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» March 2016, Motorcycle Legends » Pete Gagan
Photos courtesy Pete Gagan
Pioneer motorcyclists had nerves of steel.
For the most part, everything was an experiment as early designers built and tested their creations.
Power - internal combustion or steam.
Engine placement - under the frame, in the frame, over the front wheel, behind the rear wheel.
Ignition, carburetion, controls, power transfer - many variations were tried and assessed until a familiar layout became established.
PETE GAGAN on bike
For many decades, antique motorcycle historian Pete Gagan of British Columbia has been fascinated by all aspects of old machines.
gone so far as to build replica machines, where no originals exist, so he
- and others - could experience the trials and tribulations of early motorcyclists.
enlisted help from the likes of Paul Brodie and Flashback Fabrications (see Motorcycle Mojo, December 2012, for more on Paul) to recreate some early machines, including an 1895 Pennington and a 1900 Orient.
Others, such as an 1896 steam-powered Roper, were existing replicas he
made look more period correct, and an 1884 Copeland high wheel steam velocipede was created using an original Star high wheel bicycle.
has acquired many of the patent drawings, filed with the U.S. Patent office, in order to build these early motorcycles.
The Pennington, however, was recreated using Edward Joel Pennington's original drawings.
"The Pennington was the first gasoline-powered two-wheeler," Pete
says from his
home in Parksville on Vancouver Island.
We're calling Pete
a legend from British Columbia because he's
been based in this western province for almost 40 years.
Born and raised in Ontario, Pete has an extensive history of championing old and interesting motorcycles in Canada and abroad.
first machine - that actually ran - was a 1950 Francis-Barnett Merlin.
"A friend of ours had the bike in his
garage, and my dad took an interest in it," Pete recalls.
"Dad borrowed the Merlin, but fell off it and managed to bend the frame.
Because of that accident, he
felt obligated to buy it."
dad wasn't mechanically inclined and, in fact, couldn't tell one end of a screwdriver from the other - but he
With the Merlin in the Gagans' garage, Pete
stripped it down and had the frame straightened.
After that, it was back together and he
was riding it, illegally, on the streets at the age of 14.
The police soon caught him and he
was escorted home.
The officers told his
was handling the motorcycle just fine, but he
shouldn't be riding it until he
With two years to go, he
disassembled the Merlin and patiently brush-painted the frame, fenders and gas tank, and ordered some new parts from England to complete the motorcycle in time for his
Funding the Habit
"I earned my motor vehicle money by cutting grass for neighbours after school," Pete
"The man across the road was the sales manager of a lawn mower manufacturer, and he
let me use his
With a fleet of power equipment, I could cut way more lawns in a week than other kids with hand mowers, and I offered no discounts."
Ironically, it was a car that led Pete
to acquire his
first true antique motorcycle.
There was a 1916 Saxon automobile parked in the driveway of a home in Long Branch, Ontario, and Pete thought he
The owner wouldn't sell it, but he
would let him have, for $15, a 1912 Indian that was leaning against the fence.
"It had morning glory vines growing over it, and he'd painted the fence with whitewash and it was all over the Indian, too," Pete recalls.
"I brought it home in the trunk of my dad's brand new Pontiac."
In the manner he'd performed an amateur restoration on the Francis-Barnett, Pete
did the same with the Indian.
Large parts were stripped, but this time, working in the family basement, he
used a vacuum cleaner attachment that came with his
mom's 1920s Hoover to spray-paint the pieces red.
This is a detail he
clearly remembers, as he
turned everything pink, including the laundry hanging to dry.
wasn't popular for some time after that.
The Indian gas tank was so badly rusted, he
put a fake tank inside the original.
had a connection with a chrome-and-nickel-plating firm, where he
had all the bright work redone.
A journey of almost 500 km aboard the Indian was undertaken when he
rode it on a London to Brighton, Ontario, run with a number of antique cars.
pedalled it for most of the journey because the carburetion wasn't correctly set and the plugs were fouling.
Canada Cycle & Motor Co.
1912 Indian motorcycle
"While I was at the platers when I was restoring the Indian, a truck driver came in and said he
had a motorcycle older than mine," Pete
"He'd bought a house, and behind the furnace was a 1908 CCM
[Canada Cycle & Motor Co.
Ltd.] that had been stored there since around 1938."
A small-displacement Swiss-made Motosacoche clip-on engine powered the CCM machine, and the bicycle maker produced very few examples.
was offered the CCM
for $5, and he
With some crude effort, he
got it running and was able to ride it around the block, but says it took him almost 50 years before he
properly restored it.
is now in the collection maintained by the Deeley Motorcycle Exhibition in Vancouver.
