Paul d'Orléans

Electric Revolutionaries: Panel Discussion

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

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

Electric Revolutionaries Panel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storm:  Thanks so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDO: I totally agree.

Hugo: Because I'm not trained in that.

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

Hugo: Thank you

PDO: I do want to ride it too!

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

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

Hugo: Thanks for exhibiting it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

PDO: Do loud pipes save lives?

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

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

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

PDO: It's fascinating technology on the bike.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDO: Yes you can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PDO: A perfect example.

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

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

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

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

JT: Yeah because servo motors break.

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

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

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

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

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

JT: They ride differently.

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

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

PDO:  Pay attention.

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

Hugo: And light motorcycles; light is good.

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

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

JT: Top-heavy.

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

Hugo: I'll be at the bar.

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



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


My 1933 Velocette KTT MkIV: 'The Mule'

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

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

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

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

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

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

History of KTT 470 - 'The Mule'

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

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

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

Mack's Motorcycles, Everett MA

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

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

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

Eddie Arnold

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

"A Vintage Racer the Hard Way

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


'Is This Not His Fate?' Amphetamine History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Walt Siegl: High Performance Attaché

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


'Electric Revolutionaries' at the Petersen Museum

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

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

Our Electric Revolutionaries:

Derek Dorresteyn

[Damon Motorcycles]

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

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

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

Eva Häkansson

[Eva Häkansson]

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

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

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

Hugo Eccles

[Simone Mancini]

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

At the Petersen: Hugo Eccles' XP Zero

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

Joey Ruiter

[Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]

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

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

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

JT Nesbitt

[Motor/Cycle Arts Foundation]

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

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

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



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

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

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

Samuel Aboagye

[Efo Selasi]

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

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

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

Stefan Ytterborn


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

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

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

Storm Sondors


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

At the Petersen: the Sondors Metacycle, and MadMods.

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

Walt Siegl


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

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

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

Yves Béhar


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

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

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

The Team:

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


The Roads Less Traveled: Bernard Testemale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Bernard Testemale]



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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


Road Test: 1928 BMW R63

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Those Dapper Racers of the 1920s: Kaye Don

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Quail Motorcycle Gathering is Back!

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

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

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

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

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

JK, go ahead.

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

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

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

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


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

Actually, It IS Rocket Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Valen Zhou: The Railway Engineer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Diane Brandon: The Gold Star Girl

By Diane Brandon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Suzuki Hayabusa from Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

America's First Motor Vehicle Race: 1895

The Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Scientific American, Dec. 7 1895:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Top 10 Mecum Las Vegas 2022

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

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

#10 - 1931 Henderson KJ Four $154,000

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

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

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

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

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

#8 - 1932 Indian 432, $154,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Winnie, Queen of the Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection

Nearly 100 Exceptional Motorcycles Covering 60 Years of History

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


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

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

The 1920 Harley-Davidson WF Sport Twin was their first flat-twin and their first sidevalve motorcycle. There would be more of both! This one is rare and what a restoration! [Mecum]
The pre-WW1 1910-1916 Harley-Davidsons in the Heritage Collection include both the original single-cylinder models, and the later V-twins that would become the hallmark of the company for the next 100+ years.  The single-cylinder models include both belt drive and chain drive examples, of the type that have recently won the cross-USA Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, twice. Clearly, the original H-D single was a robust machine, and set the pattern for all models to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


Summer of Brough

By David Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

(Re)Born in Flames: the Top Mountain Museum

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

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

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

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

The Building and the Collections

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

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

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

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

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

A Museum Reborn

The reconstruction of the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum seen in moments from February through November of 2021. [Mark Upham]

Amazingly, the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum was completely rebuilt in 10 months.  It took the tireless efforts of hundreds of people to achieve the nearly impossible. Mark Upham notes "we got the whole museum together and open, it has been exactly ten months, a major feat!  Attila has 250 employees, and I counted 80 people working on the museum before they opened it."  Plus, all the local contractors, suppliers, and tradespeople who lent their efforts in the midst of the pandemic, and the midst of winter, working between occasional lockdowns.  Stefan Knittel observes, "The rebuilt museum now has an extension, the side hall was ready to build a year ago, and all the concrete was in place before winter.  The architecture is the same, by the same architect, of the same manner - adjusted to suit the mountain slopes.  From the front the museum looks the same, and you don’t see the extension as it’s off to the side from the entrance.  Inside, the board track is the same, with podiums.  It's fully wood-paneled inside and out, but now with concrete walls.  It was built with absolutely modern standards, up to the minute fire security, specified and tested by the authorities, with fire walls installed.  There were some changes beyond the originally planned addition: most significantly, the walls of the museum and now all concrete, with wooden panelling."  The wooden paneling  lends the same Tyrolean vibe of the original museum, while providing peace of mind after the trauma of the fire.  The Scheiber family has built up four generations of goodwill in the area, and the whole region immediately expressed support to rebuild the museum after the fire.  Stefan Knittel notes, "The whole area said on the night of the fire, we are ready to build when you are.  All the exhibitors and loaners, the owners of KTM, etc, said on the night of the fire, we are ready to rebuild when you are.  An interview on the smoldering remains with Attila was broadcast on TV and moved many Tyrol politicians.  A major German collector was already planning to send 100 motorcycles from the now-closed Hockenheim Museum, so all those bikes went straight to the Tyrol.  Nathalie from Deutsches Zweirad and NSU Museum offered that museum's reserve bikes, so we took 70.  Plus KTM offered some contents of their museum, and some simulators, on which your mother-in-law can ride the Timmelsjoch pass in winter!  They lean and everything."

A stunning location at the top of the Austrian Tyrol, now fully functional and open for business. [Fabio Affuso]
The opening party for the reborn museum was held on November 21, 2021.  A full re-opening party will have to wait until 2022, when restrictions are lifted from the pandemic, but it's currently possible to visit the museum and see the remarkable collections. The grand, sweeping banked board track that was a feature of the original museum is back on display, now with an even more rare collection.  Machines include the earliest of banked track racers from the Noughts, like a pair of Alessandro Anzani-designed 3-cylinder W-triples from 1903 and 1905; motorcycles like that can be seen nowhere else.  Early racers from Indian, Harley-Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Brough Superior, AJS, Clément, and Magnat Debon are displayed in proximity to contemporary factory KTM racers from MX to MotoGP (the KTM Motohall).  A few classic and rally cars are also on display (the Porsche Heritage collection), as is the Rausch Collection of round-the-world Steyr-Puch machines - barring Max Reisch's 1933 Puch 250 'Indian Dream', which is still on display at our ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Museum.  The rest of Max Reisch's two- and four-wheeled expedition vehicles are on display, with all their original equipment and traveling gear.

Priceless machines on display include this factory NSU Rennmax DOHC racer, a machine that dominated GP racing in the mid-1950s. [Fabio Affuso]
The grand opening is planned for March. What's there now?  Stefan Knittel sees "ten cars ten or so, 450 motorcycles, mopeds, scooters.  It will be thinned out a little, the expressions of support and the loans were overwhelming.  KTM is still bringing MotoGP and other products.  The Museum will be open again once the current lockdown is over in Austria, and the official opening is in March, date TBD but in connection with the MotoGP race in Austria.  A huge motorcycle festival is planned for the new extension."  It's an event to plan for, and The Vintagent will spread the news once the date is fixed.  Until then, the local tourist board has great info on how to get there and where to stay: check out their site here.

The museum's cafe is adjacent to the exhibition space, so you're never far from amazing motorcycles. [Fabio Affuso]
Installing a pair of unique, home-built British four-cylinder DOHC racers: the Jones Four and Ron Philips Four. [Fabio Affuso]
A rare Paton twin-cylinder GP racer in the competition hall, during installation. [Fabio Affuso]
Mark Upham wheels a a still-radical ELF-Honda two-stroke GP racer with hub-center steering and extravagant exhausts (see our 'Two Wheeled Icons of the 1980s'). [Fabio Affuso]
The Max Reisch collection of round-the-world and overland vehicles from the 1920s-40s are all on display: the 1933 Puch currently at our ADV:Overland exhibit in Los Angeles will move directly to the Top Mountain Museum in April 2021. [Fabio Affuso]
A Burt Munro streamliner that survived the fire in the concrete basement is now displayed in the main hall. [Fabio Affuso]
Attila Scheiber wheels a Max Reisch Puch, the 1929 250cc model he rode to Africa in 1932. [Fabio Affuso]
Situated at the top of the Timmelsjoch alpinestrasse, the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum is simply extraordinary, and deserves a visit by any motoring enthusiast. [Fabio Affuso]



Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.


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


The Current News: Dec. 23, 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022 (a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum), we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene via The Current.  It’s an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you.  

Hello dear readers and riders! We want to wish you all a very happy holiday season. As folks are settling in and slowing down to enjoy a relaxing holiday with loved ones, the world of EVs is only ramping up. From an electric apparatus that is truly art in motion to Rivian’s expansion into the deep south and a first look at Ducati’s first electric racing motorcycle, here are the EV news stories we think will matter the most to you.

See something of interest? Shoot us a message at

Let’s roll.

Art You Can Ride

The Doehmers TD-MP1 emoped is a spectacular design concept from the talented hand of Torkel Doehmers, based in Mälmo Sweden. [Doehmers]
Art is subjective. So is how much fun you can have on a motorcycle. Remember, a bike’s engine capacity does not dictate how exciting it will be to ride. The Moppe Apparatus TD-MP1, an electric moped concept by Swedish designer Torkel Doehmers, is an embodiment of this testament. Drawing inspiration from the itsy-bitsy Honda SS50, Doehmer’s unique vision fuses together classic café aesthetics with modern moped appeal, including low-mount grips and a skateboard seat with a ducktail flip. But this bike goes way beyond traditional design. It’s literally rideable retro-futuristic art. With a nod to mid-century architecture and innovative, modular elegance, the Moppe Apparatus TD-MP1 breathes new life into micro mobility.


Huge Adventures in a Tiny Package

The latest from august manufacturer Citroén, whose beach buggies of the 1960s defined a particular kind of fun: the My Ami Buggy. [Citrôen]
Get ready to hit the pavement, sand, dirt, or wherever you fancy! Citroën’s new electric buggy concept, called My Ami Buggy, caters to your wanderlust by allowing you to travel the beaten path silently and with zero emissions. The buggy boasts bull-bars, an LED light bar, and numerous savvy storage solutions.  It's a worthy heir to Citroën's Méhari, the cheap and cheerful Euro version of the Baja buggy.


Prius, Step Aside for Toyota’s New BEV Lineup

Boom. Suddenly, Toyota throws down a full lineup of new EV models, coming soon to a dealer near you. [Toyota]
This week, Toyota Motor Corporation revealed 16 new Toyota and Lexus battery-powered electric vehicles (BEVs), including a pickup. The new models will make up half of the 30 EVs the automaker plans to release by 2030. The lineup included Toyota’s bZ series, which stands for “beyond Zero,” and Lexus’ first EV, dubbed the RZ, a production version of the LF-Z electrified concept. The shining star of the show was Toyota’s EV Tacoma-esque truck. The company also plans to invest $70 billion in EVS globally, with the first $35 billion going toward BEVs.


First Look at Ducati’s e-Racing Motorcycles

The new Ducati Moto-E racer, the V21L, which will fill the grid of Dorna's new racing series. [Ducati]
Ducati finally released its first e-motorcycle prototype this week, giving us an initial peek at the bike that’s slated to take the track at the FIM MotoE electric motorcycle racing series. Called the Ducati V21L, the EV prototype was already put to the test on the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli track, with Michele Pirro in the saddle. “We are experiencing a truly extraordinary moment. I find it hard to believe it is reality and still not a dream! The first electric Ducati on the track is exceptional not only for its uniqueness but also for the type of undertaking: challenging both for its performance objectives and for its extremely short timescales. Precisely for this reason, the work of the whole team dedicated to the project has been incredible and today’s result repays us for the efforts made in recent months. We are certainly not finished yet; indeed, we know that the road ahead is still very long, but in the meantime, we have laid a first important ‘brick,’” Ducati’s e-Mobility Director, Roberto Cane, said.  Ducati had announced its commitment just a few weeks ago, with no bike or even concept model to back it up, which seemed a very ballsy move.  Apparently they were further along the development track than everyone assumed!


