Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Ed Youngblood in front of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum. Circa 2004.
Ed Younglbood, publisher of the Motohistory website, has included a biographical piece about the Vintagent on his site today, with lots of embarrassing early pictures of me. The article is here. I encourage you to visit his site and explore the great depth of stories and articles included - it's uniformly excellent, and I'm flattered to be included within its pages.

Ed Youngblood
Ed has a lot of great stories himself, having been editor of Cycle News in the motorcycle boom years of the 70's, as well as many years of work on the Board of the AMA, FIM, and AMCA. He has curated or co-curated many motorcycle exhibitions (including the Art of the Motorcycle) and published quite a few books on motorcycles, including 'A Century of Indian', 'Heroes of Harley Davidson', and biographies of John Penton and Dick Mann (all these can be purchased from his website). He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.

BMW Recalls 2008 F650GS Motorcycles for Brake Disc Fastener Defect

BMW has issued a recall of certain 2008 F650GS motorcycles.

Due to production and assembly tolerances, the length of one or more of the front brake disc fasteners may be insufficient. If the length of a fastener was insufficient, this could result in the fastener not being tightened according to specifications. If this happened, the fastener could work loose from its threads. In some cases involving multiple fasteners, the brake disc could loosen, increasing the risk of a crash.

373 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

BMW Recalls 2008 F650GS and F800GS Motorcycles for Chain Sprocket Problem

BMW has issued a recall of certain 2008 F650GS and F800GS motorcycles.

The tightening of the chain sprocket fasteners may have resulted in various levels of torque being applied. It is possible for the fasteners to work loose from the sprocket, increasing the risk of a crash.

509 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I had the good fortune to visit the new BMW museum last October to see for myself this 'new experience' in museum design and display, which opened only last June (2008). Located near the 1974 Olympic Pavillion (designed by Otto Frei), which looks remarkably fresh, this reconfigured public area of the BMW factory connects a new high-tech showroom via flying bridge to the new museum, attached like a futuristic carbuncle to the original 'bowl' museum, built in 1973 to a design by Viennese architect Karl Schwanzer (who also designed the 'four cylinder' BMW office tower nearby). The concept for the old 'bowl' was an 'enclosed circular continuation of the road', on an upwardly spiraling ramp - an unaknowledged nod to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim museum built in 1959 (although it came full circle when the Gugg hosted the 'Art of the Motorcycle' exhibit - somebody had been to Munich!). I last visited the BMW factory in 1988 (how time flies...), and have pleasant memories of the display of their racing cars and motorcycles, wired in place on large black faux-blacktop display walls.

The original museum remains in place (see pic from the new showroom above, and the interior below), fairly unchanged, althoug only temporary exhibitions are held there (or not - it was mostly empty), plus exclusive dealer/investor/client/new model unveiling events. Strangely, the interior spiral is printed with an oversize quotation in English. I was not allowed to photograph the many cars 'under wraps' inside the circular halls, but they all looked enormous and clad in polyester (the seamless 'skin', wrinkling at the door joints when passengers exit, is one design concept making the rounds in Munich).

Attached to the silver bowl is the new 'low building', designed by Uwe Bruckner, which also utilizes the concept of the 'road brought inside' (with black tarmac-ish walkways), but does away with the previous circular movement, in favor of a guided pathway through a series of seven concept-boxes on multiple levels. While the old concrete building had a graceful curved interior, the new space is rigidly rectilinear, using acrylic panel walls, illuminated from within. The illusion of movement is created with ceaselessly projected shadow imagery across the glowing white walls. Abstract shapes float ghostly grey in your peripheral vision, as a timeline of motorcycle specters march dutifully across the floor line. A dazzling effect, like visiting a museum in a dream. ICT (Innovative Communication Technologies), designers of the interior spaces, have created the entire interactive experience, with 'talking walls' in multiple languages (depending on where you stand - Deutsche or English) and the world's largest touch-panel display table, where teenagers intuitively grasp the process of exploring the company history.

