Sunday, June 29, 2008


Dave sent me a pic asking 'is this Kenzo Tada'? And indeed it is; the 1930 silent film 'Faster Than Ever: An All-British Victory!', which is a British Pathe property*, has a nice (albeit silent) sequence showing the various racers on the grid for the '30 Isle of Man Senior and Junior TT... one of which is obviously Kenzo Tada himself (being the first Asian TT entrant) smiling for the camera. Photographs of Tada are quite rare; I was thrilled to see this one. A short preview of the film, provided by British Pathe, can be seen at the bottom of this post - the Tada sequence is just past the halfway point, right after Graham Walker smooches Tyrell Smith!

The film shows the amazing variety of motorcycles racing in '30 TT - in the top photo alone you can see Rudge (#9), Sunbeam (#13), and Excelsior (#11) racers.

The information we have on Tada is slim, but we know he was the Velocette agent for Tokyo (Tomeye Trading Co.) and ordered three of the earliest KTT models, one of which can be seen in the second photo, with Tada posing in his Kimono. This machine must be KTT20, 22 or 28, as these were the only mkI KTTs directly imported to Japan, all in February of 1929. The strutted Webb forks can be seen clearly, plus the left-hand oil tank filler, the George Dance kneegrips, tall petrol filler neck, and large diameter balance tube underneath the tank. I can dimly make out the cambox oil scavenge pump as well.

Tada was invited in 1930 to race at the Isle of Man TT by Veloce (along with quite a few other foreign racers), to show of the popularity and global dominance of their new model. From its introduction (1929) the KTT was sold all over the world, from Japan (3) to New Zealand (5) and Australia (5), South Africa (9), India (1), the US (1) and Canada (1), and all over Europe - 180 sold in total from January to December of '29.

Tada can be seen racing number 6, a semi-works KTT, which was the previous year's second place TT winner (Alec Bennett's bike). In the fourth photo he is rounding Ramsey hairpin, and in the fifth, pulling away from #12, who seems to be riding an Excelsior.

The bottom photo shows Tada from another angle. No photos of his four notorious get-offs!

*The film can be downloaded from British Pathe, for the sum of £586... last June, when I initially posted a few of these photos, the price was £80. Film inflation?

See my earlier post on Kenzo Tada for more on this interesting fellow.


When it's sunny and warm outside (and I reassure you that it's NOT in foggy San Francisco), a young man's thoughts turn to two things, and clearly this fellow has indulged in both.
In what must have been a publicity photo for BMW ca 1928 or so, this little R39 had a lot to carry for its 6.5 hp. Getting there was so slow, there was no danger that the lady's chic Cloche hat would blow off - it's sitting on his leather coat. 'Where is the Flapper Bracket', Dave asked when he sent the pic - well, I presume it's sitting on the ground next to the girl... perhaps she sat on the tent and all the crockery as well!
In cinema, this would have been a 'pre-code' shot (ie before the Morals Police cleaned up ribald or suggestive imagery in the mid-1930's). It's interesting that advertising photography evolved in three directions; shots of power/prowess (Man on Motorcycle), shots of impending seduction (Man and Woman on Motorcycle), and implied sexual enhancement (Hot Woman on Motorcycle). This photograph transcends all three - they've been there and done that, now it's time for a smoke and a picnic.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


By Dennis Quinlan.

1970 saw the premier of 6 hour production races in Australia, which lasted nearly 15 years. They were held (except for one race) at the Amaroo Park Raceway, a 1.2 mile tight clockwise circuit on the Northern outskirts of Sydney.
That first year saw a relatively unknown rider, Craig Brown, on his “ride to work” ( later to prove his undoing), CB750/4 Honda.
Craig led the race until near the end, when he ran out of front brakes…he hadn’t the money to start the race with new brake pads and paid the price with a retirement, leaving the late Bryan Hindle and Len Atlee to win on the Ryan’s of Parramatta Triumph 750.
Well at this stage I was still an “occasional racer”, still had my Velocette Venom Thruxton (engine number VMT458), which I purchased new in Feb.1967, so took the plunge and entered the 1971 event, with former ex-International racer Dennis Fry, and John Herrick as co-riders, both also Velocette enthusiasts. My good friend Jim Day was the designated team mechanic.

Now it was a long time ago, so I can let some “skeletons out of the cupboard”…not figuring on getting on the leader board in the 500 class, I decided to “help” the VMT.
I fitted coil valve springs back in, rather than the original hairpin type. We never revved it past the designated 6,200rpm maximum, but the hairpins usually settled and valve float would set in lower and lower as the race progressed, so the coils ensured this didn’t happen and should you miss a gear, the resulting over revving wouldn’t see a valve kiss the piston. This happened in unofficial practice some weeks before with hairpins fitted and a bent Nimonic 80 exhaust valve resulted. An urgent telephone call to L.J.Stevens Ltd, the Velo people in London, UK, saw a replacement airmailed out in time.
As well Thruxton’s are marginal in engine pinging, so working at a scientific research establishment, CSIRO, I found out the dye used to dye the local Super petrol ( 96 octane) we had to use.
I obtained some and using Esso 115/145 aviation fuel, normally purple in colour, I dyed some 20 gallons of fuel to the straw colour of Super..
That was one problem out of the way.
The kickstarter fouled the exhaust pipe, so I re-bent it and replated it to standard…removed the dynamo belt and fitted a broken one left lying in the bottom of the generator cover. The battery was a hollow box and no battery needed, there being no current generated.
I might say at this stage, that the supplementary regulations for this race were very strict in requiring a standard specification... no doubt many of the “production” racers in the IOM Production TT would not have complied either…

