Thursday, December 31, 2009


Another in my series of essential/wonderful reading for long winter nights. This story appears in the anthology of motorcycle writing 'Twistgrip' (1969, George Allen & Unwin) edited by the incomparable L.J.K. Setright (pic below), who wrote for decades about cars and motorcycles in a wonderful prose. The author of the following short reminiscence is identified in 'Twistgrip' only as 'R.B.'

Amende Honorable, by 'R.B.'

"On the hill above Windsor, by the tower where Henry VIII made that splendidly practical protest at the price of meat, our sidecar outfit stopped owning to some trifling derangement. I ran her into the kerb, surrounded myself with the nebula of tobacco smoke which is so helpful to diagnosis, and fell to work with a wrench.

Vaguely I became conscious of a Presence, top-hatted and short-coated, aged possibly fourteen, moving in arcs about the side of my machine that faced the pavement, whose whistling implied a dearth of desert fruit (I'll not name them!).
Coldly he eyed my much-travelled sidecar, and then - brassily, provocatively, using our faithful 'bus's name - he said, 'Not much of a Royal!'[1] and cocked an eye to see what should follow.

This was new. Those several thousand miles a year take us by many public schools. Charterhouse has a keen eye for maker's transfers or the build of a tank; Harrow affects detachment, but will steal up and make diffident enquiry; Marlborough has a nice ear for exhaust notes; and the school Ardingly way has two who risked a late call-over to fetch me a spring link from the village (my appreciation, translatable into many tins of bloater-paste, was only reluctantly accepted). So I had hoped for better things from Eton.
Some cell in my brain, sealed these twenty years, opened, and I spoke to my passenger, honey-smooth.

'Strange,' I temporised, with the air of one whose withers are unwrung, 'Strange about Eton. Classic foundation, great name, many famous old boys. But' - I italicised darkly - 'there's something dreadful. You'd never believe it!'
Those pink ears twain under the black silk brim grew yet a shade pinker. Concealing a smile, my passenger played up nobly.
'Really?' she said, with just the right shade of polite surprise. 'I've always thought...' trailing away into nothingness, just like that.
I leaned forward, and spoke in a rattling whistper which the libeller could hardly miss: 'Their First Eleven bowl's under-arm!'[2]
'NO??!!' said Millie, registering horror.
'I've seen them,' as one who lets the truth be wrung from him.
Top-hat had gone the colour of a new cricket ball.
'Not the remove, mind you,' I added, judging him that high. 'The First E-le-ven!'
We let it go at that, but the silence while I put my tools away was more than eloquent. I saw his eye fall on our badge, the insignia of a public school motor cycling club which has a reputation, but not for sloth. His little heart was bursting to repel my foul insinuation, but pride and the memory of the fact that he had provoked the jousts forbade it.

I trod on Bucephalus's [3] kick-starter, and she burst into life with that exultant bellow which is all her own, descending on a control into a hollow mutter which suggests the confidences of a mastodon.
He came round into the road; he had to. Those impish blue eyes opened at the sight of our big, black iron lungs, and looked on interrogation almost wistful.
'Five Hundred Mile race type,' I explained, mercifully. 'One of LeVack's special jobs. Sixty easy.'
The look changed to positive reverence. 'I didn't mean,' he blurted, as the clutch snuggled home. 'Nor did we,' I laughed back at him.
'Floreat Aetona!' "

[1]: Clearly, the reference is to a Royal Enfield v-twin of mid-20s vintage, as per the photo; the story is dated by reference later to Herbert LeVack as being from the late 1920s.

[2]: What follows is a dark discussion of Cricket, a game which is a complete mystery to me, but the meaning of the conversation is clear!

[3]: Alexander the Great's horse, Bucephalus, the stuff of legend for his strength, endurance, steadfastness in battle, and intelligence.
It was common for riders of Great Machines to name their motorcycles in the prewar era (in England at least). One thinks of T.E. Lawrence's Brough Superiors, named initially 'Boanerges' (the twin 'sons of thunder'), and later models 'George I-VII'.

In our age of disposable motorcycles, it's difficult to imagine the relationship which existed between man and motorcycle at that time. The beast needed the attention of its owner to give its best, then as now, a symbiosis which generated feelings of affection, and frustration or outright betrayal at times, when the old girl let you down.

