I first picked up Modern Motorcycle Mechanics some eight years ago to help with my Matchless and AJS machines, and it is a great read. The first 200 pages are full of motorcycle wisdom, history and general mechanical information that is useful to anyone interested in motorcycles from the classic period — the days when you didn’t need to disconnect a low battery, charge it up and reconnect it fully charged so that the computer will reboot properly.
I’m not a professional mechanic, but I enjoy working on my bike if I can visualize the complete process before I start. MMM is much more encouraging than deciphering quirky arcane British English as found in, say, the Matchless Factory Manual. The Matchless Manual is great fun, but if you are serious about getting something done read how to do it in MMM. Also the clearances, settings, and specifications for the whole machine are given in one comprehensive chart for each manufacturer.
I found things I never thought much about such as tire pressure per tire size, per motorcycle weight, front versus rear, ridden solo or two up. Or how to use tire irons with finesse.
Why not avoid the terrible clunk into first gear by pulling the clutch lever and kicking through to free up the clutch before starting the engine!
After reading the section about Singles Magneto Timing, I was able to confidently set the timing on my Matchless G -80-CS so that the points open at one half inch before TDC. Works like a charm. You have to use a hammer twice! But with finesse as detailed in the book.
These machines were designed anticipating that the owner would have much greater mechanical perception and skill than is common in modern times. MMM can help you bridge that gap.
For professional mechanics working on these machines such as my mentor, Wes Scott of Wes Scott Cycles, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, MMM is the Bible. He said I would enjoy reading it and he was absolutely right!
I bought a fresh copy of MMM as a Christmas present for a friend who just brought home a 1974 Norton Commando. I guarantee he will devour the first 200 pages followed by the chapter on Nortons.
Thanks to MMM all my bikes are one kickers.
MMM is the cure for old bike entropy.
Sincerely, Sam Patterson
Inventor of Grip Shift and the Patterson Planetary Crank-set for bicycles – www.pattersonbike.com)
Just finished reading your book; Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter and enjoyed it very much.
As a twelve-year old, I was fairly “motorcycle mad” and would take the bus downtown to the Victoria Public Library to peruse through the books on motorcycles. Amidst all the Chilton and Clymer repair manuals for modern (reads “early 70’s”) bikes was a treasure trove of older books that looked to have been there for quite some time. I remember some titles such as “the Pitman book of the Velocette ” and “Speed – how to obtain it”. All wonderful old things that I would take home and flip through. Amongst these were a series of volumes of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics – some newer looking ones in orange, some older dog-eared ones in red. These as well would come home and I would marvel at the detail of the books. At the time, I had purchased a beaten-up Honda S65 with my paper route money. It was MMM that told me that I could actually repair brake cables by shortening the thing and soldering the end back on. I especially remember the back section on outstanding bikes through history.
In the early 90’s I was visiting Dick Eadie’s bike shop up-island in Comox to buy some bits for my ’53 BSA Bantam project. Dick’s was an excellent shop, now sadly gone. Very well organized and specializing in British bikes and parts – he even had NOS BSA Bantam wheels. I was surprised to find that he was selling autographed copies of MMM – so of course I bought one. Aside from that long-gone Bantam, I’ve not had any British bikes – being more interested in ’70’s Italian bikes. I’ve a garage filled with 3 Guzzis, a Laverda 1200, a Ducati 860 cafe special (in boxes – aren’t most of them?), and a couple of old Yamaha RDs. Just the same, with MMM in hand, I feel well-prepared to tackle that barn-fresh Ariel Square 4 or Norton 16H should they ever materialize.
About a year ago, I bought a collection of old motorcycle magazines that was advertised on a local on-line classified site. The bulk of this collection was a pretty complete set of Floyd Clymer’s Cycle magazine from 1955 to ’63. This, I thought, would complement my collection of Cycle magazines from the 70’s. When leafing through these old magazines, I was surprised to see Bernie Nicholson’s Cycle Service Tips as well as ads for the Nicholson Brothers shop. Unlike all the other ads in the magazine, these ads just said “write for catalog – Nicholson Bros. – Saskatoon, Sask., Canada” – No address needed, as I’m sure that Bernie and Lawrence would be relatively easy for the Post Office folks to find in Saskatoon. There are ads as well for Floyd Clymer Publications selling MMM.
