Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Under dark skies. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Under dark skies. Sort by date Show all posts

Monday, 16 November 2020

Motorbike Research from the 1920s, 30s and 40s for Under Dark Skies

I'm eighty-thousand words into writing a novel loosely based on my granddad's experience in World War Two.  He was in France in 1939 and 1940 during the Blitzkrieg and the Battle of France.  Weeks after Dunkirk he was still trying to make his way back to Britain from occupied France as continental Europe fell to the Nazis.

I've always found that period of the war interesting.  Germany had the initiative and everyone else was struggling to understand what armed conflict had evolved into after two decades of incredible industrial progress following the trenches of WW1.  The allies weren't proud of their losses early on and it has since become an embarrassing and forgotten period in history.  If you don't believe me, just look up how many movies and books came out of the final year of the war when the allies were winning.

The novel, tentatively called Under Dark Skies (though I'm not married to that title), tells the tale of my granddad's service in a Royal Air Force Hurricane squadron sent with the British Expeditionary Force to France to stop the inevitable German invasion.

I've tried to keep it as accurate as possible, but in the absence of any specific details (my grandfather was never vocal about his war experience), I'm taking some other influences and mixing them in, Quentin Tarantino style.  Inglorious Basterds is one of my favourite World War Two films and I love the liberties he took with history, so much so that it's tempting me to do the same.

Bill was a member of the RAF White Helmets and a handy gymnast back in the day.  I've taken his
hidden-to-me, life-long affection for motorcycling, mixed in a bit of Guy Martin and Steve McQueen, though I don't know that Bill's history needed it, but it's just how I like to write.  Back in university I got into a difficult to get into creative writing course.  Leon Rooke came in a few times to help us with our writing process and commented on my ability to convey action effectively.  I like flowing, scripted action and that is the backbone of this book.

The fictional Bill's war experience was also influenced by this news article I found in a 1941 newspaper about motorcycle based 'suicide squads' who wreaked havoc inside Nazi occupied Europe.

That's out of the Spokane Daily Chronical on Saturday, January 4th, 1941!

I've had a tough year at work and needed to find a way to work off frustration, so when I can't sleep at 5am in the morning I get up and escape into 1940 France, it's been a life saver.

One of the enjoyable side effects of writing an historical novel is that you end up doing a lot of research in order to look like you know what you're talking about.  I have an equivalent of a minor degree in history, but the digging you do when writing in a time period is much more nuanced, and this case, very motorbike focused.  Here are some of my favourite motorcycle specific research bits from writing this thing:

Motorcycle Focused Research from Under Dark Skies

1938 Triumph Speed Twin:  I was looking for a state-of the-art fast bike to use in France that would outrun a supercharged German Mercedes staff car (that was a good scene to write).  Triumph's Twin was a massive step toward modern motorcycles and an early candidate for the job, though not what I eventually settled on.

1930s supercharger speed record bike from Italy (I was looking up ideas for a customized 'uncatchable' suicide squad bike...

History of military motorcycles. 

Triumph 3HW, Triumph's WW2 bike has a history closely tied to company and Coventry's brutal experience in the war:  
Triumph History overall:

Inge Stoll: Bavarian motorcycle racer and sportswoman - I'm looking to diversify the cast a bit towards the end. It's hard to do in the British military of 1940:

Peugeot used to make motorcycles!  They were quite common in France in 1940 where I'm spending my time.  I needed a bike that a local would have, so I had a look at the Peugeot listings:
NSU was a German moto manufacturer.  German bikes have a very distinct style back then that was quite divergent from the lighter more handling focused British machines, though the NSU 351 OSL is a pretty little thing:

The operating manual for a T-100 Triumph Tiger!  I'm partial to Tigers and a chance to bring the T-100 that started the breed into the novel was too good to miss:  The original instruction manual is really handy when I'm writing about details on the bike, like where the controls are.  I could just make it up, but then I might as well have just written a book about moon nazis in rocket-ships.

RAF bikes of WW2 (some good photos in there):

BMW bikes in WW2:
... and sometimes you want to know how they sound:
... which is just like Jeff's tractor!  I'm sure there's a BMW that doesn't sound like a tractor, but I've yet to find it.

1930s vintage motorbikes riding across France:
This one was handy from a bike and a geography angle.  A nicely nostalgic thing too.

