1953 Motorcycle Tour of Europe
October 10, 2011 4:18 AM   Subscribe

In the Summer of 1953 my father Geoffrey Gander and his friends set off on their annual Motor Cycling holiday around Europe. (Warning: hi res black & white photos of vintage Brit bikes, alps and roadside tea abound.)

Go on a ride in the sidecar of the Brough Superior SS100 that took part in the 1953 European trip. Now watch someone start that beast. "Fantastic!"
posted by NoMich (47 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, this is insanely good stuff. I've been ignoring the BSA but if the weather cooperates tomorrow I'll run my afternoon errands on it in honor of this post.
posted by maxwelton at 4:23 AM on October 10, 2011

(I keep hoping the original owner of RYC 445 or one of their descendents will find me one day, but probably in vain.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:24 AM on October 10, 2011

cool pics
posted by Flood at 4:44 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do love the Bristol Freighter
posted by the noob at 4:44 AM on October 10, 2011

The French countryside looks like it could be anywhere from 1853 to 1953. I keep expecting to see Monsieur Hulot in the background.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 4:51 AM on October 10, 2011

Brilliant! I'm tossing around the idea of writing a diesel-punk nano novel, so this is great inspiration!
posted by titanium_geek at 4:55 AM on October 10, 2011

But seriously, this is the stuff that my deepest dreams are made of.
posted by growabrain at 5:04 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is fuckin AWESOME!

vintage Brit bikes

But alas, no Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.

Oh well, let's enjoy the song, anyway...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:05 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Judging from the misdeeds of my '72 Triumph Daytona, I find it hard to believe such a thing was ever possible. British bikes and hundreds of miles seem completely incompatible in my experience, but the Daytona's a very particular engineering disaster.

Lovely pictures, though.
posted by sonascope at 5:08 AM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

[This is jolly good!]
posted by Wolfdog at 5:10 AM on October 10, 2011

Great set of pictures and commentary, and a wonderful post!
posted by Harald74 at 5:14 AM on October 10, 2011

This is one of the best posts we've had in a while. It is truly a "best of the web" FPP. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us!

What fantastic photographs.
posted by HuronBob at 5:19 AM on October 10, 2011

Can't believe how well they're dressed.
posted by bardic at 5:19 AM on October 10, 2011

and, from now on, please call me Geoffrey Gander.. thank you.
posted by HuronBob at 5:20 AM on October 10, 2011

I strongly suspect most of those areas look very much the same today. The countryside, the small villages.. those places change very little in 60 years.
posted by Harry at 5:32 AM on October 10, 2011

So - when did the Germans stop walking around in leather shorts?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:39 AM on October 10, 2011

Damn, Turner sure knew how to make a good looking bike.
posted by squeak at 5:41 AM on October 10, 2011

Can't believe how well they're dressed.
Hell's Gentlemen.
Great post, thanks!
posted by Abiezer at 5:57 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Amazingly beautiful! I cringed at their jackets and ties, though, because I could just imagine the unceasing flapping during the ride. I rode 150 miles this weekend in an ill fitting jacket and the flapping was crazy making. 2000 miles? Nope.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:09 AM on October 10, 2011

Sonascope! I've owned a 1973 Triumph Trident for almost ten years and it's never traveled even 100 miles. What was going on in Meriden in the 70s?
posted by splatta at 6:10 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can't believe how well they're dressed.

Adults used to dress like adults.

So - when did the Germans stop walking around in leather shorts?

Isn't that Austria?
posted by pracowity at 6:11 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is great. Beautiful bikes, and of course the clothes! I am insanely happy to not have to wear a tie, but there's also no question that men dressed like that look far better than a dude today in a sloppy shirt and baggy athletic shorts.
posted by Forktine at 6:15 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Three things:

Those bikes are gorgeous.

The valley that runs by Kitzbuhel is spectacular. One of my favorite places on earth.

Reckless Kelly's version of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning rocks.

Great post.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:26 AM on October 10, 2011

So - when did the Germans stop walking around in leather shorts?