Rivian Expands in Georgia

The new Rivian R1T truck at the Georgia statehouse on Dec 16, for the announcement of Rivian's $5Bn auto plant just outside Atlanta. [HYOSUB SHIN / AJC]
EV manufacturer Rivian had its first earnings report as a publicly traded company this week. The company is also expanding production capacity of its Illinois factory from 150,000 to 200,000 EVs annually and building an additional factory outside of Atlanta in 2024. The company’s new factory aims to produce 400,000 vehicles per year and will also include a co-located battery cell production facility.  The State of Georgia agreed to a massive incentive package of hundreds of $Millions over five years, including tax breaks and abatements, infrastructure improvements to nearby freeways (I-20), and Georgia's cash rebate to large employers of $5250 per job per year, which would total $200M if Rivian employs the 7500 workers it expects to hire and train.   That's a big push for a company that's already valued more than Ford and GM, but if it were my business, I'd take it too!

'Electric Revolution' exhibit at the Petersen Museum Garners 6.3Billion Media Impressions

The numbers don't lie: Electric Revolution was huge. [Kahn Media]

The Vintagent team, along with our partners at the Motorcycle Arts Foundation, always knew our first-ever exhibit of electric motorcycles at the Petersen Museum (2019) was big news.  We didn't know how big until we asked for an analysis this week from Kahn Media, the PR agency supporting the Petersen Museum.  The numbers are staggering: Electric Revolution made 6.3 BILLION media impressions across all mediums, from print to web and TV.   We expect our Electric Revolution Live! event next May 2022 will generate even larger numbers, as the first event of its kind in the world: an entertainment event centered around EVs of all kinds, with racing and demonstrations, kids events, test rides, food and wine and music at night.  Mark your calendar for Memorial Day weekend in Walla Walla WA!



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


The Motorcycle Portraits: Paul d'Orléans

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

The following portrait session is with Paul d'Orléans, publisher of The Vintagent.  David Goldman caught up with Paul in November 2021 at the Petersen Automotive Museum while wearing his Guest Curator hat, and shooting a short film with David Martinez about Paul's current exhibit, ADV:Overland.  David Goldman asked Paul a few questions about motorcycling: here are his responses.

Paul d'Orléans captured at his gig as Guest Curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Nov. 15 2021. [David Goldman]
"I'm Paul d'Orléans, publisher of The Vintagent since 2006. I'm also a guest curator at the Petersen Automotive Museum, an author, a motorcycle nut, a historian and an event producer and TV presenter/ event host.

"What started me off in motorcycling wasn't really the beginning of my motorcycle career because it was strictly utilitarian: I was 15 years old and wanted to graduate from high school a year early.  The only way to do that was to take night classes at the local Community College, so I bought a little Honda 50 to ride at night in Stockton.  I did graduate a year early, and was super grateful to the motorcycle, but I didn't ride too much through University - it wasn't till after UCSC.  I'd set up a little printing press in my mother's basement in San Francisco and had a partner who was a journeyman printer by the name of Jim Gilman.  We published books and printed posters for punk and political events, and Jim rode a 1950 BMW R50 that he'd found under a staircase. Jim had every issue of Classic Bike and The Classic Motorcycle which in 1984 had only been publishing for a couple of years, and one day he gave me 3 milk crates full of the magazines.  I just devoured those magazines and it ignited a passion for motorcycle history for me - I became really hungry for learning about motorcycles, and that started me reading books about bike.

That led to owning about 300 motorcycles, and kind of put me on the path to where I am today. I've had so many amazing experiences that I could only have had on motorcycles: I've ridden motorcycles literally all over the world and all across the United States four times on the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally.  One trip in particular that stands out as unique was in 1987 my girlfriend Denise Leitzel and I each bought MZ motorcycles (little 250cc two-strokes from East Germany) in London, and we rode into the Iron Curtain countries - Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany etc.   We tried to get into the Soviet Union but they wouldn't let us!  That trip was amazing because the Berling Wall fell a year later.  You know, we would not have seen that other world unless we had those motorcycles.  We were able to explore all the nooks and crannies of those countries, off the freeways and outside of towns, where no trains went, no buses went.  We saw an amazing and actually beautiful and now vanished world.

What motorcycles mean to me - that is a big and loaded question for a professional in the motorcycle industry! I've carved out a niche in this world without resorting to any sort of professional employment, so obviously motorcycling means a tremendous amount to me. I've just found so much richness in my life: I found personal growth I found a kind of strength and overcame a lot of my own demons and weaknesses just by dedicating so much time to motorcycling;  solo long-distance or really really fast.  I've made friends all around the world because of motorcycles, and feel like I owe motorcycles a lot.  My life is basically dedicated to giving back to something that has given me so much."


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

Four59: A Mille Miglia Story

'Four59' follows the story of a spectacular and unique car: a 1955 Ferrari 25oGT Competition Boano (chassis #6) that first raced in the 1956 Mille Miglia.  Its current owner dug in on its history, finding several mysteries, but tells the back story and meets the original family that owned and raced 459.  He also determined he would drive the car in the Mille Miglia himself after a full restoration.  Filmmaker Sean Fannin followed the team from the USA to Italy, and on the Mille Miglia itself.  It's a spectacular film that The Vintagent is proud to support!

We have the full film above, and Nadia Amer's interview with Sean Fannin below:

Nadia Amer (NA): Your film about the Mille Miglia and the Ferrari 256 GT Boano (#459) is spectacular. What compelled you to make a film on this particular race and how did the project come about?

Sean Fannin (SF): Thank you! Filming the Mille Miglia has been a bucket list event since I started shooting automotive content. I have shot other races, but the Mille Miglia has always been special because of my family's Italian heritage. My grandmother has always told me stories of where her family is from, but I had never spent any substantial time in Italy to properly take in the culture. As for this opportunity coming about, I was at a dinner with Eric Oberlander and his family the night before a project in Baton Rouge. Eric mentioned that he was going to participate in the Mille Miglia in a couple months, to which I told him that I would love to shoot such a project. To my surprise, Eric invited me to shoot a piece that documented his involvement in the race. We didn’t have much time to fully plan for a project such as the Mille and it’s many moving parts, but we decided that this was an opportunity neither of us wanted to pass on.

A stunning vehicle from any angle, the 1955 Ferrari 250GT Competition Boano was hand-built with an aluminum body and a racing heart. [Sean Fannin]
NA: You seem to have a passion for cars.  Have you filmed other races? How does filming the Mille Miglia compare with other projects you have done?

SF: I have filmed La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, the World Stratos Meeting in Biella, Italy and Peking to Paris, which traverses from Beijing, China to Paris, France. Each of these races has their own trials and tribulations, but the production process is relatively the same. You keep up with the car(s) you are shooting as best as possible and grab footage whenever possible. The Mille differed in the sense that the other races introduce competitive sections where the drivers main goal is to be faster than the rest of the field. The Mille has competitive sections, but they do not rely just on speed. Instead, these regularity sections require the driver and navigator to work in unison to drive over pneumatic tubes at a predetermined interval. This doesn’t mean the Mille is void of speed. Speed in the Mille is introduced when trying to get to your next time stamp. Drivers don’t want to be late, or early, or they will be penalized, so they reduce their chance of missing their checkpoint by arriving as soon as possible. This allows them to drive up and collect their stamp right on time.  As you’d imagine, the competitive bug hits pretty quickly and driving from checkpoint to checkpoint becomes very spirited.

NA: How long was the planning process and what kind of crew and equipment did you have with you?

SF: The planning process for this project was shorter than usual because I met Eric only a few months before the race started. Throw in the requirements to travel under a pandemic and logistics became very tight. In terms of filming crew, it consisted of just myself, with my wife Abigail as my assistant. Adam Martin, Eric’s crew chief, doubled as my production driver and occasionally grabbed a shot for me if needed. In all, Eric’s team came together whenever needed to get the job done. They were a great group to work with. As for equipment, I brought all the goodies. Two camera bodies, two GoPros, gimbal, car mounts, drone, external recorder and mics for that lovely engine note. Being a run and gun style project I made sure that everything would fit into two smaller sized cases, which allowed us to stay light on our feet and not have to rule out any locations due to gear restrictions. 

The Mille Miglia is a feast for the senses. Especially following a spirited Austin-Healey 100M. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What camera systems did you use and at what resolution and frame rate?  Was there an artistic or technical requirement that drove the decision making?

SF: I have always used a Panasonic LUMIX system when shooting my own projects. For the Mille Miglia I brought my LUMIX S1 with a LUMIX S 24-70 2.8 Pro lens. This pair handled all handheld  shots. For stabilized shots I paired my LUMIX S5 with the 24-70 on a DJI Ronin S. A Sigma 100-400 paired with a 2x converter was used to give us reach on those long shots. This two camera setup allows me to be as quick on my feet as possible when dealing with so many unknown shooting scenarios. We shot 4K UHD ProRes 422 and ProRes RAW at 23.98 FPS by pairing the LUMIX cameras with an Atomos Ninja V recorder. A DJI Mavic 2 Pro handled all aerial shots. The main driving force behind this camera system is the need to be compact as possible when operating in such hectic and unknown situations. You find that there is limited time to set up shots on a project like this because you are constantly on the move, so you only get one chance at a shot for most of the race. So, I wouldn’t say that there was a specific artistic direction that drove the decision making, we were more focused on the ability to keep up with the pace of the competitors. However, we knew that we wanted to pull in the highest data rate possible when recording, so we shot in RAW as much as possible. 

NA: You have such a wide range of shots.  Were you given an all access pass to shoot or were you required to get permits from each town? Were there any obstacles to shooting in a foreign country? Did you find the production process to be different in Italy vs. other projects you have done?

SF: We were not required to get permits from each individual town, but we were required to get credentials from the Mille Miglia organizers that allowed our production vehicles into the city centers. There is a race route that the race participants follow, but not all vehicles following the race, mechanics and such, are allowed to stay on this route in certain areas. A media pass gave us access to important areas of the route. We are forever grateful to The Vintagent for partnering with us on this project and providing an outlet to gain the credentials needed. The obstacles that you face when shooting in a foreign country are typically the language barrier and not being familiar with the area. These are obstacles that can be easily managed, but every once in a while a communication barrier will turn a simple issue into something much bigger. Bad weather can be another factor that provides a bit of a headache, it rarely brings shooting to a halt, but it does complicate the shooting process when there are many moving cars and people. Luckily, the weather cooperated and we had sunshine for the majority of the race. If you have never participated in a race like this you may not be familiar with the Tulip road books that are used to navigate the race route. A tulip is a pictorial representation of the route. Each junction along the route is drawn as a small diagram which shows the design of the junction, and the route to follow at that point. This can be an issue if the driver and navigator aren’t seasoned at reading these directions. As I mentioned before, Eric’s crew came prepared and Adam Martin was well acquainted with the navigation skills needed. I had previous experience with the Tulip books during the Carrera and P2P, so I shared navigation duties in our car as Adam always got us exactly where we needed to be. You can always plug in a GPS coordinate if you get lost, but you are likely to not take the race route, which is where all of the action takes place.

Blasting through the Italian countryside and numerous small towns and villages, the Mille Miglia is nominally a rally, but inevitably becomes a race. [Sean Fannin]
NA: There are some very engaging mounted angles that make the viewer feel like they are part of the race.  How did you get these shots?  Did you use gimbal heads or some other mount?  Can you provide any more detail on the techniques and equipment used in getting the various shots?

SF: The mounted shots were captured using GoPro 9 Black cameras. Once the cameras were mounted in the morning they stayed on until we had an opportunity to meet up with Eric and rearrange or pull the cameras. I prefer to mount my S5 for these shots when I am shooting in a controlled environment, but the nature of the race didn’t allow for this as there would be multiple hour stretches before we could pull the cameras. So, we decided on various mounting points for the GoPros and placed the cameras wherever a mount would stay. Eric and Scott were gracious enough to start and stop the cameras at points of interest, while also handling their driving and navigating duties. With myself being the sole camera operator we knew that simply having coverage of the race was going to provide great leverage in post.

NA: Can you explain a bit about how you chose your shots and how you decided to position yourself to get the best shot and/or capture the “story” or moment?  Did you ever feel like you were in danger?  Were you as stressed as Eric Oberlander described his state of mind?

SF: When it comes to getting shots for a project like this it is a constant mix of selecting a few points of interest from the route book paired with simply showing up to a location and quickly seeing if anything jumps out to your eye, sometimes within minutes of the subject driving through. With only one camera on the ground I knew that variety was going to be key, so my main goal in each location was to get as many shots from as many different angles as possible. I always go for quality over quantity, but for a shoot like this the extra footage in post really paid off. Danger is inherent in races like this, fast cars on open roads with a lot of moving parts and people, but at no point did we ever feel like we were in harm's way. We probably were in harm's way, it just never feels that way once you slip into the speed of the race. As for Italy itself, we always felt welcomed throughout the entire route. Italy as a whole was a perfect backdrop for such a historic race.

