Wednesday, June 30, 2010


It appears that motorsports activity hasn't entirely died at the Circuit du Linas Montlhéry, just south of Paris.  This is the most historic race track in the world, which is still intact and functional (Brooklands is too far gone, Daytona is too new, and Indianapolis only had ONE motorcycle race in the 20th Century - 1909).  Finished in October 1924, the fully banked oval is 2.5km long, and two longer 'road courses' using only one end of the banking were also laid out, although the much longer circuit through the adjoining forest is no longer in use.

While Brooklands was built 'the old fashioned way', by piling up earthen mounds and digging out the track near the river Wye at Weybridge (see some historic photos here), Montlhéry was designed and built as a modern piece of engineering, using a lattice of reinforced concrete beams and pillars to support the high banking. The near-vertical top section of the track was designed to withstand use by racing cars up to 1,000 kilos (2,200lbs) moving at 140mph (220km/h).  Motorcycles present no such hazard to the infrastructure!

Having walked the complete circuit and raced on the track,  I encourage anyone with a passport and an appreciation of racing history to make a pilgrimage next May 8/9, 2011, and see the place for yourself.  The facilities are a bit crude, but it's possible to camp in the forest inside the circuit, which has a grubby charm, as many of the competitors are camped as well, with their vehicles - a relaxed opportunity for a conversation.
If you have the opportunity to enter a racing motorcycle, I can imagine few opportunities to sample an extant Vintage track, on which an incredible legacy of speed events was laid.  Every long-distance speed event, from 1, 12, or 24 hours, was held post-war at Montlhéry, from the Velocette 24hr/100mph record, to the less successful attempts by Vincent at 24hrs, Norton's streamliners, plus a host of European factory attempts.  (For a video of several ex-record breakers on the banking, click here)

My own experience of the circuit is sadly limited to one weekend in 2000, where I was invited to ride a '49 MkVIII Velocette KTT by my friend Rob Drury.  While camping conditions were primitive, my personal hygiene was forgotten once I was underway in a pack of racers in my class.  The Velo seemed perfectly matched with a Mondial 250cc racer with full dustbin fairings, and we always seemed to round the hairpin on the 'road' section at the same time, his lithe machine undercutting the much heavier Velo every time!  Frustratingly fun.

Riding the banked track is an acquired taste, and most riders preferred to keep fairly low on the track and their speed down.  You won't get up above the top white line at less than 100mph, at which point you're literally perpendicular to the slower riders below.  I've passed other motorcycles from every vantage point - inside, outside, crossways - but never while looking at the top of their helmet!  Disorienting at first, but after a few laps it became really enjoyable and the chicane set up to slow riders down mid-bank was ignored by the lustiest riders, without censure from the organizers I might add.

The surface of the track brings to mind the many descriptions of Brooklands in the 1920s onward, as the plates of concrete paving began to settle and shift.  Bumpy!  But still better than most California backroads... although I imagine riders took quite a pounding after a few hours at full chat.

The future of the Montlhéry track always seems uncertain; the Coupes Moto Legende hasn't been held there for almost 10 years, so a weekend at the track will be welcome in 2011.  There are consistent rumors that the track will be torn down, as the proximity of this large plot of acreage to Paris makes the land worth billions.  But, what price history?

ADDENDUM:  Below is a note from the organizers..

Plans are well advanced for a vintage gathering next year at Montlhéry, the dates being 7th and 8th May 2011. Many will remember the tremendous atmosphere of the events a decade ago and it is hoped to recreate this spirit in 2011.

Organisation is in the hands of two French clubs, “Vintage Revival” (of which Mrs. Jacqueline Potherat is honorary chairman) and “Patrimoine Sportif et Mécanique”.

Pre-1940 sports and racing cars and sporting motorcycles will be able to circulate on the famous banked circuit, as will racing bicycles with vintage motorcycle pacers. The less sporting vehicles of the same era will be equally welcome to attend and will be able to drive the circuit at their own pace at the end of the weekend. There will be provision for commercial and club stands.

