Tuning for Speed -
by Phil Irving
Book Reviews Index
First published in 1948 by Temple Press
Hardcover; Dimensions: 9"x5.75"x1" (22.7x14.6x2.6 cm)
Can be found for approx. $40.00
Review by Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
This is the second in our occasional series of reviews
of classic motorcycle books. Some of these books some are very
rare; some are out of print,
obscure, forgotten or generally out of the mainstream.
have always been of the opinion that deepening our understanding and
knowledge of what has come before can help us better appreciate what we
now have and what will come in the future. Our hope is that
you will discover something new, just as we have, and that you will
become as inspired as we have been to deepen your knowledge of
Tuning for Speed should be on the top 10 list of
just about everyone's motorcycle classic book list. The name Phil
Irving may not be as well known today to some and possibly less so in
the United States. But Irving has been called "one of the most
underrated designers in the history of world motorsport", and Tuning
for Speed has been called "one of the best books ever written on the
improvement of motorcycle engines".
Phil Irving was a brilliant designer and engineer, but
he also had a wonderful ability for communicating this knowledge to
others. Among his many credits are his contributions as Chief
Engineer for one of the most desired classic motorcycles of all time:
the pre-World War II Vincent-H.R.D. models. He also designed the
Velocette adjustable rear suspension system and the stressed steel
frame, the basic design of which is still used in motorcycles today, and
he has written several books on the design and tuning of engines.
Tuning for Speed is one of my all-time favorites
in the technical book genre, and it sits on the shelf in a place of
honor next to my ancient copy of Design and Tuning of Competition
Engines by Philip H. Smith (and the much more recent
by Vittore Cossalter).
I can't profess to understand everything that is
discussed in any of these books, but I have certainly tried over the
years, and I occasionally pull one down and browse through a couple of
chapters, amazed at both the differences and similarities in motorcycle
and engine design and tuning over the decades.
Tuning for Speed was originally aimed at both motorcycle
enthusiasts and racers who wanted to maximize the efficiency of their
engines. The subtitle of the book is "How to Increase the
Performance of Motorcycle Engines for Touring, Racing and Competition
Work". It's written as a sort of "how to" manual, for those
engines, carburetors and drive trains of yore, which were certainly much
simpler to maintain. So although much of the information can't be
put to immediate use, the theory and engineering that is discussed is as
sound as ever.
Readers may find that they can deepen their
understanding of the ever-fascinating controlled internal combustion
process that takes place inside of an engine. They may find that
there are still a few long-lost tricks and techniques that can be
applied to today's screaming power plants. At the very least, the
explanations of how things work are like a short course in mechanical
This isn't a book that can be read straight through,
cover to cover. It's something to be studied, a chapter or two at
a time. The tone of the writing is matter-of-fact; as if Irving
himself is speaking to the reader, letting loose with his secrets.
Topics covered include basic Carburetion and Gas Flow,
Cylinder Heads, Pistons and Rings, Truing and Balancing Flywheels, The
Valve Mechanism, Adjustments to Valve Timing and even a couple of
chapters on Supercharging and "Sparking Plugs". Don't forget that
this is not simply basic information; it's a relaying of the knowledge
that the Master -- Phil Irving -- collected through the years. The
book went through at least 12 different printings that I'm aware of
since it was first published in 1948, with some sell-outs requiring
second and even third impressions.
Anyone interested in the history, design and theory of
motorcycle engines should have a copy of this classic on their shelves.
This one isn't too hard to find; most old-time motorcycle booksellers
(especially in Australia, Phil Irving's birthplace) either have a
reprint or can find you a copy.
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