Sunday, August 31, 2008


Rin Tanaka has outdone himself. The master of books on vintage clothing has published the definitive history of American motorcycle gear, 'Harley-Davidson Book of Fashions: 1910s - 1950s', after he was given free access to the Harley-Davidson Museum and Archives, with over 100,000 photographs spanning their entire history from 1908 to the present. H-D was one of the first motorcycle manufacturers to hire professional photographers to document their progress, and kept photographic and documentary records of their various lines of accessories which they offered from 1914, along with the entire run of The Enthusiast magazine and contributions from various dealers, clubs, and race promoters.

With access to such a vast array of totally cool stuff, Rin couldn't fail to make an outstanding book. His specialty has been a series of obsessive picture books documenting in chronological order various styles of motorcycle jackets ('Motorcycle Jackets: A Century of Leather Design' and 'Motorcycle Jackets: Ultimate Biker's Fashions'), helmets ('Motorcycle Helmet: the 1930s to 1990s'), t-shirts (My Freedamn! 3, 4), etc. He was also granted the rights to publish recently found documentation (photos and film) of Steve McQueen's foray into the ISDT, which he published as '40 Summers Ago' (and which I also highly recommend).

One doesn't really think of 'Fashions' per se when the name Harley comes up, but Rin makes a compelling case that their extensive line of Motor Clothing, produced for the last 90-odd years, has made a sartorial impact far beyond those who simply ride H-D motorcycles. The book, which is large format (11" x 14") and beautifully printed, moves between official publications / catalog photos, and shots of contemporary riders actually using the purpose-designed clothing and accessories in races, club events, official business, and the military. Each chapter focuses on a decade (1910s, 20s, etc), and shows the evolution of 'gear' as motorcycling itself changed and conditions demanded new and better products. He also explores how customization of clothing (and by implication, the bikes too) developed from various small accessories into the blaze of Kustom Kulture in which we now live.

The 600 photographs are luscious and beautifully reproduced, and lots of surprises turn up, such as this 'Harley' Board Track racer which uses a Cyclone engine with one cylinder blanked off! Rin isn't a technical virtuoso, and misses many fascinating tidbits (like the Cyclone hybrid) in his descriptions, nor is his English erudite, but he knows his gear, and he has the eye of a designer. He's clearly had more help with the text in this book than his previous efforts (especially the 'My Freedamn!' series, which have wonderfully awful writing), as it mattered more I'm sure to H-D to have a well-written historical account. But, as you flip through the book, the images are solidly emphasized, while the text is minimal - there are times when a bit more exposition would be welcome, but in truth I imagine that few people have a total grasp over the enormity of the Archive and all the details represented.

The first edition has just come out this August, and the print run is 10,000 copies - huge by motorcycle book standards, but with H-D attached to the project, I imagine this book will sell out, as have most of Rin's other works. Cost is around $80, and dealers can be found through, or google it!


Hedley Cox, who used to work for Veloce, and built the Covel twin-engined KTT racer, sent a box of old Fishtail magazines (issues 100-288 / 1971 - 97), which is the monthly Velocette Owner's Club publication. Normally, having a huge stack of old club magazines is just another way to collect mildew and Silverfish in your home, but the VOC has recently published a full index of all subjects in the magazine from issue 1 - 360, and there's a wealth of information about everything from Webb fork bushing dimensions to John Hartle on a works 500cc ISDT machine. I'll have a stack of extras now, as I was missing only 80 of the 188 issues which arrived, so if anyone wants some...

The best thing, though, is the box Hedley built for the magazines - completely old school. No fragile cardboard and bubble wrap for him - it's solidly built out of 1" thick boards! And plenty of nails and screws to hold it all together. Thanks Hedley; next time I need to ship an engine, it's the perfect size and heft.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sons of Anarchy - New Motorcycle TV Show on FX

Check out The Sons of Anarchy on the FX TV channel this Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 10 pm ET. This is an original series centered around both a family that rides motorcycles and the motorcycle club family of which they are a part.

I had heard of the new HBO series, 1%, but it's going to come out much later than this one on FX. There was controversy about 1% because Sonny Barger, founder of the Hells Angels, had brought a lawsuit against HBO. The folks involved with Sons of Anarchy do not seem worried about any legal action by anyone.

Here are a couple of links to stories about this drama that some are referring to as "Easy Rider Meets the Sopranos."

The show also has its own fancy website:

I'm sure there will be mixed reviews on this new show. It will be portraying the lives of motorcycle riders who come from a small segment of motorcyclists. It will be dramatic and might result in non-motorcyclists tending to paint you with the same brush that the creators of Sons of Anarchy used to define its players.