Enthusiasts, clubs and businesses wishing to be kept informed are encouraged to register their interest by e-mail to Vincent Chamon at

  1. Supplementary information can be obtained from Gyles Cooper, the UK representative of Vintage Revival (020 8883 1024, ).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Good Issue

It's been a while since I've posted any of my old magazines. This one has a ton of "out of sight" images. The American Chopper Enterprises/Himsl Custom Paint Studio ad came from this issue and so did one of the photos of Roth's Mail Box trike.

These cover bikes were not featured, but here's what it said on the index page: Jammin' is what it's all about. In front is a bastard '57 lower end in a '56 frame, topped off with a '62 shovelhead upper end. Close behind is a '49 Pan bored .030 oversize, raked, and running a 12" overstock extension.

The tape on the bound edge of this issue is testament to how many times I looked through it. I'll be posting more from it soon.

Stunt Bike Wallpapers

Stunt bikes, you know what those are, Honda CBRs, Suzuki GSX-Rs and lots of other Japanese sportbikes all stripped down and set up to do wheelies, stoppies and a lot of really insane maneuvers most of us would hurt ourselves trying. No one would ever look at a Harley and mistake it for a stunt bike, right?
Jason Pullen, former supermotard racer, decided to give it a try when his supermotard motor blew at an event in Sacramento. He was checking out the other riders around the place when he saw some stunt riders and said, why not? All he had available at the time was a Harley Davidson FXR so he gave it a shot. He got some attention from his unconventional ride and has since added a Sportster to the lineup.

Stunt Rase Bike


I've had so much response to the Hacker-built Harleys at the Grossglockner Hillclimb, it seemed appropriate to give a littl background on these enigmatic and compelling machines.  First mention on these pages was the appearance of the 8-Valve Harley at the Bonhams Pamplona collection sale; photographs of the machine from the Bonhams press kit had me immediately cross-eyed.

It was clear the machine was special, and very likely indeed A Special, as four-valve cylinder heads weren't used on J-model crankcases... but you never know what you'll find in the motorcycling world, and there was a slim chance it was some factory-built European roadracer, a la the OHV 1926 Indian 750cc, of which 3 were built to compete in Europe, complete with brakes, mudguards, and megaphones.  The black Harley was very clearly built in this spirit, although 'modern' touches like the twin Amal TT carbs gave a hint to some modern thinking. The bike was clearly built for speed, with a period aspect, giving the whole ensemble a unity which is very convincing.  Plus, an applied patina to all parts gives a feeling of real period authenticity.  Full marks.

The black Harley sold at Bonhams for £29,000, to an English rider/collector, who was kind enough to bring it to Grossglocker so all could revel in its glory.  Unfortunately, serious magneto trouble prevented a run up the hill, even after long hours spend on Friday night; only one cylinder would cooperate, so the bike was shelved for the weekend.  Sad, as the bike was built by Harry Hacker to make some serious horsepower.  Note in the above photos how slim is the machine; those 1920s Harleys were lithe and fast, giving no hint of the bloated dinosaurs the marque would produce in years to come.

I spoke with Harry Hacker, proprietor of his own shop and perhaps best known as partner of Fritz Simmerlien in the Harleysons motorcycle club and website, during the weekend, to prise the secrets of his build on the two OHV Harley conversions at the Hillclimb.  The Black machine used standard Harley 'J' crankcases, with cylinder barrels and 4-Valve heads provided by Fred Lange Restorations.  A standard J rolling chassis is used, with the addition of a front drum brake, from a later model; the rear brake is the typical contracting-band item which grips the outside of the brake drum.  Kind of humorous, that brake, given that Harry reckons the bike puts out around 70hp!  That's almost 3 times the original output of the inlet-over-exhaust J... expect wheel-spinning antics from the new owner of the machine... although he seems a civilized sort, sporting a tie underneath his Belstaff jacket - a Vintagent for sure!

