Monday, 14 July 2014

Hunwick Hallam / Hunwick Harrop - Aussie Innovation

Hunwick Hallam X1R Motorcycle
Photo Courtesy Richard James

There has been a remarkable amount of innovation in motorcycle design that has come from Down Under. Australian and New Zealander designers and tinkerers seem to have a particular penchant for crafting some of the most interesting and forward-thinking machines the world has seen, all in isolation from the existing networks. These clever displays of ingenuity often seem driven by a variety of factors – perhaps it is their distance from existing industries, or their down-home ingenuity brought on by that isolation from the rest of the world, and more than likely it is their strong fondness for all things loud and fast. One company came to the fore in the late 90s with the promise of putting an Australian-made motorcycle on the world stage, with a radical clean-sheet design that made the rest of the industry take notice. The Hunwick Hallam almost single-handedly kickstarted an Australian motorcycle industry that would have dusted the competition the road and the track, but the realities of the market would doom it to obscurity.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Imme R100 - Purity of Design

Riedel Imme R100 Motorcycle
Image Source

There are rare moments of remarkable clarity and forethought in the realm of motorcycle design, when machines are produced with such innovation and beauty that they are scarcely credible as products of their time. These motorcycles can occupy one of two positions in subsequent conception: they can be held aloft as gamechangers, as the designs that pushed the goalpost forward and forced everyone else to catch up, or they can fade into obscurity only to be appreciated by a limited few who recognize how advanced they truly were. Many remarkable designs fall into the latter category, the genius of their creators only recognized long after they pass into anonymity once the rest of the industry has caught up to the future that was laid out well in advance. Appreciation of these machines is only possible in hindsight when we see how their details foreshadowed subsequent trends.

German motorcycle designer Norbert Riedel was one such forgotten innovator, and his Imme R100 proved to be a masterpiece of design that have only began to earn appreciation in recent decades. Once a cheap and cheerful form of transportation that was designed and built within the restrictions of a postwar economy, the Imme became one of the most fascinating examples of motorcycle design to emerge during the mid-20th century – and would prove to be one of the most beautiful motorcycles of any era. They were a machine out of time, a vehicle that applied nascent principles that were still decades away from the mainstream, and a series of ingenious design elements unified into a coherent whole that has since earned the accolades of some of the world’s motorcycle elite. The Imme was not just a cleverly constructed motorcycle, it was one of the most beautiful pieces of modern industrial design that nobody has ever heard of.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Moto Guzzi V-Twin Off Roaders - Improbable Italian Enduros

Moto Guzzi V65 TT
Image Source


Considering our recent inundation of overweight, overly-complicated, quasi-enduro hair shirts produced by every manufacturer and their Chinese knockoffs, you'd be forgiven if you were to think that the overwrought poseur offroader (sorry, “Adventure Tourer”) was a recent innovation. If you thought these “should-be-an-uncompetitive-road-bike-but-it's-a-class-leader-because-we-made-the-suspension-too-tall” machines that clutter up showrooms and spend most of their time outside the nearest Starbucks - or beached on logging road ditches by weekend warriors - were concocted by the marketing gurus of the motorcycling world who sought to add yet another saleable category to our ever-growing gamut of useless niches, you'd only be half right. The improbable off-roader has been around for decades, gradually evolving into the two-wheeled barges we enjoy today, and few of these fauxduros were as unusual as the V-twin mud pluggers that rolled out of the Moto Guzzi works in Mandello del Lario.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Orley Raymond Courtney's Motorcycles - Birth of the Cruiser

1952 Cycle Magazine Enterprise Motorcycle
Image Source

For the purpose of today's article I'm going to make a broad generalization: the cruiser is a relatively recent invention that was concocted in the boardrooms of at least one major manufacturer. There was once a time when Harley Davidsons and Indians were simply styled in the manner of their era and were just as susceptible to being stripped to their bare essentials and ridden in anger as anything coming out of Europe. Their styling was once current, their performance once competitive, their function never intended for weekend warriors escaping office drudgery in leather-clad road pageants. The overwrought modern cruiser and the carefully cultivated image of its riders were but a distant glimmer in the eye of a clever marketing maven.