You can really feel the Life in motorcycles from the Vintage era, with their smells, wheezes, sulks, coughs, 'petulant choofs', and mighty, inspiring roars when all is going well. A name is fitting.


Here's to your health and happiness in 2010! May the road beneath your tires be smooth and lead to great places; enjoy the view along the way - the journey is the important bit. Ride safe!

BMW Recalls 2008-2010 F650GS and F800GS Motorcycles to Correct Stalling Condition

BMW is recalling model year 2008, 2009, and 2010 F650GS and F800GS motorcycles manufactured between January 2008 and December 2009.

During engine operation, a vacuum is created in order to draw fresh air into the canister. This air then mixes with the fuel vapors captured by the canister, and is subsequently combusted. Due to the routing of the ventilation hose, water near the end of the hose could be drawn into the charcoal canister.

4498 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

McQueen's Indian Re-discovered

Thanks to Irish Rich's comments, I went back to the National Motorcycle Museum's website and found these photos.

I had seen these shots quite awhile ago and thought they were no longer up. I don't know how old the pictures are, or if the bike still there?

To it's left is a Wild Angels Dragon bike. What's the story on this one?

Are You Having a Great Taint?

Taint, It taint Christmas and it taint New Years.
It's that magical and wonderful period between them. A time for mischief and merry making.

Old Saint Taint, The patron saint of the Holiday.

I'm officially starting this New Holiday Tradition. The Five days of Taint start on the 26th and run through the 30th. The 28th will be the most important and celebrated date, as it's smack dab in the middle. The holiday's colors will be orange and blue.

From now on, be sure to wish all your friends and loved ones a Terrific Taint!

McQueen's Indian Agianagian

Most likely shot at the Santa Paula airport.

Back in Nov. 08 I did a post on Steve McQueen and also showed what was said to be his favorite bike. It was said because he would ride it when he was grubby and nobody would suspect it was him. I have a similar photo of him somewhere (grubbier than this), but found this one recently.

What prompted me to post this was an interesting anonymous comment about the Nov. 08 post that I just received yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Where is this bike? Cause if you want the truth about it I'm the person to tell it because I'm the one who built it for Steve. I built it for him cause I would not sell him mine. Which I still have the twin sitting in my shop. So piss off to who ever claims building this bike. And yes it was his favorite bike. YES it would be a mistake to restore it. It was built to look like my bike, "A Rat Bike" thats what he wanted.


It would be very cool if J.D. would tell us more, possible send some photos, or perhaps identify himself.

Monday, December 28, 2009


The previous post by 'Castor' set my memory board alight, wasn't there an article about 'Lena the Killer' in an older issue of Motor Cycling, and didn't I have a photo of Phil Irving with a Brough Superior record breaker?
The take-no-fools designer of the mighty Vincent twin (and diminutive Velocette LE!) isn't usually attached in folklore to George Brough's baby, but a most curious set of photos appeared last May in the fertile confines of a truck cab in Minnesota, registered to the Chantland family. Being the nosy sort, I photographed the lot front and back, and now take the opportunity to explore this seemingly forgotten and ill-documented foray of Australians riding British machinery on Austrian soil, snatching the World Land Speed Record from German hands.

Alan Bruce was well-known in Speedway circles, having set the sidecar lap record at Wembley Stadium in 1931. Australians have a dirty affinity for three-wheeled cinder sliding, then as now, and one commonly sees Vincent-powered crabs even today kicking up dirt Down Under. Bruce got the notion of a sidecar Land Speed Record while watching Paul Anderson take a national record with his Indian outfit, down Sellicks Beach, South Australia, in 1925. It took another 6 years of toil to modify an S.S.100 Brough Superior for a total speed attempt; a supercharger was added to the engine bay, and Alan Bruce hand-pounded a shapely set of aluminum alloy bodywork... which as you can see from the photos addresses the issue of drag by streamlining the rear of the outfit (including the rider's bum!). Which was the current thinking of the 1920s and early 30s, before extensive wind-tunnel testing of aircraft, cars, and lastly motorcycles, revealed that a very small frontal area was the real ticket for piercing the brick wall of wind which hits any vehicle at high speeds.

