Motorcycle

Article excerpt

Mick Walker, Motorcycle, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore MD (2006), 224 pp., $35.00.

This history of motorcycle design is a lavishly produced volume typical of the genre, full of photos, cutaway drawings of engines and tables of specifications. It is also typical of the genre in that each two-page spread deals with a different topic-a country, marque, designer or technical issue (drive systems, fairings, rear suspension designs). Others address mo-peds, scooters and sidecars, and a few aspects of 'motorcycle culture'-café racers and the matching of the colours of motorcyclists' leathers to their bikes'. Although nearly illegible panels at the foot of some pages direct the reader to spreads on related topics, the format makes it difficult to sustain a narrative about any of the topics the author addresses. The book is arranged roughly chronologically; while the first half or so is largely a history of the development of the motorcycle industry, by the time we reach the era of the 'superbikes' the text consists almost entirely of descriptions of machines that often read like advertising copy ('mouthwatering').

The most interesting features of this book are the detailed descriptions and photos of the earliest motor cycles, and the unusual photos throughout the first half of the book, which include an Italian military motor cycle with a large machine gun mounted on its handlebars and a photo from 1924 showing an American police Harley with a jail cell (complete with criminal) in place of a sidecar. Walker also effectively outlines the relationship between motorcycle design and the requirements of the military and the racing circuit. A substantial part of the book is devoted to racing and its need for machines with reliable power and balanced handling as well as high speed; 'racing improves the breed', and competition wins are an advantage in the jockeying for market share among manufacturers. Finally, several spreads well describe the development of the Japanese motorcycle industry from its origins to its domination of the international market in the 1960s. …