The Above bike is a 1921 Harley-Davidson SCA (Single Cylinder Alcohol) board track racer. Considered the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports, it’s easy to see why. The bikes had no brakes. They could reach speeds approaching 100 miles per hour. They incorporated a ‘total loss’ lubricating design - meaning oil lost from the engines spewed not only over the bikes and racers but also transformed the rickety board tracks into greasy wooden nightmares. Couple that with the fact that the racers had virtually no protection, it’s no wonder they called these motodromes “murderdromes.” This was absolute insanity.
1929 Harley-Davidson Board Track Racer. The only surviving motorcycle of its type, I think if Michelangelo were a bike builder, this is what he would have sculpted. Board track racing was, without a doubt, the deadliest form of racing in the history of motorsports. Hundreds were killed - both racers and spectators - during the heyday of the boards. Yet, in spite of the danger - or perhaps because of it - board racing during the early 20th century was one of the most popular spectator sports in America. Top racers could earn $20,000 a year, nearly half-a-million in today’s currency. Crazy money for a crazy sport. “Thrills and Funerals,” as one historical newspaper dubbed it.
1930 Harley-Davidson Hillclimber. After board track racing became too deadly for racer and spectator, Harley turned to hillclimbing to get their speed fix. Although equally crazy as board track, at least nobody was getting killed on a daily basis. The basic idea behind hillclimbing was, well, pretty basic. Launch your bike up an insanely steep hill as fast as you can. Make it to the top, you win. If more than one racer makes it to the top, the fastest time wins. If nobody makes it to the top (which happened more often than not), the biker who makes it up the highest wins. Simple enough, although the bike design is somewhat more complicated. The essential element is power, of course. But a longer wheelbase and more front-end weight were critical to keep the bike from flipping over backwards. Add to that chains over the rear tire for added grip and you’ve got a hillclimber.
I know nothing about the motorcycle above other than it’s a vintage Harley racing bike. I was so busy photographing it and falling in love with it, I didn’t hear a word of what the owner, Dale Walkster of Wheels Through Time, was saying about the bike. Anyway, isn’t it cool as hell? It reminds me of something I’d see in a Captain America movie. And the matching leather helmet? Fantastic, even though it’s utterly useless. Your brain would be mush if you ever crashed, but man, you’d make a great looking corpse.
Yes, these are motorcycles. But for me, they are less that and more works of art - moving sculptures if you will. And my approach was to photograph them in a stylized studio rather than an open road (as all of them do actually work), in an attempt to showcase the sheer beauty of these machines. I absolutely love stuff like this.