Final answers to our quiz. This time it’s Laverda and Suzuki. How did you do?

OK folks. Here’s the wrap up to our little 10 bike history quiz. Today it’s the Italian marque Laverda along with Japanese mainstay Suzuki.

laverda_aI. Laverda – Answer 4: Agricultural engines

Pietro Laverda founded Laverda Macchine Agricole (Laverda S.p.A) in 1873 in Breganze, Northern Italy as a manufacturer of agricultural equipment, engines, farm implements and wine-making machinery. Much later, in 1949, Francesco Laverda (grandson of Pietro) formed Moto Laverda as an offshoot of the family business. Like other Italian manufacturers in those difficult post-war years Moto Laverda focused on small-displacement bikes, built in the Italian tradition of craftsmanship, and attention to detail, combined with a durable ‘tractor-like’ build quality. Through the 50s and 60s the company participated in nearly every segment of two wheeled transport – race bikes, scooters, trials, motocross, and more.  But always with small displacement bikes, both two and four stroke versions. At times they even had development partnerships with other brands like Zundapp and Husqvarna in order to create products that ventured outside the typical Italian mold. By 1969 they were ready to really break the mold with their first large displacement offering by launching its GT750 touring, SF750 sport, and SFC (super freni competizione) race bike. Orange (known as “SFC Orange”) became Laverda’s signature color during this period. The 750cc parallel twin featured a single chain-driven overhead cam and at produced up to 70 hp. It also utilized the engine as a stressed chassis member. The 750s also featured the street/sport segment’s latest innovations such as cast wheels and disc brakes. Did you know that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Laverda was imported to America under the “American Eagle” name? Vintage Motorcycle PhotographsThe success of the 750 twins, and the continued marketplace movement toward larger displacements begat a 1000cc triple from Laverda in 1973. This bike subsequently morphed into the more refined and well received Laverda Jota, produced from 1976 until 1985. Unfortunately, by that time the Japanese manufacturers, with the application of advanced technology and low cost manufacturing, had basically left the small boutique manufacturers like Laverda in the dust. The parent company Laverda S.p.A. shut down the Moto Laverda operation in 1985. The Laverda brand was briefly resuscitated in 1993, when investor Francesco Tognon re-started production in Zane, Italy. The Zane/Laverda incarnation created a full line of motorcycles including the Laverda Diamante, Laverda 650, Laverda 668, and Laverda 750 ‘Ghost Strike,’ and a prototype flagship 900cc liquid cooled 3 cylinder sport bike. Failing to generate market enthusiasm, Laverda manufacturing was shuttered once again. But the name refused to die. The Aprilia Group S.p.A. purchased the Laverda brand in 2000, creating the ‘SFC,’ which was basically a re-packaged Aprilia RSV1000 with Laverda trim and badging. By 2003 this incarnation was gone too. In 2004 Aprilia was acquired by transportation giant Piaggio and the Laverda name was once again consigned to the dustbin. This time seemingly for good. At least as far as motorcycles go. The good news? You can still buy brand new Laverda farm equipment –  harvesters, threshers and such from the direct descendant of the parent firm that was originally founded by Pietro Laverda in 1873.

suzuki_aJ. Suzuki – Answer 5: Industrial Weaving Looms

In 1909, in the tiny seacoast village of Hamamatsu, 22 year old Michio Suzuki founded the Suzuki Loom Works. The manufacture of looms (originally for Japan’s giant silk industry) remained a primary focus of Suzuki’s firm for the next 30 years. Despite the success of the loom business, the lure of diversification called to Suzuki. Based on growing consumer demand, and a high level of expertise in the manufacture of complex and demanding machines, the firm elected to try it’s hand at the production of small cars. The project was begun in 1937 and prototypes were produced but World War II intervened. The government deemed passenger car production a “non essential commodity” and the plan was set aside for the duration. Post war, Suzuki went back to what they knew best, loom production. For a time, business boomed, especially after the US government approved the shipment of cotton to Japan, driving loom demand from Japanese domestic producers through the roof. This joy was, however, short lived as the cotton market collapsed in 1951. Faced with tough times, Suzuki’s thoughts went back to motor vehicles. This time the firm zeroed in on the post war need for simple, affordable, and reliable personal transportation in the form of motorized bicycles, scooters, and lightweight motorcycles. Beginning in 1952 with a motorized bicycle that featured a 36cc two stroke single cylinder engine they called the “Power Free”, the firm quickly grew. Just two years later they were producing 6,000 motorbikes a month and the company name was officially changed to Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd. Then in 1955 first Suzuki car, the “Suzulight” appeared on the scene, helping to usher in the era of Japanese small cars. Both the motorcycle and auto business proceeded aggressively forward throughout the balance of the 20th Century. Success in motorcycle racing (including wins at the Isle of Man TT) foretold advent of stunning Suzuki offerings such as the GSX-R series of sportbikes. BUt they competed in every segment – dirtbikes, cruisers, dual sports and more. By the end of 1999 aggregate worldwide motorcycle production passed the 40 million milestone and just two years later automobile (and light truck) production crossed the 30 million benchmark. Suzuki remains a stalwart of the motorcycle industry with annual worldwide sales of nearly 3.0 million units, and a broad product line capturing virtually every segment of the business.

