Readers unfamiliar with author Kevin Cameron’s intimate
understanding of the how and why of motorcycle engineering need to appreciate
that Cameron is today the most authoritative and exhaustive writer on matters
of motorcycle engineering, past and present.
The longtime technical editor of Cycle World and
before that Cycle magazine, where
he penned his first work in 1973, Cameron is himself a former motorcycle race
engine builder, with particular experience in 2-stroke racing engines beginning
in the mid-1960s. Through his writing and continuing research, Cameron has
proven himself a deeply passionate student of motorcycle engineering. That’s a
fact of no small importance, because it’s Cameron’s passion for the subject as
much as his technical mastery that carries the day in his latest book, Classic Motorcycle Race Engines.
If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of classic race
engines, you might be disappointed to learn this book is not a comprehensive
tally of motorcycle race engines through the ages. Instead, it’s a thorough examination of 53 engines that
have made motorcycle racing great.
In some ways it’s hard not to compare Cameron’s new book to
British motorcycle journalist Vic Willoughby’s Classic Motorcycle Engines, published
almost 30 years ago. Yet where Willoughby
fixed the conversation on the single greatest or most important engine from
particular manufacturers (with one exception, Honda), Cameron looks at the
evolution of racing engines as produced by some of the most important builders
in the category. This approach works to the reader’s benefit, as Cameron
documents how and why Honda, for instance, evolved its racing engine program
from the air-cooled 4-cylinder 250cc RC160 in 1959 to the immensely complex and
ultimately unsuccessful oval-pistoned semi-V8 NR500 of 1978-1982 before turning
out the sublime RC211V V5 in 2002-2006.
Similar treatment is applied to Ducati, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi and Yamaha, to name a
few, while iconic brands such as Gilera warrant only a single entry. But not
because Cameron thinks them unworthy. Gilera certainly made many important
contributions to motorcycling, but most important was the double overhead cam,
air-cooled 500cc Gilera four. Principally designed by Piero Remor, Cameron
calls it “the father of all fours” as it inspired the architecture of engines
for the next 40 years.
Cameron’s technical mastery means the reader can rely
completely on his information, knowing it’s been thoroughly researched and
vetted for fact and fiction. On the other hand, Cameron’s exhaustive
understanding also means that readers short on technical knowledge can expect
to read and re-read Cameron’s examinations as he relays the complex nature of
This is not a book for people quickly bored by discussions
of the deepest technical nature. But readers looking for a thorough
understanding of the issues, technical and otherwise, that have motivated the
development of racing motorcycle engines will find Classic Motorcycle Race Engines a thoroughly absorbing book, one they will reference regularly and
an absolute must for their library. Haynes Publishing:
Hardbound, 416 pages, $48.95. MC
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