Saturday, April 25, 2015


One corner of the Handbuilt Show; the Fuller Hot Rods Norton Commando, plus Roland Sands' new Indian, the Revival J63, etc
My article on Austin's Handbuilt Show, put on by Revival Cycles (full disclosure; my Cannonball partners) is up on, with some great photos.  Here's a teaser, you'll have to click on the link for the rest...
The gorgeous HRD-Rudge, restored by Herb Harris, which I rode at the Quail Motorcycle Gathering last year...
"By now, everyone’s heard that Austin is an oasis of cool in the middle of Texas, but to this seasoned bi-coaster, visiting for the recent Handbuilt Show was a very pleasant surprise, and a little humbling. While busy growing our beards, Austin stole the mojo once animating Williamsburg and the Mission District, which are now dominated by people with, like, real jobs. The Handbuilt Show, in its second year under Revival Cycles, is planted in East Austin, a Hispanic neighborhood with rings of gourmet food trucks circled like wagons in vacant lots every quarter-mile, or even closer.
Jeremy Cupp, whose LC Fabrications '#7' Speedway custom won People's Choice; a crazy-clever machine mating a Buell Blast crank with a Ducati cylinder head, plus a ton of clever details, like a foldaway kicker for the Triumph gearbox (with hydraulic clutch adaptor)

The Show’s in a large warehouse with an open yard beside, but the interior is air conditioned, while the yard features two excellent food trucks and the American Motordrome for atmosphere—visual and sonic. The food and drinks aren’t free, nor are the T-shirts, but everything else is. Anybody could enter the wide-open doors, and it was still never too crowded, day or night, to slip in amongst the Wall of Death revelers and feel a 1928 Indian rock the boards under your feet, as horizontal rider Charlie Ransom snatched paper money from extended hands. That just never gets old."
Marty Dickerson's 'Blue Bike' - read about it here. 
The late Bud Merle's Triumph chopper - an Austin legend, owner of Bud's Cycle Supply, an amazing place of a type increasingly rare these days...
A tidy Ducati flat-tracker
Sporting around with Steve Klein's 1911 Flying Merkel, with David Borras (El Solitario), moi, Alan Stulberg (Revival). and Brittney Olsen (20th Century Racing)
Presentation!  A sectioned Norton Atlas motor at Herb Harris' home
Revival's 'J63', which I reviewed for Cycle World
Who knew a Honda 250 needed a monococque chassis?
Lovely and Rudge-y
A sectioned Victoria Bergmeister engine at Revival
Late night builder chat and drinking session with Walt Siegl and David Borras 
Been there, done that, got the hand-built sweater.  Knitted by Dehen, the old woolen mill now reviving its old knitwear designs from the 40s/50s racing scene.  The bike is Max Hazan's remarkable supercharged Sporster, which I wrote about for Cycle World...
Setting up our show of Wet Plate photos at Handbuilt - check our portfolio at

