Motorcycle Library Retro Review
Phil Schilling’s book, “The Motorcycle World,” was published in 1974 — the same year I bought my first real motorcycle. But I never got a copy of it back then.
Now, 40 years later, there it was in pristine condition with its original full-color dust cover laying atop a stack of cast-off old paperbacks in a junk shop along the Mississippi River.
Cracking it open for the first time, there was a two-page spread black and white shot of three time national racing champion Bart Markel crossed up in a full-on flat track slide!
No way I was leaving that shop without that book. It took what was already a great day of motorcycle touring along the Great River Road and made it a superb day.
Edited by Jerry Mason and Adolf Suehsdorf, the book is in hard cover, large format and loaded with historic as well as then-contemporary images of some of the greatest personalities and machines in the motorcycle world.
Schilling was well-qualified to write the narrative about the motorcycle world for the book; he was at the time Executive Editor of Cycle magazine.
Schilling denies writing an encyclopedia of models or history of the sport; rather, he defines this book as his interpretation of the people, machines and the events that defined that first 70 years of the motorcycle world. Indeed, he spends some time analyzing motorcyclists themselves and his narrative tends to be about the intersection of people and machines.
Through those intersections, history was often made and despite his assertions to the contrary, Schilling artfully writes a history — or rewrites it, if you will — in a way that helps make events that happened decades apart a cohesive and interesting whole.
From the incredible long-distance endurance exploits of Cannonball Baker in the nineteen-teens to the GP dominance of John Surtees in the 1950s up to the rough and ready days of 1970s road racing and motocross, Schilling helps explain the progression of the technology of motorcycles as a benefit of competition.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the 20-page photo essay on Australian racing champion and successful motorcycle businessman, Kel Carruthers that Schilling places as the book’s final chapter.
In the beginning of the book, Schilling describes motorcycles as the sum of a mass of individual parts, but by the end of book, he has made the case that the motorcycle world is much, much more.
- Title: The Motorcycle World
- Author: Phil Schilling
- Published: 1974
- Publisher: Random House and The Ridge Press
- ISBN: 0-394-49381-8
Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature here may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.