Allesandro Anzani to design them. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
Speaking of Anzani...he later exanded his horizons to include car and aircraft engines, and licensed his designs to British Anzani. This McEvoy racers uses a British Anzani 8-Valve engine, which is quite a beast, with twin Amac TT carbs. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
An incredibly rare 1926 Indian A45 OHV 750cc road racer, one of two or three built for European road racing: note the front brake and friction damping for the front forks. This machine was originally raced in Eastern Europe, after delivery to Prague Indian importer Frantisek Marik. Most of these OHV racers were installed in an extended chassis for American hillclimbing competition, which supplanted Board Track as the most popular form of racing in the mid-1920s.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
The business: Charles B. Franklin, famous for creating the 101 Scout, designed this OHV motor, which was tuned to run on alcohol, and included a fully recirculating oil system.  Another A45 was taken by the factory to Muroc Dry Lake in 1927, and recorded a 126mph average speed, which exceeded the World Speed Record, but America was having a spat with the FIM, and this speed was never 'officially' recognized.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
The 1930 OEC modified by veteran speedman Claude Temple for the World Speed Record, with a 1000cc supercharged JAP motor, and OEC's signature 'Duplex' steering system, which was very stable at speed. Rider Joe Wright took this machine to the World Speed Record at Arpajon, France, at 130mph: the record changed hands three times that year, between BMW, OEC, and Zenith.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
Plenty of room here! The OEC-Temple-JAP was supercharged, and its chassis proved very adaptable. After the 1930 record spree, the bike was adapted for a blown 4-cylinder car motor, then installed in a streamliner by Bob Berry for a run at Pendine Sands.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
The 1930 Zenith-Temple-JAP, developed by Claude Temple and using a very similar engine setup to the OEC record-breaker. This is the first motorcycle to exceed 150mph, but was the backup bike for a record attempt at Cork, Ireland, in late 1930. It was mis-identified by the racing team, the FIM, and the press, who all gave credit to the OEC for the 150mph record, as OEC were still in business, and Zenith were not...and OEC was paying the bills! Read more here. [Deutsches Zweirad Museum]
On everyone's list of 'most compelling motorcycles', the 1935 BMW WR750, with a pushrod OHV 750cc engine. The bike remains in remarkable, original condition, and is an amazing piece of design that's inspired many custom motorcycles in recent years.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
Big and Bad: the Dearden Lightning, with its enormous SU carb, sourced from a commercial truck! It, too, remains in original condition, and is simply awesome.  [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]
Both sides now: the copper plumbing feeds the cylinder heads from the supercharger behind the motor. The Dearden Lightning retains its original fiberglass streamlining, which has been removedfor the exhibition, because the mechanicals are so much more compelling. [Deutsches Zweirad und NSU Museum]


The First 'Handlebar Derby': the 1937 Daytona 200

Daytona/Ormond Beach had been used for speed trials since the dawn of motorcycle competition in the USA, in 1902.  The earliest speed records for cars and motorcycles were taken on the Ormond Beach end of this very long strand, probably because the Ormond Beach Hotel was the only hotel in the area, as difficult as that is to imagine if you've been to Daytona today.  At the turn of the Century these beaches had yet to be developed, but were one of the few places in the country where flat-out speed could be explored without harassment by local authorities.  Land Speed Record attempts continued through 1935, when Donald Campbell and his Bluebird racer shot between the pilings of Daytona Pier at over 300mph!  Everyone involved knew the speed jig was up, and the whole speed circus decamped to Bonneville for their annual fun, once a minimum of facilities were established in that former desert wasteland.

Ed Kretz, Sr. won the very first Daytona 200 in 1937, aboard an Indian Sport Scout racer, sponsored by Floyd Clymer.  Here he shows off his wind-cheating pose: Kretz was 5'8" and weighed 185lbs, and was known to throw hay bales single-handed into his flatbed truck: 'Iron Man' indeed.  [Jeff Decker Collection]
The Southeastern Motorcycle Dealers Association (SMDA) had been hosting AMA Class C 200-mile dirt track races in Savannah, Georgia, since 1932, on the old Vanderbilt Cup racing course.  By 1936 the Daytona Beach chamber of commerce was desperately looking for a motorsports attraction to replace the annual speed trials, and the City of Daytona worked with the SMDA to bring the Savannah 200 to its shores in 1937.  The track was a mix of road and beach straightaways, with wide hairpin bends at either end, with a hairy transition from sand to pavement on the 3.2-Mile course.   There was also the small matter of the tide to contend with, and early races were ill-planned in this regard, with riders often getting wet at the end of the long race, as the sea encroached on the track. The beach race continued until 1961, when the banked oval Daytona Speedway was completed, and the sand was finally abandoned for good.

The 1/4mile U-turn at each end of the race was particularly treacherous, and the site of the most spills, especially on the difficult transition from sand to pavement, and back again. While plenty wide, it was still a very bumpy course after a few laps. Spectators watched from nature's bleachers - the sand dunes. [Jeff Decker Collection]
The 1937 beach race was the first Daytona 200, and Ed Kretz (of Monterey Park, CA) won on an Indian Scout racer.  Kretz was on a streak, having won the last Savannah 200 the previous year, and also the inaugural Loudon Classic race.  He was legendary for his endurance and physical strength, and gained the nickname 'Iron Man' for sheer endurance in long-distance racing.  He was sponsored in that first Daytona 200 by Floyd Clymer, an Indian dealer who later became a publisher, and owner of the Indian name in the 1960s.

The start of the 1937 Daytona 200, with crowds spread thickly on both sides of the 'course', which narrowed with the encroaching tide! Note the film crew atop the sedan: cars are made of much thinner steel today!  [Jeff Decker Collection]
In the 1938 Daytona 200, Ben Campanale won on a Harley-Davidson WR, and for the next 17 years of racing on the beach (barring 1942-46, when racing was cancelled due to the war), race wins alternated between H-D, Indian, Norton, and BSA.  While Triumph, BMW, and Rudge also competed, they didn't take top spots on the sand, but did make a spectacular presence, as seen in these photos, some not published since before WW2.

A competitor chomps a stogie, in a real he-man pose. Note his helmet and leathers - helmets were required, but no testing standards existed yet. Goggles were usually ex-Air Force. [Jeff Decker Collection]
This photo collection was generously loaned by artist Jeff Decker, whose collection of motorcycle ephemera is legendary, and includes perhaps the largest assembly of 1%er outlaw motorcycle club 'cuts' (cutoff vests with embroidered club colors) in the world.  Jeff brought a significant stash of interesting historic art and automobilia to the Las Vegas auctions this year, where he traditionally keeps a booth to display his sculptures.  Many thanks to him for allowing us to publish these rare photos on The Vintagent!

Warm-ups on the sand, or a bit of sport before the race for this Harley-Davidson WR rider wearing an English Cromwell-style helmet. [Jeff Decker Collection]
George Rahterson of New York City rode the one of two Nortons in the race in 1937: this bike is a 1936/7 Manx Grand Prix, with plunger rear suspension. The exposed valve gear and chains must have had a hard time with the sandblasting... [Jeff Decker Collection]
Several Triumph Speed Twins were entered in the pre-War Daytona races, and acquitted themselves well, especially when the Tiger 100 was offered, with speed tuning kits available from 1938.  Note the abbreviated aluminum fairing, with a celluloid screen. [Jeff Decker Collection]
Daytona donuts! All of the riders competing had extensive experience sliding on dirt, as that was the only racing surface in the USA at the time, with Board Tracks finished by the mid-1920s. This Harley-Davidson WR rider shows proficiency in sliding - a very useful skill on the slippery sand. [Jeff Decker Collection]
 

 


2019 Las Vegas Auction Recap

The 'bike week' in Las Vegas hosts the world's largest motorcycle auctions, with a total of 1850-odd vintage machines on sale this year.  With two sales during the week, hosted by Mecum Auctions and Bonhams Auctions [full disclosure - both supporters of TheVintagent.com], the variety of motorcycles available makes this literally a 'something for everyone' event.  All price ranges, all types, makes, configurations, ages, and countries of origin were present, from a replica 1894 Hildebrand&Wolfmuller, the world's first production motorcycle, to sport bikes from 2016, with literally everything barring steam motorcycles represented on the auction block.  Many come to buy, many come to sell, but all come to enjoy seeing that many old motorcycles in one place, as the auctions are by default also the largest vintage motorcycle display in the world.  It's a museum where everything is for sale, although you never know what any machine will fetch once the hammer falls.  Bargain or world record?  It's impossible to tell beforehand.

Star of the Show: this 1939 Crocker Big Tank brought a whopping $705,000, the second-highest price ever paid for a motorcycle at auction.  A second Crocker big twin brought $423,500, which would have been the highest price ever paid at auction for this legendary American make, but it was eclipsed earlier by this machine! [Mecum]
With this a huge sampling of verifiable prices, the Las Vegas auctions are also a snapshot for the vintage motorcycle market. Prices this year were decidedly mixed, and totally unpredictable, which may reflect domestic politics more than the economy!  Take it how you will: either the price of a Crocker V-twin has shot up wildly, or remains at a 5-years status quo, as two similar machines sold, for $705,000 and $423,500, one day apart at the Mecum sale. Was there enough difference between the two machines to justify the $282,000 price difference?  Both were restored, both looked tremendously appealing, but the top price came from the MC Collection of Sweden, who provided excellent documentation for this machine, and all their 240+ bikes sold at Mecum.

We loved this fun collection of 1971 Honda SL street scramblers - every model in Honda's CL range that year. They went to a new French museum, which took home many machines this year's auctions.  The set of 6 brought $51,000. [Bonhams]
Records for particular models were certainly set: a pair of new-in-crate Honda Z50 'monkey bikes' brought an astonishing $51,150.  These were dealer-only 'Christmas Special' models, gifts from the Honda factory to their best-selling dealers, and had an all-chrome finish.   Twenty other Honda Z50s of various vintages were sold at Mecum's South Point Hotel venue, with an average price of $5500, although one other Christmas Special sold for $13,200, which bends my mind, but says a lot about collectors in general: it doesn't matter what it is, if people want it, they'll pay what they need to get it.

This gorgeous 1967 Velocette Thruxton broke all the rules in fetching $56,100, while another one sold for a more 'reasonable' $42,100! [Mecum]
The following are probably the top prices ever paid at auction for these machines:

The takeaway: most of these are for post-1980 bikes. That's the hottest part of the motorcycle marketplace now, with recognition (in the form of money) going to the best motorcycles of the 1980s.  Generally, bikes from the 1920s/30s/40s held their value (barring the '25 SS100 at $357,500, about $100k off the expected price), while those of the 1950s/60s slipped on the whole.

The Honda RC30 is a perfect design object with wicked performance, and has been collectable since it was released - many have zero miles! This one has 3 miles, solely from being pushed around at the Mecum auction... [Mecum]
In a unique scenario this year, 240-odd machines from the MC Collection in Sweden were sold in one day (Friday Jan. 5th at Mecum): the 50-year collection of outstanding machines from Christer Christensen.  Prices varied greatly, from bargains to world records (for a 1938 Crocker 'Big Tank' at $705k), but on the aggregate, prices were above average, and at the end of the day Friday his collection (minus 7 machines sold Saturday), fetched over $9.5 Million...which used to be the total for the entire 'bike week' in Las Vegas.  But there was still another 1500+ machines to sell!   Those 'other' bikes boosted the Mecum total to a staggering $26Million, which is an 87% increase over last year.  With a 92% sale rate, the 2019 Mecum sale will be remembered as the largest and most successful motorcycle sale in history.

Christer Christensen of the MC Collection was sad to see 245 of his motorcycles dispersed around the globe, after 50 years of collecting. But $9.5M helped. [Paul d'Orléans]
The venerable Bonhams Auctions sale at the Rio Hotel featured a manageable 120 motorcycles on Thursday afternoon, with a sell-through rate of just under 80%, and prices generally at or below the expected averages. One bright spot was Steve McQueen's 1938 Triumph Speed Twin, which fetched $175,000: a 4X factor courtesy the King of Cool.  No other McQueen bike in Las Vegas at either auction house, though, had that kind of Steve multiplier, so there's nothing to be learned here.  A surprising number of no-sales at Bonhams for restored 1960s Triumph twins may reflect their seller's unrealistic expectations - prices at both auctions were well down on mass-produced British twins compared to 2016, and we rarely see $16k+ prices for these bikes anymore. Managing the expectations of motorcycle owners is perhaps the most difficult job of an auction house, as people remember the very top prices for special machines or reached in one-off auction fights, but fail to realize their machine is not in the same situation, even if apparently identical!

The magic of Steve McQueen launched this 1938 Triumph Speed Twin into the stratosphere! $175,000, which is 4X the usual top price. [Bonhams]
While British parallel twins prices continue to weaken, it's the Vincent Black Shadow that's the auction-world weather balloon...or the canary in the coal mine, depending on whether you're buying or selling.  VBS prices have been a rollercoaster indicator of global economic health for the past 3 decades, swinging between $25k and $150k and back again several times over now.  They're the go-to bike for first-time collectors, a box to tick on every must-have list, but such checkbook buyers vanish in bad times.  Restored Black Shadows reached a high average of around $140k two years ago, but today have sunk back to $85k, which is in line with prices within the Vincent Owner's Club, according to my sources.  A 1951 Vincent Black Lightning failed to sell at Bonhams after bidding peaked at $320k, which is a mystery, as last year a similar Lightning - both with long, documented histories - set a world record at $950k.  Three more Lightnings sold privately in 2018 - two at around $350k, plus an amazing Craigslist discovery at $20k.  Yep; keep your eyes peeled, there's still treasure to be found!  Yaar!

Likely the highest price ever paid for a Benelli 250 Quattro (which can also be found as a Moto Guzzi): $15,400 [Mecum]
Perhaps all the pre-auction swooning over this 1981 Bimota SB2 helped kick it to $52k at auction? [Mecum]
This 1986 Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica sold for $49,500, although other, identical machines sold for less than $15k during the week! [Mecum]
This mighty Münch Mammut set a high water mark of $115,000. [Bonhams]
What must be the most expensive 'civilianized' Norton Interpol II rotary, a 1986 model for $33,000. [Mecum]
Exotica! And perhaps the ultimate Honda supertech superbike. The NR 750 was crazy expensive when new, and remains so at auction at $181,500. [Mecum]
I'm not sure why this 1981 BMW R80 G/S brought $38,500, but it did, and now sets the high bar for the G/S series. [Mecum]
Also sold at Mecum, the uncategorizable full-scale model of an AJS V4, built from photos and ridden 15,000 miles by Dan Smith, its creator. Mecum asked, 'what's it worth, Paul', and I said, 'maybe $80k', and I guess it was, at $85,250. [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.

Denis Sire

Legendary motoring artist Denis Sire, champion of inserting fantastical pinup girls into historical situations, has died.  His work is well known to a generation who came of age in the 1980s, during the second wave of Rocker style, when Sire was already well established as an artist and musician in France, and his work was exposed worldwide in popular magazines. Sire was born in 1953 at Saint Nazaire on the Atlantic coast, and studied art in Paris at ‘L’Ecole des Arts Appliqués. His work is most familiar to 1980s readers of Playboy and Heavy Metal magazines, and I've had a copy of his Velocette Thruxton sketch on my office wall since the mid-1980s, and admired his outrageous mix of scantily clad femininity with hot rods, record breakers, fighter planes, and motorcycles. Meeting Sire in person last February at Rétromobile in Paris, I discovered he also possesses a unique sense of style, befitting his outré artistic ouevre.

'Moto Femmes'. The Bonneville Salt Flats were a constant source of inspiration for Sire [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]
While in Paris studying art circa 1980, Denis Sire met Frank Margerin, and they formed the band Los Crados.   His comic art simultaneously appeared regularly in Heavy Metal magazine, the first slick publication devoted to a new generation of comic artists: after the R.Crumb/ZAP comix era of the  1960s/70s, and before the current craze/praise for manga and graphic novels.  Sire's published many books since the 1980s, and his work appears in countless editions of magazines, but you can start digging into his print publications here.

The following excellent interview appeared in 2015 on the French website, Monsieur Vintage, who regularly featured his work.  I've translated it from the French for our readers, as it gives the best insight to his character and story.  Vale, Denis:

Denis Sire you have 2 facets, rocker and draftsman. In a few words, who are you?  I am a dandy rock and roller and refined designer, although the profit is not always the result, but in any case I feel free.

Denis Sire in the 1980s [Denis Sire]
When did you get your motorcycle license?  In 1972. I started with a Moto Morini: it's like a drug, once you have tasted it is difficult to do without it, because the sensations are unique, it is made with the machine. It's awesome. I never had any Japanese except one that was offered to me by a friend; a Yamaha 900 Diversion.  A gift that allowed me to escape at the time. Later, when flirting with the future mother of my son, I told her my biker escapades, so she wanted to ban me from motorcycles.  Since that period, I ride more.

My Japanese moment was very short, I followed up with a BMW R68, Aermacchi 350 Sprint, Harley Sportster 1000 XLH, H-D Duo Glide (which I never rode), a BSA B31, a Norton 850 Commando (Fastback), an H-D Cafe Racer (cast iron Sportster), a Panther Model 100, a Triumph TRW (ex-Paris Police), BMW K 75. Then a Buell M2 Cyclone (orange fusion), for me the greatest pleasure on 2 wheels.

'Thruxton', the work that alterted me to Denis Sire...while I owned a Velocette Thruxton, I never found quite this accessory! [Heavy Metal]
What made you want to draw?  In my memories, I have always pretty much drawn. My father was an old biker and told me his motorcycle stories. He still had an Indian Big Chief, coming from the American surplus of the 1940s war. Passionate about mechanics, he was painting, so drawing for me was something natural. And my parents did not hinder me on that side.  Fortunately, because they understood that a classical school did not fit me.

'LeMans, 1958' [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]
You are from Saint-Nazaire, when did you arrive in Paris?  We arrived in Paris in 1962, I was 9 years old. The arrival in Paris for me was dramatic, I lost everything leaving Saint-Nazaire; the house, the dog - a royal poodle. I was very small, after we ended up in the upper part of Rue Lepic, at number 22.  A 2 room apartment. We'd had a garden before, but I was not allowed to go out, because at the end of our garden, there was the sea.  In Paris it was another story: I went to school alone, the public school was just across the street. This is where I started to fight, because at the time there were tough kids, and there was the underworld of Montmartre, the OAS...a pretty hot atmosphere.

Later we moved to Sceaux fortunately [a suburb of Paris - ed.]. We were in a refuge city, a garden city, great. With the Parc de Sceaux in the 60s it was great, it was crazy, still old-fashioned with small farms,  the shopping street, there were still printing houses, those who printed Bibi and FricotinFeet Nickelés ... I was skateboarding and cycling, and at 14 I rescued a moto Solex from a cellar. I went straight to bikes, there was no moped between the two.  I bought a Honda PC50, with 4 speeds and a horizontal motor: I though that had class. My father told me "You can ride a moto, but you have to buy them."

'Gold Star'. A riff on Wal Handley's epic 103mph lap on a BSA Empire Star, that founded the Gold Star line [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]
The motorcycle often appears in your drawings, like cars, pin-ups. Where does your passion for 'retro' come from?  When I studied the Applied Arts in 1970, I also discovered Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, but they died. Then I was interested in the Stones, and I discovered Eddie Cochran in a compilation made 10 years of his death.  A gray metallic sleeve: I listened and said to myself: "It's not bad the Rock, huh ..."

Later, I met Frank Margerin, who studied Applied Arts at the same time as me, and I went to flea markets with Los Crados, and we formed a good band. I was already doing comics, I decided it at age 11 because my father bought me Spirou, I always had the Spirou it gave me ideas.  Franquin was my master, I managed to meet him and interview him before his death.

To come back to the past: what interested me, came from the past. To please the ladies, it was great, we did a concert on the Place de la République in '81. We sang the twist, it was the easiest thing to sing, I did not think I was bad in English. We cut our hair and slicked it back. At the time the news was Yes and groups like that, I did not like them, so I stayed stuck in the past. I rediscovered the Early Beatles, which is pure Rock'n'roll, and their premiers on the BBC were crazy, McCartney sings great, as on Long Tall Sally.

Captured at a comic art booth at Retromobile in 2012, another Sire drawing depicting the Bonneville Salt Flats, with a 1930s Indy Car.  Sadly, I could not afford to buy it at the time... [Paul d'Orleans]
You are someone nostalgic?  I am always saying "it was better before." The Volkswagen Beetle, I always preferred the first model, the Chevrolet Corvette is the same, the Stingray with the Split window demented, the Mustang when we see how they have evolved it has nothing more to see. Yes, it was better before.

My father told me his stories from the war, it was fascinating, the Guérande peninsula. My grandfather Sire was an engineer at the Atlantic shipyards, he made sea tests from Normandy.  My father was a great storyteller, where I discovered the childhood of my parents, and my grandparents.

I am also interested in history, of the 1940s among others, where the French social malaise comes from all accounts. The '30s are very interesting, the Speed ​​Twin Triumph, it dates back to the '30s we did not invent anything better.  These motorcycles were perfect machineries: we see that when we draw them.