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Sunday, April 19, 2015


Mystery rider on a '41 Matchless G3L 350cc military bike
Artist Nick Veasey has been messing around with x-rays ever since he was hired to x-ray a cola can for a TV show in England, when he was a relatively unknown still photographer.  He took the opportunity to also shoot his shoe, and was so intrigued with the process he eventually purchased a surplus x-ray machine, and built a bunker inside a warehouse with 30" thick walls and a 2300lb lead door to keep himself safe.  While medical x-ray stations have minimal beams directed at very specific, small areas, shooting much larger objects, like guns, motorcycles and even a Boeing 777 jet, meant hospital-style shielding was out of the question.  To be clear, Veasey doesn't shoot a whole motorcycle in one go - he shoots it section by section, then has helpers Photoshop the pieces together into a whole.    His most recent project, as reported in yesterday, was a series of vintage motorcycles, borrowed from a local club.  He also installed a handy skeleton prop on a few of the bikes, and later shot the clothing, which was all blended later.  I've been a fan of his work for years, as who isn't fascinated by x-rays? 
Nick Veasey developing one of his x-rays in his studio
Here's Veasey's artist statement from his website: "We live in a world obsessed with image. What we look like, what our clothes look like, houses, cars… I like to counter this obsession with superficial appearance by using x-rays to strip back the layers and show what it is like under the surface. Often the integral beauty adds intrigue to the familiar. We all make assumptions based on the external visual aspects of what surrounds us and we are attracted to people and forms that are aesthetically pleasing. I like to challenge this automatic way that we react to just physical appearance by highlighting the, often surprising, inner beauty.
1915 Indian Model G 682cc 'Little Twin'
This society of ours, consumed as it is by image, is also becoming increasingly controlled by security and surveillance. Take a flight, or go into a high profile courtroom and your belongings will be x-rayed. The post arriving in corporations and government departments has often been x-rayed. Security cameras track our every move. Mobile phone receptions place us at any given time. Information is key to the fight against whatever we are meant to be fighting against. To create art with equipment and technology designed to help big brother delve deeper, to use some of that fancy complicated gadgetry that helps remove the freedom and individuality in our lives, to use that apparatus to create beauty brings a smile to my face.
1928 Ariel Model E 

A close-up of the 1914 Indian engine, with pistons, connecting rods, and timing gears clearly visible.
To mix my metaphors, we all know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, that beauty is more than skin deep. By revealing the inside, the quintessential element of my art speculates upon what the manufactured and natural world really consists of."
Nick doesn't just do motorcycles...some of his work explores subcultures with a wry sense of humor...
Harley Davidson Sportster with mystery rider

1914 Douglas Model A 3.5hp flat twin, 500cc

Thursday, April 02, 2015


Star of the show; the 1939 Vincent-HRD Series A Rapide, which was rescued from the junk man! 
The twice-yearly Stafford auction by Bonhams is the European counterpoint to the January Las Vegas sales, providing a barometer of collectible motorcycle market worldwide, as well as the primary source of cool old bikes for those on the hunt.   The April 26th sale promises to raise a few eyebrows along with the prices for a few ultra-desirable machines, most notably the one-of-70odd 1939 Vincent-HRD Series A Rapide.  The pre-war Rapide vies with the Black Lightning as the most coveted of all Vincents, and they have similar production numbers (curiously, about the same as their price-mate Crocker motorcycles...what is it with '70-odd' hot-rods?).   The previous sale of a Series A twin fetched $366,000...I'll be curious if the recent EJ Cole sale will encourage buyers to break previous top sales for this 'king of the road'?
George Cohen Custom style...
Other great machines coming up: one of George Cohen's 'special' Norton customs, this an original 1926 Model 18 racer, done up in a grey-on-grey paint scheme, very similar to the machine featured in Conrad Leach's portrait of George, at speed on his beloved flat-tanker.  George has built a few of these flat-tank customs, both for Dunhill showrooms and private customers, and his work is top notch. If anyone knows their Nortons, it's George!
1930 Scott Sprint Special...
There are several variations on the Scott two-stroke theme, including a 1930 Sprint Special, which is simply exquisite in its pared-down functionality (and eccentricity), and a genuine 1926 Scott factory TT Racer, which looks astonishingly correct and with a nice worn-in patina, being an older restoration, with a few miles under its belt (road-registered - as old race bikes should be!).

