The Story of BMW Motor Cycles by: L.J.K. Setright Softcover: 190 pages Dimensions (in cm): 14.9×21.0x1.0 Publisher: Transport Bookman Publications Ltd., Middlesex, England, 1977 ISBN: 0851840213
Leonard John Kensell Setright is probably and unfortunately known only by half-a-handful of webBikeWorlders. And that’s too bad.
L.J.K. Setright (as most of his articles were signed) first sprung into my consciousness in the 1960’s from the pages of Car (UK) and Road & Track (US) magazines. An exciting Saturday night in those days including bopping down to the local “soda fountain” (do they still exist?) to lay on a supply of the latest car magazines for an evening of automobile fantasies shared with a package of Funny Bones and a chocolate Yoo-Hoo.
A friend and I would work on our Revell model cars, talking about engines, speed and burning rubber. The hands-on engineering would soon give way to perusing the magazines whilst drinking in each delicious fact about the latest Fiats, MG’s, Citroëns and other unobtainable fantasy rides. No muscle cars for us — the older neighborhood teens were into “foreign” cars, and so must we.
I was a reader with a rapacious appetite for the new and different in those days, and Setright hit the spot. I still remember the wonder of his words, my eyes savoring his grammar like a bowl of succulent sweet fruit. It was and is different and amazing; words that were directed solely at me from someone who came off as a cross between a brilliant tinkerer and a Shakespearean scholar.
Setright was opinionated for sure, but his words brought me the truth that was so missing from the lame prose of the period. He had a Renaissance Man’s knowledge of seemingly everything and in every language, he had an engineer’s mind and he was surely the classic British eccentric.
That’s why I just had to find a copy of Setright’s Bahnstormer: The Story of BMW Motor Cycles once I realized that the book existed. I had either forgotten that he was into motorcycles among his many other interests, or I should have expected it, but seeing his name attached to this slim volume brought back a flood of memories.
The book’s introduction is classic Setright — starting with some Latin quotes from Burton (Robert, that is), then on to the amount of beer consumed in the BMW automobile factory to a wonderful summation of BMW riders and why they choose their beloved mounts.
The rest of the book is an extraordinarily detailed history of the marque, with some that has become familiar by now but much of it waiting to be rediscovered. There are many somewhat muddy black and white photos in my edition and some interesting line drawings of a variety of Beemers through the years. The book is also infused with specification charts for the various models, from the early history of the company to the R100RS, which was just released as the book was finished.
Unfortunately for me, most of the chapters don’t show the Setright flourish at its best, because he used a relatively serious style as an historian should. But I can say that the writing is different, detailed and more interesting than probably any other BMW motorcycle history I’ve encountered.
If you know and cherish L.J.K. Setright and if you like motorcycles, you’ll like this book. If you don’t know Setright but are interested in BMW motorcycle history, the book has a huge amount of detail, some of which may not have been covered elsewhere. That the writing style is different than any other BMW motorcycle history book (or any motorcycle history book for that matter), is a plus.
I found my brand-new copy at a used bookstore and paid about $25.00. I’ve seen it in the UK priced from £25 to £55, depending on condition.
This is the fourth 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.
I 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 motorcycling history.