Late last month, on the cusp – as it were – of spring, Indian Motorcycle announced the availability of its ‘premiere’ flat track race bike, the FTR750. While a $50K price tag may keep the posers away, it’s but a small financial step in the building of a race program. And nothing speaks better to the history of American motorcycling than flat track motorcycles and the men that race them.
Thankfully, you don’t have to race flat track to tap into the spirit of American motorcycling; any number of recently introduced (or revived) choices are there for the riding. We’re especially taken by the industry’s move to scramblers and adventure-oriented rides, and both Triumph’s redesigned Scrambler and Ducati’s more dirt-specific Scrambler Desert Sled do a credible job of getting you off-road when and where the pavement ends.
If, however, the arrival of spring and onset of summer means riding may require way too much psychic energy, we’ll offer the ‘reads’ of spring, headlined by author Alan Girdler’s Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years. Girdler, a former editor of Cycle World and Road & Track magazines, brings an informed perspective to virtually anything he tackles. And in that, his life stage roughly parallels that of the Sportster, that perspective is spot-on.
In Girdler’s overview of the Harley-Davidson Sportster, the honesty of the H-D mechanism has never been clearer; it’s machinery with no pretense or affectation, not unlike MG’s postwar TC or the early 289 Cobras. And the enduring beauty of a’58 Sportster is that most of its lines can be found in Harley’s 2017 derivative.
Girdler documents production models and the various low-volume specials, customs and one-offs. The Sportster has benefited from some well-considered design elements over the course of its evolution, but has also had some awkward periods that, in a history, need to be documented while this reader wishes they could be forgotten. I don’t know that Girdler and his editorial team have included everything here – I’m a fan, not a scholar – but it seems as if it’s worth discussion it has been discussed.
Harley-Davidson Sportster: Sixty Years is published by Motorbooks, an imprint of Quarto Publishing Group. Suggested retail is $45. Photographs are capably supplied by Jeff Hackett, David Blattel and Dain Gingerelli.
He’s dubbed the ‘King of Cool’, and while a royal descriptive may be a tad much for the decidedly blue collar appeal of Steve McQueen, it’s hard to argue with its accuracy. My first memories are of him portraying Josh Randall in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and, of course, the jump scenes in “The Great Escape.” For McQueen himself, the great escapes were motorcycles and cars, the riding and the racing. The riding is well documented in McQueen’s Motorcycles – Racing and Riding With The King Of Kool, authored by Matt Stone. Stone, the one-time executive editor of Motor Trend, brings an L.A. perspective on both McQueen and his motorcycles to this 160-page overview. And if Stone’s subject lacks the span of Girdler’s, it more than makes up for the shortfall with action-packed celebrity and – of course – celebrities in action.
Personally, we were sucked in by the book’s cover, where McQueen is casually piloting a Triumph twin with one hand on its throttle and the other hand trailing behind him. We stayed in with the writer’s in-depth look at the bikes, many of them inevitably juxtaposed with their era.
McQueen was far more than just an enthusiast. He partnered with Bruce Brown in the production of Brown’s On Any Sunday, raced as a member of the U.S. team in the International Six Day Trial (1964), and was an avid collector of virtually anything on two wheels with visual (and visceral) interest. And while any number of celebrities are identified with motorcycling today (Keanu Reeves is behind the production of his own low-volume two-wheeler, while Peter Fonda – some years ago – made a movie), that wasn’t the case in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. McQueen wasn’t alone, but you could fill a small room with the celebs that joined him on a bike.
The Matt Stone book is also published by Motorbooks, benefits from a foreword by Dave Ekins, and has a suggested retail of $35.
Neither book is essential reading, but if you want to get your mental motor revving – or are simply between bikes – both offer a weekend’s worth of amusement. And in Stone’s McQueen, it’s a great escape…