You haven't visited Oktoberfest recently, haven't you?
posted by DreamerFi at 6:29 AM on October 10, 2011

This stood out...the son talking about his own motorcycle:
"When he came back I was surprised to hear from him that whilst it was quick - "it took longer than expected to reach a ton". A short chat and the mystery was solved. He had taken it to an indicated 160 still thinking that it was a kilometers speedo and 160kph would be 100mph. So my 70+ year old father had just done 160mph on the Alton bypass! Mum was not amused, though dad clearly was and had a cigar and a beer to celebrate"

Of all the gear pictured though, I wonder most about the photographer and camera(s) used. Awesome contrast, framing, just seems effortless. So, are we sure about this digital photography stuff?
posted by obscurator at 6:32 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I strongly suspect most of those areas look very much the same today. The countryside, the small villages.. those places change very little in 60 years.
In Europe, many, many buildings are over 60 years old. Those streets and cafes look much the same today. They look familiar to me from my holidays of recent years.

And regarding "adults dressed like adults"; in large parts of Europe this is true even today. I come from Norway, where we nowadays dress quite sloppily, and noticed the difference in especially France and Italy.
posted by Harald74 at 6:35 AM on October 10, 2011

This is just gorgeous. Thanks for posting.

My dad carried on riding bikes until he was 87 and then decided he was getting a bit old for bikes and bought himself a sports car.

Brilliant :)
posted by freya_lamb at 6:58 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is this the same place as this? No leather shorts in sight now.
posted by pracowity at 7:13 AM on October 10, 2011

Great post, thank you for sharing this.
posted by analogtom at 7:15 AM on October 10, 2011

Here are some pictures of the Rattenburg-Kitzbuhel-Grossglockner part of that route but in the 1930s and on bicycle.
posted by pracowity at 7:27 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

obscurator: "So, are we sure about this digital photography stuff?"

A good B&W print film can capture more stops than most modern digital point-n-shoots, and you can then pick and choose what and how to print from that. So, yeah, someone who's doing a decent job of metering can get more dynamic range than digital, and then pick and choose how to print that.
posted by straw at 7:49 AM on October 10, 2011

They are called Lederhosen. "The role of lederhosen in Bavaria is thus comparable to that of the kilt in Scotland and the cowboy hat in the United States."
posted by stbalbach at 7:52 AM on October 10, 2011

splatta - I tend to have a lot of Basil Fawlty freak-outs with my Triumph, almost to the point of beating it with a large branch, most of which end with me yelling "this is why your entire lousy stinking stupid motor industry is now owned by German and Indian companies now, Britain! If one crappy Amal carburetor wouldn't ever work right, why would you put two on this goddamn thing!?" Of course, my neighbors have all grown accustomed to my nationalist gearhead breakdowns, but...sigh.

Damn if these bikes don't look the part, though. I can hop on my modern BMW and go anywhere in the universe without a moment's fear that I'll be stuck somewhere, but aside from the occasional "Ah didn't know B-M-Dubya made motorcycles," it functions like a cloak of invisibility. Drag that Triumph out and every male eyeball within a thousand feet is locked on. Every little boy wants to ooh and ahh, every grown man becomes a little boy, and every older guy has a long, long rambling story about his Triumph/BSA/Norton.

All that in spite of the fact that my bottom-of-the-line Italian designed/built BMW-reengineered F650ST is superior to the Triumph in every conceivable function.

Maybe I need to get up my nerve to forgo proper gear, dress in those fantastic derring-do adventure outfits with a pair of goggles, and really go all out for the fifteen miles I'll manage before I need to pull over and fiddle with the thing for an hour.
posted by sonascope at 8:18 AM on October 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Beautiful photography and beautiful machines. This is best of the web.

The story at the end about the dad taking the son's Ducati out and taking the speedometer out to 160 is priceless; the stuff of family legend. Love it.