Motorcycling in 1936:

Scottish Six Days Trial ended up playing a part in Bill's backstory (so there is a bit of Ross Noble inspiration in there too).  I liked the idea of Bill's amateur riding background somehow elevating him from lorry driving but didn't want the flash of road racing.  I get the sense that Bill's motorcycling was frowned upon by family and was never recognized as something that might improve his lot.  SSDT seemed like a good amateur-accessible option that demonstrated not just exceptional bike craft but also a toughness of spirit:

German women in the 1930s seem quite sports driven.  Ilse Thouret was another Bavarian motorbike racer who looked like a real tough nut:
Bill was a freemason so I'm thinking about bringing on of these women in as a daughter of one (freemasons were killed in death camps as jewish sympathizers).  If the Craft gives you the willies maybe you can take some consolation in knowing that Nazis hated it.

I was looking for a retired French moto-racer who could help Bill sort out a modified 'uncatchable' bike.  Louis Jeannin was one of few French winners, having won the 350cc championship in 1932, but I was reduced to wikipedia for the only mention of him:    
I ended up giving him a shop at 16/18 Rue de la République, 57240 Knutange, France where Bill goes to pick up a modified T-100.  Jeanin raced Jonghis, which I'd never heard of, though they have an interesting history:

1939 Tiger T100 for sale at Bonhams!  If the book does well and Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Ewan McGregor and Orlando Bloom all pick up the movie rights (they're all big bike nerds) then I'll get myself that T-100:

Looking for a cheap bike a lower class Cockney kid would ride and came across the BSA Blue Star thumper:
Banger’s bike at home: (est.) top speed 75mph.  Good nick name for a kid who rides a single cylinder banger.

1946 Triumph repair manual!  At the end of the war production lines were restarted with little updated because things were so exhausted.  This was a brilliant find as it details all sorts of bits and pieces that help me detail mechanical happenings accurately:

A Belgian sniper makes his way into the story and has become central to it.  I wanted him on something that spoke to Belgian industrial arts and came across the Gillet Herstal 720 AF - a state of the art machine that never saw wide production due to Belgium's invasion:
Gillet Herstal 720 AF motorcycle and sidecar (Belgian) a great Russian resource on motos of war!

A fantastically named French combination option: The Moto Gnome Rhone with Dragon Porte sidecar!

I was looking for an alternate German Sidecar combo since everything has been very BMW focused on
the German side, then I came across the Zündapp KS 750, a combination so good that the German government asked BMW to build it instead of its iconic boxer (BMW refused):
A fine example of German modernist design.  They're big and heavy though (over 30% heavier than the svelt Belgian Gillet Herstal combination).


Those are just the bike related links.  I have more than a dozen pages of links and notes on all sorts of mad details.  At one point I got lost in WW2 vintage brass blowtorches (they're paraffin fueled!):

When I wasn't looking up details on British warplanes that simply didn't work well, like the Fairey Battle that I'd never heard of before, I was digging deep into fasteners used during WW2 (Germany was metric which is a problem if you're working on a German vehicle in a British hangar).

Writing UDS has been a great trip at a time when I'm frustrated by people's response to a crisis and can't go on any other trips anyway.  Thematically this erupts out of the text with regularity.  This weekend we're off to try and take out Luftwaffe high command at the HQ of Fliegerkorps VIII in Roumont Château, near Libramont in southern Belgium (check out May 26th).  At this point the story is writing itself and I'm often surprised at the direction it takes.  In my best moments I'm reading it as I write it, lost in time.

Sunday, 18 September 2022

Moto-Media and Getting in Rides at the end of summer, 2022

Evening rides and changeable weather as the summer ends...

The Concours/1400GTR hanging out in a graveyard at sunset... as you do.


I've been playing with some design concepts for the WW2 historical fiction novel, Under Dark Skies (coming soon!).  I'm currently working on dividing the original manuscript into three young adult sized novels.  

I'm always looking for period bike images.  Never know when I might be able to use them for a reference on an original drawing.  I've been up to those too, creating scenes from the novel:

t-shirt transparency

Sketched variation -  I might have put my face on that subconsciously.

