Historic Motorcycles 1885-1985 Review

Historic Motorcycles 1885-1985 by Richard Renstrom | Rider's LibraryAuthor Richard Renstrom has a depth and breadth of experience with motorcycles of nearly all brands and types that is difficult to top. In a career spanning from 1962 to 1985, Renstrom published more than 800 works on motorcycles and their history.

His feature articles appeared in magazines published in ten countries, including Motorcyclist and Cycle World in the U.S., the latter being where he wrote under the pen name of Geoffrey Wood and which was the publisher of his first book in 1970. Four more books on motorcycles followed.

A man of diverse interests and talents, after his retirement from motorcycle journalism in 1985, Renstrom turned his camera and those literary talents to study of ruffed grouse in central Idaho. That led to fourteen years of field research and another book, “Understated elegance—a story of the ruffed grouse in the central Idaho mountains.”

Then, in 2013 Renstrom returned to the well of his vast library of classic motorcycle images he had taken over his half-century around bikes and put them together with his knowledge of each bike, including a number of which he rode, and wrote “Historic Motorcycles 1885-1985.”

The book covers 102 motorcycles and is superbly illustrated with color images from Renstrom’s personal collection, which he took over several decades in the business. Marques from the U.K., U.S., France, Germany, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Austria, Denmark, Spain, Sweden and India are included.  Renstrom describes how he selected the bikes he includes this way:

Historic Motorcycles 1885-1985 Review“In selecting the bikes for this book from the hundreds of photographs in my collection, I tried to select the bikes that best tell the story of the first one hundred years of the motorcycle. Many are true milestone machines that were technically superior for their time, while others were historically significant but mechanical failures such as the 1950 Indian Warrior.

“Others, such as the 1947 Whizzer, might be scoffed at by the Europeans, yet this motorbike is an important milestone to we older Americans, since it was the Whizzers and scooters of the 1940s and early 1950s that so many of us started our motorcycling careers on.”

Renstrom’s explanation is helpful in understanding the unique mix of bikes he chose to feature, which includes some not usually mentioned in books on classic or collectible bikes such as CZ, Jawa and Maico two-stroke road bikes, a 250cc Parilla road racer, Denmark’s Nimbus, a 250cc Greeves motocrosser and a number of other lesser-known machines.

It also helps explain those he chose not to include such as Harley-Davidson’s Knucklehead, Panhead or Shovelhead models, Honda’s SOHC CB750, Kawasaki’s Z1, Honda’s VF series of V-four powered bikes introduced in the early 1980s and some others that are common fare in books of this type.

The result is a book that tends to broaden the scope of one’s thinking on how we might define a classic and recognize the significance of different types of motorcycles to riders around the world. Renstrom not only provides technical and historic background on each bike, but explains how each bike is significant in motorcycling history. That, taken together with the excellent images makes “Historic Motorcycles 1885-1985” unique among books on motorcycle history.

Book Data:

  • Title: Historic Motorcycles: 1885-1985
  • Author: Richard Renstrom
  • Published: 2013 hardcover, 206 pages, 102 color images.
  • Publisher: Richard Renstrom, 2821 Dorman Ave., Caldwell, ID, 83605, USA. Available through Caxton Press
  • www.caxtonpress.com    ISBN: 978-0-578-13150-4   MSRP: U.S. $40.00

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