Ten years ago, I got the green light for my idea of curating a Rider’s Library. The goal was to give some space to motorcycle literature, both new and old, knowing that motorcycle riders are often readers with a great interest in the incredible range of motorcycle literature topics. That makes Ultimate Motorcycling the only motorcycle publication that gives motorcycle literature consistent coverage.
Over the past decade, Rider’s Library has offered up more than 190 book reviews. To celebrate a decade of sharing the literary best of the motorcycle world, it’s time for a Top 10, sorted by categories.
Top 10 Motorcycle Reads from 10 Years of Rider’s Library is based on my criteria. It’s quite arbitrary, though I have at least some sensible reasons for the selections. If there is a book you have read that you believe is much better than any on the list, mention it in the comments—maybe we missed it.
Top Biography: World’s Fastest Indian — Burt Munro, a Scrapbook of his Life by Roger Donaldson. It may be that no person in amateur motorcycle racing has reached the global status that Burt Munro has. The reason for that is not just because Munro took an ancient Indian motorcycle to Bonneville and set a world land speed record that has stood for more than 50 years. It’s also because renowned writer/director/producer Roger Donaldson brought Munro’s story to the screen as a TV movie in 1975 (Burt Munro: Offerings to the God of Speed), an award-winning feature film in 2005 (The World’s Fastest Indian) and this large-format book in 2015. Munro was talented, quirky, funny, and fearless; that spirit comes through in all of Donaldson’s works.
Top Technical Book: The Red Baron’s Ultimate Ducati Desmo Manual — Belt-driven Camshafts L-twins 1979 to 2017 by Eduardo Cabrera Choclan. The goal of this manual is to help the DIY mechanic correctly carry out mechanical work on the Ducati models covered without the benefit of the training and equipment of a factory mechanic. With more than 1,200 images and reference tables, the manual takes the amateur mechanic/owner a long way down the road. When used with a factory service manual, even more complex desmodromic-related procedures can be handled.
Top Anthology: Leanings, Leanings 2, Leanings 3, and The Best of Peter Egan by Peter Egan. Peter Egan is perhaps the world’s most widely read and best-known motor journalist. With his self-effacing wit, sense of humor, genuine technical skill, and conversational writing style, he became a favorite of motorcyclists of all stripes worldwide. In his Leanings columns, Egan could make us laugh out loud, shake our heads in amazement, or be moved by his poignant observations. You may have noticed he topped this category when I looked back on the books I read in 2016—proof positive that great writing endures.
Top Motorcycle Memoir: Ride Free — A Memoir by Willie G. Davidson. Perhaps no book explores the history of Harley-Davidson from as personal a perspective as Willie G. Davidson’s new book, released the year the Motor Company celebrated 120 years in business, Willie G. turned 90, and on the 60th anniversary of his assuming leadership of Harley-Davidson’s design team. Davidson sheds light on many key turning points in both company history and his own personal journey down the fast lane in the motorcycle business.
Top Adventure Touring Book(s): Ubuntu — One Woman’s Motorcycle Odyssey Across Africa and Timeless on the Silk Road, an Odyssey from London to Hanoi by Heather Ellis. These two books are parts of the same epic journey by Australian author Heather Ellis. There is so much to this incredible story, it would make a superb feature-length film. Every extreme touring story is fraught with uncertainty and dangers. Ellis’ story adds the element of a diagnosis of a potentially life-threatening malady in the middle of it all.
Top Single-brand History (Tie):
BMW Motorcycles — 100 Years by Alan Dowds. There was a time when BMW almost abandoned the motorcycle industry altogether. It didn’t, and the rest is history; BMW Motorrad has forged a solid position as one of the top motorcycle manufacturers in the world. Alan Dowds fleshes out where it all started, the impact of World War II, BMW’s post-WWII recovery, and the subsequent years of steady product development and company growth.
The Complete Book of Moto Guzzi — Every Model Since 1921 — 100th Anniversary Edition by Ian Falloon. Moto Guzzi reached 100 years of continuous production in 2021, making it the most senior European motorcycle manufacturer. One of motorcycling’s foremost historians and author, Ian Falloon marked the Italian brand’s centennial with an update Anniversary Edition of his 2017 edition of the book.
Top Motorcycle Encyclopedia: The New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles, by Edwin Tragatsch, Second Edition, edited and updated by Kevin Ash. Among books in the category of a “complete encyclopedia” of motorcycles, this is the only one we’ve seen that fulfills the title’s promise.
Top Motorcycle Personality/Celebrity Book: Valentino Rossi — Life of a Legend Revised and Updated by Michael Scott. Nine-time Grand Prix motorcycle road racing champion Valentino Rossi is among the most talented, dominant, and colorful personalities in premier-level professional motorcycle racing history. Michael Scott’s fabulous large-format book does Rossi’s impressive career justice with insightful narrative and more than 300 color and black-and-white images.
Top Motorcycle-themed Literature: Ultimate Collector Motorcycles by Charlotte & Peter Fiell. “Masterpiece. Stunning. Superb. Roll out the superlatives; they all apply to Ultimate Collector Motorcycles as it is the ne plus ultra of classic motorcycle literature.” That is what we said about the massive two-volume set upon its release by Taschen in May this year. With 990 color and black-and-white images, we had seen nothing near its equal in the past decade and nothing since. ’Nuff said.
Top Active-Competitor Racing Book: Motorcycle Streamliner — My Life in the Fastest Lane by Denis Manning. Denis Manning has designed, built, and ridden some of the fastest motorcycles in history. Indeed, seven of the world’s fastest motorcycles are his, and he is the founder of the all-motorcycle land-speed racing event that began as the Bub Motorcycle Speed Trials, now known as the Bonneville Motorcycle Speed Trials. Manning tells of his exploits in motorcycle land-speed racing at the world-record level with humor and clarity. Even better, there will probably be a second edition—after his team sets a new world record as he still seeks to top 400 mph.