... and some sketched (pen and ink) scenes from the novel:

Here's a mock-up book cover concept based on a 1940s comic book style:

I've been monkeying around with the blog logo too:


... and may eventually put a t-shirt out:


We managed an afternoon at SMART Adventures before the end of the summer:

It's never a bad time, but I went in the 'expert' group which consisted of a dad who wanted his son on a bike that was too big for him.  The kid came off it so often that it became tedious, so we rode back to base and he switched to a smaller bike and then fell off that a lot too.  We still got some good trail riding in and our instructor (Louise) was fantastic, but 'expert'?  Not so much.  We spent a sizable portion of our very short 3 hours picking this kid up or riding back and forth for his various equipment change needs.  His finally move was to ride into a massive puddle and drop the bike in the middle of it, causing us to spent 20 minutes getting it out and then following him and his dad as they two-upped back to the office.

I'm not sure how to address that as I've been going to SMART for a long time and I did have a good afternoon, but when I'm paying quite a lot of money for three hours of riding and almost a third of it is taken up with catering to what was clearly a non-expert rider, I'm left feeling (for the first time ) like I didn't get my money's worth.


We went to Stratford yesterday to Perth County Moto's 5th anniversary.  T'was a good time.  If you find your way to Stratford, Ontario at any point, look them up, they're right downtown: 

I got myself a vintage style dirt tracker team sweater (they're like rugby jerseys) for a good price!

I haven't been spending much time in the garage beyond upkeep and maintenance on the two operational bikes.  I'm saving the Bonneville project for the cold months when I need to keep my hands busy and riding is far away, though I did start re-assembling the frame (seemed like a logical place to start).

The oil filters came in for the end of year oil change (I always put in fresh oil and filter and run them through before the big hibernation).  It's a depressing delivery, but I've still got another six weeks or so before the snows fall.  With the filters I got some tank pads to stop myself sliding around on the Concours.

Next week we're aiming for the Wine y Cheese Rally on September 24th.  We're going to head down to St. Catherines on the Friday and then be up and at it by 7am on Saturday morning.  This is the only rally we've been able to line up this busy summer, so I'm looking forward to it.  We've been fettling the Concours to make it as functional and capable as possible for this long haul.  We finished our last one on the Tiger last summer, so I'm not even super concerned with finishing so much as I am just having a good time with it.  Signups still seem to be available, so if you're looking for an excuse to ride and ride next weekend (cooler temps but the weather looks good), then give it a go.

Gotta get time in the saddle in before the snows fall!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Around Huron

It's just past 8am on day one of the ride.  Even this early in the morning it's already in the mid-twenties and the sun is relentless.  The padding I thought I'd try in my helmet was a bad idea, and by the time I reach Creemore I'm working on a full scale headache.  Thirty seconds after we stop the Roof lid is back to normal and it works like a champ for the rest of the trip.  Motorcycle gear is an ongoing process of fine tuning, especially when you mess around with something that already works.

This trip grew out of a friend's cross country anniversary ride with his wife on his new-to-him Goldwing.  We were originally going to drop down to the ferry on Manitoulin Island for the ride home after day one, but the ferry is booked solid during the day so I started looking at another way home.  Having never been to Northern Michigan, it seemed like a good idea to wrap around Lake Huron.  It's just over 1500kms of wilderness riding with few people in between.

The goodbye in Creemore went long as we'd been accompanied by friends out that far, so we got back on the road just as the sun was going fully nuclear.  Day One was the longest of our trip, five hundred kilometres around Georgian Bay up to the small town of Massey, Ontario.  A gas and lunch stop in Perry Sound followed by a couple of road side stops along the way made the heat bearable with lots of consuming of liquids at each stop.  You know it's hot when you're sweating freely at highway speeds.

Mohawk Motel: clean, cheap & odd!
We rolled into the Mohawk Motel in Massey just past 4pm.  The grass was brown and crisp, just like us.  The motel was basic but clean with air conditioning.  Everyone cold showered and relaxed for a while before we wandered out into town only to discover that the only restaurant was closed early due to it being hot.  We were told to walk down the street to a variety store that also doubled as the local fast food joint.  Forty five minutes of waiting in forty degree heat later I'd paid forty bucks for a cheeseburger, fries and a couple of slices of pizza.  We staggered back to the hotel and called it a day.

The next morning Massey totally redeemed itself with a fantastic breakfast at the Back Home Bistro.  As we finished up the eggs and bacon, rain moved in.  It was still in the mid-twenties, but humid and wet.  We rode into heavier and heavier rain as we traveled west over the top of Georgian Bay.  A brief stop in Blind River to check on my stoic pillion had us bump into a couple doing a similar route to our Huron circumnavigation; it wasn't the last time we'd meet them.