Dennis Fry had an ankle injury from several IOM TT crashes in his continental circus career in the early 1960s, so needed a rocking gear pedal. I petitioned the organising committee for permission to fit one.
I also had a bent in that era to use aviation oil and so we eschewed the free gallon of Castrol GTX for Mobil Aero Oil 80. Tyres were to be road tyres and I favoured Metzelers’ so fitted C5 front and rear.
Official practice went off all Ok and we agreed that I would ride the first 2 hours we would then refuel, Dennis Fry would ride next and depending on our position in the race, either John Herrick or Dennis Fry would do the last 2 hours. This leads to an interesting incident at scrutineering... Dennis Fry fronted up with his Cromwell "Pudding basin" helmet ( you can see it in the pictures...likely this was the last time such a helmet was used in competition..)...the examiner baulked at Dennis's helmet... seizing the opportunity, Dennis replied, "Listen mate, this helmet has survived 5 crashes in the IOM TT at over 120mph" and pointed to the IOM TT compliance stickers on the helmet etc. Flumoxed, the official passed it, when in hind sight it should have gone into the rubbish tin....
With good tank capacity (4.5 gal)and fuel consumption (60-70mpg), we had only 2 stops for fuel compared to 4 stops for most of the other bikes. The exception being the large BMWs which also managed 2 hour stints.
The start was a nightmare..a Le Mans start requiring you to sprint across the track, mount and of course we had to kickstart, some others also kicked, other used electric starters. The noise was incredible as the 64 bikes burst into life…I couldn’t tell if the engine was going (yes…I had a tacho and a quick look should have sufficed, but with the adrenaline pumping, I forgot!), so it was a slow start. However, I quickly settled down and my lap times were consistent and we were placed about mid-field in the 500 class. The pit stop was uneventful and Dennis Fry set off and soon his European racing experience showed and he was lapping consistently a second faster than me…then he disappeared!
Anxiously we waited for him to appear or news…then it came -he’d crashed heavily in the Brabham loop, the bike end over ended, destroying the rear rim and silencer and bending the frame. Dennis was carted off to hospital…128 laps and we were out….
Dennis recovered and we straightened the frame and I made plans to ride again next year. It wasn’t to be, for what reason I can no longer remember.
I perused the lap sheets and figured we would likely have done 285+ laps, this would have got us into 12th place in the 500 class, let’s put this into perspective…out of 13 finishers in that class.

Still you know what they say…the old “if”…”If your Aunt had balls, she’d be your Uncle…”
There were 15 starters and 10 finishers in the Unlimited class; 26 starters and 13 finishers in the 500 class; and 23 starters and 8 finishers in the 250 class.
The Thruxton was the only Velocette to have entered in the races history and if you want to be catty it was the only Velo not to finish…..

Where is my old Thruxton today?.... it passed out of my hands in 1980 to Tony Keene, who finished its repair/restoration and was eventually sold on to Western Australia where it is today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My pal Vincent from France recently visited the M2R museum in Andorra, and among his photos from the trip is this lovely 1930 Majestic, 'The New Motorcycle', with a 350cc Chaise ohv engine. I wrote about Majestic in an earlier post, mentioning the unusual and still rare hub-center steering system.
The Majestic could be ordered with an 'alligator' or 'crackle' finish, but this is the first time I've seen a photo - the fellow with the blue Majestic at the Coupe Moto Legende (back in 2001) mentioned that he knew of an original-condition 'alligator' machine, and I suppose this must have been the bike.
This special paint job piques my interest, as I've done faux-finish painting for the past 25 years, and I don't think there's another motorcycle company which has used such an artisanal and labor-intensive paint scheme - the process is inherently unstable, as the 'crackling' is created by using a top paint layer over an incompatible 'base' paint coat. The top layer can't spread out and create a 'film' over the base coat properly, so shrinks onto itself rather than over the base coat as paint normally does. As it all dries, the alligatored topcoat ends up sticking well enough to the lower layer that the whole job doesn't simply fall apart, but it's not a finish I would recommend for a vehicle! Still, since this particular paint has apparently lasted almost 80 years, I suppose it has proven the test of time, and the tremendous skill of the artisan!

Such a job is far beyond the skill of the factory 'coach painter' of the period, who is simply concerned with applying a smooth and dust-free coat of black enamel. The Majestic finisher (and I bet it was one fellow, as their total output was very low), was undoubtedly a member of the Guild of Decorative Painters in France, which traces its lineage several hundred years - they were the folks who decorated the ceiling beams etc on all those amazing 11th - 18th century cathedrals. The Guild retains many of the habits of yore, requiring members to pierce both ears, and wear their hair long. It so happened that during my peak decorative faux-painting years, I fit the bill, and curiously, when I hired French painters to help me, so did they... but membership and details are secret, and I might be endangering myself by revealing too much already!
Having said that, isn't it fascinating that this totally unique motorcycle has a connection to the grand and very old European tradition of Guilds and artisans. It would be as if the Masons built frames and engines once cathedral-building projects dried up... perhaps Dan Brown can figure a Majestic into the next Da Vinci Code adventure!