'Jimmy Guthrie' on his factory racing Norton, circa 1935 [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]
Does the past have a future Denis Sire?  Yes, I think so. You have to think about turning off the computers, getting back to drawing. Today all cars are similar, because they come out of a computer that has a binary operation. I was a fan of Jim Hall and his Chaparral. In his studio in Texas, this guy was alone, although he was a descendant of an American oilman, he found himself orphaned very young. He started ragging on the cars of others saying " I'm going to improve that and that .. ", he's done fabulous things, it's part of the beauty of the past.

Your drawing stroke is very fine and dynamic, how do you work?  I'm crazy, I cut my pencils to 0.5mm on the cutter to have a finesse. They are already thin and I size them more.  I can not do that anymore because of my eyes. In my Zybline and Bettie comics, I worked in India ink, extremely fine. It was wash and brush.  With Willys Wood, we were influenced by a lot of people, including Americans. With Will Eisner and The Spirit he used the same technique. I met him through Heavy Metal for the first time, with my first print publication.

Denis Sire on his Aermacchi 350, in front of an Aermacchi jet! [Denis Sire]
Your first job was with Heavy Metal?  Yes, there was Driver too, but it interested me less. I was doing comic book competitions. At Pilote, they had asked me to leave my box saying "we will write to you." I left, I reconsidered, and went back to get my work.  Heavy Metal did not look like any other magazine, there was Charlie Hebdo monthly but there were few designers.

Willys Wood, this is a reference to the Betty Page pinup?  I discovered Betty Page through Jean-Pierre Dionnet and it was a timeless love story. She was also the muse of Dave Stevens.

In your artistic journey, if there was anything to change, what would it be?  Better to surround myself. All alone is rather hard, especially since I do not know how to sell myself.

You are edited by Zanpano Editions, is there a comics project at home?  No, no comic book, a Volume 3 of Dolls of Sire and then that's it.

Do you work for hire?  Yes, I'm currently working with Vincent Marquis on the Continental tire brand, but that's another approach. There are delays, more constraints, and an order remains an order.

'Brooklands 1937' [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]
You never thought of working in design?  No, it never attracted me. I am an admirer of the work of others, but I prefer to transcribe.

Do you work on media other than paper?  No, I had proposals for cars, but I don't see too much interest.  I want to use perspective, but they want flames: what Alexander Calder did on the BMW LeMans racer was great - it suited the car. Calder it is not figurative and it would be more in that sense that I would work.

Have you ever wanted to re-group a rock band?   We would only want to go back on stage. But hey, there was the death of Schultz [of Parabellum], which clipped my wings a little. And then, there is the alcohol, the drugs, and  you say to yourself  "What am I doing? I do with, or I do without?" When we look at the history of Rock all this is related, it's the same for the bluesmen: they drink, their fingers are messed up, but they're high and continue to play.  There is time to consider too, you can not do everything at once; family life, drawing, music, motorcycle. It's a lot. When I was with Dennis Twist, I could not do comic books, because when you draw there is an immersion that has to be done.

Dennis Sire captured at Rétromobile in Paris, in 2012 [Paul d'Orléans]
Is there a drawing you regret doing? 
It's hard to say. Like that, nothing comes to me. The regrets, they are more connected to the losses of original drawings, from the flights, and there were many. Once in the United States especially, when I worked for Heavy Metal: a poster that I had to fly to New York. I found the original for sale by one of my gallery owners, he had bought in a Comics Convention! Another time, returning from Rome, I lost a whole box on Harley-Davidson, for whom I worked. But that loss is even more stupid, more annoying.

For your Pin-Up drawings do you work with models?  I drew the Heavy Metal boss's wife, but it depends.

Today, if we want an original Denis Sire, how do we find one? 
There are exhibitions that I do sometimes, but I do not sell live, I do not sell myself either, it is better to go through my publishing house.

What are your available collections?

'Denis Sire' at Nickel Chromium Editions

'The Amazon Island' at Albin Michel

'Lisa Bay' by Heritage

'Bois Willys' by Les Humanoides Associes

[Interview conducted on Dec. 20 2015 by Philippe Pillon for monsieurvintage.com]

'Petrali Soul'. Joe Petrali's record-breaking Harley-Davidson Knucklehead streamliner [Galerie Jean-Marc Thévenet]

 

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 Brute: 'Fass Mikey' Vils

Long before he'd earned the nickname 'Fass Mikey' for his rapid motorcycle painting skills, covering the entire factory Yamaha road-racing team practically overnight in the 1970s, Mike Vils was a legend.  He'd been building choppers and show bikes since the early 1960s, and worked at Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth's shop from 1967-69, before branching off on his own, working for Yamaha in the '70s before becoming a building contractor in SoCal.

Taming The Brute! Ed Roth hand-retouched his photo of Mike and The Brute for his first article on the bike in 1967. [Roth Family Archive]
When I first met Mike in the vintage motorcycle scene in the 2000s, and got to know him on the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball, I had no idea he had a significant history with custom motorcycles 50 years prior, until I started asking around for imagery and stories for my book 'The Chopper: the Real Story' (Gestalten 2014).  The book was my effort to give a historical, researched timeline on the development of this uniquely American-grown custom style.  'Talk to Mike Vils!' was the advice from older motorcycle friends, many of whom had been 'chopper guys' in the 1960s and '70s, before switching to the vintage motorcycle world in the 1980s and '90s.

Ed Roth himself photographing The Brute for Choppers Magazine - Ed did most of the writing for the magazine too, under several psuedonyms [Mike Vils]
Mike first began working with Ed Roth the year 'Big Daddy' began publishing his seminal Choppers Magazine (1966).  It was the first print publication to focus on this custom motorcycle movement, and ran only from 1966-69.  In contrast to all later chopper magazines, Roth's magazine was color blind, inclusive, and funny.  After the explosion of interest in choppers following the release of 'Easy Rider' in late 1969, an industry was created around choppers, with parts manufacturers and custom chopper shops around the world, and numerous magazines covering the scene.  But popular magazines like Easyriders were notorious for including content with nazi and white power symbolism, and never featuring the work of black or brown chopper builders.

Mike Vils with his grandmother, and his trophy room / her living room! [Roth Family Archive]
Chopper magazines of the 1970s and '80s gave a sad distortion of this amazing, home-grown motorcycle style, and colored the public's view of choppers for generations.  As did, of course, the choppers' connection with 1% motorcycle gangs, who were in reality a minimal part (numerically) of the custom motorcycle movement of the second half of the 20th Century, but a huge part of the image projected by the media.  By telling the story of a chopper builder like Mike Vils,  it's my hope that the chopper's artistic merit can be appreciated without the social baggage that has deterred appreciation of this folk/outsider art movement.

Mike Vils in 1967 with The Brute. Note the shadow of Ed Roth's ladder in the foreground. [Roth Family Archive]
While he was still a teenager, Mike Vils built a show-winning custom 1955 Triumph Tiger 100, called The Brute, that evolved over several years in different, increasingly radical forms.  The Brute was famous on the mid-1960s show circuit, and collected awards aplenty, as you can see in photos from his grandmother's home! It was also featured in Choppers Magazine, as were others of Mike's creations. The following is an excerpt from my 2014 book with Gestalten,  'The Chopper: the Real Story' (which you can still buy here):

Mike Vils proving The Brute was a rider, not a show queen [Mike Vils]
"Mike Vils started riding homemade mini bikes in the dirt lots around his SoCal home when he was 10 years old.   In 1957, the hot rod craze was in full swing. “That was 47 years ago, and I was already into the whole custom thing, and put ape hangers on my Doodlebug. When I got a little older (all of 17), I bought a 1955 pre-unit Triumph 500 that had been a desert sled, but I wanted a street bike, so it became a bob-job. For the dirt I rode junky old crap like everybody else – stripped road bikes. I met Gary Deera who was an old ‘outlaw’ rider, who’d gotten into some trouble and retired from the 1% life, and he befriended me, and showed me how to build bikes. I bought an old Knucklehead, and helped me make a rider out of it. That freed up my Triumph to become a showbike kind of thing.”

Mike in Choppers Magazine with his huge collection of trophies won with The Brute over 4 years [Roth Family Archive]
That ‘showbike kind of thing’ started out as a very clean bob-job, as was the norm in the hot rod/custom scene at the time, with lots of chrome and a very cool paint job. “In those days we didn’t have catalogs to buy anything; you might buy a Webco peanut tank, or a Harley tank, but otherwise we had to make everything. I did all my own paintwork, and even polished all the metal before taking it to be chrome plated, to save money. Joe Perez did my upholstery – he did it for Ed Roth too. I had to lace my own wheels; nobody had any money. I was just a kid!”

Mike with an early bob-job version of the Brute, with Triumph telescopic forks and front brake, circa 1964. The frame had yet to be chopped and was still standard, although a bolt-on rigid rear end from a TR5 Trophy had been added. [Mike Vils]
That bob-job was The Brute, one of the most famous bikes to hit the show circuit in the mid-1960s, winning 22 trophies in 2 years, either 1st Place or Best in Show. The Brute was progressively transformed over three years, from a bob-job showbike to the radical chopper it became. “The custom bike thing was always about ‘no money’, it was all about low budget. Kind of like the original hot rod guys, those cars were just shitboxes they’d found and made something out of. Nobody had any money, there weren’t any rich guys into hot rods or bob-jobs at all, it was all about making it cheaply, by yourself in those early years. Nobody went out and bought a new bike; you might spend some money for someone else to build your motor, but the rest you’d have to build yourself.”

The Brute at a show in 1966, when black flames adorned the pink tank. [Mike Vils]
The Brute was transformed from bob-job to chopper with the addition of a pair of Brampton girder forks from a Vincent motorcycle, which Vils cut up and extended 9” himself, by learning how to weld using gas. “I think I had one of the first extended girder forks [1964]. I got a pair of Vincent-HRD Brampton forks from Freddie Elsworth, who won the Big Bear Scramble several times; I met him through Mike Parti. Those forks weren’t worth anything back then, as nobody wanted them. Freddie was in a club of some kind, a real riding club like the Boozefighters, who were into building bikes for performance, and a lot of them were riding Harley JD cut-downs. I wanted a girder fork for my Triumph, and Freddie had the Vincent forks, and I extended them 9”. I gas welded all that stuff. My question to all these new guys is, ‘what did everybody do before TIG welders?’ We did it ourselves; I learned to weld aluminum using a gas torch. Jim Buchanan helped me with narrowing the Vincent forks – they looked dumb, they were too wide. I didn’t have a lathe to do the shorten up the links etc, so Jim did that. I did the rest - the lengthening. It was trial and error as we didn’t know what worked, but the extended forks were where the whole change to a chopper started. It started out as a 1955 pre-unit Triumph Tiger 100, and I found a rigid rear section, so decided to build a show bike.”

The Brute in its 1968 form, with extended Vincent Brampton forks and tall exhaust stacks. [Mike Vils]
Mike lived with his grandmother at the time, building an incredible show bike in her garage, and storing the bike between shows in her living room! Plus an impressive array of trophies as time went by. His father was a policeman, and at times their relationship was rough, so grandma’s house made sense. As Mike grew in stature as a teenage chopper builder, the curious humor of a sweet old lady hosting a radical chopper beside the lace doilies and porcelain dolls was not lost on him, or his friends. But while Mike Vils may have looked the part of a teen badass in photos, his true nature has always been sweet. “I knew all the true modern outlaw guys, Buzzard and Foot and Dick Allen, but I never smoked one hit off a joint, I never took drugs or even drank beer. Which is the reason Ed Roth hired me in 1966; I wasn’t into all the macho bullshit.”

Ed Roth on The Brute in 1967. [Mike Vils]

Hired by Big Daddy

While making the rounds of the hot rod/custom show circuit, Mike met all the characters who also traveled the country showing their vehicles, one of whom was Ed Roth, who was already legendary in the Kustom Kulture scene of the mid-1960s.  According to Mike, Roth was a bit fed up with the hot rod scene by then, “Ed got away from cars at that time, as he saw motorcycles were the future, they were going to be a big deal.” Roth began hanging around with members of the Hells Angels like ‘Buzzard’ and ‘Foot’, and even began selling large black-and-white posters of bikers on their choppers at car shows, and via his latest publication, Choppers Magazine, which he started publishing in 1966. Roth saw something refreshing in Mike Vils – a young man with talent, who was creating artistic motorcycles, with no ‘attitude’ or axe to grind. Ed hired Mike Vils, who was “paid $35 a day, and all the cheeseburgers I could eat. I was 6’3” and 135lbs, so I didn’t eat many burgers! There was some cheap and horrible burger place nearby, but you’ll eat anything at 20 years old.”

Part of Ed Roth's photoshoot for Choppers Magazine.  The Brute was among the first choppers to use Volkswagen back-up lights for headlamps!  [Roth Family Archive]
Mike and Irma Vils in 1981: Irma was always a co-rider with Mike, and they're still married! [SuperCycle]
Mike in 1981, just before he sold The Brute...for $2500. A lot for an old bike in those days, and we'd love to know where it is today? [Supercycle]


The Vintagent Archive: Wheels And Wings

How Speed Work varies on Motor Cycles, in a Car, and in Aeroplanes

[From 'Power and Speed', published by Floyd Clymer, 1944]

By Flt.-LT C.S. Staniland

Chief test pilot, Fairey Aviation Ltd, Motor Cyclist and Racing Driver

 

I suppose that, before I begin writing about aircraft and motor racing, I had better tell you how I first came to be mixed up in this business of fast moving in the air, on four wheels and on two.

Chris Staniland at Brooklands on Oct. 5, 1929, after winning the 250cc BMCRC Championship at 84.27mph on his Excelsior-JAP [The Vintage Years at Brooklands]
I have been keen on machines all my life. Racing cars, motorcycle and aeroplanes have fascinated me for as long as I can remember, and the men who performed great feats in theses spheres were my heroes at a very tender age. My very first machine was a motorcycle. Just after the war motor cars were fabulous machines costing a king’s ransom, or so it seemed, and when young men were infected with the desire of travelling fast, it was usually to motorcycles they first turned, graduating on two-wheels before moving on to four-wheelers, and so it was in my case. My first taste of the joys - and tribulations – of mechanical transport was found on my brother’s motorcycle, which was a 1911 Douglas – a very famous machine in those days on which many a well-known personage in the sphere of mechanical transport first made acquaintance with this form of getting about.

Soon after learning all I could about this Douglas I became the owner of my own machine, a Rudge Multi, looked upon in those days as something very hot indeed. It had a single-cylinder engine, belt drive, and a complicated arrangement whereby moving a lever altered the position of the back-wheel driving sprocket and so altered the gear ratio. The result was that with this device you had a very wide variety of gear ratios, with the option of a high top gear for fast cruising.

Chris Staniland piloting a Norton sidecar outfit from the Nigel Spring equipe at Brooklands in 1924 [Power and Speed]
A variety of machines followed. Another Rudge, then a Velocette two-stroke, two Nortons, a Rex and an Indian, some of which were certainly very fast. This was in the days soon after the war and when I had just left Tonbridge school and was enjoying the cultural ministrations of a gentleman known as a ‘crammer’ – most of us have to undergo examinations at one time or another!

In 1923 I achieved an ambition and raced at Brooklands, and won my first race – a standing start lap at no less than 54mph. I rode Nortons in 1924 and in that year I joined the RAF. During this time I was stationed in Cheshire and raced consistently at Brooklands.  Soon after this I began to ride machines for my friend, RM 'Nigel' Spring, and we had rather a successful time in the 500cc and 750cc classes, including the breaking of several records.

Staniland on a 346cc Excelsior-JAP at Brooklands on April 14 1928, where he won the 350cc three-lap solo race at 93.27mph [The Vintage Years At Brooklands]
In 1924 I had the good fortune to win four races in one afternoon at Brooklands, which naturally filled me with great glee. In 1925 that great wizard of motorcycle racing, the late Bert LeVack, offered me his 1000cc Brough Superior to ride in the 200 miles race, which excited me quite a lot, as this was without a doubt a very fast machine. In the race, however, things did not order themselves too well, and I had a good deal of bother with the tyres and carburetion, so that I met with no noticeable success. However, to make up for this, I won the 200 Miles Sidecar Race, and a few other races fell to me, plus a few records later in the year.

Up to this time I had always looked down on the motorcar racing game but I very much admired a Bugatti of George Duller’s, and in 1926 I acquired a 2-liter straight-eight Bugatti of my own, the second of the type imported into this country. With this car I had a shot at car racing at Brooklands and met with a measure of success. Since then I have raced motorcycles (not so much on the two-wheelers this last year or so, for various reasons) and all sorts and shapes and sizes of racing cars.

As you may know I was a member of the Schneider Trophy team in 1928-29, and then, leaving the Royal Air Force, I became test pilot for the Fairey Aviation Company, the famous aircraft concern.

Flight Lieutenant C.S. Staniland in his test pilot's attire ca.1928 [Power and Speed]
Although naturally there are similarities, motorcycle and car racing are not very much alike, and of the two, car racing is, I think, the more difficult and, if anything, the more dangerous. Motorcycles seem to steer better than the cars, and in an accident the rider is usually flung clear, which is a great safety factor. Cars are, of course, much faster than the two-wheelers, but the latter form a magnificent training school for car racing. Many of the best racing-car drivers began as motor cyclists – the late Bernd Rosemeyer, Tazio Nuvolari [read about Nuvo's motorcycle racing here - ed.], Achille Varzi, and in this country, Freddie Dixon, are examples.

In both forms of sport there is the same need for perfect judgement of speed, the same gentle touch for braking and the same benefits from experience. A motorcycle has to be ridden – there is no question of a machine keeping itself up owing to its speed. Riding a motorcycle at great speed calls for the utmost physical fitness. When you see a motor cyclist flying down a bumpy road at over 100mph it keeps upright by reason of the skill, courage, and experience of the rider and for no other reason.

C.S. Staniland and his 1926 Bugatti Type 37 at Brooklands [The Autocar]
Both in car racing and motorcycle racing a sense of balance is necessary, for in a car entering a corner, the driver must feel the slightest tendency of the car to slide – which is a sense of balance. In both forms of sport there is a need for the right touch on the controls, gentle when needed, and at times brutal. On the whole I think a car calls for more physical strength, both on a twisty road circuit and at high speed on the outer Circuit at Brooklands. In both forms of racing there is the same matching of hand and eye, the same judgement of distances for braking and of speeds for cornering, the same ear for the engine note and the same careful nursing of the machine. It it a poor driver who bursts his car by overdriving.

The fastest cars are faster than the best motorcycles. The power to weight ratio is about the same in both, but the car has better streamlining. A road-racing motorcycle will weigh about 350lb and will develop about 50 brake horse-power. A Grand Prix car of the 1937 type weighed about 18cwt and gave off about 500bhp. The car has better road holding, better suspension, better braking and greater inherent stability, which all tends to make the car faster on the road. On road circuits where cars and motorcycles both race at various times, the cars have proved the faster, by as much as 10mph on the lap speed.

The 1936 Donington BRDC British Empire Trophy Race, with Staniland driving the Alfa Romeo 8C on the right [The Autocar]
As to acceleration, I suppose the motorcycle is faster off the mark and faster for perhaps the first 100 yards, but when a Grand Prix car has overcome initial wheelspin and inertia, its accelerations is better than that of the two-wheeler.

The motorcycle record for the standing start kilometre is 98.9mph whereas the car record for this distance is 117.3mph [this is 1938... ed.].

Racing motorcycles will develop as much as 120 or 150 horse-power per 1000cc of engine size, but the latest Grand Prix cars will exceed this. Most racing cars have supercharged engines, producing astonishing power from small units by this means, but supercharging has not yet caught on in the motorcycle world owing to special problems of carburetion, added to which although a supercharger can be mounted on a motorcycle quite neatly, it absorbs some power in the drive and the extra power produced seems offset by the power used up in the driving.

The magnificent 1928 Supermarine S.6 seaplane that took the Schneider Trophy for the British team, with Staniland one of the test pilots

The carburetion problems of aircraft are far more complex than either in a car or a motorcycle. A car operates always at about the same barometric pressure, so that carburetors can be tuned with precision for every given racing circuit and left at that for the race. An aeroplane needs carburation for varying barometric pressures and for varying temperatures according to the height at which the aeroplane is flying, added to which the carburetion must be right for all weathers, including frosty conditions. An aeroplane starts off from sea level and is called upon for maximum speed at say, 20,000ft, where the weight of air drawn into the cylinders is far less than on the ground. Every tourist knows how his motor car loses power in climbing a high Alpine pass of perhaps 6000ft, owing to the fall in barometric pressure which allows the mixture to become too rich. An aeroplane at 20,000ft would in the same way have a hopelessly over-rich mixture and would lose a great deal of power at what is its usual service altitude.

Staniland in 1937 testing a Fairey P4/34 prototype with Rolls Royce Merlin 1040hp engine. It was never produced, but formed the basis of the Fulmar light bomber. [Power and Speed]
To counteract this, supercharging is used, but on a more complicated system than in a racing car. Various forms of supercharger control are used, but in all the idea is to give a constant boot pressure at all altitudes. Some use a completely automatic device, rather like a throttle governor operated by a barometer which opens the throttle as the machine climbs higher; other have the same plus an ‘override’ to give extra boost for take-off only. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine is a good example of the completely automatic type: the supercharger give plus 6lb boost at ground level and at all heights. At ground level the engine runs on a restricted throttle opening, which gradually opens to full throttle at a given height, the supercharger giving its plus 6lb boost all the time up to this height.

