The 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance celebrated, among other things, French motorcycles on its infamous golf course by the sea. I was commissioned by Pebble to write a short history of the French motorcycle industry, incorporating some of the motorcycle marques present at the Concours on August 15th. The 2013 Pebble Beach program is beautifully illustrated, and my article looks great: copies are available here. I've included the text of my article below, with photos from this year's Concours.
150 YEARS OF INNOVATION:
|Ana Llorente and her 1956 Motobecane 175ZC salt flat racer|
French motorcycles are exotically mysterious to English speakers, as little is published celebrating the long list of 'firsts' credited to French ingeneurs, and the heritage of remarkably elegant machines which followed in the first half of the 20th Century. The dawn of motorcycling (1870-1920) is dominated by French inventions and experiments, and the French probably invented motorcycling; the earliest recorded concept of a powered two-wheeler, back in 1818, is an etching of a ‘Velocipedraisiavaporiana’, or steam-powered draisine (the 'hobby horse', a pedalless bicycle), supposedly demonstrated in the Luxembourg Gardens. Steam power was gaining traction all over Europe; the print may have been satiric, but the concept was right on - a motorcycle, ridden by a handsome young man, no less.
The first documented functional motorcycle - still extant at the Sceaux Musée in Paris - was a combination of a new pedal-driven 'boneshaker' (invented by Pierre Michaux in 1863), and a small, single-piston, alcohol-burning steam engine built by Louis-Guillame Perreaux. Perreaux's ‘steam velocipede’ was patented in 1869, and was capable of 30km/h, as demonstrated frequently outside his Paris workshop on rue Jean-Bart. In 1874 Perraux headlined a paper discussing his inventions (also with three wheels) as 'a likely replacement for the equine species' - how correct he proved to be.
|Pebble Motorcycle Concours judges Jim Thomas, Tom Meadows, and Somer Hooker look over a second Peugeot 515, this a '38 model owned by Bryan Bossier of Sinless Cycles|
The perfection of the 'safety bicycle' in 1885 swept Europe (and the US) with two-wheel fever, and specialized racing tracks for bicycles - velodromes- became hugely popular attractions. This craze coincided with the advent of internal combustion moto-bicycles, often demonstrated on velodromes to provide a 'draft' for fast bicyclists. Crowds thronged the banked tracks, fascinated by these new 'pacers', on which riders sat bolt-upright atop an enormous, slow-revving motor of practically automotive capacity (often two or more liters), powered by a massive Buchet, Peugeot, or Marchand engine. Thus began the Age of Monsters; it wasn't long before these mighty pacers were pitted against each other on the banking, a sport which evolved into specialized 'board track' races in Europe and the US.
|It came late, but it did arrive: the one-and-only four-cylinder Majestic, with a Cleveland engine, the Franco-American hybrid many thought didn't exist, or was a replica. I'll run a full article on this machine soon!|
By 1896, pioneers like the Comte DeDion were building far more sensible motors of relatively high rpm (3000!) and modest capacity (400cc) which were soon powering bicycles and tricycles in France, England, and the US. The DeDion design powered the first motorcycles in the US and Britain, who copied French motors under license, or not! Engines were clipped into every imaginable position on heavyweight bicycles; above the front wheel, above the rear wheel, next to the rear wheel, beneath the headstock, under the saddle. Each of these positions shifted the center of gravity to locations with undesireable consequences, especially the 'dreaded side slip' (skidding). A dreadful combination of loose road surfaces (paved roads existed, if at all, only in the center of cities), and poor balance made falls a miserable certainty.
|1931 Peugeot P107S Tour de France in military spec|
In 1901 Werner patented the 'right' placement of a motor, in place of the pedal crank at the bottom of the frame, then one-upped themselves by creating the first-ever vertical twin motor (think Triumph) in 1904, before the death of the Werner brothers Michel and Eugene in 1907 finished the enterprise.
|Steve Brindmore points out a potential safety issue with the '31 Peugeot: perhaps 'original at all costs' has too high a price? Clearly, this machine isn't ridden, an important point given the requirements of Automobiles at the Pebble Beach Concours - every car is encouraged to drive the Pebble Beach Tour prior to the Concours, in order to be considered for judging. Entrants to the Motorcycle Concours rarely ride the Tour - this year only Bryan Bossier rode on his Peugeot. If the point of the 'show circuit' is to bring history alive and to the public, certainly motorcycles should be included. Otherwise, they're a sideshow...|
Innovation was the very air of Belle Époque France, and marques like Buchet and Peugeot built the fastest and most reliable motors available in the 'Noughts. They were stalwarts of motorcycle racing, which had broken out of Velodromes, and French racing engines were suddenly the hot ticket in the US and England too; the inaugural Isle of Man TT was won by a Peugeot-engined Norton in 1907. By 1901 Clément made a very popular 'Autocyclette' by clamping a small 240cc motor to their own-make bicycle frame (most early motorcycle makers built bicycles previously, or were champion cycle racers); it, too, was raced, and with little competition at that early date, it did quite well, except up hills.
|The judges watch John Lawless start his 1949 Peugeot 156, a 150cc two-stroke single in original paint|
Peugeot are better known for their cars today but are in fact the world's oldest still extant producer of powered two-wheelers (since 1898 - take that, Harley D!). Peugeot designer Ernest Henry halved the engine of their 1913 Indy 500-winning 'L45' four-cylinder race car, and created the world's first 4-Valve, DOHC motorcycle (without the car's Desmo gear - which left Ducati something to boast about 40 years later), the '500M' racer of 1914, a parallel twin so technically advanced it could have landed from outer space. The French dominated their competitors in sophistication, race expertise, and sheer engineering savoir faire, at least until the First World War intervened.
|John Light shares a 1960s video of his grandmother riding his 1945 Motobécane D45A Pebble entry, in original condition|
Magnat-Debon emerged with an ultra-light racer in 1906, on which their #1 racing rider, Jules Escoffier, had success at Mt Ventoux and other important events. In 1911, Escoffier insisted M-D needed a more powerful v-twin, which they refused, so he stole Joseph Magnat's niece along the chassis design of the Magnat-Debon, creating the 'Mandoline' OHV V-twin; the new Koehler-Escoffier became a French racing legend. In 1927, Raymond Guiguet designed a completely new engine for KE, with a shaft-and-bevel OHC similar to the Velocette KSS of 1925. The '500 GP' had a crankcase flat ready for drilling to create a new OHC V-twin; the resultant 1927 Koehler-Escoffier 'Quatre Tubes' (four exhausts) is surely one of the most charismatic motorcycles of all time, although little known outside Europe, one of very few overhead-camshaft V-Twins produced before 1930. Alas only 7 were built, and while all survive, their owners are understandably covetous, and they never come up for sale.
|The irrepressible Bryan Bossier with his Peugeot 515. Note the chrome tank emblem - a Deco version of the Peugeot 'lion' logo in profile|
As the 1920s progressed, French engineers were rarely at the forefront of global motorcycling technology, and the English usurped the top spots in racing and development...but none could compete with the French for sheer style. A wave of Art Deco swept the French industry, with the most Deco-to-its-bones being the 'Majestic'. The child of Georges Roy's fertile imagination, the Majestic grew from Roy's previous project, the humbly-named 'New Motorcycle', which had a radical monocoque chassis in 1925. In 1927, Roy used a car-type chassis of box-section steel, with hub-center steering and a Cleveland 4-cylinder engine, all wrapped in curvaceous metal bodywork. Nevermind that air-cooled motorcycle engines 'cook' without decent air flow (the Majestic has plenty of louvres, but no cooling fan), nothing quite like this machine had ever been seen, and it remains unique among production bikes even today. Roy may have only built a single Cleveland- '4' prototype (which makes its first-in-80-years public appearance on the Pebble Beach lawn); 'production' Majestics used Chaise, Train, or JAP engines, usually of one or two cylinders. The Majestic's robust chassis and excellent steering makes even a 'sports' engine of the day feel grossly underpowered. With such looks, it really ought to be the fastest thing on two wheels!
By the 1930s, familiar marques such as Peugeot, Terrot, Alcyon, and Motobecane built boulevardiers of breathtaking Art Deco perfection, the two-wheeled equivalents of a Delahaye or Délage, which remain among the most beautiful and stylish motorcycles ever built. Being French, the industry continued to push the limits of technology with advanced four-cylinder OHV and OHC engines (Chaise, Train, Motobecane, etc), and radical chassis design. The MGC (Marcel Guiguet et Cie - he of the Koehler-Escoffier 'Mandoline') was a glorious failure of aluminum casting technology, having integral fuel and oil tanks within a very shapely all-alloy chassis; the porosity leaks were cured by cooking the frame in resin, but fatigue cracks plague enthusiasts of these rare beasts even today.
|A short lineup on the Pebble lawn: 9 entries this year. French motorcyles weren't imported to the US prewar, and appeared mostly in the 1960s/70s as mopeds. American consciousness of French motorcycle history is only now dawning, and a few interesting machines are trickling across the Atlantic, but the best and most technically interesting French motorcycles are in France! And jealously guarded there as national treasures; coaxing owners to ship their machines to California for the Concours proved impossible. Pebble Beach has no 'draw' among European motorcyclists, who have their own priorities.|
Aircraft engine manufacturer Gnome et Rhone built the advanced ABC flat-twin motorcycle immediately after WW1 (licensing the design from rival Sopwith!), and followed this design years later with a much larger flat twin of 750cc housed in a pressed-steel chassis, reminiscent of contemporary BMW practice, but revealing the Germans a somber lot, compared to Gnome-Rhone's feminine Deco extravagance, suggestive use of chrome, and swelling curves. While no longer at the cutting edge of racing technology by the 1930s, highly competetive, even awe-inspiring racers yet emerged from French workshops, as marques like Terrot, Jonghi, and Magnat-Debon built magnesium-engined racers which won European and French national championships.
|John Light's sons will likely inherit their great-grandmother's Motobécane|
Most memorable, though, is the magnificent development of Koehler-Escoffier racing machines during this period. In 1934, the very busy Guiguet transformed his 'Quatre Tubes' into a mighty OHC 1000 V-twin of brutal gorgeousness, so inextricably linked to its pilot, Georges Monneret, the name 'Monneret' is synomymous with the machine, as he developed it to win National Championships through the 1950s. The K-E 'Monneret' remains the crown jewel of French pre-war motorcycling.
|Another view of the Peugeot 515 with Bernardet sidecar...look at those cast-aluminum mufflers!|
Postwar, French motorcycles were stylish albeit generally small-capacity machines, rarely larger than 250cc, excepting the flat-twin police Ratiers built along BMW lines. No equivalent of the Citroen DS emerged, although irrepressibly talented engineers blossomed in racing circles. The Nougier family but put their stamp on history by home-building the fourth-ever transverse DOHC four-cylinder racer in 1953 (after Gilera, NSU, and MV Agusta). The machine was so good, Norton's Joe Craig attempted to purchase the design...but the Frenchmen would have none of it. Two decades later, the Elf team revived the Majestic's hub-center steering for their unorthodox racers of the 1970s and 80s. The first break in a 'lightweight curse' came from Voxan in the 1990s, with a sporting 1000cc OHC V-twin, which succumbed, sadly, to the Crisis of 2009. Except for these bright intervals, French two-wheeled industry has been dominated by scooters and mopeds, as amply evidenced on every street in Paris.