In those early days, Pete
says there were very few people with whom he
could share his
interest in antique motorcycles.
When he bought an old Ford Model T, he joined the Ontario Region of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America).
Soon after that, Pete
met Charlie Emmans, an Englishman who'd immigrated to Canada.
In 1959, Pete - who was 19 at the time - and Charlie, joined the AMCA (Antique Motorcycle Club of America).
"I went on a few trips to the U.S. with Charlie, who was born the same year as my father," Pete
By 1968, Pete
was aware of at least a few other local vintage motorcycle enthusiasts, and in November of that year, invited them over to his
house in Port Credit, Ontario, for an informal gathering.
This group continued to meet, and the name Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group (CVMG) was suggested and adopted.
For the first few years, Pete
was one of the main sparkplugs behind the nascent organization, and that initially there was neither formal structure nor any membership dues.
The CVMG will soon be turning 50 years old, and currently has more than 2300 members who are part of 32 sections located across Canada. After leaving Ontario in the early 1970s, Pete
attempted to start up sections in Calgary, and then in Lethbridge, Alberta, but neither stayed together.
There is now, however, an active Calgary section that's existed since 1996.
There are two CVMG sections in B.C., in Vancouver and Vancouver Island.
Pete still plays a role in the group, as he is both president and treasurer of the Island section.
played an even more important role in the world of promoting vintage motorcycling during his
tenure, first as treasurer and then as the seventh president, with the Antique Motorcycle Club of America
Pete was president of the AMCA for close to six years, and, in 2007, he helped establish the Antique Motorcycle Foundation.
The foundation, according its website (Amf.foundation), is a separate entity of the AMCA
It's a non-profit, tax-exempt educational foundation, created to help inform the greater public of the "role motorcycles have played in the evolution of technology and culture in the industrialized world.
The foundation also aims to help those with an interest in old motorcycles learn vital skills that are necessary in keeping these mechanized machines in operating condition.
To foster the art of restoration and preservation, the foundation has launched and funded an educational grant program.
has often been the only Canadian at many European historic motorcycle events, including the Irish Rally and the London to Brighton Pioneer Run.
In the mid-1990s, he
and wife Mary Jane maintained a small flat in Handcross, West Sussex, so they could attend English rallies and runs.
Passing the Torch
And even after 60 years of tinkering with old motorcycles, Pete
continues to do what he
can to facilitate the enthusiasm of young riders interested in antique powered two-wheelers.
been teaching his
teenaged neighbour how to ride a 1912 Fabrique Nationale, and says that's one way to introduce youngsters to the hobby.
From Brough Superiors to Zenith Graduas, Pete
owned more than 150 interesting machines.
Of what pioneering motorcyclist Sylvester H. Roper would have experienced riding his steam-powered invention in the late 1800s, Pete
says, "I've had it to 40 mph with lots of throttle left, but no more nerve.
by Pete Gagan
Pete Gagan, President
Antique Motorcycle Club of America
by Pete Gagan
by Pete Gagan
Antique Motorcycles Store with 82 Antique Motorcycles books and related products.
Antique Motorcycle Club of America 50th Anniversary by Peter Gagan
Antique Motorcycle Club of America 50th Anniversary
0.0 out of 5 stars
by Peter Gagan
A replica of the special 580 ...
A replica of the special 580 cc Indian TT model V-twin has been built by Canadian entrant Peter Gagan and on Friday, June 10, 2011 it will lead the centenary parade lap for historic machines.
None of these special machines survived intact to the present day, but fortunately about 10 years ago Peter Gagan
located a 580 cc Indian racing engine in England.
It may have been from one of the original TT machines but the records that could verify it do not exist.
Working from his
home in White Rock, British Columbia, Gagan
constructed a replica using a 1911 Indian frame and transmission.
No drawings of the TT bikes exist, so the frame modifications and exhaust pipes had to be fabricated according to photographs of the originals.
The machine bears Godfrey's race number 26.
Gagan has a lifetime of experience with early motorcycles, having been a member for more than 50 years of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, of which he is past president.
He has also served as president of the Antique Motorcycle Foundation and was founder of the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group.
team are eager to hear from potential sponsors of this historic return to the legendary Isle of Man.
They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After seeing the building, Antique ...
After seeing the building, Antique Motorcycle Foundation President Dennis Craig, former AMCA President Pete Gagan and others urged Ted to move the offices out and devote the entire indoor space-nearly two acres-to motorcycles.