Seeing and hearing historic racing cars on narrow streets, the exhaust note reverberating everywhere, is stirring stuff for spectator and driver alike. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What was the most difficult part of shooting and the production process in general? Did you have to make any tough decisions?

SF: The most difficult part of shooting was capturing the higher energy driving while traversing roads that were still open to the public. Now, this is nothing new when it comes to races like the Mille, but you always want to get the best footage possible while staying safe and out of the way of the race car and other drivers. Another tough part about this project was that we only had one person shooting. We captured plenty of footage along the way, but there was the constant struggle of deciding which locations were most important. We had to skip some of the areas that were of interest, but we needed to use that time to get to our next location before Eric and Scott. However, we are very pleased with the results and I would like to believe that these restrictions only made us more creative when making decisions. Overall, this was a difficult project to wrangle with a skeleton crew, but everyone involved came together to pull it off. 

NA: The B-roll of the towns and people is breathtaking.  What kind of drone did you use? Did you need a permit for that? Did the permitting process differ in Italy vs. your other productions? 

SF: The drone used is the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. My kit is based around being light and compact, the Mavic 2 Pro’s form factor fits perfectly into this equation as it travels in my main camera case while producing a great picture. You can have the Mavic 2 Pro out of the case and into the air within a minute or so, making it a significant tool to have in the kit. It was essential to capture the atmosphere of the Mille. There is no better way to do this than by immersing yourself in the crowd and by also showing the point of view that only a drone can capture. The race cars are the star of the Mille, but it’s the supporting cast of people and places that makes the Mille special.

On the way to a fantastic meal and a rest for the evening in a celebratory atmosphere. [Sean Fannin]
NA: The archival footage and photos really add depth.  Where did they come from? And did you use the parallax technique for animating the photos?

SF: The archival footage was purchased by Eric OBerlander. It is an authentic reel of film that his team found for sale on eBay. We didn’t know if there was any footage of car 459 or Franco Marenghi, but Eric was willing to acquire the footage regardless. After we received the digital conversion we realized that neither made an appearance, but we were thrilled with the footage that was present. It gives a great sense of the atmosphere that surrounded the Mille in that time period. The photos came from Eric’s own dive into the history of car 459, along with the photos that the Marenghi brothers gifted to Eric. I wanted to make the photos more dynamic, so I created a simple parallax effect using Photoshop. Nothing too crazy when it comes to the world of animation, but hopefully it brought the photos somewhat to life.

NA: It was a touching scene where the son of Franco Marenghi, the original owner of the car, got to drive his father’s car that participated in the 1956 Mille Miglia.  What was it like to meet Alberto Marenghi and his brother? 

SF: We were thrilled when we heard that the Marenghi brothers agreed to be a part of this project. It was special to have such a direct line to car 459 and its original driver, Franco. They were gracious enough to share the photos and stories that they had accumulated over the years, some of which answered unknown questions about the car and its involvement in the 1956 Mille. It was a special moment to ride along with Alberto as he manned the wheel of the car that he had been told so many stories about. Both brothers shared stories of their father that added an extra layer to the story that Eric Oberlander can now add to the history of car 459. Alberto and Vittorio were the key piece of the puzzle that made this story come full circle, showing once again that car culture traverses all boundaries.

It's not all groomed roads and cosseted driving for these precious vehicles...note the Mercedes 300SL with the 'gullwing' open for a bit of air in the notoriously hot cabin. [Sean Fannin]
NA: How many hours of footage did you shoot and how long did it take to edit? How many days did you shoot?

SF: I am not sure exactly how many hours of footage we shot, but we shot for nine days. Eric participated with a team called Scuderia Sports. This team spends three days training for the Mille while also enjoying the sights and food of the area. We shot Eric participating in the Scuderia Sports exercises and then in the race. Once the race started our shoot days typically lasted anywhere from 17-19 hours. You wake up early and get the car to the start, this is when I would place the GoPros for the morning session. Eric would set out for the day and we would hang with him for a few hours. Once we captured enough car to car footage we would then jump ahead and look for locations to shoot passing shots and drone footage. We would repeat this process, basically leapfrogging throughout the day. We would then arrive at the final checkpoint at night and head to the hotel. We would then prepare to do it all over again in a few hours.

NA: Eric Oberlander, Scott Laroque and the rest of the team seem like a fun group.  How did you meet them?  What was your relationship like and do you have any behind the scenes stories you care to share?

SF: I met Adam Martin years before I met everyone else on the team. I filmed his father-in-law’s Paul Newman Datsun 240z in my hometown of Cincinnati. I met Eric and Forrest in Louisiana while shooting Eric’s Baja Bronco for a separate project. Adam is friends with Eric so he showed up to hang out during the shoot. I met Scott during the Mille. The team was a fun bunch, always laughing and making the most of the experience, but also very focused when it came time to compete. For this being their first time competing in the Mille, Eric and his crew hit the ground running and never looked back. They finished as the top American team, which was one of their personal goals. I was proud to cross the finish line with team 459.

As cars go, a 1950s Ferrari competition coupe is about as good as it gets. [Sean Fannin]
NA: What was it like for you personally to be part of such an historic race?  What is your overall feeling of the experience? Would you care to share your most difficult and joyous moments?

SF: My head is still spinning from taking part in the Mille Miglia. The people, the landscapes, the food, the wine, the cars, the history… with the added layer of being able to capture such a unique story along the way. I can’t think of a better way to see Italy than chasing a vintage Ferrari through the Italian countryside. My most joyous moment of the Mille was definitely crossing the finish. Energy is always extremely high and everyone is celebrating the completion of a common goal. Also, it was special to have my wife along for the ride. She acts as my assistant on bigger projects, but had yet to come along for a race or rally. I’m not going to say that she was a fan of the 19 hour work day, but she loved the experience of the Mille and finally was able to see what a race like the Mille is all about.

NA: The sheer number of unique shots lends itself towards a hectic shooting schedule. Are there any entertaining statistics you would like to share?  (ie. how little sleep, how many locations, etc.)

SF: Sleep? What is that? All jokes aside, sleep was one of the aspects of the race that we weren’t too familiar with. Eric and Scott had a later start time due to the Ferrari being a 1955. Because of this, we would typically get to the hotel each night around midnight. Food, showers and a cold beer were a must upon arrival. For myself, this was then followed by two hours of prepping for the next day. Transferring footage, charging batteries, arranging all of the gear and having another look at the schedule for the following day usually allowed for roughly two to three hours of sleep each night. Eating from the hotel vending machines wasn’t out of the question if no surrounding food options were available. Nonetheless, you understand the machine and you roll with it. 

Enzo Ferrari and the three winners of the 1956 Mille Miglia standing behind '459' in an amazing period shot. [Sean Fannin]
NA: Thanks for the interview!  Would you like to film this race again and what is your next project?

SF: Thank you for your interest in this project. I would love to film the Mille again. You become part of a bigger family when you take part in these types of races. You leave with incredible stories and lifelong friendships. I fully plan to make it back to the Mille, as well as the Carrera and Peking to Paris, to capture the amazing stories of the people who compete in these events. What’s next for me is wherever my camera takes me. I love to shoot, and all the technical aspects that come with it, but what I love most is the adventure of exploring new areas and meeting interesting people. I have no doubts that I will return to the Mille to tell more of the fantastic stories that it has to offer.

A whole lotta racing history in a line...Austin-Healey, Lotus, AC, Mercedez Benz, Alfa Romeo... [Sean Fannin]
[Ed: Thanks to Sean Fannin for his special 'Vintagent edit' of Four59, to Nadia Amer for her interview, and Nadia Fugazza for introducing Sean Fannin to The Vintagent]

Related Vintagent Stories:

Nadia Amer is Director of Education Initiatives at Motorcycle Arts Foundation, a Contributor at The Vintagent, a journalist and a filmmaker.  Instagram / Linkedin

The Current News: November 18, 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022, as a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene.  It's an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you.  

A warm welcome to all of you readers and riders! If this is your first time checking out The Current, we’re your one-stop-shop for all of the latest EV news that matter to both electroheads and traditionalists. This week, we’re covering some pretty exciting stuff. From President Biden’s recent Social Policy Bill that includes a whopping $4.1 billion tax break for folks buying e-Bikes to North America’s first affordable highway-capable e-Motorcycle, we deliver valuable stories to your inbox each and every week.

Have you seen a story that you think we should cover? Drop us a line at!

Let’s roll.

Want a Hefty Tax Break? President Biden Has You Covered!

President Joe Biden tried out an EV Hummer this week. [AP Photo Evan Vucci]
President Joe Biden’s new Social Policy Bill will include a $4.1 billion tax break for people buying electric bikes. As part of his nationwide White House tour promoting the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that provides $7.5 billion in funding to build out America’s EV charging network, Biden climbed behind the wheel of the electric Hummer SUV yesterday for a test drive. "You know, up until now, China has been leading in this race," the President said when speaking about EV manufacturing. "That's about to change.”   We will surely invite POTUS to Electric Revolution Live, maybe he'll dig one of the classic EV conversions on display.

Kollter ES1: North America’s First Cost-Efficient Highway-Capable e-Motorbike

The Kollter ES1 range: Made in Germany, and highway capable. [Kolter]
The Germans certainly know something about making high-quality vehicles. And Kollter’s new thrilling and highly affordable ES1 is a testament to the country’s superior craftsmanship. Recently rolled into North America and priced to please at just $5,990, the highway-capable e-Motorcycle boasts 70+ mph speeds, allowing it to seamlessly hang out with the rest of the two-wheeled herd on the highway. The bike also features an 80-mile range, a prompt 4.5-hour charging time, and an 11 kW (15 hp) peak-rated single-stage reduction mid motor.

Huffy Releases a Folding e-Bike

Huffy! An old name in a new game, now with a folding ebike. [Huffy]
The EV realm isn’t just for motorcycle manufacturers! Huffy is enjoying its slice of the pie with the recent release of its Oslo folding e-bike. The easy-to-fold commuter bike is equipped with a 36-volt battery that powers a 250-watt rear hub motor and collapses in the pedals, middle, and handlebars to be easily tucked away when not in use. Clocking in at just 45 pounds, the Oslo Electric is perfect for people who live in small apartments or who work desk jobs.

BMW Plans to Enter the e-Scooter Market

Prototypes, prototypes, prototypes. We featured the BMW Concept Link in our book collaboration with Gestalten - The Current - and saw it on its unveiling at Villa d'Este. BMW says it's now likely to build an escooter, and soon. [BMW]
With so many big-name brands entering the EV market, it’s no wonder nobody wants to get left behind, including BMW. The company is hoping the innovative styling and next-gen technology of its new CE 04 e-Scooter will attract new customers to the brand. The retro-futuristic two-wheeled bike was showcased at the Los Angeles Auto Show earlier this week. Slated to arrive in showrooms early next year, the CE 04 will have a starting price tag of $11,795. Able to seat two, the e-Scooter boasts 42 ponies and 45 lb.-ft. of torque, along with an 80-mile range. Do you think this scoot can compete against HD’s Livewire or Zero Motorcycles? Let us know in the comments below!

Hongik University Releases Smart Life Concepts at the 2021 Industrial Design Online Degree Show

Seoul-based Hongik University’s industrial design department recently hosted its 2021 online degree show that showcased the state-of-the-art projects of 95 forward-thinking students. Some of the key pieces included:

The SITT connected showroom mobile space. [Hee-Soo Kim and Jae-Yeon Kim]
  • Sitt by Hee-Soo Kim and Jae-Yeon Kim, an autonomous showroom service where users can sit in eight different comfy, interior settings.
The VOCO is a self-parking ebike concept. [Kwang-Seuk Go and Hye-Won Kim]
  • VOCO by Kwang-Seuk Go and Hye-Won Kim, a near-future e-Motorcycle that promotes autonomous driving.
The Harmony eScooter promotes safety and portabiliity with rider warning systems and adaptive road lights. [Min-Ji Park]
  • Harmony by Min-Ji Park, a pioneering form that aims to provide portability and safety solutions to e-Scooters.

These amazing concepts only go to show that the future is clearly electric.

Breaking Battery News

Lithium polymer batteries from mobile phones ready for recycling...but where?
  • Elemental Holding, a metals recycling company, is building an EV battery recycling facility in Poland. The facility is slated to start operations in 2023.
  • Recent research has found that materials recovered from spent lithium-ion batteries actually perform better than the virgin materials found in new ones. All the more reason to recycle, people!




