Review by Rick K. for webBikeWorld.com
three-foot-high stack of motorcycle books and videos
staring me in the face and since the weather has
been way too cold lately for riding, it's time to
put on the sweats, curl up on the couch and dig in.
Who said you can't have fun with motorcycles in 12
Although I have to admit
that I saw an incredibly brave (or foolish) soul out
the other day at, believe it or not, 5:20 a.m.
I looked down at the temperature gauge in the car
and it read 20 degrees (F). The rider was on
an unfaired bike and he was merging into the early
morning rush hour traffic, so here's to ya', mate! I
said, as I clicked the seat heater up one notch
Back in the office, I
dug through the pile to find "The History of
Motorcycle Racing", a very interesting set of three
DVDs produced by the renowned David Wood (of
on-bike TT fame) with help (and funding) from Castrol.
The videos were first
released in 1992 and they cover the entire history
of motorcycle racing, from its very beginnings at
the turn of the century (20th Century, that is)
until about 1990 or so, the beginning of the modern
era. They are, of course, European focused, so
don't expect much about U.S. motorcycle racing
history, although there are a few brief glimpses
here and there.
Duke must still has a
boatload of these videos left, or maybe they're just
so popular that someone ordered a second pressing;
I'm not sure. But all of a sudden I've been
seeing advertisements for the set of three, so I
went online and ordered them at Duke USA. And
just in time for what's turning out to be one of the
coldest winters on record in the Mid-Atlantic
I'm very partial to the
first volume in the series, "How It All Began & The
TT". I'm sure you've seen some photos of those
really, really old timers on their
half-bicycle/half-motorcycle machines, but I'll bet
you've never actually witnessed one of those
contraptions being ridden, much less raced.
It's a real thrill to
see those ancient-looking machines at speed.
Castrol and David Wood have some incredibly old film
going way, way back to the very early 1900's, and
although (of course) the quality of some of the film
isn't all that great, it's amazing to think that 100
years ago at the dawn of internal combustion,
enthusiasts just like me and you were out there
having fun and racing on tracks that were definitely
better suited for grazing cows.
After covering the
beginnings of motorcycle racing, both on and off
road, Vol. 1 is heavily focused on the Isle of Man
TT, which makes sense because it was the premier
world motorcycle racing event for many years.
Segments of an interview with old-timer Stanley
Woods are interwoven throughout the history and were
filmed at the National Motorcycle Museum in England.
Even at his advanced age, he has some pretty
interesting stories to tell about the early days of
It's also nice to see
the old bikes and the riders with their
devil-may-care riding clothes and accessories (and
attitudes). One rider is wearing a pair of low
white street oxfords while going for a speed record
on a cool-looking J.A.P. racer, and it wasn't until
much later when motorcyclists in general seemed to
take riding gear seriously.
Races in those days
could be on bumpy old dirt tracks, on closed street
courses or just about anywhere else, and it wasn't
unusual for a motorcycle race to be more like an
endurance run of 200 to 300 miles, with 10 to 20
mile laps. The scenes of the Brooklands track
in England are fantastic -- there's absolutely
nothing like it anywhere today.
The three videos are
full of segments covering the most famous racers of
the day, including great riders that are fading from
our memories, like Georg Maier on his BMW.
There's even a brief segment showing Maier's
restored BMW being ridden around the track in what
appears to be the 1980's; it sounds very cool
indeed. Unfortunately, the sounds of the very
early bikes are not available, obviously.
High-quality recording still isn't widely available
today and a very small (but growing) percentage of
modern televisions even have stereo speakers.
Volume 2 is entitled
"Birth of the Grand Prix & The Japanese Arrival" and
it covers just that, illustrating the evolution from
those old dusty dirt tracks to the modern road
courses that were the forerunners of today's MotoGP
and World Superbike racing.
This volume also goes
through each year in a somewhat processional style,
but towards the end we see and hear from modern-day
Giacamo Agostini, Eddie Lawson and Kenny
Roberts, all looking very young. The
beginnings of World Superbike racing are also
covered in this volume.
Volume 3, "The Other
Champions & Pressure, Money and the Need to Win",
covers some of the lesser-known motorcycle racing
series, like the 50cc bumblebee racers that can
reach 100MPH; 125cc and 250cc bikes; sidecar racing
and other production and classic racing series.
There's some overlap with Volumes 1 and 2, but this
volume includes more coverage of the modern racers,
with features on Schwantz, Sheene, Spencer and
All three videos are
narrated in a slightly subdued fashion, which can be
a bit boring at times, especially with the "In
1938...In 1939....In 1940..." format. Volumes
2 and 3 also spend some time bringing the viewer up
to speed with the history that had been covered in
the previous volumes, so there is some overlap to be
aware of. Any single volume stands on its own
though, but if you can only buy one, get the first
of the series.
three-volume set is a wonderful series that does an
excellent job at covering the entire history of
motorcycle racing up to the late 1980's. It
would be perfect for new motorcycle racing fans but
there's also a lot of good information included for
long-time fans, especially regarding the early days
Castrol should be
commended for helping to produce this collection.
Other than a few seconds spent on showing their logo
at the beginning and end of each video, there's no
other Castrol advertising or promotion.
Without their help and the guidance of David Wood
and Duke Video, who knows what might have happened
to this important piece of our history.