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#321 Halls of Academe

Yes, there actually is something called the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. And yes, it actually does serve a purpose.

My school report cards had a consistent theme. “Could try harder,” they said. “If Robert spent as much time studying as he did dreaming or looking out the window…”
T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) had an interesting observation about dreams, by the way: “All men dream, but not equally,” he wrote. “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
Perhaps it’s just as well I didn’t act on some of my testosterone-fuelled high-school reveries. But at least the rest of my daydreaming was about motorcycles. Unlike my otherwise dismal scholastic performance, if I could have studied motorcycles, I’d have aced it. Sadly, motorcycles weren’t on the curriculum.
But they may be in the future.
In the late 1990s, New York’s Guggenheim Museum hosted a three-month exhibition titled The Art of the Motorcycle. Though condemned by many purist critics (“How could mass-produced items be art?” they said.), the display attracted the largest crowds ever to the museum, and certainly introduced many to the idea that motorcycle design reflected or influenced the art of its era, and that motorcycles and their social context should be taken seriously.
The show was so successful that it went on tour, exhibiting in the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao and Las Vegas—which is where I saw Art of the Motorcycle in 2001.
Whether or not it was the “Art” that caused a number of intellectuals to start taking motorcycles and motorcycle culture more seriously, there was definitely an uptick in interest. Perhaps Robert Pursig’s 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance created the context for making motorcycle culture worthy of serious study; or Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 “Strange and Terrible Saga” about the Hells Angels; or perhaps Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s 1998 philosophical meditation The Perfect Vehicle. Whatever the stimulus, the outcome was the creation of a new academic journal, a venue for serious discussion on the role of motorcycles in modern society.
Founded in 2005, the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies (IJMS) is dedicated to the study and discussion of motorcycling culture in all its forms—from the experience of riding and racing to the history of the machine, the riders and design to the images of motorcycling and motorcyclists in film, advertising and literature. Access to the IJMS is easy and free at
Topics vary considerably:
Documentary: The Isle of Man TT races: Politics, Economics and National Identity
Philosophy: Finding the Zen in Motorcycling
Technical: The Semantics of Motorcycle Design
Historical: The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry
Political: Dykes on Bikes and the Tenancy of Masculinity
And much more. Author of The Strange Death of course, is Victoria’s own Steve Koerner, one of a number of Canadian contributors, including Ted Bishop, Michelle Duff and Katherine Sutherland.
If you’ve made it this far and are thinking this sounds like a bunch of underemployed intellectuals pontificating and navel-gazing about an activity that for most of us rarely gets beyond visceral and emotional, you may have a point. But if, like me, you’re interested as much in the “why” of motorcycling as the “how,” you could easily spend a couple of weeks poring over the more than 120 articles in the on-line back issues.
A good example is the fascinating story of the AJS 10R racebike, pieced together by James J. Ward. Associated Motorcycles had been the owner of both Matchless and AJS brands since 1931. And while their road bikes were “badge engineered” (selling almost identical models under both brands), the company’s racers, like the 350cc single-cylinder SOHC 7R “boy racer,” only wore the AJS logo. Until 1951, that is.
Launched that year was the Matchless G45 “production racer,” with a tuned version of the twin-cylinder OHV 500cc street-bike G9 engine mounted in the 7R frame. Its best year was 1952 when Derek Farrant riding a G45 won the Senior Manx Grand Prix, leading from start to finish and setting new lap and race records.
By 1955, the G45 had been outclassed by AMC’s own new production racer, the Matchless G50, which was essentially a 7R bored out to 500cc. But the G45 remained competitive in racing outside the UK. Combining information from several sources, Ward determined that it’s likely a small number (perhaps in single figures) of G45s were produced in AJS livery, and designated 10R (a logical extension from the 350cc “7R”).
Ward cites British motojournalist Alan Cathcart as having tracked the genesis of the 10R to an AJS distributor in Caracas, Venezuela. AJS and Matchless were distributed separately in Venezuela, and a racetrack rivalry ensued. It’s believed the AJS distributor wanted a G45 race bike, but insisted it be badged AJS. The factory apparently obliged. A legend was born.
So if you’re keen to dig into the minutiae of motorcycle history and culture, try the IJMS. It’ll be time well wasted!

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