I grew up riding motorcycles, and it always gives me a kind of twinge in my chest not to have one now. I love taking the family bikes out for errands when I visit home, though, and maybe one day I'll hit it big (by which I mean hit it modestly middle class) and be able to afford that Royal Enfield I've long coveted.
posted by pts at 8:28 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even back in the 50s people were posting about their travels in their blogs (bike-logs).
posted by blue_beetle at 8:31 AM on October 10, 2011

There are many things to like about this post. First, one of the things I appreciate is that there is a genuine admiration and liking of the author towards his father with motorcycles serving as the vehicle. Second, that people did cool stuff and that the geezer yelling at you from their lawn were and still maybe rocking it. Third, travel photos and journey are fun -- a lot of world literature is based on the road trip. Fourth, people seem to be so much more snappier in dress and carriage and I speak with a certain envy in my sandals and shorts as I say that. Finally, whose heart does not do a little pitter and patter with a well clad person on a motorbike?
posted by jadepearl at 8:51 AM on October 10, 2011

Toodling around Maine on vintage bikes, in jeans and leathers, stopping for beers is fun enough, but this....oh....wow.
posted by suki at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2011

You should send this link to the Triumph website or their Facebook page; it'd blow them and their followers away! Love the tea brew-up while they're waiting for the bikes to be offloaded from the Argosy (although don't hold me to my vintage aircraft identification). Crossing into Germany as an ex-RAF just eight years after the war ended must have created some gut twists. Thanks a bunch for sharing these photos.
posted by Mike D at 9:18 AM on October 10, 2011

Hmmm... For the purists, looks like it might have been a Bristol in which they flew the Channel.
posted by Mike D at 9:24 AM on October 10, 2011

Should have paid more attention to the noob's sentence earlier in the comment stream.
posted by Mike D at 9:26 AM on October 10, 2011

Been reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance recently. Looking forward to reading this post.
posted by Windopaene at 9:59 AM on October 10, 2011

This is my favorite spot for vintage motorcycle porn (possibly several times previously on the blue).
Lots of Brough goodness as it's archived by subject.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:41 AM on October 10, 2011

sonascope - You should count yourself lucky that you only have two Amal carbs, I have THREE, and three sets of points. An old Triumph will make a mechanic out of any man.
posted by splatta at 11:54 AM on October 10, 2011

At the Austrian border crossing at Ursprung there's a sign for Coca-Cola. That's kind of jarring.
posted by jedicus at 1:04 PM on October 10, 2011

An old Triumph will make a mechanic out of any man.

An old Triumph made a BMW owner out of me, as it happened, but demoting The Beastly Conveyance to tertiary status in my fleet also made me love it again, after trying desperately to make a sensible commuter out of it. Spending three hours in the saddle of the BMW is a kind of precise, zen pleasure, and it's not even one of the truly refined examples of the marque, but pulling out the Triumph for a rideā€”it's just such a theatrical, messy, monstrous thing. To hear the jagged, race-tuned idle of mine (the Daytona was essentially a racer variation of the classic twin), you'd never believe it would make it to the other side of town, and you'd be right, on most days.

I curse the thing, from the thick, grimy chrome to the age-dulled burgundy tank to the impossible heaviness of everything, juice it up with the absurd dual "ticklers" that leave my riding gloves stinking of gasoline, flip out the kickstarter, and it always catches in a quarter kick with a window-rattling roar.

It's unreliable as hell, but like these pictures, it fires the boilers in my time machine.

The kickstand goes up, a toe on the right side engages first gear with a ratcheting clunk, and I'm off. In my helmet, I sing, as I'm prone to do, and on this ruinous, embarrassing, and nearly uncontrollable machine that belonged to my long lost Dad a hundred years ago, it's almost always the same song the keens in those confines, albeit with little fidelity to the grace of the original.

Oh! England, my Lionheart!
Dropped from my black Spitfire to my funeral barge.
Give me one kiss in apple-blossom.
Give me one wish, and I'd be wassailing
In the orchard, my English rose,
Or with my shepherd, who'll bring me home.

One day, it won't start so easily, an old man stirring ever more slowly on those cold, cold mornings, and the rides will be further and further separated, but The Beastly Conveyance will always be close at hand, always resting somewhere near, so I can sit on a milk crate with a bottle of polish and an old t-shirt on a sunny Saturday and work all that aging chrome back to its brilliance, humming all the while.
posted by sonascope at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2011

Brilliant find NoMich, thank you so much for sharing.

So glad to hear you have your Dad's bike Sonascope.

My old man's second wife sold his '54 T100 for $2000 a week after he passed. Beer money.
posted by Duke999R at 2:46 AM on October 11, 2011

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