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Bibliography #3, General MC books

June 1, 2010

Earlier OcchioLungo articles on motorcycle books dealt with Pioneer Bikes and How To do things.  This time we’ll show some general interest books, like the ones commonly left on coffee tables.  They cover many different marques, over many different years, sometimes from many different countries.  These books are nice to read, but they typically do not go into depth on their subjects, and may only whet the appetite of a person doing research on a particular bike.  But there are some exceptions…


Look for these books in the typical places, (as outlined in the earlier Bibliography articles), such as ABE books, ebay, directly from the publisher or author, etc.  Contact me if you need an ISBN number, publisher info, etc.


IMG_3616We must start with Tragatsch.  He has written several editions of his Encyclopedia over the years, and his books definitely deserve a place on your shelf if you’d like to learn about some of the obscure marques.  This title has several hundred pages, and 2500 different manufacturers…  Now 2500 sounds like a lot, but as you study further, you find that there were many more than that.  I’ve never seen an accurate count of how many motorbike manufacturers existed in the last 150 years, but it must be quite a number.

In some reference books or magazines, NIT (Not In Tragatsch) is a phrase used when describing a very obscure bike, often a one-of-a-kind, but sometimes a marque produced in small volumes.  There are not a lot that he missed in England and Europe, but he didn’t catch many of the bikes made in the Far East, and he missed a lot of the pioneers in the US.


This next book isn’t as comprehensive, and is more of an illustration of a decent variety of bikes.



The World of Motorcycles.  22 volumes long.  A fine set, I found these at the devil’s online swapmeet.  (ebay).  Not something that you’d plop onto your coffee table or fireplace mantle, but a good read with a decent amount of info and black and white photos.



Richard Rosenthal just published this book.  He has been putting short segments of it in the magazine The Classic Motorcycle each month for the last few years.  That magazine is the best that I have found thus far that features pre 1930 motorbikes.  Richard is a keen mechanic, researcher and rider, and has the lion’s share of the good stuff in the mag each month (along with Roy Poynting).  This book gives a potted history of each marque, and tries to assess the number of bikes remaining today and rough values for them.



Focusing only on British bikes, Roy Bacon and Ken Hallworth were able to keep thing manageable.  They are both old hands at writing about old motorcycles, with many titles and magazines under their belt.  By keeping focused, they were able to provide a lot of details, especially on preWar bikes, without coming up short on the odd bike out of Yugoslavia or moped from Italy.  A much better review is here.  Suffice it to say, that if you really want to get into some details on a variety of bikes, this one is worth the $60+.



Many of you will recognize this one by Tod Rafferty.  Again, by keeping his focus on the bikes from one county, he was able to put in some good details and great photos without running up to 5000 pages.  The photos in this one are really top notch, and give the restorer some excellent references, including little things like pinstripe sizes and locations.  Tod has many other books out there too, is constantly snapping his photos, and a website is coming together.



Jerry Hatfield has several books also, three are shown here.  The buyer’s guides attempt to compare and value some old American machines, which he was brave to attempt.  Everybody is going to question his analysis of where bikes lay when he put them in order by value…   No correct answers there.   But I’d say that these three are good to get some background info, but you’ll have to dig deeper to really learn pertinent details in your quest.




Vic Willoughby put together a nice photo book of various Brit bikes.  It is full of those types of bikes that fans like to put on their Top 5 or Top 10 list.  This one has the Vincent Black Shadow, Brough SS100, etc.  The Douglas on the cover is a good example;  Beautiful bike, good photos and description of the bike’s basic specs and features.  But there are some specific books out there that cover Douglas bikes, or speedway bikes from all makers, in much greater detail.



The title sums it up well.  A good book that covers what the title describes.



This one takes a slightly different approach.  It spends a page or five describing each of the lesser known bikes, but the big marques like Norton, BSA, etc, each get just a quick paragraph.  I think it is inspired, and a great use of the author’s limited time and pages.  We’ll read plenty about Norton’s in other books, but in this one we can hear about some real oddities like Berwick, Dandy, Hack, Hoskison, Paragon, Verus, etc.



Rob’s book is a great reference for veteran bikes from the US and UK, but especially for Australian bikes.  (the US and UK references are from the misc. parts that were often shipped down under, then turned into complete Aussie bikes with local-built frames, tanks, etc.  Lots of great period photos in here too.  note all my post-it notes!  😉



The VMCC publishes a list of bikes that their members own.  No photos, no names or address, but there are motor and frame numbers, dates, descriptions of drives (belt, chain-cum-belt, etc).  If nothing else, this list will help you to date your project, and to know that you are not alone.



The Guggenheim show convinced the public that old motorbikes are artwork, for better or worse.  That debate won’t be covered in this article (you can probably guess which side of the fence that I fall on).  But the book that described the exhibit has sold thousands and thousands of copies.  Great photos, decent descriptions, and a few good oddball bikes thrown in for good measure.  This is the quintessential coffee table motorcycle book.  You used to be able to buy overstocked books from Amazon, etc pretty cheap, mine was $35 or maybe $40.   But when I checked today, the prices have shot up to $75 used, $245 new.  damn, that’s a bit of money…



The name Steven Wright should sound familiar.  If not, check out his books.   He KNOWS STUFF, and has put it into books to share with all of us.  American Racer is an excellent book, showing real photos of real bikes in our history.  He’s been granted access to the personal libraries of many racers from long ago, and was able to put their photos, notes, calling cards and their stories into his books.  Yes, his books sell for $300 or $400 or more on ebay, but you can get them from his website for $60-$75.  Worth every penny.



I’ve saved my favorite for last:  Steven Wright’s “The American Motorcycle”  Realistically, I should have written an entire article just about this book.


This book is really a step beyond almost all other motorcycle books.  Steven again used original content from his friends’ libraries, and from the estates of the old time racers and riders, to tell the story of American motorcycle development through 1914.  The book is filled with prints from old glass or silver negatives and original advertising literature and letters of correspondence from many big names and average Joes of the era.  Steve has an obvious eye for graphics, and laid out the book with a very pleasing aesthetic.  But more than that, it has content that just isn’t in other books.  Lately a few similar old time images have become available via the internet, but only Steve’s book has pulled so much together cohesively and with thoughtful commentary.  Buy two copies, one for you and one for your best friend.





Where does that leave us?  If you want to learn about about an uncommon bike, there may not be a book specifically focused on your machine.  (for example, I’ve never found a book written about Premiers…)  The books like the ones in this article may be all the info that you’ll find in book format. If you are working on something made pre WWI, these books can definitely help.  But if you are working with something that is newer or more common, then these will not be nearly as useful as one of the books written specifically about your make and model.  If it is a Velocette MSS, you’ll find a dozen books, if it is a BSA twin, 25+ books are waiting for you, HD panhead, probably 50 books.  But these books shown can be a fun read, and some of them have images that you’re not going to find in any of those “specific” books.  Plus they let us see many varieties of bike design, engineering, graphics, etc, all in one handy package, whether we keep them on our fireplace mantel or in the smallest room in the house.

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