History and the present 101

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I am constantly asked where my fascination for old motorcycles comes from. And I am constantly answering that question with the same retort - history and lineage fascinate me.

It's not just motorcycles, although they are most prominent in my quirks for all things old. Old clocks fascinate me too, but I know I have neither the finances nor the knowledge to dabble in them. Furniture made way before my time is interesting too, but you can't ride a carved rosewood cupboard, now can you.

To me, dismissing the past equals de-valuing the present. Sure you might not have the bent of mind to lust over an aging BSA, but to say that it is trash, you are indirectly dismissing the fact that the existence of that old motorcycle has somehow led to the development of that spiffy new R1, for example.

Lessons are learned over time. Mistakes are made, and then corrected for the future. That's how the human race has gotten here in the first place. Life on earth began from uni-cellular organisms and then onward to dinosaurs and ultimately, to life forms as we currently know them. It's the same with technology as it is with evolution itself. Old sidevalves gave rise to overhead valves, push rods gave rise to overhead cam shafts. If the predecessors weren't around, there wouldn't be any successors, now would there?

In my opinion, we haven't really made any significant breakthrough when it comes to internal combustion engines. Our cars still have pistons pushing down on to connecting rods to turn crankshafts. Popped valves still feed our engines and dismiss off with the waste. All we have done is to refine these designs. And even after all these years, decades after the first internal combustion engines were conceived and produced, we still manage to produce a thermal efficiency of only about 30 percent. That is, for all the energy produced in the combustion chamber, about 70 percent is wasted and only 30 percent -  in some cases less - is utilised to turn that crankshaft.

Even seemingly modern solutions to improve engine efficiency and performance might not be as modern as we might want them to seem. For example, twin-spark plug technology has been around for ages! Air plane engines used them, motors powering racing machinery used them. Why, even our very own R&D engineers at Ideal Jawa in Mysore - makers of the Yezdi brand of motorcycles -  played around with engines being run with twin-spark plug heads.

ABS technology was explored on motorcycles back in the early 1950s by Royal Enfield, Redditch. Oval pistons were being used on Triumphs back in the twenties. Liquid cooling was successfully employed on production Scott two-strokes in the thirties. Rudimentary monoshock technology for motorcycles can be seen on ancient Vincents. Girder forks, once the mainstay front suspension choice for motorcycles were dumped in lieu of telescopic forks. But now, research is indicating that these girders weren't developed to their full capacity and could prove to be superior than the newer telescopic forks.

So who are we kidding when we boast that we've come a long way since the pioneers of internal combustion engines! We've got a lot to learn from the past to make for us a better future. And now is the best time to learn that lesson!