If you'd like to see more of Vincent's photo gallery, click here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


This article was sent to me by a friend; it's part of a new book, 'I've Seen It All, And I Don't Mean Maybe: Coast To Coast By Motorcycle In 1924', by Philip N. Gooding, compiled by his grandson Kevin Jolly - you can order the book from

"In 1924 my wife's grandfather - Phil Gooding - (who was 20) rode his 1923 Indian Scout from Baltimore to Los Angeles - and back. This is an article that appeared in the Dec 1924 issue of the Baltimore Trolley Topics - the newsletter of the Baltimore Transit Company - where Phil worked as a bus driver. Phil took these photos with a brand new Brownie box camera he bought for the trip.

Motored to the Pacific
Blue Bus Man Tells of The Thrills of Trans_Continental Motorcycle Trip

"I guess the only thing that stopped me was the Pacific Ocean," declared Phil Gooding the other day when he was discussing his motorcycle trip to the coast and back. Phil, or rather Phillip N. Gooding, is a Baltimore Transit Company man. Along towards the end of last May Superintendent Martin told Phil that he might have a vacation, and the young man, who had always had an intense desire to see some parts of America, decided to hop on his trusty motorcycle and go from one end of the land to the other. So, on May 30th he started on the trip that was destined to occupy 65 days and to cover 9,478 miles. It was an adventure full of interest, and excitement.

Leaving Baltimore, Gooding went across the Alleghenies, and over the fine roads of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It was not until he had left St. Louis that he ran into "gumbo" mud, and in an experience with this he met his first mishap. He burnt out his clutch at a stretch of road 12 miles from Columbia, Mo. It looked as though he was in for a long walk, pushing a heavy machine over a heavy road, but happily he came upon a gang of road workmen. They had a mule, a white mule, and they agreed to hire the mule and a rider to Gooding for $10 to tow him into Columbia. There repairs were made at a garage and the trip was continued.

Gooding left the National Highway at Kansas City and went north to Topeka and then followed the Union Pacific Highway which is along the trail used in the early days by stage coaches, across the state of Kansas into Colorado. "The road across Kansas was all dirt," says Gooding. "But as it was graded and hard I made fairly good time. The road over Western Kansas is very mountainous and going west it is a slight grade all the way into Colorado. I arrived at Colorado Springs, which is at the bottom of Pikes Peak on June 9th."I spent the day touring through the Garden of the Gods and going up the Pikes Peak Highway to the summit of the Peak. The Garden of the Gods is a large reservation of queer rock formations. Most of the rocks are brown in color and very brittle. The wind and rains have cut them into images resembling animals' heads and bodies. "The road to the summit of the Peak is 18 miles long and very steep in places. From the top you get a beautiful view of the surrounding country and of the highway that you have just come up twisting back and forth up the mountain side. There is snow on the Peak both winter and summer and it is very cold. The Peak's altitude is 14,108 feet.

"The next morning I left for Denver, and after touring the city I went to Lookout Mountain, which is about 20 miles distant. The grave of Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody) is at the summit, and also a large museum containing his guns and relics of his Indian fighting days and of his Wild West Circus. To the west of the grave are to be seen the snow-capped peaks of the Rockies and on the east Denver in the valley below. The altitude of the grave is 7,700 feet above sea level.

"The roads through Colorado are mostly all gravel and in fairly good condition, but the state of Wyoming does not keep them quite as good. At Shoshoni, Wyoming, the auto bridge over a small river was washed out and I had to push my motor over a railroad bridge for about a half-mile. As railroad ties and motor-cycle wheels were not built to run together, it wasn't much fun."After crossing the bridge, I struck the first stretch of desert. It was only 16 miles across, but it was so sandy that it took three hours to cross on my motor-cycle.

"The road from Cody to the entrance to Yellowstone Park is 60 miles and runs through the Shoshone Canyon which averages 1,500 to 2,000 feet deep and 200 to 500 feet wide. The Shoshone River runs through it. The river has been dammed in the canyon for irrigation purposes. The dam is 328 feet high and 200 feet wide. It irrigates 300,000 acres of land. "I arrived at the Yellowstone National Park on the afternoon of June 14, and camped for the night near Yellowstone Lake, 7,800 feet above sea level.

"The lake is fairly alive with large rainbow trout and is a real fisherman's paradise. The Yellowstone, with its wonderful variety of falls, canyons, lakes, geysers is the most wonderful place in this country.

"Most of the park is volcanic and has acres of ground which is full of holes giving off gases and steam. There is a small mud volcano which bubbles up mud and steam. The mouth of this volcano is about 10 feet across. There are several geysers which shoot up hot water and steam. The largest of these is 'Old Faithful.' Every 55 minutes 'Old Faithful' shoots up steam 165 feet in the air, and keeps this up for about three minutes.

"After three days in Yellowstone Park I took the highway south into Pocatello, Idaho where I got on the old Oregon Highway which was used by the first Oregon wagon trains, through the cities of American Falls, Burley, Twin Falls, and Mountain Home to Boise, the capital of Idaho. The roads are very bad in places across Idaho, and there are distances of 40 to 50 miles between houses.

It is the northern part of the Great American Desert."From Boise I went by the way of the Oregon Highway to Pendelton, Oregon, then took the Columbia River Highway into Portland, Oregon. The Columbia River Highway follows the Columbia River for 150 miles. The road is never more than 100 yards from the river, sometimes being on the shore, then on the cliffs 300 feet above the river. It has several water falls that are 300 feet high. It is considered the most beautiful highway in the United States.

