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The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

classic motorcycle books guide

Sideburns, tinkering with oily bikes and overalls. That’s what I think when I think of vintage and classic motorcycles. A far cry from the glossy pages of hard-backed books.

But these books play such a great supporting role to the world of oily bikes. If you’ve ever been to a bike jumble or motorcycle auction, you’ll have been captivated by halls of unique bikes and parts on display. No two bikes alike, their stories and lives heading off in different directions the moment their left the production line.

We’ve tried to select classic and vintage motorcycle books for our list below, to reflect the broad and unique range of bikes that fit these genres. From classic, to vintage (don’t mix the two!), British to American and everything in between.

These books chart the history of motorcycling, from the bikes to the people. There are reference books too, showing you how to restore your classic and books on iconic British bikes.

Whether you’re buying a book as a gift or looking for a classic or vintage motorcycle book to add to your collection, these books are perfect for the older motorcycle enthusiast. You can interpret that last sentence however you like!

Behind the Scenes in the Vintage Years

Arthur Bourne / 2017

behind scenes vintage years book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

In the early twentieth Century there were more motor cyclists than car drivers, and brave new riders were breaking records every month at Brooklands race track in Surrey.  Arthur Bourne, who used the pseudonym ‘Torrens’ for readers of the best-selling weekly The Motor Cycle, was in the thick of the game as the then editor of a famous motorcycling journal. This book details his story of what life was like riding hundreds of miles around Britain on reliability trials for bike manufacturers.  He writes about Brooklands, the TT races on the lsle of Man, and how he enabled the airborne forces at Arnhem to be equipped with lightweight motorcycles that could be dropped by parachute or flown in by glider.  This unique first-person account of the history of vintage bikes in the UK is a fascinating read and a unique record of an unrepeatable era in British motorcycling and engineering history.
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Vintage Motorcycles

Jeff Clew / 2009

vintage motorcycles jeff clew - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

Packed with glorious illustrations, this book is a celebration of the golden years of British motorcycles.  Documenting how the British motorcycle industry rose to prominence and became almost unbeatable in competitions, Vintage Motorcycles by Jeff Clew tells how new model bikes pushed prices to a premium.  With greater competition came more innovative design and far better performance than had ever been seen before.  The 1920s brought about further significant changes when wired-on tyres came into general use and electric lighting replaced acetylene lights. Appearance was also improved when chromium plating took the place of nickel. For anyone interested in the evolution of British motorcycles – this book is a must-have pictorial history of some of the greatest British bikes ever made.
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The British Motorcycle Story

Colin Jackson / 2013

british motorcycle story - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

The British Motorcycle Story outlines the evolution of British bike from the mighty Triumph to the venerable Vincent.  Up until the 1960s, British bike manufacturers led the world with their innovative, high powered, beautiful looking motorcycles.  The likes of Scott, Rudge, BSA, Norton and Triumph were highly revered worldwide, and Colin Jackson examines the story of those fantastic machines and the people who made them. Primarily a story about their success, Jackson also touches on some of the reasons for their later decline.  As mass produced machines were made to appeal to a wider audience, the traditional values and manufacturing processes of British bikes fell by the wayside, ending a golden era in British manufacturing, the likes of which will probably never be seen again.
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The Restoration of Vintage and Thoroughbred Motorcycles

Jeff Clew / 1976

restoration vintage classic motorcycles book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

The Restoration of Vintage & Thoroughbred Motorcycles by Jeff Clew covers very stage of restoring vintage motorcycles.  Now over 40 years old, this book is still one of the most highly regarded resources for those who want to invest their time and energy into the restoration of vintage bikes.  The book covers every detail from selecting the best bikes through to the final detailing. All of the techniques, tips and words of advice contained within Clew’s information reference guide will ensure that you are the proud owner of a concours-winning machine with all the correct details if you are willing to put in the work and the time.
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German Motorcycles of WW2

