If you want to look back at where motorcycling has come from, then these motorcycle encyclopedias and reference books are a great start.
The books listed below cover the broad topic of motorcycling but also focus on a few of the key manufacturers, like Harley Davidson and Triumph. There probably isn’t such a thing as the best motorcycle book but some of these come pretty close.
I have to say, the first book on this list, DK’s Motorbike Book is a brilliant effort. It features pages and pages of interesting bikes, all with little spec panels. It runs in chronological order with the oldest bike featured, being from 1885 (and no surprise, it’s mostly made from wood!) running right up to bikes from the modern era. The book also features chapters that focus on key manufacturers, people and technologies. All in all, it’s one of those books that anyone can pick up and learn something from and that’s why – even though this list is in no particular order – it’s one of the best motorcycle books I’ve read.
If you’re looking for a great addition to your lounge table or motorcycle book collection, these motorcycle encyclopedias won’t disappoint.
The Motorbike Book
DK / 2012
Whether you are an armchair enthusiast or a budding racer, The Motorbike Book is the ultimate illustrated guide to the history of the motorcycle. It is a comprehensive visual guide, jam packed with over 1,000 machines from classic scooters through to the very latest Superbikes, and features some of the worlds biggest manufacturers including Ducati, Suzuki, Honda and BMW. First class images of racers, scramblers and motocross bikes are combed with cross-section illustrations of their engines and technical specifications. With so much to see, The Motorbike Book is an awesome coffee table book that is as interesting and inspiring to look at as the real bikes themselves. A must-read for anyone who loves the awesome power of motorbikes.
Top Gear presenter and self-confessed motorbike fanatic Richard Hammond, attempts to explains why so many people find motorbikes so hard to resist. Written in his usual upbeat and entertaining way, he tracks the history of the motorbike from its earliest origins through to todays high octane, hit powered Superbikes. He also looks at how the motorbike became a symbol of rebellion and studies every type of biker, from those looking for a simple form of transport to Hell Angel’s who embrace the lifestyle and rich kids who buy them just for fun. Witty, well written and jolly good read, A Short History Of The Motorcycle is a great read for both bikers and non-bikers alike.
100 Years of the Isle of Man TT: A Century of Motorcycle Racing
David Wright / 2006
Taking place on the everyday roads of the island itself, the Isle of Man TT has gripped the racing world for over 100 years. From the earliest days of single-speed, belt-driven machines delivering just 5 bhp, right through to the modern machines that offer a fearsome 200mph, fans have lined the roads to cheer on all of it’s fearless competitors. This book looks at the colourful history of the Isle of Man TT and the achievements of some of its greatest riders including the Collier brothers, Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Steve Hislop, Joey Dunlop, John McGuinness and many others. It also investigates the business behind the TT, the prizes on offer and some of the biggest triumphs and tragedies to have taken place in the last 100 years.
Harley Davidson is the most iconic motorcycle brand every known, and this beautifully illustrated book celebrates the history of the bikes that are so highly revered the world over. All of the very best Harley’s are in here including the Knucklehead, the Panhead, the Peashooter, the KR, the Sportster, the XR750, the Shovelhead, the Evolution, the Twin Cam, the V-Rod, and even some you may not be so familiar with too. With stunning images that capture the beauty of these bikes from their earliest incantations through to the modern day, the book is also interspersed with chapters from some of the most celebrated motorcycle writers of all time including Peter Egan, Kevin Cameron, Ed Youngblood, Allan Girdler, Steve Anderson, and many more. Harley-Davidson: The Complete History is the ultimate historical guide to the ultimate motorcycle company.
Offering a truly unique look at the history of one of the worlds biggest racing championships, MotoGP Yesterday and Today is a captivating visual study of the machines and the men that have made the MotoGP what is it today. Including vintage era photographs and related images from the modern day race events, this book is a comprehensive visual guide to the race and its riders. Covering topics that include legendary champions, famous tracks, great races and life away from the track, this book details just how much the race has changed, despite the fundamentals motorcycle racing manages to remain the same. Written by leading MotoGP journalist, Michael Scott, this is an awesome read for anyone interested in the worlds finest racing championship.
This expertly written and informative book covers 100 years of wartime motorcycles, from the first machines of World War I to the diesel-powered quad bikes of today. With over 230 commissioned and incredibly rare archive photographs, as well as detailed explanations of the anatomy of every machine, it is a complete reference guide to a century of military motorcycles. It also offers an interesting look at the importance of motorcycles during military conflict and provides a country-by-country guide to the machines used in France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Great Britain, the USA, the USSR and Japan. Illustrated History of Military Motorcycles is the perfect read for anyone interested in learning about the importance of motorcycles in times of conflict.
The Encyclopaedia of the Motorcycle is an extensive reference book that features stunning images of classic motorcycles at their finest. Perfect for anyone with an interest in classic models, mid century machines and even modern day sports bikes, this book provides a comprehensive manufacturer listing that profiles every make in the industry. It also gives the reader access to unique blueprints for special limited edition models, and in-depth detail of the production histories of some of the most iconic motorbikes in the world. Hugo Wilson’s Encyclopaedia of the Motorcycle is a must-have book for anyone who really loves looking at and learning about motorbikes.
Indian Motorcycle: America’s First Motorcycle Company
Darwin Holstrom / 2016
Indian Motorcycle: America’s First Motorcycle Company by Darwin Holstrom tells the complete story of Indian, the first manufacturer of mass-produced motorcycles in America. From its humble roots as a bicycle manufacturer through to its buy out by Polaris Industries in 2011, the book details the ups and downs of this world class motorcycle maker. Celebrating its meteoric rise as a brand with a reputation for quality, performance and reliability through to nose-diving sales and eventual bankruptcy, the book takes the reader on a fascinating journey using words and pictures. Against all the odds, the Indian brand survived thanks to the dedication of its fanatically devoted enthusiast, and despite now being a part of Polaris, it continues to sit at its rightful place in the motorcycle pantheon.
Illustrating the history of the iconic motorbike manufacturers Harley Davidson and Indian, this book chronicles their successes and failures, as well as their fierce rivalry. With plenty of stunning vintage images of the most famous bikes in history, including the Knucklehead and the Four, this book will be enjoyed by anyone with a passion for the great American mean machines. Girdler also looks in-depth at the less successful models such as the Hummer and Model CZ, as well as the high mortality rates and danger fuelled races from the Class C Racing days. Beautifully presented and told with a flourish, the author outlines the enduring success of the Harley set against the tragic demise of the original Indian bike, all told with the kind of passion only a real enthusiast can offer.
The definitive story of the Triumph brand is told here, as author Zef Enault celebrates 130 years of the company’s magnificent motorcycles. Created with support from Triumph and with a foreword from CEO Nick Bloor, The Art of the Motorcycle is a celebration of Triumph’s most beautiful bikes, and an essential companion for any lover of the Triumph brand. Offering never before seen images and early design sketches of some of the most iconic bikes in the world, the book also features detailed technical specs, first hand reports from fellow riders and rare insights from the Triumph archives, The Art Of The Motorcycle is a a beautiful book that pays homage to one of the most famous motorbike manufacturers in the world.