The Second Hacker machine, in green, was hitched to a vintage Harley sidecar, ridden by the man himself, with wife Otilie as active ballast.  The green bike is similar in general configuration to the black, although the engine is entirely new, with beefed-up crankcases, all new internals, and replica Peashooter cylinders and heads.  It makes a little more hp than the earlier black machine, around 72hhp Harry says, but sports the same patinated condition, lagged exhaust pipes (four of them!), English saddle, and later front brake, this one looking identical to a BSA 8" item, but methinks it is actually a Harley 'K' model item?

A Harley such as this would have no problem hauling a chair and passenger up a steep incline, if those hp figures are accurate.  The Peashooter heads share a single Schebler carb of large diameter, making a tune-up much easier, and perhaps a better low-end mixture - very important when carrying a bunch of weight alongside.

The result of all Hacker's work is a pair of extremely appealing vintage motorcycles, with serious performance and an eye towards authenticity.  To the uninitiated, they look like 'the real thing', even though such bikes never existed in the 1920s...would that they did!  But, it would add another zero to the selling price...
And a little video action from youtube!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week - Cheryl

Here are my Pictures of the Week as displayed on the Motorcycle Views Website. These are taken from the Moto Pic Gallery. See Cheryl's grandfather, Edwin Wright, with his 1930s bike of unknown make and model. Do you recognize the bike? We need more pictures of men and women with their motorcycles. Get your picture in. For details, see Motorcycle Pictures of the Week.

If you'd like to see your bike as Picture of the Week, submit a picture of you and your bike along with a description of the bike.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


"Yes, but what's it like to ride?"
Every time I've seen the handiwork of eccentric constructor Friedl Münch, I can't help but be impressed by the sheer scale of the Mammuts which bear his name.  While every single one of his limited-production motorcycles is different from the rest, they have a remarkable consistency of build quality and use of trademark components, notably the NSU four-cylinder car engine used in the Prinz,  from which all parts radiate.
(Massive lump on the clutch side...)

Münch began his career in the late 1940s as an independent tuner and inveterate modifier of motorcycles.  His first notable work was on a Horex in 1948, which had such good performance the factory offered him a job in their competition department.  He had no desire to work for someone else, and refused their offer, but later relented due to financial difficulties, a consistent theme in his business life.

After Horex went bankrupt in 1960, Münch bought their tooling, and made spares and built Horex specials (such as the tasty cafe racer above).   In the quest for more speed, he created a 'relatively' light racing motorcycle using the NSU ohc four-cylinder engine, weighing in at around 480lbs total, and giving good performance.  The frame was based on a Norton Featherbed, as were all his subsequent chassis.  The first proper 'Mammut' (Mammoth) was built in 1966, with 996cc and 55hp, which gave good performance for the day at 115mph or so. It used a very large (250mm) magnesium front drum brake which Munch had originally developed for racing Nortons.  The new machine was a sensation for its speed and impressive scale, and Munch pursued the idea of series production.

By 1968, the capacity was increased to 1177cc with 88hp with the '1200 TTS' model, the state of tune reflecting the NSU car of the same name.  Münch created the cast magnesium rear wheel with flat spokes which became a trademark of all later Mammuts, as even with robust 5mm spokes for his original wire wheels, the threads tended to strip on the spoke nipples.  As well, the seat/mudguard unit, headlamp bucket, and chainguard were cast in magnesium, for lighter weight.  Petrol tank and side panels were hand-hammered aluminum, and the single headlamp Sports models were joined by dual-headlamp Touring machines.  Despite all the magnesium, the bike weighed in at a mammoth 295kg (650lbs); not far out of line with 70s/80s sports machines from Japan actually, but in 1970 sports bikes were still typically under 500lbs.
(Münch himself with the Touring version with dual headlamps)

The early 1200 TTS models used twin Weber DCOE carbs, but by 1973 fuel injection and 1278cc were available in the TTS-E, giving a full 100hp, with true Superbike performance.  American publisher and controversial motorcycle enterpreneur Floyd Clymer invested in Münch with an intention of large-scale production for the US market, but died before the project was fully underway, a tale of woe shared by his links with Velocette, Indian, Royal Enfield, Italjet, etc.
(Thirsty?  Yes.)

