Motorcycle Book Review: Stealing Speed

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Motorcycle, Motorcycle racing
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Part spy novel with technology stolen from behind the iron curtain and people escaping socialism/communism in cars with false bottoms. Part technology story of how Nazi rocket technology helped create the two stroke engine domination. Part history book on motorcycle racing in the 1950-60s. This book is also the story of how Suzuki became a major motorcycle manufacture.

20140415-084712.jpgThis, true story, is about two men Walter Kaaden, the father of the modern two stroke engine and Ernst Degner the man who raced Kaaden’s motorcycle. The story of the modern two strokes begins with Kaaden working on Germany’s V1 rockets and understanding how that technology could be used by the, then lowly, two stroke engine. After the war, he returned to his home in the communist controlled sector of Germany that would become East Germany. He begins using his Nazi knowledge to assemble racing motorcycles.

Ernst Degner was not only a racer but also one of Kaaden’s assistant engineers. Their work allowed the East Germans to go from nothing to competing and winning on the Grand Prix. Deganer and Kaaden became stars of the communist system, but where Kaaden was an older man happy to live his life with his family in his home town, Deganer was not.

Deganer raced at a time where men died at nearly every race. The skills of the winner of those races were well compensated and they lived a very “comfortable” lifestyle, unless you were a communist. Deganer’s rewards were much less than his western counterparts. Where they would take their winnings and buy expensive cars and vacation in southern France. Daganer received an apartment and the 1950s version of the Yugo.

Deganer wanted more; he wanted what the winners from other countries received. It was representatives from Suzuki that promised the desired lifestyle he wanted, if he would give them the two stroke technology and know-how. Deganer defected from East Germany in 1961 taking with him the information that made Suzuki into a world motorcycle power. In 1962 he won the world championship with Suzuki while riding there copy of the East German two stroke.

But his and Kaaden’s story did not turn out well. Kaaden would be under secret police scrutiny (problerly for his life time) while receiving almost no recognition for his contributions to motorcycling. Deganer would suffer in a terrible crash that would spiral him into depression and drug use. The only real winner in this story was the two stroke engine and Suzuki.

I found that the history of the modern two stroke engine is a dark story arising from Nazi slave labor and the thousands of people who died under the V1 rocket, from under the boot heal and rifles of communism/socialism, and the ashes of international espionage. The author, Mat Oxley, tells this story in a lively, entreatingly manner that holds the reader though out the entire story.

The book is a well written, interesting read, 4 out of 5 starts.

4 out 5



  1. I need to check this book out. I’m a big fan! Thanks for the suggestion!

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