When finished, Bruce named his beast Leaping Lena, and sought a nice flat straight road to set his record. In 1931, there were only a few suitable locations for a really fast run; Hungary (Gyon and Tat), Austria (Neukirchner), the U.S. (Daytona/Ormond beach), the U.K. (Pendine or Southport beaches), France (Arpajon), and Germany (Ingolstadt). As speeds increased for record attempts, beaches became increasingly undesirable due to Neptune's fickle road-laying efforts, and attendant delays (read:money) for a perfect surface.

As all but the beach venues were public roads, the political machinations (read:money) required to arrange a few days' testing and eventual full speed runs could be daunting to a small and dedicated bunch of amateurs. Which virtually ALL those deeply speed-bitten proved to be, until National (Socialist) pride began to throw money at all sorts of sporting contests, and little swastika roundels appeared on the tails of wingless two-wheeled aircraft, and armbands on their riders. But I'm getting 5 years ahead of our story.

In 1931, Alan Bruce and Englishman Arthur Simcock took Leaping Lena to Tat in Hungary for a series of unsuccessful runs at the Motorcycle Land Speed Record, solo and sidecar. She can be seen at Simcock's side in the top photo, sans third wheel, taken on site at Tat, where various mechanical issues beset them like gremlins, and the pair headed back to England for a winter's work sorting out Issues like supercharged induction, etc. Note the copious oil leakage from the lower bodwork panels; one wonders if the lower 'tub' is in fact filled with oil!

Late April 1932 saw our familiar pair of Bruce/Simcock joined by Phil Irving, who must have provided a measure of technical expertise to sort out the troublesome animal that was Lena. Chosen venue was Neukirchner, near Vienna, and local Brough Superior agents Eddy and Kent Meyer lent a hand in any way useful - Eddy being a real champion of the marque in Europe, having won over 80 'firsts' in competitions with his Broughs. Arthur Simcock's record run without sidecar ended abruptly when his goggles were blown off at speed, followed shortly by the supercharger safety valve blowing off. Local support for Lena ended there, as a local wag slipped a steel bolt into her induction tract and shortly ruined the supercharger, cutting their effort short while they frantically sought a new venue, and spares from England.

City officials of Tat were successfully cajoled (read:money) into allowing Lena's run on short notice, and our crew high tailed it towards Hungary in their truck, which blew up and delayed their arrival. Meanwhile, Arthur Simcock trained back to England for blower parts, returning to find lousy weather (why April?), but it was decided that April 30th would be The Day, and it dawned with strong winds. Clearly, the slab-sided aluminum body of Leaping Lena wasn't lethally beset by side wind handling anomalies, and a two-way average of 124mph was finally recorded, with a best one-way speed of 135mph... really going some for a rigid-frame bicycle on an iffy concrete surface. Bruce had the scare of his life while aviating the whole outfit at speed after hitting a bump with the chair wheel, the entire plot lurching nearly off the road. While distracted and momentarily shutting off, he didn't realize he had passed the timing strips and carried on at full bore, only to hit a railroad crossing at 135mph! Man, motorcycle, and sidecar shot into the air, split the streamlining on impact, and nearly sheared off the carburettor, but hard Aussie Bruce kept the animal between the hedges, and their day was done. As he said, "Yes, it felt fast all right!"

Friday, December 25, 2009


Chilly winter nights are my favorite for diving into the corners of my library, where good two-wheeled prose keeps me company. It's a good time to share some of my favorite pieces of writing on the subject, by various authors in different periods. Writing styles, especially journalistic habits, have changed dramatically over the past century; at one time literary giants who wrote Good English on the subject of Motorcycling strode the earth; they're my inspiration in an age of breathless product endorsement. To be sure though, there are greats today who choose two wheels as their subject, and I'll include a few of their efforts as well over the coming weeks.

Last year I posted T.E. Lawrence's The Road (from' The Mint', read it here), which is essential reading for any Vintagent. Today's inclusion is from 'Castor' (Dennis May's nom de plume), of Motor Cycling magazine, August 17th, 1932. I've included some notes at the bottom for 21st Century English translation, of items I couldn't find reference to on the Web!

"Castor" bids a sorrowful GOOD BYE to the ULTRA FAST SIDECAR OUTFIT!

