22 November 2013

The best bike books for Christmas

Bevel Twin Ducati and and Triumph Bonneville histories enjoyably educate enthusiasts, so they can understand, buy and enjoy the experiences of both brands

It’s rare when the best books I’ve read on a couple of subjects dear to my heart show up on my desk at the same time. But it’s happened this year, and in time for Christmas too.

Both the 1971-86 bevel twin Ducatis and the 1959-83 Triumph Bonnevilles were among the most popular bikes of their era, and both are among the most fun collectibles you can buy today, with good originals and excellent restorations to be found.

Best of all, both books are from Veloce, so if you can’t find them in your local bookshop (either in the UK or the U.S.) you can go online at www.veloce.co.uk and order them. Or better yet, nudge somebody close to you, who’s wondering what you’d like for Christmas. Veloce has just announced a 40 percent discount before the end of December, so how can your loved ones resist?

“DUCATI BEVEL TWINS: 1971-1986. Authenticity and Restoration Guide,” by Ian Falloon. 288 pages, 1,290 color and black and white pictures. £50/$89.95.

This book was last printed in 1998 and was overdue for an update, especially as the bevel twins are now the V12 Ferraris of the bike world. The best 750 “green frame” Super Sports can bring $100,000, and good 900 Super Sports and Darmahs are rising rapidly past $30,000. After six-figure Brough-Superiors and Vincents, V-twin bevel Ducatis are the Next Big Thing, and really nice original examples will probably double in value in the next few years. But like all Italian creations, the manufacturing picture is extremely complicated, and you’ve got to know what you’re buying. “Running changes” were constant; instruments, switches, lights, brakes, wheels, paint colors, even decals could depend on what was available at the time and were subject to change at whim.

Provenance: Aussie Ian Falloon is the dean of Ducati writers, with numerous books to his credit over the past 40 years, a stable of bevel twins himself, and about 20 restorations under his belt. Thanks to close ties to the factory at the time these bikes were built, his research is painstakingly accurate and utterly reliable. If you want to buy or restore a Ducati bevel twin you cannot afford NOT to have this book. Read it closely before you start your search for a bike, and take it with you when you find one.

Fit and Finish: Very well presented on semi-gloss paper, with 1,290 clear photographs, handy quarto-sized, with a soft cover and easily read type.

Rideability: Encyclopedic in its range, with a comprehensive history of individual models and specific clues about authenticity. Dates of known changes are described in detail, down to VIN numbers, vital engine and frame numbers, correct colors and decal placement. Rebuild procedures are explained and frequently illustrated, and a profusion of bike pictures show you what IS correct. Restoration procedures are photographed, key specifications listed, and wiring diagrams included. Even special tools needed for various procedures are described and the part numbers noted. Not cheap at the price, but but worth every penny to the serious enthusiast.

“THE TRIUMPH BONNEVILLE BIBLE: All models 1959-1983,” by Peter Henshaw. 160 pages, 262 pictures, £35/$54.95

Peter Henshaw’s often funny and equally frustrating history of the Triumph Bonneville makes Ducati seems like a clear-thinking, single-minded, razor sharp corporation. The 1959 T120 launch was a disaster. The Bonneville appeared in Tangerine and Pearl Gray, with an unloved headlight nacelle, fenders that belonged on a Sunbeam S7, a single carburetor, no tachometer and a luggage rack on the tank. This was supposed to be sporty?

Luckily the American distributors had a pretty clear idea of what they wanted, and gradually the bike evolved into the excellent mid-1960s lightweights. Complete with full instruments, better frames, most mechanical issues addressed, and even the excellent TT 120 competition model and limited production Thruxton racer. But it was always a case of one step forward and two back; even the launch of the unit construction engine/gearbox model in 1963, presented vibration issues that took years to resolve.

By 1970, when almost everything was sorted, the Honda 750-Four had moved the bar out of sight. The oil-in-frame 1971 Bonneville presented a new set of problems, and then the 750cc twin arrived at the same time as the labor strikes and the Meriden factory cooperative, as the company ran out of money.  By the time the final T140 left the factory in 1983, it was like watching an old friend die at least, to the relief of all around the bed.

Provenance: Henshaw has written about 40 books, including 10 on bikes and he does not own a car. He weaves a fascinating tale of self-sabotage, some aspects of which would fit an Ealing comedy of the 1950s. However his grasp of the subject is firm, his technical details impressively accurate and his advice essential to buying the right Bonneville, or restoring one correctly.

Fit and Finish: Handsome, glossy hardback with 235 crisp pictures and the essential nuts-and-bolts details. An odd typo on the front cover refers to Bonnevilles between 1959-88 instead of 1983, but I’m sure that was immediately visible after publication.

Rideability: Hugely enjoyable if you are a motorcycle fan. Interesting history, a penetrating look at the decline and fall of the British motorcycle industry, whose inevitability becomes clear almost from the first pages. Apart from the yarn, this book full of useful technical details which will be vital to all present and future Bonneville owners. This book will make you smarter. You might still buy a Bonneville, but you’ll have no excuse, if you don’t buy a good one.

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