Aero engines resemble car engines in all essentials, but are much more expensively made, with the finest procurable materials, the best labour and with exhaustive tests, which all send up the price. A racing car engine is tuned much nearer to breaking point than an aero engine, and after one race has lost its fine edge of tune and has to be inspected and perhaps reconditioned. Thus after a Grand Prix, the German cars are sent back to the works for inspection and re-tuning, while a different team of cars is sent out to the next race. An aero engine, on the other hand, must be capable of giving off its full power for very long periods with only routine maintenance – checking of valve clearances, plugs, filters, and so forth.

Staniland at the wheel of his Bugatti Type 37 GP at Brooklands in 1928 [The Autocar]
In road racing the car engine never runs at full throttle for more than a few minutes at the outside – the life of such an engine at full throttle is very short. A Grand Prix engine will give about 500bhp for a matter of a few hours, after which, unless the throttle were closed down, there would be a loud bang in the works. An aero engine must be capable of passing the Air Ministry Type Test which is 100hours on nearly full throttle, and must give off power corresponding to the machine’s cruising speed – ie maximum safe revs – indefinitely (about three-quarter throttle). Reliability is good to have in a car – but is essential in aircraft.

Speed on two wheels feels colossal. A car feels slower at 100mph than a motor-bicycle at that speed owing to the rider of the latter being exposed to the wind and being much closer to the ground flashing away under him.

But 100mph in a car feels far more exciting than an aeroplane at 300mph – and many RAF aeroplanes will do far more than that flying straight and level. It is extraordinary how, after flying at high speed and the pilot comes in to land at 80mph, the machine appears to be crawling. Reduction from high speed to low velocities is always deceptive, as one mechanic found out at Brooklands when his driver slowed down to 30mph and the unfortunate man stepped out under the firm impression that the car had nearly stopped.

Flt-Lt. C.F. Staniland at the controls. After a life spent in pursuit of speed, he was killed while testing a plane in 1942

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Great Mile Rally 2018

NAME, COUNTRY, NUMBER AND WHAT ARE YOU RIDING IN THE RALLY?

Robert Nightingale, England, Rally Number #57. Against the advice of many, I decided to ride my late-fathers 1957 custom Triumph Thunderbird, which I got working earlier this year and it turned out to be the oldest motorcycle in the 2018 rally.

[Amy Shore Photography]

IS THIS THE FIRST TIME YOU’VE ENTERED THE RALLY?

Over the last 3 years I’ve helped the Malle team research the rally route, normally from the back of a support vehicle, but this was my first time riding in the rally with a team: a completely different experience!

[Amy Shore Photography]

TELL US ABOUT YOUR RALLY PREPARATION?

The day before the rally, like most of the riders I was scrambling to complete the bike in time, finding last minute spare parts that might break or rattle off. On the forecourt of The Classic Car Club in London, bits of the Thunderbird were littered around the bike, while more and more custom/classic rally bikes were being dropped off every hour, which only added more pressure to the impending deadline. I managed to fit a new oil-feed pipe, “new” custom California handlebars, bent the mud-guards out a bit to accommodate the larger off-road trials tyres, fitted race plates and gave it a fresh oil change. After a quick lap around the backstreets of Shoreditch past the BikeShed to test the brakes and the oil flow - the bike was pretty much ready to go.

[Amy Shore Photography]

First thing the next morning we helped the professionals load the bikes into crates at The Classic Car Club and onto the rally trucks. Strapped in tight, for the long and slow journey up to the Castle of Mey, located at the very Northern tip of mainland Britain. It was a bit sad seeing my old bike leave for Scotland without me, like sending away the family dog and watching it stare at you out of the rear-window as it was driven away and out of sight.

[Amy Shore Photography]

The boys at Ace Classics helped me fill my tool roll with some more extras (seals, plugs, strange bolts, more cables, levers etc.) and advised me to take it real easy if the bike was to survive the rally - to ideally ride on alternate days, giving the old bike a rest day between stages... which was definitely the plan.

WHAT HAPPENS AT THE START LINE?

After 24 hours of driving North from London we finally reached the top of the country in the support vehicles and set up in the rally camp at the Northern tip. Overlooking the North Sea from the Castle of Mey, with the glow of the oil refineries on the horizon behind the islands of Stroma and Orkney, seals playing in the bay beneath camp. Up there the coast line is pretty harsh and jagged, with few buildings on the land, the weather can do a full 180 in minutes, turning from sunshine to blizzard.

[Amy Shore Photography]

The team from the Nomadic Kitchen (Tom & Will) arrived that afternoon, after riding a pair of borrowed Royal Enfield Himalayans 800 miles straight up from London. As soon as they unloaded, they got out their knives, lit the fires and started prepping the first night's wild cooking feast - fire roasted pork loin and mouth-watering roasted salads. The 70+ riders descended on the Castle of Mey from all over the world (mainly Europe) for the Riders Check-In that afternoon.

[Amy Shore Photography]

After all riders had checked in, with fresh rally numbers on each machine, we left the castle as a pack. Lead by Jim the head groundskeeper at the castle on his old BMW (after a quick change from his kilt to riding leathers). We rode 5 miles along the coast up to the lighthouse, perched on a slab of rock 250m above the lashing sea. 70 completely unique classic/cafe/custom motorcycles made up the pack, as we snaked back and forth up the hill to the lighthouse. I turned to see all the bikes behind me meandering up the hill in single file, moving as one continuous line, the headlamps lighting up the hill in the dusk - it was a beautiful sight. We road back along the coast and the local villagers had come out of their house to wave the rally past, very sweet. The feeling that the rally was about to begin was building.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Back at camp, we had the first and most detailed riders briefing, describing the next day's route, with riders from last year's rally joining in with local tips on the route and their thoughts on the rally experience and team riding. The briefing was followed by the now customary whiskey pairing; local single-malt with locally caught/smoked salmon. After three attempts at a synchronized toast, there was a cheer, a gulp of whiskey and it was back to the bikes.

WHAT HAPPENED ON THE FIRST DAY IN STAGE 1?

I don’t know if Tom and Will from the Nomadic Kitchen made it to bed that night, I woke at 5am and they were slaving away over the fire, knocking out a hearty wild cooked breakfast for everyone. Rally mornings are always the most rushed and the first day was the most chaotic, bikes and kit everywhere - riders running from tents to bikes, half dressed in leathers, toothbrush in one hand, with a coffee and spanner in the other, trying to find some odd component that they were sure they packed. We had a quick briefing with the rally marshals at 6am, minutes later they tore off on bikes, which in that moment felt like we were about to play the largest game of hide and seek in the land. With a 2-hour head start, the marshals went ahead to set up check-points and report back of any route problems. We threw our rally duffels into the support vehicles and headed to the start-line at the Castle. Luck was already on our side, not a cloud in the sky and it was beautifully warm: when Scotland is good, it’s bloody great!

[Amy Shore Photography]

With all the planning in the world, some things you can’t predict. After half of the bikes and I had reached the start line, with not a soul in sight, a local farmer (not realizing there was another 40 bikes behind us) closed the in-road with a JCB, acting as a blockade for his cows. As we soon learned, the “Royal Cows” take priority, and the big herd ran boisterously down the castle track - you don’t want to put a motorcycle in the way of that stampede.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Minutes later, everyone was assembled in front of the castle, which was the first time some of the teams had really met each other. Log books out, stamped, the flag dropped - and the rally had begun. Teams departed in 5-minute intervals. My plan was to ride out as soon as the last team had left and catch up with them. Second hitch of the morning, a modern street-scrambler suddenly wouldn’t start. Calum from deBolex Engineering who heads up the engineering team can fix anything. He got the King-Dick tool chest out, with jump leads, meters...and found a serious charging issue.

[Amy Shore Photography]

My team departed an hour or so behind schedule, but it felt so good to finally be out on the road, after the months of planning, logistics and comms, we were in it. I was riding with Team #7: two couples on a mix of modern Triumphs and Bobbers. We barely saw another vehicle for the first few hours of the day, hugging the coastline that rises and twists along the hilly coast, one of the best parts of the North Coast 500 route. The Thunderbird was pulling strong and running like clockwork, we made great time: across the Tongue Bridge, through checkpoint #2, on to checkpoint #3 - stage 1 was pretty easy going. We only needed to turn right about twice, the rest the of the day was following one gorgeous yet tiny B-road down the entire Western side of the Scottish Highlands, through truly wild countryside. In places the sea was a turquoise blue, if it wasn’t for the fact that you were in Scotland, the white sand beaches could be in the Caribbean. By the 4th checkpoint we had caught up with a few more teams and met up with the BMW Motorrad team, lead by Ralf and Lucas with photographer Amy Shore [whose photos illustrate this story - ed] who was documenting the rally. That day Amy was flying along in a vintage Mini with the top down, shooting riders out of the back with her cameras.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Faster than we realized, the 7-hour ride was ending and the signs for Torridon started to appear. As we came across the small pass from Kinlockewe, reached Loch Torridon, and rode along it until we found the rally camp at the grand Torridon Estate. I kept an eye on the edge of the loch as we rode: the last time we were up here on a research trip, we spent an hour watching a family of otters fishing for trout along the bank. Torridon did not disappoint, the estate is run by a wonderful Scottish/German couple that served up ‘Tartan Tapas’ with local scallops and fish from the sealoch. After the rally briefing and the whiskey pairing, the instruments were out, Scottish music started and somehow ended up in an impromptu Highland Games. After we were thrashed at a Tug of War... I turned to something I was slightly better at, bike tinkering. The bike seemed to be doing well, it was keeping up with the modern BMW’s and she was in her element on these tiny twisty roads, much lighter than most modern bikes I’ve ridden, it’s quite easy to steer the nimble bike with your knees, keeping the bars straight and pushing the back end around corners.

WHAT WAS THE RIDING LIKE IN SCOTLAND ON STAGE 2?

On day #2 of Scotland we had an early start, and after a Scottish breakfast served amongst the trees, the morning rally ritual of oil/coffee/briefing - with the marshal-dash and then pack / suit up - ready for the day. Suddenly the midges decided to make an appearance, within minutes riders may not have had their jackets on, but most of us had helmets on with visors down - midges are a hellish event - this sped up our departure, log-books stamped, flag down - off we rode. Another gorgeous day of sunshine as we headed straight over to the highest pass in Scotland and the steepest legal road in the UK, for the AppleCross pass. The roads around there are beautifully smooth and seem to have been laid out by a roller-coaster engineer, with a good sense of humour, twisting up and down over endless hills, perfect.

[Amy Shore Photography]

First engineering hiccup of the day - Ravi’s Moto Guzzi had arrived at Checkpoint #2 at the start of the pass and then decided to throw up all over the road. A big black pool of fresh oil beneath the bike - a leaky hose or a faulty clip. After 30 minutes of fettling, our new friends in the BMW team arrived. He looked at the hose and said “I’ve got just ze thing”, we thought he was going to come back with a brochure for a modern BMW, but came back with some very smart white plastic gloves, tools and spare hoses.  Ten minutes later, both teams were back on the road, and what a road the AppleCross pass is. Getting to the top is one thing, but the view down into the valley with the Isle of Skye in the distance is amazing. The road boasts a dozen hair-pin bends as it progresses down the valley - as soon as I reached the bottom I just wanted to ride back up and do it all again. But there were more mountain passes to come.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Stage 2 was definitely a longer day, about 8 hours or riding in total. We arrived at Checkpoint #3 at the start of Glencoe - the Great Glen. A breath-taking ride through that monstrous valley, imposing mountains on every side, the stags were grazing up on the heather/granite foothills - you’re riding through a whiskey advert! As we came to Checkpoint #4, I parked the bike up and something smelled bad. With an old bike, there’s no warning light if something’s starting to go wrong, you have to use all of your senses, touch, listen and in this case smell the motorcycle - normally the bike has a gorgeous hot-oil aroma to it - something didn’t smell right.

[Amy Shore Photography]

We carried on the ride through Loch Llomand and the Trossachs and down the coast to the extremely bizarre and beautiful Kelburn castle where our rally camp was based for the night (the Castle was painted by a group of Brazilian street artists). As I turned up the drive to the castle, I wasn’t getting as much power as I normally would, or was it just my imagination, when you’ve been riding all day, 280+ miles, you’re tired and your mind can play tricks on you, maybe it’s me not the bike? The Nomadic Kitchen team were already at the fire when we arrived, roasting butterfly lamb. Dinner that night was a well lubricated affair, after a walk around the grounds of the castle, back at camp we were greeted by a fantastic sunset over the bay.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Calum and I had a look over the bike and realised the throttle was misbehaving, sticking slightly...but nothing major it seemed., nothing to explain the smell or the power loss. At this point I should probably have taken that pre-rally advice and maybe given the bike a days rest.

TELL US ABOUT STAGE 3 IN THE LAKE DISTRICT?

Another early start and the good weather was still on our side. I knew this was going to be a long day, 300+ miles on the route card.  I joined the last team to leave who were enjoying a leisurely start, but then it appeared that the old Police issue Moto Guzzi had snapped an alternator belt, after some quick calling around, we located a shop 20 miles down the road where we might get one. Our team headed out on a brief detour to source belts and parts, adding an hour off course. After we crossed the border and left Scotland for the lake district, we were happily cruising for a few hours as a team, when I felt power suddenly drop on the Thunderbird. I limped along to the next turning, 2 Minutes down a country lane, I found a safe spot to park up, for some reason the bike was only getting full power when in high or low revs, but nothing in the middle. I searched the electrics, then got word that the support vehicle was only 5 minutes away, we looked over the bike, stripped the carb, gave it a clean and then the bike seemed to be running fine, strange.

[Amy Shore Photography]

I caught up with my team at Checkpoint #3 and we rode as a team down in to the Lake District, across the 2 highest mountain passes in the Lakes - from Buttermere across the Hardknot pass. The Thunderbird was back in her element, throwing it from side to side up the mountain roads. The sun was shining, a fantastic afternoon of riding over the passes and along the lakes, dodging stray sheep, cows and tractors.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Unbeknown to us, late that afternoon a lorry driver had fallen asleep on the M6, knocking out an entire motorway bridge, he was completely fine, but it shut down the motorway for 24 hours (the local newspaper the next morning called him the most unpopular man in Lancashire). Which meant that all that traffic spilled onto every other nearby route, bumper to bumper traffic for 50 miles in every direction - exactly in the area we were all trying to ride through. Luckily we were on bikes and could filter through the bad patches. We should have been back at camp by 6pm, but arrived starving at around 9pm, at the very quirky and eccentric Heskin Hall. Our support crew weren’t quite as lucky, the Malle-Rover turned up at the Manor gates just after midnight, with a Commando in the back (the Norton had fallen off it’s centre stand and snapped a vital lever).

WHAT WERE THE HIGHLIGHTS OF STAGE 4 IN WALES?

By day 4 you could start to feel the toll of 3 solid days of riding, 750ish miles, 2 countries behind us as we crossed over into Wales. I started that day with the BMW Motorrad team, and the thunderclouds threatened to break. A couple of times we stopped, threw on wet weather gear, but most patches were just light showers, so we rode as a pack through the winding tracks of Snowdonia National Park, down the infamous A470 (voted the most beautiful road in the country) around the back of Mt Snowdon and down through the valley. By Checkpoint #3 we were joined by another team with a very fast Triumph Thruxton leading. To keep up with them I really had to press my chin on the tank, tuck elbows in and try to get another 10mph out of the bike. Somewhere in Snowdonia my key must have rattled out, so I borrowed a small teaspoon from the cafe which did the trick of starting the bike. The weather held but as we left the Brecon Beacons the wind picked up, bringing with it the energy you feel before storms. Riding with 3 teams now, 12 or so bikes together, we crossed the Severn bridge at a furious rate. Riding in all 3 lanes, I’m not sure if we were actually going that fast, or if it was the head on wind that was bashing the bikes about as we rode across the huge suspension bridge - quite a departure from the quiet tracks of the Scottish highlands, but riding in a fast pack like that is so much fun. I think the BMWs were politely humouring my attempt at keeping up the pace, through my wildly vibrating side mirror I could just make out the image of Jochen grinning and riding along side-saddle on his cafe-racer BMW and then occasionally wheelying past me. I didn’t think being overtaken would be a highlight...but it was a great memory of that stage.

[Amy Shore Photography]

We were chasing each other down the lanes of the Mendip Hills, when the welcome sight of 2 rally flags appeared up ahead. The guys from Sinroja motorcycles led the Marshal team that day and waved us in smiling. The landscape was completely different around there, the camp was perched on top of the Cheddar Gorge on a large flat plain, with gorges surrounding the area on 3 sides. Word spread that night that there was a full lunar eclipse, with a blood moon - unfortunately the storm clouds had descended on the dark camp,  so instead we hosted a motorcycle race.

[Amy Shore Photography]

The boys wheeled out the Mini Malle Moto, a half-thrashed monkey bike from The Malle Mile. I pushed the Thunderbird out into the the long grass a hundred meters away, and the support vehicles turned on full beams to light up the “track”. One at a time every rider and Marshall took a timed lap around the marker-bike and back, 10% didn’t make it across the start-line and then the Belgian rally team proved that it was actually faster to run the route by foot and beat the monkey bike. After the race finished and the winners were awarded a cold beer, I was walking the Thunderbird back across to camp and realised the tank badges must have rattled off somewhere in Wales. Steadily it seemed, I was leaving bits of the Triumph on roadsides up and down the country.

HOW WAS THE FINAL STRETCH TO THE FINISH LINE?

The last day of the rally was supposed to be the shortest day, but the motorcycle gods had other plans....We woke to good news that the storm hadn’t broken yet, but big dark clouds hung menacingly on the horizon, full of water. I guess on the last stage of the rally, you need a little drama - you don’t want everything to be too easy. For the last day we had arranged for the press-marshal Rachel Billings - who was writing about the rally - to ride with our team to shoot 35mm film from my bike....slight problem... the bike wouldn’t start. After 30 minutes of tinkering and some kind words whispered to the bike, she suddenly roared into life. By that time all of the teams were now 30 minutes ahead of us. We jumped on and headed down into the Gorge, ok it’s not the Grand Canyon, but its a great ride. In the rough words of Bill Bryson “England doesn’t have the biggest or the highest or the deepest of anything, but it does a lot with what it’s got” and the county here is unique, varied and pretty. Tiny postcard towns and castles connect the dots all the way from Wales to Devon and on to Cornwall.

[Amy Shore Photography]

En route to Exmoor, it poured with rain, black skies above, the sort of downpour where immediately there are deep pools of water on the lanes, mini rivers at the sides. Somehow water gets into your boots, soaks your socks and you hunch your shoulders and neck to try and close any gaps between helmet and jacket and soldier on. I remember shouting to Rachel “shall we take shelter” as we sped through the driving rain, but she shouted back “just keep going” - she’s got grit! The rain was relentless, but then the rain ended and there was a faint hint of blue sky up ahead, things were looking up...and then bike died. We rolled to a silent stop in an old school house drive. Out with the tools, so much for Rachel’s rally team photos which was the photo-brief for the day. I was pretty sure we were miles behind the other teams. By sheer coincidence Calum and the support Land Rover drove by only 10 minutes later, we went over the obvious things, then took out the battery, only to discover that the 2 new lithium batteries had fused together in some horrible hot-molten-mess. The bike might be out of the rally and only 150 miles from the finish line.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Luckily we weren’t in the wilds of Mongolia: it was midday on a Saturday in England, so we called all the local bike garages to find a classic 6V battery.  After 10 no-goes we find a shop on our route that thinks they has one in stock, so we stuck the bike in the trailer while four of the rally teams roared past us, beeping. So we weren’t last after all at that stage. We found the old motorcycle shop, owned by a young guy who specializes in vintage Japanese imports from the 1980s...quite niche, but he had the battery! £6.50 later it was installed, the sun shone and we were back on track. We headed for checkpoint #2, still in the running and things look good. As we reached Exmoor, the landscape changed completely to a wild open moor, with animals running across the roads. We crossed the top and the bike seemed to be struggling again, fine in high revs, but no power below max revs, it coughed, spluttering...and then just the sound of air rushing past, as the bike free-wheeled in neutral down a very long hill into the deepest valley in Exmoor. We rolled to a silent stop outside an old garage that looked closed for decades. No network connection, Rachel walked up the valley, still nothing, I started going over the bike, no joy, the battery was completely dead.

[Amy Shore Photography]

After 20 minutes or so a little voice popped up from the hedge behind the garage “need some ‘elp?”. A small older gentleman, in a blue baseball cap came through the gate smiling. I explain the bike problem, the man in his late 70’s, tells us he used to get a lot of these bikes here back in the day and he owned a similar model once. He rubbed his big mechanics hands over the engine and said “Well let’s try and fix it”. He heaved open the sliding doors of the ancient petrol station, and I noticed the faded paint on the inside walls of ‘The Black Cat Garage’. Inside he had a load of old bike parts, some possibly working, some hanging from the ceiling, but he had a workbench of old tools - this might be the best place we could have broken down in the whole of England! He had an industrial battery charger, but after no success with the old 6V, Fred says “I have an idea”, pulling a battery out of an old scooter. “This might work” - it still has charge. We put it next to the Thunderbird and with makeshift copper wiring we hooked it up. The Thunderbird kicked over first time! Fred wouldn’t accept a penny for the battery, we wrangle it into the battery box on its end, holding it in place with gaffa tape. We thanked him again, loaded up and headed off down the green tree-lined tunnels of Exmoor - and the rain had stopped.

