Bikes You Should Know appears weekly as part of Two Wheel Tuesdays. Since Hooniverse primarily caters to automotive enthusiasts, this column focuses on historically or culturally significant motorcycles that are likely to interest a non-riding audience.
The cutaway drawing above is from 1952. It shows a single-cylinder, air-cooled, grand prix roadracing motorcycle. Single cylinder and grand prix might not go together in the mind of a modern viewer. We are used to thinking of single-cylinder, four-stroke “thumpers” as pleasant, but distinctly underpowered when compared to multi-cylinder designs. Single-cylinder engines are suitable for dirt bikes, commuters and learner machines — but not world-championship racing. Right? Well, for most of the 20th century, that was wrong. The Norton Manx defeated two-, three-, four- and eight-cylinder machines regularly throughout its long and illustrious run as both a works racer and a production racer sold to the public. This success was partially because the Manx engine’s double-overhead-cam design was technologically impressive for the time, but a lot of the credit must go to the “featherbed” frame that debuted in 1950. The Featherbed established the handling superiority of swingarm rear suspension, which remains nearly ubiquitous today, and remained in production (in various forms) for twenty years.