Rider’s Library | Classic Motorcycles by Vic Willoughby

Classic Motorcycles by Vic Willoughby
Classic Motorcycles by Vic Willoughby

Motorcycle Library Retro Review

If you’ve ever wondered how motorcycle design came to be what it is today, and if you have an interest in the details of how certain classic motorcycles played a role in that evolution, you will find Vic Willoughby’s Classic Motorcycles a fascinating piece of moto-literature.

Willoughby, who was the editor of the U.K.’s weekly journal “Motor Cycle,” provides in-depth insights into the design and history of 40 landmark racing and street motorcycles spanning 60 years from Great Britain, Scandinavia, the Continent, the United States and Japan.

The 176-page first edition includes more than 240 images: black and white period photographs, over two dozen contemporary (for the seventies) color photographs, and detailed ink perspective, cut-away and exploded view illustrations of engines and other technical details. Later editions came out in 1982 and 1989.

Classic motorcycle-racing fans will particularly enjoy the rare racing images from the 1911 shot of A. G. Chapple aboard an Indian V-twin at Daytona Beach speed trials, to Bob Foster fully airborne at Ballaugh Bridge aboard a Moto-Guzzi in the 1949 Senior TT, to Cal Rayborn in the H-D world speed record streamliner at Bonneville in 1970 and Barry Sheene on a Suzuki at Mallory Park in 1974.

Of course, the link between racing and the advancements in motorcycle design has been strong over the years and much of the text details the defining and often radical innovations that led to the modern high performance machines we know today. Examples include the advanced liquid cooled Scott two-strokes of the 1920s, the disc-brake equipped Douglas bikes of 1923, BMW’s supercharged wonder bikes of the 1930s, Husqvarna’s very fast V-twin racing bikes of the same period, the two stroke V-3 DKW of 1953, and many others up to the four, five and six cylinder DOHC racing bikes from Honda in the 1960s.

The innovative ideas that made their way into road-going bikes are summed up often based on Willoughby’s personal experience road testing some of them. The super-stable but extremely odd-looking American and English built Ner-a-car, which had hub-center steering in 1921, the 1930 Matchless Silver Hawk with its remarkable 26° OHC V-4 with coupled front/rear brake system, the ageless Triumph Speed Twin and Ariel Square Four to name a few.

Book Data:

  • Title: Classic Motorcycles
  • Author: Vic Willoughby
  • Published: 1975 (1st edition)
  • Publisher: The Hamlyn Publishing Group, Ltd., Astronaut House, Feltham, Middlesex, England
  • ISBN: 0-8037-4626-1

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.


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