[Amy Shore Photography]

To make it up to Rachel for that last 5 hours of riding in the rain, 3 dead batteries, 2 garages, 4 pairs of soaking gloves, I suggested we stop in Dartmoor for a quick bite to warm up. We rode in to the oldest pub on Dartmoor, where a wedding was going on in the back of the pub.  The bride walked out in head-to-toe white lace, looking radiant, while I was dressed head to toe in Black waxed canvas, covered in black oil and dirt, hungry and looking angry. “I think we’re complete opposites” I mentioned. We went to start the bike, nothing, silence. The rain started spitting, I reluctantly called the support vehicle, Calum’s 2 hours South almost in Cornwall. A rowdy group of young male wedding guests came out of the back of the pub, half cut, they all had an opinion on how to start the bike. Moments later they’re taking turns to help me push the Triumph to the top of the hill, across the bridge and bump starting me across the river. On the 15th go, it roared back to life, they cheer, Rachel downs the last of her drink and we’re back in the game.

[Amy Shore Photography]

A few hours later as we crossed into Cornwall, the rain started again, I saw a familiar Land Rover in a country lay-by. After 9 hours on the bike, 6 of them in the rain, Rachel wisely swapped her seat on the bike for a drier one in the support vehicle.

[Amy Shore Photography]

As I pulled away - with determination to complete this rally on the Thunderbird - the rain really set in.  Tt was already raining but now it was pouring, my last pair of gloves were soaked, and then the bike started to misbehave again, only running at full revs.  Then I realised I’d lost the lights, and then the front brake gave up. I saw the sign for Helston and The Lizard...only 17 miles. I’m not giving up now, and kept the bike at full revs, hammering it down the lanes, taking all of the roundabouts in 3rd gear. I considered taking the more direct route across the middle of a round-about, rather than around it, but thought better of it. Hunched on the saddle, trying to keep the water out, watching the odometer count down the last 17 miles, shouting out at each mile marker for a morale boost “15....14....13”. Finally the sign for ‘Mile End’ appeared, the last mile South on mainland Britain. I arrived at Lizard Point just after sunset, 9pm, 4 hours late to the final checkpoint and the finish-line. No one in sight, the rally flags had long since been cleared away, but so good to be there, gazing over the sea at Lizard Point. I turn to get back on the bike, the lighthouse lighting up the horizon and the silhouette of the Thunderbird, reminding me of the view North from the lighthouse at the Northern tip of Scotland, just a few days ago, but it seems like an age away. The poor bike...bits missing, smelling bad, no lights, exhausted and in dire need of lubrication...we had a lot in common at that moment.

[Amy Shore Photography]

ANY LAST WORDS ABOUT THE RALLY EXPERIENCE?

When I got back to the rally camp from the finish line at The Lizard, the afterparty was in full swing, fires lit, drinks flowing, with a gale still howling across the Cornish peninsula - I walked into the food tent like a half-drowned cowboy. I was the last to leave Scotland and the last to arrive at the finish line, but once I started riding those roads with my team, there was no way I was going to miss out and take a rest day. Things went wrong, bits fell off, but I wouldn’t change it one bit, that was the adventure.

[Amy Shore Photography]

Tom Sachs: 'The Pack'

Not so far from Basel (the real town of Basel, not the metastasized art fair), the haute ski town of St Moritz is quietly becoming its own art destination.  Painter/film director Julian Schnabel's son Vito Schnabel has chosen St Moritz for his own eponymous Swiss outpost, which is currently hosting an exhibition by artist Tom Sachs.  Sachs' deep digs into his personal obsessions, like his years-long Outsider-esque variation-and-theme play on NASA imagery, makes his work among the most intriguing of all contemporary artists, on par with Grayson Perry for his widely variable expressions and air of sincerity in all the mad things he builds.

Tom Sachs and Van Niestat chronicled their Alp/Transalp journey in 2004 with a photocopy 'zine, detailing their meals, routes, VIN number, and other minutiae [Allied Cultural Prosthetics]
I'd missed that Sachs is also a motorcyclist, and had, in 2004, made an art project around a motorcycle tour he'd taken through the Swiss Alps on a Honda Transalp, with filmmaker Van Neistat. Sachs published a limited-edition of 100 photocopied 'Dollar Cut' zines about the trip (this is on my Christmas list, if you really love me), and even made tee shirts of the hand-drawn cover, including the Honda's VIN number, license, and other minutiae he typically incorporates into his work.

The Transalp Tee: a rare, affordable Tom Sachs artwork...if you were lucky! In his typical manner, dwelling on the details is Sachs' method of exploring cultural meanings typically overlooked [Allied Cultural Prosthetics]
This month Sachs opened a new body of work at Vito Schnabel Gallery called 'The Pack', as an homage to the work of seminal conceptual/performance artist Joseph Beuys.  The German Beuys shamanically transformed his life story into his art, particularly his 'origin story' of a plane crash while a Stuka tailgunner in the Luftwaffe, where his life was saved by independent Tatar tribesmen, who healed his body by packing him in fat, wrapping him in felt blankets, and dragging him by sled over the snows to medical attention, using flashlights to navigate through the night.  Beuys' most famous performance/art included felt, fat, flashlights and sleds, as well at other elements he considered magical, like coyotes... he famously had himself locked in a cage with a wild coyote, covering himself if a cloak, hat, and cane, while ritually negotiating with the frightened and aggressive animal: it was tense, dangerous, and magical at once.

'The Pack: Kinshasa, Lagos, Mogadishu', mixed media (2018), with 'Flag', polymer paint over steel and plywood (2018) [Genevieve Hanson/Tom Sachs Studio]
Sachs, in an homage to the master, has himself transformed Beuys' talismans into his own obsession with Switzerland, for his exhibit 'The Pack'.  He considers Switzerland an iconic brand, and even opened a 'Swiss Passport Office' for 24 hours in London, from which he issued his own version of the world's most coveted travel document.  His interest in Switzerland is on full display in St Moritz, and includes three electric motorcycles dubbed 'Kinshasa', 'Mogadishu', and 'Lagos' (all 2018).  Each 'sled' is equipped with Swiss blankets, a flashlight, and symbolic weaponry (a BB gun, a machete), plus snacks(!), all displayed in front of a giant Swiss flag...modern versions of Beuys' work, transformed via Sachs' particular obsessions.  There is some discussion of associating these bikes with a 500-year old military outfit, the Swiss Guards, who were created in 1506 by Pope Julius II, and now famously guard the Vatican City.

'Heidi', mixed media (2018). The most robo-erotic-Helvetic coffee dispenser ever. [Genevieve Hanson/Tom Sachs Studio]
Other works in the exhibit reference NASA and the moon (staples of his imagery), plus an erotic/robotic X-rated coffee machine called Heidi.  Sachs' work is always worth pondering, and his assemblages are consistently crafty, reckoning with culture and its machinery through hand-made totems, which typically become squint-your-eyes simulacra of 'real' objects...like full-scale lunar landers. His art plays both anthropologist and Outsider at once, ignoring the history-book narrative surrounding things, and focussing on their details instead, giving a propaganda-free and openly curious take on our cultural totems.

'Training' (2011-16), plywood, latex paint, steel, vertibird, yamazaki, mixed media. It's all in the details. [Genevieve Hanson/Tom Sachs Studio]
'Moon' (2018), polymer over plywood, mixed media. Flags and NASA as branding, unpacked. [Genevieve Hanson/Tom Sachs Studio]


NYC Norton

Photos by Peter Domorak

We all love beautiful things, and some people have a flair for creating beauty. It’s like cooking: you can give the same ingredients to a dozen chefs, and maybe, if you’re lucky, one will prepare a dish that’s simply exquisite, makes you roll your eyes back in your head, remembering the smell of madeleines, and the bicycling days of your youth. There are quite a few builders of Seeley-framed race bikes and café racers based on Norton Commando and Matchless G50 motors, but there’s one builder who stands head and shoulders above the rest combining these ingredients – a master chef named Kenny Cummings. His NYC Norton has a reputation for building impeccable race and road bikes around the Seeley frame, which is a great spine on which to hang your work. What is it that makes his bikes so special, especially as there have been so many Seeley-framed special builders since the 1960s?

A wicked Seeley-Norton Commando roadster as only NYC Norton can build: a café racer extraordinaire. [Peter Domorak]
The difference is an artist’s design sense: line and proportion and construction harmonized into a perfect whole. Harmony is apropos in Kenny’s case, as his first love is music: growing up as a musician, playing with various bands in Seattle, moving to NYC and clocking in with artists from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Costello.  His day job was in contemporary art book publishing, to fund his dream band, Shelby. And on the side, motorcycles played a part starting in the 1990s, when the pull of two wheels proved irresistible, and he bought a Norton Commando. Years later that he discovered Nortons were in his blood, after a reunion with his father, where he was presented with an early 1970s photo of Dad with a Norton N15GS scrambler. Such a coincidence begs the question: free will, or fate?

"Everybody in the club right now, Tell the DJ - turn it up loud." Jon Thorndike playing mixmaster at the lathe. [Peter Domorak]
Kenny bought that first Norton Commando in 1995, as he was smitten with its style.  But the learning curve with old British bikes is steep, and can be harsh, and he was shortly educated in their highs and lows. “I was riding my Commando around the West Village, and it conked out at 6th Ave and Bleeker. I knew about Hugh Mackie at Sixth Street Specials, so I pushed it to 6th St and Ave C – that’s 1.8 miles. Hugh told me I needed a new alternator, and it would cost $1000. This was right after I’d spent all this money to buy it. Pretty soon after that, I heard a jingle in the motor – the exhaust threads in the cylinder head had stripped. Hugh said, ‘that’s another $1500.’ I sat down on the stoop of his shop, totally bummed out about spending all that money, and Hugh sat down beside me and said in his Scottish brogue, ‘Keeeneeey, the guys who ride these bikes, they’re everything to them. They think about bikes when they eat, when they sleep, when they’re screwing their girlfriend. Maybe you should get a Honda.’ I think about that all the time, what would I be doing if I’d bought a Honda? Would I do shit that normal people do in Tri-burbia? It sounds enticing, because what I do is all consuming.   They go to playdates with their kids…what do people do with their time? Because I have none.”

A Seeley-Norton Commando racer with track muffler, necessary to keep the sound below the required 92dB limit [Peter Domorak]
Regardless the peerless reputation of NYC Norton, running a bespoke motorcycle business is not an easy calling. “The margin on this work is tiny, I’m busy as shit but there’s no money in this. I’ve got commitments years out, but it’s not polished alloy tanks on Instagram every single day. It’s like you [Paul d'Orléans] said in your Instafamous/Instabroke article 'a like is not a dollar'. I’ve got a collaborator who helps with our social media marketing, and we have the metrics, but what does all that mean? I have a friend who makes fun of me, and says my complaints sound like ‘my gold bricks are too heavy’.”  To an outsider, the veneer of a successful motorcycle builder is as glossy as a new paint job, but if you haven’t run your own business, kept up a bi-weekly payroll, juggled overhead with cash flow, and dealt with customers, you can’t grasp what hard work it is. “It’s something everyone in the motorcycle industry understands: I don’t think anyone does this to get rich, they all do it for love, because the margins are slim. If you get into this business, you’d better love what you do as it’s not an easy road.”

The Man himself, Kenny Cummings of NYC Norton. [Peter Domorak]
Then again, Kenny asks “What else would I be doing? When I lost my publishing job in the 2009 crash, I worked on my own bikes, not thinking that was a career choice. But I asked myself, should I do back office work at JP Morgan? Hell no! I’ve worked in the art publishing business, but that was to support my band Shelby. I wasn’t put on this earth to do publishing.” [Luckily, some of us are! – ed.]

The object of our affection: a Norton with aluminum big-bore cylinder barrel for racing [Peter Domorak]
NYC Norton builds immaculate café racers and road racers, and even dabbles with the odd British enduro, and every build is superb. Their Seeley-framed customs are known around the world, and The Vintagent team encouraged Kenny – who doesn’t think of himself as a custom builder – to make a bike for our Custom Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum.   When we pointed out that café racers are a huge part of the custom bike legacy, he began to see our point, and put together an exquisite machine – ‘Blue Monday’ – which you can see in person through March 2019.  It's top shelf artisans like Kenny that inspired Custom Revolution: they work with the same ingredients as everyone else, but what emerges from their workshops is simply magic.

Not just racers, but breathtaking café racers and even street scramblers emerge from the NYC Norton warehouse. [Peter Domorak]
[Blue Monday is also featured in our Custom Revolution exhibition catalogue, with 100-pages in  full-color: a limited number are available, signed, in our Shop]

Jon Thorndike enjoys tending to interesting machinery at NYC Norton. [Peter Domorak]
A belt primary drive conversion is essential for keeping oil off the racetrack. [Peter Domorak]
Like an animal tensed to leap forward, the Seeley Commando is an elegantly aggressive design. [Peter Domorak]
NYC Norton is located in an enormous warehouse complex in Jersey City, NJ, just across the river from Manhattan, where real estate prices have forced out small businesses. But Kenny still lives in TriBeCa. [Peter Domorak]
"Success is not the end of work. It is the beginning of new work." - Kung Fu [Peter Domorak]
Kenny Cummings with a Titchmarsh-framed Seeley-Matchless G50 racer [Peter Domorak]
Many thanks to Peter Domorak for providing the excellent photography the inspired this article.  See more of Peter's work 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.

The Vintagent Archive: "A Two-Wheeled Steed" (1869)

Originally published in Chambers's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts, May 1, 1869

The prototypical Dandy bicyclist, circa 1869, with a Michaux pedal-cycle of the first type. Note also the delicate footrests above the front wheel for coasting, and the elaborate brake pedal operating the 'spoon' brake pad on the rear wheel. The pedals are connected directly to the front axle, so speed and effort is related to the wheel diameter. As pneumatic tires would not be invented for 20 years, the steel rims of these bicycles gave rise to the 'boneshaker' nickname, although the tempered steel spring holding the saddle would have relieved many of the shocks on the unmade roads of the day. The first velocipedes were also called 'Dandy Horses', as young men were their most enthusiastic adherents, much as the author of this article from 1869.  Picture this fellow as our author, who sadly remains unnamed.

I am not ashamed to admit having always cherished a peculiar admiration, at one time amounting to awe, for anything that would go round. A wheel has never been without its charm for me. I remember, at school, the affection with which I regarded wheels of all sorts, and how all my favourite toys as a child were rotary ones. The knife-grinder who used periodically to stop in front of our play-ground gates to grind the young gentlemen's knives, has probably died without knowing the inward comfort he administered to my breast, through the opportunities he afforded me of seeing his wheel go round at public expense.

Only the other day, I confided to an old friend that I still possessed a sneaking regard for wheels, and though he rewarded my confidence with a pitiful sneer, I know that this wretched old hypocrite himself keeps a wonderful brass top that will spin for an hour, under a glass case on his study-table, and in secret delights to watch it in motion.

A clever marine engineer, who loves wheels too, once told me with great gravity that the human mind has never yet discovered anything so wonderful as the principle of the common wheelbarrow, 'an invention,' he said, 'to which that of the steam-engine itself is nothing. The wheelbarrow,' he went on, 'is the only example I am acquainted with in which the very weight of a load is fairly utilised as a locomotive power.' There was a copy of Punch on my table. Our conversation had turned to the subject of wheelbarrows from looking at Mr Keene's vignette, in which, some three years ago, Mr Punch was depicted as Blondin, but performing the impossible feat of wheeling himself in a wheelbarrow along a tight-rope in the Crystal Palace transept.

Karl Von Drais invented the 'Laufsmachine' (running machine), first presented to the world on June 12, 1817 in Mannheim, Germany. His innovation was steering: the previous proto-cycle, the 'celerifere was invented in 1790 by Comte Mede de Sivrac in France. Drais was an advocate of democracy, dropped the royal 'von' from his name in the 1840s, and suffered greatly for his beliefs. His is a fascinating story! [Wikipedia]
My engineer friend then remarked that, putting aside the tight-rope business, he was firmly convinced that Mr Keene had in jest represented what would by-and-by be accepted in serious earnest as the only correct principle on which to construct a self-driven vehicle - namely, employing the weight of the body as a propelling power, and relying on the fact of motion as the means of balance. One thing will at least be conceded by any person who will take the trouble to turn to the sketch, and that is, notwithstanding all recognised notions and experience to the contrary, the picture of a man driving himself in a wheelbarrow looks strangely plausible, probably from the fact, that the mind of the observer communicates motion to the wheel, and is satisfied to receive that as the explanation of the balance.

The two-wheeled velocipede or bicycle is in part a realisation of Mr Keene's picture. It depends upon motion for its balance. The two wheels, one in front of the other, with a saddle between, whether mounted by a rider or not, will not stand upright for a single instant at rest; but, like the boy's hoop, being kept trolling, they maintain a perfect equilibrium.

A Wonder Which Drove All Paris Mad

The bicycle can hardly be called a 'new invention,' being to a great extent a modification of that very old toy-vehicle of our fathers, the hobby-horse, whereon the rider used to sit and row himself along, so to speak, by paddling with his feet on the ground; at the same time, the entire reliance on the principle that motion would be, under any circumstances, sufficient to produce balance, is sufficiently novel almost to justify the use of such a term. The French appear to be entitled to whatever of credit attaches to the original invention of the hobby-horse (a miserable steed at best, which wore out the toes of a pair of boots at every journey. M. Blanchard, the celebrated aeronaut, and M. Masurier conjointly manufactured the first of these machines in 1779, which was then described as 'a wonder which drove all Paris mad.' The French are probably justified, moreover, in claiming as their own the development of this crude invention into the present velocipede, for, in 1862, a M. Riviere, a French subject, residing in England, deposited in the British Patent Office a minute specification of a machine identical with that now in use. His description was, however, unaccompanied by any drawing or sketch, and he seems to have taken no further steps in the matter than to register a theory which he never carried into practice. Subsequently, the bicycle was re-invented by the French and by the Americans almost simultaneously, and indeed, both nations claim priority in introducing it. It came into public notoriety at the last French International Exhibition, from which time the rage for them has gradually developed itself, until in this present 1869, it may be said, much as it was a century ago, that Paris has again been driven mad on velocipedes.

The Dandy Machine! A Michaux bicycle of 1868, as produced commercially from that year. Earlier incarnations of the pedal-cycle were built by the Michaux pere et fils, in concert with Pierre Lallemont, who also patented his pedal-cycle, but in the USA, claiming it was he who had invented the machine. We'll never know. [Wikipedia]
Extensive foundries are now established in Paris for the sole purpose of supplying the iron-work, while some scores of large manufactories are taxing their utmost resources to meet the daily increasing demand for these vehicles. The prices of good serviceable velocipedes range from two hundred and fifty to four hundred francs (ten to sixteen pounds), at a less price than which a really good machine cannot be obtained either in England or France. The best French pattern is that of Michaux et Cie., which is the one now adopted by most of the English builders with more or less correctness. The height of the driving-wheel most suitable for general use is three feet.

Ernest Michaux, son of Pierre, who likely thought up the pedal-cycle with Pierre Lallemont, and built the first examples in the early 1860s at his father's workshop [Wikipedia]
The advantages of the bicycle over the three and four wheeled velocipedes are many and considerable. It is less than half the weight of the old machine, being but a little over forty pounds; and the friction is reduced to something like two-thirds. The power operating directly on the cranks, instead of being communicated through long levers, is wholly utilised, whilst the motion of the feet is more analogous to that of walking. When once accustomed to the use of the two-wheeled velocipede, it is not at all fatiguing, whereas the many-wheelers condemn their riders to a term of hard labour. As the result of several months' experience in driving a bicycle, I have no hesitation in estimating it as a clear gain of five to one in comparison with walking. That is to say, the rider may go five miles with the same expenditure of labour as in walking one, and after a journey of fifty miles he will feel no more fatigue than after having walked ten. Notwithstanding appearances to the contrary to the unaccustomed eye, the bicycle is, moreover, a safer machine than any velocipede with three wheels, and far more under control.  To turn a corner with a three-wheeler at anything like speed, is a most hazardous experiment, resulting almost certainly in a 'spill' - because the speed lifts the hind-wheel describing the outermost circle, from the ground; whereas the two-wheeler, when on the turn, stands at an inclination like a skater's body, more or less acute according to the quickness of the curve to be described.

The two-wheeler, when on the turn, stands at an inclination like a skater's body.

With regard to the speed which may be attained, fifteen miles an hour, under the most favourable circumstances, that is, good hard road, not level, but without very steep hills, and no wind blowing, is probably the limit of the velocipede's powers; but a pace of nine or ten miles an hour may be maintained for five or six hours without distress. Long journeys on level road are perhaps the most fatiguing, on account of their monotony, because then the feet, as in walking, are nearly always at work. Still, even in this case, the driver can maintain his speed with one foot, resting the other on the leg-rest; or, if disposed, he may even place both feet on the rests, and run four or five hundred yards without working at all. The slightly increased labour of climbing a hill is nothing to the zest imparted by a knowledge that there is sure to be a hill the other side to go down, and that is the most luxurious travelling that can be imagined. Descending an incline at full speed, balanced on a beautifully tempered steel spring that takes every jolt from the road - wheels spinning over the ground so lightly they scarce seem to touch it - the driver's legs rested comfortably on the cross-bar in front - shooting the hill at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour - the sensation is only comparable to that of flying, and is worth all the pains it costs in learning to experience it.

