Motorcycling Through the Years
by Steven Chupnick
It was nearly 110 years ago that William Walter and Arthur Davidson, along with William Harley, built their first motorcycle. Around the globe, motorcycles have provided a new freedom of personal mobility as well as an engine for economic prosperity. Well recently, our over-the-edge guy Steven Chupnick found someone right here in our home state of Maryland that not only appreciates the work of two-wheel pioneers, but has turned motorcycles into a life-long passion.
n many countries, motorcycles outnumber cars. And there are countless public museums and exhibits dedicated to two-wheelin'. However, there are even more private collections that few ever get to see. Bob Tyson has one such very personal collection: 23 bikes ranging from a 1919 Cleveland to his newest, a 2008 Harley-Davidson.
But it all started with this bicycle which Bob transformed into a motorcycle in the 1960's.
BOB TYSON: I found a lawnmower engine that I mounted on a bicycle and began riding my motorbike around the neighborhood.
Bob followed the same path that inspired William Harley and the Davidson brothers.
BOB TYSON: When you look back at the history of how motorcycles evolved, it was people trying to take the work out of riding a bicycle. They just wanted to be able to sit on the bike and not have to pedal.
And that history dates back to 1919 for Bob's oldest and most fascinating machine: a World War I era Cleveland lightweight bike used by the U.S. Army as a messenger vehicle.
BOB TYSON: When I look at that bike, that's a time machine to me. It's not only a mode of transportation, it's something that takes you back to a different period in American history.
Motorcycles aren't just a part of American history, and Harley-Davidsons weren't exclusive to the states. Bob has a rare, Italian-made 1973 Aermacci AMF Harley.
BOB TYSON: It was meant to be less intimidating to the general public, so the average person could get acclimated to a motorcycle without having a real big machine, a real loud machine.
He's also got the only bike to come out of Denmark, the nimbus from 1959, and this 1950 sunbeam from Britain, a 1980 DNEPR from Russia, and a 1959 DKW from Germany.
Bob not only collects motorcycles from all over the world, he repairs and even restores them as well.
His basement is his workshop, and returning bikes back to their former glory is his true passion.
BOB TYSON: When you bring them back to life, it's like they take on their own soul; they become a living breathing entity. And to have something that's 60 or 70 years old be able to take you down the road, it's an amazing feeling. I love that feeling of getting one running and being able to ride it again.
What is Bob's prize possession? It's his 1936 Indian with an upside down 4-cylinder engine, which he restored to pristine condition. The unique configuration is for an up-draft style carburetor; only 300 of these were built that year.
BOB TYSON: It was only made this way for one year, and the reason it was called the upside down was most engines, the carburetor would be on the top and the exhaust would come out of the bottom.
And Indian did that thinking that all the heat from the engine rises to the top.
Bob's 1946 Indian chief is one of the most iconic of his collection with the bold look and skirted fenders. These are the bikes Bob wishes were still around.
BOB TYSON: They made a wonderful product and now when you look back at all the 300 plus motorcycle manufacturers that came and went.
Indian stands out to me as one of the best.
Collecting all these bikes took a different direction for Bob a few years ago. Through pamphlets and family pictures, he was inspired to write the book, "Harley-Davidson Memories. The Golden Age Of Motorcycling."
BOB TYSON: As I found out more and more about all the photos, it just tied in with the whole history of motorcycling in general.
The book's foreword was written by another motorcycle enthusiast, Jay Leno. Bob and the late night talk show host became very close, and Jay was very honored to be a part of the book.
As was I to see such history and adoration Bob has for his motorcycles.
All this bike talk, Bob, makes me want to ride. But I'll let you drive and I ride...fire it up!