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Thread: A Loving Cyclist's Letter to His Bike's New Owner

  1. #1

    A Loving Cyclist's Letter to His Bike's New Owner

    The following is two pages, carefully type-written, from an owner who obviously loved his bike, giving the entire history of it to its next caretaker. I thought it touching enough to transcribe for the forum:

    "My brother (D.C.G.W.) bought the cycle in 1916, new. I think it was in or about the month of February. At that time he was an officer in the Royal Engineers, stationed somewhere about Inverkeithing, but the cycle was bought in Edinburgh. At that time the recognized agents were Macrae's in Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, but my brother for some reason decided to buy the machine through George Grinton, who was then, or at a rate later, quite a noted cyclist. In later years George Grinton was a partner in the firm of Hamilton & Grinton, Engineers, carrying on business in or about Causewayside, Edinburgh.

    My brother rode the Harley a great deal during the first year or two thereafter, at first with a light torpedo sidecar, but mostly solo. It was mainly ridden in Fife and Kidlothian, but she accompanied him to Catterick Camp (Yorkshire) when my brother was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps. The cycle was returned to Edinburgh when my brother went to France in 1917, and lay idle in our garage until the end of the war.

    After the war, when my brother was doing his engineer's training at Brown Brothers in Edinburgh, he rode the bike a great deal. At that time he fitted discs to the wheels. The discs were red, which made a very distinctive combination with the original silver-grey of the Harley-Davidson. Many years later, when the Harley was about thirty years old and was painted all-over grey (including the discs), I met a man who took an interest in the bike and told me he had only once seen one like it - "But that was about twenty years ago, and the discs were red," He used to watch my brother going to work on it every day in Edinburgh.

    By that time the bike was being ridden solo entirely, so my brother made a 13-tooth sprocket which he fitted to the driving shaft on the crankcase in place of the original 11-tooth sprocket. The 11-tooth sprocket was refitted later, when my brother married and used a sidecar again. At that time he rode the combination all over London and round Sussex (Hove), at which places he was working then.

    In 1925 my brother sold the Harley to me. I got rid of the sidecar at once and refitted the 13-tooth sprocket, which has remained on her ever since. I think that is one of the reasons why the engine has lasted so well, because, with the larger sprocket, I reckon that she goes about five to seven miles per hour faster than she did at the same engine-speed with the smaller sprocket. (You will notice a light but distinct tapping on the overhead valve rockers which comes on at about 38 or 40 mph : that used to come on (with the smaller sprocket) at about 33 mph). Incidentally,I may add, you should tune your ear to listen for that tapping, because it goes off again when you slow down to 38 or 40 : it is your only speedometer!

    I rode the Harley all over Scotland for the next twelve years or so. Mostly it was around Edinburgh and the Borders, but in holidays I went several times to Ross-shire and to York to stay with friends. As a matter of interest I specify one particular holiday in 1926, when I rode to Glen Brittle in Skye, among other places. Almost exactly 35 years later to the month, my son told me, on return from a holiday on the Harley, that he had just come from Glen Brittle!

    As far as I remember, the Harley was not used for about two years before the next war broke out. On the outbreak of war in 1939, however, I needed her and put her on the road again. She was very useful in the Army at that time, because we were short of transport in the Battalion, and I used her a lot on Service: Lanarkshire, Borders, Northumberland, Newbury, Oxford, Essex, etc, etc. She was only laid up during the war for about 18 months, and after the war was over in 1945 I used her a lot.

    About 1949 my brother asked me if I could let him have the bike back, because he needed her in Paris, where he lived. I duly crated the bike and sent her over to Paris, where he lived. About nine months later he sent her back, and I discovered that his only reason for asking for the Harley was in order to give her an overhaul, re-bore, fit new pistons fit a front brake and paint her! (This transaction explains why there was a purported change of ownership to my brother about this time, as can be seen from the Registration Book)

    You will find permanent traces of that episode on the frame of the bike. Although the engine has a number, the frame never had a number stamped on it. My brother realized that he would be asked for the frame number as well as the engine number before he could get a French road licence for her, so he just stamped a number on the frame. For obvious reasons he chose S.6013.

    After getting her back from Paris, I removed the French Registration number plate, removed the obligatory electric lighting outfit and restored the old carbide lamp - which I fitted with a simple torch bulb (as you can see), merely to provide illumination by which I could be seen (not to see anything for myself).

    I also took off the original EXTERNAL (contracting) back brake, which acted on the outside of the existing brake drum. You will find various bits of the old external brake in the oddments I showed you, but not the contracting collar itself). I may say that the old external brake, which originally worked from a hand-lever on the handle-bars, had been disconnected for years before I got the bike in 1925, because my brother liked the handle-bars kept simple and with clean lines. The existing (internal expanding) back brake has always provided sufficient braking power - enough to lock the wheel, if necessary.

    Talking about the handle-bars, they are, to put it mildly, rather unusual in shape. I think that originally they were racing handle-bars of the period, bent almost straight down! For the sake of comfort my brother heated them and drew them up to their present position. He must have done that immediately after he bought the Harley, because I never saw them in any position other than that wwhich they presently bear.

    About ten or twelve years ago I took the bike to bits one winter, scraped off the paint, and painted her light grey again (cellulose paint), as near as I could remember to the original colour. I could not get "Harley-Davidson" transfers to put on the tank, and I was not good enough at that sort of job to be able to paint the name myself : hence the rather blank look of the tank now.

    I think I have used her every year since then, except for 1962, when I had difficulty gettin a new tyre, but and less each year. As I indicated above, my son used her a bit. I got two new tyres and tubes last winter, so I put her on the road again this summer. She passed the D.O.T. test without difficulty or waste of time, or tinkering.

    Apart from what I have mentioned above, I think everything else on the Harley is original, except for that hideous spring which I put on the kickstarter a couple of years ago, temporarily, instead of getting a new return (coil) spring made. I keep the original plugs (which I have used always until about ten years ago) as spares, and have used them quite often.

    If there is anything else you want to know, I shall try to supply the answer. ..........................................C.D.L.W. , September, 1963."
    Last edited by Sarge; 08-03-2017 at 01:24 AM. Reason: spelung
    Sarge, Gerry Lyons, Fla.
    AGENT ORRNGE Survivor. So far.
    The Friendly Fire that Keeps on Burnin'.
    F.O.G. member:
    "It's a 1937, and the downside is, it's out of warranty"

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    British Columbia, Canada

    Re: A Loving Cyclist's Letter to His Bike's New Owner

    Thanks Sarge, very enjoyable reading.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Sarasota, Florida

    Re: A Loving Cyclist's Letter to His Bike's New Owner

    I remember that 1916 J being all over the auction circuit 5, or 6 years ago. It's an early '16 judging by the motor. Even though it was modified, and "enhanced" it's still an interesting early J.

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