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By James Tate of MSN Autos
For the past two years, the Concours d'Elegance, the world-famous gathering of vintage machines in Monterey, Calif., hasn't been just about 4-wheeled machines. Motorcycles have taken center stage during the Pebble Beach festivities as well. In fact, 27 bikes of various vintages, makes and displacements sold at Monterey Auto Week auctions last year for a total of $547,000. While that doesn't seem like much in the multimillion-dollar picture of the Concours, it's more than enough to turn heads. This year, forgotten manufacturers such as Thor, Henderson, Reading and Crocker were in attendance, along with some more easily recognizable 2-wheeled nameplates. Here are 10 of the coolest motorcycles in Monterey built before 1940.
1909 Thor Road Model
Plenty of motorcycle enthusiasts have heard about the legendary bike manufacturer Indian, but few have ever heard of Thor. Since Indian didn't have a foundry of its own for many, many years, it turned to Thor to create all sorts of parts for the company's bikes. At some point, Thor decided to try its hand at building a bike or two of its own. Today, those survivors are some of the rarest vehicles on two wheels. With parts that are nearly identical to Indian creations of the time, it's rare to find a completely original example like this one.
1909 Reading Standard Twin
In the early 1900s, there were quite a few more American motorcycle manufacturers than there are today. While Harley-Davidson now reigns supreme as this country's most iconic bike maker, the market was once flooded with a number of names that would seem foreign today. Reading was another company that began life by making replicas of Indian products that used Thor engines, but eventually grew to produce bikes that were 100 percent its own. The Reading Standard Twin was the company's first attempt at a V-Twin engine configuration.
1909 Reading Standard Board Track Racer
In the early part of the last century, the motorcycle world was dominated by board track racing. Cities around the country built massive wooden tracks with steep banks that became nearly vertical in the turns. Motorcycle manufacturers produced special racers just for competition that had just one very tall gear, no brakes, no suspension and no throttle. Riders were simply expected to start the bike and hold on. As you might guess, this type of riding was beyond dangerous and eventually fell out of favor, but not before a handful of very cool bikes was produced.
1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Board Track Racer
This particular Indian was a star attraction. In 2008, the bike won just about every trophy that could be had at that year's Legend of the Motorcycle Concours event, including best of show. Like its competition from Reading, the Torpedo Tank was built for tackling the high-banked arena of board track racing, sacrificing everything in the name of speed. Yes, the 2-wheeled world has come a long, long way.
1915 Harley Davidson 11F with Sidecar
The 1915 Harley Davidson 11F is an important piece of the motorcycle evolution puzzle; consider it the missing link between the motorized bicycles of the early part of the 20th century and the modern motorcycle. While it retained a few traits of its ancestors — pedals, an angular tank and so on — it also wore a few modern amenities such as a 3-speed gearbox. With a 1000-cc engine, it had plenty of power, too.
1909 Harley-Davidson Police Bike
Although a law enforcement officer on a massive Harley-Davidson is a common sight today, few people realize that the brand built the world's very first police bike. In 1908, the company delivered a 1909 motorcycle to the Detroit police department, kicking off a relationship that would continue for well over 100 years. Today, law enforcement departments prefer Harley-Davidson cruisers for their speed, durability and ability to carry plenty of equipment.
1939 Indian Scout Team Racers
By 1939, board track racing had nearly faded from memory, replaced instead with a new form of entertainment: dirt track racing. In 1939, Indian was heavily involved in producing some of the fastest competitors on dirt, and the factory would routinely build factory "hot rod" bikes designed for the most speed possible. The speedy Indians would use the best components from other manufacturers, while featuring completely reworked engine internals. These Indians hit the field with a bike that resembled what consumers could nab right out of the showroom.
1929 Indian Scout ‘Munro Special’ (World’s Fastest Indian)
Chances are that if you have even a passing interest in motorcycles, you've probably seen the movie "The World's Fastest Indian." The bike pictured above is none other than the same Burt Munro creation that inspired the film. Looking at the bare-bones bike, it's difficult to imagine that this motorcycle bested 190 mph, thanks to the devoted tinkering of one determined New Zealander.
1915 Henderson Long Tank
The motorcycle world is filled with beautiful machines that are more apt to be described as rolling sculpture than utilitarian transportation, and the 1915 Henderson Long Tank is one such bike. With an elegant, inline 4-cylinder engine and an expansive fuel cell that gives the motorcycle its name, the Henderson machine is arguably one of the best-looking motorcycles ever created. These particular motorcycles used a massive wheelbase of 65 inches, lending heavily to the long and lean look.
1936 Crocker Small Tank
Considered one of the world's first high-speed touring motorcycles, the 1936 Crocker Small Tank was built with a focus on performance. The company utilized a V-Twin engine with an overhead valve design. The bike enjoyed huge success and was billed as the fastest production motorcycle of its day, though due to the Great Depression, Crocker eventually ceased producing bikes in 1942. Today, Crockers are some of the world's most collectible motorcycles.