The hot rod Silk, with a 500cc short-stroke, piston-ported racing engine
Another ultra-rare Scott based machine is this 1977 Silk 700S Mk2, one of George Silk's homage/updates to his beloved Scott marque.  Silk created an engine based closely on the Scott, with updates for speed and power, but he retained the Scott 'deflector piston' system, which gives great low-end power, but not so great top end power.  While other 700cc mid-'70s two-strokes were popping wheelies and scaring the crap out of their owners in corners, the Silk is eminently civilized, smooth and quick, with a racing chassis by Spondon, which means it can be ridden in the real world every bit as quickly as its rivals, except at the stoplight drag race.  This machine is extra special, as Silk experimented with a modern piston-port design on a few racing machines of 500cc, which were indeed as fast as their contemporaries.   This bike is one of 2 roadsters fitted with such a motor, and even though it's 200cc down on the standard product, no doubt it's 20mph faster on the top end.  This is one machine I'd have liked to find in a private sale, but it will be entertaining to watch the Silk fanatics duke it out in the auction.
The 1926 ex-Works Scott TT racer
What else?  A few Brough Superiors, four American four-cylinder machines (Cleveland, Excelsior, Indian, and Ace), and pair of Coventry-Eagle Flying 8s from the estate of an old pal of mine...bikes I tried to buy many years ago but couldn't quite finish the deal.  Now someone will have to pay 10x what I offered 10 years ago - these are very cool bikes.  It's my understanding (from the late owner) the OHV Flying 8 engine is a later addition; the bike originally had a 4-cam JAP sidevalve motor, which is included in the SV Flying 8 package sold separately (which has a single-cam engine included too). The 'real' OHV Flying 8 has a chassis with a larger diameter top tube than the SV - it's relatively easy to compare if you do a little homework.  The former owner rode this machine extensively, and it's a real beauty.
Red-fronted beauty, the Coventry-Eagle Flying 8 with JAP KTOR 1000cc motor.  
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Wednesday, April 01, 2015


Our new AMG Sprinter - the 180mph mobile darkroom.
As announced this morning on our new Instagram account (@wetplatevan), my photographic partner Susan McLaughlin and I have embarked on a 3-year world tour in our new Sprinter, a gift from our sponsor Mercedes-Benz.  They've generously loaned us their latest model, the AMG Sprinter with a turbocharged V8 engine (developing 503hp), which will make short work of the long-distance touring we've got planned.   And when the going gets rough, it's got adjustable ride-height air shocks and 4WD, so mountain passes in the Andes or Himalayas won't be a bother.

Will we be in your town?  We'll try!  Bring out your bike!
Follow our MotoTintype World Tour on,, and on our Instagram feed (@thevintagent, @suzieheartbreak, @wetplatevan); we started this morning in San Francisco, and had passed Tijuana by noon!  'Haulin' ass for photographs'.  Check our route map to see if we're passing through your town; maybe we'll shoot you!
Wet Plates make even Fat-tire choppers look cool.
We're happy to make action shots too, if you can keep your bike still for 3 seconds...
Wet Plates: making middle-aged men look like heroes since 1850.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Stefan Knittel, author, and director of the Concorso di Moto at Villa d'Este, has a new book about BMW racers
Author Stefan Knittel has literally 'written the book' on BMWs (among other marques), and has developed a close relationship with that factory's archive. No-one is better placed to assemble a book of historic BMW motorcycle racing photographs from the factory's own files, and for BMW's 90th anniversary, Schneider Media UK Ltd commissioned a book documenting the full history of BMW on and off-road racing machines.
A BMW R37 in 1925, with a confident rider.  A beautiful machine... 
'BMW Motorrad-Rennsport: 1929-2013' has over 600 photos, many of which you've never seen before, and most of which are simply friggen' awesome. I think it's fair to say that BMW has supported more types of motorcycle racing over a longer period than any other brand in history, from the GP circuits of Europe on two and 3 wheels, the record-breaking autobahns of Germany, the muddy trials courses of the ISDT, and the sands of Africa in the grueling Paris-Dakar races.  They were pioneers of supercharging in the late 1920s, and photos of all the blown bikes are included here, from the first pushrod 750s to the last national-championship OHC machines of 1950, when BMW was banned from international racing, so kept using their RS Kompressor racers, because they could (supercharged racers were used in off-road competition too, pre-War).
An R100RS in 1977 modified for a 24-hour world speed record in Italy, at the Nardo test course
While competing in so many fields, BMW built dozens of wickedly cool one-off bikes; dirt bikes, streamliners, road racers, concept machines, sidecars, etc.   All of them are idiosyncratic, devastatingly functional, and stylistically unique, and usually quite beautiful.  The book is crammed with rare images of these amazing machines, including later-era stuff we vintagents didn't even know existed!
BMW's first supercharged pushrod 750 of 1929, before they integrated the blower into the crankcase design, and merely sat it atop the gearbox.  Clunky but oh so cool...
OK, the bad news, it's in German only at this point.  But you really only wanted the pictures, right?   Order here from Schneider Media, it's 49 euros plus shipping.  Totally worth it.