"After touring Portland, I took the Pacific Highway south through the state of Oregon, into California, the land of palms and oranges. At Vallejo, California, I took the ferry for San Francisco. I was at the Presidio when Lt. Maughan arrived from New York by airplane, flying from dawn to dusk.

"Chinatown in San Francisco is about seven blocks long and two blocks wide. I went on a sight-seeing tour there which included a trip through two blocks of tunnels leading into deserted opium dens.
"Leaving San Francisco on June 26 I headed for the Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Mountains. The climb into the park is over fairly good roads with 25 percent grades, just wide enough for one auto. The road is cut into the side of the cliffs and is very dangerous. A slip means a drop of 3,000 feet."The Yosemite Valley is 3,000 feet deep and eight miles long. The valley contains some of the highest falls in the country. The Yosemite Falls drops 2,680 feet into the Valley.
"There is a large hotel on the cliffs 3,000 feet above the valley and every night a large fire is built on the edge of a projecting rock over the valley. At nine o'clock they throw the burnt embers over the cliff into the valley below. By throwing them off slowly it makes a stream of sparks 3,000 feet long and about thirty feet wide which lasts for about 5 minutes. This Fire Falls is watched every night by several thousand people camping in the valley. It is a beautiful sight to see. There are two roads into the valley. Both roads are very dangerous, but by driving carefully few accidents happen. I went down into the valley by the Big Oak Flat Road and came out the Wawona Road. On the Wawona Road, four miles after leaving the valley, is the Wawona grove of big trees.

Both roads are very dangerous, but by driving carefully few accidents happen. I went down into the valley by the Big Oak Flat Road and came out the Wawona Road. On the Wawona Road, four miles after leaving the valley, is the Wawona grove of big trees. There are two of these trees that have holes cut through them so that buses and autos can drive through them. The largest of them is about 29 feet in diameter and between 300 and 270 feet high.

"I arrived in Los Angeles on July 1, and during my week's stay there visited Pasadena and Berkeley Hills. In Hollywood and Berkeley Hills most of the moving picture stars live. They have the most beautiful homes I have ever seen. Most of them are bungalows with palm trees growing all around. The rose and flower gardens are very pretty. On July 4th I went down to Tijuana, Mexico to a real bull-fight and rodeo.

"I left Los Angeles July 8, for the Grand Canyon of Arizona across the Great American Desert. The first 100 miles from Los Angeles to Victorville is paved, but the rest of the way across was sand. I had a great deal of trouble riding through the loose sand and could only average about 5 miles an hour.

"When I got about 50 miles east of Victorville, the road was so sandy and rough that it broke the frame of my motor-cycle and front spring. As I was fifty miles from the nearest garage or house, I had to wait in hopes some passing tourist would have enough wire to hold the cycle frame

"It was 4 p.m. when I broke down, and I had to camp for the night on the desert all night. At 7 a.m. an autoist came along and supplied me with the much-needed wire. I spent the second night on the desert near Needles, California. At 10 a.m. the next morning it was 120 degrees in the shade and very little shade. Crossing the Colorado near Needles, the road starts rising until at Flagstaff, Arizona, which is near the Grand Canyon, the altitude is several thousand feet.

"There are very few towns on the desert and they are about 50 to 60 miles apart. At Flagstaff I repaired my motorcycle and got my first drink of good water since leaving Los Angeles. I had to weld my cycle's frame myself, and used just about twice as much material as an expert welder would have found necessary, but the job was so well done that the machine brought me all the way home without another break.“I arrived at the Grand Canyon July 11 at 10 a.m. The Canyon is over a mile deep and 13 miles across. There is a very narrow foot and mule trail leading from the top to the Colorado River at the bottom.

"I walked seven-and-a-half miles down the Bright Angel Trail to the river. The trail is so steep that it is hard to keep your feet and most of the time you slide instead of walk. In most places the trail is about 3 feet wide and a slip means a drop of a few thousand feet. Halfway down the trail is a spring of good water and several small buildings. The Colorado River in the canyon is about 75 feet wide and very muddy and swift. After taking several pictures at the bottom I started on the way up. It took two hours to go down, but took me ten hours to climb up. During the day about 50 people on mules went down into the canyon and few hikers. It was 15 miles of hard walking, but the scenery is well worth the trouble.

"I stayed at the Grand Canyon three days, and then started east on the Santa Fe Trail by way of Holbrook. Eighteen miles east of Holbrook is the Petrified Forest. There is a road about two miles long through the forest and a small museum. Some of the petrified trees are very large, but are broken in pieces of five to fifteen feet long. I got several specimens of wood and bark and brought them home with me.

Leaving the forest, Gooding went through New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, to Niagara Falls."During this trip," says Gooding, "I traveled alone on an Indian Moto- Cycle and camped out most every night. Most of the time I camped on public camping grounds near towns and cities, but if I could not get to one of these by night I camped wherever night found me. In most large tourist camps would be autos from most every state in the Union, and every night it was not unusual to see 50 to 100 tourists assembled around a huge campfire singing songs and telling stories and jokes. The average tourist is very congenial and always ready to help a fellow out of road troubles and in giving information concerning road conditions. I had a wonderful trip, but I must say that there is no place like one's home town.

