This 3-volume VHS set had been laying around the office for several months, eventually getting buried under a ton of paperwork. I had it in the back of my mind to check it out one of these days, and one night, facing yet another boring session of post-motorcycle-racing-season TV, I decided to dust off the VHS player and feed it a tape.
I was absolutely amazed at what I found. This is a 3-volume set that is, as the advertising copy claims, a virtual encyclopedia of the incredible British motorcycle industry and its history. There are over 500 motorcycles described in these three videos. All of the motorcycles are from the U.K.’s National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, and the video was shot prior to the disastrous fire that wiped out nearly the entire collection in 2003.
The videos have a unique format. Inside each box is a listing of the motorcycles featured on that tape, and each motorcycle has a number that correponds to its position on the tape. If the tape is started at zero, a motorcycle can be found by fast-forwarding to the that number. For example, to see the section on the 1965 Norton P800 prototype, which is number 098, fast-forward to approximately 98 minutes and there it is.
The video was taken in a studio, and each bike was placed on a white turntable with a white background to eliminate any distractions and to provide good reflective lighting. The focus is solely on the individual motorcycle, and the turntable and camera move to provide close-ups of the bike’s interesting features and parts. A man and a woman take turns narrating, and the salient points of each motorcycle are discussed.
Each motorcycle only gets a minute or so (9 hours of tape is 540 minutes and there are over 500 bikes). It could be argued that each motorcycle should get more time, but 9 hours of VHS is probably near the limit of what can be successfully marketed.
The video quality, even on the VHS, is very clear and the lighting is nearly perfect. The array of motorcycles is simply phenomenal, covering three different historical periods of British motorcycle history, from 1898 to 1929; 1930 to 1949 and from 1950 to 2000. By the way, each tape is available individually.
Restorers of very obscure (and not so obscure) makes will find the videos invaluable as a record of the parts and the assembly of each bike. The video is claimed to be available on DVD, which would be even better, and can be run in slow-motion or stop action with better quality than the VHS tapes. I wasn’t able to find an actual copy of the DVD version, but would seriously consider purchasing a set if I found it. But the VHS version is very good quality, considering the technology, now rapidly becoming obsolete.
The array of motorcycles that were produced in Britain is mind-boggling (especially considering the climate!), and the National Motorcycle Museum is truly a world treasure. It’s so sad that the fire took out so many motorcycles, but apparently most of them are being re-restored, and the Museum is set to reopen on December 1, 2004 (This time with a £1.2m sprinkler system). If you’ve never been there, you owe it to yourself to make the trip at least once in your life. But if not, this video set is the next best thing. This is a must-have set for anyone interested in motorcycle history.