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20th October 2005

'John Britten' by Tim Hanna from AmazonBooks: Two About John Britten

Reuben Fowles has discovered two books about his motorcycling hero, John Britten. One of them is so good, it kept him awake at nights...

Sometimes life is like waiting for a bus: you wait for ages then two come along at once. Ever since I read about the early Britten racing bikes in magazines I was intrigued by the vision of John Britten to build a bike from first principles and take on the world and win.

The Britten video 'Dare to Dream' is still available and is stirring stuff indeed. To see the Britten come past the leading Ducati on its rear wheel at over 150mph at Daytona in 1992 lifts the soul and is fascinating to watch, but no video can tell the whole story.

Ever since the tragic death of John in September 1995 at only 45 years of age I have hoped that someone would produce a book to tell his story as a fitting epitaph. Now eight years later two appear at the same time.

'Dare to Dream, The John Britten Story' [The UK edition seems to be called 'Britten Motorcycles - The John Britten Story'. RM] by Felicity Price is a hardback glossy book.

The photographs are stunning and liberally used throughout. It describes his early life and influences, his hippy years and daredevil racing on a worn out Triumph Tiger 100. It details the early development of a Ducati racer with a handbuilt fairing, the aero-d-zero, which led to the development of the Denco-engined aero-d-one and in turn to the early fully faired Britten bikes and ultimately to the magnificent pink and blue Cardinal Brittens.

It also shows the other interests of John, his lamps, his house and others that he designed, and his wife and children. This is an interesting book which would grace any coffee table. It perhaps lacks criticism of some of his decisions and dealings with other people which could be told without reducing the stature of the man and his achievements. Surely the person who never made mistakes never made anything. As Churchill put it: ' Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm'. I think that John's life proves the validity of that quote. 'John Britten' by Tim Hanna from Amazon

The second book, John Britten by Tim Hanna is very different in the way it tells the same story.

It is a paperback of over 450 pages with some photographs. Hanna is much more critical in his book and uses the quotes of many of the people who were swept along by the whirlwind that was John Britten. Inevitably some left with a bitter taste as he pushed them beyond endurance and this is well documented. John seemed to captivate everyone who met him and could enthuse, inspire, irritate and infuriate people at different times.

Tim Hanna used the reminiscences of family, friends, colleagues, riders and rivals to show the many aspects of the character of this complex man.

The whole story of the successes and failures, the racing highs and lows, and the continual battle against lack of time and money is told in spellbinding detail with hundreds of notes to elucidate each point.

Hanna also discusses Britten's architectural work and property developments in Christchurch. After John died the cohesive force at the motorcycle company and the development site slowly seeped away like water in the sand and you are left with the feeling that there was still work to be done to complete the legacy of this intuitive engineer and designer. Few people can fill the footprints of such a man.

John is reported as saying that he doubted that he would live a long life and possibly that is why he lived it at a breakneck pace. The fitting epitaph on his headstone reads:-

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night.
But, ah my foes and ah my friends
It gives a lovely light.

If you only buy one book on motorcycles this year, then make it this book. I could not put it down and read it from cover to cover deep into the night. In these days of instant manufactured pop stars and prima donna overpaid footballers it is inspiring to read of a true hero who was proud of his achievements but rather shy and self-effacing personally. The world needs more people of this calibre.

Random Vincent Stuff on

Tucked away in Felicity Price's book is a paragraph that mentions that a German distributor Marz Motorradhandel is interested in selling approximately 500 Britten road bikes a year possibly doubling that number in years to come with a price tag similar to that of a Harley Davidson. If this works out it would be a wonderful tribute to the memory of John Britten and the bikes would be revered as a modern day Vincent with all the myths and mystique to match. With the demand for such exotic bikes as MVs, Benellis and Ducati's limited editions, it would be nice for John's bike to join this esteemed list. Perhaps Alan Cathcart could keep us abreast of further developments.

I purchased these books by ringing the High Street book shop Ltd. in Christchurch, New Zealand. Postage and packing was approximately NZ$40 for both books and took 4 to 6 days to arrive.

  • Phone Number 0064-3-358-4835
  • Fax Number 0064-3-358-2876
  • Don't forget that New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of us.

    Reviewed by Reuben Fowles

    'Britten Motorcycles - The John Britten Story' by Felicity Price is published by Hazard Press Limited. ISBN 1-877270-50-4,, NZ$49.95 - Purchase a copy from Amazon.

    'John Britten' by Tim Hanna is published by Craig Potton Publishing, ISBN 1-877333-08-5,, NZ$49.95 - Purchase a copy from Amazon.

    (If you buy any books or DVDs through the links on this page then a small commission comes back to the RC site).

    Britten Motorcycle company: Tel: 0064 33793992


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