November 19, 2009

Cannonball Motorcycle Diaries – Ebay Hunt For Old Harley

After my dreams fell apart not winning the 1913 Harley twin at the car auction I started scrambling about how to find a motorcycle old enough to compete on the Motorcycle Cannonball Run in September 2010. Most of my connections and knowledge was for newer Harleys and Indians – mostly from the 1940s and ’50s.

Original paint 1915 Harley from

Original paint 1915 Harley from

Having heard some very high selling prices for these old motorcycles, I wondered how often pre-1916 motorcycles showed up in my budget range. I’d figured I might spend as much as $50,000 (including buyer’s commission) for the 1913 Harley at the auction which is  a lot more than I have ever spent on a motorcycle – let alone one I am not likely to ride much after the Motorcycle Cannonball.

So I began calling around to friends who know more about these very old classic motorcycles than I do. I called people like Dale Walksler of Wheels Through Time,, and others. The advice I got was to buy the strongest machine I could find and afford. Several people suggested a 3-speed Harley 1915 as the best possible choice.

1915 Harley Twin Motorcycle

From what I heard the 1915 Harley Twin was a strong runner with 3 speed transmission and plenty going for it, especially on a ride as demanding as the Motorcycle Cannonball. So, while looking around for any appropriate pre-1916 motorcycle, I narrowed the focus a bit on the 1915 Harley twin. Funny think is that back in the early ’90s I owned a genuine 1915 Harley frame, forks, handlebars, front wheel and fenders. Not being able to find a correct 1915 Harley engine or transmission I ended up selling it – something I never should have done. Oh well, you learn this way!

One of my pals cautioned me about what to buy because the Motorcycle Cannonball roster had already sold out. Meaning if you are not one of the 50 riders pre-registered for the event there’s a good chance you won’t be in it. I had signed up early hoping I’d be able to buy that 1913 Harley. I didn’t buy the bike but still had a slot in the “Multi-cylinder, Single speed” class. More than one friend suggested I contacted Lonnie Isam, Jr, the event promoter to make sure I could switch classes without any problem. I hadn’t thought of that and was a bit concerned until I spoke with Lonnie who said it was fine. The Motorcycle Cannonball,, has three classes for motorcycles – Single-Speed, Single cylinder, Single-speed, Multi cylinder, and Multi-speed, Multi cylinder motorcycles.

Correct but expensive 1915 Harley motorcycle on ebay

Correct but expensive 1915 Harley motorcycle on eBay didn't meet reserve

Right about this time a couple of interesting looking 1915 Harley motorcycles showed up on ebay for auction. Not knowing much about them they looked pretty similar to my eye. So using the Classic American Iron Forum,, I asked the members what they see and know about these tow old Harleys. Basically I learned that one of them was the real deal and quite correct, while the other one was a mix of many years passed off, incorrectly, as a real 1915.

Put together old Harley - mostly NOT a 1915 parts

Put together old Harley on Ebay - few real 1915 Harley parts

I contacted both sellers to ask for more details. I told the owner of the incorrect one what I had learned and he replied that I was probably right and he had bought it as a real 1915 only to find out otherwise later. He ended up pulling his auction early as he had found someone willing to pay a lot for it. Funny thing is he later contacted me to say the deal fell through and asking me what I’d pay for it.

The owner of the second, and correct 1915 Harley told me he had a reserve WAY beyond my budget. He said he didn’t think it would sell on ebay but wanted to let people know he had it and was interested in selling it. He said he might bring it to the big Las Vegas motorcycle auction in January to sell.

A 1915 Harley like this is what I am looking for but only if in my budget

Looking for a 1915 Harley twin like this in my budget

So 2 1915 Harleys on ebay – one real, and one not. And it sounds like neither sold there. Well, I didn’t buy one but I am learning more about what to look for and what to avoid in a 1915 Harley – IF I can find a decent one that I can afford. So I began checking ebay every few days looking for any decent pre-1916 motorcycle, but specifically a 1915 Harley twin.

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

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