|The grass wasn't the only place to find bikes at Pebble: MidAmerica Auctions pitched its tent of bikes too|
|Alfa Romeo 8C; part of a 28-strong exhibit of 1930s Alfa 8-cylinder cars|
|Alloy-bodied Rolls reflects the morning fog|
|1914 American Underslung - nearly a motorcycle with such big wheels!|
|Looking like a 1950s Barris custom car, half coach and half Rolls...|
|Seen on the streets of Carmel; Roger Rabbit's custom trike|
|1920s yacht with nefarious history; ex-Al Capone|
|His gold LV bag matched my shoes...|
|In the MidAmerica tent; a Crocker speedway bike|
|Deco upon Deco: where's Gatsby?|
|The 'Preservation' class grows each year as Pebble wakes up to the burgeoning trend for original machines. Roger Hoffman's '55 Ferrari 250 Europa GT V12 engine, pretty much as it left the factory. Found in Sicily at an automotive mechanic's shop.|
|The inside of Roger's Ferrari 250 Europa, complete with priapic shift lever.|
|Twin superchargers for this '35 Frazer Nash TT Replica; Prewar Preservation class|
|The Indycar display's pop graphics helped banish the grey weather|
|10 vintage Indy racers, which sounded amazing when fired up|
|Can you hear me now?|
|Yes, your nails match the Ferrari; yes, you should buy it.|
|Styling does not equal Function, but it can raise a smile|
|Cool gear; vintage '24 Heures du Mans' Hermés tie, vintage Steve McQueen Persol sunnies|
|Euro-cop: Dutch 'Rijkspolitie''74 Porsche 911 Targa. Owner Guus Reinerink was blasting Euro-disco from the loudspeaker...|
|Porsche 911 Competition class|
|Even Indycar collectors enjoy a nice bottle of vin rouge now an then|
|PreWar Preservation Voisin Clairiére Berline from 1935, without the eye-watering Art Deco interior fabric designed by Paul Poiret... owner Bill Pope claimed not only that the leather interior was correct, but that many 'Deco' interiors were added much later...scandal! Voisins have come out of the woodwork in the past two years, after winning Pebble Beach and other Concours...|
|Would you like your Indycar in yellow? What shade?|
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The first annual Motorcycle Film Festival
is coming to New York on Sept. 26-28th, and my first response when I was invited to participate was 'Finally!' We're in the midst of the biggest creative boom centered on motorcycles since the 1970s, where every motorcycle customizer seems to have an in-house filmmaker, and every hip moto-event from Biarritz to Melbourne is half paparazzi, and camera cars block the faster riders. We may grumble (or pose) on the day, but we love re-living the antics of our fellow bikers on Youtube, and marvel at the work of supertalented videographers, who often unwittingly work side by side. The massive rise of youthful moto-mania has excited big motorcycle factories to collaborate with rising garage artists, and inspired professional filmmakers that now is the time to produce that long-dreamed two-wheel feature film.
|Gonzo filmmaking, 80s style; 'Mad Max' under construction...|
Nobody grasped the lack of a proper Motorcycle Film Festival
until Corinna Mantlo and Jack Drury conjured the idea, and suddenly, foreheads were slapped from Hollywood to Sydney – why hadn’t this come up before? Simply put, it’s because this pair hadn’t done it yet. When Corinna (who has run a weekly motorcycle film series for years) contacted me to co-host the Festival, what could I say but WOW YES! I’ve been writing about motorcycles and culture on TheVintagent for 7 years now, and have reviewed/dissected plenty of motorcycle films, making many obscurities available on my site, like ‘Scorpio Rising
’ and ‘Not So Easy
’, plus motorcycle-based shorts from artists as diverse as Buster Keaton
and Karl Lagerfeld
I’ve been a complete movie nut since my ‘teens, and from my 20s onwards was a Film Festival regular, watching everything by my favorite directors: Fassbinder, Tarkovsky, Kurosawa, Cocteau. Equally a motorcycle nut, I was fascinated by the use of bikes in film, whether as props, characters, or symbols (Death! Rebellion! Freedom!). I can probably still quote every line from Kathryn Bigelow
’s first feature, ‘The Loveless’
, which became a kind of talisman for my Café Racer club in 1980s San Francisco, the Roadholders M.C.
By coincidence, I’ve been filmed in two upcoming motorcycle feature films in the past year (including the above from Eric Ristau, who'll show his film 'The Best Bar in America'
this year), and one of those films, ‘Why We Ride’
, will have its premier at the MFF
. Of course we’re proud of All the films being shown; they’re an excellent sample of the mighty wave of bike-based video/film content generated just this year, in what looks like a Motorcycle Renaissance happening right under our noses.
Our esteemed panel of judges this year includes photographer Dimitri Coste
, Stacie B. London
(exhibition designer at MOCA in LA
), Ana Llorente (ALTdesign
), JP from the Selvedge Yard blog
, and yours truly.SCHEDULE FOR THE MOTORCYCLE FILM FESTIVALWednesday September 25th 2013:Filmmaker Meet and Greet
; Happy Hour. Come kick off the 1st Motorcycle Film Festival with cold drinks, fine BBQ, and the friends, family, and VIPs of the MFF.
At Lady Jay’s: 633 Grand St, New York, NY 11211Cine Meccanica
: the infamous free, weekly vehicular film night hosted by MFF co-founder Corinna Mantlo. Film starts at 8:30. Free popcorn, Juke Box Meccanica, and $2 Bingo for prizes! Check this website
Where: Lady Jay’s, 633 Grand St, New York, NY 11211
Price: Free entry, (and Free BBQ for VIP passholders)
, courtesy of Lady Jay’s
Thursday, September 26th, 2013Screening #1:
(Feature Documentary and shorts block TBA), plus Filmmaker QandA:
Where: Over The Eight – 594 Union Ave, Bklyn, NY 11211
Price: $8 (VIP passholder admission is free) Buy Tickets Here!MFF After-Party
(9pm-1am): Scoot on over to the Lone Wolf for a jam-packed evening of bands, beer, and motorcycle shenanigans with a backdrop of classic biker films curated by Cine Meccanica. Buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win a bag of moto goodies at the end of the night, courtesy of our generous sponsors. Playing: The Andy Animal Family Band and Hector’s Pets
Where: Lone Wolf – 1089 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Price: $12 online / $15 at the door (VIP passholder admission is free
) Buy Tickets Here! Friday, September 27th, 2013Screening #2:
(Feature Narrative and shorts block TBA), Filmmaker QandA
Where: Saint Vitus – 1120 Manhattan Ave. Bklyn, NY 11222
Price: $8 (VIP pass holder admission is free
) Buy Tickets Here!MFF After-Party
(9pm-1am): Don’t miss this second night of bands and beer over a backdrop of classic biker films curated by Cine Meccanica at Saint Vitus while DJ Sommer Santoro from Black Gold Brooklyn spins ’60s garage, surf, and biker classics (all vinyl of course). Buy a raffle ticket for a chance to win a bag of moto goodies at the end of the night, courtesy of our generous sponsors. Playing: The Tombstone Brawlers
Where : Saint Vitus – 1120 Manhattan Ave, Bklyn, NY 11222
Price: $12 online / $15 at the door (VIP passholder admission is free) Buy Tickets Here!
Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Motorcycles and Film
Where: Over The Eight – 594 Union Ave, New York, NY 11211
Price: $10 (VIP passholder admission is free) Buy Tickets Here!Screening #3:
(Feature Documentary and shorts block TBA), Filmmaker QandA
Where: Saint Vitus – 1120 Manhattan Ave, Bklyn, NY 11222
Price: $8 (VIP passholder admission is free) Buy Tickets Here!Screening #4:
(Feature Narrative and shorts block TBA), Filmmaker QandA
Where: Saint Vitus – 1120 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11222
Price: $8 (VIP passholder admission is free) Buy Tickets Here!MFF 2013 Award Ceremony:
Where: Saint Vitus
– 1120 Manhattan Ave., Bklyn, NY 11222
Price: Filmmakers and VIP passholders ONLY
MFF 2013 Closing Party:
The final night of MFF. Details on this party to be released soon. It’ll be a doozy!
Where: Saint Vitus
1120 Manhattan Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11222
Price: TBA (VIP passholder admission is free)
From the New York Times
, which is becoming increasingly relevant in the world of Old Motorcycles, comes this charming portrait of Stan Dibben, the 'monkey' on Eric Oliver's
World Sidecar Championship winning Manx Norton in 1953. For whatever reason, Oliver isn't mentioned in the film, which is perhaps fitting given its slant ... praising the unsung heroes of sidecar racing, without whose skill and bravery in throwing their weight, nobody wins a race. There's an instructive moment in the film, vintage footage which shows a 'monkey' hesitating before throwing his/her weight into a curve, with dramatic results!
'No Ordinary Passenger'
|Multiple Sidecar World Champion Eric Oliver with Stan Dibben in 1953 with their pioneering streamlined Norton outfit|
is 7:33 long, and worth the time, especially for Stan's elfin disposition. Stick around for the credits sequence at the end - fantastic! Anyone wanting to know more about Stan and his days racing and passengering on the 'Continental Circus' of the 1950s should buy his book, 'Hold On! Stan Dibben World Champion Sidecar Rider'
, from Panther Publishing
(currently available only in e-book, but deserving another print run!).
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|Stan Dibben with his book, 'Hold On!'|
Mark Mederski, from the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa Iowa, sent in this report from his recent trip to the Isle of Man to watch the Manx GP. Mark recently displayed his immaculate, original-condition '62 Norton Manx and '67 Velocette Thruxton at my 'Ton Up!' exhibit in Sturgis.
Here is Mark's take on a bit of Island touring:
Blowing through Ginger Hall. To the left, stone wall and phone pole. To the right, stone wall. Of course some of the thousands of obstacles to run-off are padded!
A rare chance. Something you save up for. Something to savor when your there and doing it, and for years to follow, really. The Isle of Man. The "TT" or the "Manx Grand Prix." I took a couple of weeks off from my excellent job at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa and made plans to do the Manx Grand Prix, the vintage event, which for the first time in 2013 is coupled with modern racing. The entire event is renamed the Classic TT, which is the event I'd recommend you attend.
|[A gorgeous Douglas RA, ca.1923, with 'disc' brakes, and strutted Douglas forks (for sidecar racing). Douglas won many TTs in the early 1920s, before winning a lot of Speedway races in the later 20s - pd'o]|
Tucked in between the big islands of Ireland and England is a small island, the Isle of Man. It's been home to Vikings, warriors, Christians and all, but about 1907, when motor racing started to become popular with manufacturers and risk takers in many parts of the western hemisphere, this island, this little island, got its foot in the door for a form of racing that has elsewhere long since been banished, outlawed and sent away with scorn. The truest of road racing, since 1907, takes place on the Isle of Man Twice a year since the government has sent notice to its lovely island population, closed its public roads, 37.5 miles of them, and entertained crowds with the world's most skilled riders on the world's fastest of motorcycles...racing on public roads. If your a jaded old motorcycle type, that all might sound pretty normal until you actually watch a video, or visit to take it all in. The fastest bikes now run an AVERAGE lap speed of 125 miles per hour. AVERAGE. Which means on the straights they can top 175, and whiz past stone barns, clearing them by inches, or are running a hard left when they skim past a stone wall or a phone pole.
Early in the week we took up spectating at Hillbury. That straightaway is over 5/8 of a ile so bikes are about flat out as they enter a choppy uphill sweeper. The big modern bikes run over 170mph here, back off momentarily at the apex, and fly by.
OK. So outrageously dangerous looking road racing may the main thing enthusiasts look forward to when they make arrangements for a B&B and air fare a year or more in advance. But if you do a little research, and look at schedules the Island government publishes and talk to fellow speed freaks, you'll have a plate full of stuff to do. (Like Sturgis, the Isle of Man government, and tourism bureau, plays a big role, which is a good part of why the event has survived in spite of injury, loss of life and occasional mayhem from spectators late at night in Douglas, the biggest town on the island.)
Tony East's A.R.E. Classic Bike Collection in Kirk Michael was a wonderful place, and Tony was on hand adding some color. While he's showing about five Manx Nortons, G50's, some Vincents and great post-War Triumphs, his thing is Greeves, and he's working to have a dozen fine ones.
Other racing? In the British Isles, Sprints have long been a popular form of competition. They are usually run on 1/8 mile strips. And sometimes they call them drag races, American influence no doubt, and run them on full 1/4mile strips at airports. Make sure you take them in at Jurby on the airstrip or over in Ramsey on the Promenade.
Laxey Wheel, or technically Lady Isabella, could pump 250 Imperial gallons of water a minute from lead mines a few hundred feet away and up to 1400 feet down. It's only 72 feet in diameter, and built from beautiful iron castings and wood, foundation, stone, of course.
And then there's Observed Trails competition, done on vintage bikes, of course in an area near Castletown, Isle of Man, south on the island. The organizers set out over 15 "sections" and about 200 entries of all types slowly crawled over each section, hoping they'd not "dab" as putting a foot down is bad in trials! Of course there's great comeradery among the competitors who are mostly Brits, but a few from Scandinavia, and the Continent come over to test their mettle. Greeves, Bultacos, all kinds of Sachs powered machines, James, BSAs, Triumphs plus some completely home built bikes, a few rigid chassis machines, even. It's all very casual and you can chat with competitors as they get ready to size up the hill; everybody is ready to discuss their machine.