The sensation is only comparable to that of flying.

The velocipedist feels but one pang when he reaches the bottom of a hill, and that is, that it is over; and but one exquisite wish, which is, that the entire country might somehow become metamorphosed into down-hill. But the hill is bountiful even after one has left it, for the impetus derived from a good incline will carry the rider at least the hill's length on level ground before he need remove his feet from the rests and commence working again. The slightest incline on a good road is sufficient to obviate all necessity for working with the feet, so that what little labour there is (and it is of the easiest), is by no means incessant. In a journey of twenty miles on good road, a driver should not work more than twelve - the inclines do the rest. Of course, there are hills so steep that to ascend them is impossible: yet, for myself, living in a hilly county, which I have pretty well explored on my two-wheeled steed, I can reckon up their number on the fingers of one hand. There are also hills where the labour becomes as much as, or more than, walking, but these must be of a gradient something like one in twelve, and such hills are not frequent. When they do occur, the rider may, if he will, dismount.

The 'sensation of flying' inspired the concept of adding a motor to the bicycle, to extend the feeling indefinitely. How right they were! The joys of motorcycling were imagined in the 1860s, and Louis-Guillame Perraux patented his steam-powered velocipede in 1871, using a Michaux bicycle with a small steam engine modified for the purpose. Sylvester H. Roper had the same idea in the USA, perhaps two years earlier, but used a non-pedal cycle as his foundation [Archives INPI France]
It is a subject of smiling pity to many of the uninitiated to behold a velocipedist dragging his horse after him up a hill - and cruelly realised, too, in the case of three and four wheeled machines; but the bicycle is better than any walking-stick to assist a person up an incline, even when only walking beside it. Resting one elbow on the saddle, and leaning the weight of the body on that, while guiding the handle with the other hand, the machine becomes a positive assistance instead of an incumbrance. This sounds like fiction, but it is fact. Experto crede.

The 1871 steam velocipede of Louis-Guillame Perreaux, seen outside its home, the Sceaux Museum in Paris. The machine is exhibited occasionally, and is a fascinating construction, well worth study to read Perreaux's mind on how to make bicycle fly. [Musée Sceaux]
There are persons who advertise to teach the use of the velocipede in 'a few hours.' Not long ago an enterprising French master advertised to teach the French language (in the intervals of seasickness) during the voyage from Dover to Calais. It should not be concealed that it requires as much time to learn the use of the bicycle as to learn to skate - and there are also occasional falls incidental to learning either. To urge the time necessary to acquire its use as an objection against the two-wheeled steed, would, however, be manifestly unjust. So difficult is it to balance the human body on merely two small legs and a pair of feet, in an upright position (a position such as would be scarcely possible to make an exact model of a man, even without life, retain for a single instant), that it has taken most of us a twelve-month to learn how to do that.

Sylvester H. Roper's 1860 'self-propeller' used a hickory frame without pedals, apparently built for the purpose. The water tank doubles as the seat, while the burner sits low under the rider, and the exhaust (mostly excess heat) exits behind the rider via the stack. The rider twists the handlebars to open up the steam valves - the first motorcycle twistgrip. Roper may have built the first motorcycle, although the same concept was pictured in 1818 in France. This machine can be seen at the Smithsonian Institution [Wikipedia]
It is sufficient to say that a person may attain the management of a two-wheeled steed in less time than that of a four-footed one, and when he has done so, for speed, endurance, and inexpensiveness, the former will at least bear favourable comparison with the latter. As in skating, a week's steady and persevering practice is needful to acquire a comfortable balance, and gain control over the unaccustomed form of support. The 'falls' referred to above, as happening in learning the velocipede, are nothing to those incurred in learning to skate. No one should mount a bicycle until he is acquainted with the way to get off, which is really the first lesson. Whichever way the machine is going to fall, the learner has only to put out his foot on that side. His foot being not more than three inches from the ground, the horse, in the act of falling, will deliver him safe on terra firma, if he will only let it, whilst, by retaining his grasp of the handles, the rider at once balances himself on alighting, and saves the velocipede from falling. Some difficulty in remounting without help is sure to be experienced by a learner. For a month he must content himself with the assistance of the first post or gate or palings he sees by the wayside; but he will soon discard such assistance, and be able to vault on the saddle whilst his horse is in motion.

Good hard road is essential for velocipede-driving. In muddy or loose gravelly road, the work becomes proportionately laborious. But with good 'going ground,' it is difficult to convey how little labour is really required to maintain a high rate of speed - in fact, the great trouble with beginners is to get them to restrain the expenditure of muscular force. Velocipede-driving is, I believe from experience, most healthy and exhilarating, since it exercises all the muscles of the limbs in a manner much more uniform than would at first be credited, and certainly without undue strain on any part of the body. To the spectator, the velocipedist appears almost wholly to employ his legs, but in reality the muscles of the arms are in strong tension in the act of grasping the handles, so as to counteract the motion of the feet on the pedals, which motion would otherwise tend to sway the wheel from side to side. In fact, after a long journey, the driver will feel more fatigue in his arms than in his legs. Once mastered, the two-wheeled steed is a docile and tractable animal, equally sensitive to bit and bridle, and a sturdy friend to the traveller. For him the pike-men throw open their gates without asking for toll. He needs neither corn nor beans, nor hay nor straw, neither hostler nor stableman. His stable is a bit of the passage-wall, against which he reposes, without taking up any room, until his master needs him again - his only food, a pennyworth of neat's-foot oil per month.

Pierre Lallemont in 1866, demonstrating his pedal-cycle, which he patented in the USA, but developed in the workshop of Pierre Michaux [Wikipedia]
There is a Japanese sauce surnamed the 'Maker to Eat.' It will have little charm to the palate of him who drives a bicycle; for, be he the veriest epicure of the epicurean sort, he will, after a three hours' run, possess an appetite to which the most homely bread and cheese appears dainty. At present, the bicycle is regarded, in England, very much in the light of a toy, and its practice as a pastime: not so in Paris and New York, where persons of all grades may be seen solemnly and seriously going to their daily business on two wheels.

Now that the supposition about the new velocipedes frightening horses has been proved to be groundless, there seems little reason to doubt they will become equally popular in this country; and that after the first 'rage' for the novelty has died away, the two-wheeled steed may drop into its proper place as a serviceable nag, that can do a great deal of work in a very little time, and, after the first cost, at a very inconsiderable expense."

James Starley was another pioneer bicycle manufacturer, whose eccentric tricycle was used to build the first electric vehicle, Gustav Trouvé's e-trike of 1881 [Wikipedia]

The Current: A History of Electric Motorcycles (Part 1)

[Forward: in the book 'The Current' (2018 Gestalten), I stated in my introductory essay that 'Electricity is Modernity'.  The scientific and technical process of harnessing electricity for human use defines the modern era, and has transformed our lives in ways we scarcely acknowledge today.  We have become creatures seemingly independent of the sun, moon, and stars, or at least, the ability to abolish the night gave rise to such thinking, which increasingly looks like hubris.  It's the use of electricity, not fire, that is the 'true Promethean moment', although our embrace of fire in the form of petroleum looks more like a Faustian bargain every day.

The history of electric vehicles is little discussed today, but goes back well into the 19th Century, paralleling developments in steam power for vehicles, and predating the use of petroleum to power engines. We all know the story of Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with kites in storms in the 1700s, but compared to steam (the first experiments date back thousands of years), electricity is a relatively new field. In this series, The Vintagent explores the roots and development of electric powered two-wheelers, as part of our celebration of e-Bikes on our web channel The Current.]

Benjamin Franklin's 'battery' of interconnected Leyden jars from 1769 - exactly 100 years before the electric motorcycle was proposed [Franklin Institute]
The invention of electric vehicles was dependent on two technical advances in the 1800s: the battery and the electric motor.  The term 'battery' was coined by Benjamin Franklin, to describe an array of interconnected, charged glass plates.  The term was adopted to cover electricity generated through a chemical reaction (what we now think of as a battery): it was chemists who first developed a practical method of electrical generation. Allesandro Volta built the first 'wet cell' battery in 1800 - the Voltaic Pile - that used discs of copper and zinc sandwiched with cardboard soaked in brine.  Volta used his own research and that of Luigi Galvani to design his battery: both their names are enshrined in our daily vernacular as volts and galvanism.

One of the first electric motors, built by Jedlik in Hungary in 1828 [Wikipedia]
The creation of the battery as a stable supply of electric current led to a dramatic increase in research  with electricity.  By 1802 Humphrey Davy exhibited the first incandescent light (a thin platinum strip stretched between electric wires), and the first electric arc lamp in 1806.  It's difficult today to imagine the impact of such inventions on the mindset of people in the day: no longer would our activities be limited to the cycles of nature - humans would soon dominate nature. Davy gave public lectures that spread a new ideology, a paradigm shift in how people saw their place in the world: "[Science] has bestowed on him powers which may almost be called creative; which have enabled him to modify and change the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments." (from 'The Age of Wonder', Holmes 2008).

Fiat Lux! Humphry Davy demonstrates the electric arc lamp for members of the Royal Institution of London, with a charge crossing two carbon points, in 1809. The lower half of the image shows rows of large boxes - these are batteries installed in the basement of the Institution!  A huge array was required to power a single arc lamp, as batteries were very weak in the early 1800s. [Wikipedia]
Various types of batteries were developed in the early 1800s, and were usually messy affairs: open containers of acid with metals suspended in them to create stable chemical reactions and generate electricity.  The rechargeable lead-acid battery, as used in just about every car and motorcycle until the 2000s, was invented in 1859 by Gustave Planté, while the first ‘dry cell’ batteries, as we use in portable electric tools, flashlights, and now vehicles, were invented in 1886 by Carl Gassner.  Of course, invention and application are very different things, and it took yet more time to develop practical batteries of all types, and commercialize them.  A battery small enough and strong enough to power a vehicle was not developed until the 1880s.

The turning point: Michaux's first commercially produced bicycle of 1868, which rapidly spread the joy of two wheels. [Wikipedia]
The electric motor is a relatively recent invention, as the theory of electrons and magnets creating motion was first laid down in 1821 by Michael Faraday. The first proper electric motor, able to do real work, was developed by Thomas Davenport in 1834.  Still, it wasn't until the 1870s that electric motors made any real impact on the world, in the form of trolleys.  They were the first form of electricity to affect people's lives, as by the 1880s there were hundreds of trolleys transporting people in cities around the world, a decade before electric lights were adopted.

Louis-Guillame Perreaux's 1871 (June 15th) elegant patent drawing specifying steam power for his velocipede, using a tiny steam engine on a Michaux bicycle (the first commercially produced bicycle with pedals). While Perreaux first patented the idea of a motorcycle in 1868 (Dec 26), he did not specify the power source until this 1871 addition, specifying steam power for his velocipede. [Archives INPI]
The concept of the electric motorcycle was first patented in France by three different people, two of them within days of each other: clearly, the idea had been discussed among peers. The invention of the electric motorcycle is directly related to the first commercial production of pedal bicycles in 1868.  In a case of competing claimants, Pierre Michaux and his son Ernest, in company with Pierre Lallemont initially, built the first pedal-cycles in the early 1860s, by adding pedals to the front axle of a velocipede - the idea was apparently inspired by a pedal-powered grinding wheel.  Lallemont took the idea to American in 1865, while the Michauxs worked with the Olivier brothers to commercially produce the first bicycles in 1868.  But these are dry words: it's difficult to overstate the impact of these first bicycles on people's consciousness, as they were a hell of a lot of fun.  Already on May 1st 1869, the English magazine Chamber's Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts published an essay on bicycling that's both rapturous and poetic:

"The slightly increased labour of climbing a hill is nothing to the zest imparted by a knowledge that there is sure to be a hill the other side to go down, and that is the most luxurious travelling that can be imagined. Descending an incline at full speed, balanced on a beautifully tempered steel spring that takes every jolt from the road - wheels spinning over the ground so lightly they scarce seem to touch it - the driver's legs rested comfortably on the cross-bar in front - shooting the hill at a speed of thirty or forty miles an hour - the sensation is only comparable to that of flying."

The idea of adding a motor to the bicycle was a natural follow-up, to perpetuate this amazing feeling:  the exhilaration felt by all motorcyclists on an open road and a rising throttle.  The idea for the electric motorcycle was first suggested (it seems) by the very fellow who first patented the concept of the motorcycle itself: Louis-Guillame Perreaux.  There has long been a debate over who built the first motorcycle - Perreaux or Sylvester H. Roper (read our story about Roper here), but it seems today Roper built the earlier machine, while Perraux probably built his in 1870/'71, and patented his steam-cycle in 1871 (Roper never patented his motorcycle, but did ride it extensively).  Of course, a credible claim can be made that the motorcycle concept dates back to 1818, as discussed in our post on the 'Vélocipédraisiavaporianna'.

Joseph Marie's patent drawing of April 28, 1869, that details an electric motor to power a "Vélocipède magnéto-électrique." This is probably the oldest patent in the world for an engine other than steam to power a motorcycles, according to Steeve Gallizia, an archivist at INPI (Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle) in France. Many thanks to Steeve for his patent research! [Archives INPI]
Perreaux's first patent for a motorcycle is from Dec. 26 1868, but he did not specify the type of motor to be attached to his bicycle.  The path was not yet clear: electric and steam were the rivals, as it would be 8 years before a petrol engine was built by Nikolaus Otto (although the internal combustion engine was invented back in 1807 by Nicéphore Niépce, but used powdered moss for fuel!).  Small electric and steam engines were both still under development, but steam was decades ahead in actual use, so it was natural the first functional motorcycle was steam powered. Still, on April 28th 1869, Joseph Marie filed the first known patent (#85499) for a Vélocipède magnéto-électrique - an electric motorcycle.  Mere days later (May 6 1869), Emile-Joseph Delaurier and Jules Morin patented their machine dite vélocipède électrique.  Perreaux didn't patent his steam velocipede until June 15th 1871, as an addition to his original 1868 patent. It isn't known if Perreaux, Marie, or Delaurier/Morin actually constructed these engines and built electric motorcycles, or merely patented the concept.  But, the concept is there, and correct, although batteries with strength enough to move a human were cumbersome, and better suited to 3- or 4-wheelers at the time.

Gustave Trouvé's 1881 electric tricycle, the first electric vehicle demonstrated to the world, on April 19th, using a Starley tricycle with Trouvé's own batteries and electric motor attached.  The future had arrived. [from Physique et Chimie Popularies, Vol. 2: 1881-83 (Alexix Clerc, 1883)]
The first successful demonstration of an electric vehicle was a tricycle built by Gustave Trouvé, demonstrated on April 19, 1881 on the Rue Valois in Paris.  Trouvé used a Starley eccentric tricycle chassis, and attached rechargeable batteries of his own design with an electric motor: an assistant drove the first electric vehicle in the world before an appreciative crowd.  He was unable to patent his design, as the concept of such a vehicle had already been patented (a Humber trike with a steam engine).  Regardless, Trouvé patented 300 other ideas, and swapped the very electric battery/motor combo from the trike into a small boat, and invented the outboard motor!  The list of his electric inventions is enormous, from sewing machines and dental drills to wearable luminescent body art and portable UV lights for treating skin diseases. (There's a great book on Trouvé you can find here.)  Trouvé is one of those 'lost' inventors only recently rediscovered, whose impact on a dozen fields altered the human experience.

Gustave Trouvé's luminescent dance costume from the 1880s

Next: The first electric motorcycles!


NSU Breaks 200mph Barrier!

In the midst of the worst motorcycle market in German history, the NSU factory opted to go big with a remarkable multi-bike assault on the World Speed Record on the Bonneville Salt Flats, taking on six capacity classes: 50cc, 100cc, 125cc, 250cc, 350cc, and 500cc. In 1956 the factory shipped over a quiver of streamliners to Utah, arriving on July 25th, and nothing was left to chance; NSU's Chairman Dr. G.S. von Heydenkampf and Technical Director Viktor Frankenberger were on hand to oversee the mechanics, technicians, and officials (including Piet Nortier, from the F.I.M., in charge of timing). A traveling machine shop had also been shipped from Germany, with enough spares and equipment to deal with any mechanical emergency.

Wilhelm Herz with the Delphin III streamliner before the record attempts, with a clean machine. The black line on the salt is painted by a truck afresh every year: the distance to those mountains in the background is 25 miles [Cycle magazine]
NSU had developed a devastatingly successful range of 250cc and 125cc racers in the mid-1950s, winning 5 World Championships in a 3-year span from 1953-55, the last after the factory had officially withdrawn from Grand Prix racing.  That year, H.P. 'Happy' Mueller won the 1955 title on a production-racing Sportmax, the first privateer to win a World Championship (at age 46).  Two years after they bowed out of racing, NSU spent a considerable sum developing six streamliners of truly innovative configuration, using a 'hammock' riding position for the rider, which kept their height, and thus their frontal area, extremely low.  As well, these long, triangular-bodied missiles handled surprisingly well, as proven to the press during the run-up to the record attempts.  Their engines were all from NSU's Grand Prix racers, sophisticated Rennfoxes and Rennmaxes (the blueprints of which Soichiro Honda photographed the year prior on a factory tour of Europe), and their almighty supercharged vertical twins. But there was still Nature to contend with at Bonneville, in the form of the wind.

HP 'Happy' Müller pilots the 100cc Baumm II streamliner to 150.3mph - the two small bumps ahead of the windscreen are for his knees!  He is prone in his 'hammock' seat, and steers the handlebars beneath his knees.  Note the solid disc wheels, and the motor behind (not beneath) the rider, which set the pattern for all future streamliners [Cycle magazine]
Road-racer H.P. Mueller piloted the 3 smaller-capacity streamliners, finding his runs on the salt relatively easy going, and taking 121.7mph in the 50cc machine, 138.0mph in the 100cc bike, and 150.3mph with the 125cc, which also overtook the records for 175cc and 250cc categories. Wilhelm Herz, heir apparent to Ernst Henne as Germany's (and the world's) fastest man on two wheels, was in the saddle for the 350cc category, and made 189.5mph on a 1-mile flying start run on the smaller of the blown parallel twins.

Gustav Adolph Baum shows off the construction of the 50cc NSU streamliner, with its 'hammock' seating, in a publicity shot from 1956.  For more info, read the Comments section below! [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
But Herz didn't have an easy time with his record-breaking, as a few days previously he'd been pushed off-course by a gust of wind, hammered a timing light, and tore a gash in the nose of the Delphin III (named for the sleek shape of the streamlined body).  Earlier, while testing the 250cc 'hammock' streamliner, the motorcycle went out of control at 195mph (note that it was faster than the 350cc streamliner) and flipped over, which ended the 250cc record attempts for this session. This was truly unfortunate, as NSU had their greatest technical and racing successes in the 250cc class, with Werner Haas winning 5 of the 7 races counting towards the World Championship in 1954, and his team-mate Rupert Hollaus winning another with the gorgeous Rennmax racers.

The 500cc Kompressor showing its unique chassis for record-breaking, with hydraulic damping front and rear, and brakes! The engine's architecture is clear, with shaft-and-bevel drive for each camshaft, and the supercharger above the gearbox [Cycle magazine]
The Rennmax is a machine for the ages, a perfected design matching the technical brilliance of NSU's motor and chassis, with achingly beautiful hand-beaten alloy bodywork.  NSU quit Grand Prix racing because of the expense of development and fielding a team: the general turndown in the European motorcycle market in the mid-1950s saw NSU, Gilera, DKW, Moto Guzzi, etc, all drop out of the GP scene, leaving MV Agusta an open field for several years, until Mr Honda got involved and won every capacity class, and Yamaha finished the Japanese takeover with inexpensive two-strokes overwhelming sophisticated multi-cylinder four-strokes.

Pushing the Delphin III to the start line on one of its record runs - note the holes for Hertz' legs - no outrigger wheels [Cycle magazine]
On August 4th 1956, ten days into NSU's record-setting spree, the wind conditions had calmed down, and at 6am, Herz leaped from the starting line under full throttle 'with salt spewing from a wildly spinning rear wheel', according to Cycle magazine. He made 211.4mph on his first run, and broke the previous record by 26mph! The record had been held only a year, as on July 2nd 1955, Russell Wright on a Vincent Black Lightning reached 185mph on the Tram Road at Swannanoa, Christchurch, New Zealand.  Strangely, Vincent and NSU were financially connected, as from 1954, Vincents sold lightweight NSUs under license in an attempt to stay afloat.  Vincent was already out of business by 1956, and NSU, despite its glorious achievements, was absorbed into Auto Union in 1962.

The primary drive side of the NSU 500cc twin, showing the full chassis [Cycle magazine]
NSU's 500cc (and 350cc) engine used at Bonneville is a work of art, and had already taken the World Speed Record in 1951 on the Munich-Ingolstadt autobahn. For the 1956 Bonneville attempt, a new, longer and lower frame was built, as seen in these photos, as well as the 'dolphin' enclosed fairing, making the total length 3.7 meters. Girder forks with hydraulic dampers were used up front, and hydraulic plungers at the rear. The unit-construction motor is an inclined vertical twin with shaft-and-bevel driven double overhead cams, with peak revs of 8000rpm. Ignition is by forward-mounted magneto, the supercharger sits atop the gearbox, and is fed by a single (very large) Amal-Fischer TT carb. The crankcases and covers are all magnesium.