So, there you go. How did you make out? Hope you enjoyed this little exercise. We’ll have more of this thing from time to time. Hope you’ll join us in the future.


Quiz answers part 4 – the back stories of BSA and KTM.

For reasons unknown an inordinate number of motorcycle firms (and frankly, companies everywhere) have taken corporate names that consist of three letters. Today we touch on two such firms. First the iconic, and long deceased, British concern BSA. Then we’ll visit the relatively new Austrian outfit, KTM.

bsa_a G. BSA – Answer 7: Armamants/Firearms

In 1861, fourteen independent members of the Birmingham (U.K.) Small Arms Trade Association joined together to form a new enterprise, Birmingham Small Arms. Catalyzed by the growing availability of specialized manufacturing machinery, the firm made it’s name via precision machining and the relatively new concept of interchangable parts. Shortly after inception, the enterprise established a facility in the Small Heath district of Birmingham on the ever so cleverly named Armoury Road. Providing high quality rifles to the British War Office, as well as other nations, proved to be a “feast or famine” business model. Seeking to attenuate the vagaries of the arms business, BSA branched out into the manufacture of bicycles in 1880. Near the turn of the century bicycles were all the trend and their production required large numbers of precise and interchangeable parts. It was a near perfect fit for the gun making machinery and business flourished. It was a short step from bicycles to motor-bicycles and by the fall of 1910 BSA had 3 1/2 HP offering in the marketplace. Distracted, in the 1914-1918, period by World War I, the company returned to strictly arms production. Immediately following, however, in 1919 they introduced their first two-cylinder motorcycle. Motorcycle production carried on throughout the intra-war period but by 1939 Britain was back on a war footing.BSA-Rifles The manufacture of arms, as well as military motorcycles, prevailed until the cessation of hostilities in 1945. At one point in the war, BSA was managing the war production at 67 factories throughout the British Empire. During the course of the war BSA also bought Sunbeam Motorcycles from Associated Motorcycles and later, in 1944, they also purchased Ariel. Following the war, the entire production capacity at Small Heath was turned over to motorcycles in order to meet growing civilian demand. By the early 1950s the BSA Group was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The Group continued to expand and acquire throughout the 1950s, including the notable 1951 acquisition of Triumph. Throughout the late 60s , however, competition from Japan and Continental Europe (in the form of  Jawa, CZ, Bultaco, and Husqvarna) severely eroded BSA’s market share. By 1972 poor marketing decisions, products no longer aligned to the marketplace, and some failed (but expensive) projects had placed BSA (and Triumph) in dire financial straits. A government bailout which involved the contrived marriage of BSA group with the remains of Associated Motorcycles (which had already failed in 1966) resulted in the Norton-Villiers-Triumph (NVT) conglomerate. Unfortunately, the hemorraging of cash continued, compounded by management miscalculations, labor strife and more. NVT finally went into receivership in late 1975 and was unltimately liquidated, in its entirity in 1978. Once the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, BSA has now been gone for over 30 years. It remains a favorite marque of restorers and Brit bike enthusiasts who all love the BSA graphic logo which shows 3 stacked rifles, a tribute to its origin as a rifle maker.