Below and without, dolls-housey from this seventh-storey window, stands a rank of many-specied vehicles. And at the end two cheap motorcycles.
One is a miniature-engiend pop-gun of 148cc. the other is the Brough Sup. Howitzer which you see at the head of this column emerging from a bitter-sweet murk of Castrol gas at nearly ninety-an-hour. It would cost you, as it stands, perhaps £180. and it would be cheap, because there exists, I imagine, nothing else at the price upon which you and the passenger of your choice could capture the same thrill of rapturous gusty speed.
These ultra-fast sidecar outfits are a dying race, it has seemed to me. The time was, seven, eight or more years ago, when they were a common sight along the roads: lean S.S. Hundreds of the late pre-chromium era, that sucked an exacting benzole blend through drain-pipe jets; now and then a bulbous, bold-fronted Flying Eight, clamped in rock-like unity to a T.T. Hughes [1] - all strutted and stayed like a mobile Sydney Bridge. Or perhaps it was a Replica Norton, with padded rear and near-side wings and the single's tuny beat, that left you wondering...and wishing, perhaps.
Where are they now, these Big Guns of the sidecar world? The answer, in the language of the telephone, is No Reply.
Perhaps, I thought, George Brough could tell me. Wrong again; he couldn't. But he would lend what his letter called a "highly tuned S.S.100," which Ron Storey [2], the fastest man on the sand, had cared for. Which left that friendly and resourceful sidecar trader, Maurice Wolston of Brixton Hill, to furnish a T.T. Hughes; and the human race at large to delegate a passenger.
This the human race accomplished easily, even if its representative was wont, as he said, to go to sleep in sidecars, and really I mustn't feel offended, etc., etc., etc.
Digressing, let me describe briefly the oufit as it stood at the setting out upon the most acutely wakeful ride in this passenger's career. One 8-55 long-stroke J.A.P. engine, with compression suited to a 50/50 mixture of Ethyl Special. Four-speed box, with tank-side gear-shift, the three high ratios close and the fourth nowhere. Eight-inch brakes fore, aft, and port. Three and a half gallon tank of Ethyl A, full measure, pressed down and almost running over.
Twin carbjectors [2]; throaty, vacant-sounding chaps, pleasant to hear. fixed at four firm points, one genuine Hughes basket, wherein basked one genuine human, to gallons spare Ethyl A, one quart spare Castrol "R", on gross British "Beech Nut" (permanent flavor - no, flavour).
Let's go!
Well, where? Fifty laps of Brooklands "road" course. Why not? For there, at least, there is nothing in the way.
Already I have tried to refuse the theory that these big huskies are the playthings only of the Very Rich. Developing that theme, I will deny that they are for the Idle. There is no pastime less idle, and few, therefore, more absorbing, than lasting high speed on 700lb. of sidecar outfit: this verily, is work for the Worker, with a Chekha-Ogpu-Ogpu! Vive le Kamerad Marx! [3]
* * *
At forty we are still in second gear - which please consider as bottom, and the box as a three-speed - merely warming up, hiccoughing asthmatically at every tenth beat or so. It is the noise of the twin calling for therms, which this afternoon, it happens, are scarce. Very well, little one, you shall have them in good time.
Presently, with two laps finished, the spitting becomes less frequent, until at length, with a last and petulant "choof" from the bell-mouth intake, like an obstinate child having the last word, she settles to it. Now the needle of the Jaeger meter is lying at a steady sixty; forward there by the tank nose the gear lever sits in the "third" position. Sixty in third - with the basket and basker aboard!
But this is not the end. From the motor's feel, peak revs. are yet a long way off. More work for the throttle wrist...round, and farther round comes the grip to its full-stop. simultaneously, the needle jerks on and up to sixty-five, sixty-eight, seventy. Still there are latent revs. in hand. Still there is power to spare. And still we are merely in third gear.
