Old motorcycle films are enthralling. This one, produced by the British Army during World War 2 is an absolute gem. Over the course of an hour and a half, a British narrator meticulously explains the mechanical workings of a motorcycle, explains the basic controls, and then delivers a lesson in cross-country riding techniques. There are even some vintage road racing and motocross clips thrown in for good measure.
It’s everything you expect a military training video to be, complete with pointing stick and clipped, simple sentences all enunciated perfectly, of course. British motorcycle fans will come for the eye candy, as the video features now-vintage British motorbikes in all their period-perfect glory.
The separate controls for ignition timing and the choke are fascinating. Dirt bike riders will be familiar with the exhaust valve lever, which allows you to crank the piston past top dead center for kickstarting, but those features will be foreign to most modern street riders.
Around the 00:01:20 mark you can hear the British narrator chanting “induction, compression, power, exhaust” as he explains the four-stroke cycle. It’s the sort of lilting, soothing chant that I could loop endlessly and use as white noise to help me sleep.
As the film progresses it gets more and more interesting, delving into basic maintenance and giving detailed explanations for how to service the old Norton. If you have an old Norton, this video will make you an instant mechanical expert.
It’s not a British film without a bit of slapstick comedy, and this video delivers on that front too. Scroll to 01:04:00 for a demonstration on how not to launch a motorcycle on gravel, complete with a not-at-all-fake (but obviously fake) slide and crash. If you want to learn how to climb a slippery hill, and watch a man tumble humorously down it at the same time, scroll to 00:01:06.
Nostalgia is a powerful drug. There is something altogether charming about this video and I guarantee it’s a better use of 90 minutes than most primetime television. It might even make you a better rider.