The Motorcycle a Complete History by Roland Brown – Retro Review
Roland Brown’s 2004 book, “The Motorcycle a Complete History,” is an amazingly comprehensive book considering its relatively compact format, covering the history of motorcycle development from the 1860s through 2004 in only 192 pages.
Brown’s extensive experience as a rider, racer and moto journalist makes that degree of concise, precise narrative possible. The words are boosted by more than 350 color and black/white images.
Brown’s approach to recalling the history of the motorcycle tracks closely along the technical evolution of motorcycle platforms. From the earliest steam-powered two-wheelers like the Michaux-Perreaux Steam Velocipede and Roper of the late 1860s to the early gasoline-burning attempts of the 1880s and on into the spindly but promising machines of the early 1900s.From there, he tracks the rapid pace of increased technical sophistication through to the superbikes we know today.
The book’s eight chapters weave the development of the motorcycle in its many technological aspects into the backdrop of world events, economics and social trends that give a broad context.
In that way, Brown is able to explain some of the reasons some brands and types of motorcycles survived the economic and social ups and downs of the past century while others did not.
For example, he recounts the dominance of the British and American motorcycle industry in the decades of the 1940s and into the sixties and the subsequent rise to power of the Japanese manufacturers in the late sixties and into the seventies and eighties. Brown makes the interesting point that it wasn’t only the Japanese motorcycle industry that hurt British motorcycle firms; it was also the availability of cheaper automobiles like the Austin Mini and the Morris Minor, which enabled many who were previously forced to rely on a motorcycle to finally afford a car.
Social factors also had a negative impact according to Brown: “Motorcycling was not helped by its downmarket image. In the USA, Hell’s Angels were making headlines for violence and lawlessness (although Honda’s ‘You meet the nicest people…’ advertising projected a contrastingly wholesome impression). Britain’s relatively harmless ‘leather boys’ preferred burn-ups between cafés. But their resultant accidents led to bad publicity, which was partly responsible for provisional license holders being restricted to 250cc bikes in 1961. Many motorcycle dealerships, including the prestigious Kings of Oxford chain owned by Mike Hailwood’s father Stan, began selling cars instead.”
Brown has the unique perspective on the evolution of motorcycle technology as one who has had the opportunity to ride many classic and antique bikes as well as the latest top of the line bikes.
The Motorcycle a Complete History doesn’t attempt to match the all-marques coverage of a book like The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, but it offers a unique insight into how the motorcycle became ,much more than just a mode of transportation and how it got to where it is today.
- Title: The Motorcycle a Complete History
- Author: Roland Brown
- Published: 2004, hard cover 192 pages, 9.5” x 12”
- Publisher: Parragon Publishing, Queen Street House, 4 Queen Street, Bath B A 1, 1 HE, UK www.parragon.com/
- ISBN: 1-40545-697-3
Rider’s Library Note: 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.