When there were far fewer people around, far fewer laws and regulations, when the legal speed limit was 75 mph, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, if you owned a hot machine you could point the grill down an empty road and go!

Interview: Riding Bike in the Fifties

"Riding Bike in the Fifties" is a book that took years to put together.  For most of those years he has been writing about hot rods and custom cars.  We asked Al Drake a couple questions why he wanted to write about motorcycles.

Q: Why did you want to write this book?
Drake: In 1971 I wrote a long poem called "Riding Bike."  It was inspired by the TV show “Then Came Bronson” where Michael Parks is riding around the country on his motorcycle and getting into trouble. I did a reading of it with sound effects. After that, I wanted to put that poem together with four essays I’d written and some photographs and some old advertisements from magazines I’d bought years ago. And then it grew, with other people contributing their experiences.

Q: Who’s the audience?
Drake: I don’t know any more. I was interested in it, and I wrote it for myself. But I think there’s an underground – there are cadres of people who are interested in British motorcycles and the 50’s. I’ve never written anything with the idea of the audience in mind… just talking to myself.

Here's a newspaper clipping of Roy Burke showing off his hill climbing trophy. This picture didn't make it in the book, but we wanted to share it with you. There's a great photo of him in his Engineer Boots in "Riding Bike in the Fifties".
Q: If you had to sum it up, what's the theme of Riding Bike?
Drake: It looks back at a time when there were fewer restrictions, so I guess we should celebrate that. You didn’t have to wear a crash helmet, you didn’t have to have insurance, you didn’t have to have a big wad of cash, and there were plenty of places to ride. So I guess I’m looking back at that.

Q: Anything else you'd like to say?
Drake: It was kind of a wild time. There was less traffic, and that’s what saved a lot of people. I guess, I hope that there will always be people who want to know what it was like, riding bike in the fifties.
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Riding Bike in the Fifties

"Sometimes, on certain mornings in early fall, when there is a light fog and the air holds a hint of moisture, I can recall so clearly the sound of a single’s exhaust. The mist put a layer of moisture on the chrome, and I’d wipe dew off the seat with a rag, tickle the carb and mount the bike. Using the compression release, I’d kick the piston through until it was on compression stroke and kick it without the compression release, maybe once, maybe more, until it fired. The exhaust was crisp, sharp, with a bark as I cracked the throttle." 
This book contains oral histories, essays, a long poem about riding motorcycles in the 1950s. First-hand accounts by guys who had the experiences. A journey into memory, back to a time that has to be called the Golden Age of Motorcycles, British bikes-- BSA, Triumph, AJS, Matchless, Norton, Velocette --had invaded roads and race tracks previously dominated by Harley-Davidson and Indians. If there was a rule it was "run what ya brung," never mind about insurance, licenses, headlights, mufflers, crash helmets. There was never a time when so many were so free on two wheels.

“Riding Bike in the Fifties” is jammed with first-hand accounts of riding and racing motorcycles in the 1950s and vintage black and white photographs and illustrations. Topics range from “What We Wore,” “Where We Rode,” to “The Morning Speed Run,” and “Three-Wheeling.”

131 pages, 10 x 7 x 0.3 inches, perfect-bound (September, 2012)
Stone Press; ISBN: 0-936892-27-7; Signed copy...

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