A look at Kevin Cameron’s new book, Classic Motorcycle Race Engines.
Readers unfamiliar with author Kevin Cameron’s intimate understanding of the how and why of motorcycle engineering need to appreciate that Cameron is today the most authoritative and exhaustive writer on matters of motorcycle engineering, past and present.
The longtime technical editor of Cycle World and before that Cycle magazine, where he penned his first work in 1973, Cameron is himself a former motorcycle race engine builder, with particular experience in 2-stroke racing engines beginning in the mid-1960s. Through his writing and continuing research, Cameron has proven himself a deeply passionate student of motorcycle engineering. That’s a fact of no small importance, because it’s Cameron’s passion for the subject as much as his technical mastery that carries the day in his latest book, Classic Motorcycle Race Engines.
If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of classic race engines, you might be disappointed to learn this book is not a comprehensive tally of motorcycle race engines through the ages. Instead, it’s a thorough examination of 53 engines that have made motorcycle racing great.
In some ways it’s hard not to compare Cameron’s new book to British motorcycle journalist Vic Willoughby’s Classic Motorcycle Engines, published almost 30 years ago. Yet where Willoughby fixed the conversation on the single greatest or most important engine from particular manufacturers (with one exception, Honda), Cameron looks at the evolution of racing engines as produced by some of the most important builders in the category. This approach works to the reader’s benefit, as Cameron documents how and why Honda, for instance, evolved its racing engine program from the air-cooled 4-cylinder 250cc RC160 in 1959 to the immensely complex and ultimately unsuccessful oval-pistoned semi-V8 NR500 of 1978-1982 before turning out the sublime RC211V V5 in 2002-2006.
Similar treatment is applied to Ducati, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi and Yamaha, to name a few, while iconic brands such as Gilera warrant only a single entry. But not because Cameron thinks them unworthy. Gilera certainly made many important contributions to motorcycling, but most important was the double overhead cam, air-cooled 500cc Gilera four. Principally designed by Piero Remor, Cameron calls it “the father of all fours” as it inspired the architecture of engines for the next 40 years.
Cameron’s technical mastery means the reader can rely completely on his information, knowing it’s been thoroughly researched and vetted for fact and fiction. On the other hand, Cameron’s exhaustive understanding also means that readers short on technical knowledge can expect to read and re-read Cameron’s examinations as he relays the complex nature of his subjects.
This is not a book for people quickly bored by discussions of the deepest technical nature. But readers looking for a thorough understanding of the issues, technical and otherwise, that have motivated the development of racing motorcycle engines will find Classic Motorcycle Race Engines a thoroughly absorbing book, one they will reference regularly and an absolute must for their library. Haynes Publishing: Hardbound, 416 pages, $48.95. MC