Paul d'Orléans

The Motorcycle Portraits: Giacomo Agostini

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

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Giacomo Agostini, 15 times Grand Prix World Champion motorcycle racer and a legend of the sport, who is thankfully still with us, unlike many of his contemporaries in the dangerous years of GP racing - the 1960s and '70s - as motorcycles became incredibly fast but safety equipment and track safety design was stuck in the 1930s.   Agostini was a guest of Team Obsolete in Brooklyn for their annual holiday celebration, and David Goldman took the opportunity to photograph and interview him.

A hero's portrait, signed. Circa 1973, while Giacomo Agostini was still riding for Count Domenico Agusta, for who he won 13 of his 15 World Championships, before switching to Yamaha in 1974, for whom he won his last two Championships. [Stuart Parr collection]

Who are you?

I am Giacomo Agostini. I have won 15 World Championships with motorbikes, and I am in Brooklyn.

How did you get started with motorcycles?

When I was a bambino - a child - I thought about motorcycles. I don't know why!  Also my family had nothing to do with motorcycles, but I loved motorcycles.  Sometimes my father said 'danger', and 'you must go to school,' and he said 'no'.  I said 'Papa I want to race, I want to race with the bike. Not with the car but with the bike.' So I started to love the motorcycle just when I am six or seven years old. For me it was a difficult subject to raise because my family didn't want me to ride, so I pushed a lot on my father. And my father said 'no, I won't sign the permission.'  But later, a lawyer convinced my father to give me the permission to do the sport. Because the lawyer understood I just wanted to race motorcycles. And once I had the permission I started to race.

My first race was in 1962 and it was my first victory. I won with a Morini Sette Bello, it was a factory bike from Milan, and my main mechanic we called Boulangero because he was a baker - he didn't know how to change the spark plugs! And this is a very nice memory, because I went with my bike with no mechanics, and when I returned in the evening I was very happy because I beat a lot of riders with the factory bike.  I cannot forget this because it was alive, my first love. Your first love you will never never forget, my memory will carry on.

Agostini in 1968 at the Oulton Park racing circuit, taking delivery of a very special Triumph Trident from the factory, and is about to bump start it!  The bike was presented at the 2019 Concorso Villa d'Este. and remains in totally original condition. [Private Collection]

Tell us a story that could only happen with motorcycles?

I don't think I have only one... no, I have three. One is when I went to my first race, as I said before, and I never forget because you know we never forget the first love.  The second of course was when I won with MV Agusta my first World Championship in Monza. Monza is very close to my home town, and they had 150,000 people come to the track, but I didn't realize in that evening. Monday morning when I woke up and I read the the newspaper I understood I had won the World Championship. I cried a little because I was hoping for that from when I started to race, sure, but also from when I was a child.

The third one is when I when I changed from MV Agusta and decided to race for Yamaha.  It was a very difficult decision, because my second family was MV Agusta. I went to Japan to try the two- stroke bike, after I was used to racing with a four-stroke. My first race was at Daytona: when I arrived in Daytona I was very surprised - the circuit is fantastic. And there were a lot of good American riders, and with the 700 I won the race. My first time in America, and this I will never forget because some people said 'now he's changed from four-stroke MV Agusta to Yamaha, and maybe he never wins'. But I did win that first race, and after that I also won the World Champion with Yamaha. The story is very nice. I cannot forget.

David Goldman's portrait of Giacomo Agostini, taken at Team Obsolete HQ on December 2, 2022. [David Goldman]

What do motorcycles mean to you?

The motorcycle for me is a love. I love motorcycles.

 

 

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.

Adventures in Guzziland

The Avignon Motor Festival celebrates all powered vehicles, and is an understated, still-growing event, run over 3 days, with around 50,000 visitors.  Tanks, cars, boats, planes, trucks, tractors, farm equipment, and motorcycles; this year (Ed- this was 2011) with a beyond-killer display of Moto Guzzis, including precious factory Grand Prix machines from the Moto Guzzi Museum.  Also included were production bikes from all years: a mouth-watering display of exotica from the 1920s-1950s.  Enjoy these 'vintage' iPhone2 photos!

The stunning 1956 Moto Guzzi V8 Grand Prix racer of 1957, designed by Giuliano Carcano, with hand-hammered aluminum bodywork and a magnesium fairing. It was the first DOHC V8 motorcycle, although not the first V8 motorcycle - the first was also Italian, but was a two-stroke V8, the 1938 Galbusera. [Paul d'Orléans]
A peek at the DOHC cam drive and part of the throttle assembly of the V8. The 500cc motor was watercooled with all magnesium castings, and weighed only 99lbs (by contrast, a Honda CB750 motor weighs 176lbs), while the whole motorcycle weighed only 326lbs. The motor produced 78hp @12k rpm, with an amazing top speed of 171mph - a speed not equalled in GP racing for another 20 years!  Of course, tire technology, as well as suspension and brake technology, were not up to the task in 1955, and using the full potential of the Otto Cilindri was dangerous business. It was a fearsome machine, and Moto Guzzi employed the best racers in the world to ride it, but by 1957, all refused to ride it again until the defects were sorted out! [Paul d'Orléans]
Did you know Moto Guzzi built an inline four racer in 1953? The Quattro Cilindri had a longitudinal DOHC four-cylinder, with the crankcase and cylinder barrels cast in one lump from magnesium. Two valves/cylinder, mechanical fuel injection and shaft final drive. Big magnesium brakes, and a hand-hammered aluminum fairing with a 'beak', as was the fashion in the early 1950s. While fast, the rotational forces of the crankshaft and gearbox/final drive made the handling unpleasant, and the Quattro Cilindri won only 3 races in 1953, so it was shelved in favor of the Otto Cilindri V8. [Paul d'Orléans]
The front forks of the 1953 Quattro Cilindri used a short leading-link as first employed on the Bicilindrica racer. There was hardly a frame as such, but tubes ran over the engine to the swingarm, with the engine acting as a stressed member. Ignition was by magneto, with 54hp @9000rpm, and a top speed of 140mph. [Paul d'Orléans]
The glorious harmony of four simple exhaust pipes and a finned magnesium final drive housing on the 1953 Moto Guzzi Quattro Cilindri. [Paul d'Orléans]
One last shot of the Quattro Cilindiri: the bank of Dell'Orto racing carbs, looking like a racing car and breathing through the gap between fairing and fuel tank. [Paul d'Orléans]
In the foreground, a late model (c.1952) Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica: the amazing 120deg. V-twin OHC racer built from 1933-1951. The Bicilindrica was one of Moto Guzzi's most successful models, and belied the adage that twin-cylinder racers don't last as well as single-cylinders for fours. The Bicilindrica won just about every type of race during its production run: the 1935 Isle of Man TT, the Italian Championship six (out of nine) times between 1934-49, and many many other races around the world. The engine was remarkable, with a staggered crankpin that gave even firing and eliminated secondary vibration (there was no primary vibration), with OHC two-valve cylinder heads: the early version used aluminum crankcases with iron cylinder barrels and head, and later the cases were magnesium and the barrels/heads aluminum. Early versions produced 44hp with a 110mph top speed, the '35 TT model had 50hp and 125mph, while the post-war versions like this machine hit 130mph. [Paul d'Orléans]
An extraordinary design, basically a doubled-up version of the factory's 250cc racer, with 68x68mm bore/stroke, single OHC with shaft-and-bevel drive.  The OHC V-twin is among the rarest motorcycle engine configurations, as before WW2, only Moto Guzzi, Cyclone, and Koehler-Escoffier built them, and Moto Guzzi never sold them to the public.  Even in the modern era, the first mass-production OHC V-twin was the Yamaha Virago of 1981! [Paul d'Orléans]
What most competitors saw of the Bilindrica. Teh hand-beaten alloy tank is ergonomically designed for a crouched rider, as is the seat with integral bump stop faired into the fender. Note the external flywheel - a Moto Guzzi trademark. [Paul d'Orléans]
Going back a little further in time, the Moto Guzzi 250 Compressore is a fascinating machine, and the only Moto Guzzi that employed supercharging. Why they didn't add a blower to other machines is a mystery, as this 250 was wildly successful, as Nello Pagani won 11 races at Monza alone in 1938-40. This was basically an OHC shaft-and-bevel single, their Monoalbero, with a Cozette supercharger, that produced 48hp for a 112mph top speed. Simply fantastic for the era, and far beyond. [Paul d'Orléans]
The 250 Compressore of 1938 was also used post-war for a spree of record-breaking, and was good for 137mph. It was campaigned by the factory until 1959. [Paul d'Orléans]
Love the 'backwards' Jaeger tachometer: the redline for this 1946 Gambalunga was 5800rpm, when it was producing 35hp, for a top speed of 110mph.  The Gambalunga was a racer for factory-supported riders, and an improved version of the Condor and Dondolino production racers with pushrod motors. [Paul d'Orléans]
One for the ages: a late 1924-27 C4V (racing 4 valve), a hand-built motorcycle for the factory team and for privateers. The C4V was an evolution of Carlo Guzzi's very first prototype motorcycle of 1921, the GP500. For production, the OHC motor was considered too expensive, but for racing, anything goes, and the C4V proved a worthy rival to the dominant British racers of the 1920s. Plus, it was simply gorgeous. [Paul d'Orléans]
Complication, like an expensive Swiss watch. The oil tank sits atop the fuel tank, with the delicate hand-shifter alongside. The steering damper is atop the forks with their multiple main springs and check springs, while the handlbars have the magneto advance lever beside the front brake and twistgrip. I could, and have, stare at this for hours. [Paul d'Orléans]
 

