For me, Kevin Cameron brings to the narrative of racing, motorcycle technology, and human endeavor what Elmore Leonard brought to the crime novel: stick to the plot with a minimum of grammatical padding, reveal the characters through actions not adjectives, and intrigue us with the stories of people desperate to win, most often through their wits alone.
One difference, with all the respect due Mr. Leonard, is that Kevin Cameron has, for real, lived the gritty life of his protagonists: sleeping in the van, all-nighters resurrecting damaged machines nearly given up for dead, tending to the needs of a racer’s delicate pysche, challenging an arbitrary and hurtful technical regulation. Having paid this price of tuition Mr. Cameron is rightfully acclaimed as the technical, historical and psychological sage of moto-racing.
The technology changes, but the racing remains largely unchanged. Wooden wheels turn into JASO-compliant forged light-alloy rims wearing multi-compound tires, but winning is still an entirely primal human motivation.
Three Books by Kevin Cameron
Top Dead Center and Top Dead Center 2
“Kevin Cameron is the most intensely curious person I’ve ever known. But curiosity without wisdom is hollow, and wisdom without humanity is cold. If anything, he understands people even better than he understands the miraculous things they conjure, build, and refine.”
Cook Neilson (Daytona 200 winner and former editor of Cycle magazine), from the preface to Top Dead Center; the first collection of Mr. Cameron’s columns published in book form.
Top Dead Center and Top Dead Center 2 are selections from Kevin Cameron’s Top Dead Center columns from Cycle magazine and Cycle World, beginning with his first, published in Cycle in 1973, to a Cycle World column in 2006.
We may have the demise of Cycle magazine in 1991 to thank for the several insightful books Kevin Cameron has published beginning with Sportbike Performance Handbook (1998). Even before Mr. Cameron’s writings came to us in book form, he told Dean Adams of SuperBikePlanet.com in a 1994 interview : “Nice thing about books is they stay written whereas magazine articles have to be written every month.”
If the theme here (on this site) is “the people who bring us the world of moto-racing” then these two volumes provide some of the most engaging, insightful and broad coverage of the possible topics.
Why is the squish band as (or more) important than compression to complete combustion? How did King Kenny Roberts learn to eat or not eat to stay “one” with the bike? This the man who can and does tell us. He is also the man who, in 1984 (yes, eighty-four!), foresaw and hailed the computer-controlled active suspension as a vital next step in motorcycle performance management.
Classic Motorcycle Race Engines
The stories of 53 competition motorcycle racing engines and their designers, the technologies they inherited and the engineering and racing legacies descended from them. From the bevel-drive DOHC, 4-valve, aluminum piston, unit construction Moto Guzzi single of 1920 (!), to Yamaha’s contemporary 1000cc YZR-M1 MotoGP powerplant. Here you’ll learn the importance of optimizing compression, fuel-air intake turbulence, piston bore-stroke ratio and combustion-timing for the power characteristic needed for a given form of racing.
These highly readable accounts of discovery are, at the same time, not for the technically faint of heart. Mr. Cameron wears the oily rag bonafides of the scrappy privateer two-stroke engine tuner of the 1970’s, and the pedigree of the physicist with a graduate degree from Harvard. He will regularly cite an engine’s power output in Specific Power metrics (in bar units and psi) as well as horsepower, providing a more complete story of the motor’s thermodynamic characteristics… for a physicist.
More by Kevin Cameron
Classic Motorcycle Race Engines: Expert Technical Analysis of the World's Great Power Units by Kevin Cameron; 2013, Haynes Publishing. ISBN 978-1844259946.
Four-Stroke Motocross and Off-Road Motorcycle Performance Handbook by Eric Gorr and Kevin Cameron; 2011, Voyageur. ISBN 9780760340004
The Devil Can Ride: The World's Best Motorcycle Writing. Kevin Cameron (contributor); 2010, Motorbooks. ISBN 0760334773.
Top Dead Center 2: Racing and Wrenching with Cycle World's Kevin Cameron. Foreword by Erik Buell; 2009, Motorbooks. ISBN 978-0760336083.
The Grand Prix Motorcycle: The Official History by Kevin Cameron; 2009, David Bull Publishing. ISBN 978-1935007012.
Top Dead Center: The Best of Kevin Cameron from Cycle World Magazine; 2007, Motorbooks. ISBN 978-0760327272.
Superbikes: The History of High-Performance Motorcycles by Kevin Cameron; 2005, Motorbooks. ISBN 978-0760310922.
Sportbike Performance Handbook by Kevin Cameron; 1998, Motorbooks. ISBN 9780760302293.