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Harley-Davidson Knucklehead: Eighty Years: An expert’s perspective on perfection

By Kip Woodring

By Greg Field
Motorbooks
Hardbound, 200 pages
$50 (but available for less). Available now from quality book sellers and the usual internet sources
www.quartoknows.com

Reviewed by Kip Woodring

“Anorak” /ˈænəræk/ is British slang which refers to a person who has a very strong interest, perhaps obsessive, in niche subjects. This interest may be unacknowledged or not understood by the general public. The term is sometimes used synonymously with “geek” or “nerd.”P1200719-

It fits the author, this book, and its intended audience to a T. You can get to know a lot you may not know you wanted to know out of it. That’s a good thing, a very good thing, indeed, because Greg is a very good writer, but mostly he’s a serious historian as well.

Readers of this newest Harley history (and he’s written several) would admit that rote repetition of abundant hand-me-down stories and old legends are absolutely not what this book is about. Instead, it’s a detailed fact check and timeline, thoroughly explaining and illuminating the motorcycle known in its lifetime only as the OHV 61, or the OHV 74. Face it, after 80 years, gleaning facts and details about these hallowed machines isn’t easy. It’s motorcycle archaeology—in this instance well done!

Thing is, anyone who’s lucky enough to own the original, trend-setting OHV Big Twin practically has to read this book! A Facebook group “Knucklehead 1936–1947” (which I “liked” years ago) would also do well to make it their go-to reference guide; it’s that complete, and it’s that accurate.

So, if a Knucklehead-owning accuracy anorak has it made, thanks to Greg’s latest effort, what about the casual reader? If I’m honest, there will be skimming. Unless your neighbor invites you over to see his 100-point restoration of the 12th 1936 Knuck ever built. If that happens, crammed with the knowledge gained from Harley-Davidson Knucklehead: Eighty Years, you’d know if his was “right”… a restoration correctly equipped with the coveted “lightening” cams, the 100 mph speedo only used that year, and unique to low serial number Knucks, primer cups! Bam!

But there’s more to it than that. Even the casual reader will find the context of the times the OHV was born to and lived through revealing. Props to Greg’s insightful writing style, which helps you understand and appreciate just how hard it was to bring this advanced, clean sheet of paper design to market, in the midst of the worst economic mess in our history, let alone make it so successful through 11 years of pestilence, plague and war, that it became the template for every Harley and damn near every Harley copy since. A big risk, and far from a sure thing in the fall of 1935.

If you’re not an anorak, or even much of a reader of motorcycle history, there’s still something to love—treasure, even—in the pages. Namely, drop-dead gorgeous photos of the most drop-dead gorgeous motorcycle Harley has ever made. Aesthetic perfection from day one, the Knucklehead is a motorcycle that begs for a great visual treatment. It gets it in Harley-Davidson Knucklehead: Eighty Years.

There you have it. Superb photography, detailed facts and specs, and a scribe who makes you feel like you were there kickin’ tires in the showroom, a witness to the year-by-year changes and improvements of the greatest Harley Big Twin. Anoraks rejoice… highly recommended. Good job, Greg!

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