Motorcycling in the 50s by Jeff Clew
The years following WWII were difficult around the world with shortages, rationing and high prices on nearly everything. But as the forties drew to a close, the rockin’ fifties came on and things started to improve. Perhaps nowhere could the momentum change be sensed more than in England.
Motorcycling in England through the fifties has a magical place in memory and nostalgia, and perhaps no book captures the history and the feel of that time better than Jeff Clew’s Motorcycling in the 50s. For those who didn’t experience those years first-hand but are fascinated by them, the book is a page-turner of a time-machine back to those times.
It was the decade when the world finally shook off the post-war doldrums and a new generation re-branded recreation with doo-wop, rock & roll, scooters, microcars and motorcycles.
Jeff Clew rode in those days and his detailed insights into the bikes and the times make the period come alive.
In the book’s 13 chapters, Clew recalls a lot of details that might have been lost to history altogether. The little things that riders of today probably would not have guessed could be challenges, such as getting decent riding gear, evolving rules of the road and regulation, societal attitudes toward motorcyclists and the motorcycling culture itself.
He also recalls important details about a range of motorcycle marques of the day—most of which are long gone. Brands like Cotton, Dot, Matchless, Ariel, James, Francis Barnett, Douglas, Rainbow, Vincent, Wooler, Commander, HJH, DMW and others. Many of these now-extinct motorcycles had surprising features, despite being in production for only short times. For example, the DMW utilized a frame fabricated of square vs round tubing.
Clew provides some other surprising insights, such as the fact that in 1949, Indian was already nearly out of business and was split into two entities, one of which was controlled by Brockhouse Engineering of Southport in the U.K.
That firm controlled distribution of a number of British-built motorcycles that were re-branded as Indian products for distribution in the U.S. The 1950 Brave was one such model. Equipped with a 250cc sidevalve engine, three speed gearbox and poor build quality, the Brave could not save Indian—on either side of the Atlantic.
For fans of the Isle of Man TT, Clew has a chapter devoted to the event, which provides insights you probably can’t get anywhere else. Details that you probably never considered are covered in detail, such as what an enormous hassle it was to get a motorcycle to and from the island back in the days before drive-on ferry service.
After reading that chapter, its something of a marvel that the event ever became popular, let alone one of the most prestigious events in all of motorcycle sport!
Other chapters deal with the rise of the two-stroke engine in both performance and popularity, scooters and microcars as economical transportation alternatives, the rise of imported motorcycles in the post-war period, the emergence of vintage motorcycle collecting and how motorcycling got a bad rep in the fifties.
Peppered with images that include racing, trials, and the TT, illustrations and advertising art from the period, Motorcycling in the 50s is a treasure for those interested in the bikes and the times that were the fifties.
Other titles in the Veloce Classic Reprint Series you can see reviewed by Ultimate Motorcycling:
- Rider’s Library—Edward Turner-the Man Behind the Motorcycles
- Rider’s Library—Motorcycle Apprentice
- Rider’s Library—The Triumph Speed Twin and Thunderbird Bible
Motorcycling in the 50s Fast Facts
- Author: Jeff Clew
- Published: 1995 and 2017 Paperback. 144 pages. Measures 8.2” x 9.75.” 120 B/W images.
- Publisher: Veloce Publishing, Parkway Farm Business Park, Middle Farm Way, Poundbury, Dorchester, DT1 3AR, England
- North American Distributor: Quarto Publishing Group
- ISBN: 978-1-787110-99-1
- MSRP: US, $40.00; UK, £25; Canada, $53.00