Sunday, November 30, 2008


from the Times of London
"Letters by Lawrence of Arabia in which he says how well his Brough Superior motorcycle is running and speaks of his love of book collecting have sold at auction for £10,000 – almost three times their estimate.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence was stationed on the Isle of Wight, building rescue boats for the RAF and the Navy, when he wrote the letters between April 1932 and November 1933 to an RAF flight sergeant. He uses the sign-off “Woof” after saying that Captain Liddell Hart had written a study of him; he describes 1933 as a “vintage year for books” after listing some of those that he had read; he enthuses about how his old motorcycle is running “like a new one”; and he says that he has been spending money on his cottage in Dorset, to which he had moved his book collection.
Lawrence died less than 18 months later in a motorcycle crash near the cottage in Bovington. The correspondence, which had remained in the flight sergeant’s family, was sold by Henry Aldridge and Sons of Devizes, Wiltshire."

It would seem that Lawrence mania is still in full swing. Many argue that the motorcycle on which he died (pictured) could be worth millions, and is perhaps the most valuable motorcycle in the world. His final SS100 Brough Superior is currently at the Imperial War Museum, London, following a successful T.E.L. exhibit there (seen in the photo below). It's rumored that the current owners has turned down offers of seven figures... but you know how rumors go.

Lawrence bought his first Brough in 1922, a few years after his exploits in the Middle East which gained immortal fame. He purchased a 'Mk1' model with JAP sidevalve v-twin engine (see below), and he became a devotee of the marque and a friend of George Brough. There have been rumors through the years that he never paid for his motorcycles or that they were gifts from his good friend George Bernard Shaw (whose play 'Arms and the Man' is one of my favorites), or that Brough himself gave them away for the publicity. These rumors have been denied over the years by George Brough himself, who steadfastly maintained that Lawrence paid for all his motorcycles from the proceeds of his books ('The Seven Pillars of Wisdom', and 'The Mint' - a sample from which I posted last year, which is one of T.E's best works).

Lawrence owned 7 Broughs sequentially, which he named 'George I' thru 'George VII' and number 8 (with a 'Two of Everything' engine) was being prepared for him at the time of his death on May 13, 1935. The motorcycle on which he crashed (wearing no helmet; he was trying to avoid two young bicyclists on a country road near his home in Bovington) was a '32 SS100 with JAP v-twin engine and Bentley & Draper rear suspension; it cost him £170 new. The motorcycle wasn't heavily damaged in the crash, and while a few of the original dents etc are preserved on the machine today, George Brough himself reparied many of the bent parts (footrests, kickstart, gearchange, and scuffed saddle).

The photograph above shows the bike being trucked away during the inquest into his death - as T.E.L. was a war hero and celebrity, there has been considerable speculation about the circumstances of his accident, and even today a small publishing industry is built around his story (and here I am contributing to the pile). There are many books about conspiracies and debunking themp even one solely about the crash per se (with the gramatically akward title of 'The Crash That Killed T.E. Lawrence').

Lawrence had a talent for writing, and 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' is readily available if you have an interest - it recounts his remarkable story of being an underling in the Army (stationed in Cairo) who happened to speak Arabic, and was brought along with English military brass to translate negotiations with the Saudi tribal elders - including the future King Faisal (pictured below, with Lawrence behind, at the Paris Conference, 1919). The Arabs took a liking to Lawrence, as he apparently respected and had an interest in their culture (rather than a colonizer's attitude), and was rapidly given responsibilities as an envoy, and leader of a united band of Arab troops, fighting against the Ottoman Turks (who were aligned with Germany during WW1).

He proved extraordinarily successful in his guerilla tactics, and although he probably did little to help the greater cause of the Allies in the war, his exploits became a huge propoganda tool, and Lawrence 'of Arabia' became very famous. He had mixed feelings about his fame, and was a complicated figure psychologically, never truly emerging from the War as a civilian. He took assumed names and rejoined the military in the basic ranks, in order to hide within the system. Beyond this, he felt used and betrayed in the aftermath of the War, as he watched the Allies carve up the Middle East by creating politically convenient borders (for the Allies, not the residents), in contrast to many promises and assurances which had been given to the supporting tribes. And of course, those border decisions continue to haunt us! The places mentioned by Lawrence and his books (Basra, Mosul, Baghdad) were once exotic, but now have a far more ominous and personal meaning for us Yanks...