"Going again?" we asked Gooding as he finished the narrative of his wonderful trip.

"No" He answered. "It was a wonderful experience, and I would not take anything for it, but I do not propose to do it again, in the same way, at least.

Phil took his trip from May 30, 1924 through August 1, 1924, and Kevin Jolly is posting up his journal and some of his photos and postcards more or less week-to-week on his web site

Monday, June 23, 2008


Waaay back in November I wrote about a photo shoot with photographer Nick Cedar for Motorcycle Classics magazine... and the July/August issue is finally on the stands, with an article entitled 1933 Velocette: 'The Little Mule'. It's a nice article, written by Margie Segal (who rides her Norton Commando on all our Vintage events), and the photographs of the bike came out beautifully - you hardly mind that the bike is slathered in oil. The story makes me out to be a bit of a nutcase, which of course must be true! A nice touch: they posited a photo of The Mule belting around a corner, above a shot of Noel Pope on a MkIV KTT at Brooklands in 1934 (see last pic)- had I known there would be a comparison, I would have crouched down!

The article is four and a half pages long, and includes a bit of Velocette history, plus a some technical info on the 1933 KTT mkIV Velo, which is a 400cc (cheater) ohc single-cylinder former racer, now roadster (although there hasn't been much of a transition, barring the new numberplate and a mirror).

This bike was one of 4 KTTs imported to the USA from 1929-49, the others included:
KTT102 (a Mk1) imported by 'Oglasud' of New York in Nov. '29,
KTT454 (another MkIV) at Otto Ling &Sons of New York on Dec. 4, '33,
KTT929 (a MkVIII) was sold to Western Motorcycles of Oregon on Apr.4 '48.

KTT 470 was imported to 'Macks' Motorcycles, in Everett, Massachusets, on May 19, 1933. It was sold as an 'engine only', presumably to hot-up someone's dirt racer or even KSS. The chassis in which it is currently installed has no numbers...our local Department of Motor Vehicles had a difficult time wrapping their minds around that, but I explained that racers often used their engine number as the ID for the bike. Which they accepted. And now it's street-legal, using the original factory equipment, plus a dummy taillight and the mirror.

The Mule has become like a second skin to me (albeit a very oily one!), and can be 'thought' in any direction you might need to go, changing lines as necessary to avoid potholes and rough surfaces. Former owner Eddie Arnold built it for Vintage racing in the late 1970's; it's been modified in the engine department with lighter flywheels (7lbs taken off), a home-made cam, 79mm Norton piston (74mm is standard - hence the 400cc), honking great 1 5/16" TT carburetor. Plus, the entire front end is from a MkVIII - with a magnesium front brake and forks with rubber stops and a 'guided' fork spring (which keeps the spring from oscillating/breaking under heavy use, making for more controlled action over bumps).
If you ask nicely, I might let you ride it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Buell Recalls 2008 1125R for Transmission Defect

Buell has issued a recall of certain 2008 1125R motorcycles.

These vehicles can experience 5th gear galling on the clutch shaft due to lack of lubrication. This condition can allow the gear to seize to the shaft, resulting in rear wheel lock-up. This could result in a crash, which could cause injury or death to the rider.

1579 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

2008 Can-Am Spyder Roadster Road Test

On the Motorcycle Views Forum there has been a discussion of the Can-Am™ Spyder™ Roadster. This is a so-called reverse trike with two wheels in front driven by one wheel in the back. I decided that I would test ride a Spyder™ at Americade 2008 at Roaring Brook Ranch (RBR) and report on it here.

The Spyder is made by a Canadian company, Bombardier Recreational Products, Inc. (BRP), located in Quebec. Another of their products is the Ski-Doo® snowmobile. In fact, I had commented before in the forum discussion that the Spyder looks strangely like a snowmobile.

The Spyder was launched in February, 2007 and has managed to strike a chord in many riders. It appeals to riders wanting to go to a trike but wanting more power, traction, and sportiness.

I hadn't realized just how devoted to safety the Spyder is. It has a Vehicle Stability System (VSS) that includes an Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), a Traction Control System (TCS), and a Stability Control System (SCS) all integrated to keep the Spyder flat footed and stable at all times. They make you watch a video before you go out for the demo ride that demonstrates the VSS. It's a system you can't turn off. However, for purposes of the video, they did turn off the system and then ran through some cornering and swerving maneuvers -- some in the rain. For the most part, these non-VSS maneuvers resulted in disastrous results with wheels coming completely off the road and the rider having little chance to stay in his lane. When the VSS was re-activated, the performance was rock solid with the rider in no trouble at any time.

The riders' meeting held before the demo ride was a complete run-through of all the controls with special emphasis on how the Spyder steers. It may be a motorcycle but it does not countersteer. No push-right go-right for this baby. You have to steer it like a car, except it doesn't have a steering wheel. It steers using the standard handlebars. Now this requires a temporary rewiring of your brain to make steering the Spyder work. I know from experience that you have to reprogram yourself to go from a two-wheeler to a three-wheeler. Otherwise, the first time you have to make a quick correction to avoid another vehicle, you'll think countersteering instead of steering. That usually takes you right into the object you're trying to avoid.

The Spyder also uses a variable power steering system. At low speeds, it provides more power to help you turn the handlebars. As speed increases, the power effect diminishes so you have near normal road feel.