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

 


Fratelli Benelli Racing

While its glamorous rivals captured the public's attention, the Benelli firm has a sterling history of race successes dating back to the 1920s, and a family of rider/manufacturer/racers who catapulted the little factory to the top echelons of racing.  Now known more for its bicycles (due to on again/off again production of motorcycles in recent years), there was a time when Benelli was synonymous with racing and World Championships, and that special Italian devotion to supercharged multi-cylinder racing exotica immediately prior to WW2.

Fratelli Benelli: Antonio ('Tonino'), Francesco, Giovanni, Guiseppe, Filippo, Domenico. [The Vintagent Archive]
The factory's story begins with Teresa Benelli, recently widowed in 1911, who sold a bit of family property and invested the proceeds in machine tools, establishing a business at which her 6 sons could make a living. The Benelli Garage of Pesaro employed 5 of the 6 boys, who repaired guns, cars, and motorcycles; while the youngest, Antonio ('Tonino') was too young to work, his impact would perhaps be greatest of all, as a championship rider for the family business. At this early date, factory spares for cars and motorcycles could be difficult to obtain quickly, and the Garage was fully equipped to fabricate any parts necessary for repairs.

The first Benelli of 1920, a 98cc two-stroke engine mounted at the rear of a bicycle. [The Vintagent Archive]
By 1918, the brothers' facility at making parts begged the question - why not make our own motorcycle? - and in 1919 they indeed built a 75cc two-stroke single-cylinder engine for attachment to a bicycle.  By 1920 they built the first motorcycle, with a larger 98cc engine attached by outrigger tubes to the rear of a bicycle.  The awkward engine position equated to poor handling, and the first machine wasn't a success, so by 1921 the engine was moved to the 'normal' position within the frame, and the engine capacity increased gradually to 150cc, with a two-speed gearbox and all-chain drive.

Tonino Benelli, four time Italian 175cc Champion, on one of the early 175cc OHC racers, in a beautiful period portrait. [The Vintagent Archvie]
Young Tonino 'The Terror' pressured his brothers for more power, with the intention of racing. They obliged, and in his very first race, Tonino placed second Gino Moretti riding a 500cc Moto Guzzi , proving both his skill, and the potential of the little machine.  The little Benelli failed to win a race in 1922 or '23, but Tonino honed his skills as a rider, while his brothers learned valuable lessons from breakage and failure.  Wins began in 1924, and continued, while the Italian public took note of the little machine; the increased sales meant the brothers could buy new machine tools to create a new motorcycle - a four stroke of advanced specification.

Tonino in 1924 on the 175cc two-stroke racer, at Pesaro's Foglia track. [The Vintagent Archive]
Giuseppi Benelli designed a new machine of 175cc for 1927, with a stack of delicate gears driving an overhead camshaft; it was an impressive lightweight roadster, and a natural candidate for the race track. The overhead camshaft engine proved reliable and fast, and Tonino gathered a string of wins, including Benelli's first 'international' win at the Monza GP, culminating in the Italian 175cc Championship in both '27 and '28.  Now with a proper racing team, Benelli continued to rack up wins in 1929, and Tonino won the Italian Championship again in 1930.

Tonino Benelli on the new 175cc OHC racer, in 1927. [The Vintagent Archive]
In the search for more power, another camshaft was added 'up top', and the new double-overhead-camshaft 175cc racer debuted in 1931, a very advanced machine and the technical equal of any racer of the day.  The engine still had an iron cylinder head and barrel, and initially a hand-shift with 3-speed gearbox, but by '32 a four-speed 'box with footshift brought the little Benelli bang up to date.  The Benelli race team ventured across Europe in a bid for increased export sales, winning GPs in France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, effectively dominating the 175cc class through 1934 with their cracking little double-knocker lightweight.

The factory team of new DOHC single-cylinder racers, in 1934. [The Vintagent Archive]
The FIM abolished the 175cc racing class in 1934, and suddenly Benelli had racers without a category. Rather than immediately enlarge their racer to the 250cc class, they spent the next few years consolidating their roadsters, and capitalizing on their new visibility across Europe.  By 1936 their model range were all single-cylinder, overhead-camshaft machines of 175cc, 250cc, and 500cc.  These roadsters were all fast, reliable, and popular, and Benelli became the fifth-largest motorcycle manufacturer in Italy.  By 1938, their '250 Sport S' roadster was good for 93mph, a figure not bettered by a production '250' until the 1960s.

The last (1934) version of the 'iron' engine, with an oil radiator built into the oil tank. [The Vintagent Archive]
But racing beckoned; Benelli could not rest on its laurels forever, and while the production range was consolidated, the race shop designed a completely new 250cc racing engine in 1938, again DOHC, but all-alloy, and with rear suspsension (a swingarm with plunger springboxes, and friction damping).  The new engine could be revved to 9000rpm, and proved nearly bomb-proof, even at 110mph.  The competition had changed dramatically though, as GP racing gained international sporting significance, and much larger companies were prepared to invest heavily in new technology and very advanced racing machines.  In the 250cc field, Benelli's most significant competition came from Moto Guzzi, with their supercharged flat single, and DKW, with their supercharged two-stroke.  Even with their blowers, these machines had trouble shaking off the solid and good-handling Benelli, which could be every bit as fast as its rivals, and definitely more reliable.

The glamorous OHC '500 Sport' roadster of 1936. [The Vintagent Archive]
A 1-2-3 at the 1938 Italian GP was an eye-opener for all concerned, especially riders in the 350cc class, whose race averages were slower than the winning 250!  Englishman Ted Mellors took note, as his own 350cc Velocette MkVIII KTT had been outclassed by the winning Benelli of Francisci Bruno.  Mellors approached Benelli about a ride for the1939 Isle of Man Lightweight TT this was an excellent opportunity for the factory; an experienced and successful Island rider riding -free!- for the most difficult and prestigious road race in the world.

The new 250cc racer with swingarm rear suspension and huge brakes [The Vintagent Archive]
In that tense year of 1939, great forces stood poised on the brink of armed conflict, and every international sporting contest became a proxy war between nations.  The Isle of Man TT had been the private playground of English motorcycle companies since the wakeup of a 1-2-3 Indian victory of 1911, with only occasional losses to the 'foreign menace'.  The lineup of racers at the 1939 TT showed a glaring technological gap between Continental and English machines, as well-developed supercharged, multi-cylinder bikes from Europe had become reliable enough to seriously challenge the solid, good-handling English single-cylinders.  In the 250cc race, the blown Moto Guzzis and DKWs were fastest, but the Benelli was no slouch, and its reliability proved the decisive asset which assured a win for Ted Mellors.

Ted Mellors at the 1939 Isle of Man Lightweight TT (note bronze-head Velo mk4KTT in the background, in road trim). [The Vintagent Archive]
Benelli had seen the future in 1938, and begun experimenting with a supercharger on their 250cc single, which gave 45hp and 125mph.  This was good, but better would be a four-cylinder engine of their own; a 250cc with a supercharger and twin overhead cams.  Giovanni Benelli designed the new 'four' in 1938, it was built in '39, proving incredibly fast; pumping out 52.5hp at 10,000rpm, it rocketed to 146mph; 16mph faster than their nearest rival, the Moto Guzzi.  The machine was ready by 1940, but international racing was strictly between bullets by then, and the brothers Benelli, fearing the worst, hid their four-cylinder engine in a dry well in the countryside, and scattered their racing singles in barns and cellar across northern Italy.

