Thursday, July 01, 2010


I was recently asked by the Southsiders M.C. to contribute to their novel website project, a series of 'Favorite 5' motorcycles of collectors, enthusiasts, and builders.  One might think it difficult to determine such a short list from the endless stream of fantastic motorcycles through history, and it did take a bit of editing, but surprisingly little actually.   My criteria are strictly personal, no claims are made that these are the best, most important, technically innovative, or beautiful bikes Ever.  But to me, they are the most compelling of all, and I will never own any of them (well, the Guzzi is possible, although fakes are rampant).  In chronological order:

In an era when most motorcycles had no brakes and atmospheric inlet valves, when horses were more common than powered vehicles, when paved roads were very rare,  Peugeot delivered a machine with technical specification from outer space; a parallel twin with gear-driven double overhead camshafts.  Astounding, shocking and not a one-off; they continued to develop this machine for racing until 1920, when the original Ernest Henry design was revamped with gears alongside the engine (which greatly simplified maintenance) and a 3-speed gearbox.  None of these early machines have survived.

2. 1925 Moto Guzzi C4V 500cc ohc
The very first Guzzi built in 1920 was an ohc machine, the GP1 (Guzzi/Parodi, the designers), and in 1924 the overhead-cam laid down single cylinder engine returned as a purpose-built racer, the Corsa Quattro Valvole ('racing 4 valve'), using shaft-and-bevel drive to the single ohc.  Winning the European championship first time out, the C4V was good for near 100mph, and development gave 32hp.  Guzzi produced the machine in small numbers, and it's my favorite flat-tank motorcycle, period, looking fast from any angle.

3.  1929 AJS ohc v-twin, 990cc
Built for an attempt at the Motorcycle Land Speed Record, AJS used two of their 'K' series top ends with chain-driven single ohc, on a common crankcase, with a third chain drive to the magneto at the front of the engine.  By integrating all 3 chains thus, they created a truly dreamy powerplant; visually balanced, with more than a hint of technical finesse.  The long tapered tank and otherwise spindly 1920s running gear make this bike one of my all-time favorites.  It made 130mph, not quite fast enough, and was developed further in 1933 with a supercharger, which added serious machismo, but lost the delicate beauty of the original.  The bike lives in the National Motorcycle Museum in England now.

4. 1934 CNA/Rondine supercharged, watercooled, dohc 4-cyl 500cc
The bloodline of this amazing four-cylinder racer start in 1922, with a sohc air-cooled four, designed by Carlo Gianini and Piero Remor, under the GRB name.  The basic machine was developed over the next 35 years, changing ownership via OPRA and Rondine, eventually becoming the world-championship Gilera Four postwar.  This watercooled and supercharged version was designed in '33 by Gianini and Piero Taruffi, produced 60hp @ 8500rpm, and won races immediately at the Tripoli GP, and took the flying mile World Speed Record for 500cc at 152mph.  The atypical design solutions for laying out engine, frame, cooling, and suspension make for a futuristic vision of Motorcycling, even though this particular dream died out with WW2.

5. 1952 NSU Rennmax 250cc dohc twin.
While NSU experimented with two and four-cylinder racers pre- and post-war, with variable success, it all came together in 1953 with the Rennmax, which came to completely dominate 250cc GP racing in the next few years.  Designed by Ewald Praxl and Walter Froede, the engine developed 36.8hp at 11.2k rpm, good for 131mph, and weighed only 117kg (270lbs).  Its performance was astounding in the day, with utter reliability.  The design of the shaft-and-bevel dohc twin-cylinder engine in its modified roadster pressed-steel frame is impeccable, while the hand-hammered aluminum bodywork is breathtakingly beautiful, the absolute pinnacle of the era.


brian b said...

After 4 years and 400+ post some of these come as a supprise. Will you be posting 6-10?

mp said...

Exellent choice, nice one. Is that AJS the same one as in this picture? It has the supercharger on it in my pic.

Anonymous said...


Wot – no Velo!


vintagent said...

Hi John,
by way of explanation... this is a list of my ideals, the most beautiful bikes ever.
Velos are like a wife to me, and nobody but a liar (or Brad Pitt) would say his wife is the most beautiful woman ever, unless being sentimental.
On the other hand, if I were making a list of Favorite 5 Riders.... which I should do!

occhiolungo said...

I know how you feel Paul. I had a lot of trouble choosing mine. We could easily make a list of 100! Eventually I gave them a list of bikes I'd like to ride, instead of bikes that are beautiful. But their beauty is there too. ;)

I hope Paris is going well.

Au revoir,

PS, will you be back here in time for the Rigid Ride, Aug 8th?

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Just a quick word as I always enjoy your blog!!!

In your list of 5 prefered bikes this week, number 3, AJS, Baldwin at the Arpajon Speed Record Day in France, very near the location of the Montlhéry bowl.

As I know you're keen on details, the gentleman standing behing is Mr Lucien Psalty, the french importer for AJS and Chater Lea amonst other things, agency in Paris, and always dressed very smartly with golf baggy pants!!!

And thanks to put the unbelievable french Peugeot first, this is also a favorite of mine...

Patrick in GB,

Anonymous said...


Very enjoyable, your blogs about fascinating stories.

I’m in line with you on the all time favourites, couldn’t think of many more such stunning rarities.
Well selected / sorted.
Maybe, the NSU would have been replaced by a prewar DKW SS250 / 350.

I’ve heard a French chap is trying to re-create the 1914 Peugeot double knocker. Have not been able
to dig more into this.

Plans are advanced that I will enter the next Klausenrennen Memorial, Sept 2011.
A venue that should be marked “DEFINITE MUST” in your agenda for 2011.

Any chance, that you’re over in 2010 ? my MG is still running ok !

All the best and enjoy the summer !


vintagent said...

@Roland; I look forward to seeing your Koehler-Escoffier ohc v-twin at the Klausenrennen next year - that one machine is reason enough to attend the event!

If you wish to see more about the dohc Peugeot, look at my Retromobile post from last winter. The replica was there, still under construction, and there are photos on my site.

You can also search 'Peugeot' on my search bar and come up with more.


Katelynn Woodbury said...

My favorite on your list would be the Moto Guzzi. Its style and engineering is very unique when it was introduced and I know that it has influenced a lot of motorcycles that we see today. Hence, I can say that it is a significant piece in motorcycle history and in engineering as well.