They also require that you pass a simple road test before you join the group to go out for the demo ride. You have to pull forward and swerve around a traffic cone either right or left depending on a direction indicated. You had to then stop next to the stop sign stationed there and then pull forward and swerve around the next cone and stop. Then this was repeated one more time until you could pull forward and join the group. They just wanted to make sure you knew how to steer the Spyder.

Also, as part of the riders' meeting, the complete safety card was covered. This card is built into the top of the dash. You pull it out to read it and we were read every word on the card. One of the last words on the card was how you start the Spyder. If you only know how motorcycles start, you might never figure out how this thing starts. Most everything in the start up procedure is the same as a motorcycle except you need to release the side emergency hand brake and then press the "M" button on the dash to start the machine. There is an initial system start up process that you view on the dash.

There is no front brake lever. All brakes are controlled by a right foot brake.

The engine is a Rotax® 990cc, liquid cooled 106 hp V-twin.

I found myself slumped slightly forward in the seat. I understand that there are some accessories that allow for a more straight up seating position.

As we traveled in a group around the interior road at RBR, we were encouraged to steer right and then left to move the bike back and forth across the road much like the Indy cars do to warm up their tires. Our purpose, again, was to get used to the steering before we hit the highway.

On the last stretch of interior road there is a particularly bad, uneven, section that I always have trouble with when I ride my traditional trike. With my trike, I feel every bump and jolt, some very violently. With the Spyder, I felt only a very smooth ride even though I was weaving across the road and hitting every bump with force. I was impressed with the ride.

When we hit the highway, the speeds quickly rose to 45-55 mph on a two-lane road. I was soon aware that the high speed power steering was just a bit too fast for me. I wasn't getting the road feel I had expected. I guess one could get used to it though.

The Spyder handled very well. I did feel that I was sitting a little high on the machine. I also had a very low windshield. I'd call it a fly screen. Twice at speed I was hit smack in the middle of the face shield on my full face helmet by a large bug. On my own Gold Wing trike with the standard windshield, that never happens to me. I found out later that taller windshields are available.

The gas tank for the Spyder is under the seat. You have to release the seat and it rises up so you can reach the filler.

There is a storage compartment in the front. It opens forward to contain two full size helmets with a little room left over. The headlight hits the top of the opened compartment and shines down so you can see inside. Handy.

There is a full-gear reverse on the bike activated by a lever on the left handlebar grip.

The Spyder sells for $15,000-$17,000 depending on who you talk to.

With the popularity of the Spyder, I'm told that a touring model is being planned. When I was at Tour-Expo, the vendor area of Americade, I noticed a Spyder in the Corbin area. It had a tall windshield, hard saddlebags and other storage areas, and a two-person Corbin seat. I thought I was looking at the new Spyder Touring model. When I asked the Corbin rep, he said, "Nope, it's our accessories all integrated together to turn the bike into a tourer." Once again, Corbin was ahead of the curve. See Corbin website. They even give a demo that shows how I got hit by the bees.

At the end of the demo ride, the Can-Am folks take your picture as you sit on a Spyder and make it available to you in two days on the Internet. Here's my picture. Note the slightly forward riding position.

While waiting for my Spyder demo ride, I took a short video of another returning Spyder demo ride group as they sped by me on the corkscrew road leading to the Spyder demo area.

Most everyone taking the demo seemed very impressed with the Spyder, as was I.

See Americade 2008 - Day 7 for all the rest of my activities on the day I rode the Spyder.

My complete activities for Americade 2008 may be found on Americade Motorcycle Rally Day-by-Day Blog for 2008.

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week - Little Miss Bobber and CaptBlack

Here are my Pictures of the Week as displayed on the Motorcycle Views website. These are taken from the Moto Pic Gallery.

See Little Miss Bobber on her 2005 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Bobber and CaptBlack on his 1991 Honda ST1100.

If you'd like to see your bike as Picture of the Week, submit a picture of you and your bike along with a description of the bike.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Here's an interesting response to the O'Donovan post; 'Old Miracle' used a Binks 'Rat Trap' carburetor, which is strictly a flat-out track carb, with no idle circuit and no slow-speed cutaway. Howard sent these pix from Australia, showing one of these very rare instruments. Looking at the top photo; the carb is bolted onto the intake manifold tube on the left side (the square bolt head for clamping the carb can be seen past the tickle button). The air intake is on the right, and you can see the connection between the float chamber on the left and the main jet which is in the middle of the brass apparatus towards the bellmouth. The wing nut controls a needle on the main jet with effectively varies the size of the aperture, although as this carb is meant for alcohol, not much finesse is involved. The air intake is controlled by a butterfly valve at the bellmout, although instead of rotating around a fixed shaft in the middle of the bore, the valve acts more like a trap door, being hinged at the bottom. The cable is connected to a small extension on the 'door' - very direct!
The design creates something of a 'ram air' effect, being such a long tube, and is suprisingly similar to a Wal Phillips Fuel Injector. Very simple, but apparently for full-bore track work, it was the hot ticket in the 'teens and early '20's.

Consumer Reports and Motorcycles

Well, I've been a subscriber to Consumer Reports (CR) for longer than I can remember. I even pay for subscriptions for my three adult children. Today, I saw that CR is now possibly getting into the business of evaluating entry-level motorcycles and scooters.

