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‘The Speed Kings’ by Don Emde

speed-kings 

Publisher, author, motorcycle historian and 1972 Daytona 200 winner Don Emde’s most recent book The Speed Kings is a history of boardtrack racing that’s long overdue. It’s perhaps the most complete history of the sport to date, one that includes hundreds of period photos supported by commentary, facts, quotes and newspaper clippings to tell the story about motorcycling racing’s early pioneers who rode their brakeless motorcycles to speeds in excess of 100mph through the high-banked turns of motordromes constructed of wood.

Perhaps the book is summed up best in its foreword penned by legendary racer Kenny Roberts. KR’s opening sentence pretty much says it all: “After reading The Speed Kings I’d like to say that those guys racing around the wooden tracks were really nuts.” This from the man who won the 1975 Indianapolis Mile riding a pieced-together, spindly frame flattracker powered by Yamaha’s vaunted TZ750 road race engine, a combination that should have put Roberts squarely into Indy’s Turn 1 wall, not into Victory Circle.

But, in truth, King Kenny (a moniker earned after winning his first of three consecutive 500cc World Championships) is right on track about The Speed Kings — those boardtrack racers were nuts. It even says so, not necessarily in The Speed Kings’ text, but in its context, delivered with clear and concise prose (“I used the Ken Burns style of story telling,” cites Emde, referencing the famed television producer known for his award-winning documentaries) accompanied by what, in many cases, appear to be larger-than-life photos Emde accumulated during the past 40 or so years. That includes photographs from noted motorcycle historians and racers such as the late Steve Wright, A.F. Van Order, Paul Derkum and one of my personal heroes, Ralph Hepburn.

Emde, along with art director Nancy Wegrowski, did a masterful job of placing text and photos in proper sequence, too. Brief, easy-to-read sidebars are also found throughout, offering colorful and pertinent vignettes that free the main text and story line from clutter.

Copies of period posters, newspaper clippings, brochures and flyers, even correspondence from the actual players, lend authenticity to the narrative that’s displayed in sepia-tone spreads to further underscore events that took place more than a century ago. We learn, too, that the term “Speed Kings” was coined by the mainstream media of the time. Remember, boardtrack racing’s heyday took place about the time Henry Ford gave America the Model T.

Indeed, The Speed Kings is perhaps the most complete history of boardtrack racing yet. So complete that Emde’s yarn begins during the late 1800s when bicycle racing was king, and he walks us through the evolution of motor-pacers (early motorcycles that paced the bicycles on the velodromes) that eventually crowded the bicycles off the boardtracks, making way for the heady 100mph motorcycles themselves to take over.

Above all, though, this is a history book citing facts and figures gleaned from dusty dog-eared documents and records. Each chapter segues to the next, such that by Page 372 you’ll feel like a boardtrack racing authority. You’ll also understand why The Speed Kings earned one of Motor Press Guild’s coveted Dean Batchelor Excellence in Automotive Journalism awards, taking home the 2019 Best of the Year Book category, the only motorcycle book to ever gain that honor. — Dain Gingerelli


The Speed Kings

  • 372 pages, 12-inch x 10-inch coffee-table format
  • $75 ($90 personally signed, plus fold-out poster package)
  • Available from Emde Books

Covert Ultra Jeans by ScorpionEXO

scorpion-exo-covert-ultra-jeans 

ScorpionEXO Covert Ultra Jeans

There is a lot to be said for a high quality riding suit or pants — just ask anyone who has ever gone down on a bike! But sometimes you want to look just a little more “normal.” Luckily, the plethora of riding jeans that have hit the market the last few years gives one plenty of options for more casual riding attire.

I looked to ScorpionEXO when it was my time to join the club. And they delivered perfectly with a pair of Covert Ultra Jeans. Scorpion uses a Cordura/Kevlar single layer weave that reduces bulk and adds breathability while providing seven times the abrasion resistance of typical denim. Adjustable armor pockets at the knees and hips allow you to add more protection if desired. A DWR water resistant coating helps keep you dry if you are not in a heavy rain and an integrated 3M reflective swatch at the lower hem aids visibility.