Cool bikes were everywhere. The first overhead cam Norton was designated a CS1. I need one.
Shopping. I do love shopping. Douglas, the big town, south on the island is where the paddock is always located, is the start finish line area. It offers great options for event commemoratives to take home to friends, or horde for yourself. Hell, I succumbed to a special 2013 Arai helmet all done up in black and yellow, with, most important, the wonderful three legged Isle of Man logo, or symbol maybe is a better word. A few t-shirts, some posters, prints, stickers...oh man, the cool stuff and that's just at the Paddock. Head for Douglas and walk the Promenade. Dozens of shops all ready for the tourists, but they have cooler stuff related to the event than you see in most motorcycle racing towns in America.
An abandoned quarry served as a site for the Observed Trials. Gotta stay between all the little arrows, not "dab" a foot, and not crash.
If I was to think of an overlying "coolness thing" about the IOM, and the big motorcycle event there, I guess it's the people, and the occasional 6 degrees of separation. Though I am not a big fan of "nudey calendars," damn, here's one that's different. Conceived and art directed by a sweetheart named Rachel, well it's all about icons of the Isle of Man, select bike parts she weaves herself onto, and actual tasteful black and white photos of these sights and things built into a fine large format calendar. OK, I admit it, she's cute, and sweet and autographed the 2013 and 2014 [Ha! - indeed! pd'o] calendars I bought. But this is what the IOM is about. She digs the scene, wanted to lend her ideas to conjuring the best bits of the place. I'll show you a picture. Very wholesome.
Oh, I guess I should maybe walk you through a typical day. Our hosts at the Albany House, a great B&B in Peel, just five miles off the race course, make a traditional English breakfast, to order very morning. But you can also get pancakes, kippers, about anything you want. Well stoked, we drive our hire car to a spot on the course. Most days the roads that become race track close to vehicular traffic at 9:30, so you need to pick a corner, drive there early and settle in for the races. Best shot is to pick a spot with a pub like Glen Helen, or Ballaugh, or Creg ny baa. Then you can watch racing, have some lunch and a pint, watch more racing. Typically a couple of hundred folks are at a given point on the track. Most are intense fans marking laps in their programs, following their heroes. And you'll have conversations as the day goes on, and see these same folks another day, most likely. Then the racing ends, wherever you are a radio fills you in on results, the course marshals blow by first on YZF1000's, the another group at very high speed in Jaguars, new ones, and it's OK to get on the road. Soon we are back at the B&B, dropping off the day's booty and heading for a pub for dinner and a pint or two, and conversation.
Maybe you grew up assembling great model machines from an Erector Set. In England, that kit of scale metal pieces and thousands of fasteners to whet the appetite of a young engineer was a Meccano Set. Here a couple of blokes built a sidecar rig from a Meccano, and rode it 'round the 37 mile course. It took a few days, and multiple re-torquings! As I may have mentioned, quirky stuff is everywhere.
I'm happy to get a chance to show you a bit of the Isle of Man Classic TT, and the Isle itself in a few photos. My thanks to Paul for letting me share the experience, and invite you to plan this trip, one for all serious motorcycle racing enthusiasts, and those who can't get enough of staring at old motorcycles.
|The Meccano Moto!|
Phil McGurk, mentioned earlier, built the chassis for this Kawasaki EN650 based bike. It's been working for Bill Werner on American dirt tracks, and works for road racing as well. Through rain and fog, Phil pulled out a 8th place finish in the Super Twins class.
The start of a race, on the street in Douglas. Riders have run their bikes through tech earlier in the day, and given them up to a fenced off limits area. When race time comes, they queue up near the start line, as many as 50. Officials release bikes at ten second intervals, one at a time, and they fly though the streets of Douglas and out into the countryside. These guys will be back from a 37.5 mile lap in under 40 minutes, and will complete four laps total.
The Isle of Man is beautiful, has elevations up to 2100 feet. The roads are quiet today, Observed Trials competition day. Tomorrow Michael Dunlop and other riders will fly down now these back roads, making four laps, and will be looking for the checkered flag!
Home -built frame, a speedway motor, a supercharger and nitrous get this man down the 1/8 mile quickly at the Ramsey Sprints. The very casual races are run right down town on a blocked off portion of the promenade.
If you go, make sure you spend a day at Glen Helen. It's about 6 turns, fast turns, hooked together, running down to a bridge, then up a hill. Oh, the pub right at the turn makes a great lasagna if you get burned out on fish and chips, or "baps," their quickie bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches.
A good sized Manx cat. They are well known for what's missing; the tail!
Murray's Motorcycle Museum is an old treat in a new location. It's jammed with good stuff, mostly racing bikes. Nothin' fancy, just the good stuff you want to see.
Phil McGurk built a killer fast Kawasaki EN650 based race bike, might typify participants in a way. Welded the frame himself. In his hand is a replica, the award you get for placing well. Rain and fog on the Mountain screwed up Phil's solid second place, but he survived at north of 150 mph, not able to see well, and brought home the silver! The Isle of man is n his blood.
Here's the incredibly unique and cool Isle of Man insignia. It's so old even the folks at the museum where this six foot in diameter version in displayed are not sure what it means!
The town of Peel, in southwest, Isle of Man was a choice spot to stay near. Five nice pubs and two shi-shi restaurants had all you could ask for in food, drink, atmosphere and new-found friends.
The lunch menu at Ginger Hall. "This stuff will stick to your ribs," as my mom used to say.
People on the Island seem to love the racing which takes place twice a year. Art in buinsesses and public buildings leans toward moteorcycle racing. Ginger Hall had this great piece hung; PISTON BROKE AT GINGER HALL -T.T. '95.
A fine Greeves Silverstone at the A.R.E. Museum
|We saw signs on the road for Motorcycle Exhibit, and braked hard our little hire car, a Ford Focus. Never can tell what you'll see, and here is an early "disk brake" setup where the friction material is the rotor! It's a Douglas sidecar rig, and a fine one.|
The tavern was probably built in the late 1800's and predates motorcycle racing, of course. So this turn is called Ginger Hall, as most turns are named for some ancient piece of history, geography of architecture, or even a racer. This is a rare day. Really only one day of racing was affected by rain. I got a pretty good sun tan. Temps were usually in the upper 60's; T-shirt weather. I ate quite a lot while here for the day, maybe consumed two pints and made a few friends.
Each day the races run, it takes officially 513 Corner Marshals to run the race. The guy with the shades is Bill Haas from Rhode Island. He cannot get enough of the racing at the Isle of Man, so works a corner each day. This year a couple of guys got busted up, but there were no racing fatalities, unusual at the Isle of man.
Don Rosene, BMW, Kawasaki, Triumph dealer from Anchorage and I did the Isle of man experience together. Here he points out the grand goodie to take home while shopping at the race paddock. We both succumbed, but hey, my old lid was eight years old, and this is high visibility, right?
The Ramsey Sprints run on a day when there's no road racing, a 'break" day. Why let your road racer sit! Most didn't even drop to lower gearing, just gave it a go.
|Shot in Brooklyn yesterday at the 'Tweed Run', a pair of Ariel 'Ordinary' bicycles, ca. 1880; the Ladies' Model is especially rare, with a side-saddle!|
, considered the Father of the British bicycle industry
, felt he could improve on Pierre Michaux's 'velocipede'
, the first commercially viable pedal-powered bicycle, which was essentially a 'Boneshaker' with eccentric pedals attached to the front wheel. Michaux's frame of serpentine-bent steel tended to break on the horrid roads of the day, although it was good enough for one clever fellow, Louis-Guillame Perraux
, to attached a small, single-piston steam engine to his Michaux velocipede, and invent the motorcycle in 1867.
|The Perraux steam cycle of 1867, using the Michaux pedal cycle. This machine was exhibited in 'The Art of the Motorcycle' exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum; it now sits in a storage box, deep inside the Musée Sceaux in Paris, where it cannot be seen...|
Starley's improved bicycle design of 1871 had a large front wheel, still with the pedal crank at its axle, and a serpentine frame with a much smaller rear wheel, which he called the 'Ordinary'
, but is better known as the 'Penny-Farthing
', named after the relative large-small size of these two British coins. Starley and his business partner, William Hillman
(better known for the cars which bear his name), named their company 'Ariel', after Shakespeare's airborne sprite in his play 'The Tempest'.
The first Ariel bicycle cost £8, although for an extra £4, one could purchase an internal gear hub which halved the pedal speed relative to the wheel rotation - the first British speed gear fitted to a bicycle.
|The Ariel tricycle of 1898, using a deDion 239cc engine|
By 1898, with chuffing petrol-engine monsters pacing bicycles on tracks and scaring horses on streets, Ariel added a motorized tricycle to their bicycle lineup, using the ubiquitous 239cc single-cylinder deDion engine
, with an 'automatic'. (suction-drawn) inlet valve above a mechanically operated exhaust valve. Those first engines produced only 1hp, but a revised motor of 289cc the following year doubled that, to 2hp! The national speed limit in Britain had been raised in 1896, from 4mph to 8mph, so the Ariel had scofflaw potential. The engines improved rapidly with experience across the whole nascent motoring/motorcycling industry, and Ariel introduced an optional quadricycle attachment in in 1900, ‘taking form of a small open carriage, which can either be supplied with the Tricycle at the time of purchase or at any future period’,
according to the Ariel sales brochure. The Ariel Quad is very much a four-wheel motorcycle, being their tricycle with a two-wheel bench seat bolted in place of the trike's front wheel.
|An original-condition 1900 Ariel Quadricycle, which sits hidden in a warehouse of London's Science Museum|
At the turn of the 19th Century, the London Ariel sales agency sat at 101 New Bond Street, which now happens to be the HQ for Bonhams auctions
. In 1901 an Ariel 345cc Quadricycle, frame no. 85, engine no. 607, was purchased by Captain A Loftus Bryan of Borrmount Manor, Ennisscorthy, County Wexford, who owned the machine from 1900-1967! It has since had two further owners, and is among the rare survivors of these true Pioneer motorized vehicles.
By poetic coincidence, the machine will return to its 'home' at 101 New Bond Street, to be sold in the Bonhams 'London to Brighton' sale on November 1st
– in the very same spot it was sold 112 years ago.Subscribe here by email to TheVintagent!
If you're in the NYC area next week (Sep 25/6/7/8), the first annual Motorcycle Film Festival kicks off with a CineMeccanica screening of a personal favorite, Kathryn Bigelow's ‘The Loveless' (Wed. Sep 25th). Here's my review of a film I've seen perhaps 25 times, mostly at an age when style icons like Willem Dafoe's 'Vance' left a deep impact.
remains much as its title suggests – unloved and unknown outside a core few who consider it an amazing motorcycle film. The first-time feature for Kathryn Bigelow
, who went on to earn two directing Oscars for her meditations on US/Middle East relations (The Hurt Locker
and Zero DarkThirty
), The Loveless
bombed at theaters when released in 1981, but showcased Bigelow’s genius twenty years before the Academy realized who they were dealing with.
|Willem Dafoe on a c.1955 Harley Panhead 'Hydra Glide'|
Ms Bigelow, who co-directed with Monty Montgomery,
had clearly studied Kenneth Anger
shorts during her film school days, as The Loveless
is a visual homage to Anger’s uncanny eye; he understood better than anyone at time - and schooled generations of filmmakers and ad men – that the cine-camera has the power to transform any object into an Icon. While Scorpio Rising
brewed up a mind-altered gay/Satanic/biker bacchanal (fueled by the first explicit use of powdered amphetamine in a biker film), Anger’s raw honesty (these were his gay biker buddies in real life) is locked and loaded in Bigelow’s hands for a shotgun blast at Happy Days
(the #1 TV show at that time)
and Reagan-era lobotonostalgia.
storyline is a Southern highway collision of Easy Rider
with the Wild One
, upping the ante on both films with talk of jailhouse ‘joybangs’, and Faulknerian
The film opens with WillemDafoe
as Vance, in his first big screen role (after being fired from Heaven’s Gate!),
an intimidating, greasy, and ultrasexy biker sleeping like Satan in the wilderness, right beside his Panhead.
|The late NYC novelist Tina L'Hotsky as Sportster Debbie: 'Do I look affected?'|
‘I wasn’t going to be no man’s friend today’
, the movie begins, and he shortly proves his point when encountering the mythic Thunderbird from American Graffiti
- with, appropriately, a flat tire – complete with a round-heeled beauty waiting for a Real Man to rescue her.
