In Texas, as fall approaches and the heat finally (FINALLY) dissipates, you might not yet schedule quiet evenings in front of the coffee table, but you can – and should – begin to anticipate that about-to-be-favorite coffee table book. And for those bench racers too old for both the bench and racing, there are few things better to grab than a large-scale essay on your favorite bike or bikes. Today we have three, and all celebrate the V-Twin. We’ll take them in alphabetical order: Ducati, Harley-Davidson and Indian – but you can read ‘em any way you want to read ‘em. As always, the coffee table is optional, and not included in the published prices.
If you have a personal history with a specific brand and, regrettably, no longer have that brand in your garage, it becomes more compelling to add a book, such as THE COMPLETE BOOK OF DUCATI MOTORCYCLES by noted historian Ian Falloon, to your personal library. The Falloon book is a celebration of Ducati’s 90th anniversary, while noting its motorcycle production – the focus of the documentation – didn’t begin until 1946.
The book’s full color cover pic of a Ducati 750 Sport sucks you in immediately, just as the bike itself pulled me into the showroom of Dallas Motorcycle sales in the winter of ‘73/’74. I was awaiting shipment of a ’73 BMW from a shop in Indiana and, with the subsequent (and way regrettable) wreck of it, had the money to buy something else. I ultimately settled on another BMW, but the Ducati Sport – and its more visceral sibling, the SS – were oh-so-seductive. While the BMW R90 S that I ultimately bought set me back just over $3K (real money in ’74), the Ducatis represented a payout of between $2200 for the Sport and – if memory serves – $3600 for the Super Sport.
The iconic V-Twin is what firmly established Ducati among enthusiast owners, but even their early, more pedestrian models were anything but prosaic. And they are all documented in DUCATI, in a catalog-type format, with representative photography and intelligent reporting. Beyond the cover pic there is nothing to absolutely wow you, unless – of course – you’re impressed by competence. DUCATI MOTORCYCLES is, if you will, the Hillary Clinton of the Ducati chronology. You’ll be satisfied with the results of your reading, especially if read while wearing a pantsuit.
There’s never been a Harley in my garage, but that isn’t for the lack of – at least occasionally – wanting one. Harley had constructed a dedicated café bike in the early ‘70s that had an appeal, but not enough snap to pull me away from the Euro-centric path I continued on when, of course, funding was available. Today’s lineup is so comprehensive you almost need a guide, and HARLEY-DAVIDSON – THE COMPLETE HISTORY by Darwin Holmstrom (gotta’ be his real name, right?) can certainly serve as that guide.
The book’s cover illustration (one antique Harley, one vintage Harley and one very collectible Harley – as if the other two aren’t!) didn’t suck us in, but Chapter 5 – beginning on page 114 – certainly works. There, Holmstrom discusses the birth of Harley’s Sportster, introduced for the ’57 model year. And it is, to channel a lyric of the same era, a hunk of burning love. In a book like this, the tendency for the author to go granular can make your eyeballs water, but offsetting that is the compelling subject matter told in, well, granular detail. And the pics, while not daring in any photographic way, are certainly compelling for both the bikes picked and the photographers’ lavish attention in providing the details via a detailed image.
Holmstrom brought this volume together, but it’s a collaborative work, with contributions by a host of notable writers, including Peter Egan, Kevin Cameron, Ed Youngblood, Allan Girdler and Steve Anderson. This is a very comprehensive look, and well worth your $50 outlay.
Whether the controversy over the Washington Redskins is reflective of actual offense taken by Native American Indians, or simply a chance by today’s media to define a slight not yet suffered, it’s safe to say that no one is lobbying for the Polaris subsidiary, Indian Motorcycles, to change its name. And if there were, you can be fairly sure it would be reported in INDIAN MOTORCYCLE – AMERICA’S FIRST MOTORCYCLE COMPANY. This, too, is by Darwin Holmstrom, and I’m having more than a little problem keeping up with the guy. This, too, is a wide-ranging chronicle of a wide-ranging history; Indian’s intro preceded that of Harley-Davidson by two years.
Of course, today’s iteration bears no resemblance to the dominant U.S. bike maker prior to World War II. Regrettably, in the postwar environment things went downhill fast. Poor quality aligned itself with outdated engineering some ten years before boomers put the ‘boom’ in the motorcycle industry. And after a number of attempted restarts, it took the resources and design/marketing savvy of Polaris Industries to create an Indian once again worth owning (we’ll take a Scout. Thank you.)
Mr. Holmstrom has seemingly captured it all. And if – after reading INDIAN MOTORCYCLE – you think the book and topic are deserving of a treatment on PBS, join the club. It, too, is but $50. For that money you can add a coffee table…
All three of the above books are available from Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group, or – of course – at a bookstore near you.
Also, check out:
» The Complete Book of BMW Motorcycles: Every Model Since 1923 By Ian Falloon reviewed by Alan Pease.
» BOOK IT! Four At Your Door by David Boldt.