It has to be said that Norway isn't one of those countries that crops up in conversation too regularly, except maybe in Norway. Its a small and discret country that keeps itself to itself, bimbling along minding its own business. So what about in Motorcycling terms? Norway boasts little if any motorcycle manufacture, past or present, surprising when compared with it's Scandinavian neighbours. Norway instead chose to import American machines, in fact just about anything available on the market back then; H.D, Indian, Henderson, Excelsior, Thor etc...
I discovered the richness of Norway's motorcycling past on the pages of Sverre Knutsen Gerbers blog. Through superb documentation blended with rare and wonderful photographs I found to my surprise how Norwegians indeed embraced the motorcycle, despite adverse weather conditions, by often ingenious modifications that even allowed the machine to be ridden on snow.Being a follower of Sverre's blog for a while and believing I knew his taste in motorcycles, I was finally tempted to ask him to name his top five favourites. His reply surprised me enormously.
SKG-Recently when checking my mail box I found one from a Frenchman, Mr. Vincent akà Southsiders-mc. Vincent's blog is one that I have been following for a couple of years now, a blog standing out in the ever growing crowd of motorcycle related blogs on the www.
Reading Vincent's words, I found he asked if I would contribute to his blog with a post for his column “Your favourite fives”.
My first thought is gosh!, being well aware of who had previously contributed, to me guys whom I know from their work and words in various themes, professionals or specialists one way or the other, tough all sharing the common interest in motorcycles.
I recon I'm as deeply devoted to motorcycles, motorcycling, motorcycle history, motorcycle restoring and building as well as living the motorcycle lifestyle my way as any could ever get, but still.
Looking back I have been constantly involved with motorbikes for 32 years since dragging home on the school bus a 1939 DKW 350ccm, once abandoned by the German forces after the WWII. I remember finding this resting in a barn next to school. This DKW was the spark to light the fire. Growing up at the Norwegian country side I found old bikes resting everywhere. Those where bikes ranging from the late tens to the mid sixties when car sales in Norway became “free for all” and motorcycles where for those just stupid or to stubborn to drive comfy with a roof above his head.
In my younger years I had vintage bikes like BSAs, Ariels, DKWs, Gnome & Rhone AX12 sidecar outfits, Tempos with either Sachs or Villiers engines (Norways only motorcycle made in any significant number), a BMW R61 outfit, Jawas, Cezepel, Maico and more that have slipped out of my memory since long. Earlier bikes like the big American Harleys, Indians and more odd brands like Thors, Excelsiors and Reading Standards had already become collectors items and hence having a price tag they where out of my reach still a student, the other bikes mentioned where pretty much for free.
In a few years having got myself a driving license (not that being without had prevented me any from driving) I added my first Japanese to the vintage bikes. Starting with a Honda CB 100, growing to a Honda 750 K3 Supersport that soon was to be replaced by a 1979 Honda Goldwing which would periodically be tied to a UK made Squire side car. In the mid eighties my wish to become a biker had grown strong enough to purchase an old Panhead from Los Angeles, yes cubic inches and biker lifestyle here I come. I soon found I was more interested in riding than wrenching an old Harley & drink warm beers. A Harley all beaten up and put together by lose bits and ends before crossing the Atlantic inside a Cadillac Eldorado. The change from Panhead to a smoke grey BMW R90S was radical to say the least.
Just days after getting my Beemer home I did an instant tour the Europe; Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Denmark and back home. I left Norway by ferry Sunday night and was back home Friday morning, 4 days just riding, pure fun.
Needless to say I have ever since kept a BMW boxer as an everyday ride, they never let you down.
Late eighties I converted my old R90S to become a BMW/EML sidecar outfit that have since transformed several times getting more up to date as time have passed. Now, the only remaining R90S parts left are its old style enamelled tank badges which I would never replace with plastic ones fitted to recent years BMWs.