Seventy-two, three, three, three. Any advance on three? Going at three.....No, four. Seventy four. Now five. Seventy-five - and peak. A flick of the wrist and the throttle goes backwards half a turn. A downward and forward jab at that gear knob... as quickly back to the bar again for that remaining half a turn. TOP!
This is good. Which reminds me, I wonder how the Human Being's nap is going. I steal a glance back and left quickly, fearful of disturbing him. What, awake? Yes, and clinging to the handrail like a fury. Raging insomnia, I wouldn't wonder.
Meanwhile, the meter shows a sure enough eighty-two, which, I reflect, is as fast as I have driven sidecars - unless you count Lena the Killer [4]. So far, it is pleasant to ponder, the B.S. shows no signs of following in Lena's finger-prints...none of the homicide stuff.
Eighty-three, eighty-four. Still that busy little hand moves round, a symbol, in its jerky animation, to the blast of power which propels it on its course. Eighty-five. Eighty-six. Eighty-seven. No increase on eighty-seven. Here and there the surface is indented with long waves and ripples, nothing much at 50 per, but telling a different tale at nearly 90. Hop, skip, jump. The front wheel leaves the track and comes down not quite straight. Follows a dither, in which bars swing hard to right and left, trying hard to shake these wrists away. Half-lock to half-lock.
This is fun. But it's work, Karl Marx, it's work.
That fine right-hand sweep at the Member's Bridge. Not a thing in sight; just concrete, and a nice grass verge at the top of the bank, if it should be necessary. A snick into third, both hands on the off-side bar, a heave... and a long steady twist. For a hundred yards, perhaps more, we can hear above the rumble at the rear that squeal that tells of concrete versus tyres. Judged, if I may say to, to a nicety. May I say so? I glance down again to H. Being, Esq., telepathically inquiring. No! No! NO! seems to be the message of his answering glower. Now he is a martyr, I feel sure, not really to wakefulness but to real alarm.
Next, a stop for plugs - pre-ignition, it seems.
"I say," he begins, "don't you think ---" "Fish out those H.45s,[5]" I manage to get in edgeways. "Quick. Thanks. No, I don't think." Three minutes' feverish work and a burnt finger, over which we will draw a veil. (And a finger-stall).
A rumble and she restarts, just in time to cut short another "I say..." Darn it, does the man want his motoring cellophane-wrapped, or what?
Right, right, right, go those never-ending corners. Always must there be a sufficient safety margin, yet never a second lost. Truly it is hard work taking that right-hand "Villa" hairpin with this big handful. First a heft prod at all three brakes as we approach the turn. Now harder on the rear wheel and simultaneously down a gear. The outfit answers our drag to port and reluctantly closes into the timing box, clear by the thickness of a shaving blade. Wallop! - on with the gas again just at the moment we're actually making the turn. Drive round corners - don't brake round them, which I resolutely maintain, is the whole are of basketry. Sidecaring, I mean.
But it's Work, I repeat. (Apologies. I won't say it again.)
It is a broken primary chain that comes between us and the fifty laps. And having been chaperoned through life by a racing man this primary chain has no spring link, but only rivets, continuous performance. Nice and strong, of course; but when it breaks...
* * *
Two hours passed before the welkin echoes to a gladsome "O.K., Chief," "Of course," says H.B., hopefully and (darn it!) with truth, "It's far too late now to finish schedule. Let's eat. And then let's just potter about the roads a bit."
We ate. And we rode many miles in the Surrey hills that day, ever regardful of safety, but setting some averages which made me glad that I was not alone, because two people's word are better than blank disbelief; and made H.B. profoundly sorry that I was not alone. How he hated me, the Brough, and Life! And how I loved all three!
From experience gained that afternoon I would say that with an outfit such as this 55 m.p.h. could be safely averaged ad nauseum on a main road like "A.1." No, I didn't say that I had done so. Far from me be it, to use a difficult phrase. Certainly it could, though.

