Given motorcycling’s long and colorful history, it’s surprising how few truly unique motorcycle encyclopedias have been crafted to document this very singular industry. While there are certainly many excellent books on the subject, with rare exception most follow a fairly predictable and academic A-to-Z model, taking the reader from one end of the alphabetic spectrum to the other. And while that’s a defensible model, it ignores the essential fact that our framework for examining motorcycles is more often based on age and era, not alphabetical chronology. Although there’s no forward in the book to support this contention, we suspect the principle editors (respected British author Mick Duckworth is editor-in-chief) of Motorcycle: The Definitive Visual History, from DK Publishing, appreciate this only too well.
By dividing motorcycling into 10 broad eras — pre-1920, the 1920s and then every decade through the 20th century — and one major area — the engine, arguably the heart and soul of the motorcycle — the editors have given themselves the opportunity to guide readers through the culturally rich, technologically diverse and complex history of motorcycling.
And it’s a strategy of organization that works well. For example, while it’s great fun to learn about the British-built 5 horsepower Rex Rexette of 1905, an odd, car-like three-wheeler, it’s even more compelling and informative to learn of it in the context of other three-wheelers of the pre-1920 era.
From America’s golden age to the Japanese onslaught of the 1960s, from lightweights and race bikes to dirt bikes and baggers, the machines are put in the context of their time, presented alongside their contemporaries, the bikes that shaped and defined them.
Detailed examinations of hallmark machines within each era give further meat to this thoroughly engaging, image-driven book, the majority of photographs illustrating original or properly restored machines. Motorcycle: The Definitive Visual History is an excellent and highly recommended addition to any library. DK Publishing: 320 pages, $40.