A shot of the Grand Prix blown 500cc racer in road-race form [Paul d'Orléans]
NSU's 500cc DOHC twin-cylinder engine had a disadvantage in GP racing as it's a heavy lump, and while the power was excellent, the much lighter Moto Guzzi singles and Gilera Fours meant tough competition on the track. Weight isn't an issue during a speed record though, as it only slows acceleration, and doesn't affect top speed. Thus the Delphin III was fully equipped with both front and rear brakes, and lead blocks were even hung on the frame to combat high-speed lift, and keep the front wheel on the salt at 200mph.

Herz in the Delphin III after his crash - note the gash in the nose [Cycle magazine]
The smaller NSU streamliners (250cc and below) all used the ingenious 'flying hammock' seating position, in which the rider sits with legs outstretched, to make an especially low motorcycle with minimal frontal area for the best wind-cheating layout.  A Cycle magazine correspondent (Ron Britzke) made note of the superior handling and aerodynamics of these smaller machines, and reckoned that the 'dolphin' fairing had seen its limit, while the potential of the 'deck chair' design 'has apparently just been tapped'. How right he proved to be, as future streamliners abandoned the biomorphic tadpole shape popular from the 1930s, and moved toward needle-like missiles with minimal frontal area, and riders feet-first in the cockpit.

The cockpit of the Delphin III with a traditional rider-on-top position, with the fuel tank shown, and the rev-counter [Cycle magazine]
NSU had proved their point: they built the fastest motorcycles in the world in 5 categories. But the German motorcycle market was in dire straits in 1956, as the economy as a whole ramped up, and riders could afford the comfort of four wheels. By the early 1960s, most German bike manufacturers were out of business, regardless the country was once home to the largest motorcycle factories in the world (DKW and NSU).  But Germany was late in making the transition from motorcycle-as-transport to motorcycle-as-leisure object (which happened in the US in the 1920s), and the 1950s was one of the many great die-off periods in the history of motorcycling, much like 1914-18 in the USA (when hundreds of manufacturers disappeared), and 1930 everywhere else.  Two wheels has always been a tough business, and continues to be one today, but we honor the magnificent deeds of those who gave their all to keep worthy manufacturers alive.

A frontal shot of NSU's 500cc machine that took the absolute World Speed Record for motorcycles in 1956 [Cycle magazine]
NSU's American importers Butler&Smith (east coast) and Flanders (west coast) boast of breaking the 200mph barrier.  Note that the 250cc class record is the same as the 125-175cc record, as it was taken with the same 125cc machine!  [Hockenheim Museum 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.

'The Angels of Pervyse'

They were the 'most photographed women of the War' - that war being WW1 - which is a pretty unlikely lot for a couple of nurses.  But Mairi Chisholm and Elsie Knocker were a pretty unlikely pair, who spent the War a mere 100 yards from the front line of Ypres ('Wipers' in Tommy slang), in a makeshift basement hospital treating wounded soldiers - British, Belgian, and German alike.  Their bravery, and perhaps love of danger, earned both women the highest commendations of that conflict, from Belgian and British authorities. and an awful lot of press in the day.  They're nearly forgotten now, but in the 'Teens, Mairi and Elsie were household conversation topics as incredibly brave and 'plucky' women in the Victorian era, before women even had the right to vote.  And the path that led to their involvement in that dreadful conflict was a mutual love of motorcycles.

Elsie Knocker with her Chater-Lea v-twin sidecar outfit, with an unknown passenger in the sidecar.

Elsie Knocker was born Elizabeth Shapter (July 29 1884 - Apr 26 1978) in Exeter, was orphaned by age 6 (her mother died when she was 4, her father at 6, from tuberculosis), and adopted by Emily and Lewis Upcott, a teacher at Marlborough College.  The Upcotts had the means to send Elsie to study at Chatéau Lutry in Switzerland, and she later trained as a nurse at the Children's Hip Hospital in Sevenoaks.  She married Leslie Duke Knocker in 1906, and they had a son, Kenneth, but divorced soon after.  She then earned her living as a midwife, and to save face during Victorian social strictures, invented the story that she was widowed when her husband died in Java.

Elsie Knocker with her Douglas Ladies' Model flat twin ca.1912, and her dashing leather Dunhill outfit!

She became a passionate motorcyclist, and wore very stylish outfits while riding, notably a dark green leather skirt and long leather coat, which was cinched at the waist to "keep it all together" - the outfit was designed by Alfred Dunhill Ltd!  She owned various motorcycles, including a Scott two-stroke, a Douglas flat twin, and a Chater-Lea with sidecar, which she took to Belgium during the War.  She earned the nickname 'Gypsy' as a member of the Gypsy Motorcycle Club, and because she loved the open road.

Mairi Chisholm with her Douglas flat-twin, which she maintained herself, and brought with her to Belgium [Imperial War Museum]
Mairi Lembert Gooden-Chisholm was 12 years younger than her friend Elsie, being born on Feb 26 1896 (died Aug 22 1981), in Nairn, Scotland, to a wealthy family who owned a plantation in Trinidad.  The family moved to Dorset when she was young, where Mairi's older brother (Uailean) competed in rallies and speed trials aboard his 425cc Royal Enfield single.  Her father, no doubt after much entreating, bought her a Douglas flat twin, which she soon learned to both ride and strip down/repair completely.  She was 18 years old and loved riding her Douglas around Dorset roads, which is where she met Elsie Knocker in 1912, also motorcycle mounted and enjoying the countryside, even though Knocker was by then 30 years old.  The pair became close friends and riding companions, and competed in motorcycle (and sidecar) trials together.

Elsie Knocker (l) and Mairie Chisholm in a car during the War [Imperial War Museum]
When War was declared in 1914, Knocker felt the call of duty, and convinced Chisholm to move with her to London and become despatch riders for the Women's Emergency Corps.  Chisholm rode her Douglas to London, and her riding skill as a courier negotiating London traffic caught the eye of Dr. Hector Munro, who set up a Flying Ambulance Corps to help Belgians after the German army invaded and brutalized that supposedly neutral country. Chisholm described her meeting Dr. Munro in a 1976 interview, "He was deeply impressed with my ability to ride through traffic.  He traced me to the Women's Emergency Corps, and said, 'Would you like to go to Flanders', and I said 'Yes I'd love to!'

Elsie Knocker (l), Dr Hector Munro (in sidecar), and Mairi Chisolm, likely during a publicity shoot before leaving for Belgium in 1914

Chisholm and Elsie Knocker had to apply for Dr Munro's Flying Ambulance Corps, and beat out 200 other applicants.  Knocker was a natural, both as a nurse, and because she was an excellent mechanic (and driver), and spoke both German and French fluently, from her Swiss schooling.   Lady Dorothie Fielding and May Sinclair were also included in Munro's special unit, with all women acting as nurse/ambulance drivers, and they all landed at Ostend in September 1914.  The team initially set up camp at Ghent, but by October they'd moved to Furnesin, near Dunkirk, ferrying wounded soldiers to the hospital who'd been carried from the Front.  They soon realized they'd save a lot more lives if they were actually at the Front, regardless the horrors they'd already witnessed.  "No one can understand, unless one has seen the rows of dead men laid out.  One sees men with their jaws blown off, arms and legs mutilated" - Chisholm.

December 1914, Mairi Chisholm's photo of a fallen soldier near Ypres [Imperial War Museum]
In November 1914, Chisholm and Knocker left Dr Munro's Corps and set up a small wound-dressing hospital in the town of Pervyse, near Ypres, in the basement of a destroyed house, a mere hundred yards from the Front lines.  They called it the 'British First Aid Post', and it was tiny, with a 6' ceiling, and the women slept on straw, leaving the only (rock hard) bed for the wounded.  The local water was so contaminated they had to import barrels of water from England, could eat only canned foods, and the pressures of fighting meant most nights they worked till 3:30, and started again at 5:30.  They made hot soup and cocoa for the soldiers, which they delivered every morning, but when things got hairy the women couldn't even bathe; Elsie had to have her vest cut away from her skin after not removing her clothing for 3 weeks in one stretch!

Mairi and Elsie outside their station, 'Pervyse Cottage'

This was their life for an incredible 3 1/2 years; treating the wounded as totally free agents, who had to raise their own funds at first. Luckily, they had a camera, and began photographing the front, which secured them space in British newspapers, and the fame of these women motorcyclists began to grow, and funds to flow.  When they needed a bullet-proof door for their clinic, it was supplied by Harrod's! They returned occasionally to London on fundraising tours, riding a sidecar outfit and collecting money, knitted socks and hats for the soldiers, as well as tobacco and cigarettes.  The press loved them; 'Sandbags Instead of Handbags!' proclaimed one British paper.

Darlings of the press, the women's efforts no doubt brought many other women to volunteer in the War

Their proximity to a local Belgian garrison eventually gained them an official attachment to the Belgian military.  Word of their bravery and their work saving soldiers under incredibly difficult conditions spread far and wide.  Fellow Flying Ambulance Corps member May Sinclair described Knocker as "having an irresistible inclination towards the greatest possible danger."  Many times the women crossed the front lines to save fallen soldiers, sometimes carrying them on their backs through the mud, and under fire, including one German pilot who'd been shot down and wounded in No Man's Land. For that, they were awarded the British Military Medal  and were made Officers of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, and awarded the Order of Léopold II, Knights Cross.  Yet more awards and honors followed, including the Croix de Guerre, which meant the ladies had to be saluted by all the soldiers, which they found most amusing.

Elsie Knocker with the Belgian soldier she married, Baron Harold de T'Serclaes, in Pervyse, 1916 [Imperial War Museum]
In January 1916, Knocker had a whirlwind romance with Baron Harold de T'Serclaes of the Belgian Flying Corps, and was soon married.  "So much of me went into my work that I suppose I was easily swept along on a tide of glamour and welcome frivolity.  Perhaps I had a desire just to drift for once, not to struggle ...and after 15 months risking my life at the Front, marriage seemed a comparatively small risk to take." Because of the War, the two saw little of each other.  That year Chisholm became engaged to a Royal Navy Air pilot, who was soon killed in his plane.  In March 1918, the women were both wounded in a German bombing raid and arsenic gas attack, and taken back to England.  It was the end of their Belgian adventure; both women joined the Women's Royal Air Force, and Chisholm got engaged to an RAF 2nd Lieutenant (Wm Thomas James Hall), but soon called it off.

The women driving a Wolseley Ambulance in Belgum

After the War, the Belgian Baron discovered that his wife Elsie Knocker was not a widow, but a divorcée, and the Catholic church forced an annulment of their marriage.  Read into it what you will, but apparently that was the breaking point of her friendship with Mairi Chisholm.  Chisholm took up auto racing after the War, but her injuries (from the gas attack and septicaemia) had weakened her heart, and doctor advised her to take it easy.  She spent the rest of her days on the estate of her childhood friend May Davidson, and moved with her to Jersey in the 1930s, and never married (a man).  Elsie Knocker was a senior officer in the WAAF during WW2, and earned distinction, but lost her son in the RAF in 1942, and left the military to care for her elderly foster-father.  She lived the rest of her life in Ashtead, Surrey, and was notorious for being "flamboyantly dressed with large earrings and a voluminous dark coat!"

Elsie Knocker and Mairi Chisholm in a trench on the Front, near Ypres, 1916 [Imperial War Museum]
With such widespread acclaim and press attention, it was inevitable the women told their stories, and several books exist on their Belgian experiences.  In 1916, Geraldine Mitton worked with Elsie and Mairi to write a book from their letters and notes while still at the front, 'The Cellar-House of Pervyse', which is available in reprint here (or original edition here), and more recently, Dr. Diane Atkinson wrote 'Elsie and Mairi Go To War' (2009), which is available here.  They're two women motorcyclists who are definitely worth investigating!


Fours Before Honda: 70 Years and 50 Brands

You’d be forgiven thinking Honda built the first production 4-cylinder motorcycle in 1968, when they introduced the CB750 and changed motorcycling forever. Nobody had previously built an inexpensive, reliable, high-performance ‘four’ in history; it was a magic trifecta, but in truth, Honda had plenty of four-pots to study, and copy, when designing the immortal CB line. From the earliest days of the motorcycle (and auto) industry, it was understood that more cylinders for a given engine capacity meant higher rpms with less stress, and more horsepower with smoother running, at the expense of increased complication and production costs. The motorcycle press from the ‘Noughts onward dreamed of fours as the ‘ideal’ machine, an exciting vision of the future, which indeed became a reality by the 1970s.

The first known four-cylinder motorcycle was this remarkable watercooled flat four built by Col. Capel Holden in 1899: an example currently lives in the London Science Museum archives [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The first four-cylinder gasoline-powered motorcycle was manufactured in Britain between 1899 and 1902, by Colonel Capel Holden, who’d built his first 4-cylinder steam motorcycle in 1895. The Holden was a water-cooled flat four of 1100cc, and a few examples still exist, notably in the London Science Museum. Like most 4-cylinder motorcycle dreamer/designers, Holden went on to do amazing things, like designing the Brooklands race track in 1906. The Belgian Fabrique Nationale (F-N, still an arms manufacturer) claimed the next viable, serially built 4-cylinder in 1904: it was truly the world’s first production inline four, which laid the pattern of most fours until the 1920s. The FN motor was designed by Paul Kelecom with a 350cc capacity, ‘atmospheric’ inlet valves over the exhaust valves, a single-speed shaft drive to the rear wheel, and a top speed of 40mph. By 1908 there were FN dealers in the USA, and local factories thought they could do better.

A 1905 FN, one of their earliest machines from the Belgian arms manufacturer [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The first to try was the Pierce Motorcycle Co, founded by Percy Pierce, son of the Pierce automobile’s founder George N. Pierce. In the grand American tradition, Percy beefed up the FN motor to 707cc, added a positively-operated inlet valve for hot performance, and designed a radical frame of very large tubing to hold the gas and suspend the motor. The Pierce 4 of 1909 was America’s first 4-cylinder motorcycle, and was a hot potato with a 60mph top speed. Today they’re at the top of most collectors’ list, not simply for being first, but for their dramatic style, and the Pierce auto connection.

A Pierce four-cylinder in 1911, embarking on a 5-day endurance ride in San Francisco, which he won with a total of 1770 miles ridden. The extra-large acetylene headlamp was for night riding sections, and not a Pierce accessory [The Vintagent Library]
While the Pierce was the bedrock of American fours, it was William Henderson who established their true dynasty. Henderson was the grandson of the Winton automobile family, and son of the Thomas Henderson, Vice-President of Winton. Young William dreamed of two wheels though, and ran dozens of drawings for a new four-cylinder motorcycle past his father for approval. Years of back-and-forth ended with a blueprint Dad couldn’t criticize, which became the prototype Henderson Four in 1911. Production by the new Henderson Motorcycle Co began in 1912, and was an immediate international news item, as Charles Stearns Clancy set forth on his Henderson to become the first motorcyclist to circle the globe.

A 1918 Henderson Four, still with extra-long wheelbase, and sophisticated construction [National Archives]
While the Henderson was known as the ‘Deusenberg of Motorcycles’ for its elegance and beautiful finish, money troubles forced Henderson to sell his design to Ignaz Schwinn in 1917, and the Excelsior-Henderson 4 was born, living through 1930. Henderson couldn’t be suppressed, and founded the Ace Motor Co in 1919, with a wholly new design that didn’t infringe on any previous patents. The new Ace Four was the fastest production motorcycle in the world, and a specially-tuned Ace racer, the XP-4, was timed at 129mph in 1923. Like most 4-cylinder motorcycle manufacturers, Ace struggled financially, as the magic trifecta – speed, reliability, and low price – seemed impossible for ‘fours’. Ace was sold to Indian in 1927, and the Indian Four is perhaps the best known American 4-cylinder motorcycle, produced from 1928 – 1941, when Briggs Weaver’s deep-skirted streamline design was the last American four-cylinder motorcycle built, until the Motus MST of 2014.

This 1909 Laurin et Klement four-cylinder used FN practice in a novel chassis [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
Europe was another matter entirely, and a host of manufacturers experimented with four-cylinder motors in line with the frame, across the frame, as vee-fours, flat fours, square fours, opposed double-twins, and inlet-over-exhaust, sidevalve, overhead valve, overhead camshaft, double overhead camshaft, and supercharged versions of nearly all the above! Britain kept a robust four-cylinder industry, with Matchless producing the futuristic, narrow-angle OHC v-4 Silver Arrow, and Ariel producing the Square Four from 1931 – 1959, initially in OHC form, then pushrod from 1933.

The 1928 Brough Superior Four with inline sidevalve engine built by Motosacoche under the direction of Bert LeVack [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The ‘Rolls Royce of Motorcycles’, Brough Superior, built a sidevalve v-4, an inline air-cooled 4, a water-cooled inline 4 (using a hotrod Austin 7 engine, with twin rear wheels!), and a flat opposed double-twin called the Dream…all from a company that produced only 3000 motorcycles from 1919-1940. Their only 'production' four, the BS4 with Austin engine, was a luxury machine par excellence, with peerless style and road manners, and a reverse gear inherited from its Austin heritage, which proved useful when hauling a sidecar, as most did.  Not all, though, and journalist Hubert Chantry was well-known for riding his 3-wheel Brough around Picadilly Circus in London, backwards!  His machine was unearthed a few years ago in appalling condition, sold at Bonhams for $490k, and is now once again a magnificent runner.

The 1930 Brough Superior-Austin BS4, as road tested on The Vintagent - read it here [Paul d'Orléans]
While German motorcycles are known mostly for BMW today, from the 1900s onwards hundreds of small and a few large manufacturers filled their roads with interesting machines. BMW didn’t produce a four until 1982 (the K100 with laid-down inline motor), but rival Zundapp built a flat four, the K800, from 1933-44, which became the only 4-cylinder military motorcycle in WW2, most of which were snagged by officers for their personal use. Zundapp had worked with Ferdinand Porsche to build the Auto fur Jederman – the first Volkswagen – in 1931.

The 1928 Windhoff oil-cooled, overhead camshaft Four, as road tested by The Vintagent - read it here [Paul d'Orléans]
A little-known but extremely collectible marque, Windhoff, produced an overhead-camshaft, oil-cooled inline 4 in 1928, with futuristic lines, and no frame per se. Everything bolted to its massive, finned engine casting – the steering head and forks up front, with four parallel steel tubes inserted straight rearward for the shaft drive and rear wheel. This dramatic machine was designed by Ing. Dauben, who parlayed his experience into a job at Mercedes-Benz, helping to design the all-conquering W194-196 ‘Silver Arrow’ racers. Read our Road Test of a Windhoff here.

The magnificent Gilera Quattro Grand Prix racer that took 6 World Championships, adapted from a design of 1924 by OPRA [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
It was the Italians who truly dominated four-cylinder motorcycle design before the 1960s. Their passion for engineering and high performance meant literally dozens of small manufacturers tried their hand at every conceivable arrangement of cylinders, and a rather thick book – ‘Pluricilindriche’ by Ing. Stefano Milani – documents the bewildering variety of Italian one-offs and small batch producers. The most fruitful line emerged from the pen of Piero Remor, who designed a prototype across-the-frame 500cc OHV four in 1923 with Carlo Gianini, which soon became an OHC motor, then a DOHC motor by 1926. Teaming up with Count Giovani Bonmartini for financing, they formed the OPRA research institute, and it was hoped to license this remarkable design to other manufacturers, which was by 1927 water-cooled and producing 32hp at 6000rpm. It was in fact the most advanced, sophisticated, elegant, and best-performing motorcycle engine in the world, but compared to, say, the Henderson four, it required absolutely precise engineering tolerances to manufacture.

The 1937 supercharged version of the Gilera Rondine, developed by CNA, and designed by Piero Remor, the father of the Italian racing DOHC fours of Gilera and MV Agusta [Paul d'Orléans]
There were no takers for this remarkable motor, so Count Bonmartini absorbed OPRA into his CNA aircraft manufacturing business, and stole Carlo Gianini to design his planes. Remor kept his faith in motorcycles, and continued to develop his motor using a built-in supercharger. His first public demonstration of the blown machine was a resounding win in the 1935 Tripoli GP, by which time the engine produced 87hp at 9000rpm. Nicknamed the ‘Rondine’ (Swallow), it soon proved itself the fastest motorcycle in the world, taking the World Motorcycle Speed Record at 152mph in 1937.

What the Gilera Quattro led to: the MV Agusta 750 Monza of 1974, a superb mix of engineering and design, and surely one of the most beautiful motorcycles of all time [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The World Record caught the industry’s attention, and finally Gilera purchased the Rondine design, and brought Piero Remor on board. The Gilera Rondine soon upped the speed record to over 170mph with a little streamlining, and began sweeping the fastest GP circuits like Monza, until WW2 intervened. Postwar, the Gilera 4, now without watercooling or a supercharger, but still under the wing of Remor, won 6 Grand Prix World Championships between 1950-56, when Gilera, along with BMW, NSU, Bianchi, Mondial, DKW, etc, withdrew from Grand Prix racing due to the increasing expense, and worsening motorcycle sales in Europe.