Vance is a real man all right, and sees through George Lucas’ cliché-laden script
, taking his payment from the Thunderbird goddess in a way we don't see coming.
|Prison habits die hard; Willem Dafoe (Vance) and Marin Kanter (Telena) get to know each other in the Notell Motel|
Vance’s gang soon appears, complaining that a primary chain has snapped; they need to make repairs, so are stuck in a no-name truck-stop town in Florida, en route to Daytona for the bike races. We learn the gang is recently sprung from prison, and tension quickly builds with the locals, echoed by Robert Gordon
’s smokin’ Rockabilly soundtrack, as he plays himself, sort of, as Davis, well amped on ‘vitamins’ poured – in a quote from Scorpio Rising
– from a salt shaker. The dialogue is as curt and as stylized as the art direction, loaded with Americana and period quotations; yes, you’re in 1962 America … where lynch-mobs cool off with a Coke and a smile.
|A Coke, but no smile? Iconic American symbols saturate the film, and rockabilly legend Robert Gordon provides much of the soundtrack|
Vance is soon distracted by a sexy little vixen in a red Corvette, the seriously underage Telena (Marin Kanter, next seen in The Fabulous Stains
), who reveals the car as a guilt-gift from her father (J.Don Fergurson
as the deliriously despicable Tarver). When Vance meets Telena, the film explodes with shotgun blasts, incest, boys with pink underpants, murder, drag races, strippers, and suicide.
Somehow, Bigelow managed to keep these B-movie Bikesploitation plot points firmly steered towards the Art House, while the whole wicked machine flew right over the heads of critics and unsuspecting viewers alike.
It still does. The Loveless is triple-clever, deserving multiple viewings to savor the spare dialogue, gorgeous visuals, amazingly hot Willem Dafoe, and superb soundtrack.
Watching it, you’ll feel just like Sportster Debbie
after a drunk trucker goes down on her – unwashed and nasty, but knowing it was good.
|Veteran character actor J.Don Ferguson as Tarver: 'We all got to get some on us, sometime'|
|Sam Lovegrove, Mark Upham, Viktoria Upham with the 'Baby Pendine' 750cc Brough Superior - JAP (MotoTintype wet plate photo) |
Mark Upham pocketed the deed to Brough Superior
back in 2008, and for the first time in many decades, Things Are Happening with the magic old name. Upham has sufficient charisma - plus, apparently, the cash - to have gathered a talented crew about him in wide satellitic orbit, as near as the fortress-stone Austrian farmhouse he calls home, and as far as racetrack workshops in California. Whether you're a fan or not (and as he said to me last week, 'Not everyone loves me, Paul'
), one must give credit to the man for raising the visibility of the Brough marque out of its comfy post-production wall-niche, where it lay dormant, velvet-cosseted and expensive. Brough Superior's deeply lacquered reputation - established by George Brough's ad-man bluster, and snowballing ever since - has become a blanket thick enough to protect the investments Broughs have become. Those of us who've owned the things know them to be actual motorcycles, with 'particular characteristics' one just might call (whisper it) flaws.
Broughs are at the top of the heap today - a glance at my 'Top 20'
will confirm that handily - and poking that Reputation with the sharp stick of analysis is generally frowned upon, as is the rather outrageous ambition of Mr Upham to leverage the name and build New things, like 'continuation' SS101s, Bonneville salt flat racers, MotoGP2 racers, and coming soon - you heard it here so it must be true - brand new motorcycles bearing the gilded Jazz-age logo of Brough Superior. Who would have expected such things from an old-school motorcycle/parts dealer and auction house veteran? Nobody predicted the Enzo Ferrari of resurrected motorcycle brands.
|The 1150cc Brough Superior - JAP record breaker (MotoTintype wet plate photo)|
Mark Upham has earned my respect, and continual puzzlement (is he barking mad, or fox-crazy?) by carving against the grain of contemporary moto-business wisdom. Building very, very expensive motorcycles is an excellent way to spend money, and a lousy way to earn it. Sponsoring a MotoGP2 team, the same. Commissioning a large crew to design, build, and develop TWO racing semi-vintage motorcycles, and shipping the whole circus to Utah to break speed records, double or triple ditto. Here's how to make money with a dead motorcycle brand: sell logo t-shirts. Or design logo clothes, drape them on Kate Moss, rack them in fancy department stores, and eventually sell the label at a massive profit in a few years. Repeat.
Yet Upham the contrarian carries on, doing as he pleases, leaving a wake of observers scratching their heads, wondering what on earth he thinks he's doing, or getting pissed off that he's doing it. The answer to that, backtracking 14 words, is 'as he pleases'. Having built a successful business selling old bike spares at British Only Austria
, he seized the opportunity to purchase grandeur via the Brough Superior name, and it's a cloak he wears comfortably, with a wink, being primarily dedicated to doing as he pleases with the title 'Mr Brough Superior'.
|Close up of the Big Brough (MotoTintype wet plate photo)|
Something interesting has happened with the rising interest in Bonneville and El Mirage - while they've been a mecca for speed-mad bikers and hot rodders for decades now, we've passed over a lull in the 1990s and 2000s, when frankly, a lot of people didn't give a hoot for the place. Speed records became irrelevant, because the machines setting them were no longer motorcycles, but two-wheeled missiles, whose fan base is miniscule indeed. But the clever fellows at the SCTA, and latterly BUB, have made a seemingly infinite number of categories in which one can set a record, many of which have no record at all, even today. The variety of rules equals a variety of bikes making records; BSAs, Indians, Triumphs, Harleys, etc. That's smart business, and has revived interest among the home-tuners and thrill-seekers eager to add their own tales to the fabled romance of the place.
The Salt Flat Broughs can't exactly be called 'new', because they use plenty of vintage parts: the 750cc 'Baby Pendine' Brough has a 1954 JAP racing engine with alloy top ends and a magnesium crankcase - proper racing fodder. Apparently the engine is one of only 6 or 7 built for racing in an Italian 750cc monoposto car class, one of which was campaigned by Scuderia Ferrari (who also fielded a motorcycle racing team prewar - see the story here)
. The 1150cc machine competes in a 1350cc class, and uses another 1950s JAP Mk2 magnesium/alloy engine, initially intended for sidecar Speedway and Cooper racing car use. The following comes from the Brough Superior website:
The Brough Superior 1150cc machine competing in the 1350 - APS – VF class achieved a speed of 110.454 mph in the first run and 116.882 mph on the return run to set an aggregate speed of 113.668 mph, a new AMA record. Later in the week, after further tuning of the bike and rider, the partial streamlining was removed and competing this time in the 1350 – A – VF class the motorcycle flew through the clocks at 122.614 mph in the first run and on the return run at 126.075 mph for an aggregate speed and new AMA record of 124.334 mph. This last run was actually the very last by any motorcycle in the entire competition as immediately afterwards the sky opened and there was a catastrophic storm and downpour of rain. Rider Eric Patterson and chief engineer Alastair Gibson were very pleased with the performance of what is essentially an engine that is well under the maximum class size.
The Brough Superior 750cc machine nicknamed the “Baby Pendine” by the team and prepared by Brough Superior designer and engineer Sam Lovegrove was even more successful as it achieved two FIM world and two AMA records. On the first day of the event it set two FIM and one AMA record in the 750 A-PS-VG classes. Ridden by famed motorcycle journalist Alan Cathcart the first ride was very much a shake down run at 97.260 mph over the flying mile. But he blitzed through the clocks at 105.004 mph on the return run for a new record average speed of 101.328.
The team quickly turned the bike around, and after patiently sitting in the sun for nearly three hours the team's third rider, TV presenter Henry Cole, rode in the 750 A-PS-VF class, and set a speed of 103.941 in the first run and 95.619 mph for the return creating a new AMA record of 99.780 mph. This bike ran smoothly and trouble free throughout the entire event and only required very minor changes to jetting, gearing and timing.
|The ever-expressive Alistair Gibson, former Honda F1 chief, now the builder-tuner of the 1150cc Brough racer|
Brough Superior CEO Mark Upham pronounced himself satisfied with results achieved by the team. “We have attained the goals that we set ourselves at the beginning of the competition and continued with the story that is Brough Superior. This is the beginning of a new era for Brough Superior and with planning in place for our new modern machines the future looks very exciting”.
|Observing the Baby Pendine in the flooded salt flats; rain stops play|
|Baby Brough on the salt|
|The distinctive nose fairing built by Alistair Gibson|
|Spares and repairs on the salt|
|Experimenting with a change of gearing; fine-tuning the machine on-site is always necessary at Bonneville....|
|Rider Eric Patterson getting ready for the off...|
|Veteran of the motorcycle wars...Mike Jackson, formerly General Sales Manager (or mangler as he prefers!) of Norton-Villiers (NorVil), Norton-Villiers-Triumph, and co-owner of the BSA Group.|
|Mechanic Sam Lovegrove and his 'baby', the 750cc JAP-engined racer|
|Sam Lovegrove checking points the old-fashioned way|
|This is what the salt flats looked like on Wednesday afternoon...Lake Bonneville returns!|
|Brough Superior CEO Mark Upham 'then', ca.1976, rolling up a cig before a lineup of British moto-constabulary, with his BSA A10 chopper, complete with 2-into-4 'zoomer' pipes and Bantam tank, and a spectacular set of dreadlocks!|
Shane Balkowitsch is a determined and self-sufficient fellow; after seeing my 'wet plate' photographs on The Vintagent
and at MotoTintype.com
, he was intrigued by the process of taking 19th Century photographs, and asked for more information. I sent him my resources, and thought no more about it, until Shane sent me his first wet plate photo a few weeks later, after he'd secured all the equipment and chemistry required, and taught himself the process! Definitely not a wannabe.
Shane also sent notes on a Porsche 356 'C' he'd restored to an 'outlaw' sports/racer spec, which is pretty cool (pics here of resto by Bill Hamilton
). Not many readers of The Vintagent
know I used to own sports cars as well as motorcycles ('62 flat-floor E-Type roadster, Lotus Cortina, MG Magnette, Lancia Zagato, Jensen Healey, etc), but gave them up, as they took up too much space! And, driving sports cars in the manner I ride my motorcycles is pretty dangerous to other road users... Now I drive my Sprinter, because I can fit 3 bikes in back, and it's my mobile darkroom for the MotoTintype wet plate photography
Shane recently completed a restoration on his '71 BMW R75/5 (pics here)
, built as a Café Racer to match his Porsche. Restored by Josh Withers, the bike (like the car) is painted in Porsche K45-286 Silver. Shane purchased both machines as serious projects; the '65 Porsche had been completely disassembled 'for restoration'... for 23 years, and the BMW was a mess. While the resulting BMW is a good example of current Café Racer practice (as seen in my 'Ton Up!' exhibit last summer in Sturgis
), I can't recall seeing such a car/bike resto-pair in one garage; they make a much more intriguing story than either vehicle alone. Have fun on the roads of North Dakota, Shane!
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|Photo by the builder - Josh Withers, photographer by day, bike builder by night...|
was a rare bird among the many fascinating motorcycle inventors of the early 20th Century; while there were many rider-designer-manufacturers during the era, he is one of 4 men who not only designed, built, and raced motorcycles, but also won the Isle of Man TT
, a distinction he shares only with Howard R Davies (HRD) and
Charlie and Harry Collier (Matchless)
|Cyril Pullin in the 1913 Isle of Man TT, aboard an inlet-over-exhaust Veloce, on which he finished dead last, due to oil leaks and belt slippage...|
Pullin began his racing career at Brooklands and at the Isle of Man in 1913, racing the first iteration of a Velocette (and finishing dead last), but the next year he moved to a Rudge, which he modified to suit his jockey-like stature. He lowered the top frame rail of his Rudge 'Multi', which not only gave a lower seating position and consequently lower center of gravity, but also updated the appearance of a typical 'Teens '5-bar gate' frame design, with parallel top frame tubes and tall saddle position.
|Winner of the 1914 Isle of Man TT on a Rudge Multi, Cyril Pullin modified the machine to his own specification|
After Indian's 1911 1-2-3 sweep of the Isle of Man TT
using two-speed chain drive machines, it was clear to all that multiple speeds equalled race success. Rudge and Zenith both built successful belt-drive racers using variable pulley diameters, and mechanical contraptions to take up the slack of the consequent belt looseness. While Scott used a 2-speed chain drive to win the 1913 TT, the Rudge Multi system had notches in its shift gate for 20 speeds, which did the trick in 1914, as Pullin beat Howard R Davies (Sunbeam)
and Oliver Godfrey (Indian)
to the line by 6.4 seconds, averaging a remarkable 49.5mph on the rutted, unpaved cart track of the island.
