Great Motorcycle Legends - wBW Book Review
by Richard Renstrom
The wBW Rare Motorcycle Book Review Series: Triumph Bonneville: Portrait of a Legend | 60 Years of MotoGP | Hold ON! by Stan Dibben | Classic Motorcycling: A Guide for the 21st Century | The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach | Exotic Motorcycles by Vic Willoughby | Fay Taylour - Queen of Speedway | Fifteen Times by Giacomo Agostini | Historic Racing Motorcycles, Famous Racing Motorcycles and Built for Speed by John Griffith | Great Motorcycle Legends by Richard Renstrom | Bahnstormer by L.J.K. Setright | British Motorcycles of the 1930's | Tuning for Speed by Phil Irving | Café Racers by Mike Clay | Tuning for Speed by Phil Irving | Bill Lomas: World Champion Road Racer | More wBW Book Reviews | wBW Book Review Ratings
This is another in our series (6 so far) of book reviews covering rare, out of print or hard-to-find motorcycle books. Great Motorcycle Legends was written by Richard Renstrom, who was considered to be "one of the world's ranking historians of the sport" back in 1977, when this book was written.
Now 1977 may seem like ages ago to some; it may be before your time or, like me, it may seem like just yesterday. In motorcycle years, it was ancient history -- I was riding a Yamaha RD400 two-stroke at the time, and the big deal was a single solid disk front brake and not having to mix oil in with the fuel during a fill-up!
But I guess you could say 1977 was a pivotal year, for it was also right around the time I saw the outrageously radical, fully-faired BMW R100RS, which instilled a longing in me that lasted until I finally bought one a couple of years ago...
It was a different time in 1977 and Renstrom, who was a prolific author of various motorcycle history books, attempted in this volume to write a compilation of brief illustrated histories of the most famous motorcycles up to that time. To be sure, some of the marques are no longer with us, like AJS, Greeves, Jawa, Norton, NSU and others, while some are still alive -- or have been resurrected from the dead, like Triumph.
There's not much in this book that hasn't been covered elsewhere, and the quality of the paper, printing and photographs, which wasn't great to begin with, hasn't gotten any better with the passage of time. The book covers the following makes: AJS, Ariel, BMW, BSA, Bultaco (with "Metralla" incorrectly spelled as "Metralia"), Ducati, Greeves, Honda, Husqvarna, Jawa, Lambretta, Matchless, Montesa, Moto Gilera, Moto Guzzi, Norton, NSU, Ossa, Puch, Royal Enfield, Triumph and Velocette.
This is a nice book to bring, say, to a summer holiday at the beach (which I will be doing very soon!). There's enough in each chapter to keep it both interesting and non-boring, and you're probably not going to find a better "one stop shop" for motorcycle history. The book is illustrated with many black and white photographs and a few color photos also to spice up the mix, along with line drawings of engines and other mechanical bits.
I'm sure that there are individual company histories that get into great depth on each of the individual models covered in Renstrom's book, but for those who want a slightly more than casual acquaintance with some of the most famous marques in motorcycling, this is a good place to start.
So if you've been harboring a secret desire to know more about those famous bikes that drives the old-timers into reveries of passion, Great Motorcycle Legends would be a good resource. And who knows -- you just may learn enough to win that next bar bet!