Enjoy this clip from David Lean's epic film, 'Lawrence of Arabia', with Peter O'Toole as the man himself (the Brough in the film isn't 100% accurate - but the idea comes across that TEL was nuts to ride so quickly through the English hedgerows).


I will confess to never having heard of the Schickel before finding the marque history for the company, written by the grandson of the founder, Ken Anderson. His book is 'The Illustrated History of the Schickel Motorcycle, 1911-1924; The First 2-Cycle Built In America' (Two Cycle Press, 2008), and thankfully his family has preserved a great archive of photographs, patent documents, and various motorcycles and parts, with which Ken was able to compile this most interesting history.

As mentioned, the Schickel was the first two-stroke motorcycle produced in the US, and has some very interesting features, including a slew of other firsts, including the first twistgrip transmission control (later to become common on small machines and scooters), the first rotating magneto spark advance, first hinged rear mudguard, a sprung front fork, and an aluminum gas tank which served as the top frame member, with tubing lugs for the lower and rear frame cast into the tank (see patent drawing).

Various aspects of his eventual production motorcycle were designed by Norbert Schickel (pictured above) while at Cornell studying engineering, and he built four experimental machines from 1907 -11. He was able to show a completed Schickel machine at the February 1911 Chicago Motorcycle Show, which garnered significant attention, which bolstered his decision to seek funding to begin series production.

He established his works in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1911, and hoped to equip the new buildings with enough tooling to produce his motorcycle by 1912, with a target price of $250. The first motorcycle made at the new factory was introduced at the Motorcycle Show in New York City on Jan.6, 1912, with the following specification:
- 30.5 c.i. motor (500cc), with a 'square' bore and stroke (3 3/8"), 5hp @ 3500rpm, top speed 50mph
- 3gal gas tank capacity, oil premix (1 cup oil/gallon), throttle and magneto controlled at handlebars, and a decompressor lever also on the 'bars.
- Pedal gear starting with band brake and optional coaster brake, and a belt drive with an idler pulley controlled by handlebar twistgrip. 57-inch wheelbase, 185lbs.
- Front fork was a patented short trailing-link design, with springs controlling both compression and rebound action.

Following this introduction, close to 70 dealers expressed interest in carrying the machine, and the author estimates that 75-100 were built that year.

In 1913, new models were added with larger (6hp - 600cc) engines and chain drive with clutch options (which retained the pedalling starter gear). Price for the deluxe all-chain 6hp model dropped to $235, and the 'Big Six' model became the best-seller of the four-model range.

In 1914, an optional 2-speed gearbox was available, but this was the year Henry Ford perfected his assembly-line production for the Model T, which allowed a car to be completed every 93 seconds, and dropped the price of the car from the original $850 (1908) to $480 by 1914. During this period, many small American motorcycle builders folded, as the only way to compete with the Ford was to build bigger and faster models (the route of Harley, Indian, Excelsior, Henderson, etc), or small utility lightweights which were significantly cheaper than a car.

Norbert Schickel's response was to design a lightweight motorcycle (95lbs) for sale at $100, with a 2.5 hp engine of around 200cc, and a bicycle-like rolling chassis. Many of the advanced features of the original 5hp model (cast frame/tank, sprung forks, clutch, starting pedals, adjustable spark) were dispensed with, and the little model was paddled off, and slowed down using a decompressor. The author claims it is "...possible to to come to an almost complete stop and then accelerate without stalling. To my surprise, when riding a 1917 Model with the same type of drive, I found it was easy to start and I was able to negotiate stop signs without stalling if waiting was not necessary."

In 1915, the company also introduced a motorized bicycle attachment (stinkwheel!) called the 'Resto Bike-Motor', for $25, utilizing the same engine, which could be attached to any bicycle.

An interesting publicity stunt was undertaken by M.E. Gale in June of 1915, in which a 'Big Six' chain-drive 6hp 2-speed model was attached to a 'prairie schooner' covered wagon (with motorcycle wheels replacing the original wooden spoke items). Gale set off with his family in tow from Stamford CT to San Francisco, with an expected travel time of 100 days. His two sons rode a Lightweight model with a twin saddle (side by side!). Gale was a professional rider who made his living performing endurance stunts for advertising campaigns. Whether he made it or not isn't mentioned!

In 1917, due to increasing hostility towards Germans as WW1 heated up, the Shickel became the S.M.C. (Schickel Motor Company). The Company was recapitalized, and a new Flywheel magneto was added to the lightweight model. In 1918, the Lightweight was renamed the 'Getabout', but due to America's entrance into WW1, motorcycle sales ground to a halt. The company took on work making rocker arms for V-12 Liberty Aircraft Engines, for which they received quite a few honors.

