Rider’s Library: “Freddie Ludlow. His Life on Two Wheels” Book Review

Freddie Ludlow Book Cover

These days, it’s not uncommon to see classic films with the notation “digitally remastered” to bring the old content to a new generation in the 21st century. Don Emde’s latest book is something like that. In Freddie Ludlow. His Life on Two Wheels, award-winning author/publisher Don Emde dramatically brings Freddie Ludlow’s personal scrapbook together with articles and information from more than 100 magazine titles, books, literature, images, and other sources from his own archives to document Ludlow’s remarkable life and times in visually stunning form.

Freddie Ludlow Book Review

Combining the pages of original photos, some more than 100 years old, and notes from Ludlow’s personal scrapbook with a wealth of other materials, Emde allows the reader to see the world as Ludlow saw it and know it as he cataloged it himself. Reimaged and formatted using the latest techniques and a lot of painstaking work, Emde provides a background narrative that tells the story of those ground-breaking years with clarity and detail worthy of a Ken Burns documentary—the standard that Emde set for himself.

Freddie Ludlow was born in Los Angeles in 1895. By age 13, he had dropped out of school and into the saddle of a motorcycle to become a delivery rider for Western Union. At 16, Ludlow had a job spinning wrenches at C. Will Risden’s Indian Motocycle dealership, and doing some amateur motorcycle racing on dirt and board tracks. Through Risden’s involvement in racing, Ludlow got to know Indian’s top professional racers, including Paul “Dare Devil” Derkum and Jake DeRosier.

By 1913, Ludlow was working as the mechanic for Indian professional racer Charles Balke when he competed in events in the west. The experience gained working with Balke helped Ludlow finish fifth in the one-off Venice 300-mile street-circuit race in California on April 4, 1915.

Ludlow had to race as a privateer when Indian did not offer him a factory-backed ride because it already was fielding a dozen riders. Ironically, Ludlow was the top finisher on an Indian, beating the entire Indian factory team. Only two factory-backed Harley-Davidsons and two factory-backed Excelsiors beat Ludlow and his hand-built Indian to the checkered flag—not bad for his professional racing debut. It also got him noticed by the brass at Indian, resulting in some factory support.

In 1916, Ludlow was one of two riders to achieve a perfect score on the 987-mile San Francisco to Los Angeles and return endurance run. Later that year, he did the same in a similar event on a factory-backed four-cylinder Henderson.

Ludlow put racing—but not motorcycles—aside when he enlisted in the Army at the start of World War I. Ludlow helped establish motorcycle training for the Signal Corps based at Camp Lewis in Washington state. He deployed to Europe with the 322nd Field Signal Battalion in 1917. After the Armistice of 11 November 1918, he remained as part of the occupation force until 1919. The book features a fascinating section on Ludlow’s time in Europe.

With the war behind him, Ludlow got back to the business of racing, landing a spot on the Harley-Davidson factory racing team. In 1920, that included riding in a sidecar rig piloted by Red Parkhurst in setting four land speed records on the beach at Daytona. Ludlow set five solo records himself, expanding his racing resume, as well as helping the Harley-Davidson team capture 18 professional solo land speed records, six sidecar, and four amateur records.

In addition to revealing the career of Ludlow, Emde recalls many of the other greats of the time such as Albert “Shrimp” Burns, Maldwyn Jones, Gene Walker, Don Marks, Jim Davis, Johnny Seymour, Ralph Hepburn, Otto Walker, Leslie “Red” Parkhurst and many more. Some of the many premier racing events of the day are covered, as well, at venues in Los Angeles, Dodge City, Beverly Hills, Syracuse, Bakersfield, Wichita, San Carlos, and others.

Emde also addresses the tragedies that went with the earliest days of motorcycle racing. Engine technology had pushed speeds to over 100 mph, while the technology of tires, track design, and safety were not keeping up.

By 1922, now a married man going by “Fred”, Ludlow made a career move that lasted until he retired in 1955; he became a motorcycle-mounted traffic patrol officer with the South Pasadena, Los Angeles, and Pasadena Police Departments.

In September 1938, Ludlow had one more crack at setting more speed records. With a team from west coast Indian distributor Hap Alzina, Ludlow was chosen to be the rider for record attempts on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the AMA class C 45 and 74 cubic inch displacement production categories running on pump gas, as well as the class A unlimited modification streamliner class running on alcohol.

Running production Indian V-twins, Ludlow set new class C records at 115.126 mph in the 45 ci class with a Scout model and 120.747 mph in the 74 ci class on a Chief. The class A attempt made with a full streamliner called the “Indian Arrow” didn’t pan out, as the motorcycle had a chronic speed wobble at 135 mph that Ludlow couldn’t overcome. Those records would be Ludlow’s final competition achievements before he retired from all competition.

In a racing career that spanned nearly 30 years, Ludlow’s list of victories, records set, and championships is long and varied, including dirt/flat track, board track, road racing, endurance racing, hillclimb, and land speed racing.

Ludlow died in 1983, though his remarkable career was remembered, even after his death. In 1998, Ludlow was posthumously inducted to the AMA Hall of Fame, and in 1995 to the Los Angeles Trailblazers Hall of Fame.

Freddie Ludlow Book Cover

The magic of Freddie Ludlow. His Life on Two Wheels is how Emde’s narrative weaves the fabric of Ludlow’s own words and scrapbook images into a compelling whole that includes incredible additional information from Emde’s own collection of images, articles, and literature. The book provides a window into a unique time in the history of motorcycle sport, many of its earliest heroes and events. In so doing, it prevents that spectacular history from being lost.

Freddie Ludlow. His Life on Two Wheels Fast Facts 

Author: Don Emde

Published in 2021 by Emde Books. Hardcover. 176 pages. 400+ images. Page size 12-by-10-inch. 4-color sepia tone throughout. Printed in the United States. ISBN: 978-0-9972720-2-4

Price: $45 MSRP (plus shipping: US, $5; Canada, $27; Other international, $65)