Epic shot of Ted Mellors in 1939; wet conditions at the Isle of Man dampened speeds. [The Vintagent Archive]
The factory was completely destroyed in the war, and their machine tools stolen by retreating German forces.  When the smoke cleared, it was the sons of fratelli Benelli who had the energy to begin again, tracked down some of their tooling in Germany and Austria.  Their first post-war machines were modified ex-military Harleys, Matchlesses, and BSAs, to which they fit swingarm rear suspension.  Within two years, Benelli were again making their own motorcycles, mostly utilitarian lightweights.  And racing!  Enough of their prewar racing singles survived to form a Works team, and rider Dario Ambrosini chalked up win after win in 1948 and '49.  The FIM created the first World Championship series in 1949, and Benelli decided to invest in a bid to win for 1950, sending Ambrosini abroad to battle rival Moto Guzzi, who shared their ambition.

The incredibly fast 250cc four-cylinder supercharged Benelli racer of 1940...146mph! [The Vintagent Archive]
Dario Ambrosini had never raced at the Isle of Man TT, but proved a fast learner, shaving 66 seconds from his lap time between rounds 2 and 3, during the race!  His win at the 1950 Lightweight, plus Monza and the Swiss GP, gave Benelli their first World Championship.  Hopes for a repeat in '51 were dashed when Ambrosini was killed during practice at the Albi GP in France.  Stunned by their victor's death, and with no other rider in their team, Benelli withdrew from racing for a few years.

Dario Ambrosini on the 1950 version of the Benelli 250cc single cylinder racer. [The Vintagent Archive]
They returned to racing in 1959, building just four machines, a fresh design of unit construction short-stroke 250cc DOHC singles.  Benelli's rivals, Ducati and MV Agusta, used high-revving twin-cylinder racers in the 250cc class, and while Geoff Duke won the Swiss GP in '59, his was the only victory for these last single-cylinder racers. The new racer was fast and reliable, but as with 1939, it was clear more cylinders held the key to GP victory, and having once tasted a World Championship, Benelli was in it for the big prize.

Dario Ambrosini's 1951 250cc machine, now with telescopic front forks and a swingarm rear suspension. [The Vintagent Archive]
In 1960, Benelli's Ingeniere Savelli took inspiration from the 1940 four-cylinder racer, and created a new 250cc 'four'.  You can read more about these in our article about Benelli's four-cylinder racers.

Beauty is as beauty does; the sculptural timing gear case is indeed a thing to behold. [Paul d'Orleans]
The 1959 250cc last-series Benelli racer at the Team Obsolete HQ; this machine is now in England - a friend bought it! [Paul d'Orleans]
 

 

 

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

 


World's Top 100 Most Expensive Motorcycles - The Also-Rans

We've kept track of the World's Most Expensive Motorcycles since 2009: see our Top 100 list here.  These are motorcycles sold at public auction ONLY!  We have another list of World's Most Expensive Private Motorcycle Sales as we know them - check here - but motorcycles sold at auction are the only verifiable sales.  Private sales are not verifiable! 

The following are the 'also rans' that fell off the Top 100 list as other, more expensive motorcycles have been added to the Top 100.  These are still an exceptional list of motorcycles, and shine a light on what motorcycles collectors think are the most valuable.  This list is evergreen, and will be added to as other machines fall off the Top 100...

The Also Rans:

 

1947 Harley-Davidson FL - $220,000
May 2021, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1911 Pierce T Four - $192,500
Mar. 2015, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1949 Velocette World Champion KTT £135,900 / $192,400
April 2017, Stafford, Bonhams

 

1903 Indian single $190,000
Aug. 2017, Monterey, Mecum

 

1911 Harley Davidson 7D Twin $187,000
October 21, 2006, Gooding and Co.

 

1992 Honda NR750 - $181,500
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1930 Harley-Davidson CAC Speedway - $181,500
Jan. 2020, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1964 Bianchi Bicylindrica Bialbero GP - £122,650 / $177,840
Feb 2016, London, Coys

 

1914 Flying Merkel V-twin - $176,000
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1923 Ace Sporting Solo - $175,500
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1914 Flying Merkel V-twin - $175,500
Aug. 2015, Monterey, Mecum

 

1915 Henderson Model D - $170,500
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1926 Coventry Eagle Flying 8 £106,780 / $166,450
April 2015, Stafford, Bonhams

 

2004 Indian Larry 'Chain of Mystery' - $165,000
Jan. 2020, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1913 Henderson - $165,500
Jan. 2016, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1953 Vincent Black Shadow - $165,000
May 2021, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1936 Harley-Davidson EL - $165,000
Jan. 2014, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1928/25 Brough Superior SS100 - $164,534 / £126,500
Oct. 2018, Stafford, Bonhams

 

1951 Moto Guzzi Bicylindrica GP - £111,500 / $161,675
Feb 2016, London, Coys

 

1939 Brough Superior SS100 with Sidecar - $160,00
Jan. 2016, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1915 Henderson board track racer - $159,500
Mar. 2015, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1934 Crocker Speedway $159,500
Mar 2015, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

1934 Crocker Speedway $151,200
Jan 2011, Las Vegas, MidAmerica
1913 Henderson 4 Cylinder $150,000
January 2016, Las Vegas, Mecum
1930 Indian Model 402 4-cylinder w/sidecar £96,700 / $149,350
October 2015, Stafford, Bonhams
1930 Brough Superior 680 £112,400 / $144,100
April 2017, Stafford, Bonhams
1967 Lito X-Cam Prototype - $143,000
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum
1953 Vincent Black Shadow - $143,000
Jan. 2020, Las Vegas, Mecum
1916 Thor Model 16U - $143,000
Jan. 2019, Las Vegas, Mecum

 

 

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

 


Team Obsolete: What's Up, Ago?

By John Lawless

Team Obsolete, the Brooklyn-based classic racing team, owns some of the most desirable motorcycles of the mid- to late-20th Century. Robert Iannucci, owner of Team Obsolete, has never been content to just own and display these machines; his passion lies in hearing and seeing them in action. To that end, he and his crew have travelled the world, putting some of the greatest riders of the machines back on track to the delight of motorcycle fans everywhere they go. They’ve raced and paraded the glorious MV Agusta racers, the incredible Honda 250/six and others from the period nearly everywhere, including the Isle of Man, England, Italy and the USA.

Movie star handsome: Giacomo Agostini captured during practice for June 1968 Assen TT in Holland. [Jack de Nijs for Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
One of the last remaining riders from the Golden Era of Grand Prix racing is 15-time World Champion Giacomo Agostini. Rob and Ago have known each other for 40 years, since team Obsolete purchased several ex-works racers from MV Agusta in Cascina Costa, Italy. These machines include the 350cc and 500cc three- and four-cylinder racers, as well as the ill-fated ‘Boxer’ water-cooled flat four prototype that wasn't completed before MV Agusta abruptly pulled out of racing. Suffice it to say that without Rob Iannucci keeping the fires going and wheels spinning, most of us who are too young to have witnessed the halcyon days of Grand Prix wars would never hear or see these motorcycles in action. For that, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Rob Ianucci and Giacomo Agostini with one of his former racers: an MV Agusta 350cc triple. [John Lawless]
Ago, as he’s known to his fans worldwide, was invited to visit Team Obsolete (TO) headquarters recently for a dinner to celebrate his accomplishments and their partnership together. The next evening was the invitation only TO Christmas party, where Ago could relax and enjoy an evening in a more casual setting. I was attending with Albert Bold, the MV Agusta guru and machinist who keeps the multi-cylinder roadbikes going and knows them inside out. He’s done considerable work for Team Obsolete over the years keeping these priceless machines going. After being shown in, we stepped into the tiny elevator only to be told to wait, there’s someone else coming. In steps Giacomo Agostini and his travel companion. They’d just returned from a visit to Dainese /AGV flagship store in Manhattan for a little Christmas shopping. We introduce ourselves and make our way to the fourth floor. When the elevator doors open and we arrive, the party guests stop in their tracks and suddenly there is a hushed moment while Ago made his way in. The Legend had arrived.

The annual Christmas party at Team Obsolete is usually a fine affair, with celebrity riders and an exceptional array of rare racing machinery. [John Lawless]
I had a chance to sit down with the multi-time World Champion for an interview during the party. Before we began our taped interview, Ago told me about his museum in the medieval town of Bergamo, Italy. The one-room museum is housed on a property run by his daughter Vittoria. Reservations can be made via info@VillaVittoriabergamo.it. Although it only opened in 2019, he’s already making plans for a new and larger museum. Because of historical property limitations, he cannot expand the current property, so another property has been obtained and he has begun to formulate the layout. He tells me, “Imagine a single spotlight focused on just two trophies, his first and last. From there, a photo gallery will help visitors understand the full span of my career.” He still has nearly every boot, glove, helmet and trophy (over 380) as well as innumerable press clippings of his years spent at the top of the racing world. For the TO dinner, Ago dressed casually, wearing a button-down shirt with the top two buttons undone. Around his neck is a gold necklace from which hangs a small medallion with the letters FIM. I ask him about it and he tells me proudly that it is from his first 500cc World Championship in 1966. Our time was short, and the party goers were getting louder and eager to spend time with him as well. Not wanting to monopolize his time, I turned on my recorder and got to work.