Here's an excerpt from an article Motorists Move to Scooters and Motorcycles to Save from the Consumer Reports Blog:

    "Consumer Reports is researching this segment and is looking into developing a test protocol to evaluate scooters and entry-level motorcycles. We approach these products with grave concern for rider safety and caution readers against a hasty decision to move to two-wheeled transportation without proper training and safety gear."

Motorcycles and Consumer Reports. I can hardly believe it, but I'm happy at the same time. Let's hope they spend lots of time talking about Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) training and wearing proper apparel. We certainly don't want a whole new segment of riders who are only riding to save on gas money.

Trials Motorcycle Invades British Mansion

Well, since this video is making the rounds, I thought I might as well show it here too.

If you've seen motorcycle trials riders before, this may not seem so unusual but the setting is. Dougie Lampkin, 12 times world trials champion, invades a British mansion on his bike and proceeds to take it room to room, even up a spiral staircase. The occupants, with British aplomb, barely notice he's there even when the engine comes right next to their heads.

Obviously, a bit of planning was necessary here. Dougie did scout the place beforehand and plan a route that he could get through.

Certainly an entertaining video that I recommend.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


More Grandson Stories...
I wrote about Don O'Donovan in my post on fast sidevalves, as he is one name, like Tom Sifton from Harley, who is associated with making flatheads go streets faster than was expected. His test hack 'Old Miracle' (see bottom photo) drew lots of press attention in the 60's thru 80's, as it had been restored to original spec and 'made the rounds' of shows and featured in many books from the period.

The top photo shows a racing Norton lineup at Brooklands, with the banking looming at the rear. It looks like a pair of racing ohv Model 18s, ca 1924, given the high exhaust pipes, the bend of the handlebars, and the tiny front brakes (5" diameter Webb items). O'Donovan is standing in the middle of the group, wearing his racing gear (collarless double-breasted leather jacket, wool jodhpurs, high lace-up boots, and of course a shirt and tie). Bert Denly on the far left, Brooklands timekeeper 'Ebby' Ebblewhite is on the far right. Can someone ID the rest?

Simon O'Donovan, Don's grandson, contacted me after the post, with these two photos, the second one taken when he was a 'guest' at the recent Brooklands Centenary, which shows the Members Banking and Members Bridge as it stands today... a little less brush visible than a few years ago, but the concrete is crumbling nonetheless.
He sends this note along with the pix:
"Just one I found when I was playing with my camera at Brooklands at the centenary. More interested in the circuit (what's left of it), as it was interesting to feel that I may have stood on a area of the circuit The Don had ridden, whilst I was taking a little tour. It was a surprise when I met with a man who had taken interest in what appeared to be a bunker on the inside of the circuit, so I asked if he was into the old stuff & he pointed to his T-Shirt, so I opened a Bin-Liner with one of Dons Helmets he may be interested in & he burst into life, where he immediately said "The Wizard"? I was Gobsmacked that someone would just know, but he really didn't believe me until I got some I.D. out to confirm my name. With that, he asked if it would be alright to get a picture of the two of us with the helmet to display in his garage. I thought he was having a laugh, but he was deadly serious & it was nice bumping into him again & getting a shot of him."

I think we'd like to see photos of the helmet, too!
Bottom photo shows world champion racer Geoff Duke riding 'Old Miracle' in 1954. I do believe he found it a challenge! The bike gets a regular workout on Vintage Club runs; motorcycles don't come much simpler - no clutch, no gears, just a throttle, magneto control, and valve lifter.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

2008 Vectrix All-Electric Maxi-Scooter Road Test

This is a review of the 2008 Vectrix All-Electric Maxi-Scooter. It's based on a demo ride I recently took at Americade 2008. The Vectrix is made by Vectrix Corp. a company started in Europe in 1996 and now expanded into the USA.

If you remember the futuristic vehicles on the Jetson's TV show, you'll feel right at home on the Vectrix. This is a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV). It uses no gas and no oil.

It looks like a regular size motor scooter. It's designed with safety in mind. To start the machine, you raise the kickstand, turn on the ignition, squeeze the left hand brake and the right hand brake and then you notice that the instrument panel comes alive as it performs an initial system check. Finally, you see a big GO appear on the panel and a number indicator that counts down the miles before the battery needs to be recharged. So far, you have heard no sound at all.

The scooter will go up to 62 mph and has a range somewhere between 50-60 miles depending on how hard you ride it and how steep the terrain is. It has a 30 inch seat height. It takes 3-5 hours to recharge the batteries.

I went out with a group for the demo ride. I was riding behind the leader. Now, I have been riding a trike for over eight years and haven't ridden much on two-wheels so I wasn't too sure about taking this demo in the first place.

In order to get out to the highway, we had to go up the corkscrew drive at Roaring Brook Ranch (RBR), follow it around through the other demo areas and then head down the exit drive to the highway.

The corkscrew drive is one on which you do not stop. You have to keep going or risk a pileup behind you as other riders also try to stop. Fortunately, there are Americade volunteers with Walkie Talkies stationed on the curves to keep you going.

Anyway, I whipped the Vectrix out of its display area hearing only a slight electric motor sound, went up the hill, around a quick uphill left followed by a quick uphill right followed by a sweeping left that led around the property. The scooter responded beautifully with no hesitation. I just couldn't hear much running -- just the faint whining electric motor sound.