It could have been different. It should have been different. The cruiser wasn't born in the boardrooms of Harley-Davidson in the 1980s. It was the product of a man with a singular vision, whose work would prove to be under appreciated and his skills as a remarkable designer and craftsman virtually forgotten. These prototypical cruisers weren't created by tacking tassels onto nostalgic throwback machines – they were an optimistic vision of the future welded out of steel tube and beaten out of sheet metal in Orley Raymond Courtney's workshop before being rolled out into an ignorant world in the mid-1930s, and once again in the early 1950s. Courtney's work was bold, innovative, and without peer in the United States, or anywhere else in the world. Above all, it was beautiful. And it is now virtually forgotten, his stunning and forward-thinking designs contributing to a future that never happened.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Editorial - Renewal

-32 in Minnesota

Seeing as how I've recently been dealing with a particularly hardy case of writer's block and a few stalled articles, it is probably an appropriate time to delve into one of my trademark in-depth reflections on my somewhat unexciting existence. Yes, it's time for another rambling editorial here on OddBike, at least until I can clear the fog out of my head and start writing meaningful profiles of weird motorcycles again.

As some of my loyal readers will note (those who slogged through my epic USA Tour Travelogue, anyway) I recently announced my intention to bugger off and pack my ass off to Calgary, where I would start my life anew with a post in the motorcycle industry. I did indeed follow through on my threat, and this major moment of transition is what has kept me tied up and limited in my writing capacity in recent months. On reflection it seems a good opportunity to look back on how things have evolved in my life, and how OddBike has grown in the previous year. It was, as really loyal readers will note, the one year anniversary of this site in November 2013, so it seems appropriate to take this belated opportunity to address the development of this here experiment in quote unquote "motorcycle journalism".


Monday, 10 February 2014

DKW Supercharged Two-Strokes - Force-Fed Deeks

DKW supercharged SS 250 Ladepumpe motorcycle Barber Museum
DKW SS 250 at the Barber Museum

There is a saying that used to be shared in history circles, with a wry smirk, which has since become a minor cliche: “History is written by the winners”. Hackneyed though it may be, there is a great deal of truth in that old platitude. Be it in politics or in motorsports, odds are the story you know is the one that has been informed by the success of those who came out ahead. In the case of DKW and their series of once-dominant supercharged motorcycles, the company's successes have been drowned out by the tides of history. Some of the fastest, most advanced, and technologically interesting two-strokes of the 1930s have nearly been forgotten due to the company's unfortunate national ties – the once-famous Ladepumpe and supercharged “Deeks” became victims of historical circumstances beyond their control.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Yamaha GTS 1000 - The Future is Forkless

Yamaha GTS 1000 Motorcycle

If you've spent any amount of time here on OddBike, you’ll be aware that I tend to favour independent thought and unique approaches to the design and construction of motorcycles. The mandate for this site, such as it is, is to profile rare and unusual machines – with a particular eye towards unique technical qualities.

One element I have touched upon in the past is the proliferation of unique front suspension designs that are arguably superior to the “traditional” telescopic fork. There are a few brave engineers, designers and inventors who have dared to question the hegemony of the fork and propose a better solution. One of the most prominent, and perhaps the most misunderstood, is James Parker. Parker was one of the first inventors to achieve what many backyard tinkerers only dream of – to have his design adopted by a major manufacturer and put into mass production. His efforts are thus one of the best-known contributions to alternative front suspension design. Unfortunately Parker learned the hard way that the difference between conception and production can be significant, and that the design process within a major manufacturer is far from straightforward.

Read the rest on Silodrome.com

Monday, 9 December 2013

OddBike USA Tour 2013 Travelogue


Now that the OddBike USA Tour Travelogue is finished, I've collected all the instalments of the ride report here for easy perusal. Enjoy.


It's a 916. With luggage. Deal with it.


Prologue

Incredulity, followed by a comment on the size and metallic composition of my testicles. That is usually the immediate reaction I receive when I tell people I use a Ducati 916 for touring duty. I’ve never seen it as that exceptional. Sure, 916s have earned a reputation for being cantankerous and uncomfortable mounts that are certainly ill suited to cross-country adventures. But reputation and reality are two different things.