And just the other week, my friend Richard – a fellow member of a loose-knit group of local motorcyclists called the Joboys – lent me your book. After knowing of them for most my life, it was great to fill in all the missing bits of information on the Nicholson Bros. MMM is one of those books that is clearly a labour of love. In this time of disposable products and most people relying on motorcycle shops for their servicing, MMM reminds you of the pleasures of actually doing this work yourself. A similar, but more recent book would be Guzziology by Seattle mechanic/shop owner Dave Richardson. Although concentrating on Moto Guzzis, it’s a compendium of Guzzi servicing information that, like MMM, can only be gleaned from years of experience.
There are times when I’m working in my garage and have an engine from some oddball motorcycle engine apart for a rebuild, that I stand back and think just how fun this is. The Nicholson Brothers would understand this, and thanks to your book – and MMM, many others may learn this as well.
My trek into the vintage motorcycling hobby began as many do, with an old bike that needed some repairs in order to ride. Having a mechanical aptitude and knowledgeable friends helped, but ultimately I needed an “official” guide that I could study and leaf-through on my own time; therefore without direction, I purchased the ubiquitous Hanyes manual and a spare parts book for my 1971 Triumph 650. As an additional resource, I would quite often find myself involved in internet chat board banter as well.
The internet proved itself a place where I could easily get fifty responses to a technical question – all different and 90 per cent incorrect. After about a year of owning my Triumph a learned friend, suggested that I consult “The Bible” for instruction when I was attempting to set the valve clearance on my bike – my reply was simple and confused because I did not know what he was referring to. Shortly after, I purchased a copy of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics (1974) by J.B. Nicholson of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
I was pleasantly surprised by Nicholson’s personal, insightful, and matter-of- fact prose combined with real technical instruction. The book covers all makes and models of the period (1920s – 1974) and at times makes value judgements as to the superiority of certain brands and practices: all highly enjoyable. I am convinced that Nicholson personally rode and rebuilt every motorcycle mentioned in the book – a thought confirmed in the legend.
Aside from technical repair advice, Modern Motorcycle Mechanics offers extensive riding and maintenance instruction that apply to every bike from the 1920s to the current day. It is some of these non-techncal sections that I enjoyed the most and actually took the most from. Nicholson’s section on the absurdity of the Chopper Craze would “aggravate” Mr. Paul Teutul.
John Wenkoff of Calgary Classic Motors
J.B. (Bernie) Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics
By Mike Brown (Excerpted with permission from Walneck’s Magazine Dec. 2008. Brown is also the author of Building Budget Brits.)
If I were allowed to keep only one of what’s now hundreds of technical manuals, books and publications that sit grease-stained in my home library, I’d put a death grip on J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics. While still the product of human hands and consequently imperfect as all earthly products must be, no one on the planet has ever done a better job covering mechanical repair in such a broad scope of what’s now considered classic motorcycles. Last updated in 1974, MMM as I will henceforth refer to it has been called “the motorcyclist’s bible” for good reason.
From BSA to Yamaha, Nicholson has something for everyone.
Unlike many technical publications that simply organize, illustrate, and regurgitate mechanical knowledge, MMM is the product of extensive hands on experience, refined over decades.
Every reference I’ve read or heard about Nicholson always includes “gentleman” and many included “genius.” Perhaps the greatest gift Nicholson possessed was the ability to translate technical processes into simple procedures, a gift one can really appreciate if he’s ever tried to figure out a typical owner’s manual. Nicholson also produced hard data where too many others simply said things like “replace if worn” and for this reason alone MMM is worth owning as a reference source.
The legacy of the great Nicholson Bros. of Saskatoon is recounted in a must-have new book.
Click here to read the review of Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter published in Canadian Biker magazine.
Click here to listen to CBC Radio One’s Michael Enright reading his essay about Modern Motorcycle Mechanics and my book about J.B. Nicholson, Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter. In this rites of spring treatise he puts Nicholson in the same category as Robert M. Pirsig. Indeed.