Giacomo Agostini being interviewed by John Lawless at Team Obsolete HQ. [Team Obsolete]

Interview with Giacomo Agostini:

John P. Lawless [JL]: Giacomo, in your 12 years of top-level international racing, you scored 123 Grand Prix Victories, 15 World Championships, 10 Isle of Man TT wins, 18 Italian National Championships, just amazing. Tell us, what drew you to motorcycle racing? You weren't allowed to race because your father was against it. How did you convince him to allow you race?

Giacomo Agostini [Ago]: My family was against it. They said, Giacomo, our family business has nothing to do with motorbikes, why do you want to do this?

JL: Alfonso Morini gave you your first big break riding a Moto Morini in Grand Prix racing. How did that come to be?

Ago: I bought a 175cc Moto Morini on installments from a local dealer, a few dollars a month and started to race. As I became better and started to win on my own bike. Mr Morini saw me race in San Luca and said 'you can race a factory bike for us.'

JL: Who were your heroes at that time?

Ago: My heroes were Tarquino Provini, Carlo Ubbialli and Gary Hocking. I wanted to be like them.

JL: The 1965 season you were surprisingly able to keep pace with the world’s best riders on multi-cylinder MVs and Hondas on the single-cylinder Moto Morini. How did you do that with so little experience and a less powerful motorcycle?

Giacomo Agostini in 1964 with the Moto Morini OHC single that proved fast enough to be multi-cylinder factory racers. [Wikipedia]
Ago: When I started to win; 1961, 62, 63, 64. In three years I won the [Italian HillclimbChampionship] title, I got the ride for Morini. My first ride on Morini was 1963 at Monza; I was racing behind Yamaha and Honda and I had to stop because the bike broke the footpeg (due to vibration). After that everybody was looking at me, saying who is this? In 1964 I was the Italian champion. Count Agusta called and asked for me to come for a meeting. He made me wait five hours outside of his office before we spoke. So I start with MV Agusta and stay for many, many years, winning world titles for them. This is my dream, to race with the best riders of the world.

JL: Gilera wanted you as well, why MV?

Ago: Because Gilera wanted me, at double the money MV was offering, but my father and I think about the companies. He said MV Agusta is a big company, building helicopters and has 3500 people working for them. Their technology was very high. And Gilera was not like that, just motorcycles. So I decided to sign for half price but the company can give me the machines to win.  So I had a good choice because I became world champion 13 times for them.

JL: Once you'd become the teammate of the more experienced Mike Hailwood at MV, how did he feel about you joining the team? Did he see you as an equal once you beat him at Riccione (Italy) in 1965 for the first time? Did that change your relationship once you were able to beat Mike?

Ago: No, because Mike was more experienced than me, especially on the big bikes. It was my first season riding the 500s and I tried to learn from him because he was a very good rider. The first time I beat him, I thought, “I beat Mike Hailwood!” Because I think it was easy for him to win with other riders. But when I beat him, the next race, I didn’t see him for one week, he prepared and he beat me. Because I think he did not have to go 100% until I beat him. We had a good relationship though. He wanted to win and I wanted to win so we couldn’t be too friendly though.

Giacomo Agostini [1] leading Mike Hailwood [2] at the 1967 Dutch TT at Assen. [Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
JL: June 1967, your birthday as I recall, you had one of your toughest races on the Isle of Man that ended when you suffered a broken chain on the last lap in the Senior TT. Did you feel the MV 500 Triple was a better choice than the Honda 500/Four for the Island?

Ago: Very, very hard race. I was leading and then Mike was leading. At the end of the race we both had white scuff marks on our arms and shoulders from scrubbing against the stone walls. So the last lap, I was thinking I won, I won, and then the chain broke. After the race, I was crying and Mike came over and said, “Ago, today you are a Champion”, but I said, yes, but you are in first place. But he was very nice to me and we celebrated even though I did not win. People appreciated and remember this race because it's impressive how hard we raced.

JL:  When Honda pulled out of Grand Prix racing in 1968, you won everything you entered the next two years but still made time to race at International short circuit races in the UK as well as winning the Italian National Titles. Why did you want to race in the UK, at Brands Hatch and Mallory Park?

Ago: And Oulton Park and Cadwell Park…

Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini at the 1967 Dutch TT at Assen. [Anefo / Nationaal Archief]
JL: One of the most talked about races in the UK was the "Race of Year." You had an epic battle with John 'Moon Eyes' Cooper at Mallory Park where he narrowly beat you. He was on the BSA 750 Triple and you were on the MV 500. Were you surprised by the speed of the BSA Rocket III Triple and the intensity of the competition?

Ago: I know this before race it would be very difficult because Brands Hatch is very, very short, and before the last corner there is a hairpin and on the 500 you sometimes you must use the clutch because the redline is higher and he used a different line. The BSA is more easy through there. So he always had an advantage over me at this corner, but after that there is a short straight just 200 meters to the finish line. If it was at another place, a faster place like the back of the circuit, I was in front. But this is very slow and he got by.

JL: The spectators in the England loved you and very much appreciated you coming to do those races.

Ago: Lots of time and a lot of travel but we make a show. People loved the show, they like the close racing. With Hailwood, Cooper, Smart, Read.

JL: Speaking of Phil Read, who was your teammate for two years on the MV. Did you leave because they weren’t giving you the full support now or did you see Yamaha as the future?

Ago: Yeah, I did this because I could see during the wintertime MV Agusta was not getting much more horsepower but the two-stroke was getting better and better, and so I said okay, it was time to change if I wanted to win. So I decided, but it was a very difficult decision, very hard decision, because MV Agusta was my second family. So it was good because we had a fantastic relationship with Yamaha. I decided to race for Yamaha. I then spent two weeks in Japan testing 250, 350, 500 and 700 cc because I must learn the two-stroke.

Giacomo Agostini won three World Championships riding a Yamaha two-stroke, and three managing their racing team. Here he rides a TZ750. [Yamaha]
JL: You were recovering from and injury as well.

Ago: I crashed (while testing the Mv at Misano in September 1973 [badly injuring his leg], so worked hard and I prepared to win.

JL: Let me talk to you about Daytona. You always prided yourself on being physically fit, very in-shape but at Daytona that year it was 90 degrees. What did you do to prepare for that race?

Ago: Normally, I did not drink that much before races. The race was very, very long - 200 miles - normally I do 80-90 miles. Physically, I am ok, but during the race it was extremely hot and I could not … (motions with his mouth that he could not produce spit). I wanted to stop, so I think this is impossible, but when I think about the people who chartered planes from England, France, Spain, Germany. I said now what do I do? What can I say? I say Okay, Ago now has the power to finish to the race. I come back to. I go back again and I win.

JL: In Daytona 1974  you had you great victory for Yamaha. It was the first time you were racing with a clutch start. The first time you were racing a big two-stroke against the best big bike racers in the country and from around the world. One racer in particular thought he was number one, he was World Champion, but you had to show him that you were the World Champion… Mr. Kenny Roberts.

Ago: Yeah, because when I arrive at Daytona Airport, Chevrolet had brought me one car in white color they but write with “Giacomo Agostini, World Champion” (painted on the door of the car) and I’m very happy to have to use that week. Then I see an article from Kenny Roberts saying, 'I’m sorry but he (Ago) is not the World Champion, the world is America and I am American champion so I am World Champion. He is European World Champion.' So I don’t answer because I am a guest in America. When I win the race, I was exhausted, and they gave me an injection because I am dehydrated, so then I see Kenny, I say I’m sorry, but now you understand who is the World Champion. He laughed and after that he was nice to me.

The cockpit of Agostini's MV three. [John Lawless]
JL: So you stayed with Yamaha for another year and then you made your way back to MV (in 1976). You gave the factory their final victory at the Nurburgring Grand Prix. Tell us about that race. Did you feel you had a chance? I know the MVs were up against their technical limits, the bikes were breaking down more often.

Ago: I was also racing a Suzuki, which was very fast. But before the race it started to rain, and I am allowed to change the bikes, so I thought about it and decided to race the MV, and I won. After that I won at Hockenheim in 1976 [on a Yamaha TZ750].

