Classic Motorcycles Book Review [32 Bikes Road Tested]

Over the years, author Lester Morris has ridden some of the world’s rarest, most expensive, and highly exotic motorcycles and written comprehensive road tests on them. His latest book, Classic Motorcycles 32 Great Bikes and their Road Test Reports, compiles updated road tests of some of the most interesting bikes.

When I got in touch with Morris about the book and found it included his road test impressions of the 1970 Triumph Bandit prototype, that was it, I wanted to get a copy. Of course, I knew I’d be interested in the other 31 classic reviews, but the saga of the DOHC 350cc twin that was to have been marketed as the Triumph Bandit and BSA Fury is a story I’ve been interested in for some time.

Classic Motorcycle Book Review: Triumph Bandit 350
Morris did a retrospective ride review of the 1970 DOHC 350cc Triumph Bandit in 1984, and that fascinating story is included in his latest book.

Indeed, I wrote about it here six years ago in “The Sad Case of the Triumph Bandit/BSA Fury 350: What Might Have Been.” When I wrote that article, I knew of only two period reviews of the pre-production prototype—one by Bob Braverman in Cycle Guide and the other by Bob Greene in England’s Motorcycle Sport Quarterly. Then, in 2019, a comment from none other than Mr. Morris himself appeared below my article, informing me that he also wrote a retrospective review of a Triumph Bandit 350 that was published in 1984. Here’s what Morris had to say in that comment:

I carried out a carefully detailed road test report on a prototype 350cc DOHC Triumph Bandit for the Australian motorcycle magazine ‘Two Wheels’, the report published in 1984. I found the small machine to a be a mini-rocket ship (for a 350, it must be remembered), with great handling and powerful brakes – yes, including the rear anchor – but also suggested the gear change lever’s travel was far too great, but the riding position was perfect for my diminutive size of just on 1.6M (5′ 3″). The rockerbox covers fouled the top frame rails, and the gearbox filler could not be used unless the carburettors were removed, but both these problems, in particular the ‘long travel’ gear change, were minor quibbles and would assuredly have been attended to before production began. It was a monumental tragedy for Triumph that its senior management were too dumb not to have the little bike’s enormous potential. It would have blown its Japanese competition sideways. How sad it all was, how very sad! 

So, it turns out that Morris—a noted moto-journalist who actually got to ride a Triumph Bandit—came away with the same feeling that I had about the positive impact the bike might have had on the long-term fortunes of the foundering BSA-Triumph company.

In his review of the Bandit, Morris goes into great technical detail on the design and workings of the machine, its performance on the road, and how it did in some play racing against a Honda CB440 Hawk and Yamaha RD350 two-stroke. In those instances, the Honda followed, but the Yamaha ultimately smoked the Bandit.

Another uncommon motorcycle Morris reports on is the 1975 Munch 1300 TTSIE Mammoth. In those days, each Munch was essentially a one-off, even though they were commercially produced. As a result, the Mammoth was manufactured in very small numbers. To say they were special machines is an understatement, as in the story told by Wisconsin Munch owner, the late Dave Manthey, in his book, Beyond My Wildest Dreams.

If the Mammoth was rare in Germany, where it was built, imagine how rare one had to be in Melbourne, Australia. Nonetheless, Morris managed to find one there—imported by Max Redlich, Munch’s Australian distributor–and secured a ride!

Morris explains that Friedel Munch fitted an NSU 1000cc four-cylinder air-cooled engine into a Norton Featherbed chassis in 1966. The 68 brake horsepower Prinz engine proved too much for the Norton frame and rolling stock. After that experience, Munch switched to his own bespoke frame design.

By the 1975 model year, the engine’s standard displacement had grown to 1200cc, but the bike Morris rode for his report had been over-bored to displace 1289cc. Carburetors were replaced by a four-inlet Kugelfischer fuel injection system.

Morris characterized the performance of the Munch this way:

I venture to say that no motorcycle burning up the world’s road surfaces in 1974 could have lived with this utterly amazing motorcycle in terms of acceleration or sheer speed. The bike will top 100 mph in second gear if pushed, and will top that speed quite happily in third while accelerating viciously. Top speed is quoted as 147 mph, a speed I do not doubt for a moment; un-streamlined though it is. I never attempted to find out if this was true!

Classic Motorcycles Book Review: Rider's Library
The Munch Mammoth over-bored to nearly 1300cc and fuel injected gave Morris “the greatest buzz I have ever enjoyed on two wheels; and that is really saying something.”

Morris delivers the road tests with self-effacing humor and remarkably detailed technical insight. For example, in the Munch road test, he freely admits to dropping the 670-pound moose more than once:

It happened to me twice. The first time, I had the presence of mind to avoid damage to the Monster by being trapped underneath it, and the second time it happened the bike subsided all on its own when I had to stop for a tram to allow its passengers to clamber on or off the confounded thing. 

Of all the rare or odd bikes Morris reviewed for this book, perhaps none is more so than the Ever Onward—a genuine one-off “bitsa” (bitsa this and bitsa that). Its most unusual aspect is that it has a 500cc Barr and Stroud sleeve-valve engine housed in a 1924 Norton frame.

Classic Motorcycle Book Review: Ariel Square Four
Morris’s book reveals technical details such as this exploded view of the Ariel Square Four engine.

Fans of classic, uncommon motorcycles will love Lester Morris’ book, but any motorcycle enthusiast will find it a fascinating, enlightening, and enjoyable read.

The motorcycles covered in Classic Motorcycles: 32 Great Bikes and their Road Test Reports:

  • 1921 Henderson
  • 1933 Ardie
  • 1933 Zundapp K800
  • 1935 Brough Superior 11-50
  • 1935 Matchless V4 Silver Hawk
  • 1938 Indian with Yeats Sidecar
  • 1938 Scott 500cc Squirrel
  • 1939 DKW SB500T Twin
  • 1939 Levis 500
  • 1939 Rudge Special
  • 1942 Zundapp Military with Sidecar
  • 1946 Triumph Tiger T100
  • 1950 Vincent Rapide
  • 1952 Vincent Black Shadow
  • 1952 Zundapp K600
  • 1953 BSA A10
  • 1953 Moto Guzzi Falcone
  • 1953 Sunbeam S7
  • 1954 Nimbus Model C
  • 1955 Ariel Square Four
  • 1955 NSU 250
  • 1956 Norton International
  • 1958 Ariel Leader
  • 1960 BMW R69 with sidecar
  • 1961 BMW R50S
  • 1970 Triumph Bandit 350
  • 1970 Velocette Thruxton
  • 1975 Benelli 750 Sei
  • 1975 Bimota SB2 Suzuki
  • 1975 Munch 1300TTSIE Mammoth
  • BSA Gold Star (includes three models—1938, 1951, and 1955—used for comparison to a 1956 model reviewed)
  • Ever Onward

Classic Motorcycles: 32 Great Bikes and their Road Test Reports Fast Facts

  • Title: Classic Motorcycles: 32 Great Bikes and their Road Test Reports
  • Author: Lester Morris
  • Published: 2022 by Delphian Books
  • Format: Softcover; 323 11.5-by-8-inch pages; 234 black/white images, drawings, and illustrations.
  • ISBN: 978-0-6489619-8-7

Classic Motorcycles: 32 Great Bikes and their Road Test Reports Price: $45.01 MSRP

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