Yesterday, as ever was, we had a strange experience, the Brough and I. We, "and friend," were taking a long steady rise in Surrey and , being all clear, were traveling fairly quickly. At the top those 700 pounds of iron and steel started to stand up on the back wheel. The front wheel didn't hop off the ground. I just climbed into space. When it reached, I'd say, a two-foot elevation, I remarked to phenomenon, and thinking that something was due to be done, turned the momentum off in haste. Otherwise - well, I wonder...
I still don't know why these big 'uns for two are a dying race. My ignorance is, indeed, aggravated. But that isn't George Brough's fault. Or that of Maurice Woolston, of Elm Park Road, Brixton. Nor yet the Human Race's, bless it. To these, my salutations!

[1]: The Hughes sidecar company made a T.T. racing model, which had a four-point fixing system to the motorcycle, and a tubular frame ringing the sidecar body at the front and rear of the sidecar chassis. Take a good look at the photos on this page; a subject for another post!
[2]: Legendary works tester for Brough Superior.
[3]: 'Carbjector' - the trade name for Brough Superior mufflers.
[4]: I find this a most curious phrase. By 1932, Josef Stalin had superseded V.I. Lenin as the Soviet Union's premier. His secret police agencies included the Cheka, and the O.G.P.U. - that 'Castor' should have used these acronyms for his 'work song' is cryptic, to say the least. They were as well-known as MI5 or the CIA are today; surely he knew exactly what was meant by his phrase, but vernacular usage of the day may have implied 'slave labor' - one of the darker aspects of the Soviet police state.
[5]:'Castor' famously tested 'Leaping Lena' for Motor Cycling (June 8, 1932); a streamlined Brough Superior sidecar outfit built up by Alan Bruce of Australia, which held the world sidecar record in 1932, at 124mph average. The record was taken at Neukirchner, near Vienna, and Bruce had copious help from Austrian Brough legend Eddy Meyer.
[6]: Lodge racing spark plugs; H45s were the 'coldest' plugs suitable for use with a 50/50 petrol/benzole fuel mix.

Bam!, Xmas is Here


THE CP PROJECT ONE: by Vincent Prat and Frank Charriaut

"What can a featherbed, a Tyrannosaurus Rex & Batman have in common?

Since visiting the Legend of the Motorcycle International Concours d’Elegance in June 2008, French designers Frank Charriaut and Vincent Prat had a dream to built their own Motorcycle. There, they met with the Crème of Motorcycling experts & enthusiasts.

As English Motorcycles fans, Charriaut & Prat chose a Norton Featherbed frame and Triumph 750 unit-construction engine. Of course with this starting point, the only possible goal is to build a Triton.

But they did not want to make just another Café racer or name it Triton; they wanted to make something more personal which could match their cultural backgrounds. That led them to forget all about British bike conventions, and follow their own destiny.

Charriaut & Prat started sketching and quickly discovered what would become the final shape of their bike: a mix of Batman’s motorcycle, a T.Rex fastback, and the overwhelming feeling of Cat Woman’s dreamful body [Julie Newmar - 'dreamful' indeed]. Inspiration came directly from Comics Culture.

The path from designing to manufacturing can be hazardous. The duo was lucky enough to be joined on their project by esteemed motorcycle builder Daniel Delfour, who knew how to read into their CAD drawings, and realize the dream in metal.

Inch by inch, meeting after meeting, working together as a trio, the project gradually became a reality, and the bike was born. A mix of classic, custom, vintage and dirt track style. Some “purists” could say that is a sacrilege, but this project is about Great Fun. The length of the fork tubes! A front wheel without a brake! Big deal: these were just options for more fun!

Frank Charriaut and Vincent Prat want to thank Daniel Delfour for his achievement, Momo from Momo Bikes Service, for the greatest paint job and the exhaust pipes. Finally, the duo wants to send their very special and great thanks to Benoit Gerry from Studio Ze for his outstanding pictures and longtime support"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


A military museum has recently unleashed several interesting motorcycles and cars to an unsuspecting public, and if that sort of thing suits you, I suggest you take a gander at the Cosmopolitan Motors (of Seattle) website. Scroll past the Ferraris and Porsches, and you'll find what looks like an original-paint 1942 Victoria KR35, a 350cc ohv Pioneer.

These are rare machines from the last year of Victoria production during the war, as their factory was shortly afterwards bombed flat. It could make an inexpensive and interesting runabout; early German motorcycles are rare in the US, and the ohv four-stroke single is an attractive proposition.

This DKW NZ 350 is a 350cc two-stroke single with pressed-steel frame and forks. I owned the twin-cylinder version many years ago (SB500A - uncle to the postwar Adler twins, who were then copied by Suzuki, Yamaha, etc).

This bike looks to have been repainted, but is complete and perhaps correct, it's difficult to tell from photos (caveat emptor and all that). My DKW had good performance and handled very well, with a hand-shift and electric start - this bike will have the hand shifter, but no button, not that it needs it (nor did I need mine - two-strokes are very easy to kick over).

To be honest, what caught my eye in this military haul was a pair of Czech-made Tatras! One of my favorite cars, with terrific aerodynamic styling and the engine 'out back'. The Czech motor industry was so innovative and full of beautifully engineered cars and motorcycles between Wars... much of this history has been dimmed by Eastern Bloc offerings postwar, but even in the early 1950s Jawa built an overhead-cam parallel twin 500cc motorcycle, whose nacelle design Edward Turner promptly stole for Triumphs!