JL: And then you made a brief foray in car racing - F2 Chevron, F1 Williams - but your heart was always with motorcycles.

Ago: Yes, my heart was with motorcycles.

JL: You enjoyed great success as a Team Manager for Yamaha with three world championships for Eddie Lawson. Did you enjoy the challenge of organizing a team?

Ago: Yamaha asked me to make a team which worked out well for them. I brought the Marlboro money and took care of everything. The team was mine, I hired the mechanics, they, Yamaha, give me the bikes, and engines. After two months of racing in Europe the Japanese mechanics did not like it because the food was different, the sleeping is different. You know now a lot has changed, but before, I remember many times a big box with food inside (for the mechanics) would arrive and that helped. It was good business, they trusted me and we got three wins - World Championships.

One that got away: the MV Agusta Boxer flat-four watercooled racer in development when MV pulled out of racing. [John Lawless]
JL: After that, you stepped back from racing although you were still active, like attending Grand Prix races. This year you saw a young, great Italian talent, Pecco Bagnaia win the championship on a Ducati fifty years after you, the last Italian to win on an Italian machine. Who do you think will win the 2023 World Championship?

Ago: I’m very happy that Bagnaia won with the Italian machine in the World Championship. Because when I raced, I show to the world, the rider wins and MV Agusta wins. It is important to show that the technology is the best. Bagnaia after fifty years did the same. Not only for Ducati, but I think Ducati makes a good bike and beats all the big Japanese companies. So Ducati’s prestige is Italian also. This is why it is a good emotion. To beat these big Japanese companies!

JL: Pecco came back from a 90 point deficit after the summer break and won like a true champion…

Ago: Yeah, because I think that Ducati and Bagnaia start really riding /working hard. Also the people expect from him to win, so he says, I must do this! I must do it.

JL: And he did it.

Ago: The start of the season was complicated but he was very professional. Next year? I think we have a very nice show. Because we have Pecco, Quartararo, Marini, Bastianini, Marquez will come back, Bezzechi- next year will be very good. There’s many talented Italians – Italians and Spanish.

JL: Grazie Mille. Ti Aguro Buon Natale!

Ago: Grazie.

The spectacular double-overhead camshaft 3-cylinder 350cc MV Agusta racer. [John Lawless]

 

 

John Lawless is a freelance motorcycle writer. Check out his website here, and his Instagram here.

 

 


2022 Auerberg Klassik

by Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal
The south of Bavaria, on the border with Austria, is a beautiful location, with rolling hills and pastures, cows grazing, barns, small woods, and beautiful lakes. The villages are immaculate and charming. The narrow twisting roads are a great fun to ride. The Auerberg Klassik 2022 was held in Berbeuren last September, and was only the third edition of this vintage motorcycle hillclimb meeting.  This year it became Germany's first motorsport event actively promoting CO2 avoidance with climate-neutral e-fuels.
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
The relaxed informal mood of the event, coupled with great attention taken to practical details, plus the large number of participants, made this event once more a success. The bikes present were stunning, with a wide variety of styles and a very cosmopolitan rider mix. Sidecar design details were particularly fascinating. Much to our surprise the number of one-star Michelin restaurants in the area (some in truly spectacular locations) was considerable. Of course we had to try several! The winner by far was Dorfwirt in Untterammergau. Don’t miss it if you're ever nearby.
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
To read more about the Auerberg Klassik, read our previous stories on the 2017 event, the 2019 event, and our 1925 Sunbeam 'Crocodile' Road Test at the 2019 Auerberg.
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
[Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal]
Manuel Rosario & Minnie Freudenthal are special correspondents to The Vintagent. Minnie is a doctor of internal medicine, and Manuel is a gastroenterologist in Lisbon, where he has lived since 1986.  He also writes for De Outra Maneira,

Steve McQueen's Desert Machine

'Desert Sleds' are among the hottest vintage bikes these days; a broad audience has discovered the amazing purpose-built off-road racers adapted for rough long-distance events in SoCal.  In the early 1960s, these were ordinary road bikes converted to off-roaders, as with this gorgeous 1963 Triumph T120 Bonneville owned by Steve McQueen.  His T120 is a first-year unit-construction Bonnie, which was 30lbs lighter than the pre-unit version, had a stronger frame and better handling, was generally less fussy to live with and was less prone to oil leaks.  As noted in the June 1964 Cycle World article below, Steve's bike was modified by his buddy/mentor Bud Ekins, a veteran desert racer and occasional ISDT entrant, who knew what was required for a reliable off-roader: shed weight, protect the engine and ancillary parts, circulate more oil, and keep dust out of the carbs.  It helps to add extra seat padding for long bumpy rides, too.  The result of Bud's work is purposeful, and not intended as a show bike - he didn't plate or paint anything for gloss, but preferred a clean but workmanlike finish, as a racer should.

Desert Sled then: Steve McQueen with another modified Triumph, this one a pre-unit so 1962 or earlier. Photo from his 1984 Imperial Palace estate auction catalog. [The Vintagent Archive]
Photos of 1960s desert sleds under legendary riders like McQueen, brothers Dave and Bud Ekins, and Malcolm Smith have provided inspiration for street and dirt riders alike for generations now.  In the 1960s, more desert sleds were street bikes than actually raced, a situation that has existed forever: just as road racing inspired the cafe racer movement, off-road racing inspired 'Scrambler' style [Check out our article on Terry the Triumph].  Since the 2010 explosion of what was then called the neo-custom scene, desert racers and scramblers have become a distinct, very popular, and very copy-able customization genre, and the major OEMs took note: thus we have the Triumph and Ducati Scrambler models, and now the revived BSA has entered the fray with a Scrambler prototype.  It's an enduring style because it's a cool look, and relatively easy to make a fully functional street bike that looks every inch a purposeful off-road racers.  In every case, though, from the 1962 introduction of the Honda CL72 Scrambler to the Triumph and Ducati Scramblers, road-legal factory offerings fall squarely into the 'street scrambler' category, built for show not go (at least off-road), unlike Steve McQueen's heavily modified bike, which is probably 200lbs lighter than a new Triumph Scrambler.

Desert Sleds now: Hadyn Roberts lofting the front wheel of his Triumph at the 2021 Garden Isle Grand Prix, Hawaii.  Haydn's bike is built in very much the style of McQueen's. [Monti Smith]
Enjoy this charming article from the June 1964 issue of Cycle World, 'In McQueen's Service':

Winning desert races is what this machine was set up for.  It is the mount of actor Steve McQueen, who recently won the novice class in a one-hour desert scrambles.  The victory only proved what a close look at his Triumph Bonneville suggests: McQueen takes his motorcycling seriously.

It takes some modifications to win the rough, dusty hare 'n hounds, scrambles, and enduros that are popular in the southwester desert.  McQueen's machine was prepared in Bud Ekins' Sherman Oaks, California shop. they started by replacing the stock wheel with a 1956 Triumph hub and 19" wheel to reduce unsprung weight.  The forks were fitted with sidecar springs and the rake increased slightly by altering the frame at the steering crown.  The rear frame loop was bent upward to accommodate a 4.00 x 18" Dunlop sports knobby and to it were welded brackets for the bates cross-country seat.  The bars are by Flanders, with leather hand guards, and the throttle cables run over the tank, through alloy brackets to the twin 1-1/18" Amal carburetors.

A Harlan Bast skidplate protects the underside of the motor, the footpegs were braced and the rear brake rod was increased to 5.16" diameter and rerouted inside the frame and shock (where sagebrush can't damage it). The oil tank was modified to increase its capacity and bring the filler out the side from under the seat.  It also serves as part of the mudguard, saving weight.

The engine is basically a stock Bonneville but the compression was lowered from 12:1 to 8-1/2:1 for reliability and the sagerush-snagging oil pressure indicator was converted to a pop-off relief valve with a return line back to the oil tank.  McQueens runs a Jomo TT cams and Dodge RL47 platinum tip plugs.

The important job of filtering all that dirt out of the desert air is handled by paper pack air cleaners connected by a special collector box to the carbs.  This box is finished in black wringkle-finish paint while the tanks are dark green.  The cross-over pipes are Ekins' design and are left unplated for better heat dissipation.  Perhaps if McQueen were riding this cycle in the movie, he could have made his 'Great Escape'.

Steve's desert racer was sold at his estate auction in 1984 at Imperial Palace, Las Vegas. [The Vintagent Archive]

 

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

 


The Current News: Nov. 3, 2022

Hello, dear readers and riders! Exciting news of a new EV design contest - your good idea could win $15k!  Check out the story below. Also this week, we’re taking a look at a monstrous Hummer eBike, a hydrogen Alpine, eBike makers bending the rules, and more As always, send your tips, questions, or feedback to stephanie@thevintagent.com. Let’s roll.