Reaching the nineties I got severely bitten by the classic racing bug buying my first BMW racing sidecar outfit. This was later replaced by a real BMW kneeler racer built in Sweden for the 1971 racing season. This was a real peace of art and true fun operating, super light, fast and sporting excellent racing geometry. Back in the late sixties and early seventies the sport of sidecar racing was at its height and very popular in Sweden too where a lot of money was spent to get ever better bikes and performance. If you are looking for the thrill of speed there is not much like racing a kneeler at 180-200 kmph, handlebar centres 42 cm above the tarmac and a 10 inch wheel literally stuck between your hands.
I still regret selling in 2001 to UK where it is now raced.
Having sold my kneeler the need of speed got me to buy a Buell and later an Aprillia shared with my daughter, now both sold in favour of what have been an increasing interest, some would say obsession, vintage US made motorcycles. I was done restoring my first Harley, a 27 JD in 2000 and since then the snowball have rolled to grow increasingly faster. I currently find several Harleys, two Hendersons, an Indian 101 and a Super X in my garage and I`m still watching out for a couple of more bikes I need to own. In addition to previously mentioned US made cicles I find a couple of Beemers and two BSA`s hiding at various locations too.
Speed is a diverse size of measurement depending on how this is obtained. Now getting my thrill of speed is by going fast on curvy Norwegian country roads on my old Harleys. Fast as their capability allows throwing sparks behind from scraping footboards. If I can top it by passing someone on a modern bike to let them eat my dust and hear the sound of my non TUV nor DOT marked NOS Superior mufflers I don’t mind at all.
Being asked to list five favourite motorcycles is tough, very tough. Close to impossible I have thought several times since being asked and when writing these words.
I could easily say; I want them all. Depending on my mood I could ride any sort of bike, new or old, fast or slow. When it comes to owning my economy tells me there are a lot of bikes that are out of reach. But wishing is like dreaming, the sky is the limit and hence the list to follow.
1-BMW RS 500 Rennsport sidecar racer
The particular bike shown is the bike of World Championship racing team Klaus Enders / Ralf Engelhardt, an outfit that allowed them to win all 6 of the World Championship races in which they entered during the 1973 season. BMW had been playing a major role in sidecar racing for more than 20 years with their RS 500 OHC boxer engine when reaching their peak in 1974 when Klaus Enders and his passenger Ralf Engelhardt won their last of three consecutive World Championships on this bike. The bike had been built by master builder Dieter Busch in cooperation with BMW to get back their victory having lost for Helmut Faths URS in 1971. Dieter managed to tune this RS engine to an output of 67hp which when mounted in a superlight monocoque-chassis made of 1mm airplane steel created a sure winner in the hands of Enders.
When I got to know this bike it was resting in the living room of BMW specialist Heinz Balls in Germany and the view of this sparked my dream of getting my own BMW racing outfit eventually. This bike now resides in Japan as Balls got an offer he could not refuse a couple of years ago.
Having had the pleasure of helping out a French BMW RS 500 sidecar racing team during Coupe Moto Legende at Monthlery years ago I know there is nothing like a RS engine revving up, easily reaching 11-12000 Rpms.
2-Koehler Escoffier KE 1000cc OHC twin
This is an amazing machine that I first saw in real life when visiting Coupe Moto Legende, back in the late nineties. This event was then still held at the famous banked autodrome at Monthlery near Paris. I will never forget my first sight of this beautiful machine with its four straight pipes heading out from a pair of OHC cylinder heads. The sound was terrific, what an impression this bike must have made in it`s hey days.
Koehler&Escoffier had made motorcycles since 1912 when Roger Guignet in 1927 designed the 996 V-twin OHC, a model that was discontinued as late as in 1935. When first introduced this remarkable machine had an engine with 35Hp that increased to incredible 78 in 1935.
I have during the last couple of years read at several occasions the OHC Koehler & Escoffier was based on the remaining Cyclone parts and drawings from the Joerns Manufacturing Company in St. Paul Minnesota which was after their closing in 1916 purchased by Reading Standard who according to rumours shipped the remaining parts to Europe shortly after their production ended in 1922. This might be a rumor tough what is known for sure is that a Cyclone engined racer was operated in the Netherlands and Belgium, maybe even in France during the late teens and early twenties, who knows if this might have been an inspiration for Mr. Guignet? Please someone invent a time machine!
3-Sam Opie special Harley JDH cutdown
Cutdowns, the true predecessors of what we today know as the bobbers.