Rudge hoped to cash in on his success, and released a 'TT Replica' within the year.
Pullin had an extremely inventive mind, and in 1916 submitted the first of 171 patents (at least, so far as I've found!) filed during his lifetime, concerning all manner of carburation, oil pumps, frame and fork design, brakes, etc. By 1920 he teamed up with Stanley Lawrence Groom on the design of a radically advanced two-stroke motorcycle with a pressed sheetmetal frame. This machine was the subject of 12 joint patents in Pullin/Groom's names, and drawings of the machine show clearly the forward thinking of this pair of designers. While the two-stroke design failed to materialize, many of the ideas for its chassis reappear later in the 1920s with the Ascot-Pullin, as does the team of Pullin and Groom.
|The 1920 two-stroke design of Pullin and Groom, with pressed-steel chassis|
By 1922 Pullin was employed by Douglas in Bristol, and his sister had married that marque's chief designer and General Manager, Steven Leslie Bailey, and was soon racing Douglas machines in their heyday, while patenting many of the ideas he developed there. In 1922, he became the first man to record 100mph on a motorcycle on British soil, using a very special OHV Douglas flat-twin. He also continued to race at Brooklands and the Isle of Man, taking place in the 1923 TT, which Douglas won both the Senior TT (Tom Sheard) and newly introduced Sidecar TT (Freddie Dixon, using a banking sidecar of his own design). Douglas, in its run of success, hired professional racer Rex Judd for a run of Brooklands records, and Pullin, ever the modernist, rigged a radio communications system with his rider, Judd having earphones within his helmet, from which he could communicate with Pullin back at the works garage - surely a first!
|Cyril Pullin aboard the special racing Douglas on which he rode 100mph for the first time in Britain, in 1922|
Even during these heady, successful days with Douglas, Pullin had a restless mind, and it seems the pull of his Great Idea - the pressed-steel motorcycle chassis - was too much to ignore. By 1928, he teamed up with Stanley Groom once again, and secured the old Phoenix factory in Letchworth, Herts
, to establish the Ascot Motor and Manufacture Co Ltd. Their intention was to produce both a car and motorcycle of steel pressings, the car being based on the Hungarian 'Fejes'
, whose inventor, Jeno Fejes, held similar views to Pullin's own, although the car was far more radical than Pullin's designs, having even the engine built of welded-up pressings! The Fejes car (and what an unfortunate name...) was never actually built at the Ascot works, but Groom and Pullin drew up a flurry of patents (22 in all) relating to their two-wheeled venture, many of which found their way into the Ascot-Pullin motorcycle
|The press release for the prototype Ascot-Pullin motorcycle, claiming a 100mph top speed|
The bright dream of a motorcycle inventor/racer could be forgiven if it looked like a camel, but Cyril Pullin had already proved with Rudge and Douglas that he had a designer's eye, and his sketches for the 1920 pressed-steel two stroke show a deep appreciation for aesthetic engineering. The Ascot-Pullin
proved to be far more than a 'slide-rule special', having a perfection of line and proportion revealing its designers to be men inclined towards elegance; the complete machine is a gem of the English Art Deco design movement, being the happy integration of modern machinery and contemporary style. It's pressed-steel bodywork is at once more restrained than its extravagant contemporary rival, the French 'Majestic' [read my road test here]
, yet more cheerful than the sober Deco inclinations of the BMW R16 [read my road test here]
|Yes, one of 7 survivors, but gassed up and ready to go!|
I was lucky enough to acquaint myself thoroughly with a 1929 Ascot-Pullin this summer, its indulgent owner giving me a free hand to explore the machine's character, regardless that it's one of perhaps 7 survivors. My first impression of the machine is one of unity - an easy summary given the monococque chassis - and luxury. The machine is beautifully appointed with every gauge one could hope for on a late '20s car of the era, an appropriate comparison given the 'two wheeled car' ideal Pullin was clearly shooting towards. This notion of and 'ideal' motorcycle with fully enclosed mechanicals, silent running, full instrumentation, and weather protection (not to mention an adjustable windscreen and wiper - an option on the Ascot-Pullin!) was an idea constantly referenced in the motorcycling press of the day, and which proved to be absolutely correct, 50 years later with the Honda Gold Wing and its ilk.
|The pressed-steel forks and hydraulic brake lines are clearly visible here|
Pullin's baby bristles with both innovation and attractive design touches, like the numerous chromed star washers and a rocket-ship exhaust system. The engine is an advanced flat-single cylinder design, much like the contemporary Moto Guzzi
but OHV, and with a geared primary drive to its en-bloc transmission. As noted, the chassis and forks are pressed steel, with strengthening indents accented with two-tone paint, while the wheels are interchangeable on Pullin's own quick-release patented hubs, complemented by his own-patent hydraulic brakes, the first on a motorcycle. The symmetrical instrument binnacle holds a speedo, clock, oil pressure gauge, multi-position light switch, ammeter, and unique mirror-image levers for the magneto and air controls. The bike sits on Pullin's patented telescoping center stand, which has 2 positions - parking and 'wheel removal'. There's plenty of room for tools in the tanktop toolbox, and access for mechanical adjustments is easy, via removable panels.
|The OHV cylinder head and exhaust 'rocket' tip; the cylinder head is a neat and robust design with cast-in rocker supports, but exposed valve gear|
With such elaborate specification, the Ascot-Pullin still only weighs in at a bit over 320lbs, and the saddle height is low at just over 26". The engine isn't a racer, as evidenced by a fairly low compression ratio, and consequent easy kickover. The beast starts with a woffle from its twinned exhausts, and the slow-scroll internal throttle reminds the rider that one needn't be in a hurry on such a fine piece of machinery. Pullin's own press releases claimed a 100mph top speed for the Ascot-Pullin, but that's not the impression I got - probably in the 80s is more accurate - and over every speed, the extra-low center of gravity from the flat-single mass gives stable and secure handling, which gave me complete confidence approaching the S bends of my testing grounds. Still, Pullin didn't build this machine as a scratcher, and hard cornering will leave souvenirs of expensive chrome on an unappreciative pavement. Scrubbing off speed with those novel hydro-brakes was as about as good as any 1920s bike I've ridden, which is to say, plan your stops and leave room for surprises. Enjoy the feeling of extreme quality this machine exudes; luxury motorcycles went extinct by WW2, and the Ascot-Pullin is as good as any on the road in its day.
|8-day Jaeger clock, ammeter, oil pressure gauge, lighting switch, speedo and fuel level gauge (in tank below) are all within easy sight. The speedo will apparently require some attention by the new owner!|
Cyril Pullin's two-wheeled brainchild was an idea too far ahead of its time, but he was absolutely correct in his ideas. Today we see examples ticking the boxes of his spec sheet on every highway, with stereos blaring from weather-protecting fairings, and engines invisible under shapely steel (or more likely plastic) car-like coverings. In the heady year of 1929, the Crash
which greeted the Ascot-Pullin meant its doom, the factory closing its doors a year later, after an estimated 500 machines had been produced. Pullin went to work for Douglas once again, before setting off into the skies with his new interest; helicopters. His son Raymond became the first pilot of a British built helicopter, designed by his father, in 1938, and Pullin carried on in the aero industry the rest of his working life. A few examples of his motorcycle masterpiece remain, and it was sheer pleasure to sample the unfettered ideas of one of motorcycling's greatest figures.
|The 'offside' showing access panels for maintenance|
My test machine is coming up for auction at the Bonhams Stafford sale, on October 20th. Click here for more information.
|The clutch quick-thread release, magneto, and kickstart quadrant are easily exposed|
|The dash in its entirety, showing the matched Deco ignition and air levers|
|1928 Patent for the chassis design, showing the halves to be welded together|
|Cyril Pullin's 1928 patent for a telescoping center stand|
|Pullin's patent for hydraulic motorcycle brakes and master/slave cylinders|
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|The beautiful Ascot-Pullin, an Art Deco gem|
The four hamlets which comprise the 'Wildwood' beach resort
in coastal New Jersey considers itself the 'birthplace of Rock n' Roll', as Bill Haley and the Comets
first performed 'Rock around the Clock', considered the first-ever Rock single, at the HofBrau hotel in 1954. The beach towns have a population of around 5000 permanent residents, which swells to 250,000 in the summer as beach lovers flock to the collection of odd and old-fashioned hotel/motels (200 motels - shades of Frank Zappa) with neon advertising and a strong cool/kitsch factor. Come September, when the kids start school and the weather cools, the motels stand empty, as do the beaches. There's a weather window before the nasty stuff really sets in on the East Coast, when the empty beach becomes an attractive nuisance to gearheads, taking on aspects of Pendine Sands in Wales
, or pre-1950s Daytona/Ormond beach
in Florida. That is, ripe for speed.
The Oilers car club
, spearheaded by Meldon V.R. Stultz III, approached the Greater Wildwood Hotel and Motel Association with the idea of a post-holidays beach race, and the lure of hundreds of off-season room rentals secured the date this year, and the success of the Race of Gentlemen
in 2012 ensured a repeat this year on October 4/5/6. The entries for a bit of beach drag racing were limited to 1920s and 30s cars and motorcycles, and a simple arrangement of pylons and commentator's booth, plus a couple of attractive flaggers, made for a very old-fashioned event, in the aged metal but perhaps more importantly in the spirit of pre-Corporate, amateur motoring competition, which has all but died out in the USA.
My ace photographer on the day, Sasha Valentine of CafeRacerXXX
, sent in these fantastic shots of the competition and atmosphere. Many thanks Sasha!
All photos c.2013 Sasha Valentine
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The back story: I was asked by Remo Chen, a student at San Francisco's Academy of Art, to sit for a video interview for her broadcast journalism class, as she needed a subject who's 'living an interesting lifestyle'. I've had plenty of goodwill, good advice, and outright financial support while making The Vintagent the free and groovy motorcycle hang it has become, so I'm always happy to pay back the goodwill in any way I can. While Remo's interview was fun, the tables were turned when she explained how she'd found me - her boyfriend in Chengdu, China, is an avid motorcyclist, and had recently completed his first custom motorcycle build. Much like back in 2010 when I discovered the 'Chai Racers' in Mumbai, this was the first I'd heard of a Custom scene in China (as my head is mostly in the Vintage world), and when Remo showed me photos of the bike, I suggested we introduce Valen's work via The Vintagent. The following is Remo's account of photographer Valen Zhou's first Custom. The good news? He's already working on another...
|Valen Zhou's super-cool micro-Custom, nicknamed the 'Monstub' (a mashup of Monster and Cub, since it 'looks weird and has a small engine') built in Chengdu, China|
"Valen and his Motorcycle
This is my boyfriend’s first handmade motorcycle. This HONDA CB125 is from the first generation built in cooperation with a Chinese motorcycle company. He spent about 3 months rebuilding this awesome thing, and he thinks this is still not good enough.
When he was young, about 3 or 4 years old, his father gave him a toy motorcycle. He didn’t know what it was, just that it had two wheels and could move, so he liked it. The first time he saw a real motorcycle was in his grandpa’s neighborhood garden. It was a foundry product, Chang Jiang 750
, made from the BMW design. He was so curious. Did the engine still work? What did that sound like? Who bought this? And what was the story about the man who had it? With the increase of age, he became so obsessed with motorcycles that he bought a Chinese Honda on his 16th
birthday. He still can remember the feeling of freedom when he got on that bike for first time.