Actually I’m lying: the reputation is well earned and quite accurate. I’m not a Ducati apologist who sugar coats the truth in favour of rosy nostalgia or blind brand worship. Riding a 916 any great distance is an exercise in zen-like concentration and meditative pain control, always haunted by the remote but present possibility of mechanical disaster. Spend any time on a Ducati forum and the stories of horror, and the photos of shattered alloy that were once engines, will instill an irrational but justifiable fear into the heart of any Ducati owner.
Read more


Ducati 916 Fall in New England

Setting Out

I have a strange relationship with motorcycle riding. I have an absolute, unmitigated passion for the sport and I’ve been riding since I was 17, but I still get pangs of apprehension every morning before I hit the road. You would think I should be accustomed to it by now, and yet each journey is preceded by intense bouts of anxiety. It’s not the danger or the risk, which has never factored into it for me. I simply don’t worry about such things. It’s something else, like an intense excitement that builds into this climax of fretfulness and physical discomfort. When I learned that Formula 1 legend James Hunt would often throw up right before a race, I immediately understood. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn't because he was scared, though he had a healthy appreciation for the danger involved in his sport. It was the energy and intensity of the coming event building up inside him to a literal bursting point.

Once I am on the bike, this unease and discomfort immediately melts away and I become part of the machine. My mind settles and my body relaxes. The act of riding becomes soothing, in spite of the fury of the machine and the heightened awareness necessary to pilot it. It’s an addictive routine – your body vibrating with anticipation, followed by a wave of intense calm and serenity washing over you.
Read more


Private race track.

Pennsylvania

I wake up at dawn the next day to clear skies and mild temperatures, a marked improvement from the previous day's conditions. It gave me the opportunity to wander the property in silence and take some better photos of the track and the estate. I adhered to the Lone Canuck stereotype, rising early and quietly taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings in the morning light while everyone else slept. Nobody needs to know that I was also checking my emails. I'll just let you imagine me silently gliding across a mist covered lake in a birch bark canoe, nobly surveying my surroundings.

Alan's property is situated on rolling hills surrounded by picturesque farmland and modest houses. While his buildings are far from ostentatious, his setup is a significant step above the nearby homes (even without the track). There certainly must have been a bit of jealousy involved when the local community took him to court to block his plans to build a race track, citing noise, safety, and zoning concerns. He eventually won after a lengthy legal battle, but the point was made that the neighbours were not impressed. The nearby Interstate makes far more racket than activity on the track ever would, so as far as I'm concerned the noise argument is a moot point. In any case they maintain a 7 pm curfew on track activity.



Ducati 916 Morning Fog

North Carolina

My sleep in Claytor Lake State Park is fitful and uncomfortable. The gravel base of the campsite pokes through my thin sleeping bag, so I resort to wearing my armored gear to pad me against the sharp underlay. I wake up an hour before dawn to a foggy, humid cold, the sort I dread whenever I go camping. It reminded me of camping in the Bay of Fundy one May when it would reach 25 degrees during the day and fall to low single digits at night - a despicable contrast that lures you into comfort during the day before cruelly taking it away every night. It's the kind of wet cold that chills you far more than the actual temperature would suggest, and leaves a thick coating of ice-cold condensation on everything left in the open. That included my boots, which I had put outside the tent to avoid fumigating my tiny quarters with my pungent road foot odour. I had thought that by the time I passed Pennsylvania I would have encountered warmer temperatures, but neglected to note that at night it still gets damned cold in the mountains along the Appalachian Trail.


Ducati in Maggie Valley North Carolina

Alabama

Thursday morning is sunny and cool, but appreciably warmer than it had been in Virginia. We are finally making progress in terms of temperature, the one element I hoped to escape quickly once I had started riding south. I wake at sunrise and walk around the Wheels Through Time property, taking photos of the beautiful surroundings as the light of dawn creeps into the valley.

I pack up my tent and gear, but I'm in no hurry today. Up until this point I had been hitting the road just after sunrise and arriving at my destination in the early afternoon. Today I want to take my time. I wander around the museum again, taking in some more of the endless details that I had missed on my whirlwind approach the previous day. I meet Jack, one of the museum employees, when I'm raiding the coffee pot and planning a route to Birmingham. I had originally thought about going east through the Smoky Mountains, then south through Tennessee, but he suggests a quicker route through Georgia. Later on I would discover his advice was quite sound, given how technical my original route proved to be.


Barber Motorsports Park Leeds Alabama Race Track

Friday

I wake up early and Winslow and I head straight to the Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, a short drive outside of Birmingham. The facility is located in a secluded wooded area, surrounded by pleasant little twisty roads. If you are in the area and looking for some interesting riding roads, the routes around Barber would be a good place to start.