Based on an IOE engined Harley from the twenties preferably with a two cam engine, the famous JDH those where Harleys modified by their owners to gain speed both on the track and when speeding in traffic. Those bikes where named cutdowns as a common trick to improve handling at speed involved lowering the engine, seat position and even the steering head by cutting and reassembling the frame. The JDH motor was first introduced as a true racing motor delivered from Milwaukee to those who could afford to be in the lead at the race track until finally offered to the general public in 1928. When the J era Harleys where discontinued to be replaced by the side valve Flatheads many found these where slow compared to a JDH. A JDH cutdown would easily do 85 Mph and if well tinkered it could reach 100mph, a speed that only an Henderson KL or an ACE would offer at that time. As not to ruin the flatheads reputation, the JDH was soon banned from racing in the US. This forced some like the original “wild one” Boozefighters John Cameroon to enter his JDH cutdowns under false names when attending a race that he at several occasions would easily win.
When at Davenport in 2009 I was offered to buy AMCA member Bill Nugents beautiful original JDH cutdown, pricetag 100k USD, needless to say I had to let this kind offer down.
As with todays bobber trends increasing in popularity the same happens with cutdowns. You might now fulfil your dream building a repop, even a new JDH engine is available. Fred Lange in California offers beautifully crafted engines at prices which are cheap compared to those asked for more common custom engines supplied from S&S, Merch or others alike.
When talking of cutdowns names like Sam Opie, Finnegan Spear and the previously mentioned John Cameron is what most initiated in the secret will get in their mind.
4-Roadbuggers 1939 Knuckle head bobber
I love the thirties Knucklehead models, who don’t?
When modified to become a periodic bobber, as those driven by tough guys competing in various speed thrills back in the days, they are even more appealing to me. Motorcyclists all trough the US where astonished when Harley in 1936 launched their secret weapon, the Knucklehead. As described by Harley historian Herb. Wagner in the book “Harley Davidson 1930-41, revolutionary motorcycles and those who rode them” every guy or gal in need of speed had to have a knuckle.
As often happens, even more speed needs to be obtained, by tuning the engine and or by getting rid of parts adding weight one could easily live without. This is the time, in the later part of the thirties when the cutdowns transform to become bobbers. Rear mudguard is torn off by the hinge, muffler is thrown behind the barn, rear seats are replaced with racing rear pads which your ass can rest on when you`r flat out to minimize air restistance, those wide bars are replaced by Flanders buckhorn bars or Helling & Stellings and your engine is prepared with high performance parts from an ever growing number of aftermarket part suppliers. Those are parts allowing a youngster to change the rather heavy workhorse leaving Milwaukee to become a snappy and road handling bike built for speed.
Pretty much all of this except the amount of vendors supplying aftermarket parts are as with the cutdowns, but it is now become bobbers.
This particular bike represents very well the Knucklehead I would like to own, built by Roadbuggers Classic Motorcycle specialised in restoring original bobbers, cutdowns and old race bikes of US origin.
As stated before, I love driving a sidecar outfit. A well prepared outfit will easily outdo most two wheelers when you enter some seriously curved roads, this in its turn will commonly be a shocking experience for the two wheel rider with high thoughts on his own riding skills (big grin). The Swiss company Grüter + Gut Motorradtechnik GmbH built approx. 30 GG-Duettos between 1994 and 1999. These beautiful outfits where based on BMW`s K model 1095cc inline four. The GG-Duetto offered a complete chassis with hub steering, a beautifully cast aluminium front swing arm, fully ABS, a 8 pot brake caliper braking a fully ventilated disk at front, rear and side with two pots on standard disks. When introduced the GG-Duetto hit the market like a bomb. This bike offered both extreme road capabilities and a beautifully carved chassis, unlike most outfits. Of some odd reason most high class sidecar outfits like the GG-Duetto and Krauser Domanis seem to end up in Japan, thus this is where you most likely need to look for a second handed one.
If there where to be a number six this would be the Team incomplete BMW R90S, but unfortunately there is no such option.
You might find the above list rather Skizofrenetic but you where warned in advance.
Sverre K. Gerber