He likes old things, because they always have a lot of stories to tell. When you come to understand old things, you know the quality of living and thought in that period. He can buy a motor anywhere he wants. Each motorcycles has its own story about the man who used to own it and ride it. It’s like a connection between the old owner and the new owner. Maybe the owners change but the stories are still there. If you want to get close to them, you can find so many surprises in them.
He has an anxiety disorder, and building the motorcycle helped make him feel calm. The motorcycle helps him deal with anxiety, and he can fall asleep at night, also
doesn’t feel nervous anymore. He said one day he would build a motorcycle for himself and give it his own story. When he gets old, he can tell his son or daughter the whole story about his first handmade bike. And he has done now. I feel the motorcycle is like his soul mate. He can ride it to anywhere he wants to go. He can share anything with them. So the motorcycle feels like another him to me. From the first time we saw her, the motorcycle has been part of the story of our life. He took her apart, and then put her together, gave her a brand new life.
At the beginning of my boyfriend’s story, there was a little boy who just wanted a bike to ride, but now the boy has grown up and found his own life style with his motorcycle. The story never ends, we never know what will happen next, and that why he keeps chasing his dream of motorcycles."
All photographs c.2013 Valen Zhou
The ultimate French Art Deco motorcycle - the Majestic - has only gained a reputation outside France since its inclusion in the Guggenheim Museum's Art of the Motorcycle exhibit
in 1998, which was the first most viewers had ever seen or heard of this rare machine. Despite the exhibit's visibility, live sightings of this elusive motorcycle are rare, although I road tested one in 2010
, which was enlightening - the concept of a hub-center steered motorcycle
is sound, and the bike proved a civilized and intuitive ride [I've since found this to be true with another hub-steered bike, a 1920 Ner-A-Car, but that's a story for another day].
For all their rising fame, and even an appearance last summer at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours
, Majestics rarely change hands, perhaps because few of them exist, but equally likely because owners are attached to these unique machines. The 1929 Majestic in these photos is currently for sale at Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles in Holland,
and it's attached to a period Bernardin sidecar, which suits it beautifully in French Racing Blue with cream accents.
Georges Roy's first venture into motorcycle production was the unorthodox 'New Motorcycle' of 1928, with a pressed steel monococque chassis, and blade-type girder forks. The next year, Roy moved even further from the mainstream, showing a prototype of the hub-center steered Majestic at the Paris Motor Show in 1929. The Majestic doesn't have a monococque chassis like the New Motorcycle, but uses a squarish section steel tube frame similar to an automobile, which is covered in swooping steel panels in an unbroken line from the curved front 'beak' to the sporty abbreviated tail.
The central engine cover is removable for access and maintenance, and there's room in the engine bay for a large motor, or even a radiator for a water-cooled machine. Two types of chassis were built; a heavyweight for use with a Cleveland 4-cylinder engine (only one of these exists), or a sideways-mounted JAP V-twin, and light chassis for the single-cylinder Chaise engine, as seen on this machine. The petrol tank sits under the front bulkhead, and the instruments sat in a binnacle on the handlebars - in this case, a clock, speedo, and multi-position light switch.
Detail shots show the arrangement of the steering and front suspension; pillar rods allow sprung vertical movement, and the steering rod can be seen connected to the central hub by a 'c' shaped lever. The front hub has plenty to do, with a large bearing and brake mechanism inside. My road test proved the steering light and the machine nimble and predictable. It was clear the Majestic was a different breed, as the steering felt totally neutral at all speeds, and required a bit of sensitivity to understand, but that took only a few hundred yards; after that, it was easy, and terribly elegant. I have to admit a trace of envy for the new owner of this gorgeous outfit!
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|Steve Brindmore and his Featherbed Commando, leaving our warehouse in the last industrial area of San Francisco |
and the Yerba Buena chapter of the AMCA
host the annual 49-Mile Ride
on the last Sunday of October, which is open to all pre-1975 motorcycles, and is regularly swarmed with over 300 bikes of all makes and configurations. I was on the first 9 editions of the 49-Mile
, but missed a few while abroad - it's always great fun to confound automotive traffic in SF, although a few times I reflected on the unfortunate 'New York Incident'
while hordes of bikers maneuvered around cars; honks and fingers were occasionally exchanged, but no trouble ensued.
|Chris Bonk and his original-paint 1951 MV Agusta 125cc two-stroke|
The polyglot nature of the bikes present is what makes this ride special; mopeds, scooters, pre-War, military, Choppers, Cafe Racers, Britbikes, Italian 70s hotrods, Japanese 60s two-strokes, literally everything under the sun. Everyone rides an old motorcycle, and that's good enough.
|At the meeting point, the Bayview Boat Club (pointedly NOT a yacht club), a lovely ca.1978 Ducati 900SS|
I discussed the 'club scene' with one attendee, who's invested much time over the years in the BSA Owner's Club.
He lamented that 95% of the bikes riding the 49-Mile Ride would not be welcome at a BSA Club ride, which I opined was an excellent way to ensure the death of one-make and Vintage clubs. The most popular and vital vintage motorcycle scene worldwide, and the one which attracts younger riders, is the broad spectrum of Custom bikes - Cafe Racers, Bobbers, Choppers, Street Trackers, etc. Plenty of Custom riders have 'stock' vintage bikes too, but who wants to hang around with old farts who look sideways at their cool creations? Food for thought.
|A pair of BSAs, distinctly different cousins; an A65 chopper, and a B44 Victor Special|
Enjoy this stop-motion tour of San Francisco, the photos are in order from the trip to my warehouse (Motopia) and back; I'll point out touristy hightlights for those far away!
|Wonderfully ratty Harley Knucklehead|
|A buyer's choice of redness; Benelli (Motobi), Puch Grand Prix, Moto Guzzi Falcone Tourismo|
|An interesting pair of Bobbers; Knucklehead and Trophy|
Hanging out with Max Schaaf, vintage chopper revivalist with his blog 4Q Conditioning (Kim Young photo)
|Host club Yerba Buena M/C provided the legal release forms and prepared the food!|
|Lots of Street Trackers, like this Triumph, and the Rickman behind|
|Lovely old Matchless G80|
|Honda CB750 in front of a Chevrolet Impala, just like the one I grew up in!|
|This young man has earned his imperious visage, riding a Simplex around the parking lot|
|Most 'CB' Hondas are now accepted into the AMCA under the 35 year rule...|
|We're off!! More Hondas, this time a rare (for the US) 'Black Bomber' CB450 in original paint|
|Crossing the 3rd St drawbridge, right beside the Giants' baseball stadium downtown|
|Beside the ballpark...|
|Heading along the Embarcadero, towards the Bay Bridge|
|This youngster was excited to see all the bikes ride by, and eager to be included by the SF Piers|
The old Fire Station on the Embarcadero |
|The Ferry Building, which is now a shrine to fine foods|
|From left: Coit Tower, an 'F' Line vintage streetcar, a lovely Sunbeam with wicker sidecar, and the Piers where the America's Cup sailing races were recently centered|
|Yes, SF has hills; this is the climb up Lombard St.|
|Mid-Lombard St descent, down a one-way brick road. Not 'the crookedest street in SF', but picturesque|
|Kim Young with daughter Sirisvati on the back, heading downhill towards Alcatraz|
|A nice AJS Model 16 at the Marina|
|A Whizzer, the smallest machine on the ride, near the Golden Gate Bridge|
|A hot Puch Grand Prix and BSA A10 Road Rocket|
|Mondial 175 and Yam SR500...|
|The 900SS riding through the Presidio, towards Baker Beach and the Seacliff neighborhood|
The BSA Road Rocket passes before the Palace of the Legion of Honor, a replica of the one in Paris|
Akiko recently bought her Honda Dream after getting her license a year ago - this was her first Vintage ride! Hope you dug it!
|Paul Zell on his home-built NorVin, at the Cliff House|
|Beside the Cliff House, with Ocean Beach beyond|
|Rick Najera on his Knucklehead Bobber, in front of the Beach Chalet in Golden Gate Park|
|Heading south on the Great Highway along Ocean Beach|
|A Harley/Aermacchi Sprint SS350|
|A full-dress Moto Guzzi Ambassador in Golden Gate Park|
|An ex-Military Indian Chief|
|'Indian' Rick deCost|
|Guiding my Triumph Bonneville through familiar turf|
|Charlie Taylor and his Matchless Model X beside Laguna Honda reservoir|
|Atop Twin Peaks; a young lad is hooked!|
|Pete and Kim Young looking over SF from Twin Peaks|
|Blaise Descollanges on top of the world|
|Lovely Zundapp K700 and Nimbus outfit|
|Twin Peaks is ripe for a bit of scratching; no cars, nice bends|
|Heading down Twin Peaks towards downtown|
|The end of the day, back at the Bayview Boat Club, Steve Brindmore and Roland Batterscher|
|...and back to Bayview, with Ana and Katie at the BBQ|
|The dry magnificence of northern Marin County - cypress trees, brown grasslands, rolling hills with roads snaking through their hollows|
I haven't ridden the BSA club's biggest annual ride in 6 years or so, but I was in the San Francisco Bay area at the end of October, which means two excellent vintage events on consecutive weekends. The All-British Ride is an interesting contrast to the 49-Mile Ride, which attracts an incredible variety of machines, from Harley choppers to scooters, mopeds, nicely restored Britbikes, and more importantly, riders of all ages and persuasions. The British Only focus of today's ride didn't shrink attendance, as nearly 200 machines rode the 100 mile loop around the best roads of Marin Country.
|A 'Chinese Red' Vincent Rapide, the only one I've seen which isn't a Touring model. Original color? Who cares.|
Notwithstanding the obvious differences in the motorcycle marques (Norton, BSA, Triumph, Vincent, Velocette, AJS, Matchless, Royal Enfield) between the two rides, the most glaring (and discussed) factor on the All-British Ride was the visibly greying hair among the riders. I've been carving corners with these Bay Area hotshots for over 25 years, and as a group, we've grown older together, but the number of young 'replacement' riders, who'll likely buy/inherit our machines, is notably few.
|Autumn is fully present in this mostly evergreen land, so we celebrate a little leaf color where we find it|
Where are they, now that 'Motorcycles are Back!', as the cover of 'The Ride'
rightly exclaims? As seen in the 49-Mile Ride, they're busy riding Customs, Bobbers, Choppers, and Cafe Racers, of all makes and varieties, and aren't particularly interested in 'one make' clubs, the supposed lifeblood of the old bike movement. Well, if the lifeblood is stale, it's time to infuse a little 'new blood', and do more than simply accept the existence of modified motorcycles...if the vintage motorcycle movement wants to thrive, it needs to celebrate what's happening, and start diggin' the customs, man.
|Around 200 machines makes for crowded fuel stops, but every stop is a chance to catch up with old friends|
For everyone over 50 reading this, who's a member of a Vintage or one-make club, we could do worse than to recall what made us tick at age 22 or 25... being cool, having fun, getting laid. If modified old bikes fulfill those 3 requirements - and they clearly do - that's where we'll find the next generation of vintage enthusiasts. If they don't feel scorned for removing the fenders from their Triumph or Honda (which is exactly what we did at their age), they might join us on a vintage ride, to discover why we love these events; riding an old motorcycle in beautiful countryside on a sunny day is a pretty close second to getting laid. And it lasts all day!
|Another of the 6 Vincents present and ridden, and isn't it glorious to see a big Vin heeled over in a corner?|
It was great to see old friends, and hammer my Bonneville around the bends where I learned to ride a motorcycle properly, and understand their - and my - limits. I had an ear-to-ear smile from my first kickstart of the morning until I parked the Bonnie in the garage, and my energies were renewed. Motorcycling is the best.