We arrive early enough to beat the traffic and nab parking near the front gate, but despite our early arrival it is clear that this is going to be a huge event. Visitors are streaming in steadily, and venues are spread out over miles of property surrounding the track and museum. I head over to the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club stand located next to the entrance to locate David Morales, builder of the 50 Magnum I featured on Pipeburn. Sure enough Dave is there, with the Magnum on display alongside a very cool CT70 he had built previously. I introduce myself and meet his wife, Jennifer, before I wander off to take in the festivities.


Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum Leeds Alabama

"It's the NPR of motorcycle journalism." JT pats me on the shoulder. I think it's the first time I've seen him this evening without a beer in hand. He has just coined the new unofficial motto of OddBike. Alan glances at my card and flashes a polite smile. He promises to have a look at my site.

This is the close of one of the most intense and incredible days I've ever experienced, the absolute highlight of the OddBike USA Tour. I am exhausted and barely able to process what has happened to me today. This is the moment when I realize that embarking on this journey was one of the best decisions I've ever made, and this day was the beginning of the turning point in OddBike's future I was hoping for.     


Ducati 916 motorcycle in Louisiana palm trees

Sunday morning is another beautiful day in Birmingham. Attendees of the Vintage Festival were blessed with three perfect days of weather: 80-90 degree temperatures with blue skies and low humidity. Barring our spark-plug-fouling gridlock adventure on Saturday morning I was never uncomfortable. The dread of riding north into cooler weather was starting to dawn on me.

I wake up early to do my laundry and scribble down some notes for the previous two days. Saturday had been such an intense, whirlwind day that I never had the opportunity to stop and (literally) collect my thoughts, so I took the time to put my experiences on paper while they were still fresh in my mind. It still felt unreal and scarcely believable that I met so many interesting people and experienced so much in the course of a single day. I truly believe it will remain one of the most memorable days of my life. But I sincerely hope it isn't - better things await in the future. It's a line of thought that will become important over the next few days.


French Quarter New Orleans

I wake up Monday morning to the sound of a skittering creature in the shop. That would be JT's dog, Rivet, who was dropped off that morning. A tiny mongrel Chihuahua of some sort, Rivet is a hyperactive bug-eyed muppet who adds some life to Bienville Studios.

"What breed is he?" I ask JT while the snorting little gremlin is dancing around in front of me, scarcely able to contain his excitement at the prospect of a new human in the shop he can annoy.

"Namibian bat terrier."

"... Really?"

"No, I just made that up."   


Ducati 916 Motorcycle Louisiana Coast

Tuesday morning I get up early and take the Bandit to the USPS office in downtown New Orleans to grab the coolant sensor. I cut through the morning traffic and narrowly avoid getting T-boned by an asshole in a hulking SUV who has apparently decided that right of way is determined in inverse proportion to penis size. Here is where the Bandit is at home - it's a bit big to call it a city bike, but it does the job admirably considering it's an oil-cooled 1152cc stump puller. Rough roads are absorbed well by the slightly squishy suspension. The wide bars give lots of leverage and the steering it surprisingly quick. The brakes are strong once you get past the mushy lever. Having had a set of six-piston Tokicos on my Suzuki SV650, I'll say that with a set of sintered pads, stainless lines, and DOT 5.1 fluid they can work damned well.


Ducati 916 motorcycle in the fog of the Great Smoky Mountains

After my miserable afternoon of dodging homicidal family haulers in the Smokies and dumping my bike in the parking lot of a shitty motel, I was looking forward to a new day to refresh my outlook and get some proper riding done. Something that would make up for all those hours on the Interstate. Today I ride the Blue Ridge Parkway. A run through the gnarliest, twistiest roads on the map this side of the Tail of the Dragon.

I could have easily headed for that infamous North Carolina hotspot but I generally prefer to avoid the "must ride" routes that everyone and their grandma know about. Most of the time they are either disappointing or loaded with traffic. You can bet that any popular riding road will be overpopulated by squids going too fast, cruiser/touring barges going too slow, and law enforcement pissing everyone off. To paraphrase George Thorogood "When I ride alone I prefer to be by myself." Everything I'd heard about Deals Gap suggested it was a great place to see and do once, but if you wanted to ride some nice roads without risking your ass and dodging douchebags on Yamondazukawas there were plenty of other alternatives in the Appalachians. I decide I'll stick to the Smokies and the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Tennessee border, which looks plenty technical on the map. 