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Monday, March 23, 2015


Star of the show: Steve McQueen's 1915 Cyclone - an $842,000 engine in a $10,000 Indian chassis...a new world record, now at the top of my 'Most Expensive Motorcycles' list
Two Vegas auctions in a year?  Apparently so, at least under extraordinary circumstances, and the sale of the legendary EJ Cole collection from Texas was indeed worth the trip.  With an approximately $13.5Million total sale (including fees) from 220 bikes, it was the highest-grossing motorcycle auction ever, and broke world records for the highest price ever paid at auction ($852,500) for a 1915 Cyclone engine in an Indian chassis, formerly owned by Steve McQueen, and the highest price ever paid for a Harley-Davidson ($715,000) for an incredible, original-paint 1907 'strap tank' model, perhaps the best early H-D in the world.
The 1907 H-D 'strap tank', from the 3rd year of H-D production, and in beautiful original condition, sold for $715,000, a world record for a Harley-Davidson, and now #2 on my 'Most Expensive Motorcycles' list...
Who is EJ Cole and how did this collection come about?  According to the man himself, he purchased 13 antique American motorcycles from a Seattle collector in 1979, along with a huge pile of spares, for $75,000, which was a lot of money for a bunch of old bikes at that date.  He had been advised by his nephew, Lonnie Isam Sr, to purchase this estate in order to 'flip' it at a profit.  Isam took possession of the collection with the intention of selling, but after a few days of no action, EJ Cole reconsidered the wisdom of a quick buck, and had the bikes delivered to his home in Texas. Cole felt that such rare machines would inevitably rise in value, and set about creating a very large collection of rare, early American bikes, under the tutelage of Isam and other old-bike brokers such as RL Jones.  How right his intuition proved to be.
Mecum's Ron Christensen with the man himself, EJ Cole
Cole collected well, and while 1/3 of his machines were 'ordinary' postwar Harley-Davidson twins (Knucklehead, Panhead, Shovelhead), the bulk of the collection was at least very interesting, and at best some of the most remarkable early American motorcycles anywhere.  He had been pestered to sell the collection for many years, and every auction house and wealthy collector made inquiries and offers, although the action heated up last year between several parties interested.  EJ Cole was the obstacle, asking unrealistic and variable prices, and vexing all suitors.  Finally, he succeeded in driving everyone away, but ultimately had a change of heart, perhaps due to a combination of pressure from his heirs, his own advancing age (89), and the lure of many millions of dollars.
The 1911 Flying Merkel original-paint board tracker, which sold for $423,500
Mecum Auctions, via Ron Christenson, claim that 'no deal' and 'no guarantees' were made to EJ Cole in selling the collection, most of which was sold at no reserve last weekend.  Prices on the whole were 'retail', ie, what one would expect, although quite a few deals were had in the margins, like an lovely old-paint WW2 Indian Scout for $13k, and an OHV Reading Standard racer, which might have been a fantasy OHV, or a bitsa, but was certainly a bargain at $25k. 
Subject to a bidding fight between Australia's Peter Arundel (whose Indian 8-Valve was the subject of Machine Files #3) and board track expert Daniel Statnekov, who wanted it just a little more...
Behind the podium - I provided 'color' commentary on the bikes, while the auctioneers kept up the blistering pace, and Dana Mecum a close eye on the crowd...