|Lovely Ariel Square Four mk2 - a rhyming song in aluminum|
|Roland Batterscher tries out a replica of Eddie Mulder's Pike's Peak-winning Triumph, a masterpiece of custom fabrication|
|British chrome shining in the morning sun; c. '68 BSA A65 Lightning and a late-model Triumph T160 Trident |
|About 8 years ago I was asked to help sell a c.1950 BSA A7 plunger for an elderly man who'd had a stroke, and could use the money. It was easiest just to buy the bike for the market rate, ~$3500 at the time, and pass it along to a new owner, which I did. The BSA had been used for occasional fishing trips, and had only clocked 3200 miles; it still had the original tires, and the paint and chrome was a bit oxidized but completely original. The all-iron motor was quiet and sweet-running and smooth; it was a gem of a machine but I was into racing bikes only at the time, so sold it at no profit to Gus. Gus still has it, and rode it on the All-British. He says it has a suprising turn of speed, but shouldn't be pushed to hard around bumpy corners, as the plunger suspension sets up a yawing roll which is disconcerting. Above is the original sticker from San Francisco BSA dealer Molander Motors. |
|Lots of late Triumphs and Commandos in Cali|
|Kumi and Mike adding serious cool to the venue|
|My '65 Triumph Bonneville waits patiently while I snap roadside photos. The early single-downtube Triumph frame isn't the stiffest of chassis, and under hard cornering the front forks squirm. It's best to ignore all the flexion, and just point it where it needs to go... and it does indeed go. |
|The Squariel glinting in the 10am sun|
|Possibly the ugliest bitsa on the ride, or jolie-laide as the French might say - 'pretty/ugly' - is Roland's crazy Triumph-Rickman mix, with Ceriani road race forks AND magnesium brakes, Norton Electra tank (the fastest any Electra part has ever gone!), Harley XR tail section, etc. Fast and fun, a crazy but functional Street Track hybrid|
|The legendary Lou Brero Jr and the BSA mix he'd completed at '2am this morning'. Lou's father was a Ferrari and Jaguar factory team driver in the 1950s (see pic here - Jr is now past Sr's age!), and in the 1980s, when racing cars values started going through the roof, Lou Jr's inherited ex-factory Ferrari 375MM and Jaguar D-type became the subject of international intrigue, with hilarious magazine stories of the 'lost' team Ferrari, etc. They were never 'lost'; the locals knew exactly where they sat!|
|Velocettes demand supplication before accepting a new owner!|
|Autumnal reds and yellows everwhere...|
|A typical California Commando, slightly modified for road use, in this case with a fork brace and steering damper (unnecessary in my experience), and a Corbin seat. The Roadster model with 'peashooter' mufflers, as seen here, is a perennial favorite, being fast, smooth, and good-handling. The ideal old bike, in many ways, for reliable modern use.|
|Paul Adams bonks home on his 'purchased from new' 1960 Velocette Venom Clubman|
|In the 1980s, container loads of Triumph Tridents and pre-unit twins left California for Australia, in a time-phased import shift from England, with a temporary stopover in the USA. A few are still around, though.|
|Gold Stars galore, in many styles of originality and specification|
|The late '50s BSA Gold Star is a miracle of a good design, mixing a timeless beauty with exceptional performance. The keen-eyed will note a TT carburetor - this is an early CB34 Goldie, ca.'54, the first year of the big-fin cylinder head.|
|King of the Cafe Racers, and one you can buy new from Patrick Godet in France, the Godet-Egli-Vincent.|
|Lovely pipes on this BSA A10 Spitfire scrambler|
|A new Triumph Thruxton with an infection of checker-tape, which has spread to the helmet! Or perhaps it originated there. A hot bike, with Keihin CR carbs and a true Cafe Racer kit of clip-ons, rearsets, open reverse megaphones, and a humped seat.|
|The BSA CB34 Gold Star in question, with an original-fitment 21" front wheel. Utterly gorgeous.|
|Cali chrome! A Triumph Daytona 500cc, done up Desert Sled style...|
Another 'used to be mine' machine...an interesting Velo Venom Endurance I discovered on the edge of the Mojave desert, totally neglected and sat outside for years. The gearbox was rotten, but the rest of the machine, which was stripped to the last nut and cleaned, was basically reassembled, with just a few parts replaced, but is almost totally original. Owner Jeff Scott has put tens of thousands of miles on her since...
|Mike Shiro's immaculate '58 Norton Dominator 99, one of two years with the chrome tank panel (instead of the chromed tank of the '52-'57 Featherbed models. I love the discreet grey used on these and the Featherbed Internationals...|
|While a Triking uses a Moto Guzzi engine, they're built in the UK. I've driven one - they're quick and handle really well. Reverse gear is your outstretched palm...|
|Another Vin, this time an all-black Touring Rapide...|
|Ca. '68 Triumph Bonneville|
|BSA Rocket 3 sparkling|
Blue Gum eucalyptus trees were planted in the 1800s as a fast-growing 'lumber', which proved useless, but they've spread across the state, and now riding in Marin County looks much like riding in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney!
|Vincent Black Shadow and Norton Commando|
|Another Norton Commando Roadster |
|Conrad Leach blasts back to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge|
|Say hi to the tourists on the fake cable car!|
|The 2014 Brough Superior SS100|
Mark Upham has been dropping hints about a 'new new' machine in the Brough Superior stable, being built and assembled by Boxer Design in Toulouse, France
, with help from the team at Aquila Design in England
. The bike was unveiled today at the EICMA show
in Milan. Upham says 'We've spent 4M euros on the design of a totally new engine, and have been in talks with Prime Minister of Britain for possible support of what we see as a major project. Our goal is to be the #2 motorcycle manufacturer in Britain. Our price range will be under 100k euros, and we expect to build perhaps 20 per year of these totally bespoke machines'.
The new SS100 takes cues from the 1926 'Pendine' SS100 competition model, with metal straps securing the familiar bulbous Brough fuel tank, the twin tubular exhausts (called 'carbjectors' on the 20s machine), the big, powerful V-twin engine (thank God it's not an S&S...), the unusual forks with echo the 'Castles' of the big Brough, and even the small windscreen. The headlamp has a bezel ring with increases the visual diameter, etc. Mark Upham has set himself a difficult task, the ultimate Vintage machine follow-up, and I feared the worst when I heard he was proceeding on this project...so much could go catastrophically wrong when playing with history! There's much to commend in the new design, it is definitely not a failure nor a horror, and I'm intrigued about the on-the-road performance. The 90degree engine, as we know from Ducati, is naturally very smooth, and the front end looks unusual, but BMW has proven a modern 'girder' fork can be exceptional. As more photos are released, I'll add them to this post.
Specifications of the new machine are as follows:
Engine - 88degree V-twin DOHC 4-Valve, water and oil cooled, 997cc, 100hp@10krpm, 11:1 compression, 125Nm torque @ 8krpm.
Dimensions - Wheelbase 1550mm (61"), steering angle 24.6deg, trail 96.7mm (3.8"), 18" aluminum 18-spoke wheels, dry weight 180kb (395lb).
Chassis - Steel and titanium trellis tube frame, Fior double wishbone front forks, Ohlins Shocks front and rear, front brake 4D ceramic Beringer double discs, rear brake single aluminum/ceramic composite.
Most enthusiasts outside France had never heard of the MGC (Marcel Giuguet et Cie)
before the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum
back in 1998. Those lucky enough to see the exhibit (or buy the catalog) were stunned by the streamlined alloy beauty of a racing N3BR model mid-way down the museum's spiral ramp.
|A pair of unsilenced exhaust pipes might have been original, but MCG's did come with silencers too.|
In the spirit of 1920s modernism, Marcel Guiguet
had a vision for an entirely new type of motorcycle chassis, using light and extremely strong aluminum castings to replace the frame and fuel/oil tanks. His reasoning was sound; aluminum beams of the right specification, and hollow aluminum castings, can be made lighter and torsionally much stiffer than a lugged steel tube frame with bolt-on tanks. The same principle has been used by numerous bike manufacturers (think Yamaha Deltabox
) since the 1980s, but by then Guiguet's work was long forgotten.
|Marcel Guiguet aboard an early N3 with dropped handlebars - Guiguet was a successful racer, and sought lightness and good handling in his designs|
Like many technical pioneers, Guiguet's theory was excellent, but aluminum casting technology was not sophisticated enough in 1929 to give the strength and consistency required for a fool-proof chassis. Almost all of the large fuel tank/top frame members leaked badly from casting porosity, and every one required sealing with a type of varnish to prevent leaks. That same porosity plagued the aluminum structural members, which tended to crack from the abuse of a rigid frame over the unpaved roads of the '20s. As a consequence, many MGCs were scrapped for their valuable aluminum, and few survive.
|The post-1930 version of the MGC frame, slightly more streamlined and less egg-like in the fuel tank casting, as used in the MCG N3BR racer|
The machined pictured is extremely rare, being one of around 56 MGC survivors, in completely original condition/original paint, and is a c.1929 'Touring' N3 model with a tank-top instrument panel in its 11 liter fuel tank, a 350cc JAP ohv Sports engine (with twin exhaust ports), Brampton forks, and Burman 3-speed gearbox. The oil tank hides within the lower frame casting, and holds 2.8L. MGC's used Motosacoche, JAP, and Chaise motors, and a prototype 4-cylinder OHV engine was built by Guiguet in 1938, and installed in an MGC chassis (for more on this remarkable machine, the N34, click here
|The JAP 'Sports' engine was the one of the most powerful engines a small manufacturer could purchase|
The MGC deserves close scrutiny, and reveals Guiget's ingenious solutions to a set of chassis problems not revisited for 50 years. The MGC is coming up for sale at the Bonhams Grand Palais sale in Paris during Rétromobile week, Feb. 6 2014.
The English magazine Motor Cycling
had its own take on the MGC (July 27, 1929): "A curious machine has just been put on the market...The frame, engine cradle, carrier and even the petrol tank on this machine are made in tough aluminum alloy known as Alpax [made by Lightalloys of London]... lighter than aluminum [yet is] enormously stronger, whether in tension or compression. There are two main members to the frame. The top member includes the petrol reservoir in one casting and the tank suggests a rather over-sized ostrich egg, which someone has plated and polished. On top of the tank is a particularly neat instrument-board, whilst the gear-change quadrant is mounted on the side of the casting. The bottom member of the frame, as may be seen from our photograph,constitutes a very robust cradle for the engine, the latter being either a 350cc or 500cc JAP [which also contains the oil tank].
Upper and lower frame members are joined by two pairs of what appear to be steel drop forgings. Actually, these struts are in cast aluminum, like the rest of the frame, but as they happen to be painted this gives the illusion, the rest of the frame being simply polished. A standard Burman 3-speed gearbox is fitted."
|While the rear wheel strut is painted, it, too, is made of machined aluminum|
|The stork, MGC's logo, was adopted from the elite French Air Force fighter squadron 'The Storks' (the Groupe de Combat 12 'Les Cigognes'), which included most of the French flying aces in WW1. Marcel Guiguet's elder brother Joseph Henri Guiguet was a pilot with the Storks in Escadrille N3 (which answers another question...), and flew a SPAD S.XIII fighter, making 'Ace' on Oct 24, 1918. At the end of the war, Joseph Henri cut off the stork painted on his plane's fuselage, framed it, and hung it in the family home, where young Marcel no doubt was transfixed by his brother's tales. It seems he named his entire motorcycle line from Escadrille N3, and adopted their mascot. Such is the humanity of a man revealed.|
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|Joseph Henri Guiguet, Ace fighter pilot with 'Les Cigognes', squadron N3, during WW1, flying this SPAD S.XIII, built in the Blériot factory.|
|The 1935 Böhmerland Reise with 600cc Leibisch OHV engine|
In the 1920s, the Czech motorcycle industry pushed the technological forefront of engine and chassis design, producing the first series built double-overhead camshaft design (the Praga), as well as the longest production motorcycle in history, the Böhmerland. The brainchild of Czech engineer Albin Leibisch, the Böhmerland was built between 1925-1939 in Schönlinde, Sudetenland, and was almost entirely the result of Leibisch’s design and manufacture. That remarkable chassis of welded tubing, the unusual leading-link front forks, the engine, and the cast wheels (a pioneering use for motorcycles, not generally taken up until the 1970s!) were all made in-house, with only the gearbox and various ancillary parts bought-in (magnetos, carburetors, controls, etc). The small factory at one point employed 20 assembly workers, with parts supplied by local subcontractors; production eventually totaled around 3000 units.