There are two Tatras on offer - a 1937 model 97 four-cylinder in grey, and a very desirable Model 87, which has an air-cooled v-8 out back! I've had a drive many years ago in a v-8 version, and it was like a heavy Porsche on steroids; great sound, decent power, and an unforgettable body style.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My friend Fred just turned 50 (a milestone which looms in my own windshield...), and had a suitably biker-filled party at his home. I thought this a suitable moment to celebrate Fred and his infusion of Indian Motocycles; nobody is as enthusiastic as he about the marque, which he proves by riding his old flatheads all around the world at rallies and tours... but it's his 'garage' which really tells the tale.

It would be difficult to demark exactly where the garage begins and 'home' ends, as his motocycles (plus a couple of tasty cars) are throroughly integrated into his universe. There isn't an actual bike in the kitchen or the bath (although, of course, there are photos), but everywhere else has ample evidence of Fred's passion.

Any true vintagent can only shake his head and smile, as we all have a similar shrine to Motorcycling in our own home, even if it's only a tattered copy of 'Motorcycle Engineering' and a souvenir Vincent valve inspection cap; that's enough, little drummer boy, to appease the Gods of Speed.

That Fred is able to live inside his shrine is testament to his great faith, and that he lives alone!

Happy 50th Fred!

First American Woman to Ride the Cannonball Run

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has published a press release from the Cannonball Run issued December 21, 2009. Here's an excerpt:

    "Three-time Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee and author of the newly published book, The American Motorcycle Girls: 1900–1950, Cristine Sommer-Simmons today announced that she will be riding in the Motorcycle Cannonball Run next year. Sommer-Simmons will be one of only two women riders in the cross-country endurance run of the century. The Motorcycle Cannonball Run is gathering momentum to launch a pack of riders on vintage motorcycles for an historic ride across America in September 2010."

Read more for details.

Monday, December 21, 2009

This is How it Starts

Brass Balls FXR Concept Art

I recently did this Concept Art for Dar Holdsworth of Darwin Motorcycles (Brass Balls Bobbers), of a new model for 2010. The build of the first prototype will be documented in Cycle Source magazine and also on

For more info on this and his other bikes click on the following link:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dedicated Hardcore Blogs

I recently found these two blogs by hopscotching through a follower.

Click on logos to visit. There are a few Sportster only blogs but this is the first Evo only one I've seen.

The first one features an interesting and fairly unique point of view. Seems that the owner of the blog won't post anything but Blockheads (Evo's) and expresses (kidding or not), a disdain for earlier H-D's. The Blockhead name was thrown around when Evo's first came out and I wish it would have caught on more than it has. Anyway, it's a reminder of how segmented this sport (?) can be.

The blog puts down "Old School" and I can understand how someone might react to the recent craze in vintage chops but, since Evo's are 10 to 25 years old, they themselves aren't exactly New School.

I myself don't dig Twin Cams that much and feel that the Evo is the last true evolution of the classic H-D twin.

Some Evo owners probably now feel like Shovel owners did (maybe still do), not too long ago. Sort of like a lost step child instead of a favorite son.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Occasionally a great talent slips completely off the radar of design afficianados, due to a lack of available historic material in multiple languages, or a simple lack of press. The work of Louis Lucien Lepoix is such, one of many unsung visionary designers whose ideas and efforts were so far in advance of the motorcycling world, they weren't fully addressed by the industry for decades. His son Bertrand recently contacted Chris Hunter, editor of BikeExif, with photographs scanned from a 550-page tome on Lepoix's ouevre, published after his death in 1998.

Lepoix was born Feb.4, 1918 in Giromagny, France, to a very poor family. He studied industrial design and architecture in Lyon and Paris, continuing his studies with a degree in engineering. After WW2, he worked in Germany at Dornier Flugzeugwerke (makers of interesting aircraft, etc) and ZF Friedrichshafen - whose director Dr. Albert Meier designed a small car which Lepoix clad in a shapely body, to much acclaim.