At the end of WW1 in Nov. 1919, only ten US motorcycle manufacturers remained of the 100 or so which had existed previously, and Norbert realized that the car had put paid to his modest-scale motorcycle ambitions. In an unusual move, he renamed his Lightweight the 'Model T', and painted it all-black, just like the automobile which had levelled the motorcycle industry. I'm not sure whether to call this 'can't beat 'em/join 'em' thinking, or some kind of homage to the invincible Ford. The company struggled on with this model until 1923, when Shickel realized he wouldn't be able to raise enough capital to continue production, and he tried to sell the company and/or his designs to several of the big motorcycle concerns (Excelsior, Ace, Indian, etc). In 1924, he called it quits.

As an interesting postscript, in 1924 Schickel successfully sued Indian for infringement on his sprung front fork patent, and they paid him $1750 - $.15/motorcycle which 'borrowed' his design (10,000 total had been produced), plus $250 for non-exclusive patent rights. He also sued Harley-Davidson for stealing his hinged rear mudguard patent, and they paid him $.10/motorcycle for his design (40,000 total) plus $1000 for non-exclusive rights to his patent.

The book is available directly from Ken Anderson here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week - Ackme

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

See Ackme with his 2005 Triumph Tiger. For details, see Motorcycle Pictures of the Week.

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.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Bonhams has sold one of the most iconic scooters of all time - 'Jimmy's Lambretta', used in the film 'Quadrophenia', for the lordly sum of £36,000.
KRU 251F is a '67 Lambretta Li 150 series 3, heavily accessorized as per Mod style for the 1979 film, based on the Who's rock opera, and was used by the character James 'Jimmy' Cooper (as per the song Doctor Jimmy and Mr. Jim). Actor Phil Daniels played Jimmy (see pic below), and after filming, the prop was sold to Portsmouth dealer Rafferty Newman (as a window display), then passed through several hands over the years in the area, eventually being spotted by the current owner, where it was lying in a front garden in Southsea.

He recognized the registration (although in the film, the 'F' suffix, denoting '67 registration, was blacked out, as the period setting was earlier in the 60's), and negotiated a sale, which included all the accessories, which had been removed for safekeeping by the owner. After total restoration, the bike has since gone on tour, winning concours, appearing at the re-release of Quadrophenia in '97 with the film cast, and was featured on a Scootering International magazine cover, before a recent spate of erratic behavior and an arrest for drugs use (just kidding).

As an aside, a few years ago a smart fellow claimed the name rights to 'Lambretta', and began what has become a £4m/year business selling logo t-shirts and other swag. The trademark had been allowed to lapse by Innocenti (the parent company), so the name was free for the taking!

Below is a youtube video which shows 'Jimmy's Bike'..

Monday, November 24, 2008


About 10 years ago, I was offered a collection of photographs, totally out of the blue, by a rare books dealer in Australia. I knew nothing about the photos, or the photographer, other than the set contained shots from the 1920s onwards, of a variety of machines, ranging from ABC and Brough Superior to Velocette, all taken by one Harry Beanham. In later years I came to know a bit about this man who lived in Sydney; his quirky ways, his motorcycles, and his undying love of Velocette LEs.

My friend Wolfgang asked me to send photos of an ABC for reference, as he's restoring a damaged model which has lived nearby for decades (in Germany). I knew that quite a few photos of Harry's ABC and its French incarnation, the Gnome-Rhone, were in the box of photos; scanner time!

The ABC (All-British Engine Company) company existed before WW1, but their story becomes interesting postwar. The Sopwith Aviation Co., makers of the Sopwith 'Camel' biplane during the war (famous for being the plane which shot down the 'Red Baron'), suddenly had no market for their flying wares.

It was decided that building a motorcycle would be a good use of their facilities, and this new ABC model was designed by Granville Bradshaw, with features far more advanced than just about any other motorcycle in the world in 1919. The spec included; a flat-twin ohv engine of 400cc, a full duplex cradle frame with springing front and rear, a clutch and three-speed gearbox in unit with the engine, chain final drive, and proper drum brakes front and rear. In short, all the items which the rest of the motorcycle industry would take years to adopt. The ABC had excellent performance for the day, being capable of nearly 70mph in standard trim (still not a bad figure 20 years later), and much more in tuned form at Brooklands (a subject for a future post).