Hondas before the CB750: the 1964 RC164 four-cylinder 500cc racer that dominated Grand Prix racing. Honda's first four-cylinder racer, a shaft-and-bevel 250cc design raced at Mt. Asama, was raced in 1959, but soon discarded for and improved version [Paul d'Orléans]
Count Domenico Agusta, head of the immortal MV Agusta manufacture of helicopters, boats, and motorcycles, initially agreed to join the exodus from GP racing, but had recently hired Remor away from Gilera to design a new DOHC 4 cylinder racer. Agusta saw little competition for his new machine, and Remor’s new MV Agusta 4GP racer then proceeded to win the next 17 Grand Prix World Championships! It was redesigned into a series of very expensive touring roadsters from 1966 onwards, and was the only DOHC production 4 for 12 years, until Kawasaki revealed the Z1 in 1972. By then, a four-cylinder motorcycle was a common sight on America’s roads, and the hundreds of thousands of CB750s, Z1s, Gold Wings, CB500s, etc seemed to have obliterated the very long history of the world’s Fours from our collective memory. But for 70 years, they remained an elusive dream, and a luxury too few riders could afford.

The amazing Puch V-4 of 1938, the subject of a future road test on The Vintagent [Paul d'Orléans]
In 1928, Georges Roy built a prototype Majestic with a Cleveland four-cylinder motor.  It was the only Majestic built with a four-cylinder motor: for a road test of a Majestic by The Vintagent, read here. [Hockenheim Museum 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.

'SpeedisExpensive': The LA Shoot Road-Trip

[By Mike Nicks]

 TUESDAY

Back in LA / Waiting for the sun to shine / Back in LA / Working on another line

BB King, 'Back in LA'

Marty Dickerson's 'Blue Bike' at El Mirage

Los Angeles is almost like my second city. I came here first in 1968, when I was only 23 and sweet-talked my way into a job on Cycle World magazine. I rode the then-new 750cc Norton Commando on the Angeles Crest Highway, saw legendary hard-man Gary Nixon win the AMA championship on a 500cc Triumph on the Ascot half-mile dirt track, and Top Fuel drag cars tyre-smoke to 230mph in six seconds.

This time I’m in the custom and apparel shop of Deus Ex Machina on Venice Boulevard to meet James Salter, 40-ish music producer and secretary of the Southern California Vincent Owners’ Club. James is kindly loaning us a Dodge van of early nineties vintage as our LA workhorse and is part of the crew to shoot some key sequences of the forthcoming documentary, SpeedisExpensive. In the past four years, this film has tracked down and interviewed the remaining 16 men and women who built and designed the ground-breaking motorcycles in Stevenage, and secured the last major interview with one-time Vincent apprentice, the late John Surtees. The documentary promises to tell the story of Vincent and his motorcycles as never before. We’re here to meet some key people in the Vincent story from California. Also along with me is:

  • David Lancaster, SpeedisExpensive director and co-producer: Writer, documentary maker, Vincent owner and Vintagent contributor for some years
  • Steve Read, director of photography: co-director of the award-winning music bio-pic Gary Numan: Android in La La Land and director of photography on the recent BBC series on the summer of love, and Elvis’s Las Vegas years.
  • Philip Vincent-Day, Associate Producer: the grandson of designer Philip Vincent himself and custodian of the Vincent family archive.
Jay Leno and Phil Vincent-Day browse a selection of the Vincent family archive

James and I drive to Los Angeles airport to meet these three incoming Brits and assume that we’ll head to our Airbnb base in Pasadena. But James has other plans. "We’re going to Richard Asprey’s house in Manhattan Beach," he announces. "He’d like to meet you." Richard is a Brit who has worked in the insurance business in the USA for several years, and has enormous energy for life and motorcycles. He rode a 1915 500cc Norton for 3900 miles, from Atlantic City to San Diego in 16 days on the 2016 Cannonball Rally - an average of 245 miles a day. And he did this year’s cross-country run, from Portland to Portland, again on a single-pot Norton.

Richard Asprey in the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run on his 1915 Norton 16H [from the MotoTintype project of Paul d'Orléans and Susan McLaughlin]
He also owns several Vincents, and tells young Phil why his grandad’s bikes were so exceptional. "It’s the metallurgy," he says. "The fact that a Vincent engine seals itself when it gets warm, when everyone else was making motorcycles that leaked everywhere. The engineering is beautiful, and the reliability is way superior compared to any other older motorcycle I’ve got. You never feel that you’re going to break it."

He and Philip, who is making his first visit to the USA, strike up a good rapport. So much so that after Richard pops open the red wine, Philip stays on for the night while the rest of us head for Pasadena.

WEDNESDAY

Sometimes I feel like my only friend /  Is the city I live in / The city of Angels - Red Hot Chili Peppers, 'Under the Bridge'

We’re driving down a road in Burbank when we see a vintage motorcycle coming towards us. It’s low and has a handlebar like an old-time delivery bicycle, with the grips pointing back towards the rider. What is it, and what is such a hard-to-handle vehicle doing in the LA traffic? "It’s Jay!" someone says. Jay Leno has invited us to see him at the warehouse where he keeps his well-used collection of cars and bikes and films his TV and web-based shows called, appropriately, Jay Leno’s Garage.

Jay Leno in his garage, with Marty Dickerson's Blue Bike

When Philip Vincent launched the Series B Rapide in 1946, other English factories were making 500cc parallel twins that jangled and wheezed at 85mph, while the Rapide, even on the feeble 72-octane fuel of the day, would romp by at 110mph. Even by the early 1970s, the tuned Black Shadow version was as quick as any other standard bike on the road [and was the fastest production motorcycle in the world until the Kawasaki Z-1 of 1973 - pd'o].

Jay is amusing on how he bought his first Vincent: "The guy selling it said, 'I can’t let you ride it by yourself, but I can take you on the back.' But since he’s trying to sell the bike he’s going as fast as he possibly can. I’m like, should I hold on to this guy? We’re hitting bumps but he says, 'It’ll do a hundred!' We’re in LA traffic and I say, 'Just stop now and I’ll buy it!' So that’s what I did and I’ve had it all these years."

Another shot of the Blue Bike, in good company with Jay Leno's Vincents

What attracted him to the marque? "It was the fact that it was a true 100mph motorcycle," he says. "100mph doesn’t sound like much now, but back in the day most vehicles would go 80, 90, 91, and then you’re out of road. The Vincent could do it quite easily. The stories you’d read about somebody racing a Harley or an Indian, and then the Vincent guy would just click into fourth gear and pull away… All those sort of tales made it a very exciting vehicle."

One of the most famous Vincents has been delivered to Jay’s garage, courtesy of its owner Richard Fitzpatrick in Texas. This is Marty Dickerson’s Blue Bike, on which he set a Class C record for lightly modified machines running on pump fuel of 129mph in 1951. In 1953, still on pump gasoline, he raised this to 147.85mph. We’ll meet the Blue Bike again tomorrow.

THURSDAY

Waiting by the side of the road / For day to break so we could go / Down into Los Angeles / With dirty hands and worn out knees - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 'Crawling Back to You'

We’re going out to the desert. A visit to the desert is always a wondrous experience for the British, because we don’t have landscape like this in our damp little island. El Mirage dry lake bed, 2800 feet up in the high Mojave, is Los Angeles’ mini-Bonneville Salt Flats; it’s here that the Blue Bike will be reunited with Marty, who is now 92, for the first time in many years. Our director David has met Marty several times before; even riding with him in France in the early 80s, on Vincents. Marty bought the Blue Bike as a Series B Rapide when he was 22, in 1948, and soon modified it for Bonneville runs. It was 20 years before his 147mph mark was broken, and it took a Yoshimura Kawasaki Z1 to do it.

Philip Vincent-Day chats with Marty Dickerson, reunited with his Blue Bike at El Mirage

Around 1950 Marty had the motorcyclist’s dream job - he was paid to go street racing. Vincent dealer Mickey Martin funded Marty to take the Rapide through the south-western states of America to tempt Harley-Davidson and Indian riders to challenge him to drag races on public roads, often at night, to get the Vincent talked about. The suckers had no idea what an engineering advance the Vincent represented in comparison to the archaic American V-twins, and Marty beat ‘em all [read our story on the 'Blue Bike' here].

We film Marty talking to Philip Vincent’s grandson, not only about his relationship with Vincent himself – "talking to him was just like to talking to you now," he says, eerily – but the time he raced against motorcycle-mounted cops, who had heard of ‘that guy with the British bike’ who was beating all-comers. Just before they set off Marty, with his typical wry bluntness, checked with the cops: 'If I beat you, are you going to give me a ticket?’ They said no. So Marty beat the Indian-mounted police in an illegal drag race. And they all went their separate ways.

There is a beautiful moment when Philip walks across the desert floor to meet the man to whom his grandfather uttered the immortal words, "Son, speed is expensive." Philip Vincent said it when Marty asked him if he could have go-faster parts for his Rapide. "What he said was so true," Marty reminisces.

Marty Dickerson back in the day with his Blue Bike

There are a few other Vincents here on this day in the desert. One started as a 1948 Black Shadow, which Greg McBride has built into a road-legal machine based on the ‘Bathing Suit’ Black Lightning of the 150mph record breaker Rollie Free. Greg’s bike has an electric starter, a Manx Norton-style handlebar nacelle, and a seat made by Michael Maestas, in California. The engine was rebuilt by the late Mike Parti - Steve McQueen, Bud Ekins and Jay Leno were among his clients - and features Terry Prince cylinder heads with squish combustion chambers, bigger valves, an 8.5:1 compression ratio, Mk II 32mm Amal carburetors, a twin-plug conversion by Pazon in New Zealand, and a multiplate clutch from Coventry Spares in Massachusetts.

Purists might look down on this bike, but Greg is rightly proud of what he has achieved. "It wasn’t a matching numbers bike, so it was a great candidate for this project," he says. "It’s a loose interpretation of the Rollie Free bike, but it’s legal to ride on the street. Seeing that picture of Rollie as a kid made me want a Vincent. It’s about that whole mythical crap behind the Vincent. And so much of it was true."

David Lancaster interviewing Marty Dickerson for SpeedisExpensive

By the time we’ve finished filming Marty, dusk is falling over the Mojave, and there is little time to film Greg. He still wants to fire the bike up, however, and the sound of that V-twin motor blatting through 2in-diameter pipes reminds us of why they named the Vincent ‘The Snarling Beast’ back in the day. Greg takes off in the gathering gloom, leaving dust trails as he guns the bike through the gears. In the distance he turns round and the noise and the dust come back towards us. He does a few runs at over 80mph, helmetless, and he isn’t using the headlight. "That’s risky," Marty opines. Yes, it is, but exposure to Vincents seems to bring on extreme behavior.

FRIDAY

West LA fade away / West LA fade away / Big red light on the highway, little green light on the freeway - The Grateful Dead, 'West LA Fadeaway'

Today we have a simple 40-minute drive to Pomona and the NHRA drag racing museum. Another famous Vincent, the Barn Job, is displayed here and its owner John Stein is waiting at the entrance to greet us. John has authored a book, 'Motorcycle Drag Racing: A History', that chronicles quarter-mile heroics in the USA. He especially likes the maverick early days of drag racing. "The riders were like gunslingers from the Wild West," he says. "They all had a certain swagger. They were a cult as interesting as the machines themselves."

Jim Leineweber with the bike he took to over 180mph on the dragstrip, the Barn Job

"Drag racing in the early days was like Bonneville, in that there were no books on how to build a bike or a car. They were strangers in a strange land. They were feeling their way through it. They didn’t have dynos or flow benches, and it was all done by intuition. The Barn Job is the drag bike in terms of how it performed," he asserts. "The bike was the first to go 140, 150 and 160mph. It was the loudest, meanest machine there was."

The Barn Job’s builder, Clem Johnson, based it on a 1954 Rapide and modified it for the new sport of drag racing. Over the years he boosted the capacity from the standard 61 cubic inches to 96 (1573cc), went to nitromethane fuel, fitted a Magnusson supercharger, fuel injection, an alloy frame that doubled as a fuel tank, and a front down tube that carried the oil. He made his own flywheels, valves, pistons and cams, and lightened the bike to only 260lb.

Jim Leineweber in action, with a supercharger fitted to the Barn Job

Jim Leineweber rode the Barn Job to its fastest ever pass, at 8.40s and a terminal of 187mph, shortly before the bike’s last run in 1987. ‘"It’s a jewel, ain’t it," Jim, now 82, says as he gazes down at the Barn Job. I was interested in Jim’s riding technique on the bike, given that in the pioneering era of drag racing slipper clutches and specialized transmissions were not available. Riders and drivers used the rear tyre as a clutch, smoking the rubber all the way through the quarter in a single-gear pass.

"I only ever rode it in high gear," Jim confirms. ‘The bike had that Vincent clutch that would slip and burr, and then it would start spinning the tyre a little ways out. A lot of guys popped the clutch and spun, but I would ride the clutch, bring the engine up over 5000rpm and drive it with the power."

Two major badass Vincents: both record-setters. The Blue Bike and Barn Job.

Artist, former Clash bassist and keen motorcyclist Paul Simonon has already been interviewed for the film – he’s producing litho cuts of the bikes – and today we were joined by another rock legend, Daniel Ash, formerly of Bauhaus. A Brit, now living in California, Daniel has a fleet of bikes, and for a brief period owned a Vincent Comet. "I was busy with the band, and moving to the USA - so that meant I had to sell it," he relays. "Do I regret selling it? Do you need to ask?..."

SATURDAY

Welcome to the Hotel California / You can check out any time you like / But you can never leave - The Eagles, 'Hotel California'

It’s our last day. Tonight we must fly back to England. The Southern California Vincent fraternity have been generous to us beyond all expectations, but they’re not finished with us yet. We’re heading south across LA to visit another Vincent owner, Rob Arnott, who recalls: "I was in my mid-thirties in the 1990s when I bought my first Vincent. It was a Black Shadow, and for a time it was my daily rider. What an innovation the monoshock frame was."

Volumes of archival material, as well as hours of footage shot by Philip Vincent himself will be included in 'SpeedIsExpensive'

"I marvel at what the performance would have been by the standards of the era when the Black Shadow was launched - 125mph when a Ferrari would barely break 100mph, and a Harley 74 would only do 85 or 90. The best thing about a Vincent? The way it does everything right. The package - handling, performance, aesthetics - was so far ahead of its time. The worst thing about the Vincent? They went out of business."

With that we head north to Bill Easter’s home just south of LAX. Bill edits the SoCal Vincent club’s newsletter and has a Black Shadow famed in Vincent circles for having covered some 420,000 miles, owned by him since the late 1950s. Here we meet John Griffiths, a Welshman who emigrated to the USA, and who raced Vincents and worked on the production line in the Stevenage factory. Now in his early nineties, but with a mind as sharp as ever, John tells young Philip: "Your grandfather was a brilliant man with original ideas, and that’s rare."

The Barn Job with current custodian John Stein, at the NHRA Motorsports Museum it calls home

Why did the Vincent factory fail in 1955, despite all the rave road test reviews and the speed records? "Your grandfather wasn’t a businessman," John tells Philip. "There were a number of faults in the business plan. Their hiring methods were wrong, and aspects of the bike were over-engineered. When sales were diminishing, he borrowed more money."

Now it’s time for the final ten-minute sprint to LAX. It’s been a vivid five days, and we’ve got a stack of material for our documentary: Vincent factory hands, record setters, long-term owners and fans - and a real sense of how important the West Coast is to the Vincent story. For our documentary, Philip and co-producer Gerry Jenkinson have logged, restored and digitized hours of period footage shot by Philip Vincent himself, much of which shows his own travels and love affair with America, and with California in particular during the 1940s and 50s. This archive, and Philip’s interviews with the men and women who worked with the grandfather he never met, will make our documentary a compelling insight into the most charismatic of motorcycles and the man behind them.

Sunset at El Mirage with a Black Lightning replica and the Blue Bike

The trip has also raised questions. Why didn’t a British motorcycle maker recruit Philip Vincent when his own factory failed? Why did British factories continue making parallel-twins, which vibrated more with every increase in power and capacity, instead of following Vincent’s lead and making V-twins? The collapse of the British motorcycle industry in the 1970s might have been avoided.

As we board the plane I’m thinking of a quote that came from James Salter somewhere on all those freeway miles. James said: "They made ‘em fast in England. Then they came to Southern California and we made ‘em faster."  So right. LA and its Vincent fraternity and history will pull us back.

It wasn't built for this - moving the Barn Job for the film shoot.

 

………………..

 

We’ll carry more updates on shooting of SpeedisExpensive: The Untold Story of the Vincent Motorcycle over the coming months. Check out www.speedisexpensive.com, also it’s on Facebook and on Instagram @speed_is_expensive. The film is due out next year.


The Mighty MFK: the Giant's Fist

In the dark days immediately following WW2, Germany and Italy were banned from participating in international motorsport on two or four wheels.  The reasons were complicated: the victorious nations couldn't stomach the thought of losing a race to competitors from a country they'd been at war with for 6 years, and immediately before the war, German and Italian factories built the fastest and most sophisticated car and motorcycles in the world.  Since development of civilian vehicle designs was illegal or strongly frowned upon in several Allied countries during the war (to focus ingenuity on winning), motorsports resumed in 1946/7 as it had left off in 1939/40, with the very same machines, although supercharging was banned by the FIM for the motorcycle Grand Prix circuit, so quite a few prewar designs had to be altered for natural aspiration.

While the BMW parentage is clear, what's new is the amazing Giant's Fist - the OHC cylinder head of the home-made MFK special [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
Banned from international competition didn't mean racing stopped in German and Italy, and national-level racing resumed by 1946.  Freed from the FIM rules against supercharging, the same RS255 BMWs and NSU blown twins appeared on the tracks postwar, much to the fascination of the American troops occupying both countries, especially in Germany.  American motorcycle fans had never seen and seldom heard about these sophisticated machines, and soldiers were gobsmacked by what they witnessed, especially if they were racers themselves on Class C machinery: rigid-framed Harley-Davidson and Indian sidevalve v-twins of 750cc.

The MFK flat twin being hauled around the track; note the slim profile of the cylinder heads [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
Of course, except for riders with factory connections, most would-be German or Italian racers had nothing so exotic to race! Modifying prewar or military machinery was the only viable path, and such machinery filled the grids in the years when German and Italian industries were also forbidden to build machines larger than mopeds.  In Germany, the BMW R75M was a common foundation for racing, with its 750cc OHV motor placed in a civilian R51 or R66 fully sprung, lightweight chassis, and tuned up with bigger valves and carburetors, and hotter camshafts.

The tidy, if massively built MFK modification to a BMW R75M motor [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
Some home tuners took the R75M much further than mere tuning, and the most impressive example of a home-made racer with world-class performance is the little-known MFK racer, a collaboration of Franz Mohr, Kurt Friz, and Hans Kleinhenz-Schweinfurt.  It's an awesome machine, that still exists in as-raced condition in Germany, a testament to hard work and ingenuity by ordinary motorcyclists with no engineering training to speak of.

Franz Mohr was interviewed in a German magazine in 1949 about his fantastic creation:

"After the end of the racing season in 1947, during which I drove a refurbished BMW R75M engine in its original Wehrmacht frame, I came up with the idea to convert this engine into a overhead camshaft motor. Thanks to the energetic support of the well-known racing driver Kurt Fuglein, the financial basis for such a project was established.

The MFK after being transferred to a BMW R66 chassis [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
In December 1947 I began, as a professional motor mechanic, on a primitive drawing board, the sketching and designing of our MFK motor. The basis was the old BMW R75M engine, whose crankcase and crankshaft were carried over to our project. The central idea was to use everything that could be used somehow, in order to keep the costs - which started out huge anyway - as low as possible. The camshaft of the R75 engine was not used; instead, a camshaft with adjustable cams was placed in each cylinder head, driven by bevel gears, a drive shaft and corresponding pieces. At the same time a gear oil pump was coupled with cylinder head, for each individual cam to lubricate the cylinder head via a pressurized system with fresh oil.   The motor oil was cooled by an oil radiator, in a continuous system with the crankshaft, bearings, cylinders, cam drive shafts and cylinder heads.

Inside the cylinder head, with the OHC drive visible, all home-made [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
The parts required for all this have been produced in my little workshop, and also the machine shop of Hans Kleinhenz-Schweinfurt, a pure master of his trade and pure idealist of motorsport, who works with painstaking craftsmanship.

New parts included two new crankshaft drive housings, screwed to the former magneto shaft; two camshafts connected to the crankshaft by two shafts; four special gray cast iron cylinders with four large square-threaded cylinder head bolts; 4 cylinder heads and valve covers, for which first models were made; 8 rocker arms; the associated axles, bearing housings, valves, and camshafts. The cams, made by hand, had to be ground one degree at a time, since no cam grinder was available for us; 8 output housing for the conical shafts and their bearings, lock nuts, protective tubes with rubber rings for oil seals.

