Tech Matters: Motorcycle Books - The Fireside Reader

Few things in life give me greater pleasure than parking myself by the fire on a cold winter night with a highball in one hand and a good book about motorcycles in the other. Since this is the February issue, and riding is at a low ebb for many of us, I thought I'd review a few of my favorite motorcycle-related books. The topics are varied-after all, owning a cruiser doesn't mean you can't have an interest in road racing, vintage bikes or traveling the world, and by no means would I suggest that these are the only books worth reading on a given subject. However, they are volumes I find myself revisiting time after time. As far as the highball recipe goes, that you'll have to come up with on your own.

Sport Bike Performance Handbook
Kevin Cameron
MBI Publishing

Don't let the title put you off. When it comes to technical writing, Kevin Cameron is the best in the business, and this book goes a long way toward explaining why. Although the book is geared toward the budding racer-sporting-street rider, the information within applies to every sort of motorcycle ever built. If you want to make your cruiser faster, handle better or stop on a dime (well maybe a quarter), or just understand how engines, chassis and brakes work, this book will provide more insight than most of us can digest in a lifetime. My copy has so many highlighted passages and dog-eared pages that it's silly.

Grand National: America's Golden Age of Motorcycle Racing
Joe Scalzo
MBI Publishing

Despite a few minor factual glitches and a tendency to lace the pages with slang, Scalzo's book is the definitive guide to the glory days of dirt-track racing. As a former racer and confidant of many of the top riders, Scalzo was part of the dirt-track scene and captured many pivotal moments. His recounting of those times and the colorful personal anecdotes make this a fascinating inside look into "America's" racing. Largely illustrated with the awesome photography of Dan Mohany, Grand National is an extremely entertaining read and the one book that truly captures the spirit of American dirt-track racing.

Jupiter's Travels Ted Simon
Penguin Books

In 1973, Ted Simon, a writer for the London Sunday Times, fired up a brand-new, bone-stock 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 and set out on a round-the-world trip. Over the next four years, Simon, who'd been riding for maybe six months at that point, would cover 63,000 miles and visit 54 countries. Along the way, he got caught up in wars, spent time in a Brazilian prison and fell in love. In these days of dead-reliable motorcycles, GPS and Internet cafes in even the most remote locations, an around-the-world bike journey is at best a dangerous and difficult undertaking; that a novice rider on a bike designed in the '30s accomplished it is nothing short of incredible. Simon's book is an insightful, perceptive account of what it took to do it, and a wonderful book even for the nonrider.

One Man Caravan Robert Fulton
Whitehorse Press

During the spring of 1932, Robert Fulton, a direct descendent of the guy who invented the steamboat, attended a dinner party in London. Fulton, who was on break from the Vienna branch of the Bauhaus Architectural School, was asked what he planned to do upon graduation. Without thinking, he replied "go 'round the world on a motorcycle." Unbeknown to Fulton, Kenton Redgrave, one of the principals of the Douglas Motorcycle Co., happened to be standing there and immediately offered him the use of a new 350 Douglas. One Man Caravan details Fulton's epic journey and includes period photographs and drawings that, along with Fulton's articulate writing, bring the story alive.

Proficient Motorcycling
David L. Hough
BowTie Publishing

Want to learn how to ride really well? Hough's book explains how to do it. Hough, who pens the "Proficient Riding" column over at Motorcycle Consumer News, breaks down every aspect of riding and explains it in an easy-to-understand and entertaining manner. It's informative (I learn something new every time I pick it up), entertaining and probably the best book on riding technique I've ever read.

So, there you go my friends, a half-dozen of my favorite fireside reads. Some are technical and some practical, but all are entertaining, and if you don't like highballs, hot chocolate works just as well.