The detail of the workmanship, as might be expected from an airplane manufacturer, was excellent, and the engine in particular was a fine thing, with lovely delicate steel fins on the cylinder barrels, just like a radial engine of the day. The pushrods tended to fly free of the rocker arms, so aftermarket firms created revised rocker supports, which was fairly easy as these items bolted to the cylinder head. Otherwise, the ABC gave excellent service, and quite a few of them have survived. [The picnic photo is from '24, and young Harry can be seen in the lineup; I surmise that the ABC was originally his father's machine, and within two years Harry was riding it himself]

The downfall of the ABC was an accounting error, whereby the Sopwith firm lost money on each motorcycle sold. Thus, they abandoned production; they had previously sold manufacturing rights to yet another renowned aircraft builder, the Gnome-Rhone company of France, who carried on for just two years further (1925), after also deciding that no money could be extracted from the sale of such an advanced design. Thus, the ABC passed into history, but by then the BMW R32 had appeared, which, although inferior in performance (due to its anemic sidevalve engine), proved that the formula itself was sound, and the layout continues to this day! [This pic, from 1926, shows a 16 yr old Harry with his mother and sister in the car]

Harry Beanham was many things; a pattern maker by training, a trader by personality, and a photographer by inclination. He documented all of the motorcycles he owned over the years, from the 1920s to the 60s, and apparently rarely sold any of his personal machines, as several of the bikes, including these ABCs, went under the hammer at his estate auction in 1998, after Harry passed away at age 94. The non-Gnome Rhone ABC, still in its original paint and outback dirt, showed up for sale at Yesterdays around 1999, but I haven't heard of the whereabouts of Harry's Brough SS80 or SS100(!).

Back to the photos; on the back of each image Harry recorded the date, the location, and often, what equipment he used to take and print the photo, with the timings, f-stops, etc. Many of 'my' pics were printed after WW2, when Harry bought out the Australian Army Photo Department stock of surplus paper, which was a little short on the bromide necessary to 'fix' an image. As photo paper was unobtanium in Australia immediately postwar, Harry set up a business selling boxes of this paper, with small packets of bromide attached!

He did the same with surplus machine tools and motorcycles, setting up separate businesses in different locations, ending up with a lot of valuable real estate in Sydney as the city grew up around him. He became a very wealthy man, but even into the 1960s and 70s could be seen riding his humble LE Velocettes to his workshops, clad in his old blue work coveralls and plastic sandals (which, of course, he had bought as a job lot).

So, we have a unique photographic history of one man's 5 decade-long relationship with his motorcycles, and in this case, his ABCs. I'll scan photos of his Broughs for a later post. All the photos are taken in and around Sydney or in the Blue Mountains, from 1926-28. In the very top photo, which must be one of his first efforts, his camera 'bulb', which triggered the shutter remotely, can be seen laying on the seat of his new ABC, along with a bit of hose draped over the bike, which connected to the camera. This is the only photo with the 'structure' exposed - Harry took more trouble to conceal his tricks afterwards, but is often in the same pose, hands behind his back, behind the motorcycle. In this bottom photo, the air line can be seen (barely) coming straight at the camera from under the engine; Harry conceals the bulb in his hands!

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I was struck by this image when looking through a book on First World War motorcycle uniforms, and I do believe this photograph shows the first instance of a 'skull and crossbones' (or Jolly Roger) logo on a motorcyclist's outfit. The photo was taken in Italy during WWI, and shows 'Renzo' on a Bianchi Model 500 A. Renzo ("waiting for action" it says on the back of the photo) was an Ardito (literally - 'audacious man'); the Arditi were the equivalent of Special Forces in the Italian Royal Army, created during a difficult period during the War for a specific job - to break a stalemate on the entrenched Italian Front. They were specially trained as an elite unit, with (according to 'Italian Arditi') "special recruitment procedures, training, arms, uniforms, priveleges, and benefits. For the first time, an Italian soldier was given concentrated, specific training, both psychological and physical; the Ardito also received the best available equipment and enjoyed superior living conditions. In order to counter the high casualty rate (!)... esprit de corps was very important..particular attention was focussed on comraderie and attitude, in order to motivtate the men and help them bear the psychological stress involved."