During the war, Lepoix, passionate about streamlined vehicles, sketched quite a few cars, motorcycles, and planes with futuristic curvy body styles and flowing lines. His son claims that Lepoix, who spoke no English, had no knowledge of the work of Raymond Loewy or Bel Geddes, icons of the school of streamlining whose work for automotive, aircraft, and rail companies defined the ideals of an era, their work embodying the hope that the age of war, disease, and conflict would end with a coming age of Modernity.

An example of Lepoix's thinking is this 'Air Concept Car', drawn up in 1942-3, with seating for 7, and a clear emphasis on a low coefficient of drag. The general shape of the vehicle recalls Buckminster Fuller's 'Dymaxion Car', patented in 1937 (and revised in 1943), and the concept is identical - low drag equals high speed and efficiency, an aircraft for tarmac. The benefit of lower fuel consumption would have been very much on the mind of any automotive designer during WW2, given the fuel rationing imposed on all combatant nations, with eventual shortages as the war intensified. Fuller's Dymaxion was reputed to achieve 120mph and give 30mph - terrific for '37 - but the project was ultimately scuttled due to a fatal accident while the car was being tested...while a brilliant engineer, perhaps Fuller's ideas were ahead of their time as regards safety and stability. It wouldn't be sacrilege to suggest the same fate would befall the 'Air Concept Car'.

In 1947, Lepoix founded his own design atelier, initially focussing on two-wheeled projects, beginning with this amazingly futuristic bodywork for his 1934ish BMW R12, a 750cc sidevalve flat-twin with pressed-steel 'Star' frame, which when new was considered quite stylish, with a bit of Art Deco flair.

Lepoix purchased the BMW at an auction organized by the French military in Baden Baden, Germany (French HQ in occupied Germany at the time) and set about to completely revamp the bodywork, but not the structure of the BMW.

Lepoix was a keen motorcycle enthusiast, and began work on his motorcycle with a brief to address the issue of a rider's exposure to the elements (cold hands, knees, and feet!), while making a statement about the Future. He had been working on drawings and models of his concepts during the war, and his sketches plus a hand-carved model motorcycle survive today.

The finished result is spectacular, modernistic, and very stylish, if a bit heavy-looking. Very few motorcycles before 1947 had explored the concept of full streamlining of the motorcycle, and even more rare was consideration for the rider; in fact, it would be another 7 years before the Vincent factory introduced their Black Prince model, which was the first fully enclosed and faired (ie, the bodywork protected the rider with an aerodynamic, wind-cheating design) production motorcycle.

To be sure, quite a few motorcycles built for speed records were designed with a full enclosure (Gilera, BMW, Brough-Superior, DKW, etc), but these were never meant for the road. Lepoix was in tune with the streamlining ideas of his time, and just that bit ahead of the curve in actually Building a motorcycle with weather protection for the rider, so early after the War.

Remarkably, his sketches from the War years also include a totally aerodynamic Feet-First design, which predates the rage for this type of motorcycle (and bicycle) by fully 30 years! Very few FF designs like this were produced prior to 1943, although hub-center steered machines with 'tankless' seating positions were built as early as the Veteran period by Wilkinson ('09), Ner-A-Car ('19). The Ro-Monocar ('26) came closest to realizing an enclosed 'car on wheels' - the stated aspiration of so many designers. The Monocar has the clunky bodywork of a cheap saloon vehicle, but the seeds of the idea were sown. It's a shame Lepoix didn't have a Majestic or Ner-A-Car at hand to modify, and realize his vision of a curvaceous and appealing body style.

The BMW R12 was used as a mobile calling card for Lepoix's budding design firm, and he soon gained commissions with many European factories, becoming especially known for his work on scooters (for Puch, Maico, Bastert, Walba, etc). He also worked with Horex on a design very similar to his BMW, around a Regina twin-cylinder 400cc parallel twin model. I'm not sure if this was done as a design exercise with the factory, or another one-off to display his skills. In either case, both motorcycles were extensively photographed, and made his reputation as an industrial designer of note.

His later career was occupied with agricultural machinery, heavy truck cabs, aircraft, and a host of modernistic smaller designs (telephones, household appliances, etc). Clearly he was busy with motorcycles into the 1970s; in a way, it's too bad he didn't continue his working career into the 'plastic era' of motorcycling - the bodywork of modern motorcycles went through a long period without much sex appeal, and a man with Lepoix's flair might have produced bodywork with curvaceous sensuality over those mass-produced four-cylinder appliances.