The Fine Art of the Motorcycle Engine
The Fine Art of the Motorcycle Engine
by Daniel Peirce
Veloce Publishing, August 2008
144 Pages, Color Photos and Text
Price: $39.95 or £19.99
by "Burn" for webBikeWorld.com
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Owner Comments (Below)
I'm a gearhead, no two ways about it.
I came to this realization back in the early '50's in the
same way that a kid might suddenly realize that he has 6 toes,
while everyone else has 5. It was something that marked me and
was part of me and I accepted it and knew would be with me forever.
The funny thing is, I distinctly remember the instant it
happened. I was standing on a toolbox, peering under the hood
of Uncle Tony's '52 Oldsmobile. A Super 88. It was black, as
black as the hair on his head and the grime under his fingernails.
Uncle Tony and his friend Moishe had pulled the single carb
from the 303 cubic inch V8 sitting in the driveway of our Brooklyn
My memory is fading, but I believe they were fitting a "tri-power"
three-carb manifold to the Rocket V8. Kids didn't say much in
those days, and adults didn't talk to them, but Tony glanced
over and winked at me and went back to work, burying his hands
up to his elbows.
I stood there in awe of that mighty Rocket engine as the
musty smell of thick wool seat covers played in the background
and smothered me with goodness. I looked at the rat's nest of
fuel lines woven through both their hands when it hit me --
the engine was the heart of this beast, the only thing that
I have that same awesome feeling to this day whenever I see
a powerplant of any type. Engines are simply amazing in every
shape and form; I often fall asleep dreaming of the new intake
systems I would design.
So when I heard about The Fine Art of the Motorcycle Engine,
I knew I had to get a copy as soon as possible. The book is
just entering the North American distribution pipeline, but
I ordered mine from England, hot off the press, so I could have
This is a coffee table book in a square format with color
photos of 64 different rare, classic or noteworthy motorcycle
engines. It is an outcome of something called "The Up-N-Smoke
Engine Project"; an endeavor I don't really understand
even after reading the book or the marketing collateral...but
apparently was a series of motorcycle engine photos that were
turned into prints and hung on the walls of a barbeque joint
of the same name.
It all sounds good so far, and an engine guy like me should
be pleased as punch, right? But there's a problem -- or
a couple of 'em, actually. While the square format shouldn't
really matter, I think the photos are cropped too tightly to
fit, and the squares don't provide enough room around the edges
to draw in the eye.
The author didn't use a square format camera; nor did he
use a digital SLR. He used a Nikon Coolpix 8700, of all things
-- which would certainly not be my camera of choice for a project
like this, for a number of reasons.
Another problem has to do with the printing, which was done
in India. Nothing at all against Indian printers, but the publisher
may have tried to squeeze a few too many rupees, because the
quality of the paper and the reproductions aren't quite up to
But the worst part is that many of the photos were "over-Photoshopped".
I am (was) a photographer by trade, so maybe I'm more sensitive
to this than the average book lover, but I noticed right away
that many of the photos have too much contrast; the edges on
some look unnatural as a result of the cropping out of the background;
yet the reflections of the background can be seen in some of
the chrome, but those reflections don't match the faked "studio"
The contrast and heavy post-processing are especially obvious
in the engines with a lot of chrome, like the Honda 400F, the
Gold Star, the BMW R12, the Duo-Glide, the Tiger Cub and others.
The photos that are more evenly exposed are much better, but
the photos that were taken outdoors and then modified to appear
to have been taken in a studio suffer from the conversion process,
in my opinion.
I think anyone who has slightly more than a passing knowledge
of Photoshop should recognize right away that these photos are
over-processed. Some of this may have to do with the camera;
my feeling is that the use of the Coolpix 8700 probably limited
some of the resolution and range before the post-processing
I think this all gives the majority of the engines a weird
half-real, half-fake look that may not be immediately obvious
to everyone, but which I think makes the photos look, well,
doctored, especially in the highlights and high-contrast edges.
This is really a shame, and I think the author would have been
better off giving us less Photoshop and more reality instead.
The presentation just seems to give these beautiful engines
a look that is too clinical for my taste.
By the way, the author is upfront about the post-processing
-- he's devoted a few pages at the end to show how he took the
photos, cropped them and used Photoshop to prepare them for
Another issue I have has to do with the descriptions of the
engines. Open a page and each engine photo on the left has a
matching one-page description on the right, but the descriptions
don't include all that much about the history or technical specifications
or interesting engineering features of the engine -- they're
mostly a running dialog on topics like how the author found
the motorcycle, the owner and other narrative that, to me, is
disappointing because it isn't focused on the subject, although
I may be in the minority on this nitpick, I'll admit.
I guess I'm being pretty critical here, but this is a book
review and a review is an opinion and my opinion is that I'm
disappointed. 40 bucks is a lot of money to spend on a book
with picture of engines; I assumed I'd be able to study the
photos to learn more about how the engines were built and read
some narrative about their design.
Maybe the casual reader won't notice, and if you just want
an art book with some admittedly interesting photos of a variety
of motorcycle engines, this volume may do the job, but I'm afraid
that not many art lovers are going to be interested in this
Engine freaks like me are, however, but I can't get beyond
the too-tight cropping, the too-obvious Photoshop post-processing
and what I think is the wrong focal length used to capture many
of the images. Sorry, but that's the way I feel about it!
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From "G.A.M." (9/08): "I
appreciate this review, and I don't think the reviewer is being
too picky. If I am purchasing a book about the ART of something
related to the motorcycle, I would expect superior photography,
as well as some real technical information about what is unique
about the engines. Ok, I understand that "art" related
to a motor might be perceived as being only visual, I think
that cheapens the Art of a Motorcycle.
A couple of years ago, I was privileged to attend "The
Art of the Motorcycle", the Guggenheim's travelling exhibit
that originated in New York City, during a business trip to
Memphis. The NYC exhibit broke all previous attendance records
for the museum, which says a LOT about motorcycles and the public's
interest in them.
I spent 5 and a half hours there, and as we were leaving,
the security guard told me that my companion and I broke the
previous record for time in the exhibit, buy a full two hours.
One reason was because I had two cameras with me, and I exhausted
the batteries in both of them before I left. I also purchased
the exhibit book, which included some very good studio photography,
depicting the motorcycle as art. My photos were remembrances,
the official photos were art.
So I would like to support the reviewers concern about the
quality of the photography, and the quality of the text. Bikes
can be a work of art visually, and mechanically, and I would
be disappointed to not have the best of both in a $40 book."