Last updated 05/23/2016
Eddie Rickenbacker and
the Dawn of the Age of Speed
By John F. Ross
Review by Ray Peabody
(This is not a book about motorcycles. However, motorcycles are mentioned twice in the book so it satisfies our commitment to containing only motorcycle-related material in the magazine. – Editor)
He died in 1973 but I’m guessing that many baby boomers and most members of the post baby-boom generations don’t know the name “Eddie Rickenbacker.” Those who know his name and something about his background know him as the flying ace who fought Germany in the skies over Europe during World War I. He shot down more German planes than any other pilot and won the Medal of Honor for his efforts. The story of Rickenbacker’s exploits during the war is only part of the ace’s history covered by author John F. Ross in his book, Enduring Courage. He also details Rickenbacker’s success as an auto racer in the early 20th century as well as his business achievements later in life. According to Ross, Rickenbacker, who was born in 1890, was born into an impoverished immigrant family yet pulled himself up to become an American hero and a successful entrepreneur. A rough but determined man, he constantly tested himself, pushing his own limits as well as those of the machines he operated. Whether he was racing cars, flying the earliest fighter planes or flying a secret mission on behalf of the U.S., he frequently faced life threatening situations but found a way to survive. I found the language in early parts of the book to be annoyingly enthusiastic, similar to a sales pitch. Nonetheless, I kept reading. The more I read about Rickenbacker’s life the more enthused about him I also became. He raced cars when they were dangerous (as related to brakes and handling) to drive at slower speeds on the road. Many of his top competitors were killed in races. He competed in four Indianapolis 500s before World War I. He aggressively flew early airplanes in battle when they were known to fall apart in mid air. His planes crashed multiple times. During World War II, he spent 24 days in a life raft after a plane he was piloting crashed into the Pacific Ocean while on a secret mission.
He wasn’t well educated but he was smart and determined. He was often gruff but understood the importance of leadership. He understood how things worked and was able to maximize the performance of both machines and men.
Despite my early annoyance, the book grew on me and I found it difficult to put down. It’s not hard to understand why Ross was so excited about Rickenbacker. It’s a wonderful read about an inspiring man and American hero. Available everywhere in both hardcover and paperback. Published by St. Martin’s Press.
No Thru Road:
Confessions of a
By Clement Salvadori
Review by Ray Peabody
Clement Salvadori is a name that will be familiar to most motorcyclists; especially readers of Rider magazine where his columns and features regularly appear. He has written several books about his motorcycle trips through California and Baja as well as one about the Honda VFR / Interceptor. His last book was 101 Road Tales. Salvadori’s latest work, No Thru Road: Confessions of a Traveling Man, is a compendium of the many motorcycle trips he has taken throughout his life. Salvadori has been traveling the globe by motorcycle since his teens. His father was a diplomat based in Italy when he took his first trip (The Grand Tour) around Europe with a buddy. Since then, he has ridden in Europe, Africa, India, Tibet, Southeast Asia, Australia, and South America. This book is the story about those adventures. Each trip story in this book details the native people, traveling companions, food, history, climate and riding conditions not to mention the challenges of border crossings, close calls, and encounters with armed military personnel. Always with a sense humor and optimism. It’s noteworthy that he frequently has a female companion either riding pillion or her own machine on his trips. Each of his stories has a unique appeal but I especially liked his stories about the European Grand Tour 1957, Afghanistan 1973, Kashmir India 1973, Queensland Australia 1974 (the story of his “streak” is a hoot!), Copper Canyon Mexico 1980, Peru 1998, Tibet 1999… Heck, I enjoyed all of the stories. Salvadori has a way of describing the environment and people in a way that I could almost visualize. As a world traveler wannabe who will likely not ride much beyond the borders of North and Central America, it’s a picture that is especially appealing. I also like the fact that, when I get busy or otherwise distracted, I can put the book down for a couple weeks or a month and when I return, jump back into whichever country I would most like to experience. While it’s not as good as actually going there myself, as a substitute, it’s not a bad way to go. Midwest motorcyclists who enjoy a good read when riding is difficult to impossible during the cold winter months can’t do much better than Salvadori’s latest. Published by Trovatello Press. Available at Amazon.com, White Horse Press and Aerostich.
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Winter is the perfect season for reading motorcycle books. Since riding isn’t often an option during the winter months here in the Midwest, the next best thing is reading about motorcycles until the sun warms the earth anew. Once we get into the riding season, it’s… well… time to ride. Last year, the subject of motorcycle books I read leaned more towards outlaw bikers, gun running, drugs and inter-club violence. Having not read about the 1%er lifestyle since Hunter S. Thompson’s Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, I enjoyed two books on the subject last winter. This year, motorcycle riding and adventure books provided the theme for my reading list. The first, No Thru Road by Clement Salvadori, offered tales of international
motorcycle travel from the time the author first started riding around Europe in his teens. An entertaining read, the book described places and adventures in the world most riders will not likely experience.
Most recently, I read Jack Lewis’ latest book, Head Check: What It Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles. Some readers might recognize Lewis’ name as a columnist for Motorcyclist magazine. That’s where I first read his work. Others, especially military veterans, might recognize his name from his book, Nothing in Reserve: True Stories, not War Stories, and his contribution to Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Home Front. Head Check is a collection of Lewis’ Motorcyclist columns from a few years ago with at least one from his blog at www.jaxworx.com. The author is laugh out loud funny, frequently self deprecating, sometimes somber / reflective but always honest and energetic. I had a hard time putting Head Check down and, when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about the next time I would be able to pick it up. I first opened Head Check at a Motel 6 in Flint, Michigan after a long day on the road. The first two stories, Comes Around and Crashing Vashon, pulled me in and had me laughing so loud I’m certain my neighbors in the room next door were wondering whether I was crazy.
“… I had progressed to the third stage of tequila:
I was rich, good looking and bullet proof.”
– Author Jack Lewis, from the Classic Rock chapter in Head Check
The next story, Riding Home, is reflective and the longest in the collection at 28 pages and has appeared in various forms in several other publications. It is the story about Lewis picking up his BMW R69S – “Honey” – upon his return from military service in the Middle East and taking the long way home. Another story, What Kills Us, about motorcycle training and safety, is directed at active duty service people who ride. Readers might not understand some of the military acronyms but will still get the message. There’s much more to enjoy in this book. Lewis shares experiences about riding a Harley in the Middle East, a trip to Alaska and back aboard a Suzuki 650 V-Strom (two stories about this trip, actually), and teaching his daughter to ride. In another story, he describes his experience of taking his wife and his Grandfather’s ancient Winchester Model 70 to Boomershoot, a high-powered gun enthusiast event
(complete with explosions) aboard a well-worn Ural hack.
Lewis seems to be quite a character in addition to a talented writer. He paints clear, descriptive pictures with words and metaphors that help the reader visualize what’s happening in the story. I enjoyed every page of this book, without exception.
Lewis’ columns in Motorcyclist are always enjoyable and Head Check has confirmed my thinking that he is at the top of any list of motorcycle writers currently producing. If anyone is better, I haven’t read his/her work. That’s not hyperbole.
Available on Litsam, Amazon and select motorcycle stores and book stores.
Head Check: What It Feels Like to Ride Motorcycles
By Jack Lewis
Reviewed by Ray Peabody