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


'One Man Caravan' in ADV:Overland

After 18 months of hibernation, the world is primed for adventure, and the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum has it in spades. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space, as a welcome breath of freedom after pandemic shutdowns.  ADV:Overland is on display through April 2022.  See all of our exhibited vehicles here.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr's 'One Man Caravan' round the world 1932 Douglas Mastif as it exists today. [Fulton Family Archives]

Pictures from an exhibition: Robert Edison Fulton Jr.'s 1932 Douglas 750cc H32 Mastif motorcycle.  (by Clement Salvadori and Paul d'Orléans)

Back in 1885 the brothers William and Edward Douglas established a foundry in Bristol, England, making bits and pieces for the burgeoning industries cropping up in the region.  Eventually that meant cars, tractors, and castings for a local motorcycle start-up in 1907, Joseph Barter's Light Motors Ltd, who designed a neat little flat-twin engine with opposed cylinders sitting fore and aft in the frame, which he called the Fée (fairy).  Barter soon ran out of money, and the Douglas Engineering Co. acquired the business, thinking the new business of motorcycles might have a future.  The Fée led to other flat-twin designs from Douglas, an engine configuration to which they remained faithful throughout their production, although by the mid-30s they had turned their motor through 90degrees, where it remained until their 1957 demise.

A Douglas won the Isle of Man TT in 1912, and the marque had many successes in worldwide competition, and during WWI they provided many thousands of 600cc sidevalves to the British army.  Douglas was among the earliest manufacturers - in 1921 - to adopt overhead-valve cylinder heads and 'hemi' combustion chambers, which made them fearsome competition machines, and the next year an RA model became the first 500cc motorcycle to record 100mph, with Cyril Pullin riding at Brooklands.  In the 1920s the company was quite successful financially, with regular race wins at Brooklands and the Isle of Man TT, and also the burgeoning world of Dirt Track racing, in which the low-slung weight and long wheelbase of the hot RA model proved a perfect fit.  By the mid-1920s the Douglas DT5 and DT6 (600cc) Dirt Track (later known as Speedway) racers were al-conquering on dirt tracks around the globe, right through 1930, when a combination of the Stock Market crash and the JAP speedway motor dealt the company a mortal blow.  In 1932 Douglas was sold to a group of investors headed by Kenton Redgrave, and this is where our story begins.

Robert Edison Fulton Jr on his 1932 Douglas Mastif, modified by the factory for his journey with racks and an extra-large fuel tank over the rear wheel, plus a skid plate, where Fulton hid a revolver. [Fulton Family Archives]
A young fellow named Robert Edison Fulton Jr., son of the founder of Mack Trucks, had been studying architecture in Vienna after graduating from Harvard in 1931.  After a year abroad, he was headed back to the USA via London, and on an early summer's eve in 1932 he was invited to a posh dinner.  As the 24-year old son of a wealthy industrialist, Fulton was the sort to be invited to such parties. When asked at the dinner what he planned to do next, he replied off-handedly that he would not sail back to New York, but would rather ride a motorcycle around the world!  Kenton Redgrave happened to be at the table, and immediately offered him a Douglas motorcycle, thinking such a journey would be good publicity.

Fulton had only briefly owned an Indian motorcycle while in college, which he soon crashed and was pressured to sell by his family: that was the extent of his motorcycle experience. To undertake a round-the-world (RTW) journey was an act of youthful hubris: Fulton did not even know if it had been done before (it had – see our 1912 Henderson exhibit).  A few weeks after that fateful dinner party, Fulton appeared at the Douglas factory to meet his Mastif: the machine had been specially modified for the journey, and was a very rare 750cc model to boot, with perhaps only 30 ever made.  The factory had added an extra gas tank over the rear wheel and bash plate under the motor, where Fulton wedged a revolver ‘just in case’, and which he never removed. The factory also thought it prudent to bolt a Douglas sidecar onto to the ‘continental’ side: left, as most countries he would be riding through drove on the right side of the road. Fulton rode off in July of 1932, heading east back to Vienna, then turning south to the Balkans. By then he had discovered how bad the roads were away from large European cities, and soon decided to get rid of the sidecar. Shortly after, in Turkey, he abandoned much of his cooking gear and other items he realized were non-essential, including the tuxedo he’d packed away ‘in case of an embassy dinner’.  What he kept included a cine camera  with which he shot 40,000' of film in the course of his journey.

A lot of this! The deep desert sands of the Middle East were without roads or even markers in many areas, with bandit nomads a constant worry. [Fulton Family Archives]
Fulton had a positive attitude on his journey, and was fascinated at the differences between the cultures he encountered, as well as their similarities.  For example, Fulton famously noted that in small villages all over the world, he was warned against traveling to the neighboring village, which was invariably described as full of thieves and murderers.  On arriving there, he found people just as accommodating as the previous town, but was warned against the next spot on his map in the same terms. Concerning the Mastif in our exhibition, few things went mechanically wrong in his 18-month trip, other than half a dozen flat tires. In Waziristan a king-pin in his transmission sheared, but the company had given him a small bag of spare parts, including such a pin, and he fixed it himself, obviously having some mechanical skills. After his successful journey, Fulton wrote a classic account of RTW travel – ‘One Man Caravan’ (Harcourt, Brace - 1937) – which inspired many other would-be travelers to undertake this ultimate adventure on two wheels.  'One Man Caravan' records being shot at by Pashtun tribesmen in the Khyber Pass, running from bandits in the Iraqi desert, spending a night in a Turkish jail, and being lavished with attention by Indian rajahs, although Fulton is modest and discretely charming throughout, and is never self-aggrandizing...which turns out to be a common theme among RTW travel writers to come.  Fulton did capitalize on his journey and book with a lecture tour of the United States, where he shared his film footage and tales of his adventures. In 1983, he produced (with his filmmaking sons Rawn and Travis),a 90-minute film compiled from his film footage, 'The One Man Caravan of Robert E. Fulton Jr. An Autofilmography',  and later in his life a second film, "Twice Upon A Caravan."

Robert Edison Fulton Jr. went on to become an airplane enthusiast (including a P-51 Mustang for his personal use), and a prolific inventor.   He invented the first ground-based flight trainer, the first ground-based air gunner trainer, a functional flying car, and the Skyhook system for pilot rescue or personnel retrieval by an aircraft - without the need to land. He kept his faithful Douglas Mastif close by the rest of his life, but only shared it publicly at local Connecticut motorcycle shows on occasion.  ADV:Overland is the first time Fulton’s famous machine has been exhibited in a museum, and his sons have kept it in running condition in homage to their remarkable father.

Fulton came across many animal, and the occasional human, that had succumbed to the desert. [Fulton Family Archive]
Fulton in Japan photographing Mt Fuji. [Fulton Family Archive]
Robert Edison Fulton Jr later in life, at his desk, where the ideas for new inventions poured forth. [Fulton Family Archive]
Vintagent Contributor Dennis Quinlan visited RE Fulton Jr in 1994, capturing him with his Douglas at Flying Ridge, Connecticut. Fulton died in 2004: read his NYTimes obituary here. [Dennis Quinlan]



Clement Salvadori is a veteran moto-journalist, world traveler, and author of No Thru Road, 101 RoadTales, several travel guides through California and Baja, and more.


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

The Current News: Nov. 4 2021

As part of the buildup to our Electric Revolution Live event in May 2022, as a follow-up of our Electric Revolution exhibit at the Petersen Museum, we are ramping up reportage on the EV scene.  It's an ever-evolving, even frantic, landscape of electric vehicles, and it can be tough to keep abreast of all the latest bikes, batteries, and news constantly flooding the market. That’s why we’ve re-launched our weekly EV News Roundup to bring you cherry-picked stories that matter to you. 

Hello dear readers and riders! Are some of you feeling the frosty bite of winter in the air yet? Have you busted out your winter riding gear? Thankfully, we have some hot EV news this week that is guaranteed to warm things up! From a café racer e-Motorbike and an itty-bitty caravan to a former Tesla employee shattering the Cannonball Run record aboard the manufacturer’s Model S, our weekly EV roundup always brings stories that matter the most to EV enthusiasts and traditionalist riders alike.

As always, drop us a line at if anything out there catches your eye.

Here we go!

Enigma Reveals Café Racer e-Motorcycle

The Enigma eBike is a cafe racer from India with an 85 mile / 85mph spec, and is meant to be affordable. [Enigma]
India-based EV manufacturer, Enigma, revealed its EV “café racer” earlier this week. The bike, planned to be manufactured at the company’s plants in Bhopal, Mandideep and Uppal Hyderabad, will feature a 72V, lithium ferro phosphate battery that delivers a 140-km (86.9 miles) range on a single charge. Enigma promises that the bike will reach top speeds of 136 kmph (84 mph) and have a peak power of 5.6 KW. The e-motorcycle will go from 0 to 80% charged in just three hours and will be available in five colors. “When we started designing our motorcycle, our ambition was to create a motorbike that would serve as a powerful exploration tool but also balance the everyday commuting without breaking the bank,” Enigma founder and CEO, Anmol Bohre, said.

World’s Smallest (and Cutest!) Towable Caravan

Officially the world's smallest caravan, the QTvan is meant to be towed by small EVs, even mobility scooters. Fancy a cross-country trip? [QTVan]
Skip those Royal Wedding queues once and for all! Designed by Yannick Read and Britain’s Environmental Transport Association (ETA), the QTvan is the world’s tiniest and most adorable towable caravan. Measuring just 2.39 meters in length and 1.53 meters in height, the QTvan caters to Britain’s three biggest obsessions: tea, queuing, and caravans. Occupants can enjoy watching the next Royal Wedding on the 19-inch TV or make a cup of PG Tips via the caravan’s tea-making facilities. It is effortlessly hooked up to a mobility scooter or other micro EV, and is priced at £5,500 ($7,421).

Meet the Ford F-100 EV Pickup

Retro Ford F-100 Eluminator EV? Yes please! [Ford]
We are losing our minds over this retro-inspired electric pickup truck concept recently unveiled by Ford. Harkening back to the aesthetics of the ‘70s, the all-electric F-100 Eluminator is a zero-tailpipe-emissions demonstration truck that features all-wheel drive and two electric traction motors that are capable of producing 480 ponies and 634 lb.-ft. of torque from a 'crate motor' out of the Mach E GT Performance Edition.  You can't buy this truck, but you can buy the powerplant from Ford to put into your own vintage F-100 chassis...serious suspension upgrades required.

EV Personal Aerial Vehicle is a Whole Lotta Fun to Fly!

Meet George Jetson! Or at least, the Jetson personal electric aircraft, which requires no pilot's license to tear around the sky. [Jetson]
Sweden’s Jetson Aero just announced that it is completely sold out of its 2022 production of the personal eVTOL, a cute little single-seat EV aerial craft. Capable of zooming along at 63 mph, the craft features an aluminum/carbon fiber spaceframe, eight props mounted on four arms that put out 118 horsepower, a throttle/joystick control combo, and a display dash. So, if you want an airplane that you can stash in your garage, now you know where to look!

OTTOEDGE Releases Its First Campaign for AMO Electric Mobility

The OTTEdge AMO escooter in a virtual display setting. [OTTEdge]
Listen up all of you marketing gurus out there! OTTOEDGE, a global independent agency, recently deployed a successful marketing campaign for AMO Electric Mobility that really resonated with youths positioned to change the world. Released primarily on digital platforms, the campaign has garnered 2+ million views on YouTube with unique 1.5 million views. The campaign will also appear on National Television and regional news channels. Amongst all the marketing static the EV space has produced, it’s nice to see a campaign that really stands out.

Fresh Funding:

All-singing, all-dancing, but all-performing? The towering valuation of Tesla belies its actual revenue, but that hasn't stopped speculators. [NY Times]
  • Tesla hit a trillion-dollar market valuation earlier this week when shares increased thanks to Hertz’s announcement of plans to purchase 100,000 of its EVs.  With revenues of around $50Billion, this makes Tesla the lowest-revenue company to hit the 10-figure valuation, which worries some economists.
Rad Power gains power through investment: the compact utility eBike maker looks stronger every year. [Rad Power]
  • Rad Power Bikes, the fat tire EV manufacturer, raised $154 million Series D from existing investors, bringing the startup’s total funding to $329 million.
The Rivian RT-1 [Wikipedia]
  • EV startup, Rivian, is looking to raise $8.4 billion, which would give it a value equal to Honda.  Does this make sense?  It seems market valuations have more to do with anticipated value than actual production capacity or products available...then again, Amazon wasn't profitable for many years when it sold primarily books...