This new series may not be as great as The Sopranos -- which took early barbs for misrepresenting the Italian population -- but give it a chance. It could be like most of the big screen motorcycle club movies of the past with emphasis on violence and mayhem. Then again, with the extra time accorded by episodic TV, it may allow character development so we can begin to know the people involved in the story.

I know I'll be watching. Expect a review after I've seen the pilot and one episode.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Buell Recalls 2007-2008 Blast for Fuel Leak Defect

Buell has issued a recall of certain 2007-2008 Blast motorcycles.

The fuel tank may experience some local deformation under high-heat conditions that creates contact of the tank with the cylinder head. In some of these cases, the cylinder head rubbing on the fuel tank has created a fuel leak. This could result in a crash or fire, which could cause injury or death to the rider.

1307 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Motion Pro Recalls Aftermarket Brake Levers for Suzuki Motorcycles

I usually only publish motorcycle recalls specific to the manufacturer but I'm making an exception in this aftermarket case involving Motion Pro and Suzuki.

Motion Pro, Inc. is recalling 10,000 aftermarket brake levers, model no. 14-0415, sold for use on certain 1999-2008 Suzuki motorcycles.

The lobe height on some of these levers are smaller and do not properly engage the stomp lamp switch which will not deactivate when the drive releases the brake lever. If this occurs, the stop lamp will remain on which could possibly result in a crash.

10,000 Suzuki motorcycles are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


No, it wasn't Italian, or Japanese... it was Belgian. In the second Isle of Man TT, held in 1908, Fabrique Nationale de Herstal (or F.N. - still in business, but making only armaments these days) sent two of their little inline 4-cylinder shaft-drive Model F machines to the Island, and R.O. Clark managed third place in the Multi-Cylinder class (which Rem Fowler won on a Norton in 1907), averaging 37.79mph, and 90mpg! The race was held on September 22, and the 'short' St.John's course over 10 laps gave a race total of 158 1/8th miles. Harry Reed on a 5hp DOT twin was the winner of this class (at 38.57mph), while Jack Marshall won the Single Cylinder class on a 3.5hp Triumph (40.4mph).

The FN had a serious weight handicap compared to other machines, tipping the scales at at well over 300lbs, while the Triumph single was a little under 200lbs - the FN was fully 50% heavier than its competition. But, as mentioned in a previous post, weight can be roughly equated with durability, and the FNs ran smoothly and consistently through the race. These early TT races were true tests of endurance for the temperamental motorcycles of the Pioneer days, which had trouble completing ANY 150 mile trip, let alone a race. The TT course itself was unpaved, and full of hazards like horseshoe nails and stray dogs and sheep (!). Flat tires were commonplace, as were get-offs.

FN returned many times to the TT, with their last foray in 1931, using a single-cylinder purpose-built racer. Their 4 cylinder bikes were quickly outclassed in the following years, and by 1913 they could only manage 33rd and 36th place, as by now their role as 'touring' motorcycles, and luxuriously smooth ones at that, made them unsuitable as 'tourist trophy' contenders.

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

This first machine had a capacity of 362cc, using side exhaust valves and 'automatic' inlet valves (ie, weak springs, no pushrod - the engine suction pulls the valve open). It was a 'wet sump' engine, and each connecting rod had a small dipper which flung oil around the crankcase. This was also one of the first motorcycles which used a magneto rather than the horrible battery ignitions of other Pioneer machines.

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

Our TT machine was very likely still direct-drive, although aftermarket kits manufactured by Englishman Sydney Horstmann (OBE) provided a two-speed kit with a clutch by 1908 (he also made an overhead-cam kit for the FN, which I'd love to see). The engine capacity in 1907 was increased to 410cc, and it is likely the TT machine was overbored to nearer 500cc.
[The machine pictured is a 1905 model, in the care of the Nichols family... ca. 1973 (only 72 years the bike is 103, and counting). This and other photos are from the book 'Golden Age of the Fours', by T.A. Hodgdon, Bagnall Publishing, 1973 - a very useful book, written in a folksy style, but well-researched and illustrated.]

Wear a Motorcycle

What a concept! Just walk up to your motorcycle, strap it on, and move off at up to 75 mph.

One future-looking college student, Jake Loniak, has come up with a design concept and even has a realistic animation of how it might work.

Read the complete story by Annemarie Conte and Esther Haynes, view the animation, and glimpse into the future.

Monday, August 25, 2008

HOW YOU FIND THEM #10: 1950 Norton Model 7

"It's Dante from Manila...I found this unique specimen in an old auto shop. Engine number: 27531 e 12. It's an old Norton Domi Racer... I think... the gauges say so ;)"

The bike in question is a beautifully preserved 1950 Model 7 Dominator of 497cc, first of the line of Norton twins designed by Bert Hopwood, and the second year of production, the Mod 7 having been introduced to the public in late 1948 (the engine number 'E' denotes 1950, the '12' = Model 7). The frame is basically the same Garden Gate plunger as used on the Manx, with long Roadholder forks, and the petrol tank panels would originally have been painted silver over the chrome. The speedo (likely supplied by DomiRacer!) sits in a small fork-top panel, and the sheet metal looks remarkably correct. Somebody loved this bike.