Changing tires during a race [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
My friend and lubrication master Kurt Fritz and 5-6 companions helped me in their leisure time with all these and other great things; they even sacrificed their vacation for up to 120 hours a week. Of Sundays and holidays, there were no more for months, and after-work was a flexible concept.  My poor wife became merely a maid, but bravely held through, to support the big goal. Often I worked up to 100 hours continuously with only 3-4 hours of sleep. I owe this endurance and energy to certain envious people who foretold a full fiasco: they did not trust such a job to a simple engine mechanic, especially not in such a short time, without help or support from any designer or engineer for solving problems. According to their view, even factories worked for years on such a redesign.

The MFK as it appears today [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
All this I knew and all this spurred me all the more.  The 'apple cart' overturned after my wife and I had already sacrificed so many pieces of clothing and furnishings to live, and only just live. In between, I rode off with my old racer and earned money off a race, partly with, partly without success - but we had some money again and continued to work. Who can imagine what it means to do such work without training, without a technical cylinder head design for a bevel drive OHC (with partial views and cuts), so the mould maker can build the casting moulds without a single question?   That the heads were cast, and handed off to others with only my blueprints, to be drilled and processed accordingly? Not only the cylinder head: hundreds of parts were needed for this redesign, and everything had to be calculated beforehand. I agree, engineers had done it before - but I had no such experience. So I sacrificed night after night, studied in technical books and moved toward my goal.

In action! Love the trainers on the feet of the sidecar passenger - clearly the rider (Mohr?) and passenger and dedicated! [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
What this also means, is that the materials used for various parts of the motor - the gears, the shafts, the camshaft, the rockers, etc, had to be processed and hardened as well, in the ways that each required, which were all different: this cost me 'several' gray hairs.

But one day it was finally time. Perhaps the readers will be able to gauge what this was for us - that inner joy - all the effort, all the hate was forgotten, and we listened to the engine with devotion. A few days later, on July 4, 1948, was the Garmisch race.  With the new engine, I drove the fastest practice time, but then had to replace the bike and race my old loyal R75, as our camshaft shapes had to be changed. Within eight days we had made new camshafts, and in Karlsruhe I easily won the first prize. Another eight days later, we drove in Reutlingen, setting the fastest lap of all sidecar classes with 83.6kmh, but could then hold only second place due to clutch problems. Again, we had to make a new clutch, because the high engine output of our OHC motor resulted in failure.

Period photos of the special racing wheels built by FMK, and the very standard BMW roadster chassis, without added friction damping for the rear plungers as on the factory BMW racers [Hockenheim Motosports Archive]
I had to renounce further races for a time, because our MKF motor exposed other chassis difficulties, and we converted to an R66 plunger rear frame. Result: change the frame, turn a new rear hub, make new set of final drive gears, turn a new shaft, change the tailpipes - in other words: an unspeakable amount of new work had to be done. Those who have not done such work themselves cannot gauge what is involved in not 'throwing the gun into the grain'.

For the first time, I returned to the Grenzland track and achieved the fastest practice time. By an most unfortunate event, I retired in the second lap of the race: the undisciplined behavior of the spectators, who compared the route to a wastebasket, was to blame. A large bag, without being noticed by me, caught on my left cylinder, blocking its cooling: the piston melted, and molten aluminum stuck on the crankshaft. By the way, Eberlein (a factory BMW racer) fared just as well, - his motor ate a scrap of paper and tore off his cylinder.

Now a short summary of the entire working hours:

Design hours: 580

Planning, making tools: 250

Pattern-making hours: 1000

Machining hours: 2500

Assembly hours: 950

Testing and fettling: 500"

[If you've ever considered building your own motor, or wondered at the expense of custom machine work, the above hours are sobering!- ed.]

 


Bonhams at Barber: Oct. 6th!

There's an incredible selection of motorcycles coming up for auction at Bonhams Auctions' inaugural Barber Museum Sale during the Barber Vintage Festival this year, including a Vincent Black Lightning and an equally rare 1928 Windhoff four-cylinder oil-cooled Art Deco masterpiece.  The auction is undoubtedly a testing of the waters, to see if the Barber Festival attracts the kind of crowd that can support a first-rate auction, and while the event is small compared to the mega-weekend at Las Vegas in January, there are some real gems on offer.

Bauhaus for your house?  This amazing BMW poster from c.1925 is pure 1920s graphic design, and as such will command a very high price ($6k estimate).  It's an amazing and ultra-rare piece of ephemera from BMW's earliest racing period, a mere 3 years or so after the company was founded - the bike is an R37 or R47.  [Bonhams]
It's nice to see a healthy selection of automobilia at Barber, as...sometimes you don't need another motorcycle, but can justify a cool, rare poster...ask me how I know. The emphasis this year is on Daytona and BMW-related posters, postcards, medals, etc, which seem to be from one collection (likely Florida?). Definitely check out the posters!

Cheeky fun! This 1952 Cushman Model 62 'Turtleback' Scooter is original paint, and pretty awesome as is! [Bonahms]
The quirky selection of motorcycles starts with this great little Cushman scooter in original, cheeky paint.  As shop or pit bikes go, this one's about perfect.  There are of course several major machines coming up though, including Erik Buell's first production motorcycle (a two-stroke four-cylinder racer), Steve McQueen's documented real 'On Any Sunday' Husqvarna, a stunning 1936 Brough Superior SS80, and terrific 1928 Windhoff four-cylinder oil-cooled masterpiece, and of course, the second-built Vincent Black Lightning with full provenance from new.

The very 1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross ridden by Steve McQueen in the final, memorable sequence of 'On Any Sunday'.  For provenance, this is about as cool as it gets [Bonhams]
An award-winning concours restoration of a 1936 Brough Superior SS80. What's it like to ride one? Read our Road Test of an SS80 here!

An absolute knockout! Read our Road Test of a Windhoff here - if you're looking for rare, technically advanced, and visually distinctive, here's your huckleberry - a 1928 Windhoff Four! [Bonhams]
This 1949 Vincent Black Lightning is the real, matching-numbers deal! It was raced by Hans Starkl in Switzerland, and has full history from new. It's the second Black Lightning built! What's it like to ride one?  Check out our Road Test of a Vincent Black Lightning here!  [Bonahms]


Cannonball 2018: Midweek in the Midwest

It's the end of Day 6 in our cross-country journey, which started inauspiciously for team Vintagent/Sinless/Revival and our two Brough Superiors.  In an effort to gain more life and safety on the 1926 SS100, we tried automotive tires for its 'clincher' rims, as car tires are the only highway-rated tires available, and other Cannonballers use them, like Shinya Kimura on his 1915 Indian v-twin.  The Brough Superior is a different kettle of fish to the little Indian, and we had 3 blowouts in the first 24 hours of the Cannonball.  The cure?  Removing the paint from inside the wheel rims, glueing the tires to the rims, then drilling sheet metal screws into the tires through the rims!  Problem cured - the Brough has simply too much horsepower not to secure the tires to the rim.

[Alan Stulberg]
How much horsepower?  On Day 2, we stopped at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Falconer, New York, who offered free dynamometer testing for our bikes.  Revival's Alan Stulberg couldn't help but try the SS100, but the comparisons are telling: a 1923 Triumph 550cc single-cylinder made 4hp, a 1913 Thor v-twin made 10hp, a 1922 Indian Chief made 14.3hp, a 1928 Indian 4 made 18.5hp, and the Brough SS100 had 57.5 ft-lbs of torque and made 30hp before a misfire set in at 2800rpm.  No wonder the tires spun.

The Cannonball started cold and wet, and Day 3 was even cancelled for rain and flooding along our backwoods route ever westward. But the roads were dreamy, following rivers and mountains, passing through tiny communities, with a lot of vacant industrial buildings in the larger towns of rural New York, New Hampshire, and Ohio.  To a Californian, a city block sized old industrial-glazed warehouse looks very tempting, but there isn't a lot going on in these towns. S0me renovation and rehab is apparent in a few towns, and we were constantly on the search for a good lunch or dinner spot.  Our rule is to always choose local businesses, and the food is usually good if not great.

We loved coming across the Amish communities with their horse-drawn carriages and immaculate farms, and even stopped to chat with a few men repairing a barn who'd waved at us.  With no electricity, power tools, or vehicles with motors, it was strictly skilled manual labor that built their houses and barns, although we weren't allowed to park our bikes near them, or photograph the gents in question.  They were happy to answer questions, though, and greeted us cheerily.  The countryside from Vermont to Iowa is dotted with Amish communities, and coming across their horses and carts was a highlight.

The roads were hilly, winding, and fun through Pennsylvania and New York, but started to smooth out as we reached Ohio, eventually becoming entirely flat, with long stretches of straight roads.  We're still in that fix in Iowa as we push onwards, and today's ride included 60 miles of freeway, which is rough on old bikes.   The SS100 has proved well up the task, often arriving first at our lunch or finish for the day.  Our SS80 had some trouble and is hors de combat for now, after a loose valve cap led to a piston seizure, which seems to have bent a rod as well.  Alan was riding at the time, and we were 23 miles from our destination in Anamosa, Iowa, in the tiny hamlet of Oxford Crossing.

While waiting for the chase truck, a young local pulled up on his yellow dirt bike, asking all sorts of questions about our bikes.  He (Alex) seemed good company for Alan, so I left them and motored on.  As they chatted on the sidewalk, a shirtless, bedraggled homeowner emerged with a double-barreled shotgun, shouting 'get off my flowers!'  Alan replied he was in fact on the sidewalk, but the man repeated his demand, and pointed the shotgun at them, at which point Alex exited, but not before Alan told him to call the police.  At that moment, the chase truck arrived, and Alan was rescued from the scene.  But the fellow had a visit from several police cars, and was arrested, saying in his defense 'I thought they were both black guys'.

With the SS80 out, I've been riding solo, and my SS100 keeps a pace no other Cannonballer can match.  We have small issues, like trouble starting, and chain oiling, and modest vibration making for the occasional loose bolt, but mostly, the bike is a peach.  Well, more than a peach - it's a masterpiece of 20th Century design, and an absolute pleasure to ride, with bags of smooth power, a gorgeous exhaust note that's more a vintage speedboat burble than a v-twin bark, and absolutely stable handling, barring the many road heaves that momentarily aviate us.

It's a 7:30am start time for Class III, and a 314 mile ride tomorrow to Pierre, South Dakota, where it's expected to hit 92degrees.  What a contrast to our first days in the East when it barely hit the 50s, and Fall was definitely in the air and on the trees.  Onward, towards Sturgis.

Motorcycle Cannonball coast to coast vintage run. Stage-3 from Binghampton to Jamestown, NY. Tuesday September 11, 2018. Photography ©2018 Michael Lichter.

Cannonball 2018: Portland, Maine

Portland to Portland: while it may be poetic to bracket the country with homonymous towns, what happens between them will surely be filled with drama.  That's my assessment after participating in 4 Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rallies since 2012 (it's biannual): those 3600 miles of back roads are the stage on which an endless variety of experience will play out over the next 18 days, the failures, the falls, the fatigue, and the fires.  And the sheer joy of riding a 90+ year old motorcycle all day, every day, for more than 2 weeks.

Our path is laid out on roll charts, with typically 15 or 20 pages of rally-style instructions, for a daily journey of between 230 to 350 miles. There’s no was to preview the day’s route, but we know our target town and hotel, so the roll chart is our trail of breadcrumbs, and woe betide mis-steps or mis-readings in some backwoods county of Pennsylvania or Wyoming, where opportunities to get lost are endless, and signage confusing or nonexistent.  It’s a rolling circus barreling through 16 mid-sized towns with sufficient bed space for 3-400 dedicants to the cult of the Old Motorcycle. 100 of whom will be tired, or despairing, or jubilant, or angry, or injured, or simply bemused at the kaleidoscopic variety of experience from a full day of riding a vintage bike.

We've already seen the crowd of machinery for this year's rally, which is typically Harley-heavy, but has a in interesting mix of Indians, Thors, Excelsiors, Hendersons, Triumphs, Nortons, an Ariel, and the pair of Brough Superiors we're riding with rally partners Revival Cycles and Sinless Cycles, whose owner Bryan Bossier owns both our bikes.  Our team is riding a 1925 Brough Superior SS80, and a 1926 SS100, and Revival’s Chris Davis will massage them nightly, just as he did our 1933 Brough Superior 11.50 in the 2014 Cannonball.  Revival's Alan Stulberg will no doubt push the performance envelope on the SS80, in his usual hurryup style, while Suzie Heartbreak and myself will try to keep the SS100 under its 100+mph top speed. We and 98 other riders will chunter, thump, and burble away from our hotel this morning amid smoke and cheers, with the long miles stretching ahead, our future visible at least regarding the path, but the experiences to come remain a mighty question mark.  Fingers crossed!

 

 


The Early History of Indian, Part 3: The Indian Motocycle Is Born

By Ken Aiken

The story that George Hendee first met Oscar Hedstrom in December 1899 during the races at Madison Square Garden is possible, but not likely, and it certainly wasn’t at the New York Cycle and Auto Show the following month. It remains pure speculation as to when and where they first met, but since both men were bicycle builders and racing champions working within the same regional network, it could have been almost anytime between 1895 and 1901. While they had that in common, Hendee’s focus was on business and Hedstrom’s on mechanics, and both were highly regarded for their skills. It was a partnership that would, within a decade, create the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.

Oscar Hedstrom in Spring of 1901 with his very first prototype motorcycle, built for George Hendee.  Note the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Co. sign: the location was Middletown, Connecticut, where Hedstrom rented workshop space (including the use of tools) for $1/day. This prototype was finished by May 1901, and taken to Springfield for demonstrations at Hendee's facilities there.

When Hendee decided to enter the motor bicycle market is also open to conjecture. What we do know is that George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom signed a partnership agreement sometime early in 1901 and leased Hedstrom’s former shop, Worcester Cycle Mfg.—then in receivership—to create the prototype motor bicycle. By the end of April the press was reporting that Hedstrom was building a machine for the Hendee Mfg. Co. and that “hereafter he will be identified with that concern.” The curious thing is that the frame—designed specifically to fit Hendee and Hedstrom—was not built by Hedstrom.

Oscar Hedstrom with the finished prototype in 1901: note there's still no Indian script on the fuel tank.

The first tests were conducted in Middletown, Connecticut, and on May 25 Hedstrom and the motorcycle arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, by train. The launch of the Hedstrom's motor bicycle took place on Saturday, June 1, at the Cross Street hill in Springfield where a reporter at the scene described a crowd of 400-500 people watching as Hedstrom rode his machine up the 19-percent grade of the loose-gravel street with power to spare.

George Hendee on a production Indian 'camelback' model ca.1904

Indian motor bicycle production didn’t begin until the fall. The pacing team of Henshaw and Hedstrom was still in evidence and they gave a half-mile, motor tandem exhibition in Buffalo on August 7 in which they broke the world record with a time of 39.2 seconds. On August 12 they establish a new mile record for motor tandems and won the 10-mile motor tandem race. Even as late as August 15, it was reported that Hendee was still in the process of raising the necessary capital for the venture and that the Indian prototype was on display in a retail store in Springfield. It’s safe to assume that Oscar Hedstrom didn’t depart for Illinois to begin working with the Aurora Automated Machine Manufacturing Co. until at least late August.

By 1903, Hedstrom would begin a series of annual forays to Ormond Beach Florida (Daytona), where he could test the speed potential of his machines to the full. This experimental racer is considerably different than the production Indians, having a full tube frame (with swan-neck front downtube) and no engine as a stressed frame member.  It has no pedals, a large intermediate sprocket for higher speed, different tinware, and racing bicycle handlebars.

At the end of October, Oscar Hedstrom filed for several patents, including a chain adjuster, an engine valve, a control mechanism for engines, and the iconic camelback fuel and oil tank. Obviously the motorcycle was in production by this date, but the deal between Aurora and Hendee Mfg. wasn’t announced to the press until the beginning of November. The Bicycling World & Motocycle Review stated that Aurora had been testing the machine and that “motors are expected to be delivered by the end of the year.” On November 7, an Indian motor bicycle was displayed at the New York Auto Show and a week later George W. Sherman sailed for England on the Oceanic to attend the Stanley automotive show.

The first advertisement for the Hendee motorcycle appeared in November 1901 - note no mention of the Indian name in the ad, nor any Indian script on the 'camelback' fuel tank.

The first ads for the Indian motor bicycle appeared in November and Sherman returned from London with 150 orders and had acquired agents in England, Holland and Belgium. A letter from Hendee on February 13 informed a prospective agent that the “Indian Motocycle” —the earliest known use of the word “motocycle” for the Indian—would be demonstrated at the Boston Sportsman Show on February 23. By the first week in March 1902, Fred Randall, the Boston agent for Indian, had booked 37 motocycles for April delivery and George Sherman stated, “The motor bicycle has brought in so many new agents that it will be a task to meet the demand for push cycles.”

A second shot of Hedstrom at Daytona in 1903 aboard his specially-constructed land speed racer.

It has been reported that only 137 motorcycles (the Smithsonian claims it was 143) were produced in 1902, yet this year’s model in the Smithsonian Institution is serial number 150. Hedstrom didn’t file for a patent on his famous carburetor until May, which suggests he was still fine tuning it even during production. There were other issues. In March 1904, Alex Levedahl, president of Aurora Manufacturing, stated in a lecture to the Chicago Motor-Cycle Club that casting a cylinder was difficult and only about 40 percent were good. Also, every engine that arrived in Springfield was completely disassembled and reassembled, and every motor bicycle was tested on the Cross Street hill before shipment—if it didn’t pass, it went back to the shop and was adjusted or fitted with a new engine (hence the serial number discrepancy). This engine work was personally supervised and inspected by Hedstrom, plus he did the adjustments on the carburetors. It’s not surprising that deliveries couldn’t keep up with orders and this would remain a problem until 1904.

George Hendee in 1902 during the Hartford-Boston-New York endurance race, which he won.

From the very beginning, advertising for the Indian was based on its superiority over the competition, and Hedstrom’s reputation as a mechanic. George Hendee winning the famous endurance races in 1902 and 1903, proved that the Indian could reliably carry a 243-pound man over the atrocious roads of that era and that mechanically it was superior to the other makes in these competitions. It is also important to note that in the 1902 endurance race Hendee’s bike was fitted with the prototype Indian twist grip, just one example of these competitions being used as real-world testing grounds for Hedstrom’s inventions. Advertising capitalized on these wins and the reputation of the two men, so a lost victory was taken personally.

By 1904, Hedstrom's experiments included the very first Indian v-twin: this iteration was a very special racing model with minimal saddle and bicycle racing clips on the pedals.

Oscar Hedstrom was favored to win the New York Motor Cycle Club’s hill climb on May 30, 1903, but Glenn Curtiss showed up with his 5-hp v-twin Hercules and easily beat all 14 Indians entered in the event. In September Hedstrom arrived at the Rhode Island Automobile Club race meet “on an Indian without pedals and with a motor of greater power than on normal Indians.” [This may be the same machine he took to Ormond Beach - ed].  Four months later, at Ormond Beach, Hedstrom arrived on a parallel dual-engine, 5-hp Indian to go head-to-head against Curtiss and his v-twin, but to no avail. Then, on August 5, 1904, Hedstrom showed up at Newport Beach, Rhode Island, on the first Indian v-twin. The 3-hp v-twin was run in Orange, New Jersey, on November 26 and raced at Ormond Beach in January 1905. One might consider this to be the origin of factory race programs being used for retail product development since the new 2.25-hp single-cylinder engine, designed to power the new Indian Tri-Car, was in production by November 1905.

Hedstrom on the first Indian v-twin in 1904, in a rugged landscape (Newport Beach, Rhode Island?), and with a slightly more orthodox saddle than the pure racing item seen above.

The early history of Indian motorcycles is based on isolated facts published in contemporary news accounts and surviving ephemera, but there are tremendous gaps in our knowledge. Descriptions of the State Street factory in 1906 make no mention of forging or casting capabilities. When did the forging factory in Hendeeville (West Springfield) begin operation? Exactly when were the Indian assembly plants established in other countries? What did the Indian pace machines built in 1904 look like? Why were competing motorcycle brands using Aurora-produced Hedstrom parts not as successful as the Indian? Even the answers to basic questions—when did Hendee and Hedstrom first meet, and how many Indians were made in 1901—remain to be answered. With the reintroduction of the Indian brand, interest in the true history of this iconic American motorcycle company has been resurrected. It promises to be a great story.

Read Part 1: 'George M Hendee, Race Legend' here.

Read Part 2: 'Hedstrom Sets the Pace' here.

Many thanks to Thunder Press for allowing TheVintagent.com to republish this article.


The Early History of Indian, Part 2: Hedstrom Sets the Pace

By Ken Aiken

Popular history has George Hendee witnessing Oscar Hedstrom’s tandem pacer in action during the December 1900 races at Madison Square Garden, where he was so impressed that he offered Hedstrom a partnership. Another version dates their meeting a year earlier, and suggests Hendee booked the motor tandem team of Henshaw and Hedstrom to pace races at the Springfield Colosseum for the 1901 season. In Middletown, Connecticut, 42 miles from Springfield, Massachusetts, Oscar Hedstrom had, by 1895, established a reputation as a builder of custom racing bicycles.  He worked at the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Co, where he created the Birdie Special. In October 1895, Hedstrom changed his club affiliation to team up with another Worcester employee, Charles Henshaw, to create a professional tandem pacer team, and they quickly became known as one of the fastest tandem teams on the racing