Next in our occasional series (7 including this book) of book reviews covering rare, out of print or hard-to-find motorcycle books is Classic American Racing Motorcycles by Mick Walker.
Walker is well known to motorcyclists as a very prolific author of many different motorcycle books including motorcycle histories, motorcycle repair and detailed biographies of many makes and models.
Classic American Racing Motorcycles is one of a series of “Classic Racing Motorcycles” books published by Osprey. The series also includes (or included) British, German Japanese, Italian and European racing motorcycles.
I haven’t read the others, but the title of this book is somewhat misleading, in my opinion. The book should have been called “The History of American Motorcycle Racing” instead. Although I was a bit disappointed and somewhat taken aback that the book doesn’t really focus on the technology of the bikes themselves, it’s nevertheless an excellent read, which is something I realized after I overcame my initial disappointment.
I’m not sure where or how Mick Walker came by all of the very detailed information included in the book, which covers the American motorcycle racing scene from its very beginnings at the turn of the 20th Century up until the popular Battle of the Twins series in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.
It’s filled with some very nice photographs of many different American (and other) racing motorcycles, and it’s loads of fun to study the photos to see what the riders and mechanics thought was the hot setup in those days. Especially amazing to me is the safety gear — or lack thereof — that was considered adequate. Racing on broken and dirt pavement with street shoes, no gloves, wool jackets and bare-bones open-face helmets on skinny ribbed Dunlops doesn’t look like very much fun to me!
Books of this type walk a fine line between providing too much detail on long-forgotten events or not enough detail for statistics fiends. All told, Walker does an admirable job of keeping the reader’s attention by offering just enough detail interwoven with interesting narrative and some commentary.
He does this by breaking the book up into chapters that pretty much cover the basics of American motorcycle racing in the 20th Century.
The book starts with the early days in the very early 1900’s and goes on to cover an interesting summary of early Daytona Beach racing, Catalina Island (I vaguely knew about racing there but not much else), The Harley Saga, Desert Racing, Dirt Track, the AMA and their shameful rule bending (which apparently still continues to this day), Bonneville Salt Flats, Transatlantic (racers, that is), “King Kenny” and even a section on racing in South America.
I didn’t realize how many “foreign” motorcycles competed in the American racing scene, and Walker provides a balanced view of the marques that competed. He takes a few shots at AMA over their banning of various European models once they became “too competitive”, but overall I think he was well aware of the possibility of becoming too condescending and, in fact, is probably too conservative in his criticism.
Overall, I found this to be an excellent book that gave me a very good understanding of how we got to where we are today with American motorcycle racing. I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to learn more about our rich and unique sport.