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Common Tread

What I'm reading: Greaser edition

Mar 28, 2019

Maybe in your part of the world, the months of November through March regularly offer sunny, balmy days perfect for riding.

Here in Philadelphia, we have winter, followed by “spring” weather that's still pretty lousy (it's hailing as I write this). That means days more suited for indoor pursuits, such as wrenching or finding other ways to get that moto fix. I've had plenty of time to do some reading over the last few months. If you've got some space on the shelf, I have a list of my favorite recent reads to share with you.

Racing Motorcycles book
Well researched, well illustrated, and well worth a read just to see these exotic machines. RevZilla photo.

"Racing Motorcycles" by Luigi Rivola

Indirectly, you’re getting a book recommendation from the one and only Joe Zito. He picked up a copy of this at a yard sale and fell in love with its old-school cool. Published in 1978, "Racing Motorcycles" is a snapshot of motorcycling right before the twisting, shifting, extroverted transistorization of motorkind in the 1980s. If it went fast before "Grease" hit theaters, it’s probably in this book. I found my copy on eBay for under $10 shipped.

Highlights: Well researched, hand-illustrated, fits in a tail bag.

The Current electric vehicle book
Not all electric motorcycles are urban commuters or sleek-looking vaporware. This electric trials bike carries Japanese trials champion Kenichi Kuroyama to victory. RevZilla photo.

"The Current: New Wheels for the Post-Petrol Age" by Gestalten

Post-petrol, that’s a big statement. "The Current" collects the electric avant-garde in a beautiful hardbound coffee table book, and any other book out of their catalog is equally well made. If you’re interested in electric motorcycles and you’d like a book about them, this is the one to have. Unfortunately, the book came out just before the LiveWire, so it’s missing that icon through no fault of its own. That’s just the pace that electric vehicles keep. Copies go for around $35. 

Highlights: Every bit as marvelous as other Gestalten books, unmatched photography, impressive object to leave lying around your living room.

Dream Bikes by Alan Cathcart
Hans Walther of Powa Design dreamed up this wild Yamaha FZ750. RevZilla photo.

"Dream Bikes" by Alan Cathcart

Of all the books here, this one was the most popular around the office. Three of my colleagues had already borrowed and read it before I got my turn! (I think it’s my favorite, as well.) In the same way that "Racing Motorcycles" is an artifact of a time in motorcycling, "Dream Bikes" is motorcycles at their raddest: single-sided steering, plastic everywhere, wacky frames, oval pistons, and both kinds of headlights: square and round! Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, you’ve probably read some of Alan Cathcart's work already. He’s one of motorcycling’s great journalists, and just the man you’d want writing this book back in 1988. Another eBay find, I snagged mine for under $20.

Highlights: Some of the most unique motorcycles you’ll ever see, Cathcart’s writing, retrofuturism, Harris frames, outside-the-box thinking applied to every part of a motorcycle.

Retro-RR magazine
A 1989 ZXR750 H1 is restored and put back on the road. RevZilla photo.

"Retro-RR" magazine issue 1

"Retro-RR" celebrates sporting machines of the 1980s and 1990s. If you couldn’t tell by my inclusion of “Dream Bikes,” this era is possibly my favorite, and apparently there are enough of us that it’s worth publishing a magazine now! "Retro-RR" feels every bit as nice as Cycle World’s new quarterly magazine, and the pages are packed full of motorcycles and races that haven’t been news in more than 20 years. It's outstanding. The masthead is stacked, the photography is excellent, and you’ll save every last issue... if these motorcycles are your style. It costs more to ship the issues here than to actually buy them, but you vintage enthusiasts are used to paying more for stuff, anyway. Retro-RR is available here. (Due to shipping, it's around $80 for the year in the United States. Steep, but I'd like to see them succeed, and they're writing stories I want to read.)

Highlights: You can pick up a new magazine with an RC30 in it again!

Lone Rider by Elspeth Beard
Elspeth Beard is another of motorcycling's legendary figures. RevZilla photo.

Honorable mention: "Lone Rider" by Elspeth Beard

I’m adding this one because:

  1. I’m reading this well-loved book
  2. I’ve had a copy for a year, but never got around to reading it
  3. I don’t know why it took me so long to start

If you’ve got a copy waiting on the shelf, get to it! What a gem. British rider Elspeth Beard takes a two-year, 35,000-mile solo ride around the world and chronicles her journey as a lone rider in the early 1980s. Lemmy actually interviewed the renowned world traveler several years ago, and he also wrote a book review that'll sway you if you're not already sold. Copies are easy to find online for $20 or less. Also fits in tail bag.

That’s all I’ve got for now. If you’re reading something good, let me know about it!