Periodically, I like to share my favorite books with OcchioLungo readers, via the bibliography articles. There is now a dedicated page on the site with all the biblio articles in one location. Click the page title near the top right corner of each page. There is also a new Table of Contents page.
Here’s another book to add to your bookshelf: The MotorCycle Book for Boys. This one was written and published by the team at The Motor Cycle magazine in 1928, ostensibly for boys to learn about bikes. But the information is more than just an educational tome, and is good for adults too. It is filled with 195 pages of great stuff for the modern vintagent. There are articles about TT racing on the Isle of Man, how motors work, history of bikes (circa 1928!), camping with a motorcycle, how a magneto works, motorcycle football, how to read a road map, Brooklands circuit banking vs that at Monza, etc. While much of the content was cribbed from the magazine, quite a bit was written specifically for the boy audience. And reading it shows the modern reader that our recent education may have missed some things that were common knowledge 83 years ago. The basics of motor operation are described, but they assume that the reader is already familiar with many things concerning mechanics, the outdoors, roads and self sufficiency. It is all very exciting to me, as my father taught me a bit of mechanical know-how as a boy. Regardless of what your father showed you, this book could very well teach you quite a bit of good stuff about old and new motorbikes, and life in England in 1928. I learned a lot reading this book, and enjoyed every page.
The book is for sale in a few shops on this link, but at a dear cost of $131-$165. It pops up on eBay very rarely, but you may find a tattered version like mine for $100 less than the shops’ prices. If you don’t mind the pages falling out of the book, bargains can be found. Here is a link to a reprint in paperback at $40. I haven’t found any publisher yet that is reprinting a hardback version, but I’ll ask a few if they are interested.
The student of early motorbicycles will be well served to gather up a library of his or her own. Public libraries and the internet are a poor comparison to actual books printed on paper, especially those written in the era concerned. While it may seem that you can Google a marque and immediately learn all the combined knowledge of the world, it isn’t that easy. As an example, I’ve been researching two unique vehicles c1884 and c1905 for the last several years, and found around 5-6 images of each of them, and several paragraphs of information through my library, while the interweb and modern books have only revealed about 1/3 of the info. (and yes, I’ll share it all in future articles! sharing knowledge is the main point of this website).
As you build your library, look around carefully. One tactic that I use is to find a good book via eBay, then to search for it by title and author at specialized book websites. I often get the title for 1/2 of the eBay price or less, without any bidding competition or funny shipping policies. I prefer to not pay an extra premium for books with perfect covers or spines. Some of my favorites no longer have their covers at all, but the pages are clean and easy to read. If you want to collect books, you’ll disagree with that position, but I buy mine to read, not as an investment…
Try these websites for books on Brit bikes, there are many others too for American bikes, Aussie bikes, Italian, German, etc.
Many books are available directly from the author. I highly recommend that you purchase them directly from the author, as he/she will directly receive a larger portion of the sales price than if you buy it through a reseller. It is also a great way to begin a correspondence with the author.
Here are some examples of books that help in my research, roughly in chronological order, and focused on British bikes. Contact me if you would like more info, such as Publisher, Date, ISBN number, etc.
Don’t believe it when you hear that the first motorcycle was made by Daimler in 1885! Motorized two wheelers have been around for a long time:
I love the subtitle! This one is about the state of the art of bicycles in 1889. Written and published in 1889, I think this one might be a reprint, but it has no publishers info…
Floyd Clymer published about a million books. His series on Motor Scrap Books are great to read, cheap to buy and easy to find. This one focuses on the earliest motorbikes from outside the US.
This book is a reprint of catalogues of vehicles for sale in 1903 England. Trucks, bikes, cars, etc.
Ixion!!! This is required material for the student to study. He started riding around 1900, and wrote about it weekly for the next 50 or 60 years.
The title says it all: Victorian and Edwardian Cycling and Motoring from old Photographs.
One of Peter Card’s two books on early lights. Oil, acetylene, carbide, etc.
Victor Page: He wrote many books on the tech of the 19teens and 1920s. The book on the left is The ABC of the Motorcycle. Chock full of info, some on American bikes, but a surprising amount on Brit iron. It was reprinted c1970 as the yellow book on the right. Reprinted again about 2 years ago. Buy the reprints for $25 new, or you can buy the 1914 originals for $300 on eBay…
A good primer on the ‘technical history’ of motorbikes:
Sheldon’s book is another good one:
This one was published by the Science Museum in London. It shows details of their exhibits, with some good photos and short descriptions. I’ve been looking for its companion: “Part 1” for the last 6 years…
Bruce Main-Smith publishes many good titles. This one is just a series of photos of early bikes, with one-sentence descriptions. Many photos are from London-Brighton runs in the 1970s.