To say the building is 'wired' is to understate the case; visitors are tracked by infrared beams from a central core which keeps tabs their numbers, migration patterns, and individual locations; activating movies when viewers come within range of an exhibit, triggering audio explanations or sound effects, changing light patterns around the cars and motorcycles. Large display books on tables are 'watched ' from above, and pattern-matching software reads the page while soundwaves of an audio track are bounced off the book surface to the viewer, changing as the pages are turned.

A(nother) new technology is 'panphonic' display audio; by stepping onto an inlay on the floor, a projected audio file can only be heard by a listener in that exact location - your friend nearby can't hear the audio at all. I'd read about this new technology being an unobtrusive targeted advertising media, but hadn't experienced it until now. The total effect is very impressive, and I've included a few videos which give the overall effect.

There's also a groovy kinetic sculpture room where 714 metallic balls (silver of course - I didn't mention that EVERYTHING is silver) are manipulated to create 3-d silhouettes of cars past and present - see the video below.

The new car showroom is a twisted concrete and glass carapace in the post-Bilbao Contemporary Museum style, all compound curves and spiraling glass towers. Inside, an elevated central platform is surrounded by a mezzanine; clever social engineering dictates an oasis of privilege at the heart - the punters gape from across a moat, from the encircling walkway/restaurant/bookstore area. Only purchasers of new BMWs are allowed on this dais, where customers become celebrities on a black-carpet drive, after being hosted around their new cars under the presumably envious gaze of the public. Once inside, the owners drive leisurely off the platform, down a circular ramp, in full view of the assembled throng. Clever.

That's the architecture - and so to the nitty gritty; the motorcycles! I was aghast on entering the museum to find a three-story stack of two-wheeled BMWs, arranged by date behind a glass wall; there's little I find more pointless than looking at motorcycles through glass.

My fears were shortly alleviated, as a small room nearby held a supercharged '39 Rennsport suspended on steel rods, fully accessible, with no alarms or glass to prevent a moment of intimacy with this pinnacle of BMW history. My photos tell the tale - get as close as you like, in any of 3 dimensions, even underneath, to answer any questions about the machine or just take it all in as one could never before.

And new facts emerged - I never knew that these machines used pannier tanks, bolted together.

I had a racing R51ss with period replica Rennsport tank, which was externally identical to this racer - but only in photos; the Works item is far more complex, and larger.

It's possibly a long-range tank for the machine George Meyer rode to victory in the '39 Isle of Man Senior TT (and I believe the museum bought this bike from John Surtees). The plunger rear suspension is damped by an Andre pattern friction damper, attached to the frame and the final drive housing.

Two other supercharged machines can be pored over in other rooms, where, again, the motorcycles are free-standing and completely accessible, almost haphazardly lined up (see photos). A streamlined WR500 record-breaker sits near an R90S production racer, with sidecar GP machines jostling with Paris-Dakar winners. The displays are restrained in the sense that there is no attempt to cram every important or historic machine into the capacious halls.

There are perhaps 40 motorcycles which are readily accessible, and another 40 or so behind glass or suspended above walkways, which may sound paltry, but it gives the visitor the mental space to take in the details of what is present, rather than glazing over at the overkill of a sea of motorbikes.

Of course there are cars, wonderful cars, historic cars, silver cars, even prosaic cars in funny displays which make a nod to period quirks.

An Isetta and a 2002 sit underneath clusters of 60's and 70's color-coded ceiling lamps, while in another room, a display of 60s/70s BMW sedans has a back wall of veneer zebra wood paneling and carpet, evoking a classic German business-office suite of the day; someone at ITC has a sly sense of humor.

My favorite car was the 1938 328 Mille Miglia racer, strangely glassed-off, in contrast to the motorcycles. A moving photo display lines the wall behind, and gives a bit of context, plus the evolution of the car's design.