H. KTM – Answer 6: Metalworking and Fabrication

Among the Europeans in our little quiz, KTM is a relative newcomer. In 1934 Austrian engineer Hans Trunkenpolz opened the doors to a small metal working shop in Mattighofen, Austria under the business name of Kraftfahrzeuge Trunkenpolz Mattighofen. However, it was 1951 before the firm produced its first motorcycle and it took a couple of years to produce its first 100 bikes. A slow ramp up, to be sure.  Substantial change came about in 1955 with a massive investment from Austrian businessman Ernst Kronreif. The company name was changed to Kronreif & Trunkenpolz, Mattighofen but, more importantly, the pace of the action picked up. A series of light sports bikes, as well as scooters and mopeds became the company’s core business and by the 1960s, some 10,000 units had been produced. Knowledgeable American enthusiasts may know that the Penton trials bikes were manufactured, under contract, by KTM and utilized Sachs engines. It was actually not until 1970 that KTM produced its own engines. Throughout the 1980s the firm moved from success to success with off-road and motocross bikes but by the end of the decade things are not going so well. In 1989 founder Hans Trunkenpolz died and two years later the firm filed for bankruptcy. KTM was split into several pieces – tooling, radiators, bicycles, and motorcycles. Just a year later, in 1992, a new entity, KTM Sportsmotorcycle GmbH, emerged. A new business plan also emerged and by 1994, the firm which had specialized in off-road bikes, went into production with a road going model, the Duke. Now on a sound footing once again, the firm aggressively moved forward. Through the 1990s technical advances like linkless suspensions for some of the two stroke bikes emerge, as do new models including the LC4, in both Supermoto and Adventure versions. By 2001 KTM has become a Dakar Rally winner and an international leader in the production of on-off road bikes. A cooperative business agreement with Polaris, intended to share vehicle development and distribution networks came, and went, in 2006-2008. Which leaves us, today, with KTM as a relatively small, but growing, independent force in the motorcycle marketplace with expanded presence in the off-road and on road markets. Signature products like the Adventure series and the RC8 sportbike carry on the heritage of the nearly 80 year old firm that started simply as a metalworking shop.

Tomorrow we’ll finish up with the stories of Laverda and Suzuki. Hope you’ll join us as we complete our motorcycle history quiz.

Results – Part 3….Origins of BMW and Yamaha

bmw_aE. BMW – Answer 8: Aircraft Engines.

The small Munich engineering firm Rapp Motorenwerke was a troubled aircraft engine manufacturer founded in 1913. In financial straits, founder Karl Friedrich Rapp was forced to resign and control was taken by a couple of Austrians. The new Austrian owners, Franz Josef Popp and Max Friz, subsequently merged Rapp with the even smaller Munich based Otto Aircraft firm and folded the entire mess into their own Bayerische Flugzuegwerke (BFw.) Shortly after, in 1916, the entire conglomeration was renamed Bayerische Motorenwerke (Bavarian Motor Works – get it?)  The interesting part for us is that BFw had a small motorcycle sideline business that was retained, and improved upon by the recently consolidated BMW. The first BMW branded motorcycle came in the form of the R32, a 494cc flat twin cylinder engine mounted in a double loop tubular frame that had a top speed of 59 mph. The flat twin design cylinder engine architecture remains to this day, with a water cooled version introduced as recently as the fall of 2012. It is believed by many that the BMW logo was based on the circular design of a whirling propeller. This belief is surrounded by a degree of controversy, as other historians simply point to the color combination as being based on the Bavarian flag. Whatever you choose to believe, it is clear that the roots of the BMW we know today are based in aircraft engine manufacture.

yamaha_aF. Yamaha – Answer 10: Musical Instruments

While there may be some controversy over the origin of the BMW Logo, there is absolutely none regarding Yamaha. Yamaha’s distinctive logo featuring the three tuning forks is clearly attributable to the firm’s origin as a producer of Musical Instruments. Founder Torakusu Yamaha built his first reed organ in 1887. The Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. (current Yamaha Corporation) was capitalized by Yamaha and his supporters ten years later in 1897. Pianos followed in 1900. The advent of Yamaha Motor, the motorcycle arm of the firm, came more than half a century later in 1955. That original firm continues to this day as a world leading producer of both musical instruments and powersports vehicles. The “tuning fork” folks are the current MotoGP world champions with Spanish rider Jorge Lorenzo. We don’t know if he plays piano.

Tomorrow we’ll cover the classic British bike builder BSA and relative newcomers to the scene KTM. Hope you’ll stop back.

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“RoadProse” is produced by Martin Motorsports of Boyertown , PA. However it’s important to note that it’s not about Martin Motorsports.  We have always thought of ourselves as “Professional Motorcycle Enthusiasts” and here we hope to further nourish our “Enthusiast” selves. The intended role of “RoadProse” is to create an appealing online destination for our motorcycling community. We’ll share stories from our friends and our staff. Where they’ve ridden.  Things that they’ve seen and done.  Events that they have attended. We’ll also endeavor to keep you posted on important local, regional, and even national events. From time to time there may be technical stuff or details of interesting “scoop” from the Motorcycle industry (and not just the brands that we represent!) We’ll endeavor to do this with stories and content that goes deeper than is possible in one paragraph Facebook snippets or 140 character tweets.  And yes, there will be lots of pics! We’re looking forward to having you join us for the ride!