Münch, always struggling financially and casting about for backers, eventually sold his own name in association with his motorcycles to businessman Heinz Henke, who intended to series produce 'Münch' bikes (only a few were built, perhaps only 4).  Friedl maintained 'Mammut', and shortly began producing models under this name in limited numbers for collectors.  Every machine from the first was bespoke around a similar core, although the state of tune, shape of tanks, seat, mudguards, handlebars, headlamps, color, etc, were all optional. Each machine was hand-built by Friedl Münch and his employees, and his legend grew for his unique and mighty machines.  Less than 500 were ultimately built.

So, what is it like to ride?

My Bavarian Road Test machine is a 1970 model with 1177cc engine, set up in Sport mode with the large single headlamp and twin 40mm Weber DCOE carbs.  These would have been hot stuff on any sports car of the day, so why not a 4-cylinder motorcycle?  The instruments and switchgear are as per Honda, while turn signals and lamps are Bosch.  The big engine starts up with a button, revving slowly and lumpily, and takes a little while to warm up as there's a lot of aluminum and steel lurking under that big red tank.  The exhaust is subdued with Lafranconi-pattern silencers made in Frankfurt keeping things quiet.  A rorty cafe racer this is not.
(Could be mistaken for Japanese from this angle)

My host warns me to keep the revs up when moving off, as first gear is tall and the clutch doesn't fully engage until the end of its reach.  Regardless, I almost stall the bike as of course he's right; give it some welly and slowly engage the clutch - the engine, clutch, and gearbox are robust and can handle such abuse.
(Cast magnesium one-piece tail unit)

With a reputation for awesome power, I feared the TTS would leap out of hand with revs in first gear, but the engine isn't especially torquey despite the large capacity, and doesn't produce much power at all below 2000rpm.  In fact, when moving out or riding slowly, dropping below this figure meant hesitation and incipient jerkiness - just keep things on the boil and all will be well.
(I believe this is a brochure for the Henke models - no 'Mammut')

On the open road, the engine seemed happiest above 3000rpm, and hit a sweet spot between 4000-4500revs, at which point the machine is hustling along at 80mph in top gear, with a quiet motor and soft induction hiss from the Webers.  But, redline is a long way away yet on the Nippon Denso tach, and winding the throttle back produced a total change in character.  From smooth and quiet tourer, Mr Hyde emerged, and while my arms weren't jerked out of their sockets, a satisfying surge of power combined with a sonic wall to remind me that there was indeed a tuned motor between my legs.  Sounding for all the world like an early 70s race car in Rally Sport mode, the carbs loudly sucked air while the mufflers gave a harsh rasp, the rev needle swung around past 5000, and the speedo was well into the illegal zone.   There was no point in revving past 5500rpm, as the bike didn't seem to spin quite so freely anymore, and the handlebars began to buzz slightly.
(The racing brake, truly massive)

The Allgau country lanes wind between forest and hills, affording a great chance to assess the handling of this tall machine.  True to its Norton frame heritage, the Mammut tracked straight and true and secure on all corners, with no drama or fuss.  The high center of gravity and weight disappeared once in motion, and it felt completely secure and familiar banking around corners.  Changing direction on short 'S' bends was easy and required no effort, the Mammut proving silky smooth when transitioning from left to right.  The wheelbase is short for such a large machine (giving rise to a cobby appearance with the large tanks and double-headlamp variants), and above 80mph, a slight weave set in; nothing dramatic, just noticeable, and it didn't get worse, nor disappear in a straight line.  When banked over at the slightest angle, any such uncertainty disappeared.  My Velocette Thruxton has the same quirk at over 100mph, yet is completely sure-footed, so the weave didn't bother me, but it is noticeable if subtle.
(Mammoth in the grass...)