I've always been interested in the history of this symbol; there is evidence of origin on the flag of Roger II of Sicily (1095-1124), a sponsor of the Knights Templar. Former Templars flew Roger's flag when pirating at sea, after the Knights were disbanded. The image was later used by von Ruesch's Hussar Regiment #5 of the Prussian army in the early 1700's (see illustration below, from 1744), and around the same time was adopted by pirates, privateers, and corsairs plying the world's oceans (the first citation of the 'Jolly Roger' being 1724 - Charles Johnson's 'A General History of the Pyrates').

The Jolly Roger has been utilized by 'bikers' in the twentieth century for the same purpose - as a 'memento mori' (reminder of mortality), and to signify 'no fear' of death. The image has been modified in a thousand ways since this first, very simple logo on Renzo's riding outfit, but the message remains the same; don't mess with me.

The motorcycle is a Bianchi Model 500 A, a 498cc sidevalve single-cylinder machine with a short-leading-link front fork (see patent drawing from Jan 19th, 1915), a Bosch magneto, and Zenith carb. This was Bianchi's mainstay model, introduced in 1916, which dates the pic of Renzo between 1916-18, as the Arditi were disbanded after WW1.

I can't find much further information about the spec, but it would appear that this machine has a cone clutch inside the engine casting, plus a kickstarter, and a geared primary drive, all very advanced for 1915, although the final drive is still a single-speed belt. While similar in profile to the ubiquitous Triumph used by English despatch riders during WW1, the Bianchi is clearly a better-engineered machine - the clutch alone makes for a far more useful motorcycle. (In the detail photos, the engine uses a non-standard Binks carb).

The photograph of Renzo can be found in Aldo Carrer's amazing book 'The Motorcycle Uniform During the World War One' (sic - Zanetti, 2008). You can order the book (and his previous effort, 'The Dawn of the Motorcycle') from Aldo directly here. The photo is copyright Aldo Carrer, as it is from his private collection.

The Bianchi motorcycle photos are from 'Eduardo Bianchi' (Gentile, NADA, 1992), which is a lovely book in English/Italian.

The photo of the Arditos (knives raised!) is from 'Italian Arditi: Elite Assault Troops 1917-20' (Angelo Pirocchi, Osprey, 2008). As a further note, many of the Arditi joined Fascist paramilitary units just four years after WW1, to support Mussolini's rise to power. They were created about the same time as the Austro-Hungarian and German armies founded the Sturmtruppen - not a very romantic outcome.

For more information on pirates, I recommend 'Under the Black Flag; the Romance and Reality of Life Among the Pirates' (Cordingly, Harvest, 1995), which is the best book I've found on the subject.

Another Happy H-D Couple

67 Brochure Photo

Another Happy H-D Couple

67 Brochure Photo

The Art of the Engine #2

Ya got'ta click on this to appreciate it.
I may have to paint it one day.

The Art of the Engine #2

Ya got'ta click on this to appreciate it.
I may have to paint it one day.

Got Ham?

Not exactly artistry here. Nobody left these on.
What was H-D thinking?

Got Ham?

Not exactly artistry here. Nobody left these on.
What was H-D thinking?

Polar Bear Grand Tour - Port Jervis, NY Ride

Last weekend, the Polar Bear Grand Tour ride was to Port Jervis, NY. I was feeling a little under the weather so I opted to take the car instead. After this ride I drove to a special Thanksgiving party held by my GWRRA NJ-F (F-Troop) chapter at Old Man Rafferty's in Hillsborough, NJ.

I encountered few bikes on the road to Port Jervis as I passed through three states (NJ, PA, and NY) to get there. However, when I arrived, the parking lot was filled with bikes whose riders were waiting for the flight leaders to show up with the sign-in books.

Usually, I'm riding Jane's white trike in memory of her but the trike was in the shop getting two new U-joints installed. I plan to have it on the road for the run to Hopewell, NJ on November 23rd.

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week - Herb

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

See Herb with his 1997 Honda Gold Wing SE. For details, see Motorcycle Pictures of the Week.

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, November 21, 2008

Friday's Off Topic Art

In another life I did Space Art

Here's one I did in 1983-84? when I was an illustrator for Hughes Aircraft Co. I did a ton of satellite concept art, some Space Shuttle mission art, and a bunch of other crap.

Coming soon... another blog featuring all subjects of my artwork.

Friday's Off Topic Art

In another life I did Space Art

Here's one I did in 1983-84? when I was an illustrator for Hughes Aircraft Co. I did a ton of satellite concept art, some Space Shuttle mission art, and a bunch of other crap.

Coming soon... another blog featuring all subjects of my artwork.