Motorcycle Racing with the Continental Circus

If our review of Chris Pereira’s “Motorcycle GP Racing in the 1960s” whetted your appetite for the history of that golden age of Grand Prix motorcycle road racing that gave rise to legends like Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Bill Ivy, Phil Read, Jim Redman, Gary Hocking, Hugh Anderson, Luigi Taveri, John Surtees and many others, we have good news: there’s more.

In his latest installment, Pereira treats us to a deep-dive into the sometimes turbulent, tragic, yet triumphant world of world-class motorcycle road racing during what many consider to be its “golden age.”

“Motorcycle Racing with the Continental Circus” gives the reader in-depth insight into what are often previously unknown aspects of motorcycle racing in continental Europe from 1920 to 1970.

Motorcycle Racing with the Continental Circus Review (Rider's Library)Indeed, it is this aspect of the book that sets it apart from much of the motorcycle literature that covers racing and racers; its fascinating and frank discussion of the devastatingly poor safety practices at many of the courses and events, and the all-too preventable tragedies that resulted in the death and serious injury to some of the riders of those days.

Pereira sheds light on the harsh conditions and hardships borne by many of the riders, most of whom were poorly funded privateers racing for the long chance of achieving glory, championships and perhaps even a factory-supported contract.

For most, the glory was hard-won and short-lived, the finances amounted to nothing more than start money and the factory rides were limited to only the very best. That reality was not lost on the men who competed despite long odds, enormous risk and limited returns.

What Pereira reveals about trackside safety and emergency medical services at some circuits is nothing short of appalling. For example:

“Circuit safety and medical facilities were often rudimentary, particularly at some of the minor, less well known circuits. Two casualties of these poor facilities were South African rider Eddie Grant, who crashed at Villefranche de Rouergue in 1956, and although not seriously injured, was left to lie in a field until the race finished, and later died of shock and exposure, and Italian MV rider, Roberto Colombo, who crashed during practice for the Belgian GP at Spa Francorchamps, and lay in a field for several hours in blazing sunshine until medical assistance arrived, by which time he had succumbed to his injuries.”

Pereira sheds light on some of the less grim aspects of racing in those early days, as well. Some of the more amusing anecdotes he shares relate to rider hijinks and ploys used to secure at least some start money when all else failed.

He writes, “The need to generate as much start money as possible sometimes led privateers to carry out mild acts of deception. A rider who had blown up his 350 Norton or 7R AJS, would swap the tank, fairing and exhaust system with the bigger machine, and start the 350cc race. Alternatively, smaller capacity machines, such as a 125 Bultaco, could be ridden in 250 classes, simply by changing the fairing bearing the appropriate color number plates, purely to qualify for start money. However, it was an unwritten law that no rider would use such tactics to gain an unfair advantage over his friends and rivals; the usual practice was for the rider in question to retire after a few laps.”

The book provides a vivid picture of how the character of GP racing changed in the fifty years it covers, both in terms of riders and events as well as how the machines that dominated the sport and world championships changed from being British and European four-strokes to two-strokes of Asian origin. It also tracks the achievements of many of the most familiar names in racing history, as well as many that are not so familiar.

The U.K.’s Veloce Publishing, Ltd. Publishes both of Pereira’s books as well as these fascinating books about some of the named riders who appear in them, which we have reviewed. Check them out:

Book Data:

  • Title: Motorcycle Racing with the Continental Circus-1920 to 1970
  • Author: Chris Pereira
  • Published: 2018 hardcover. 96 pages. 83 b/w and 9 color images.
  • Publisher: Veloce Publishing, Parkway Farm Business Park, Middle Farm Way, Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 3AR, England
  • Veloce Publications are distributed in North America by: Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Books can be ordered by e-mail at: qds@quartous.com or call: 1-612-344-8100. See: www.quartoknows.com
  • ISBN: 978-1-787112-74-2   MSRP: U.S. $32,50 U.K. £19.99 Canada: $42.50

Book Data:

  • Title: Motorcycle GP Racing in the 1960s
  • Author: Chris Pereira
  • Published: 2014 hardcover.
  • Publisher: Veloce Publishing, Parkway Farm Business Park, Middle Farm Way, Poundbury, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 3AR, England
  • Veloce Publications are distributed in North America by: Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Books can be ordered by e-mail at: qds@quartous.com or call: 1-612-344-8100. See: www.quartoknows.com
  • ISBN: 978-1-845844-16-5   MSRP: U.S. $49.95 U.K. £30 Canada: $54.95