David Doyle / 2016

german motorcycles ww2 - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

This visual history of German motorcycles documents the motorbikes used by German troops during World War II.  Perhaps more so than in any other nation, German bikes were seen and used as an instrument of offensive warfare with the majority of them designed to launch surprise attacks on opponents flanks and rear, as well as in the pursuit of the enemy. Using specially made models or adapted civilian bikes, German Motorcycles of WW2 is a distinctive reference book that combines rare vintage photographs with images of superbly restored original German WW2 bikes, and features the BMW R4; R12; R35; R71; R74 and Zündapp KS750. Only the very finest examples of these motorcycles were sought out for inclusion in this title.
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Vintage Four-Stroke Motorcycles

Intertec Publishing / 1990

four stroke motorcycles book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

Whether you are looking to try your hand at some simple maintenance or have the knowledge and experience to undertake a complete restoration, Vintage Four Stroke Motorcycles by Intertec Publishing is the ultimate reference guide for vintage bike enthusiasts. Containing a wealth of procedural advice and techniques that are used by professional bike restorers and repairers, these manuals contain exploded views, drawings, specifications and charts that illustrate each bike in great detail.  The book also contains helpful information on shortcut repairs and high performance modifications.
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War Bike

Martin Gegg / 2017

war bike book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

War Bike: British Military Motorcycling 1899-1919 is a fascinating account of British Military Motorcycling from the pioneering days of the 1890s until the end of the First World War. Compiled using original War Office documents, contemporary reports and vintage photographs, Martin Gregg takes the reader on a journey through the evolution of the Despatch Rider as a vital cog in the military wheel. It also tells the story of how a pioneer cyclist developed the concept of the Despatch Rider and led the War Office from outdated horse-power to mechanised transport. The book recounts the tales of the volunteers who took their motorcycles to War for the first time. Well written and historically accurate, War Bike is a great read for anyone interested in the history of motorcycling.
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Classic British Motorcycles

Colin Jackson / 2014

classic british motorcycles - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

Long before the modern era of mass-produced motorcycles, Britain dominated the motorcycle industry.  Up until the 1960’s, the likes of Scott, Rudge, BSA, Norton and Vincent were some of the biggest names in the world.These bikes won world championships and set new records and were highly revered by motorcyclists from across the globe. This is the story of those British machines and their development, as much as it is the story of the engineers whose ideas underpinned their development.  Illustrated and written by a world-leading authoritarian figure on powered motorcycling, Classic British Motorcycles tells of a fascinating yesteryear when Britain was a leading pioneer of motorcycling.
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The Vincent in the Barn: Great Stories of Motorcycle Archaeology

Tom Cotter / 2013

vincent in the barn book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle Books

As a man who has made his way in life as a Barn Find Hunter, Tom Cotter has spent many years digging in barns and garages in search of buried automotive treasure.  Writing about what is undoubtedly every motorcyclists dream, Cotter compiles forty stories of fascinating barn finds that will fuel every motorcyclists fantasies. From From Ducatis in basements to Vincents abandoned in sheds, Harleys in barns and Brit bikes mouldering behind urban garages, these are the wonderful real life stories of amazing motorbike finds buried away in unsuspecting places.  The Vincent in the Barn is a great read for anyone who would like to find one too.
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Great British Motorcycles of the Thirties

Bob Currie / 2014

british motorcycles thirties book - The 10 Best Classic Motorcycle BooksRecalling a golden age in British motorcycle manufacturing, Great British Motorcycles of the Thirties takes a trip down memory lane to look at some of the finest bikes ever made in the UK.  With plenty of vintage photography, original images and information about the bikes origins and specifications, this book is a vital resource for anyone with a love of Great British motorcycles.  Touching on their use in the War era, as well as how they became on of the UK’s most popular and accessible modes of transport, this book is a loving look back on simpler times in the world of motorcycling.
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What are your favourite vintage motorcycle books?

Have you read any of the books on this list? Do you have any great vintage motorcycle to throw in to the mix? Send us your thoughts.