Worth Reading: Harley-Davidson Memories, The Golden Age of Motorcycling

By Bob Tyson

So maybe it wasn’t the classic barn find that most motorcycle collectors imagine, but when Bob Tyson’s Aunt Doris decided to discard a box of old photo negatives from her attic, it was the next best thing. It turns out the negatives depicted Bob’s extended family and friends riding motorcycles in the early part of the 20th Century and the incident inspired his book: Harley-Davidson Memories, The Golden Age of Motorcycling.

Part personal memoir, the book is also a grassroots glimpse at intrepid riders of the early days: people who loved riding motorcycles, embraced the lifestyle it offered, and took the good with the not-so-good—people like us. That approachability makes for pleasant reading. The solid backdrop of the author’s well-researched motor-history adds authenticity, as you might expect from a man who’s been a member of the AMCA for several decades.

The images themselves are worth it: early hillclimbs and dirt races with nary a safety barrier in sight, women riders way before their time, and regular folks “touring” on clunky dirt roads which were typical back then. Better yet, the book is generously peppered with period advertisements bearing such slogans as Breeze Away to Joyland, Ride and Save, and Split the Air Like a Rocket, reminding the reader that what mattered then, still matters now.

Meeting Bob and learning about his book led to a visit to his garage and a peak at part of his eclectic collection of antique bikes. There’s a ‘46 Indian Chief that has been converted to right hand throttle and a 1936 Indian Four with the infamous one-year-only up-side-down engine. According to Bob’s research, estimates indicate they made only 300-600 of them. “A 90 + mph motorcycle was totally crazy for the time,” he said.

Bob has a 4-cylinder Danish motorcycle, a Zschopau sidecar outfit, and a 1941 WLA that he paid about $300 for in the ‘80s. He also has a sweet collection of singles and small bikes including the Honda Dream with that square headlight, the bike that many American riders started out on.

Bob’s garage isn’t a museum, either; it’s a collection of bikes in various states of repair that are tended to and—more importantly—ridden. And as those people in the old photographs printed in Bob’s book show, that’s what motorcycles are for. —M. Stemp

Harley-Davidson Memories, The Golden Age of Motorcycling
by Bob Tyson
Turner Publishing Co.