Former Tesla Employee Uses a Tesla to Shatter Cannonball Run Records

Ryan Levenson used a Tesla Model S Long Range to knock 2 full hours off the cross-USA 'Cannonball' EV record from a Porsche Taycan. [Ryan Levenson]
We’ve all secretly dreamed of getting payback on employers we downright loathe. Well, that’s the story behind Ryan Levenson’s staggering Cannonball Race record. The former Tesla employee and EV enthusiast rented a Tesla Model S and outfitted it with 19-inch-rimmed racing tires to increase its range. Ryan and his team could race 1.5 to two hours between stops, thanks to the Model S’s 405-mile range and Ryan’s minor tweaks. Using the quick-charge capacity of Tesla's coast-to-coast facilities, he set a new record at 42 hours and 52 minutes, of which around 7 hours was spent on charging time.   The current IC record for a Cannonball run is 25 hours 39 minutes, by comparison, which included only ten minutes for refueling!  Several fuel cells were packed into that car...could a Tesla (or other EV) be packed with batteries for a shorter run?



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


Vesuvius to Etna, Powered by Solar

Editor's Note:  Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer covering all types of motorsport and fashion, with a particular interest and gift for motorcycle photography.  He has contributed stories about The Great Mile and most recently the all-electric Elektrafuture event in St. Tropez, which gave him the inspiration to try an off-grid off-road journey in his native Italy, between two legendary volcanos.  He had generously shared his photographs and travel diary from his journey with The Vintagent: it is a pioneering exploration of what will surely be possible for eBike journeys in the future, completely off-grid using solar energy.  A longer version of this story with video clips is coming soon.

From Fabio Affuso: POWERED BY SOLAR

When in the middle of a total world lockdown this bonkers project first came to mind, nobody had any idea if it was gonna work, but that didn’t matter: its true essence was challenging ourselves and tasting freedom once again. For the friends and ballsy brands I approached it was a salivating mix of excitement and perplexity…”It’d be amazing to ride between the volcanoes! How can you do an enduro trip with electric motorcycles?? Nobody’s done it yet with solar, is it even possible? Total Outlaws…I’m in!”

Solitude on a stunning mountain landscape was the reward for making a pioneering eBike ride into the Apenines and volcanos of southern Italy.  Jose S picks his way through the rocks for a stunning view. [Fabio Affuso]
Truth is, the project was a bet and a challenge, and one we so sorely needed. Being able to rely on our own abilities and resources was what we really wanted, something our modern society has ultimately taken away from us, making everything terribly homogenous, safe and controlled. Motorcycling, and now electric motorcycling cross-country, became our time machine to feel alive again. A risky jump, not for the cautious, but the daring wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. After all, riding electric motorcycles off-road between the two most dangerous live volcanoes of Europe is not an everyday task, with no guarantee of success. Riding Vesuvius (near Naples) to Etna (on Sicily) while charging the bikes from a self-converted camper van with solar power is even less so…a technological as much as a personal challenge. But isn’t that what the future looks like anyway?! It’s just that we wanted to do it on our terms. In the end, the allure of being totally off-grid, free camping, riding wild across mountains, and even getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was too much to resist for this wild bunch.  So we went.

The équipe included a converted ambulance with solar panels to be used for charging the bikes. Off-grid, but still dependent on a petrol vehicle...a compromise for the present. Malaka manhandles the CAKEs for a dawn ride. [Fabio Affuso]
Some six months after Powered by Solar first bubbled up, at 6am five of us were up on top of Vesuvius. Equipped with the raddest gear from El Solitario, Sena and Kriega, we were ready to head down south for the next 6 days.  With Lesley, Mia the wolfdog and Malaka driving 2 self-made camper vans, with Josè, Adelio and I riding 3 electric off-road motorcycles by CAKE.

Adelo L bushwhacking: riding on seldom-explored or abandoned trails was a big part of the challenge and the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
Off-roading in the middle of nowhere with silent motorcycles is a rad and surreal experience, especially while talking to each other via hi-def intercom. All you can hear is the live forest, the sound of the chain, and your pals laughing and crying as you’re powering through thorny woods (that’s if you don’t put your Spotify on). Wild enduro is not for everyone, but if you're into it, you know the true taste of exhilaration. From abandoned hiking paths cut by landslides and dubious homemade bridges, to thick pine forests with fast trails and fallen massive trees, we rode all sorts of terrains like a squad on a mission. Everybody knows Italy has amazing roads to ride, but not everybody knows there are more unpaved than paved roads in this country, so the choice is endless [ed. note: it's the same in the USA!].  The further south in Italy you go, the easier it becomes when you bump into forest rangers, who often wave rather than chase in Sicily, when we rode between wildfires, we stopped to chat with fire brigades and police under the flying water scooper planes. Italian heat in August is serious business that can leave a mark [ed note: especially in 2021, when Sicily hit 120deg F, the highest ever recorded in Europe].

Camping near a wildfire: climate change in Italy looks much like California - drought, heat, and fires appear to be the new normal in late summer. [Fabio Affuso]
Because of the heat, most days between 2 and 4pm we either rode like camels in the Sahara, or slept  like wolves at the equator.  On the first day, when drowsy and tired we found a huge dam to swim in, eat and sleep. We were on a fine enduro adventure, but first and foremost we are a bunch of friends getting lost into nature, because we can and because we need to. Far from actually getting lost, we rode amazing tracks laid out by friend and enduro tour guide Ugo Filosa ( Weirdly, the Southern Italian mountains are pretty much free of people in the summer, as most prefer the beach to the high altitude. Riding under those tall trees up high on the Apenines, we found respite from the beach bums' mayhem, and only in the evening descended to the coast to have a swim  and the occasional shower. After all, it is summer, and we need to sink it in before it’s gone.

Malaka watching fire crews drop water by plane onto an advancing fire. A sadly common sight in California, Greece, and Spain too! [Fabio Affuso]
The CAKE Kalk bikes we used are super light and fun, but we had to plan well and monitor battery power all the time if we are to make it to the end. Driving the vans to the best meeting points, Jose, Adelio and I tested the CAKEs’ gazelle capabilities until the last drop of power, like when in Calabria all three of us decided to continue into the mountains with half power, to then descend on the other side with none. Reckless, probably yes, but intoxicatingly beautiful.

The CAKE Kalks proved well able to handle the roughest terrain, but it's still hard work! Lesley B takes a break on the black volcanic soil. [Fabio Affuso]
Fully stocked with cold beers and snacks, Lesley and Malaka are always on the ball, criss-crossing the mountains on tarmac to reach our designated meeting points, be it light or dark, or at some emergency rescue points, as it happens twice when we got unrepairable punctures or when we rode the bikes until the last drop of CAKE juice. Yet we have to do it this way, we have to touch the technical limits to know where they are and to finally push them, or else we are only restrained by our own mind’s limits. I know a hippy or two who would ask…what’s the worst that could happen!?

Jose S exploring classic Italian mountain village architecture, with the added bonus of silent exploration, and no harrassment. [Fabio Affuso]
Once we learned that running the batteries flat is not good for our charging technique (swapping batteries and charging off solar), we made peace with the fact we needed to hook into the grid for once, with the bonus of a proper shower at the empty camping park by the beach. Flexibility and adaptability is what ultimately takes us all the way to Sicily, through wildfires and then finally atop Etna, where mother earth fulfills our ecstatic ambitions with a mind blowing nightime eruption. ‘Illegally’ free camping on the volcano itself, it’s hard to find a better way to end this crazy trip inspired by nature, technology, and our obstinate aspiration for a world that could be free once again.

Malaka enjoying the cinders! Direct from the volcano, and not on the Speedway track. [Fabio Affuso]
Adelio and Jose S find sketchy trails not intended for motorcycles! But all part of the fun. [Fabio Affuso]
The heart of fire, but not a fire per se: an eruption on Mt Etna was a reward for a long journey. [Fabio Affuso]
Keep an eye out for the full story coming to Thee Vintagent soon…

Fabio Affuso is an Italian photographer based in London and his native Naples. He photographs motorsport and fashion around the globe. Find him at his website and Instagram.

The Vintagent Original: ADV:Overland

The Vintagent Original: Stories We Need to Tell.

ADV:Overland (2021)

Presented by Harley Davidson, The Motorcycle Arts Foundation and The Vintagent


Vintagent Labs is the new content creation arm of The Vintagent.  A collaboration between Nadia Fugazza, Mark MacInnis, and Paul d'Orléans, incorporating the skills and contributions of talented friends and collaborators around the world.  Nadia Fugazza is a film producer and editor and now Executive Producer for Film at The Vintagent, who spent 8 years creating award-winning video content for Petrolicious.  Mark MacInnis is a film producer and now Managing Editor for The Vintagent, whose films have been featured for years on The Vintagent ('Sugar & Spade' and 'Sugar & Spade in Morocco').  Paul d'Orléans is the founder and CEO of The Vintagent.


A film about adventure travel, in support of the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, July 2021 - April 2022. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space.

In the beginning, every motor trip was an adventure, and every motorist a mechanic. Some heard a different call, seeking adventure in overland travel to far-distant places. In 1903, crossing the USA on wheels had never been done, but that changed when George Wymans rode a California motorcycle for 50 days from San Francisco to New York. In 1912, nobody had circled the globe on a motorcycle, but that changed when Carl Stearns Clancy straddled his Henderson Four and headed east. In the next 100 years, brave men and women struck out to see the world on wheels, making epic journeys recorded in books, films, and television. Folks more technically-oriented imagined travel off-world, on the Moon or Mars or beyond, in science fiction and actual space programs.

Exhibition curator and Motorcycle Arts Foundation co-founder Paul d’Orleans explains: “ADV:Overland celebrates the spirit of adventure. These remarkable machines tell a human story, of dreamers and reckless youth, stubborn visionaries and dogged competitors, all together in one place. It also includes the ultimate overland dream of surface exploration on other worlds, which is happening on Mars right now - and we have some of the NASA/JPL rovers. We told lenders not to wash their overland veterans: we wanted to show good honest dirt as proof of their rough duty.”

The contrast between the extremely simple overland machinery from the early 20th century to Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire from Long Way Up is great, but the journey still had to be made on wheels. “The genesis of overland travel can be seen in the early bikes, like the 1912 Henderson Four that Carl Clancy rode around the world. These rudimentary machines captured the public’s imagination and fueled overland travel and competition we see today, like the Baja and Dakar rallies, and films like Long Way Up,” added MAF co-Founder Sasha Tcherekoff.

If 100-year old dirt-covered bikes don’t inspire you, then come to ADV: Overland for the far-out space exhibits. Two sci-fi overlanders from the Lost In Space series, including the spectacular 1960s tracked glass house, keep company with a futuristic 3-D printed electric “Lunar motorcycle” from For an inspiring comparison between real and imaginary off-world overlanding, NASA/JPL loaned two actual Mars rovers - models of Opportunity and Sojourner - that have logged more miles on other worlds than any other vehicle.

Also on display is Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire customized by Harley-Davidson for the Long Way Up television series. The Motor Company is also a sponsor of ADV: Overland in support of the 2021 launch of the Harley-Davidson Pan America. The Pan America marks Milwaukee’s first-ever adventure-touring motorcycle meant to compete in the growing ADV motorcycle space.

ADV: Overland opens on July 3rd, with an opening reception on July 15th, which will be a drive/ride-in event on the Petersen rooftop. The exhibit is produced by Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF) and Sasha Tcherevkoff in partnership with Vintagent Lab, the just-launched content creation arm of The


Executive Producers: Nadia Fugazza, Mark MacInnis, Paul d'Orleans
Producer: Mark MacInnis
Director: Tiziano Niero
Director of Photography: David Martinez
Editor: Nadia Fugazza
Key Cast: Dan Green
Videographer and additional photos: Jeremy King
Composer: Giacomo Lamparelli
Voice Over: Paul d'Orléans
VO Engineer: David Darling


The Vintagent Original: Silver Shotgun
The Vintagent Original: Custom Revolution

Lyndon Poskitt on his RoundTheWorld KTM, struggling in the sand. [Lyndon Poskitt]

Anton Gonnisen in the Peking to Paris Rally on his home-built homage to the original 1906 Contal Mototri that ran the first PtoP race in 1907. [Anton Gonnisen]

RE Fulton Jr in Japan, 1932, from 'One Man Caravan.' [Fulton Family Archives]


ADV: OVERLAND Exhibition @ The Petersen Museum, July 2021 - April 2022

In The Heart Of Los Angeles, The Road Ends And The Adventure Begins

Motorcycle Arts Foundation  announces new adventure-themed exhibit at the 

Petersen Automotive Museum with support from Harley-Davidson

After 18 months of hibernation, the world is primed for adventure, and the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum has it in spades. Subtitled ‘off-road to off-world’, ADV:Overland includes round-the-world and long-distance racing machinery from 1903 to the present, plus sci-fi and NASA overland explorers. The real-world adventure machines show dirt and scars from outrageous journeys, some even with their original bags, boxes, and tools in place, 90 years later. ADV:Overland showcases the living, breathing history of overland travel, and its counterparts in outer space, as a welcome breath of freedom as we emerge from COVID.

