By Basem Wasef
Weighing in at nearly 21 pounds, Ultimate Collector Motorcycles is a two-volume tome in the truest sense of the word. This compendium spans the entire history of motorbikes, from the 1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller—the world’s first series production model—to the futuristic 2020 Aston Martin AMB 001, and comprises 100 of the most coveted machines in total. Covering more than a century in scope (126 years to be exact), the pages are peppered with many singular icons. Among the rarified examples are the 1922 Brough Superior SS80 formerly owned by George Brough himself, John Edgar’s Vincent Black Lightning “Bathing Suit Bike”, Mike Hailwood’s Isle of Man–winning Ducati 900 TT F1, and Falcon Motorcycle’s achingly beautiful Black Falcon, to name a few.
It’s the oddballs that educate and inspire, like the Curtis V8 Land Speed, an American creation that packs eight cylinders within a lengthy wheelbase to yield a top speed of 136 mph—a mind-boggling performance spec in 1907. Because of the sprawling 22-inch x 14.2-inch visual real estate the book format presents, the subjects come across with big-screen impact when the pages are folded open. Dramatic studio photography is complemented by evocative historical shots to encapsulate the aesthetic beauty and cultural impact of these special machines, while words from vintage-motorcycle gurus George Barber, Paul d’Orleans, Jay Leno, Gordon McCall, Sammy Miller, and Ben Walker bring a narrative to the people, places, and events that brought these bikes to notoriety.
In the introduction, editors Charlotte and Peter Fiell explain that the process of whittling down their selection of worthy entries wasn’t easy, saying that some “were important landmark designs, [but] were produced in such high numbers that they are just too common on the ground to be that collectible.” They add that “the bikes we mostly sought out are the ones that are valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some rare instances, in the million-plus-dollar or even multimillion-dollar brackets. But monetary worth was not the only deciding factor, because value, when it comes to collecting, is also predicated on the interrelated historical significance of things, too.”
Whether historically significant or simply stirring to the soul, the bikes featured in Ultimate Collector Motorcycles take on a larger-than-life presence within its pages, extending their aura of mystery and desirability through their radical designs and the originality of their mechanical forms. To pore over this Taschen publication, with its imposing proportions and heavy paper stock, is to fully engage in a form of digital detox. Totaling 940 pages, combining lavish photographic spreads with shots of patinated details that will otherwise escape the view of most enthusiasts, Ultimate Collector Motorcycles is the rare treat in publishing that elevates the age-old act of curling up with a good book.
“Oh, for the love of motorcycles,” state the editors in their introduction, while Jay Leno writes that “A lot of people in this book never got the recognition they deserved.” Maybe that’s what makes efforts like this such a pleasure to soak up; between the iconic and the obscure is a gourmand’s appreciation for the mechanical,
an encompassing documentation that celebrates exceptional machines with raw enthusiasm.