You’ll note two of these record-setting machines still bore their manufacturer’s paint scheme, and the motorcycle market is far ahead of the collector’s car scene in recognizing the value of unmolested originality.  In common with the art and antiques markets, the old-bike world prefers its machinery to be ‘real’…perhaps because so many excellent replicas are scattered across the globe, with sheepish owners crossing fingers behind their backs, displaying their ‘racers’ with pride.  Nowadays you need a forensic scientist to sort if that Indian was built in 1912 or 2012; how many of its parts actually emerged from Springfield, or were merely created while watching The Simpsons?
Ready to push an original-paint 1925 Excelsior-Henderson across the ramp...
Trends?  Obviously, prices for blue-chip bikes are going up with no end in sight, but let's be clear - there are VERY FEW such machines on the planet.  There are a couple of hundred JAP-engined Brough Superior SS100s, 70-odd Crockers and Vincent Series A twins, a dozen Cyclones, and very few original-paint board track racers. A few exotic GP bikes and supercharged pre-WW2 racers should be added to the list, but by my reckoning that's still only 500ish really top-rank motorcycles in the world which are likely to fetch more than $250k at auction today.  The EJ Cole auction was an extraordinary collection, but most of the bikes on offer - even very rare, early American collectibles - sold for less than $50k.  
First year of production 1912 Henderson, sold for $225,500
Prices for old motorcycles are basically flat, as they have been for years.  I see no general trend for escalating prices, except select cases (notably Indian 4s at the Cole auction) which seem to be on the rise.  Motorcycles which were produced in the thousands are far more numerous than riders willing to use them, and as most collectors have ten or more motorcycles, it's clear demand for old machines is not high.  Which means we need to ride them a whole lot more.
Bargains?  Yes, this original 1943 Indian Scout went for $13k, and Roland Sands will no doubt do something fun with it...
'Riders not hiders' occupied a good number of seats at the auction, and probably 10 of the bikes sold will participate in the 2016 Motorcycle Cannonball across-America rally. Cannonball veterans had a post-auction banquet which, like most things Cannonball, sold out early; 64 seats filled (and a dozen sadly turned away) by folks who'd ridden their old machines 4100 miles on a rally.  That was the most heartening statistic of all. 
A few of the many Cannonballers who showed up to buy, or merely enjoy the company

Thursday, March 19, 2015


The new Ducati Scrambler: perhaps the most obvious example of how alt.customs are influencing corporate motorcycles
Sideburn magazine's Gary Inman, a friend of mine, wrote a thought-provoking piece on (a multi-motor blogazine) called 'Custom Bikes and Trophy Wives'.  I'll quote a few bits here, but if you're at all involved with the alt.custom scene, it's worth a read, and I'd love to hear your opinion.  I confess to be deeply embedded in this world professionally, while never having been an owner/rider/builder of alt.customs themselves. Still, I count many of the most important players in this business as personal friends, so am well-placed to write about their world.  Hence my 'Custom and Style' editorship at Cycle World...
Gary credits the Wrenchmonkees of Denmark for an explosion of a particular style, which is becoming cliché with various imitators.  Of course, plenty of alt.custom builders do things very differently...
Some thoughts from Gary: "The annexation of the most vibrant motorcycle sub-culture in decades didn’t take long...For marketing departments, desperate to find any growth in Northern hemisphere biking, it’s an easy sell. It’s all smart haircuts and expensive denim, an appreciation of art, architecture and photography, a willingness and the means to travel. The holy-bleeding-grail of target audience if you’re trying to shift ‘lifestyle’ products. And the bike manufacturers didn’t have to lift a finger for the scene to become so large they could no longer ignore its potential. What was an exciting niche is now a cliché. Inevitably. But – another question that only time has the answer to – is it a bad thing for ‘the scene’?..."

On that note, it might be worth re-reading my 'Instafamous/Instabroke' essay from Classic Bike Guide (republished on BikeExif)  or my very similar thoughts on the Industry poking fingers into the Custom scene, called 'Awake, Leviathan', also in CBG (read it here).

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