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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Motorcycle artwork captured the thrill of speed

In his recent post "Selling Speed" on The Vintagent blog, Paul d'Orleans writes that "the first motorcycle race started when the second motorcycle was built."

His article is a rich explanation of the speed-driven history of the motorcycle from its beginnings. It is  accompanied by examples of the wonderful motorcycle art and advertisements of each era.

d'Orleans explains that, by happy coincidence, some early cameras had shutters that exposed the shot from the bottom up. This meant that the bottom of a fast moving vehicle was photographed an instant before the top. By the time the shutter closed, forward motion had given the vehicle a distorted, forward-leaning look. Its round wheels now looked like ovals that seem to lunge forward.

Looking at these still photos, or the artwork they inspired, you just know the machine is going fast.

These images did more than just succeed in capturing speed. According to d'Orleans, the art ultimately began to influence the look of the motorcycles themselves. How else, in my opinion, to account for the popularity of "slopers" — motorcycles with their cylinders tilted forward toward the front wheel.

Rider, passenger, front cylinder and oval front wheel lean forward. Speed!
One of the illustrations he includes is my all-time favorite: R.C. Reyrolles' 1945 painting of a prototype HRD-Vincent Series B. Rapide.

I love the forward leaning picture of speed here (d'Orleans points out that the somewhat dandified rider's red scarf reveals the artist is French).

d'Orleans notes that the rider's "hot girlfriend" is the ultimate motorcycling accessory. Pretty pre-war passengers had been more demure. But nevermind the clinging (frightened?) blonde with the shapely legs. I wonder where I can get a pair of saddle shoes like his.

With apologies to the artist, I long ago modified his work in Photoshop (starting with a much lower resolution original) to emphasize the elements I find most interesting: speed, courage, fear and — OK — the blonde.

With apologies to the artist.

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