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5th Augusat 2004 2004

The British Motorcycle Directory by Roy Bacon and Ken Hallworth

At 35 (or $60 US), this book is not a snip. It's not going to be an impulse-buy - the sort of motorcycling reference book which you pick up in passing and save for a rainy day's reading. It is - and presumably was always intended to be - a heavyweight tome. It contains details of over 1100 British marques, so it was never going to be a pocketbook! The Directory's arrival in late summer suggests that it's intended to be tempting Christmas shoppers for the rest of the year. So is it worth that 35, and when it turns up in your Crimbo stocking should you be delighted or dismayed?

The British Motorcycle Directory - From AmazonThe authors are two of the most respected writers in the classic bike world and the publisher is Crowood, a company which publishes some excellent bike books as well as the occasional duff 'un. To even consider rivalling Erwin Tragatsch's established and invaluable 'Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles' from 1977 would be a brave move, and Messers Bacon and Hallworth have smartly side-stepped the issue by concentrating only on British motorcycles. (They probably didn't feel like spending another 20 years researching the rest of the world - or is a follow up volume on the way, chaps?). It means that this new Directory covers under half the marques of Tragatsch, in much the same style, and in roughly the same number of pages. Are we getting twice the information, then?

In most cases, yup; sure are. For instance, the Tragatsch listing for 'Bradbury' runs to eight lines while the Directory listing gives a full two columns of detail, plus three illustrations. Not bad for a Lancashire company which folded its tents in 1924. But this should come as no surprise; Ken Hallworth's fascination has long focused on REALLY old bikes, and if anyone were going to get this right then it should be him. Likewise, Roy Bacon has written the histories of the mainstream marques over and again - it must have been nice for them both to turn the spotlight on the lesser-knowns companies and their bikes for a change. If you can find a flaw in their summaries of the pre-war models then you're a better man than I, Gunda Din.

Where things get a little less precise is in the more modern era, particularly in the captioning of some photos of bikes from the latter part of the 20th century. The detailed descriptions lavished on the machines from the 19-oh-something era fade to more general statements - some of which are less accurate than others. And 15 years of modern Triumphs are summed up in a single column of text with just one photo, while the preceding 88 years get nine full pages of coverage. Nitpicking? Probably. (But the title refers to British motorcycles, not classic ones...).

And if you really want to gripe and moan then you can contact the authors with your thoughts on errata and omissions. They've left space for the Directory to be updated and enhanced in any future editions. So if I'm feeling really smart-ass about something then I'd better go back to original source material and construct my argument carefully!

For information about pre-war bikes, it's unlikely that you'll find a better source covering so many varied marques in such detail. The illustrations are fascinating too, including hundreds of brochure pictures of motorcycles which you will never have seen elsewhere. You'll be able to tell a true enthusiast by the time he spends with a magnifying glass, peering closely at an original illustration so he can get the tank-lining on his restoration project... just... right!

My usual gripe now follows: I would like to have seen a little more colour on the pages. The book is mono the whole way through, so loses the impact which colour reproductions of original brochures would have had. While much of the British motorcycle industry occurred in a monochrome world, there are some glorious illustrations which capture the spirit of the bikes so much better when you can see them as they were meant to be presented. I know; that would have bumped the price up by another tenner, because production runs of bike books are so low... I know.

Back to the original question: is this 300-page book with its 850-plus illustrations worth the 35 purchase price? Are you kidding? Given the complexity of the task - cataloguing an entire nation's output of motorcycles - then 35 can't possibly be a fair price for all the effort involved. The Directory represents the expertise of both authors, two lifetimes in classic motorcycling, distilled into easily-read segments. Worth every penny.

The British Motorcycle Directory by Roy Bacon and Ken Hallworth

  • Published by Crowood, ISBN 1 86126 674 X
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