ENVO 'Next Move' Micromobility Design Contest

Two categories of entry for ENVO's design contest: Snow and All-Terrain. [ENVO]
Do you enjoy designing personal transportation?  Wanna win $15k?  Take a look at this Canadian EV engineering company's competition to design next-gen sustainable personal transport: ‘ENVO Next Move’.  The electric mobility business is aiming to encourage innovative individuals and teams to submit their innovative proposals that respect ENVO’s principles towards modern, easy-to-maintain, reasonably priced, electric vehicles.  Professional qualifications are not required, and the range of possibilities is wide open, as the categories include: Snow electric mobility solutions; Water micro-electric mobility solutions; All-Terrain electric platform; Weather-protected electric bike/trike; Cutting-Edge micro-mobility solutions.  The rules stipulate that your project must aim towards environmental sustainability, evidence an awareness of economy and the evolution of transport, and have some sort of long-term business viability.  Sound pretty cool to us!

Two more categories: Covered urban transport and Micro-aquatic solutions. [ENVO]
After the first entries are submitted by December 11 this year, ENVO will narrow the entries to 50 designs from all categories to proceed to the second round. These 50 individuals/teams will then be supported by a team of mobility experts over three weeks for mentoring and feedback, with the aim of improving the feasibility of the designs.  The final stage of the contest comes when the jury picks three projects as winners to receive cash prizes of $10,000(CAD).  In addition, there's a $5kCAD cash prize for designs that are ready for development, and ENVO is ready to team up to make them real in their own engineering facilities in partnership with the design winner.  If this interests you, click here for more info! 

Coyote for Accessible Mobility

The Coyote is a go-anywhere 4WD EV expressly built for folks with limited mobility. [Outrider USA]
Outrider USA is offering a 4WD EV quad that's expressly built for people with limited mobility to explore the great outdoors: the Coyote.  While it can of course be used by folks with full mobility and is big fun, the Coyote is perfect for people who want outdoor fun but have difficulty with getting around.  Outrider USA claims the Coyote is the lightest 4WD vehicle ever produced: it has a motor in each wheel and enough battery to do 140miles on a charge.  The Coyote is super compact too, at 5' long and 30" wide/tall, and will fit in the back of most station wagons/SUVs.

Royal Enfield Pursuing eBikes

Will we see an electric Himalayan from Royal Enfield? [Royal Enfield]
For several years now India's Eicher Motors, parent company of Royal Enfield, has been investing in research towards a possible Royal Enfield eBike.  They've also taken considerable government money towards such research: in India the PLI (Production-Linked Incentive) gives grants to support EV initiatives, while Royal Enfield UK was part of a consortium including Romax Technology, ZF Automotive, and the Univ. of Sheffield in a $half-Million gov't support scheme to “develop a demonstration e-motorbike concept based around a vision of a future supply chain.”  Siddartha Lal, Eicher CEO, admitted back in 2020 that Royal Enfield was investing in eBike research, although recently new CEO B Govindarajan admitted R-E was in no rush to put something to market, citing the need to understand the market more fully before committing to production.

E-Bike Makers Bending the Rules

What do you mean too fast? I swear this will only do 18mph! [Sur Ron]
In a situation repeated all over the world, the Indian government has taken note that manufacturers are taking advantage of regulations allowing low-powered e-bikes to be operated without a motorcycle license, and without registration.  "According to the rules, vehicles equipped with electric motors having 30kmh top speed are not treated as motor vehicles. Hence, norms such as type approval, insurance, and mandatory display of number plate are not applicable."  But it's an open secret that manufacturers present a low-spec vehicle for testing by government agencies, then sell more powerful but visually identical versions to the public, or offer larger batteries for more power, or simply upload performance enhancing software remotely. It's a convenient work-around on what are considered archaic rules, but it is technically illegal.

Alpine's Alpenglow Concept

A high-speed personal Hindenberg! The Alpine Alpenglow concept. [Renault]
French rally car legend Alpine (owned by Renault) is moving forward with a hydrogen-burning concept car, a single-seater supersports vehicle with a transparent cockpit and tail section.  The name Alpenglow refers to the band of red light at sunrise/sunset in the mountains, and this extravagent indulgence in personal horsepower is just as beautiful and likely just as evanescent, in a world with less space for high-speed play on four wheels, regardless its green-ish hydrogen power source.  The solo driver sits between two hydrogen tanks, which should make for a glorious instant death in case of a bad accident - go out with drama and style, like the Alpenglow!

A Two-Wheeled Hummer

Built Hummer heavy: the Recon Hummer 2WD eBike. [Recon]
EBike maker Recon Power Bikes is introducing a two-wheel drive heavyweight all-terrain bicycle inspired by the Hummer military vehicle, or suburban assault vehicle, as you prefer.  The Hummer has two 750w hub motors, in the front and another back wheels, that give this two-wheel-drive eBike 80nm of torque and a combined 1.5kW of power.  The battery is a 48V, 17.5Ah/ 840Wh item that give a 40-50mile range...which is 1/250th the size of the new Hummer EV truck, and about 1/8th the range.  But while the Hummer EV weighs 9000lbs (holy rockpile Batman!), the Hummer eBike weighs 'only' 93lbs, which is light in comparison, but pretty fricken heavy for a bicycle.  Plus, it's got a throttle, which makes it in reality a motorcycle...with pathetic range and power.  So, what is this thing?  A bruiser cruiser: for the Hummer car owner, it's the perfect accessory, and fits right into the back of the Hummer EV pickup...if you don't pull your back getting it in.  Need one?  Click here.

 

 

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: Hugo Eccles

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

The following Motorcycle Portraits session is with Hugo Eccles, a motorcycle designer who's work has won many design awards and been included in several museum exhibits, including at our current Petersen Museum exhibit, Electric Revolutionaries.  His XP Zero - a collaboration with Zero Motorcycles - has been celebrated around the world for its futuristic embrace of new tech.  You can follow his Instagram here.

The Motorcycle Portraits of Hugo Eccles, taken in Alameda Point on April 13, 2021. [David Goldmann]

Tell us about yourself.

I'm Hugo Eccles, the co-founder and design director of Untitled Motorcycles in San Francisco. I'm originally from England, near Oxford, and have been in the Bay Area for the past seven years.

How did you first get interested in motorcycles?

My first introduction to motorcycles was probably my dad: he was an amateur racer. We had lots of cars - a Sunbeam Tiger when I was a kid - and he had a Suzuki 250 that he would commute from the English countryside where we lived into London, with a suit and tie under a cover.   All very sort of James Bond to my mind.  And I think that probably seeded it. And then I was into cars,  I'm sort of a car guy really, I like cars a lot and but I've always ridden motorcycles, and have ridden for about 25 years. But at the same time, I've been a professional industrial designer, and about seven years ago when I moved to San Francisco, I decided to combine motorcycling and design, to design motorcycles.

Hugo Eccles in his San Francisco design workshop, Untitled Motorcycles. [Simone Mancini]

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

So I think one of the greatest experiences was a couple of years ago, a friend and I went on a road trip across from England across France and Italy, in the middle of the summer. I mean, it was just beautiful, you know, through the vineyards of France, over the mountains through Monaco, down the length of Italy. Unfortunately, it was a heatwave that summer and was just unimaginably hot. I mean, the heat coming off the road was like, opening the door of an oven. And then at some point, my Ducati decided to give up the ghost and the ECU kind of died. And we limped it to a motor repair guy in the back streets of in the middle of nowhere, some beautiful little town. He was very kindly, it was a Saturday, and I think we were really lucky that he was even there.  He was welcoming and repaired the bike for us, and took us out to lunch. And it was fantastic. You know, we never met him before and never met him since but those are the kind of experiences you get with motorcycles.  People stop, they help you. You know, the Ducati world. There were a couple of occasions like that with the Ducati; another when it decided not to start in the morning, and there was some guy traveling to work in his little van. He said 'wait here', went home, came back with his van full of tools, fixed it for us on the side of the road. We tried to thank him in our terrible French.

The XP Zero by Hugo Eccles, a collaboration with Zero Motorcycles. [Aaron Brimhall]

What do motorcycles mean to you?

Motorcycling very much kind of dominates my life nowadays. You know, I design motorcycles, I ride motorcycles. I've met most of my friends because of motorcycles. Yeah, it's been it's been great, really. I met a whole group of friends in San Francisco because I got invited to go on a ride. My wife jokes that she can't leave me alone for five seconds, because she comes back and I've befriended someone, usually by saying 'nice bike', and that just kicks the conversation off.  That's what's really nice about bikes: if someone likes bikes, they're already kind of halfway, it's really a kind of opening to talk to strangers.