It was clear from my visit that BMW has poured a tremendous amount of money into their premier showplace, and they've pulled it off; it's a cutting-edge facility with a wow factor which will last many years. The Olympic stadium nearby must have stood as a challenge to the architects - 'make something new, which will last'. I highly recommend a trip if you're anywhere near Munich.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Triumph Recalls 2008 Rocket III Touring Motorcycle for Pannier Rail Weld Defect

Triumph has issued a recall of certain 2008 Rocket III Touring motorcycles.

There could be a missing weld on the back of the pannier rail. The pannier rail may, after time, be weakened leading to a full fracture of the rail and possible loss of pannier and rail from the motorcycle, increasing the risk of a crash.

8 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Top 10 Motorcycle Pictures of the Year 2008 from Motorcycle Views

The top ten motorcycle pictures were picked from pictures submitted to Motorcycle Views in 2008. The pictures are not ordered. They include three pictures of women on motorcycles, four pictures of men on motorcycles, and three pictures of motorcycles only.

The pictures were chosen for a variety of reasons. I looked at each picture, read each description, and picked those pictures that held my interest.

Check out the Top 10 Pictures for 2008.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm taking a Holiday Break, so...

I won't be posting anything this week.
Be sure and come back to visit.

I'll do my best to make next year even better!

Thursday, December 25, 2008



Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Toy Run 70's Style

Since this time of year tends to be a time of reflection, I decided to post some Toy Run pictures from Dec. 10, 1978.

Our local group of hooligans from Downey met others at U.S. Motorcycles in Lynwood CA.

In those days the Modified Motorcyle Association held Toy Runs in two stages. First, small groups from shops and homes would meet for the ride to Griffith Park. Then, once everyone was gathered at Griffith Park, a parade of bike would ride to Pasadena's City Hall.

The ride from the shops to Griffith Park was always cool. As your small group rode down the freeway it would hook up with other groups coming up the on ramps. To the surprise of many a caged motorist, bikes began taking over the early morning road. With the number of bikes growing so large you felt like you could do what ever you pleased. That translated into wild riding and the passing of beers (stashed in saddlebags), from passengers to riders and from bike to bike.

St. Nick greets bikers entering Griffith Park.

And they just kept coming.

Once at Griffth Park, it was time to check out the bikes, people watch, drink beer, and line up for the parade of bikes to Pasadena.

Each bike was given a yellow run flag.

Bikes and Bikers filling the spaces between the trees.

I believe the estimated attendance was 15,000 -20,000 bikers.

My crew.

One of the few bikes I shot that day was this well ridden chop. The sweeping sissy bar brace, long narrow springer, Sportster headlight and 15" radial car tire all scream Dick Allen/South Bay (beach cities L.A.), style.

The cops escorted and held back the cages at the lights and freeway ramps so there could be an unbroken 10 mile chain of bikes two abreast parading towards Pasadena. It was said, as the first bikes arrived in Pasadena, many bikes still hadn't left Griffith Park.

We parked on the outskirts of city hall to watch the non stop parade of bikes.

Your young author. It was the 70's. A time when everybody wore a mustache and nobody wore a helmet!

Plaid, denim, and bell bottoms ruled before the black t-shirt brigade completely took over.

Long bikes were still hip in 78.

The growing bounty on the steps of Pasadena City Hall. Stuffed animals are clearly the easiest toys to strap on bikes.

A few years later the MMA stopped the hard to coordinate two stage events. Instead they just became big gatherings (not really runs), that took place in a designated parking lot, like at the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

They were all good times but, the two stage runs were the best.

Harley-Davidson Guarantees Sportster Trade-in Value

Even in these tough economic times, Harley-Davidson has found a way to lure more customers into their showroom: Allow trade-ins at the original sale price.

Harley has a plan to allow their customers who have already purchased a recent Sportster to trade it in on a larger model but essentially cancel the depreciation on the Sportster. Here's an excerpt from an article by Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

    "Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) has announced a new motorcycle purchase program that guarantees the trade-in value of a Sportster when traded for one of the company's more expensive bikes.