The rain came and went before finally relenting as we rode into Sault Ste. Marie.  We parted ways after a surprisingly excellent and cost effective lunch at Pino's Supermarket where you can get a brick oven baked pizza and amazing sausage on a bun for next to nothing.

Jeff & MA were on their way to Wawa up on Lake Superior, while Max and I were headed over to the border crossing into Northern Michigan.  After a day and half together we'd made good time, covered a lot of ground in all sorts of weather and everyone still had smiles on their faces (a good Italian lunch helped there).

After a quick goodbye we saddled up and headed over to the bridge only to bump into the couple from Blind River again.  We followed them up onto the bridge to discover a massive line up.  Inching a fully loaded two-up bike five feet at a time up the side of a suspension bridge is about as much fun as it gets.  Fortunately we had a great view of the river beneath us.

Sault Ste Marie is one of those places that reminds you just how big the great lakes are.  In the hour plus we were inching our way over that bridge I tried to imagine the tons and tons of water that rushed beneath us out of Superior and into Huron, it feels very powerful and boggles the mind.

A highlight of the interminable wait was getting to the peak of the bridge.  From that point up until the customs gates we were going downhill, so the bikes stayed off and in neutral as we glided forward, inches at a time.  As I said to our doppelgangers, 'at least it isn't yesterday!'  That bridge on a forty degree sunny day would be unhealthy.  My magic power kicked in at the split into lines for each gate.  Which ever one I pick will immediately stop, and of course it did.  The couple ahead of us were down the interstate a good fifteen minutes ahead of us while we sat there pondering karma, or just plain old bad luck.

Once finally freed into Michigan we headed south into the tail end of some very violent

thunderstorms. The mist became rain, and then strong winds came up out of west. It was an hour of tacking against the wind down i75 to St. Ignace and The Breaker's Resort. We got in about 4pm drenched and weary after a long day in the rain broken up by the better part of two hours crossing the border in five foot increments. Java Joes provided a first class milkshake and coffee before we headed over to check in. They weren't ready for us, but housekeeping did back flips to get us into the room ASAP.

 We enjoyed the hot tub and pool, but Breakers is a family resort, kind of like Disney World but with a great lake instead of mice.  If you like screaming, unmanaged children and drunk, indifferent parents on smartphones, this place is for you.  Max and I vacated the pool in a flurry of OCD after a kid pretended to be vomiting water out over and over again.

Dinner was takeout pizza from Java Joes, and it was exceptional.  With everything scattered around the room in a vain attempt to dry it out, we crashed on the beds and watched Seth Macfarlane cartoons as the fog rolled in outside.  After two days and the better part of a thousand kilometres on the road, we were both pretty knackered.

We woke up early in backwards world to blue skies and the sun rising out of Lake Huron (the sun goes to sleep in Huron where we're from).  A savoury breakfast of heavily processed meat pucks and bad coffee with large Americans eating all they could while watching Trump speeches on FoxTV (we are far from home my son), had us ready to hit the road.

I wiped down the trusty Tiger and we loaded up for a day that was more about exploring than making distance (though it eventually turned into both - you're always making distance if you're trying to get around a great lake).  After a quick fill up and a slow ride around St. Ignace's lovely harbour, we got onto the interstate and headed for the Mackinac Bridge, it was spectacular:

The Mackinac Bridge is worth the ride!

We took our border-buddies' advice and headed over to the Tunnel of Trees.  This put us on the shore of yet another Great Lake (Lake Michigan).  The micro-climate on the west shore of Michigan's northern peninsula produces fast growth.  As you ride onto that side of the peninsula everything is super green and the trees get Pandora big.

The M-119 is a twisty little blacktop that runs through those forests along the shore.  It's barely two lanes wide with no curbs or runoff.  You need to keep your eyes on the narrow lane, but you're never moving that quickly.  Surrounded by a sea of green, you quickly get into a meditative mood.  The Tiger can be whisper quiet when it wants to be, and we purred through that green cathedral in near silence.

You can't help but get that look on your face on the M-119.

We ended up getting redirected off the tunnel road due to construction and never found our way back.  We eventually got to Petoskey, which I was interested in seeing because it was where Earnest Hemingway used to spend his summers as a child.  It's box stores and hotels bent under the weight of lots of tourists nowadays.  If Hemingway were to return, I'm not sure much of it would ring a bell.