 
 
 

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.


Round-the-World Reisch at Top Mountain

The star of our ADV:Overland exhibition at the Petersen museum was Max Reisch's very special overland-kitted 1932 Puch 250SL, on which he became the first person to travel over land from the Middle East to India by land using a motorized vehicle.  The Puch was a star because it remained in exactly the condition Reisch left it after his journey, with all his packs and panniers, ropes and stickers and tools intact: it is truly an amazing artifact of global travel, when such journey were undertaken only by the brave.  It's estimated, in fact, that only 50 people went around the world in a motorcycle before 1980.  Reisch was indeed a brave fellow, as you can read for yourself in one of his many books, especially India: the Shimmering Dream, which is one of the only of his very many books that only covers his motorcycle journeys, and has been translated into English.

The Max Reisch 1932 Puch 250SL at the Timmelsjoch Pass outside the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum in Austria last September, with Paul d'Orleans aboard. [Mark Upham]
Reisch made two major journeys on Puch motorcycles: his India trip and a journey the year prior on 1929 Puch 250T across Europe and the top of Africa. Being an Austrian, he thought it prudent to use Austrian vehicles...and it was a great way to get financial/technical support for his very extensive and difficult adventures. His 6000mile trip across North Africa was the first for an Austrian vehicle, and gave Reisch very useful experience on what to do, and not to do, with an overland vehicle.  It also made him something of a celebrity in Austria, and spurred his ambitions to be the first to conquer the recently-rediscovered overland path from Afghanistan to India.  His 1932 Puch 250SL was ridden two-up with Hubert Tichy, who later had a career as a mountaineer and explorer.  I first encountered that remarkable time-warp Puch at the Concorso Villa d'Este, and was entranced: the bike is as charismatic a motorcycle as ever I've seen.  When I conceived the idea for the ADV:Overland exhibit at the Petersen Museum in 2021, it was the first vehicle on my list, and it still amazes me that the family entrusted an unknown curator in a faraway country with such a treasure.

Max Reisch's first overland vehicle, a 1929 Puch 250T. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
After his motorcycle journeys, Reisch went all the way around the world using a 1934 Steyr 100 car, which was also outfitted specially by the factory for the 24,000mile journey: from Vienna across the Middle East again to India, then Indochina to Shanghai, Japan, the USA and Mexico, and across Europe.  By now a veteran traveler, Max Reisch was yet only 22 years old in 1935, and began this automotive journey with 19yo Helmuth Hahmann, and engineering student. Before the construction of the Burma Road, driving from India to southern China meant weeks of difficult travel, constantly sinking over their axles in mud through jungle paths, crossing wild rivers on plank rafts, and meeting fascinating communities who'd had little contact with Europeans. Reisch arrived back in Vienna in December 1936, and wrote about his epic adventures in An Incredible Journey.

The amazing Steyr 100 convertible used by Reisch for his around-the-world journey in 1935/6, with Alban Scheiber, co-owner of the Museum. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
When Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Reisch soon found himself drafted by the German Army.  His familiarity with North Africa and his skills with vehicles saw him handed a wrench instead of a gun, and he spent the war repairing everything with wheels under Rommel's Afrikakorps.  His book Out of the Rat Trap is an entertaining document of his time with a vehicle maintenance unit in Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, his desert escapades with a captured Jeep, scavenging destroyed vehicles for spare parts, and visiting desert oases like Siwa.  He foresaw the German defeat and made plans for his escape, stealing an old fishing boat with seven colleagues and a dog, and making their way out of Africa to Italy through terrifying circumstances.

Europe's first mobile home? The little Atlas 800 in deep sand in Saudia Arabia, 1953. [Max Reisch Archive]
After the War, when motorsports were allowed once again, Reisch won the Austrian Rally Championship in 1950 with a Steyr sedan.  Despite marrying and having two children, his wanderlust was ever-present, and in 1950 he commissioned what is probably the first European motorhome from the coachbuilder Jenbacher on a Gutbrod delivery van chassis.  Dubbed the Atlas 800 (for its 800cc / 18hp motor), in 1951/2 Reisch and his wife Christiane.  They first drove to the Arctic Circle to test the Atlas, then the following year Reisch made an extensive tour of the Middle East, including an invitation to Riyadh, which was then banned for infidels.  In 1953 he toured North Africa once again, for the Austrian Tourism Ministry, and his trusty Atlas was re-dubbed 'Sadigi' - friend in Arabic.

It's all there - the bags and boxes and ropes and tools used for overlanding in the 1950s. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
Amazingly, all the vehicles Dr. Max Reisch used on his journeys were kept in exactly the condition in which they finished their travels, despite the decades and the wars, and displayed in a private family museum along with extensive souvenirs from his travels.  The family maintained his extensive archive and vehicles for decades (check their fascinating website here), but time has taken its toll, and the family has decided it best to relinquish these treasures to a museum better able to present them to a wide audience.

Alban and Attila Scheiber are handed the keys to the overland kingdom by Peter Reisch, Sep. 14 2022. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
What better place than another Austrian museum?  The Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum was of course, the perfect place, visited by hundreds of thousands of travelers every year.  On September 15th, I was privileged to attend a press ceremony for the handing over of the Reisch vehicles and archive in Timmeljoch, Austria, my first visit to the Top Mountain Museum owned by the brothers Attila and Alban Scheiber.  Many members of the extended Reisch family were present, with Max Reisch's son Peter representing this amazing estate.  Along with the vehicles, Reich's office is re-created in the museum, his desk and library, along with many of his photos and souvenirs.   Most amazing, though, are the specialized vehicles, with all their tools, bags, stoves, and gear still intact, along with stickers and graffiti from their travels scratched into the paint or painted on.  It must be the most extensive and complete display of vintage Overland vehicles anywhere.  If you're in the north of Italy, or Austria/Germany/Switzerland, you owe it to yourself to visit the museum: not just for the extraordinary Reisch collection, but also because Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum is situated in the most breathtaking location possible, at the top of the Tyrol mountains, overlooking the world.

Max Reisch on his 1932 Puch 250SL en route to India. [Max Reisch Archive]
Can't beat the view at the Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum, atop the highest road over the Tyrol. [Top Mountain Motorcycle Museum]
Paul d'Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.

 


Flat Track: Winning Respect

By Catherine OConnor

Rivals on and true teammates off the track, AFT Premier Twins Yamaha riders #32 Dallas Daniels and #95 JD Beach show enormous respect for one another. Heading to Volusia, the last nail-biter contest in the 2022 race series, the Estenson Yamaha Racing Team personifies the concept of 'watershed moment'.  During his rookie year in the Premier class, 19-year-old Dallas Daniels is only 16 points behind series leader, 7-time champ Jared Mees [see 'What's Mees Got?' here]. The other half of Estenson’s dynamic duo, JD Beach sits in third position by a slim two points, cool and confident, nipping at their heels. It’s been an action-packed series, gripping fans who‘ve watched the Yamaha MT-07’s of Beach and Daniels, taking turns giving Nat'l #Uno Indian factory star Mees, a run for his money, race after race.

Where it all happens: AFT Premier Twins Yamaha riders #32 Dallas Daniels and #95 JD Beach.

I caught up with Daniels and “Jiggy Dog Beach” at American Supercamp in Springfield, Illinois just two weeks before the grand finale in Florida, where the AFT Progressive Supertwins championship will be won or lost. Beach is 31, with decades of expertise on asphalt and dirt, and a veteran student who's now a coach/mentor.  He's recruited newcomer Daniels to assist Supercamp founder Danny Walker with classes for up-and-coming, returning and current amateur racers, and street riders alike.

All aboard TTR 125’s, riders as young as 10 to over 50 years old gather at the Illinois State Fairgrounds for back to back Supercamps Sept 29-Oct 2. [Sam Evans]
JD’s strength comes from a sense of brotherhood. From his earliest friendships with the Gillim and Hayden clan, the power of sibling / rivalry has helped Beach grow into a force to be reckoned with. Beach can’t say enough about the positive aspects of working with teammate Daniels. “It’s really made me dig deep to be better and realize the more I can help him, the better it’ll make me.” At their core, Dallas and JD are professionals who know aggressiveness is a strength. “Having him on the team is good for me because we’re constantly pushing each other, and we don’t like to get beat. I guarantee, when it’s me and him out on the track, fans can see we’re not gonna be nice. We can work together but fight too.”