Two good books from Australia:
Two more from Jeff Clew. He was a prolific writer and a Velo Fellow.
A new book, just published last year, about now-rare or extinct bikes that were made in the 20s. VMCC sells it in their stores.
HOW TO BOOKS:
Books books books. Lots of books about how to do things…
The first several books shown below were published in England by the same folks that published the weekly motorcycle magazines. They typically came out with a new edition each year, with just a little bit changed. The earliest books (they started circa 1900) have great information about how to work on primitive pioneer bikes. Even the later books into the 1950’s show how to set up a workshop with very little money, and how to make parts with little more than a hacksaw blade and a sharp file.
Hints & Tips has a lot of umm, tips. This edition is about 100 years old. Sometime I might get around to typing some of the 300-400 hints or tips into this website…
The Motorcyclist’s Workshop is by Torrens, and has a lot of useful information about how to work on your motorbike. Click the link and get a copy for ten bucks.
Tuning For Speed was written by Phil Irving (of Vincent and Velocette fame). He was an accomplished engineer, and knew how to get a bit more power and reliability out of a standard motor. This edition is a reprint from Floyd Clymer.
The factory instruction books are invaluable when servicing your bike. It and the parts list should be required items on your bookshelf. I get them as reprints for around $10 from the various suppliers (sources depends on which marque of bike). Originals are ok, but they’ll just get grubby like my reprint with use.
Nicholson’ Modern Motorcycle Mechanics! This is an extremely useful book. It covers a very wide variety of bikes, with timing instructions, limited rebuilding instructions, etc. It also has a large section on parts that were common to many different manufacturers, like magnetos, carbs, clutches, etc. The later editions cover early Japanese bikes, along with Brit and American iron. It’s a good book to get to start your library. Kind of a one-size-fits-all, but with enough information to still be useful after you’ve read it for 15 years. 763 pages.
Radco’s The Vintage Motorcyclists’ Workshop. Another great book. This one was written in 1986, but is out of print now. Check with the usual sources, as outlined in Bibliography #1. This book includes how to info on various items, such as leatherwork on seats, carb adjustments, polishing, making pushrods, checking connection rod alignment, etc. A good place to get a wide variety of info, crammed into 244 pages.
These next ones are workshop books, not written specifically for bike restoration, but for anybody who is playing with metal. The first four are from the publisher Nexus Special Interests. They publish a very wide variety of books, mostly aimed at the armature engineer or model maker. They are typically about 150 pages long, with lots of illustrations and cost around 7 pounds. check their website for more info.
How to make your own workshop from a Charcoal Briquette Foundry? That must be Dave Gingery, the guy who wrote 7 books about how to make machine tools like a lathe, mill, drill press, etc with your hand tools and a BBQ. It is a very interesting concept. Book one shows how to build a foundry, so you can cast parts using old beer cans or pistons. Those castings then can be made into parts for a lathe in book 2. Book 3 shows how to use the foundry and the lathe to make a Shaper, then later books use the same principles to make a mill, drill, dividing head, and sheetmetal brake. All of it is super low-buck.
Lindsay Publications has something for everybody. I’ve shown a few of the lathe books that I’ve bought from them, but you really have to check out their site to see some of the crazy things they sell. Coffin Making, the How To Fart Cookbook, Making Projectile Missiles for Boys book, Babbitt bearings, etc, etc. Sign up for their catalog, and buy yourself a few of their $10 books or booklets. Good info, and some pretty funny stuff is in there too.
If you feel ambitious, you can buy some books that describe early motors, and some details about how to build replicas. These were published in 1900 and 1910 !!! The reprints are just a few years old, and each cost a little more than two burritos at the local Taqueria.
Want to make a circa 1906 motorbike, from a period how-to book? How about an entire gasolene car from 1901? These describe how to make a primitive carburetor, how to make your own castings for frame lugs, turn a piston on the lathe, etc. People must have been pretty industrious way back then, to make up a car in the their workshop. Even if you don’t get around to doing it, it is nice to learn how to make smaller bits like the carb, ignition points, or the sheetmetal work.
Once you’ve gone this far, Steam Engines are next. You wouldn’t believe the number of books that describe esoteric valve designs, or show calculation tables (remember, this was before everybody had a solar powered calculator) for optimal displacements, pressures, piston speeds, bearing loads, etc. If you are still reading this article, then you know how nerdy and exciting this stuff can be to a engineering fool like me.
GENERAL MC BOOKS:
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.
We 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.