    Harley riders who either buy a new Sportster or trade in their recently purchased Sportster between Dec. 26 and March 31 will get the bike's original manufacturer's suggested retail price when they trade up to one of Harley's Big Twin or VRSC motorcycles." -- Rick Barrett, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

Read the complete story.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


I found an interesting little book the other day; 'Sweet Dreams, the Life and Work of Rex McCandless' by Gordon Small (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, 1987). Rex and his brother Cromie were responsible for the creation of the infamous 'Featherbed' Norton frame, among quite a few other innovative designs, regardless of the fact that he left school just after his 13th birthday, and had taken no courses in engineering.

"I never had any formal training. I came to believe that it stops people from thinking for themselves. I read many books on technical subjects, but always regarded that as second-hand knowledge. I did my best working in my own way."

Always a motorcycle enthusiast, he began to tune his own machines, and by 1940, had a new Triumph Tiger 100, which was faster than a factory-tuned bronze-head T100 of his friend, Artie Bell (future Norton Works racer). He won the Irish 500cc Road Race and Hillclimb championships that year, even though he felt his brother Cromie to be the better rider. In the '49 Ulster GP, he was the first privateer home, in 6th place (see pic above of Rex, left, and Artie Bell).

Yet he found that his Triumph racer was often making unreasonable demands of its rider, and began experimenting with weight distribution. "I had noticed that when I removed weight in the shape of a heavy steel mudguard anda headlight, that the bike steered a lot better. It made me think about things which swivelled when steering. I was in an area about which I knew nothing, but set-to to find out. It seemed obvious to me that th erigidity of the frame was of paramount importance. That the wheels would stay in line, in the direction the rider ointed the bicycle, regardless of whethr it was cranked over for a corner, and to resist the bumps on the road attempting to deflect it.
Of equal importance was that the wheels would stay in contact with the road. That may seem obvious, but fast motor cycles than bounced all over the place. I decided that soft springing, properly and consistently damped, was required."

The first test-bed for Rex's ideas, built in 1944, was named the 'Benial' (Irish for 'beast' - see above). In general layout, it looked much like the double-loop frame used on the Gilera-Rondine watercooled dohc 4-cyl racer of the 1930's, but it had a proper swingarm at the back with vertical hydraulic shock absorbers (from a Citroen car). More contemporary viewers will see a direct lineage to the Seeley frame, and of course, many of the best Italian and Japanese space-frames from the 1980's. "The Benial was the best-handling bicycle I ever made."

Using the ideas garnered from his experiments, McCandless first designed a bolt-on rear suspension kit for rigid-frame motorcycles (see above), which was tested publicly by and Irish grass-track racing team at Brands Hatch in 1946. Prior to the race, other riders looked askance at the rear suspension kits, but after the race, they clamored for them. Rex had no ambition to go into manufacturing, and sold the rights to Feridax (pic below - Rex discussing his conversion with Stanley Woods).

Rex made friends with Freddie Dixon, famous as a tuner and rider/driver (for Douglas and Riley), and they were entreated by fellow Irishman Ernie Lyons to sort out the Triumph Grand Prix he had bought for the 1946 Manx GP. The Triumph as set up by the factory (I see a pattern here...) was lousy, but Rex and Freddie sorted it out, and Lyons famously won the race, even though his frame had broken (see pic below).

Norton was none too happy of course, as they were having problems of their own with their 'plunger' Garden Gate frame, which had a tendency to break, and handle like a camel. Joe Craig, in an effort to cure the cracks, kept making the frames heavier, with negative results (below; 1948 Works Norton).