AFT Premier Twins Yamaha riders #32 Dallas Daniels and #95 JD Beach

Beach is a confidence man in the best sense of the word. Overcoming hurdles and rising to the top is what he’s done, taking Tim Estenson’s Yamaha vision to reality. “This is something Tim does because he loves the sport. He’s not selling anything.” Staying grounded in the racing life, his social media Beach Report feeds a panorama of track days, golden retrievers and splashing in the pool holding toddler-nephews, the next generation of the families of Hayden and Frankie Lee Gillim. When asked what it feels like to have the perfect lap or perfect corner, a humble JD tells you, "I don’t know. I’ve never had one. There's always something I could better."

Beach and Daniels, featured pros, engage and demonstrate bike handling and agility skills, as Supercamp’s Walker calls the shots. [Sam Evans]
In the same way that JD Beach credits the Earl Hayden legacy, family ties to the expertise of Hart Racing, may help explain Dallas Daniels’ meteoric rise to the top. His father raced with Receil Hart, whose cousin James Hart is now Dallas’ mechanic. “When I was young, I’d come home from school I would just ride, ride, and ride. They’d have to get me to eat dinner. Then I’d kick and moan when I’d have to come in because it was dark outside.” When the elder Daniels started working for Triumph, young Dallas traveled the country over the summer hitting races along the way. "New York, California, Texas, Florida, I raced 30 to 35 races per year, as many Amateur classes as they’d let me in,”

Chores for Daniels and Beach at Supercamp include “care and feeding of the livestock” (refueling Yamaha pit bikes), between classes at the IL State Fairgrounds. [Sam Evans]
To say that Daniels looks up to Beach as a mentor, is an understatement. “Pre-2019 when he was in Superbike, I was doing Junior Cup road races, and he just kind of took me under his wing. JD's a special character. He won’t brag about himself, so I’ll brag for him. He eats, sleeps and breathes motorcycles, just like me. So, we’re alike. We really get along, because we live for this.” Daniels also offers much credit to his sponsor Tim Estenson, and the years of struggle to develop this Yamaha team. “It’s meant alot to him to win an oval. First one since Kenny Roberts in the 1970’s” Hailing from small city Mattoon, Dallas is poised to carry on the legacy of the Fast Boys from Illinois, in the land of Bill Tuman, the 1953 Springfield Mile winner-take-all National #1. Now as then, this year’s Grand National Championship series victory could come down to one slim race moment, when the competition breaks.

AFT premiere class racers, #95 JD Beach and #32 Dallas Daniels, winning respect behind the line all the way to the podium. [Sammy Sebedra/ Estenson Racing]

 

Historian and Journalist, Catherine OConnor looks at the past, present and future of motorsports with an eye for the human experience that brings us all closer. She has reported on women in supporting roles, the roots of the Springfield Mile, the DuQuoin Magic Mile, and a story in images of the Hogroast: When Honda Smoked Harley in the 1980’s.

 


Book Review: Ezy Ryders

There goes Ezy
Ezy Rider
Ridin' down the highway of desire
They say the free wind
Takes him higher
Tryin' to find his heaven above
But he's dyin' to be loved
- Jimi Hendrix

Ezy Ryders, by Cate Dingley, The Artist Edition (2022)

The cover of Ezy Ryders features Larry O of Outcast MC of Brooklyn. [Cate Dingley]
Photographer Cate Dingley gained the trust of New York City's Black biker scene, and over a 5-year period took portraits, interviewed riders, and documented their activities.  Working with publisher The Artist Edition, Dingley's beautifully presented book mixes her photos with the words of ten members of various motorcycle clubs (MCs), men and women, scattered among the five boroughs of the City.  As a testament of this rarely documented scene, Ezy Ryders moves towards filling a gap in the literature of American motorcycling, and the narrative of American motorcycle culture, by acknowledging the existence of Black riders, their MCs and some of their motorcycling history.

The late lamented Austin 'Brown Sugar' Johnson with his longtime favorite, White Hot. [Cate Dingley]
Ezy Ryders is an apt title, as Jimi Hendrix' 1969 psycho-funk anthem 'Ezy Rider' was an alternative take on the film Easy Rider's themes of freedom, chasing dreams, and self-delusion, with an undertone of death (Hendrix's 'If 6 was 9' is on the film's soundtrack).  Similarly, Ezy Ryders presents another side of the motorcycle club (MC) phenomenon: the rarely documented Black MC scene.  Of the 75 books in The Vintagent Library featuring chopper, 1%er, and motorcycle clubs (MCs), only one features a Black MC: Tobie Gene Livingstons' Soul on Bikes (2003), his autobiography as President of the East Bay Dragons MC.   There's also Eliot Gold's 2015 photobook on the Chosen Few MC, The Chosen Few: A 40-Year Look at an Outlaw Motorcycle Club - but that club was mixed-race.

Cruising with the Southside Soldierz in Brooklyn. [Cate Dingley]
The history of Black MCs is poorly documented and recorded, and Ezy Ryders leans heavily on reminiscences of the late Austin Johnson for context. Johnson, nicknamed 'Brown Sugar', shared his 60-year history as a Black biker in NYC, his founding of the South Side Shifters MC in the 1970s, his encounters with other Black MCs (including the first female members, in the Cobras MC) and the 1960s appearance - and 1970s disappearance - of Black chopper riders in chopper magazines.  While Dingley's interviews of all the riders are fascinating (and at at times harrowing, as with Priest's tale of betrayal),  it's Austin Johnson who gives the book its roots.  Johnson's is a story worth repeating: he contributed significantly to my book The Chopper: the Real Story (2014), and is featured in the film Sugar and Spade (2017), about his 50-year friendship with 'Spade' George Bennett.

Prez Shifty of Blaque Pearls MC in The Bronx. [Cate Dingley]
Ezy Ryders deserves a place beside Danny Lyons' The Bikeriders, the original photobook documenting MCs (the Chicago Outlaws in Lyons' case), not least because it is formatted similarly, with statements by its subjects providing a verbal 'snapshot' of their lives and relationship with motorcycles. Their life stories are as obscure to mainstream audiences today as Lyons' White underclass bikers were in 1968, although the image of the White outlaw biker had been exploited to the point of cliché for 15 years already, after The Wild One (1953). Cate Dingley's photographs are compelling, intimate, and full of compassion. And beautifully printed; publisher The Artist Edition used Danish printer Narayana Press to create a physically impeccable book.

Prospect Graham of Katz MC in Brooklyn with his favorite mural. [Cate Dingley]
Don't miss the excellent Foreward by journalist/activist Jimmie Briggs, "A significant factor in the invisibility or willful blindness to the history and value of Black riders and MCs is the unsurprising bias to their very existence."  He quotes sociologist Jason Eastman's 2015 study of two motorcycle events in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: Harley Week and Black Biker Week.  Analyzing 8600 online comments about these rallies in the Mrytle Beach Sun News, Eastman concluded that one event is seen as a gathering of 'underclass criminals who attend the rally to steal and murder', while the other is a gathering of 'exemplars of American Individualism.'  No points for guessing which is which and who is who.

Stunting on St. Marks Place in Brooklyn. [Cate Dingley]
Cate Dingley's book, besides being an exciting photographic essay, slides easily into your bookshelf, filling a long-missing piece of the American motorcycle story.  Check out her website here.

 

 

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

 


The Motorcycle Portraits: Ashley Myhre

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

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

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

Tell us about yourself

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

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

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

Ashely Myhre from her Instagram feed. [Ashley Myhre]

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

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

What do motorcycles mean to you:

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

Ashely Myhre from her Instagram feed. [Ashley Myhre]

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

Explore other fascinating people in our Motorcycle Portraits series here.

 

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

Thriving in Two Strokes: NYC Mopeds

Words and photos by Peter Domorak

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

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

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

Brooklyn Moped History

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

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

JP and NYC Moped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shop Tour

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Related Stories:

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

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


The Motorcycle Portraits: J Shia

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

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

J Shia of Madhouse Motors captured by David Goldman

Tell us about yourself:

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

How did you first get interested in motorcycles:

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

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

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

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

What do motorcycles mean to you:

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

For more  Motorcycle Portraits on The Vintagent, click here.

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

The Vintagent Selects: Moped to South America

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

 

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

 


Bikes of Burden: the Habal-Habal

Notes from the Philippines from Brian Waddington

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview With Gogor, a Habal-Habal Driver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gogor: About a year.

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

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

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

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

Gogor: No.

History of the Habal-Habal

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

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

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

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

 

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

 


Ton-Up TV: Now Streaming for Custom Fans

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

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

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

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

 

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