The cast wheels of the Böhmerland were a motorcycle 'first', and were immensely strong
The most visually distinctive feature of the Böhmerland was its great length, although several models were produced, from the shortest-wheelbase racing model with a claimed 96mph (160kmh) top speed, to a single-seater ‘Sport’ version, a 3-seater ‘Touring’ model (the most popular, and seen here; seating designation includes the pillion at rear), the extravagant 4-seater ‘Langtouren’ (Long Touring), and even an experimental military model with 4 seats and two gearboxes (the rear ‘box operated by a passenger), giving 9 possible ratios! With a sidecar attached, a Touring Böhmerland could safely carry 4 or 5 passengers, with more elegance and speed than nearly any contemporary automobile of the 1920s. Early models used twin petrol tanks, which kept the cylinder head visible and accessible to the rider/mechanic; later models used a more conventional ‘saddle’ tank (as seen here) which covered the top frame rails. Some later models also used cast steel wheels, as aluminum casting technology lagged behind the far-sighted ideas of Albin Liebisch!!
The Leibisch engine is a tidy and robust OHV design with open rockers...easy to keep an eye on while riding!
Specifications of the ‘Touring’ Model seen here are a total length of 124” (317cm), with a wheelbase of 88” (223cm). The Leibisch engine is a sturdy overhead valve, dry-sump unit of 600cc (80x120mm bore/stroke), producing 24hp @5000rpm, with a top speed of 65mph (110kmh), giving a frugal 70mpg in normal use.
Distinctive, idiosyncratic, and the work of a genius, Böhmerlands are today rightly coveted as collector’s items.
This machine is available at Yesterdays.com; contact them for inquiries!
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It seems BMW, owner of the Villa d'Este concours on the shores of Lake Como, is feeling more secure regarding the suitability and success of their motorcycle event, and has for the first time sent a press release announcing the 2014 dates. The release seems a veiled invitation for motorcycle participants to enter, although no avenue for entering is yet provided; the 'somewhat of a secret' remains! I was unable to attend/judge this year's Concorso, but included a report on The Vintagent (click here). See you there May 23-25, 2014?
From BMW (including all photos):
The preparations for what is set to be another rather special motorcycle meeting are now in full swing. This is the fourth time that motorcycle riders are being invited to take part in the ‚Concorso di Motociclette‘. Owners of all brands of motorcycle from any period – whether from the days of the pioneers to current designer models – are being urged to register their participation at www.concorsodeleganzavilladeste.com. Several applications have already been received from Italy, Switzerland, France, German Austria, and the USA.
Riders don‘t just need to prepare their motorcycles to be presented on the podium and assessed by a jury of recognised experts from different countries, but they should also have to ready their steeds for a joint ride, under police motorcycle escort.
Not only that, but participants can look forward to an attractive programme of side attractions, including the exclusive hotel itself where the participants will be staying as well as receptions and evening events. One particularly important aspect is the opportunity that participants have to meet with motorcycling friends from other countries and with other interests, such as private collectors from all over the world, delegates from museums, or employees from the motorcycle industry.
The selection of 36 motorcycles from all of the registrations received is made by a committee, who assesses and divides them into corresponding groups. A catalogue yearbook is compiled especially for the event, containing information on the motorcycles taking part in the competition. The members of the jury then have a chance to discuss further details with the owners of the motorcycles during the assessment phase.
Until now, the ‚Concorso di Motociclette‘ at Lake Como has been somewhat of a secret among both participants and visitors. Yet the weekend at Lake Como has set new standards in specialist circles regarding the selection and presentation of participating motorcycles. It is certainly worth visiting if only for the unique flair of the Villa Erba and the quality of the support programme, which also includes a number of special exhibitions.
While I was in Sturgis installing the 'TonUp!' exhibit, this article cropped up in the New York Times
, which I reprint here in its entirety, with the accompanying photos. I'll post my own photos and story of the exhibit soon.
CUSTOM MOTORCYCLES AS SCULPTURE: 'THE WHITE, THE BLACK, THE KESTREL'
|[the White installed in the Michael Kohn gallery in Los Angeles]|
The artist Ian Barry
’s newest sculpture could easily be mistaken for a mere motorcycle. It is an impressive piece of hand-built machinery, but that’s not how Mr. Barry sees the newest creation in his Falcon Ten series. To him, his custom motorcycles exist on a different plane than the two-wheel conveyances people drive on public roads. His bikes are the gasoline-powered embodiment of living, breathing, moving art.
In 1998, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presented “The Art of the Motorcycle,”
an exhibition that focused on vintage motorcycles as sculptural objects. The new exhibition “The White, the Black and the Kestrel” by Mr. Barry at the Michael Kohn Gallery
in Los Angeles, adds fresh traction to that line of thought. The exhibition includes three of Mr. Barry’s functional motorcycle sculptures. It also includes eight framed works he has culled from raw materials, including industrial clay, aluminum and solvent-dewaxed heavy paraffinic in his Los Angeles studio.
The centerpiece of the show is the public introduction of the White, a completely custom motorcycle built around a a 1967 Velocette Thruxton
“Squish head” racing engine, held above floor level at its center on a very slender cylindrical mount. It is the fourth motorcycle in Mr. Barry’s Falcon Ten series
, a sequence of 10 custom motorcycles he plans to complete over the next several years. The three displayed at Kohn will be there until Aug. 31.
|The Black. photo: Ian Barry|
“One thing I can say about that particular engine is that it’s extremely rare,” Mr. Barry said in a phone interview. “Only nine of them were ever made. It was made specifically to compete at the Isle of Man. That exact model holds the record for averaging 100 miles per hour in an endurance race. That one point was an interesting fact to me. It was an extreme; it’s done something in its history that carries a certain energy. It’s a charged object.”
Mr. Barry has built a following among vintage motorcycle enthusiasts since he helped found Falcon Motorcycles in 2007 with his partner, Amaryllis Knight, an industrial designer. The Bullet was the first motorcycle in the Falcon Ten series and was based on the 1950 Triumph Thunderbird. It was the recipient of the Custom Culture Award at the 2008 Legend of the Motorcycle International Concours d’Élégance in Pebble Beach, Calif.
Mr. Barry produced the Kestrel in 2010, based on a modified 1970 Triumph Bonneville. The Black originated from a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow in 2011.
“Each one carries a particular meaning,” said Mr. Barry. “They are breeds of falcon. That particular naming applies to the work itself. There is an extreme nature to a falcon. They mate with the same partner for life; there are a lot of facts surrounding falcons. They deal in extremes.”
|The Kestrel. photo: Ian Barry|
The White is the standout among the trio and is Mr. Barry’s most involved creation. He said the White was built over 6,000 hours during the last two and a half years. The shiny, futuristic finished work bares no resemblance to the monochromatic, utilitarian Velocette racing motorcycle it was originally.
“It starts with foam, clay, modeling, but there is no methodology,” he said. “That’s by design.”
Unlike the other motorcycles in the series, the White strays from historical context. He said he fabricated the parts almost entirely by hand, apart from the engine and the tires.
“Each one is an evolving concept,” he said. “On the first three I chose these historical references, and now I’m choosing to ignore those things and move forward. They will all complete a bigger story of the whole. It’s more about forms and a study that’s not linked to history in any way.”
The White finds Mr. Barry pushing boundaries on the motorcycle-building and sculptural processes, flirting with lightweight, exotic alloys — like unusual types of aluminum, copper and titanium – sometimes used in aircraft construction.
“The fact that I have to research all the mechanical properties informs the work in a way that traditional sculpture doesn’t,” he said. “After I got the materials, the specs disappear and I focus on what I’m trying to communicate.”
Mr. Barry said he was introduced to the Michael Kohn Gallery, which provided a more ideal setting for his vision than a motorcycle show, through the artist Case Simmons.
|The Bullet. photo: Ian Barry|
“I made a decision to not ever show at a motorcycle concours again,” Mr. Barry said. “While I appreciate that environment, and those people are enthusiastic and appreciate what I’m doing, it’s something that carries history.”
The Falcons are very much functional works of art, though Mr. Barry shies away from sharing the more technical components of the engineering.
“I’ve ridden the Black over 100 miles per hour and for a couple hundred miles, and I love that riding them is part of their possibility, but it’s beside the point for me,” he said.
Mr. Barry said he had his work cut out for him to top the intricate production process in the remaining six motorcycles.
“I’d imagine that it’d be a decade or more before I close the chapter on this series,” he said. “I hope I get to see them all together one day.”
This has been an incredibly busy summer for The Vintagent: writing a big chunk of the BikeExif/Gestalten book 'The Ride', organizing the 'Ton Up!' exhibit for Sturgis Bike Week, and writing the 'Ton Up!' book for Motorbooks. Cyril Huze stopped by the 'Ton Up!' Michael Lichter exhibition hall at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, and filed the following report on his mega-popular Cyril Huze Post on Aug. 6th, 2013. It's worth a click-back to his site, to read the comments attached, which are always an entertaining mix on CHP...
From the Cyril Huze Post, Aug 6 2013:
TON UP EXHIBITION: SPEED, STYLE AND CAFE RACER CULTURE EXHIBIT AT THE STURGIS BUFFALO CHIP
|[Robert Carter painted sign]|
An exhibition focusing on the origins of the Cafe Racer movement is certain to draw huge crowds. Especially it is organized by internationally renowned photographer Michael Lichter
. Mike’s 2013 Sturgis Buffalo Chip exhibition to celebrate motorcycles as art is called “Ton Up – Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture.”
|[Paul d'O with Michael Lichter]|
Co-curators Michael Lichter
and historian Paul d’Orléans
have assembled a comprehensive display of 35 machines from 12 makes and 6 decades. Included in the show are original or modified machines by BMW, BSA, Ducati, Honda, Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Norton, Rickman, Triumph, Vincent and Yamaha.
|[the Godet-Egli Vincent of Mars Webster]|
In addition the exhibition features never-published photography from the original café racing scene in 1960s England to the present, paintings by Triumph ‘resident artist’ Conrad Leach, images from the Ace Café Collection, vintage leather ‘Rocker’ jackets from the Lewis Leathers archive
, the “One-Show” 21-helmets display of custom painted helmets
, paintings by Andrea Chiaravalli and photography by Erick Runyon
with other artists to be announced.
|[the 'Klock Werks' modified Triumph Thunderbird Storm]|
Each year, the “Motorcycles as Art” exhibition garners tremendous media coverage from around the globe and last Sunday 4th, a record breaking of over 1000 members of the industry attended a media reception offered by Michael, Paul and their sponsors – Hot Leathers and Keyboard Motorcycle Shipping. This not-to-be missed exhibition is now open for the public to view free of charge until Saturday August 10th at the legendary Sturgis Buffalo Chip.
|[Klock Werks headlamp]|
|[Lossa Engineering CB77]|
This year’s exhibition will get even more recognition as it will live on in the coffee-table book “Ton Up – Speed, Style and Cafe Racer Culture,” published by Motorbooks International. Michael Lichter
will photograph all the motorcycles in his Sturgis studio for the book, which will also include the jackets, artwork, and photographs from the exhibit.
|[Brad Richards''Sporty TT']|
is writing a comprehensive history of the Café Racer movement for the book; from its deep origins in speed-modified road bikes from the ‘Teens, to the ‘classic’ period in England in the 1950s/60s, through its various resurrections in the 1970s, 80s, and especially, with the advent of Internet motorcycle blogs, TV shows, and ‘Café Racer’ magazines, the explosive popularity of the style in the 21st Century.
|[Cyril Huze with Paul d'O]|
|[Willie G. Davidson]|
Among the featured builders: Herb Harris (Harris Vincent Gallery), Yoshi Kosaka (Garage Co), Mark Mederski (National Motorcycle Museum), Gordon McCall (Quail Motorsports Gathering), plus Willie G Davidson’s #0001 1977 XLCR, and machines from Alain Bernard, Arlen Ness, Bryan Fuller, Brian Klock, Dustin Kott, Greg Hageman, Jason Michaels, Jay Hart, Jay LaRossa, Kevin Dunworth, Ray Drea (Harley-Davidson design director), Roland Sands, Skeeter Todd, Steve “Brew Dude” Garn, Steve “Carpy” Carpenter, Thor Drake, and Zach Ness. Included in the show are original or modified machines by BMW, BSA, Ducati, Honda, Harley Davidson, Moto Guzzi, Norton, Rickman, Triumph, Vincent and Yamaha."
|[Champions Moto 'Brighton']|
|[Bryan Fuller of Fuller Hot Rods]|
[Text and photos copyright Cyril Huze Post