Rural Virginia

Virginia

I take the opportunity to sleep in today, one of the only instances where I didn't wake up at dawn and hit the road before the morning chill dissipated. Also odd considering the digs at the Super 8 were the least luxurious accommodations I have had so far, camping excepted. Clean though it seemed, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't checked the bed thoroughly for... things.

The clerk asks me if I'm the one with the motorcycle from Quebec. She is incredulous that I have ridden so far, even more so when I tell her that I had been to New Orleans. She is apprehensive about motorcycles, noting that she would be terrified of the heavy truck traffic. Really I would think I'd be intimidated by those lumbering, omnipresent brutes in any vehicle, not motorcycles exclusively. At least on a bike I can get out of my own way, quickly.


Morning in Upstate New York

I wake early on Sunday. It is a sunny, cool, crisp morning, the sort of perfect fall day that compliments the colour scheme of the landscape. The air smells fresh and clean. The scene is, thankfully, still vibrant here in upstate New York, a contrast to the dead hues and barren trees I had encountered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the previous day.

While everyone else sleeps in I take the opportunity to once again walk the property and enjoy the sunrise. I'm treated to a spectacular sight as the sun's rays warm the surface of the lake and produces a thin layer of mist across the glassy-smooth water. As soon as it appears it is gone - a fleeting moment of beauty that disappears within the span of a few minutes. I don't envy the guests who are sleeping in late.

Thanks

Now that the OddBike USA Tour has been completed, I want to extend my thanks to everyone who contributed and supported the idea. I couldn't have done this without your help. 

Contributors to the campaign:
Luc Allain
Dr. Jeff Buchanan-Dorrance
Jeanne and Dennis Cormier
Alexander Cusick
Alicia Elfving - MotoLady
"Dr. John"
Niklas Klinte
Andrew and Adrienne McIntosh
Dennis Matson
James McBride - Silodrome.com
David and Jennifer Morales
Andrew Olson

And five other contributors who preferred to remain anonymous. Whoever you are, a profound thanks.

Special thanks goes out to a few folks who were kind enough to offer their help and support along the way:

Lee Conn and Brian Case - Motus Motorcycles
Denis and Chuck - Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
JT Nesbitt - Bienville Studios
The guys at Baker's Garage in Lacey Springs, Virginia
Scott - Pipeburn.com
Winslow Taft
Michael Walshaw - Kriega USA 
Dale Walksler and the rest of the folks at the Wheels Through Time Museum
Alan Wilzig and the gang at WRM

Thanks again to everyone who made this happen!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

OddBike USA Tour: Part XIII - Home

Morning in Upstate New York

Part XII of the OddBike USA Tour Travelogue. Click here for Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart XPart XI, Part XII.

I wake early on Sunday. It is a sunny, cool, crisp morning, the sort of perfect fall day that compliments the colour scheme of the landscape. The air smells fresh and clean. The scene is, thankfully, still vibrant here in upstate New York, a contrast to the dead hues and barren trees I had encountered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the previous day.

While everyone else sleeps in I take the opportunity to once again walk the property and enjoy the sunrise. I'm treated to a spectacular sight as the sun's rays warm the surface of the lake and produces a thin layer of mist across the glassy-smooth water. As soon as it appears it is gone - a fleeting moment of beauty that disappears within the span of a few minutes. I don't envy the guests who are sleeping in late.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

OddBike USA Tour: Part XII - Reality Looms


Rural Virginia

Part XII of the OddBike USA Tour Travelogue. Click here for Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart X, Part XI.


Virginia


I take the opportunity to sleep in today, one of the only instances where I didn't wake up at dawn and hit the road before the morning chill dissipated. Also odd considering the digs at the Super 8 were the least luxurious accommodations I have had so far, camping excepted. Clean though it seemed, I'd be lying if I said I hadn't checked the bed thoroughly for... things.

The clerk asks me if I'm the one with the motorcycle from Quebec. She is incredulous that I have ridden so far, even more so when I tell her that I had been to New Orleans. She is apprehensive about motorcycles, noting that she would be terrified of the heavy truck traffic. Really I would think I'd be intimidated by those lumbering, omnipresent brutes in any vehicle, not motorcycles exclusively. At least on a bike I can get out of my own way, quickly.