The Covert Ultras have a traditional five-pocket design with a modern, tapered fit that looks great anywhere. They come in standard waist sizes (I ordered my regular size and they fit perfectly) with regular (32-inch inseam) and tall (34-inch inseam) lengths. I found them to be plenty comfortable for putting in several hours on winding back roads. Yet, when we stopped for lunch, the average observer would think I was wearing a plain old pair of jeans. Exactly what I was looking for when I’m not out trying to string together 300-mile days! — Rod Peterson

Teton Touring Coat by Vanson Leathers

teton-leather-coat 

Vanson Leathers Teton Touring Coat

Although a little warm for those 100-degree days, my Vanson Teton Touring Coat is perfect for the three cooler seasons here in east-central Kansas. The coat is beautifully made, using materials that I had no idea could still be sourced in such high quality. The black Firenze Leather outer material is nothing short of confidence-inspiring should an unexpected slide occur, and the customizable placement of CE elbow and shoulder armor offers added security. The fit and finish is every bit as impressive as the jacket’s European-style, hip-length and many dodads and it positively suits my dual-sport/adventure riding style.

Things I like: The jacket has pockets and vents galore! I had no trouble finding an intake and exhaust vent combination to keep me comfortable on my daily commute and on 150-mile or more trips into the Flint Hills or down to Wichita into the low 80s. I really like the Teton’s hip length as it keeps the torso on my 6-foot 4-inch frame nicely covered in different positions. Double leather at the elbows and shoulders, while adding a bit of stiffness, are a clear indication that this is one rugged coat that’s willing and able to take the abuse. I particularly like the waist cinch because it allows me to make more room for a thermal vest or sweater in the winter (I’ve ridden comfortably with this coat down to 28 degrees F) or tightens up when wearing a T-shirt on the hot days. Another great feature of the Teton, which makes it super comfortable in warmer weather, is the RamAir sleeve vents that coupled with the rear vent flow a lot of fresh air.   The four deceptively roomy and versatile outer pockets and two inside provide plenty of room for your wallet and phone plus a bit of gear and snacks without needing a backpack or bag. Thanks to the storm and wind flaps, the jacket will block much of the inclement weather when encountered. I have not ridden with it in a hard rain, but 25 miles of heavy sprinkles left me mostly dry — not bad without any other rain protection. The zippers and snaps are a joy to use compared with hook-and-loop systems and like the rest of the coat are of impressive quality.

Things I don’t like: As much of a safety gear guy as I am, I would have loved to see this coat with some reflective or high-visibility components built in. That’s easy to remedy though by wearing a vest over it. I love that the Teton will accept a back pad, but for the price, it could’ve been included. And a small quibble that speaks to the high quality: The jacket is stiff and takes a bit to break in. As a leather wearer, I both love and hate the break-in period. I love that the leather is so thick and strong that it needs breaking in, and I hate that I can’t always wear a new coat or pair of boots all day long, the first day. 

Last thoughts: Bottom line, I adore my Vanson Leather Teton Coat. It packs a lot of performance in a premium package that’s entirely worth it. In today’s throwaway world, it’s truly compelling to find an heirloom quality garment ($749) that will easily outlast me and should have one or two more lives barring some total disaster. And what a partner to have on your team should disaster strike as the Teton will take the brunt of the beating so that you don’t. — Hank Will

Handee Clamp

handee-clamp-tool 

Old motorcycles often have hard-to-reach nuts and bolts, hose clamps and other fiddly bits. The Handee Clamp is here to help. For example, we put a nut in the end and tightened the clamp, then used the tool to reach into a tough spot. The tool holds the nut while you thread in the bolt from the other side. The Handee Clamp measures 10 inches by 5/8 of an inch. Zinc coated ($18.50) or powder coated ($21.50). Made in the U.S.A. Find more info on the Handee Clamp website.

Bonneville Boots by Bates Leathers

bonneville-boots-bates-leathers-brown-riding-boots 

Named after the Salt Flats, these new boots feature a Vibram Christy sole for serious grip and durability. Comfortable on or off the bike, these good-looking boots are available standard in chocolate brown (shown) or black, with or without the Fast Lane ankle patch. These boots can also be custom made to order with any color of leather Bates has in stock. Made in the U.S.A. Starting at $270. Find more info on the Bates Leathers website.

“Tins in Stock” Program by BD's Cycles

tins-in-stock-program-bd's-cycles

We all know that good paint and body work takes time, and that can mean time your bike isn’t on the road. BD’s Cycles has the cure. The folks there will do a custom or stock paint job on another set of bodywork, and when it’s done, they mail it to you, you install it on your bike and then send them your stock bodywork back. It’s that simple. More info on the BD's Cycles website.







The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

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