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Inherited memories: The unlikely friendship that saved a classic repair manual

J.B. “Bernie” Nicholson’s “Modern Motorcycle Mechanics” was first published in 1942, so the bikes in that classic repair manual are now classics themselves. But Nicholson’s book retains its currency precisely because it remains the best repair manual for bikes of a certain age. Nicholson’s story is an unlikely one, and it was an unlikely friendship that keeps his book — and his 1939 Triumph Speed Twin — alive today.

The story begins: Two kids on the plains with a motorcycle. In your mind, go back to 1931 — the depths of the Great Depression — to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Trust me, the only way you’d want to go there is in your mind, not in reality. It was a town with few people and fewer motorcycles. Most of the roads shriveled to two rutted wheel tracks within a few miles. They were impassable during months of winter snow; nearly so for another couple of months of spring mud. Nevertheless, 14-year-old John Bernard Nicholson and his older brother, Lawrence, delivered newspapers to earn enough money to buy a 98 cc Dot.

There was no Dot dealer in Saskatoon. They bought it by mail order. That wasn’t particularly strange; at the time, people bought entire houses from the Sears catalog in the United States or the Eaton’s catalog up in Canada… read more >

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