Earl Flanders was life-long motorcycling buff who turned his passion into a business. A motorcyclist from a young age, Flanders took his ample knowledge of machining and began manufacturing custom handlebars for some of America’s leading racers out of his garage. From those humble beginnings, Flanders and his wife, Lucille, started a motorcycle accessories business that would become one of the largest motorcycle accessory companies in the world.
Flanders was an avid backer of the AMA, serving for years on the Association’s competition committee and promoting AMA races in Southern California. He was also an AMA district referee and for nearly 20 years managed the annual speed trials held on the famous Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Earl and Lucille were awarded the AMA’s highest award in 1983 when they were honored with the Dudley Perkins Award for their outstanding contributions to motorcycling.
Flanders was born in Saskatchewan, Canada on June 25, 1911. When he was a young boy, he and his family moved to Pomona, California. It was in sunny Southern California that Flanders first became interested in motorcycling. Don Gatenbien, a well-known area sports rider, lived just a three doors down from Flanders. Young Earl tore around the streets of his neighborhood on his bicycle, trying to emulate the riding tricks of his popular neighbor. As soon as Flanders earned his drivers license, he used a motorcycle owned by his father to ride back and forth to school.
Flanders was so enthused about riding that after graduating he took several different motorcycle delivery jobs. One job was with Red Arrow, the predecessor to United Parcel Service (UPS). He tallied over 120,000 miles in his years a motorcycle delivery rider.
In the 1930s, Flanders took a job in a machine shop and became a highly skilled fabricator. An avid desert rider, Flanders and his fellow riders often broke handlebars on the rough desert trails. Flanders began fabricating handlebars that were much more durable than the stock bars and his friends began using them as well. Some of Flanders' friends included top racers such as brothers Cordy and Jack Milne, Ed Kretz and other prominent riders. Flanders began selling the handlebars, marketing them under the names of the riders for which they were designed. With such well-known customers, Flanders handlebars quickly became a popular item.
During World War II, Flanders worked in the war effort for Vard, Inc., which was producing an experimental motorcycle based closely on the German BMW. Coincidentally, Flanders would later become the west coast distributor for BMW.
Shortly after the war, Earl and Lucille devoted themselves full time to their burgeoning handlebar business. Not content to just improve the motorcycle handlebar, Flanders continued to fabricate and improve on numerous parts of motorcycles and the business grew to become a supplier of a full range of accessories.
Flanders was very active in the Pasadena Motorcycle Club and helped run the famous enduro runs such as the Greenhorn and Big Bear. Growing up riding off road in the mountains near his boyhood home of Pomona, Flanders himself was a top Southern California off-road racer. In 1948, he shocked the motorcycle racing community when he won the famous Jack Pine Enduro riding an AJS, thus claiming the title of AMA National Enduro Champion. Flanders was the first rider from the West to win the grueling 500-mile classic. Up to then it was thought that a western rider would never be able to adapt to the rigors of riding in the East with the dense wooded sections and often muddy conditions.
"There was a big stink back East," recalls Lucille Flanders. "The club in Michigan wondered if Earl was going to come back and return the perpetual trophy (a cow bell). He did go back the next year, much to the relief of the Jack Pine organizers."
In the late 1940s, Flanders took up the task of promoting weekly AMA-sanctioned dirt track and TT races at Lincoln Park Stadium.
Flanders served in many official capacities for the AMA. He served as district president or secretary from the 1940s through to the 1970s. He was a long-time member of the competition committee and served as West Coast referee. Flanders also managed the timing of motorcycle speed runs at the Bonneville Salt Flats and oversaw many world-record runs, including the first motorcycle to break the 200 mph barrier, a factory NSU with rider Wilhelm Hertz in 1956. Earl and his wife also helped run the Trailblazers Motorcycle Club.
Beginning in the early 1970s, the Flanders went into semi-retirement, traveling all over the world and mixing business with pleasure in meeting with suppliers of the family-owned business. Sons John and Paul also worked in the business and by the 1990s a third generation of Flanders continued working in the company. Another son, Bruce, is a famous racing announcer. All three sons were avid motorcyclists and racers.
In 1983, the AMA honored the Flanders with the Dud Perkins Award. Earl passed away on April 30, 1984.
Inducted in 1998