These early 'iron' 500cc vertical twins are really special - the first Triumph Speed Twins and the BSA A7 share many similar characteristics, and having owned and ridden examples of each, I think they're the best of the whole twin-cylinder mania which gripped England post-war. The engines are quiet, with iron cylinders and heads, they are mildly tuned and give reasonable power, but most of all they're very smooooth and won't cause your hands to go numb or your fillings to fall out like their enlarged cousins over the years. Nice score, Dante.

Some specs on the Norton; bore and stroke are 66mmx72.6mm, 497cc, ohv vertical twin with 360 degree crankshaft throws (piston both rise and fall together, but they fire on alternate strokes - all Brit vertical twins used this except the Triumph Bandit, which was never produced beyond the prototype stage. The Bandit used a 180 degree crankshaft, where one piston is up while the other is down, as per Honda CB/CL twins). The engine produced 29hp @ 6000rpm, although you'd be truly mean to rev this lovely old thing that hard. Original cost in England was £215... and the new model was very well received by the press.

If you have a Model 7 and want company, there is a Yahoo egroup for this model.
And, thanks to youtube, below is a short video of a Model 7, which is in lovely condition.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

ROCKET CYCLES! #3: the 1970's

Nowadays it seems like rocket-powered and jet-powered motorcycles are commonplace, with the principal domain of rockets being, naturally, sprints, where such machinery holds the current world record for two-wheel speed. Rocket Bike Run
Arvil Porter built several Rocket Bike dragsters around 1975, which reached speeds of 200mph in the 1/4 mile. Some interesting problems arose, not so much during construction of these specials (after all, they're basically just a rocket engine with two wheels...), but during their use on the racetrack. First, it appeared after every run that the rear wheels had been locked the entire time... which turned out to be the inverse problem of most sprinters; rather than wheelspin, they had wheel DRAG, as the wheels weren't keeping up with acceleration! When the rocket ignition button was pushed, the tires would squeal as if they were spinning under power, but they were spinning to catch up (there is no drive through the wheels on a rocket bike). Larry´s Rocket Bike
Second issue, and much more dangerous, was the g-force affecting rider consciousness during a run; ie, the riders would often pass out from their blood flowing into their legs and away from their brain...some early remedies included using duct tape very tightly on their legs! The ultimate solution was the purchase of surplus Soviet jet-fighter pilot g-suits, which pressurize around the legs to keep the blood 'up top'.
A couple of interesting websites, if you have an interest in how Archibald Low and Fritz von Opel's ideas have developed:
Great website from the designer of Evel Knievel's X-1 Skycycle, with lots of archival photos of construction and design.
Tecnologia Aerospacial Mexicana makes rocket belts (which you can buy!), and has built a rocket sprinter, among other fascinating projects.
Super Joe on the motorcycle
Rocket Powered Vehicles is a website of Ky Michaelsong, who has built rocket bikes and cars since the 70's, including one built for 'Super Joe' Einhorn (shown above), and the 'Human Fly', shown in flight below, jumping over 27 buses in 1977.Human Fly jumping over 27 buses in Montreal, Canada

Saturday, August 23, 2008

ROCKET CYCLES! #2: Archibald Low

Record-breaking, while a logical use of a rocket-assisted motorcycle, isn't the only possible venue... in the 1940's 'Professor' A.M. Low thought speedway racing in England could use a little boost, and arranged a demonstration at Wembley track, with 90,000 people watching.

British motorcycle racer Bill Kitchen (see photo - looking bemused) was protected by a steel shield over the top of the rocket bodies; the speedway JAP motorcycle used four solid-core rockets, angled downwards (to prevent lift-off, no doubt). Kitchen used switches on the handlebars to ignite the candles, and said 'acceleration was absolutely terrific' when the rockets lit off.

Archibald Montgomery Low was a pioneer of rocket exploration, and is considered the father of radio guidance systems for rockets, planes, and torpedoes. He was a fascinating character; in 1904, when he was 16 years old, he invented the first 'pre-selector' gearbox. In 1914, he invented an early form of television (which he called TeleVista, or 'seeing by wireless'). In 1917, during WW1, he created an aerial drone plane for the Royal Flying Corps, which was radio controlled and intended as a guided bomb - during this experiment he also built the first electric/gyroscopic plane control system. Also in 1917, he created a radio-controlled rocket. In 1916, he published a book, 'The Two Stroke Engine, a Manual of the Coming Form of Internal Combustion Engine'...which I've ordered - it's still in print... try for a new reprint, or an original. He authored something like 40 other books on technical matters, and a few sci-fi titles and held nearly 100 patents.Professor Archibald Montgomery Low

While the British military authorities thought him something of a crank, the Germans realized how dangerous his inventions could be... so after trying twice to kill him (first using an assassin with a gun, then a strychnine-laced cigarette), they used his research during the 1930's to create their 'V' bombs.