In the beginning, every motor trip was an adventure, and every motorist a mechanic. Some heard a different call, seeking adventure in overland travel to far-distant places. In 1903, crossing the USA on wheels had never been done, but that changed when George Wymans rode a California motorcycle for 50 days from San Francisco to New York. In 1912, nobody had circled the globe on a motorcycle, but that changed when Carl Stearns Clancy straddled his Henderson Four and headed east.

In the next 100 years, brave men and women struck out to see the world on wheels, making epic journeys recorded in books, films, and television. Folks more technically-oriented imagined travel off-world, on the Moon or Mars or beyond, in science fiction and actual space programs.

Exhibition curator and Motorcycle Arts Foundation co-founder Paul d’Orleans explains: “ADV:Overland celebrates the spirit of adventure. These remarkable machines tell a human story, of dreamers and reckless youth, stubborn visionaries and dogged competitors, all together in one place.

It also includes the ultimate overland dream of surface exploration on other worlds, which is happening on Mars right now - and we have some of the NASA/JPL rovers. We told lenders not to wash their overland veterans: we wanted to show good honest dirt as proof of their rough duty.”

The contrast between the extremely simple overland machinery from the early 20th century to Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire from Long Way Up is great, but the journey still had to be made on wheels. “The genesis of overland travel can be seen in the early bikes, like the 1912 Henderson Four that Carl Clancy rode around the world.

These rudimentary machines captured the public’s imagination and fueled overland travel and competition we see today, like the Baja and Dakar rallies, and films like Long Way Up,” added MAF co-Founder Sasha Tcherevkoff.

If 100-year old dirt-covered bikes don’t inspire you, then come to ADV: Overland for the far-out space exhibits. Two sci-fi overlanders from the Lost In Space series, including the spectacular 1960s tracked glasshouse, keep company with a futuristic 3-D printed electric “Lunar motorcycle” from


For an inspiring comparison between real and imaginary off-world overlanding, NASA/JPL loaned two actual Mars rovers - models of Opportunity and Sojourner - that have logged more miles on other worlds than any other vehicle.

Also on display is Charley Boorman’s electric LiveWire customized by Harley-Davidson for the Long Way Up television series. The Motor Company is also a sponsor of ADV: Overland in support of the 2021 launch of the Harley-Davidson Pan America. The Pan America marks Milwaukee’s first-ever adventure-touring motorcycle meant to compete in the growing ADV motorcycle space.

ADV: Overland opens on July 3rd, with an opening reception on July 15th, which will be a drive/ride-in event on the Petersen rooftop. The exhibit is produced by Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF) and Sasha Tcherevkoff in partnership with Vintagent Lab, the just-launched content creation arm of The

Music for the July 15th opening reception curated by @RedLightVinyl.

Tickets: Opening Reception - July 15th, 2021

Media Contact:


Paladin: 'Nobody is Born a Biker'

Paladin.  If you were part of the nascent Old Motorcycle scene in Berkeley in the late 1970s/80s, you probably encountered him.  He was typically seen hanging around T.T. Motors on Ashby Avenue, giving unsolicited advice and a deposition on any subject to anyone nearby. Sometimes that was me, after I'd ridden whatever was running, from San Francisco to the East Bay to check out the bikes for sale at T.T. Motors, visit my friends, and inevitably have a chat with Paladin.

Paladin on a Triumph TR6 sold to him for $45 by John Gallivan of TT Motors in Berkeley [Berkeley USA]
He was a devoted Triumph man, and I owned several of his 'hardtail' Triumph conversions over the years, each honed closer to the 'bob-job' ideal than anything made today - they were fast, light, and no-frills. He could appreciate other brands though, and enjoyed discussing their relative merits. His arms were covered with amazing self-applied Triumph tattoos, images from long-ago advertising, logos, and graphic imaginings of motorcycles and women. He applied tattoos on others, occasionally.

John Gallivan in his TT Motors shop in Berkeley. [John Gallivan]
John Gallivan, owner of T.T. Motors, said of Paladin,  "I liked and respected him a great deal. I sold him that bike [a Triumph TR6] for $49.00, and he stayed. His writing in Iron Horse magazine and others are classics. He coined the word 'unobtanium' referring to rare British parts. His centerfold in Iron Horse with a girl and real rats crawling all over is a classic."   As mentioned, Paladin was a regular contributor to Iron Horse, and had a column, 'Paladin's Notebook', with illustrations of his ideas for choppers and cafe racers, some of which were prescient, and predated the third-wave cafe racer scene of the 2010s by 20 years.

'Paladin's Notebook' ran in Iron Horse for many years, and mixed Paladin's illustrations with thoughts on motorcycle design and culture. [Iron Horse]
Paladin knew a heck of a lot about motorcycle history, their care and customization, and motorcycle culture in all its diversity.  He knew a lot about everything else too, and shared what he knew in a distinctive voice, like a pirate that had swallowed Sylvester the Cat: thufferin' thuccotash, arrr.  As he spoke, one eye would squint, then the other, and as he waved his arms he jingled the tools hung on chains from his filthy leather jeans.  He carried a sheathed knife he'd made himself, and made them for others too, occasionally.  And he was a performance poet, in a now-vanished tradition of Bay Area poets who ranted and broke boundaries, were extremely political and sometimes had the cops intervene in their readings, like Peter Plate, for whom I printed several books.  His friend Arnold Snyder recounted one of Paladin's poems from the mid-1970s from memory on his blog:

Every damn body was born to die
So while you’re waitin’ you better get high
’Cause the trip is whatever you manage to buy
And you pay for it soon as you’re born

Now, me, I get off on women and sin
Hard partyin’
Getting’ righteously wasted
But mostly a big ol’ Milwaukee V-twin

’Cause there’s nothin’ at all like a righteous machine
About dynamite fast and say, medium clean
And if you’ve been hangin’ out there
You flat know what I mean

Tearin’ up empty streets around dawn
Tearin’ down highways out on a run
With a few or more bros, out havin’ fun
The wind in your armpits, your chrome in the sun

And like the wind, you’re gone
On a knucklehead, or a panhead, or a shovelhead
’Cause once you’re gone, you’re gonna stay dead
So, meanwhile, Get it on!

Another 'Paladin's Notebook' featuring a design that predates the current Tracker custom style by 30 years. [Iron Horse]
Paladin was 5' tall and full of surprises.  The first time I rode a Velocette to T.T. Motors in 1985, Paladin brought out a bucket of soapy water and a sponge and washed it!  "Such a finely made motorcycle as this should NEVER be dirty!"  He, on the other hand, didn't mind being dirty.  He was spiritually inclined towards old Norse religion, which was odd for a Jewish guy from New Jersey - his real name was Martin Rosenberg.  But, this was Berkeley, so while his chosen religion was remarked on, it was never judged.

Martin Rosenberg aka Paladin, from the book 'Berkeley U.S.A.' [Berkeley USA]
Paladin died of heart failure in his sleep in 1988: he was only 45. He had suffered a mighty knock to the head in a motorcycle accident a few years prior, which definitely altered his personality. And, who knows what he put into his body for fun.  His wake was amazing, and set the pattern for every wake to follow that I had a hand in: a ram's horn was filled with whisky, and passed from person to person, with each raising a toast in turn, a collective shout 'To Paladin!', and telling a story or remembrance of the man.  A proper wake, and how I'd like to be remembered too.

The following is an excerpt of an interview with Paladin, from the book, 'Berkeley U.S.A.' (Anne Moose, Alternative Press, 1981):

"Essentially, everything that I do relates at one level or another to motorcycling. I make my living by writing for motorcycling journals and doing illustrations for them... I'm into motorcycle paint work and uh, you know, it's kind of dull if you ain't into bikes, but I'm into bikes so I find it all quite fascinating....Twenty years ago, it didn't matter if you rode a Harley, or if you rode a Triumph, or if you rode a BSA. If you rode, you rode. You were committed. The other people who rode were your brothers, except you didn't use the word brother because you didn't have to. This was all just, you know, understood at almost a back brain level.

Now then, when the Japanese started bringing their bikes in, what they brought was nothing new in the sense of engineering. What they did was... a publicity campaign. They brought in a form of advertising to make the motorcycle, shall I say, socially acceptable. Well, people that are stone bikers, as opposed to motorcycle operators, don't really care much about social acceptability... But what this did, brought a whole new kind of person into the riding scene, and it brought in a lot of divisionism. In 1963, you break down on your bike on the side of the highway, you know that the next guy who comes by is going to stop and help. And it don't matter what brand of bike you're riding, or if his bike is chopped or not, or who's in a club and who isn't - that's jive. You're a biker or you're not. Since the Japanese bike has become's brought this new element ...this whole concept of antagonism and divisionism which we've had to deal with for about the past twelve to fifteen years.

The notorious 'rat bike' cover of Iron Horse, with Paladin, a model, and his ratty Harley-Davidson. He later became a cafe racer fan. [Iron Horse]
Personally, I can't stand Japanese bikes. I don't care how fast they are, or how many camshafts they have, or if they win races. I just don't like the aesthetics of the damn things. But at the same time, it doesn't matter what kind of sled you've got under your ass - when you're in the wind, it's like, the same wind, and that's the policy we're pushing.

As far as I'm concerned, the only group that really matters in this country, per se, is the bikers. And this may sound like an off-the-wall statement, but I think if you'll check back you'll find that during that whole big so-called cultural revolution of the sixties, language, style, and everything was copied from the bikers. Our influence is a lot more subtle than many people would imagine. We're simply living our own lives, and in living our own lives we're setting such a rare example in modern times...

Some intriguing cafe racer designs from 'Paladin's notebook, including a Morini V-twin. [Iron Horse]
The thing is, you're born black, you're born Chicano, you're born Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Jewish, Polynesian, whatever. Nobody is born a biker. It's something you do by choice. A biker is under a complete psychic necesssity, right, in that he is one half of a symbiotic organism of which the other half is a motorcycle. And if you wish to make any value judgements on that, go ask your mother how she likes her valium.

One of the things that a lot of people that I'm close to are into, is trying to get more women into riding. I guess you could say it's part of our highway beautification project. I personally think that women and men both - and everyone - should know how to handle machines... that, to me, is the only way we're ever going to have what I'd consider to be a sane and healthy culture... If people are going to band together, it must be through recognition and respect of their own strength, and of the strength of those about them. It always starts at the inside and works out."

May you long be remembered, Paladin. [Berkeley USA]


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

1914: the Whirl of Death

Was the Wall of Death invented in San Francisco in 1914?  That's the claim made in several press clippings from the scrapbooks of pioneering board track veteran Erle 'Red' Armstrong.   News stories from 1914 and later stake the claim that Armstrong invented the vertical wall of death attraction, after many years of riding on slant-wall motordromes and racing on banked wooden board tracks in the 'Noughts and 'Teens.   Photographs of his vaudeville attraction 'Whirl of Death', set up at the Empire Theater in San Francisco, confirm a 1914 date, and make a previously unknown connection with the 'Race for Life', the combined slant-wall/vertical-wall motordrome consctructed at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition.  Photographs dug up at the San Francisco Public Library archives reveal details of the Race for Life, and finally we know the story of who set up and rode that motordrome - Erle 'Red' Armstrong and his partner, 'Reckless' Vernon.