Braking with the extra-large Münch drums was very good for such a heavy bike (all-up weight with rider and fuel in this case being 820lbs!), and while not in double-disc territory, they hauled up the Mammut quickly.  This was especially welcome as the engine provided almost no compression braking, seeming to have very little flywheel effect in general, from idle onward...of course, Münch used a much lighter flywheel than the NSU car.  The suspension wasn't really noticeable, which is itself a high complement; the front forks are Rickman items, and hold the road very well without being Italian-stiff.  The riding position was very comfortable, more sport-touring mode than uncompromising boy racer, as of course, most Mammut owners were middle-aged connoiseurs, able to afford a handmade Superbike.

(As you can see, the bike suits a 6' rider)

The advent of inexpensive Japanese 4-cylinder machines only a few years after the introduction of the Mammut meant that sales were based on bespoke build quality, excellent handling, exclusivity, and charisma in spades - all of which the mass-produced motorcycles lacked.  The Japanese 4s did have power though, and to keep ahead, Munch regularly tuned his engines to higher outputs, eventually turbocharging the fuel-injected motor with the 'Titan' model.  I'd be interested to try one of them too!

A Few From Pops Day

You can' tell from this photo, but there seemed to be more people than usual.

This KR was one of the highlights of the event to me.

Original Bikes Rock. In this case, a 1969 XLCH

There's no white wall on choppers!

I believe I overhead the kid with the family that owns this trike say it was a '38. I didn't see anything '38 about it. The tanks are '47- 50, and the engine was stamped '59. The rear box may have been the smaller early one.

It's nice to see old relics (27 Henderson 4), being ridden, but watching him almost lose it getting into traffic was scary. He popped the clutch, got squirrely, and ended up on the wrong side of the road. He recovered quickly and was really lucky that nobody was in the lane at that moment.

Garage Co. bikes. Nice stance. This shovels swinging fender, frame and springer combo reminds me of Roth's Oink.

Leave it to me to only photograph American bikes at a British shop. The truth is, I was disappointed at the turn out of Brit bikes this year. Maybe it was my timing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

BMW Recalls 2005-2007 R1200GS Adventure Motorcycles for Fuel Tank Bolt Problem

BMW is recalling certain 2005 through 2007 R1200GS Adventure motorcycles manufactured from December 7, 2005 through September 26, 2007.

The fuel tank front attachment bolts can work loose allowing the bolts to come into contact with the fork leg if the handlebar is turned a significant amount.

The number of units affected has not been announced.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.

MV Agusta Recalls 2010 F4 for Air Cleaner Problem

MV Agusta Motor S.P.A. (MV Agusta) is recalling certain model year 2010 F4 motorcycles manufactured from February 10 through April 19, 2010.

These motorcycles are equipped with an air filter frame, P/N 8000B4061, which may lift out of position, allowing intake air to bypass the filter.

66 units are affected.

Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.


This one is my host's favorite, a 1929 BMW R16, 750cc ohv, the top of the BMW range in the Vintage era, with a pressed-steel 'Star' frame and leaf-sprung forks, three-speed gearbox with hand shift, and a rear brake which squeezes the drive shaft!   This one 'starts easily and rides with never a problem'.  With such a warm recommendation, would it be possible that I don't like the machine?

I've owned BMWs of this vintage, which whined and graunched and bounced around like kangaroos, and were generally horrid.  A bad restoration can really turn you off a marque or era entirely.  But, this machine has been fettled to the highest standards by a demanding owner, who expects his machinery to run as it did when new, and in fact, rides them as if they were.  No pussyfooting around, he winds it on to see what they will do and how they will perform.

