November 13, 2009

Cannonball Motorcycle Diaries – Getting Into Older Classic Harleys

After the huge disappointment of not buying the 1913 Harley twin at the car auction in Hershey, PA I had to wonder where I’d be able to find a solid old motorcycle from before 1916 that I could afford and count on to ride clear across the US next summer.

I’ve been fooling around with old motorcycles for years and have slowly worked my way back in years. My first classic Harley was a last-year and rare factory handshift 1978 Shovelhead ex-police bike. Having ridden more modern motorcycles since the mid 1970s, that old Harley’s foot clutch and hand shifter took some getting used to when I bought it in 1990. From the handshift 1978 Shovelhead I worked my way back with a civilianized WLA (both long ago sold) and then the 1947 Harley Knucklehead I bought from a friend in Sturgis is 1994 or ’95  (I think) that I still have today.

My 1948 Harley Panhead in Milwaukee

My 1948 Harley Panhead in Milwaukee

Over the years I found I was most comfortable on Harley & Indian motorcycles from the 1950s and ’40s as they offered a great classic look but, when set up properly, could be ridden long distances with reliability and comfort. I rode my 1947 Knucklehead from Connecticut to Milwaukee and back for Harley’s 95th anniversary, and then did a similar ride on my 1955 Harley Panhead for Harley’s 100th anniversary in 2003. And then again on my 1948 Harley Panhead (shown in the photo above) for Harley’s 105th anniversary.

My 1931 Indian 101 Scout behind Dean's Harley Panhead - what a difference in size and handling!

My 1931 Indian 101 Scout behind Dean's Harley Panhead - what a difference in size and handling!

I felt most comfortable on Harleys and Indians no older than the late 1940s until I discovered the Indian 101 Scout. The 1931 Indian 101 Scout I now have (sold another one with a sidecar many years ago and wish I never did) had been slightly upgraded with modern tires, a recirculating oil pump from a later Indian, and a mildly hot rodded engine. It is beautiful, fast, light and a lot of fun. It didn’t take long for me to appreciate the wonderful 1931 Indian 101 Scout as a special machine, although I don’t think I’d want to ride one long distance in a hurry.

My and my 1924 Harley JDCA classic motorcycle

My and my 1924 Harley JDCA classic motorcycle

I have owned a 1924 Harley JDCA for many years, but was never comfortable riding it until the last year. After my pal Dave Fusiak went through that old Harley sorting it out to run almost as good as new I quickly learned to really appreciate it. I rode it around the Mid Ohio racetrack at increasing speeds as part of the AMA Vintage Days deal in the summer of 2009. Since then I have ridden it around my neighborhood several miles before competing and winning the 2009 Pewter Run event in New Hampshire with it.

I recently realized that my taste in motorcycling is slowly moving back in time. When I go on my regular Sunday morning rides with my pal Dean I tend to ride my 1931 Indian 101 Scout, 1924 Harley JD or my 1948 Harley Panhead the most. I haven’t ridden my 1955 Harley Panhead sidecar rig in at least a year and sold my “new” 1965 Harley Panhead years ago. And I find the more I ride the bery early iron the more I enjoy it. They are simple machines from a much less comples time in our country. And riding them lets me slow down and enjoy the experience more. Of course with the marginal brakes on these classic motorcycles, it’s not a great idea to run flat out much any way!

So when the Motorcycle Cannonball event for very early motorcycles was announced earlier this summer I knew I had to be in it. And no matter how hard I tried to get them to lower the age of bike to allow my 1924 Harley I had no luck. So I signed up for one of the few remaining rider spots and set my sights on getting a 1915 or earlier motorcycle to ride cross country next year. Perhaps I am using this once-in-a-lifetime experience as the excuse to buy an even earlier motorycycle, but regardless of what or how I do, I am looking forward to it.

While I have gained some knowledge of the bikes I do or have owned, I feel like a total rookie when it comes to the pre-1916 machines. But I am learning as fast as I can.

Can’t go into details yet, but I have a line on two affordable Motorcycle Cannonball-eligible Harley-Davidsons that I hope to own in the near future. Stay tuned…

Filed under Buzz Kanter Classic Motorcycle Blog, Cannonball Motorcycle Diaries, Motorcycles by Buzz_Kanter

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