Out of the heat in a McDonalds at lunch we ran into our doppelgangers again.  They suggested an alternate route out of Petoskey and we wished each other a safe trip once again.  A short time later one of the retirees working there walked up to chat about bikes, he had a big old Harley in the lot and couldn't identify the Tiger.  When I told him it was a Triumph he got the same happy, nostalgic expression that a lot of people did when I told them what we were riding.  There is a lot of good will and nostalgia around the marquee in the States.

On the road again we struck east across the peninsula aiming for Alpena on the Huron coast, but between the heat, increasing traffic and the strong westerly winds, we were both losing the will to get there.  We turned south on 65 and wound our way through Huron National Forest, stopping for an ice cream in Glennie.  The lovely young lady who served us told of her hours spent horseback riding the day before, then three local farmers came in for a cone and were curious about the Triumph.  It was all very nice.  When we left she came out to her car that had a big 'Vote Trump' bumper sticker on it.  I found it hard to reconcile how nice Americans were with the insane politics they practice.

Old Detroit charm - built back in
the day when the motor city was
a world traveller destination,
the Bay Valley Resort reminds
of the golden years.
When we finally turned onto 23 heading back out to the interstate I gave a barbaric yawp in my helmet, as it felt like we'd never get there.  The final blast down the interstate in 60km/hr cross winds was performed using shear will power.  We staggered in to the Bay Valley Resort after nine hours and over 450kms on the road in strong winds and relentless heat.

Bay Valley Resort was a real treat.  Cheaper than Breakers, but better in every way.  If you like modern hotels, this isn't for you, but if you like character, Bay Valley has oodles.  The doors are made out of wood (!), and the entire resort is situated in the middle of a golf course.  It's much more adult orientated, but it had all the accoutrements my son loves.  The pool is an indoor/outdoor design with a river between them, and the spa was a hard hitting jet affair with strong bubbles perfect for loosening up sore muscles after a long day in the wind.  The whole thing was set into patterned concrete.  The on-site restaurant was swathed in dark wood and was both classy and dated, I loved it!  The food was chef prepared but priced very reasonably.  We fell asleep feeling well cared for in the silence of a golf course at night - no sounds of screaming children anywhere.

We woke up the next morning and hit the pool one last time.  Max wasn't keen to mount up for yet another day on the road.  Day one had been a high mileage sweat box, day 2 a rainy, windy ride with an interminable border wait, and day 3 was a high mileage meander across the peninsula in heat and high winds.  We were both tired, and having to get my pillion in motion made it even heavier.  After a late breakfast we finally got on the road just before 11am and I made a command decision to take the Interstate rather than head over to the coast on another back road ride.  No wind and less heat made our interstate jaunt through poor, old Flint, Michigan a relatively painless affair.  Flint feels like a ghost town at the best of times, but this year it felt abandoned.  We stopped at a rest stop on the i69 on the way to the Canadian border when Max got a leg cramp, but otherwise high-tailed it home.

Distracted Stratford drivers put that look on my face.
It took all of five minutes to line up and cross the border back into Sarnia.  Heading into The States was misery, coming home was a dream.  We stopped in Sarnia for lunch and then hit the bricks for the final ride home.  We thundered up the 402 on the long legged Tiger before angling off toward Stratford on back roads.  After over sixteen hundred kilometres of riding, much of it through wilderness, it was the ride through Stratford and its dithering, well dressed theatre patrons that was the most dangerous.  We were cut off and almost run over by people less worried about killing us than they were making their curtain call.  It was the only moment on the trip that I was tempted to chase someone down in order to thump them.

Back in the stable after a flawless
1600+kms ride, what a champ!
We finally pulled into the driveway just before 6pm, sore but elated.  The ride had its challenges, but the memories made were keepers.  The road into Sault Ste. Marie is lovely and surprisingly mountainous.  The Mackinac Bridge is a must-do experience, and riding down the tunnel of trees is like attending the best church ever.  Java Joes makes a good food stop and Bay Valley Resort is a forgotten gem worth staying at if you're in the area.

All in all it was a great adventure, albeit a trying one.  Sometimes, usually when it's least comfortable, I wonder why I'm doing this to myself, but the memories sort out the discomfort from the awesome, and the awesome always wins.

Riding the Tunnel of Trees road in northern Michigan - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Rainbow connection sung by Alanna