In the 1920's, one of Low's projects which came to commercial fruition was a scooter, built by the Low Engineering Company, with funding from Sir Harry Norman (no relation to Norman motorcycles); several patents from around 1922/3 indicate that the scooter would have had a monocoque chassis of pressed steel panels (as shown, from his patent application of 1923, and looking remarkably like the Ascot-Pullin motorcycle of the 1928), possibly with 'sprung wheels'... I'm still looking for some photos.

Low was a Brooklands habitue in the 20's, and gave a 'Professor Low' cup for a 3-wheeler handicap race on July 29, 1922. He was Chairman of the ACU for 24 years.... certainly a fellow who deserves a bit more attention, or maybe a feature length film starring Russel Crowe... I'll add more information as I find it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

ROCKET CYCLES! #1: Fritz von Opel

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

In 1928, Fritz von Opel, founder of the Opel car and motorcycle works, began experimenting with attaching rockets to his racing cars, a special high-speed train car, an airplane, and a Neander/Opel motorcycle. The bike in question was a MotoClub 500SS (Opel bought out Neander and badged the bike as their own), to which 6 solid-propellant rockets (with a thrust capacity of 66lbs combined) were attached. The rider activated the rockets with a foot pedal, after using the motorcycle's engine to reach 75mph; Opel calculated that 220km/h (132mph) was then possible. The World Motorcycle Speed Record in 1928 was held by O.M. Baldwin on his 996cc Zenith- JAP, at 124.5mph (taken at Arpajon, France).
On May 19, 1928, the machine (dubbed 'the Monster', for obvious reasons) was demonstrated at the Hamborner Radrennbahn, so much smoky effect, before a crowd of 7000.

Note in this photo that a dozen rockets have been added - doubling the capacity from the above photo. It was thought the machine would be used for a world's land speed record, but obviously, strapping on rockets isn't a guarantee of success even in a straight line... German authorities thought so as well, and forbade the use of the rocket-cycle for a speed attempt on the grounds of safety. Opel had success with his other rocket-propelled experiments (the car and airplane - -RAK1- especially), so was satisfied to lay the motorcycle aside after a few demonstration runs.
[This info comes from a fantastic book; 'Opel-Motorrader aus drei Jahhrzehnten', 2001, by Jurgen Noll, published by Heel]

BRNO GP, 1972

This interesting film, 'Untamed Wheels', was forwarded to me by Elizabeth McCarthy, who had a special relationship with Mike Hailwood; he narrates the film about a very hot 1972 GP in Brno, Czechoslovakia, featuring Agostini, Read, and Saarinen - a mix of MV Agusta and Yamaha, among other contenders. Ago crashes his MV in the 350cc race, and they cart his bike off by sticking a broom handle through the rear wheel. Saarinen's wife Soli gives pit signals in her bikini. Read says he 'never wants to work that hard again'. And a short segment with a camera on Ago's MV is a treat. Enjoy the groovy music! And click on the icon for 'full screen' (that's the little rectangle-within-a-larger-rectangle)...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Motorcycle Pictures - Our Readers and Their Motorcycles

I think everyone likes to show off their motorcycle to others. That's why I started a motorcycle picture gallery nine years ago on the old site and continued it here on Motorcycle Views.

When I started my motorcycle pictures galleries, I didn't realize that it would be desirable to break down the pictures into sub-galleries. One of the first sub-galleries was Women on Motorcycles. That was a widely successful picture gallery since it allowed other women who were thinking about learning to ride, an opportunity to see other women motorcycle riders and their motorcycles and read descriptions of the motorcycles firsthand from the women riders. In essence, we were motivating women to learn how to ride a motorcycle.

All the pictures on the site come from visitors. I have a submission link to get the motorcycle pictures and motorcycle descriptions to me.

Here are all the motorcycle pictures galleries on this site. Click on the links to go to the gallery. If you want your bike in one of these galleries, send me a picture and description:

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week

Women on Motorcycles

Men on Motorcycles

Motor Scooter Pictures

Chopper Pictures

Trike Pictures

Old Motorcycle Pictures

21 Years of Honda Shadow Pictures

29 Years of Honda Gold Wing Pictures

47 Years of Sportster Pictures

58 Years of Indian Motorcycle Pictures

81 Years of BMW Motorcycle Pictures

100 Years of Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Pictures

All Motorcycle Pictures

All Motorcycle Pictures by Year, Make, and Model