Compilation edited by Motorbooks Int’l
338 pages, $24.95
Motorbooks International, copyright 2006
by Sev Pearman
One of my many duties here at MMM is to extract good motorcycle books (they are out there) out of the pile. I do my best to review only those titles that we feel you, the reader, would enjoy. Compared to the swill that our poor movie reviewers Tammy and Kevin have to sit through, I have it easy, but that is a different story.
I can heartily recommend this month’s selection, The Harley-Davidson Reader. It is a collection of short stories, reminiscences and tall tales about riding, racing, owning and loving a Harley. Each selection cuts a different facet onto the brilliant diamond that is Harley-Davidson motorcycles and their riders.
Contributors include some of the best writers of our time. You’ll find Hunter S. Thompson’s 1965 piece on the Hell’s Angels originally written for The Nation. Brock Yates, editor Car & Driver, and Peter Egan, Cycle World, pen their stories of what it was that led them to Milwaukee iron. Motorcycling legends Arlen Ness, Sonny Barger and Craig Vetter each add a story. Evel Knievel gets his own chapter.
Motorcycling has a rich, deep history. The more I read about our common past, the greater my appreciation of current machines and gear. Chapter three brings you into the brutal world of board track racing, including J. W. Duffield’s 1914 description of riding a race. Did you know that Pope Pius XII was a race fan?
My favorite part of this book was the chapter on the Wall-of Death. If you have never experienced one, let these writers take you inside the cylinder of creaking oak planks and iron turnbuckles. While only a few survive today, they were once a common site at county fairs. Do any of our readers recall the time when promoters included lions as part of the act?
The Reader is loaded with fantastic illustrations. Photos date from the turn of the last century to the 1970s and capture many forms of motorcycle racing, thrill riders, and humble, posed portraits of machine and rider. Also included are full-color reproductions of period race posters, advertisements, motorcycle magazine covers and comic books. Evel Knievel had his own Marvel Comic? Who knew?
The collection isn’t stuck in the Motor Company’s cafeteria. Chapter headers feature selections drawn from writers who don’t necessarily ride a Harley. There are excerpts from Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Honda 305) and a passage from Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s The Perfect Vehicle (Moto-Guzzi) Good motorcycle writing is good writing, no matter the make or model.
You don’t have to drink the H-D Kool-Aid to enjoy The Harley-Davidson Reader. The selections on early riders illustrate our common history and the personal tales capture the elusive essence of why it is we choose to ride. This is a great addition to any motorcyclist’s bookshelf. Enthusiastically recommended with four-out-of-four cylinders.
Verdict: Speed Reader – Contributions by some of the best writers of our time.
Enthusiast – Full of righteous tales that amuse and delight.
Historian – Worth the Wall-of-Death chapter alone.
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