Friday, May 01, 2009


By Greg Williams

Before Clymer and before Haynes service manuals, there was J.B. Nicholson and Modern Motorcycle Mechanics (above, the first edition). Nicholson, together with his brother Lawrence, opened Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1931. To this small city in the middle of the Canadian prairie they imported DOT, Calthorpe and Douglas motorcycles and by 1935, the brothers had transformed the business into a fledgling mail order parts supply house.

But it was a 25-year old J.B. (Bernie) Nicholson (above, on a military Harley XA - BMW clone) who published what could be considered one of the first comprehensive texts regarding the operation and maintenance of motorcycles of the day. In 1942 the first edition of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics was distributed widely. They sold the book themselves, and industry giants such as Johnson Motors bought books for resale in their showroom. Floyd Clymer himself ordered hundreds of copies for resale through his motoring catalogs.

Nicholson (above with brother Lawrence in their motorcycle showroom, and at left writing the manual on - what else - a manual typewriter...) went on to revise his book six times, with editions appearing in 1945, 1948, 1953, 1965, 1969 and the final and seventh in 1974 (see pic below). Over the years more than 100,000 copies of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics books have sold worldwide from Canada to England, India, South Africa, Australia and beyond. How many ‘cyclists has this manual helped keep their iron on the road?

I’m at work on a book about Nicholson and his contribution to motorcycling with his Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter: The Story of Bernie Nicholson and Modern Motorcycle Mechanics will include plenty of photographs, and a large chapter dedicated to his time in the Canadian Army training mechanics and dispatch riders. I hope to include a chapter of anecdotes contributed by enthusiasts who, at some point, have used Modern Motorcycle Mechanics. And I can’t do this without help. If you have a story to tell about using the book, or what Modern Motorcycle Mechanics means to you, please drop me a line at You can also visit

I extend my thanks to The Vintagent for lending me this platform.


Wrenches said...

Wow in those days you could fix everything with a wrench .

jaqlene klum said...

I have been in search of some good mechanic, who can help me in restoring my father 1960's BSA as you have information about old bikes, Can you suggest me right person for the job.