The entrance to the Whirl of Death in a carnival tent setting, on tour somewhere in the West in 1914. [A Century of Motorcycling]
Erle Armstrong was born in 1888 in Moria, Illinois, but moved to Colorado with his family ten years later, where his father was a mining engineer in Denver.  Erle had flaming red hair (hence his lifelong nickname) and a strong physique, and took up bicycle racing in 1904 at age 16: he soon became the Colorado State Champion.  By 1905 Erle made his living as a delivery boy for a Denver dry goods store, using an E.R. Thomas motorcycle: he was the sole source of income for his family as his father had died earlier that year. Regardless, Erle doubled down on racing, and shifted to motorcycles, using his own single-cylinder Orient as his mount.  With a natural feel for pulling the best from his motorcycles, Armstrong's Orient brought him records for the 5, 10, and 25-mile races in his very first event.  He was soon racing in the nearby states of Wyoming and Kansas, and traveling a circuit between those three states and earning a name for himself, and the notice of manufacturers.

Erle 'Red' Armstrong with a factory racing Indian 8-Valve board track machine, the most technically sophisticated American motorcycle when it was introduced in 1911. This example is rare in having front suspension, and as the photo was taken at the Dodge City board track, presumably it was set up for one of the 200-mile races held there. Note also the cushions strapped to the tank, to stop busting the rider's chin over bumps and give some support when in full crouch. [Indian publicity photo]
By 1907 Armstrong was working for the Denver Indian dealer, and became the Rocky Mountain State motorcycle champion, a title he retained through 1909.  He raced Indian singles and V-twins, and Excelsior singles too, and opened Armstrong Motor Sales in 1910, selling Thor, Wagner, and Minneapolis motorcycles [read our story on the Minneapolis here].  In 1911 he sold his dealership - it took time from his racing - and moved to California, where he raced on board and dirt tracks.  He rode mostly Indians and Excelsiors at events as far-flung as Chicago, Dodge City, Oakland, Denver, and Atlanta, as well as at his home Los Angeles turf.   In 1913 Armstrong appears racing Excelsior V-twins on the boards, taking wins and being featured in Excelsior advertising, at the moment Ignaz Schwinn pumped money into his recently acquired (1911) motorcycle brand to push sales. After WW1 he joined Indian full-time and moved to Springfield, and managed the factory racing team

A 1914 press publicity photo of the actual Whirl of Death, built of cedar planks and steel bands, with Erle Armstrong and his partner 'Reckless' Vernon.  Shown clearly are their specially adapted Excelsior board track racing motorcycles with rigid forks, tiny fuel tanks, and no brakes: the sheen of their satin carnival costumes is clear even in this mediocre reproduction. [Clymer Publications]
In 1914 Erle Armstrong supplemented his racing career in the winter months with touring a carnival act of his invention and construction: a vertical-walled motordrome built of wooden slats held in place with steel bands, 19' in diameter and 12' high.  The act was called the Whirl of Death, and it toured throughout the West, inside theaters and under canvas tents.  According to Armstrong's biographer Butch Baer (a family friend), he built three motorcycles to run on his Wall, and as oil was not allowed in theaters due to fire regulations, he modified his machines to run for 2 minutes each without oil(!).  Baer claims there was never a serious accident in any of Armstrong's tours, a remarkable record given the inherent danger of the act.

A view of the Empress Theater on Market St in San Francisco, after it was purchased by the Loews entertainment chain. The building no longer exists. [San Francisco Public Library]
According to a later press report on the 'cylinder of death':

"A wooden cylinder with spruce slats three inches apart, 19 feet in diameter, and 12 feet high, two 61 cubic inch 'ported' motorcycles, and two daredevil riders attired in spangled costume, were the ingredients of one of the most hair raising vaudeville acts ever to tour the old time 'three a day' circuit.  Conceived in the brain of 'Red' Armstrong who was also one of the performers, this act toured the top billing of the country in company with such greats of the theater as Eddie Cantor, and Weber and Fields."

"The act consisted of riding the inside of the cylinder - with two riders going in opposite directions - blindfolded! Traffic was controlled by a 'ringmaster' who sounded a shrill blast on a whistle if the top man approached the open apex of the cylinder, and two blast if he came too low.  This early day 'sonar' system worked out fine until one night in 'Frisco when the whistle failed!  Red remembers riding right out of the top of the contrivance, and soaring off into the wings in an unscheduled exit!  He was right back in the next performance despite a somewhat damaged big toe - his only souvenir of the accident."

The original Race for Life in 1914: a more solidly constructed motordrome than the presumably earlier Whirl of Death, combining a slant-wall section with a narrow vertical at the top. [A Century of Motorcycling]
Armstrong's Whirl of Death took up residence in San Francisco in 1914 at the Empress Theater at 965 Market St.  He seems to have liked San Francisco, where he seems to have lived for two years with his wife Maude.  He took a day job as service manager for Hap Alzina's Indian dealership, while still hitting the boards in both the racing and vaudeville scenes from 1914 through 1916.  It was a golden era for 'Red', and he became one of the winningest board track racers in the country.  According to Indian ads, Armstrong held more track records than any other rider, for example at the new Tacoma 2-mile board track (the first of that length - there was a lot of wood in Washington) where he on the inaugural 300-mile race, breaking speed records for 100, 200, and 300 miles.  In the winters of 1914 and '15, when racing was dormant, he toured his Whirl of Death.

Construction details of the 1914 version of the Race For Life, with Erle Armstrong's notations ("note steepness" on the banking angles and very narrow 90deg section at the top. This version of the Race For Life appears to be a smaller diameter than the enormous motordrome set up at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. [A Century of Motorcycling]
At some point in 1914, it appears Armstrong changed both the construction and name of his attraction, to the Race For Life, if the date notations from his scrapbooks are accurate.  Armstrong's photos suggest he built a far more elaborate motordrome in 1914, with far more robust construction and a mix of banking angles, from 45deg to a fully vertical 90deg section.  The large banked sections might seem retrograde after the radical  vertical Whirl of Death carnival act, but the Whirl was too fragile to accommodate automobiles, and cars running banked motordromes were very popular since 1909 in Coney Island.  The 1914 'taken in the morning' photo above from the Race For Life includes a racing car with a boat-tail rear end, and a ramp for its entry, so clearly Armstrong was expanding his act for a greater draw.   Now that we know the Race For Life and Whirl of Death were both touring attractions in 1914, it should be possible to dig deeper on the subject and find period press confirming the dates and locations Armstrong toured - watch this space.

An aerial view of the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition, showing the still-extant Palace of Fine Arts buildings by Bernard Maybeck on the right side. All the other buildings for the PPIE were demolished or moved in 1916, and the neighborhood developed as the Marina District, then as now a haven for young, upscale couples. Not shown in this retouched photo are the Zone and racetracks on the far left of this view.  The neighborhood above the PPIE (in gray) is Pacific Heights. [Wikipedia]
In 1914, Armstrong applied to install his Race For Life at an upcoming world's fair in San Francisco, which was in the planning stages. San Francisco was in the middle of a building boom at the time, after recovering from the devastating earthquake and fire of 1906.  To proclaim to the world that 'San Francisco is back', a consortium of politicians and developers combined civic pride with blatant self-interest, and contrived to convert a large tract of swampy bayside land known as Harbor View into a major development opportunity. Harbor View sat on the north side of town between the Presidio military base and the city's shipping piers (Fort Mason and Fisherman's Wharf), which was then occupied by hundreds of working people displaced by the '06 earthquake, living in shacks and tents on the grazing land of local ranchers.   The pretext for developing Harbor View, and ultimately reaping enormous wealth, was the creation a world's fair ostensibly celebrating the 1913 opening of the Panama Canal.

The PPIE was conceived as the Jewel City, illuminated by rainbow-colored searchlights operated by Marines (the Rainbow Scintillator), and lighting through gem-like lenses of Czech glass. This souvenir booklet of the PPIE shows the impact and scale of the exhibition. [San Francisco Public Library]
It was called the Panama Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE), a pearl in a long chain of grand industrial expositions originating in 1798 in revolutionary France, that grew in popularity and scale in the 1800s, culminating in the first truly international and expansively conceived Great Exhibition in 1851 of London at Crystal Palace, an enormous steel-and-glass structure built for the occasion.   Such fairs are still popular today - the most recent was in Milan in 2015, that focussed on food production.

The Palace of Fine Arts was designed by Bernard Maybeck, and is the only PPIE building still on-site from 1915, although it has been extensively re-engineered, three times, to stabilize what was intended as temporary construction. It was simply too beautiful to destroy! [Wikipedia]
Creation of the PPIE was a major undertaking, regardless the grand halls were constructed of temporary materials, mostly wood and plaster.  The 635 acres of land were purchased by the City (for a little over $1M), which then had the job of stabilizing the sandy tidal wetlands and beaches.  The PPIE was planned like a small city in itself - the Jewel City-  as a mix of high-style Beaux Arts architecture for great halls celebrating the arts, sciences, and manufacturing, and a large central fun fair called the Zone.  The color palette of plasters used in construction were carefully regulated, and even the sand used on its broad avenues were brought in from Monterey Bay and oven-roasted to the correct shade of tan!

The entrance to the Race For Life attraction at the PPIE: the noise alone must have lured customers! [San Francisco Public Library]
The Zone was planned as a mix of food halls and entertainments, enticing entrepreneurial vaudevillians and carnies from across the USA to dream up for-pay spectacles.  It was expected the PPIE would be hugely popular, despite the fact that much Europe was at war by the time the fair was open.  Regardless, 18 Million people eventually purchased tickets and strolled the grounds.  One carnie didn't have to go far to set up his attraction: Erle Armstrong was approved for his exciting, headliner act, and installed the Race For Life at the PPIE.  The PPIE version of his motordrome was an even larger and more robustly constructed attraction, with four banked sections allowing for an easy transition for cars and motorcycles entering the 'drome.  A wide 78deg banked section was topped by a much taller 90deg section, measuring about 6' high, with a 1' deep lip allowing the audience to literally stand on top of the riders and look directly below.  The taller vertical section was wide enough for a car (or two), and Armstrong included a 1914 Stutz GP car in his act, as well as several racing Indians and Excelsiors, one of which was adapted to carry his wife Maude on the handlebars.

Erle 'Red' Armstrong riding his board track Indian on the vertical section of the Race for Life in 1915. [San Francisco Public Library]
We documented the Race for Life story here on The Vintagent in 2017, but Erle Armstrong's story was the missing piece of the puzzle. I speculated in the article that the 1915 photos of the Race for Life might be the first properly documented Wall of Death, but a recent purchase of 'A Century of Motorcycling, Vol I and II' (self-published by Butch and Tom Baer in 2006, no ISBN) included the terrific 1914 photos included above, and the news that Erle Armstrong also created the Race for Life, and was considered at the time to be the inventor of the vertical-wall motordrome, now known as the Wall of Death.

'Red' Armstrong and 'Fearless' Vernon 'racing' on the vertical section of the very large Race for Life attraction in 1915. The attraction had a canvas roof that could be closed in case of rain. [A Century of Motorcycling]
It makes sense: who but a hardened board track racer would have the experience of banked wall riding, the machinery capable of riding fully vertical, and the bravery required to do it first?

The site plan of The Zone showing the layout of the Race for Life: 40' in diameter with a canvas roof. [San Francisco Public Library]
Game for a ride: Maude Armstrong rode on the handlebars of husband Erle's Race for Life board track racer. This photo was her entry pass to the PPIE. [A Century of Motorcycling]
There's a very good biography of Erle 'Red' Armstrong here on Archive Moto, and plenty of mentions of his racing in Stephen Wright's American Racer books, as well as in Dom Emde's excellent new book The Speed Kings: the Rise and Fall of Motordrome Racing, as well the aforementioned A Century of Motorcycling, by Butch and Tom Baer, which might prove difficult to find!  Other photos and information used in this article are from the San Francisco Public Library.

Ted Talk

By Larry Morris

On the very day the US military occupation of Japan ended following WWII, on April 28th 1952, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published a critical essay claiming the occupation left Japan’s people “irresponsible, obsequious and listless...unable to perceive issues in a forthright manner, which led to distorted perspectives.”

Honda's very first international race in São Paolo Brazil, 1954, with an R125 racer. Note the girder forks, knobby tires, and tall chassis compared to the Puch racer beside it with road race tires, telescopic forks, full-width aluminum brakes, clip-on handlebars, and rear suspension! [Honda]
Less than two years later, in January 1954, Soichiro Honda’s fledgling Honda Motor Company participated in its first overseas motorsports event at the São Paulo City Fourth Centennial Celebration International Motor Race. It took four days for Honda's staff of 3 to travel from Tokyo to Brazil.  Racer Mikio Omura, riding a modified Dream E-Type racer, rode hard to finish thirteenth. The performance gap between Honda and the European motorcycles was wide, but Soichiro was undeterred. Two months after Brazil, on March 20, 1954, Honda nonetheless published a “Declaration of Entry” to compete at the ultimate road race, the Isle of Man TT.  Setting his company in pursuit of this remarkable man-on-the-moon objective, Soichiro Honda boldly exclaimed, “My childhood dream was to be a motorsport World Champion with a machine built by myself. I have decided to compete in the Isle of Man TT races… This aim is a difficult one, but we have to achieve it to test the viability of Japanese industrial technology, and to demonstrate it to the world… I here avow my definite intention that I will participate in the TT races and I proclaim with my fellow employees that I will pour in all my energy and creative powers to win..."  Honda wasn’t simply building engines for cars and motorcycles: they were powering Japan into the modern age.