When the leader pulled up to the stop sign at the highway, I realized that I also needed to stop. Stopping the Vectrix is done in one of two ways. You can use the left and right handlebar brakes or you can forget about the brakes and use regenerative braking. We were told to use the regenerative braking. To make it work, you twist the throttle away from you and magically, the scooter slows down. It is engine braking that serves the purpose of also charging the batteries. This regenerative effect extends your range by up to 12%. After awhile, you forget about the regular brakes and simply twist the throttle toward you to speed up, and away from you to slow down. Neat!

When I realized I needed to stop that first time, I stopped way back and put my feet down. Then I realized I needed to be closer so I had to move closer to the stop sign. There was a cop there directing traffic. The leader pulled out on the cop's signal and I followed up the hill. The Vectrix shot ahead like a rocket as I caught up with the leader.

We proceeded to take a series of tight uphill and downhill twisties. I was leaning the bike quite a lot on the corners. Trikes don't lean so I had to remember what vehicle I was riding.

I didn't have to concern myself with shifting. There was none. Basically I just kept leaning the bike as necessary while I used the right throttle grip to either go faster or slower.

There was one thing that annoyed me as we returned to RBR to end the demo. I kept hearing a slight beep-beep-beep sound from somewhere. I must be doing something wrong. When we finally stopped at the Vectrix booth, the leader came over to me and I asked him what that noise was. He reminded me of one of his instructions at our riders' meeting before the demo. "If you forget to turn off the turn signals, it will keep reminding you by a beep-beep-beep sound," he said.

"Oh yeah, now I remember."

The Vectrix is built in a plant in Wroclaw, Poland. The headquarters for the USA is in Middletown, RI. The engineering and test facilities are in New Bedford, MA. A dealer network is now expanding across the USA.

I was told the price was about $11,000 but I saw a range from $8,800 to almost $12,000 from various other sources online.

There also appears to be a 3-wheel version much like the Piaggio MP3 scooter. In fact, there seems to have been some sort of deal whereby Vectrix purchased the rights to the Vespa MP3 design. I didn't see the 3-wheel version mentioned on the website but did see it in this Jay Leno's Garage video where Jay checked out the Vectrix.

The company is heavily promoting the scooter especially to cities that are trying to reduce pollution.

The Vectrix maxi-scooter seems to be filling a need to find a way to replace conventional fossil fueled vehicles. It's attracting buyers who are able to fit its capabilities into their lifestyles.

To attract more customers, the Vectrix probably needs to have a higher top speed to fit freeway conditions and a longer commuting range without recharging. However, the Vectrix is proving popular with those who have seen it and as the price comes down and the speed and range go up, this could be a big winner.

The following is a short video I took of another Vectrix demo group at RBR returning from a demo run. The group is followed by a conventional Harley that's making the sounds you hear near the end of the clip. They are the sounds of gas and oil being depleted while that rider's billfold is getting thinner with each fill up.

See Americade 2008 - Day 7 for all the rest of my activities on the day I rode the Vectrix.

My complete activities for Americade 2008 may be found on Americade Motorcycle Rally Day-by-Day Blog for 2008.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


BMG Motor-Cycles Ltd of 352 High Rd, Ilford, Essex, developed a desmodromic valve kit for Velocette 'M' series engines (Viper, Venom, MSS), and applied for a patent (#939,895) on May 17, 1962. The drawing reproduced here is taken from their patent application form, and shows the parts which they manufactured as a direct bolt-on accessory, with no major machining required.
The kit cost £38, or £46.10 if they fitted it to your machine.

The BMG setup is ingenious in its simplicity and clarity of purpose, and is fairly well made, although some have called it a bit agricultural. Regardless, the kit worked as advertised; this was borne out in a road test by Bruce Main-Smith in 1963 (The Motor Cycle), who said 'My summary is that this is the tool for the rev-happy rider'. His road test isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, although he is able to rev the test bike (a 350cc Viper with Butler dolphin fairing - see period photo) to 7500 rpm in the intermediate gears, although he can 'only' pull 6200rpm in top, as the bike is slightly over-geared - this equated to 93.9mph on the Viper, which is going very well. BMG had tested their own Viper and found 6800rpm/102mph was possible.

Having said all that, Main-Smith seems strained to find a reason to spend money on the kit, as the power gains were difficult to gauge (the fairing would have added to the top speed considerably without the desmo kit). The road test was taken in poor, windy weather, and as far as I know, no other road test was published in the day, or since. Supposedly, a Thruxton equipped with the BMG kit took a speed run at Bonneville, and managed a record top speed, but I haven't found firm documentation on the results. All other indications point to an overall moot gain in power with the kit, although I'd love to hear otherwise, or from someone who actually fitted the kit to their Velocette.

The lower photographs are courtesy Dennis Quinlan, showing a display cutaway engine built by Australian Velo technical guru, Norm Trigg. The BMG kit has been fitted and the installation can be clearly seen, including the cam shaped, paired cam followers, and the positive valve stem connection. You can see, slightly in shadow, the lower rocker arm which lifts the valve off the seat. The pushrod connection at the other end of the rocker arm is fairly substantial, and is where the valve clearance is adjusted.
As there is no valve spring, the cam isn't fighting 100lbs or so of spring pressure to open the valve, which theoretically would give the cams a much easier life, and have the effect of vastly lightening the whole valve train, allowing the engine to rev more freely.

These BMG kits come available now and then, and I've always thought, 'what if?'