Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I've been collecting period photographs of motorcycles and riders for almost as long as I've collected the bikes - really good old photos are difficult to find, but the best ones seem to reach right through time and grab you. The 3 motorcycles pictured here are all ca. 1923 Norton 16H, distinguished by the diminutive front drum brake (5" of useless tin) combined with the old dummy-rim brake on the rear wheel. The top two pix are mine, the bottom was sent to me by John de Kruif, who downloaded it off the internet. The two gents in the pictures are paragons of sartorial elegance on a motorcycle, and both are eye-opening in their own way.
As a student of motorcycle gear, the top photo is really unusual, showing a collarless leather jacket - normally only a jerkin (leather pullover) would have no collar - this one is very modern, albeit using buttons instead of a zipper (so old school). If you click on the pic, you'll barely see a necktie poking out from under his jacket - and his jacket cuff length is cut as per a suit coat, ie with just a little shirt cuff showing. Normally riding jackets have longer sleeves to cover the rider's wrists when reaching for the handlebars. He's wearing very delicate gloves, not heavy riding gloves, so it must be summertime. No boots, but nice captoe laceup shoes, with long wool socks and jodhpurs. A well-trimmed moustache and some groovy square goggles complete the picture of a well-dressed man on a motorbike.
The bike itself is interesting, as it has a late-20's magdyno, and a big klaxon horn which needed juice! Also, an interesting speedo on top of the forks, and what looks like a sidecar attached.

Middle photo is one I picked up at an auction in Somerset, England, with George Cohen. An estate was being sold off, which included a beautiful 20's Sunbeam sports/touring car, among a lot of collected bike/car/farm eqp't, and some literature. This pic is tiny, only 1"x2", yet so evocative. The 16H has been hotrodded, 20's style, with the addition of seriously dropped handlebars, a bent gear selector rod (for foot shifting), and some kind of 'quieting' device for the open exhaust pipe. The Norton looks lean and mean, ready for action.

Bottom photo shows another handsome fellow in his best suit and racy cap, smoking his ciggie, very cool. Man-bags are apparently not a modern invention - I like its nickelled latches, just like on his toolbox. Again, he's wearing captoe laceup shoes, which was normal gear for riding and RACING in the 'teens and twenties, until helmets and leathers became compulsory.
This 16H is also fully electrified, and pulling a sidecar, which looks very short and made of aluminum - perhaps a Hughes sports model. I'm guessing that the silver disc under the tank is a generator, as the magneto is a CEV model (I have the same on my model 25), so no magdyno. There must be a belt driving the generator from the engine sprocket.

For decades, the 16H was a poor relation to the overhead-cam Nortons, but in the last few years their values have skyrocketed; collectors have begun to appreciate the role this motorcycle played as the red-hot sportster of the day, until eclipsed by faster overhead-valve and ohc machines.

1 comment:

Mr McLellan said...

In the early 1930's my father had to sit an entrance exam for Nelson College (a prestigious boys' college in New Zealand) while a student in Westport. His exam was to be invigilated by the local Catholic priest: unfortunately the padre was not to be found at the exam venue (the local Catholic church) and the two brothers had to search the town on their 1927 16H Norton, eventually finding the priest ensconced (and well-lubricated) at one of Westport's many hotel bars. In order to "get him to the church in time" he was carried at high speed on the pillion, arriving at the last minute to supervise Dad's exam.
Dad passed the exam with flying colours, and subsequently became a Hector medal-winning physicist, all thanks to a 16H.