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©2016 Armand Ensanian

Equus Potentia Publishing

Discovering the Motorcycle

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December 20, 2016

Photo was taken in a damp Schenectady, NY basement in the mid 1970s. I found the sister bike to my 1947 Indian Chief that I managed to buy for $300 in a town nearby five years earlier. I had noticed that some of the parts were mixed between 1947 and 1948. Turns out the reluctant seller had two Chiefs. It took me a few years to track him down and talk him into letting this one go as well. This time it cost me $600.....a real impossibility in today's American Pickers environment. Shows like that are exciting to watch, but unfortunately have escalated prices of barn-finds. A bike like this restored will sell upwards of $30,000.

December 9, 2016

In the early 1920's, Harley-Davidson's racing team was unbeatable. Their 8-valve V-twins were no match for the other American makes.

One of the popular team members of the Wrecking Crew was Ray Weishaar. Ray had a pet pig that he paraded around the track after winning a race. Soon, the name "Hog" became associated with Harley as people shouted. "The Hog won again."

October 22, 2016

Many cruisers, like this pre-war Knucklehead, were “bobbed” by their owners. The concept came from racers lightening their bikes by cutting off sections of the rear fender and eliminating the one on front. They called these 'bob jobs." Racing in the United States in the 1930s was starting to gain real public interest as more and more major motorcycle events were being hosted. A real boost came with the AMA’s introduction of Class C racing in 1933. It allowed production (stock) motorcycles on the track. This was to encourage racing during a time when factory teams were dwindling. The Great Depression had taken its toll, and Class A racing (using purpose built racing bikes) was at an all-time low. Few could afford the expense of building one-off racers and hiring talent to ride them. Class B racing, allowing amateurs to race modified machines, wasn’t doing much better. Modifications cost money. Few could afford it. Class C racing however gave a lot of amateur racers an opportunity to com...

October 12, 2016

The immortal Marty Dickerson on the Bonneville Salt Flats with his Lightning spec Vincent Rapide. Marty kept breaking records after his buddy Rollie Free broke the 150 mph mark in 1948 on a Vincent. Marty is also featured in The World's Fastest Indian. Photo thanks to Seth Dorfler, a friend of Marty's. 

"Marty Dickerson is best known for setting speed records on his own Vincent HRD Rapide during the 1950s. Dickerson set a Class C* record of 129 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah in 1951. When the record was broken a year later, Dickerson came back with an improved version of his Vincent in 1953 and turned in a run of 147 mph. That record held for 20 years. 

Dickerson was also a top-notch West Coast road racer. He won the 250cc division in the famous Catalina Grand Prix in 1953 on a Jawa. Philip Vincent, the founder of Vincent Motorcycles, knew of Dickerson’s efforts and sent him some special cams and exhaust pipes. Dickerson also studied the rulebook and found some unique loophol...

September 23, 2016

Internal-combustion engines don't consume fuel when they are not working. This is unlike horses. It is therefore not a surprise that horses were being replaced by engines for mail carriers, deliveries, and other services starting in the late 19th Century. Indian Motorcycles, established in 1901 under Hendee Manufacturing in Springfield, Mass., started selling their elegant little motorcycles to police forces; many of which were looking to reduce the cost of maintaining horses. This publicity shot shows an early "Camelback" Indian. New York City started using Indian motorcycles back in 1905. Both Harley-Davidson and Indian lobbied hard to get the lucrative municipal contracts for motorcycles. Indian’s left-hand throttle allowed police to use the right hand to direct motorists; not really for using a gun like so many would like to believe.  

September 9, 2016

German designs clearly influenced and propelled Japan’s postwar motorcycle industry. It is evident in this DKW. The Germans would provide a two-stroke engine foundation for many companies, including British, American, Russian, and Japanese makers.The Allies deemed the German designs as patent-free as part of their war reparations. Harley-Davidson took advantage of that to introduce the S125, its own faithful reproduction of the great little RT125 commuter bike made by Germany’s DKW. Britain’s BSA also introduced a DKW clone called the Bantam. Yamaha, a company rooted in musical instrument manufacture, did the same by introducing a 125cc in 1954, following a visit to Germany. Named the YA-1, it was remarkably similar to the DKW design. The small two-stroke with its Teutonic heritage brought transportation to a lot of people that otherwise may never have been able to afford it. Photo courtesy of Mike Dunn.

September 9, 2016

This fuzzy16mm movie frame of a sidecar race on a Berlin street was taken the day motorcycling made its first impression on me. My uncle took me to quite a few automobile races, but this was my first motorcycle race. I was around five years old, and was mesmerized by the sound and the speed. Prewar and postwar BMW, DKW, Zündapp, and NSUs were racing on the cobbled streets with little but the curb to direct their path. The postwar years in Europe were good times for motorcycle development. Despite the restraint of war, engineers visualized many concepts for when things would get back to normal. Vincent for one came out with quite a few new ideas, including the famous Series "B" Rapide...the World's Fastest Standard Motorcycle. Film by Ara Movsessian.

September 6, 2016

Board track racing was an exciting opportunity for young men to gain notariety and make some serious money. They could earn $2,000 a year. That's 3x the average American's wage in 1915, and equivalent to $47,000 today. The risk however was real. There was no safety equipment to speak of. Most wore a flimsy leather helmet and a wool sweater; not much use when hitting the boards and meeting long splinters. Things were not safe for the fans either. They stood at the top of the track. Many accidents happened where a rider lost control and flew over the top. The Newark Motordrome (NJ) a 1⁄8 mi oval banked at 45 degrees was the deadliest. On September 8, 1912, famous Eddie Hasha was killed. His bike also killed 4 spectators and injured 10 more. As the board tracks weathered, more accidents, and more splinters developed. Most were shut down by 1919 as safer dirt tracks took over. This was a bloody era in motorcycle racing. The photos show just how steep the banks were....

September 4, 2016

Board track racers of the nineteen-teens and early nineteen-twenties were motorcycles on steroids. Most featured highly modified and tuned engines driving the rear wheel directly without a transmission. A few models featured a clutch, but nearly all lacked a brake. The bikes had to be slowed down by riding up on the steep 45 degree banks and/or grounding out the ignition magneto via a small metal tab shorting against the handlebar. They were loud and spewed oil through their stubby exhaust pipes, making the wooden track slick.  Engine modifications may have included 4 valves per head, and as in the case of the formidable 61 cu in (1,000 cc) 45° V-Twin Cyclone made between 1912 and 1917, single ovehead cams. The example pictured in its famous yellow paint sold for over $750,000 at auction. The top photo is of an Indian racer in unrestored condition. It features a clutch lever mounted next to the tank. Bikes were push started. Part III will adress the brave men who rode these wild machin...

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