Distorted perspectives? Perhaps. Irresponsible, obsequious and listless? Hardly.

Honda's first sophisticated racer, the RC71 or C71Z, with their new twin-cylinder OHC motor, seen at the second running of the Mt Asama volacano races in 1957. The first Asama race was 1955, the last in 1959. The track was all cinders, hence the knobby tires. [Honda]
At the time, Honda was only beginning to export motorcycles to the “advanced countries”. Racing, however, offered an opportunity to compete with the rest of the world. Never before had there been a Japanese rider competing at the TT with a motorcycle made in Japan. While no Japanese motorcycle had ever raced at the Island, a Japanese rider had, back in 1930 when Kenzo Tada, the  Japanese champion and Velocette dealer for Tokyo, was invited by Veloce Ltd to race at the TT.  Tada finished a respectable 15th, and brought stories of British and European race teams back to Japan, fueling the dreams of impressionable youth like Honda.

Soichiro Honda supervising his team of racers in 1957 on the Mt Asama track. Note the changes on the racers, from higher pipes and bigger tanks to full-width hubs and lighter bodywork. [Honda]
Soichiro Honda knew the winner of the Isle of Man TT would be known across the globe....along with any vehicle that completed the race safely. “I will fabricate a 250cc (medium class) racer for this race, and as the representative of our Honda Motor Co, I will send it out into the spotlight of the world. I am confident that this vehicle can reach speeds exceeding 180 km/h.”  In 1955he embarked on a world tour, making the rounds of British and European manufacturers who would meet with him.  Their reception was generally friendly, and in their Colonial mindset, they saw no threat in the courteous Japanese fellow who built inexpensive lightweight motorcycles.  It is said that the racing department at NSU were only too happy to show him the blueprints for their all-conquering 125, 175, and 250cc Grand Prix racers, with their sophisticated OHC and DOHC motors, pressed steel frames, and beautifully made castings.  NSU made a strong impression, and shared the most information: some say Honda was able to purchase an obsolete NSU Grand Prix racer and bring it to Japan for study.

Mt Asama in the background, and the simple infrastructure of the 1955 races. Competition was fierce as every Japanese manufacturer fielded their prototype racing bikes. [Honda]
Within two years Honda had transformed his product line into very sophisticated unit-construction OHC engines with forward canted twin-cylinders, in a simple pressed-steel spine chassis with short leading-link forks. The NSU influence was clear, but Honda did not copy NSU's street bikes for their new lineup, but took the technology of hand-made NSU Rennmax racers into mass production [how this was possible can be studied in another article here].  With this new architecture, Honda competed at the Isle of Man TT for the first time in 1958 on a modified version of their twin-cylinder 250cc design, the RC71Z.  NSU had dropped out of racing the previous year, along with BMW, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, etc, as the European motorcycle market hit a rough patch due to the growing popularity of cheap cars, but the Japanese market was booming, as was the American scene.  In 1959 Honda established their first dealers in the USA, and just two years later, in 1961, Honda factory rider Mike Hailwood claimed his first of many victories at the TT, winning both the 125cc and 250cc classes, with the factory race team sweeping first through fifth places in both classes overall.

Distorted perspectives - certainly. Listless? Ha!

The 1961 Isle of Man TT, where Honda swept the 125cc and 250cc classes.  Tom Philips, Luigi Taveri, and Mike Hailwood, with Mike's father Stan directly behind him. [Honda]
Fast forward a generation.  By the time most teenagers take the fateful leap from drooling over bike magazines, to actually riding motorbikes, their tastes firmly eschew “classic” or “vintage” as old and uninteresting; much as they saw their parents generation. When that first motorbike is decades old, its hardly by choice; rather, its a compromise driven by budget, hand-me-down or practical happenstance. A rite of passage, a first step on the road toward the ultimate grail: the latest shiny and sparkly machine they (nay, we) could get our hands on. History can wait until later in life.

Takeshi Maejima, or Ted, of Ted's Special Motorcycle Works in Japan. [Larry Morris]
An outlier of the old-is-boring, new-is-better view common among his peers 30 years ago, Takeshi “Ted” Maejima had just one occupational goal for his life, one all-consuming passion: to revive, preserve and celebrate Honda’s remarkable legacy of motorcycle racing. To Ted, his first bikes were “too new”- he was determined to travel back in time. Today, his motorcycle shop, Ted’s Special Motorcycle Works in Kanagawa Prefecture is a treasure trove of racing history. Ted is the go-to expert for vintage Honda service, restoration and parts, particularly CB72 Hawks and CB77 Super Hawks, for both track and street.

At Willow Springs Raceway, 2014: Ted is on the left, on the 72x Honda CB160, while Larry is on the right, not that they knew each other at the time.  [Philip Graybill]
Willow Springs International Raceway, April 2014. This image, shot by my friend, photographer Phillip Graybill, who joined me while I was racing at this AHRMA event, is how I first “met” Ted, who had no clue who I was until years later. The photo ultimately led to a connection on social media and eventually, in-person in Japan where I now live, just 30 minutes away from him.

I asked him a few question for The Vintagent:

Larry Morris (LM): How and where did you get the nickname Ted?

Takeshi Maejima (Ted): 1996, in the USA. Americans had a tough time saying and remembering my name, Takeshi; so they began calling me Ted. I had an opportunity to move to LA for two years to help my friend Ken Awae, who had a workspace inside famed Hollywood stuntman (and top desert racer) Bud Ekins’ legendary repair shop in Los Angeles. Bud was well known as Steve McQueen’s stunt double and close friend. When McQueen wasn’t filming he was usually riding dirt bikes with Bud. By the time I arrived, Bud was retired. His son-in-law ran the shop and rented space to my friend Ken. I helped Ken fix Honda and Kawasaki street bikes.

A Honda CB77 with full factory race kit: curved carb bellmouths, special seat, megaphone exhaust, rearsets, clip-ons, etc. [Larry Morris]
LM: Is that where you learned how to take apart and repair motorcycles?

Ted: No, when I was 20 I attended Honda’s International Technical School for two years.

LM: Ahh, this is all starting to make sense to me now. How did that come about?

Ted: Back then there were so many more kids trying to get into university than today in Japan. To be honest I didn’t do very well on my exams, so I was not accepted into university. Thats when I realized my destiny was to learn about and be around motorcycles as much as possible.

A rare CR110 production racer with period patina, sitting in the library of Ted's shop. [Larry Morris]
LM: I always think of you as the “Honda Hawk/Superhawk Guy” (CB72/CB77) . When and how did you develop such a particular knowledge about these motorcycles?

Ted: After I finished Honda Technical School I moved to Osaka and spent two years working for a guy who at that time was very well known and trusted for fixing and restoring these bikes.

LM: Tell me why these are such special motorcycles.

Ted: The Honda Hawk was the first “Sport” bike. Everything was designed and built from Honda’s victories in TT racing beginning in 1961. There was nothing better than the Hawk as a street bike. At the time the CB750 came out, it cost about $2500. The Hawk was nearly $8000. These were really the best and most advanced machines. You see this design in your beloved Laverda twins, and elsewhere. Now the world was following Japan, following Honda. This was very special to me.

A Honda CB450 'Black Bomber', the bike that truly put the world on notice that Honda would soon dominate the global motorcycle market, with its DOHC motor with plenty of power, and good handling. [Larry Morris]
LM: Lets talk about racing. Every time I turn around it looks like you're racing...or around racing. When was your first race and where?

Ted: I did my first race at Tsukuba on a CB77 when I was 20 years old. I’ve been racing Honda’s ever since. When I went to the States, I was very fortunate because I joined AHRMA (American Historic Race Motorcycle Association). It was there I raced with and learned about racing from some of my heroes, such as Gary Nixon and Dick Mann. I just wanted to be at racetracks and I wanted to be around racing, as much as possible.

LM: You're 46 now. How much racing are you still doing these days?

Ted: About 8 events per year. Four LOC (Legends of Classic vintage racing) and four BOBL (Battle of Bottom Link Supercub amateur vintage racing).

LM: I’m sorry for crashing your BOBL racer. Three times.

Ted's Special Motorcycle Shop, filled with treasure for those with eyes to see. [Larry Morris]
Larry Morris is the proprietor of New York City Motorcycles in Venice, California and Chigasaki, Japan. Instagram: @newyorkcitymotorcycles

First Four-Cylinder at the Isle of Man TT

What was the first four-cylinder racer at the Isle of Man TT?  No, it wasn't Japanese, or even Italian ... it was Belgian. In the second Isle of Man TT, held in 1908, Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (or F.N. - still in business, but making only armaments today) sent two of their little inline 4-cylinder shaft-drive Model F machines to the Island, and R.O. Clark managed third place in the multi-cylinder class (which Rem Fowler won on a Norton the previous year), averaging 37.79mph, and 90mpg! The race was held on September 22 over the 'short' St. John's course over 10 laps,  giving a race total of 158 1/8th miles. Harry Reed on a 5hp DOT twin was the winner of this class (at 38.57mph), while Jack Marshall won the Single Cylinder class on a 3.5hp Triumph (40.4mph).  It was typical in these early days for twin-cylinder machines to lag behind singles.

R.O. Clark speeding to 3rd place in the 1907 Isle of Man TT on his FN Model F four. The St. John's course was almost entirely unpaved. [The Vintagent Archive]
The FN had a serious weight handicap compared to its competition, tipping the scales at at well over 300lbs, while the Triumph single weighed in at under 200lbs.  the FN was 50% heavier than its competition, but weight in those days was roughly equated with durability, and the FNs ran smoothly and consistently through the race. These early TT races were true tests of endurance for the temperamental motorcycles of the Pioneer days, which had trouble completing a 15o-mile road trip, let alone a race. The TT course was almost totally unpaved, and full of hazards like horseshoe nails and stray dogs or sheep. Flat tires were commonplace, as were get-offs, and the need to open and close gates when passing through farmer's fields.

They're still out there! A 1907 FN Four in original paint condition, coming up for sale at Mecum's delayed 2021 Las Vegas auction. [Mecum]
FN returned many times to the TT, with their last foray in 1931, using a single-cylinder purpose-built racer. Their 4-cylinder bikes were soon outclassed in the following years, and by 1913 they could only manage 33rd and 36th place, as by now their role as 'touring' motorcycles, and luxuriously smooth ones at that, made them unsuitable as 'tourist trophy' contenders.

Pioneer motorcycle designer Paul Kelecom, who was hired by FN in 1904 to update their motorcycle line. [The Vintagent Archive]
The FN Four was designed by Paul Kelecom in 1904, after he was hired by the armaments/bicycle manufacturer with a brief to design a new motorcycle line. Kelecom had experience designing single-cylinder motorcycle engines for several years, which were used under license by a host of Pioneer manufacturers, including Triumph and Veloce. Kelecom began working for FN in 1903, and after improving their existing line of single-cylinder 300cc sidevalve engines, the management gave him a new brief - to design a four-cylinder motorcycle. All of Kelecom's design work was completed within the year, and the first prototype of this revolutionary machine began testing in 1904. Its maiden voyage was a publicity tour in November and December of that year, in which the FN engineering dep't tester, a Messr Osmont, rode through France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and back through Holland and Belgium, in bad weather and worse road conditions. The new 4 performed faultlessly, and debuted at the 1905 Paris Cycle Show. The interest and enthusiasm for this novel motorcycle is hard to describe - Kelecom had created the very first practical four-cylinder motorcycle, which had a smooth and quiet engine, with genteel road manners.

The first, 1905 version of the FN Four 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 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 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 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. []
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 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 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:


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 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 This is an advertorial. We are grateful that companies like Mecum support what we do!  Want to support  Contact us! 


Paul d'Orléans is the founder of 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 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 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 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 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 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 This is an advertorial. We are grateful that companies like Mecum support what we do!  Want to support  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 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 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 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'

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

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 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 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 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 '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. []
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.