Before Clymer and before Haynes service manuals, there was J.B. Nicholson and Modern Motorcycle Mechanics.
Nicholson, together with his brother Lawrence, opened Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1933. To this small city in the middle of the Canadian prairie they imported DOT, Calthorpe and Douglas motorcycles and by 1935 the brothers had transformed the business into a fledgling mail order parts supply house.
But it was a 25-year old J.B. (Bernie) Nicholson who published what could be considered one of the first comprehensive texts regarding the operation and maintenance of motorcycles of the day. In 1942 the first edition of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics was distributed widely. They sold the book themselves, and industry giants such as Johnson Motors bought books for resale in their showroom. Floyd Clymer himself ordered hundreds of copies for resale through his motoring catalogs.
Nicholson went on to revise his book six times, with editions appearing in 1945, 1948, 1953, 1965, 1969 and the final and seventh in 1974.
Over the years more than 100,000 copies of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics books have sold from Canada to England, India, South Africa, Australia and beyond.
Jam-packed with Nicholson’s clear and concise service and maintenance information and ever-handy clearance and settings charts for several different makes and models the Seventh Edition Reprint of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics is 766 pages – just like the original. The book covers everything from setting the timing on a single-cylinder Lucas magneto to rebuilding the engine of a Harley-Davidson 45”.
An unsung Canadian motorcycle pioneer, Bernie Nicholson helped shape the industry in this country. But his influence has been and still is being felt around the world, and Prairie Dust, Motorcycles and a Typewriter tells that story. Together with his brother Lawrence, Bernie ran a successful motorcycle dealership in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He also wrote seven editions of Modern Motorcycle Mechanics. But he didn’t stop there. Nicholson spent three years with the Canadian Army from 1942 to 1945, training military dispatch riders and mechanics — another area of history that hasn’t been heavily explored. An entire chapter in Prairie Dust is devoted to Nicholson’s training techniques.
Well illustrated with black and white images from the Nicholson collection and filled with archival letters from British motorcycle heavy-hitters including Edward Turner, designer of the Triumph Speed Twin, and Bert Hopwood, designer of the B.S.A. A10, this book is a fascinating glimpse into more than just the life of a Canadian prairie motorcycle pioneer.
In 2017, an expanded edition was released featuring an extra 24 pages of early Saskatoon motorcycle history that’s packed with archival photos and plenty of information. Also included is an essay by Lindsay Brooke, author of Triumph Motorcycles in America, about the important role Nicholson Bros. Motorcycles played in the North American market. He compares the NBM shop in Saskatoon to the Johnson Motors outlet in Pasadena, and is simply a great read.