Rider’s Library | The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles

Motorcycle Library Retro Review

Abako. Abendsonne. Blotto. Bodo. Eber. Jehu. Le Vack. Piola. Remus. Tremo. Utilia. Zetge. Seen any of these motorcycle brands around, or even ever heard of them, for that matter? Me neither.

No matter; they did exist and their country of origin, years in production and types of power plants as well as other details and images of many of them are in Erwin Tragatsch’s motorcycle encyclopedias.

For the reader/rider who really wants to know about every motorcycle brand ever commercially produced, there are some definitive resources to have: Erwin Tragatsch’s The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, which is something of a collector’s item in its own right, and the later revision The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, which was revised and updated by Kevin Ash.

Tragatsch himself was not simply an academic with an interest in motorcycles; he owned his own shop and built racing motorcycles from 1946 to 1949. With two overhead valve engine displacement options (JAP), Tragatsch racing bikes were produced in Czechoslovakia. He authored 10 books on motorcycles and automotive topics, and worked in motorcycle production for the likes of Triumph, AJS and Matchless.

The later (new) edition includes more than 1,000 full color sections of pictures as well as black and white images and illustrations, including many not included in the earlier editions.

More than 2,500 brands are covered, including what is believed to be the world’s first production motorcycle; it was the French Michaux-Perreaux Steam Velocipede, built in numbers of several hundred per year from 1868 to 1871! Interestingly, this marque does not appear in the earlier versions.

Some assert that the Daimler-Maybach wood-framed bike was the first motorcycle, but that was not built until 1885 and it was never a production item. It may have held the mark for being the earliest motorcycle powered by a gasoline-burning engine, however.

Both volumes include extensive information about early motorcycle design efforts, the development of the industry, and the dominant early brands. The history is segmented both by milestones in the history of the industry and the world. The timeline spans the development of motorcycles from the late 1800s to World War I, then the inter-war period of the 1920s and 1930s, World War II and then the post-WWII period to the present.

One indication of the difference in content between the two editions is in the fact that the later (new) edition is 560 pages in length, while the older edition is 320 pages. On the basis of sheer content, the newer version is the one to get, but the older versions may be accumulating some degree of collector value.

One thing is certain: if you have either, you’ll have access to information about far more motorcycle brands than most folks ever would have known existed.

Book Data:

Title: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles
Author: Erwin Tragatsch editor
Published: (1st edition 1977, 2nd edition 1983, reprinted 1986, 1988) hardcover
Publisher: Chartwell Books, 114 Northfield Ave., Edison, NJ 08837, USA
ISBN: 0-89009-868-9

Hard data:
Title: The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles
Author: Erwin Tragatsch editor, updated and revised by Kevin Ash
Published: 2000, hardcover
Publisher: Chartwell Books, 114 Northfield Ave., Edison, NJ 08837, USA
ISBN: 0-7858-1163-X

Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library 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.

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