Britain’s Don Morley is not only qualified to write about the history of the motorcycle — in many ways, he is a part of that history.
Having been a participant in competitive motorcycle events that include road racing, motocross, trials and grass track since 1957, he is an able historian of the sport’s many facets and its greatest machines.
And his book “History of the Motorcycle” reflects this.
As an author, Morley has published articles in Cycle World (US), Motosprint (Italy), Motorrad (Germany) and Motor (Holland), as well as a column for Superbike magazine.
Morley also has extensive photography credits, including many of the images in his book. Bound in hard cover, printed on high quality heavy bond, the History of the Motorcycle is a very large format (8.5” x 12.25” page size), which gives many of the color and black and white images in the book a poster quality.
In the book’s 183 pages, there are 138 images, including many rare historic shots of classic racing events such as the 1927 Brooklands winner J.S. Wright on his Bough Superior and Bill Lacey aboard his Grindlay-Peerless setting a world speed record in the 1930s as well as then-contemporary shots of Kenny Roberts aboard his Yamaha on the high banking of Daytona and Barry Sheene in action at the 1982 Spanish GP.
The book tells the story of motorcycle development from a decidedly British and European perspective, particularly up through the chapter on the period from 1956 to 1970 — entitled “The Beginning of the End.”
Morley refers, of course, not to the end of motorcycling per se, but rather to the era where British and Italian motorcycles were at the center of its universe.
It is in that chapter Morley assesses the rise of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers as being due not to the outdated designs and poor reliability of the British and Euro bikes, but the opposite: they were so reliable and ahead of their time, the Brit bikes lacked excitement.
His theory was this: “Every mid-fifties machine was basically well engineered and did its job almost too well, on roads that no longer provided any form of dramatic challenge; the larger and more expensive machines just went and stopped a bit quicker than the smaller and cheaper ones, but inevitably and almost boringly, they all got there just the same.
“Japan has often been blamed for the demise of Europe’s motorcycle industry, yet perhaps in truth, Japanese designers alone recognized that excitement was the missing ingredient, and handsomely met the challenge by providing ever-increasing race-style exotica for use by the average rider on the ordinary street.”
There are those who might say Morley’s view of the situation was through rose-colored glasses. That it was not just race-style technology that found its way into Japanese road machines that made them sell so well, but the simpler things — mundane as Morley may find them—like electric starters, five speed transmissions, liquid cooling and reliable electrics that would not fail, even in the rain, that moved so many riders to buy Asian bikes.
Notwithstanding the sympathetic slant in favor of the British and European motorcycle makes, Morley offers an outstanding narrative in conjunction with spectacular photography that makes finding his book worthwhile.
- Title: History of the Motorcycle
- Author: Don Morley
- Published: 1983 first edition and 1996.
- Publisher: This edition by the Chancellor Press Imprint of Reed International Books, Ltd. Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road, London, SW3 6RB
- ISBN: 1-85152-943-8 Hardcover
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.