In other words, no points lost for full-throttle work by a journalist, as long as I don't throw the plot in a ditch; that would be simply poor form, and likely end my access to some of the most interesting motorcycles on the planet!  So, a hot ride, with conscious care, is the order of the day.   No GPS required either, I'd be following the owner in his 1952 Hotchkiss Gregoire 2-door coupe, with an aluminum body and flat-four 2.3ltr engine.  Never heard of it?  No worry, this example is probably unique, one of 7 made with a Chapron body that year, fast and lovely.

Starting the beast was simple as all BMWs are, flood it a little, knock back the ignition timing a touch, wind the choke closed, and kick it over; the magneto is strong and the bike starts instantly, surprisingly loud in fact, not mechanically (although there is a whir from the gear-driven chest), but from the exhaust - definitely not your brother's BMW, it's rorty with a flat bark from the twin fishtails at the back.  It doesn't take long for the engine to warm up and the choke to become redundant, and the bike has a roll-on center stand with no fiddly rear stand to look after.

So, when it's revving freely, roll it off the stand, hand-shift on the right from neutral to 1st with a very slight clunk, and move on out.  The hillsides in this area are green as jealousy from weeks of spring rain; today is the first of full sun, and motorcyclist sprout like daisies everywhere.  The power band is soft with plenty of torque, and winding the motor out in first and second definitely gets one to 60mph briskly - this isn't a measly 500cc ohv, the extra 50% capacity makes a clear difference in rideability in modern conditions.  The owner has "become a bit of a snob, as the 750cc has spoiled me for the smaller capacity BMWs"  No points lost there either.

Shifting through the box takes a bit of practice to match revs to road speed, and double-declutching helps when downshifting to retard speed.  The front brake is quite good, but the heel-operated cardan shaft brake at the back is anemic.  I got the hang of upshifting quick enough, but both up and down gear changes required a full beat more than I'm used to...patience, grasshopper.  My host says "keep it in third (top) gear, it's all you need", which is true, but the bike lugs a bit at a village pace, and I like the challenge of rowing through the gears.  Besides, acceleration out of second gear is very satisfying!

Gearbox noise in the intermediates isn't noticeable, perhaps because of the rorty exhaust, or maybe because this bike has been sorted completely.  It has the quietest Vintage BMW gearbox I've experience; my R63 whined so badly I was convinced it would explode!

As for power, some full-throttle top gear work going slightly uphill yielded 145kph on the speedo, which corrected means 138kph actual, which is near enough 85mph.  More is possible in the right conditions, so let's say best case scenario 90mph, which is really going some on an 80 year old machine.  The handling was impeccable, and even at 80mph the bike felt rock solid.  It's spoiled by the smooth German roads, and I might have a different opinion of the undamped leaf-sprung front forks over lousy Cali roads.  But cranked over and on the gas, the bike went where it was told with absolutely no drama.  Shifting left/right/left on some fast s-turns revealed a hint of flywheel torque reaction on right-handers, which meant a barely perceptible push to crank it over on that side.  But the wide handlebars made for graceful changes of lean, and an ergonomic riding position to boot.

Aesthetically, these late Vintage BMWs are Deco perfection, with their modernist industrial steel chassis mated to an engine with clear aero heritage.  The hand-painted pinstriping over basic black emphasizes the line and curves, echoing engine-cover ovals and frame-press indents.  They hadn't yet sorted out integrating the ancillaries like magneto/generator/carb, which sit atop the smooth engine lines and remind one that this is in fact a 'machine with other mechanical bits bolted on which do important things'.  In German, that's one word.

If I were in the market for a totally rideable prewar bike, a BMW like this would be at the top of my list.  I could have ridden all day without fatigue or worry about mechanical disaster, at a rapid if not racing clip.  The very definition of a sport-tourer, meant to be hustled along through beautiful countryside, just like today.  Perfect.