In McCandless' view, this showed an insufficient understanding of the stresses involved on the chassis, "...all they did was to fix together bits of tube and some lugs.." In 1949, he told Gilbert Smith, the Managing Director of Norton, "You are not Unapproachable, and you are not the World's Best Roadholder. I have a bicycle which is miles better!" The Norton brass set up a test on the Isle of Man, where a relative of Cromie McCandless' wife was Chief of Police. They closed the roads, "Artie Bell was on my bike, ultimately christened the Featherbed by Harold Daniell. Geoff Duke was on a Garden Gate and both had Works engines. Gilbert Smith, Joe Craig and I stood on the outside of the corner at Kate's Cottage. We could hear them coming from about the 33rd [milestone]. When Geoff came through Kate's he was needing all the road. Artie rode around the outside of him on full bore, miles an hour faster, and in total control. That night Gilbert Smith and I had a good skinful."

Further testing took place at Montlhery, with four riders (Bell, Duke, Daniell, and Johnny Lockett) going flat-out for two days. "We went through two engines, then the snow came on. The frame hadn't broken so we all went home." The debut of the new frame came at Blandford Camp, Dorset, in April 1950, with Geoff Duke aboard (below, winning that race). The string of successes which followed gave a new lease on life to a 20-year-old engine design, and Norton won 1-2-3 in the Senior and Junior TT's that year.

Interestingly, Norton didn't have the facility to produce the Featherbed frame themselves, nor could Reynolds (the tubing mf'r), so Rex brought his own jigs over from Ireland, and personally built the Works Norton frames from 1950-53 (that original jig, as it exists today, can be seen in the pic below - what a historic piece of scrap iron!).

Rex McCandless was never an employee of Norton; he was paid by what worked - if an idea panned out, he was paid £1 per hour. If the idea didn't work, no charge.

By 1953, Rex could see that the writing was on the wall for the Manx engine, and pressed the factory to build a proper 4-cylinder racer, as Gilera and MV Agusta had done. "Joe Craig was against the 4-cylinder project, and persuaded the Board that he could continue to extract enough power from the single." (pic below, Rex and Joe Craig).

As a stopgap measure, Rex designed a new frame, more like the original Benial, with the dohc Norton engine vertical between lowered top rails. The petrol was carried in pannier tanks (see bottom pic), which allowed the rider to stretch out over the frame and behind full streamlining.

The bike was known as the Kneeler, and Ray Amm tried it out first in the North West 200 in 1953. It put up the fastest lap, with Amm calling it the most comfortable bicycle he'd ever ridden. Amm and Eric Oliver took the Kneeler to Montlhery, where it broke the 1-hour speed record at 133.66mph.

"After that, Norton put the Kneeler aside. I had nobody there to support me and they felt it wasn't a real Norton."

Although Eric Oliver used the frame design as the basis for his World Champion sidecar outfit (to be copied by every other outfit shortly afterwards! See pic above), they refused to pursue McCandless' ideas further, and the Kneeler never raced again. Disillusioned, Rex McCandless turned to designing cars.

Photo credits: Photos 1, 2, 3, 5 are from 'Sweet Dreams', by Gordon Small (Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, 1989). Sadly, out of print.
Photos 4, 10, and 15 are from Dark Davey Maertyn, Notorious Anglo-Cajun Photo Pyrate, Scourge of the Elektronyke Seas, Nemesis to the Evyl Muse Kopyryte, Drynker of Whysky, and Dryver of An Olde Pyckuppe Trucke.
Photo 6 (Triumph GP) is from Ivor Davies' 'It's a Triumph!' (Foulis, 1980). A transitional book; part 'Old School' publishing - the writing and small format - and part 'New Breed'; lots of great photos.
Photos 8 (first Featherbed) and 15 (tank shot of Kneeler) are from Mick Walker's 'Norton; the Racing Story' (Crowood, 2002). Still in print; buy it!
The remainder of the Norton shots are from Mick Woollett's excellent 'Norton' (Osprey, 1992), which is also still available, and with George Cohen's 'Flat Tank Norton', is the best book written about this illustrious marque.