Are there any guesses what this 2-wheeled vehicle is? Hint… it is now 100 years old.
In 1901, 20-year-old William S. Harley drew up plans for a small engine with a displacement of 7.07 cubic inches and a 4-inch flywheel designed for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame. It didn’t work very well.
Over the next two years, he and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked on their motor-bicycle using the northside Milwaukee machine shop at the home of their friend Henry Melk. It was finished in 1903 with the help of Arthur’s brother, Walter Davidson. Upon testing their power-cycle, Harley and the Davidson brothers found it unable to climb the hills around Milwaukee without pedal assistance, and they wrote off their first motor-bicycle as a valuable learning experiment.
The three began work on a new and improved machine with an engine of 24.74 cubic inches with a 9.75 inch flywheel weighing 28 lb. Its advanced loop-frame pattern was similar to the 1903 Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle designed by Joseph Merkel, later of Flying Merkel fame. The bigger engine and loop-frame design took it out of the motorized bicycle category and marked the path to future motorcycle designs.
They also received help with their bigger engine from outboard motor pioneer, Ole Evinrude, who was then building gas engines of his own on Milwaukee’s Lake Street, designed for automotive use.
So, now to Fred’s silhouette. You have a better hint from the above paragraphs, plus, you know its 100 years old.
It is a 1922 Harley Davidson JA.
The ‘J’ means it has “intake over exhaust” with a 61 cubic inch V-twin 4-stroke engine. The ’A’ means it is a police model and more likely has a few more cubic inches of power.
It is chain-driven with a 3-speed side-shift transmission and brakes on the back only. The internet claims top speed is 85MPH and it weighs 319 pounds.
Fred found the Harley in Harmony New Jersey and bought it 31 years ago. He said the bike spent many of its earlier years, before he purchased it, in North Carolina.
Fred has done very little to it over the years he has had it. The nice paint job is from 1949, an indication the Harley has been someone’s treasure over much of its life. He had to remake the drive sprocket along with replacing the chain and a little electrical rewiring. That is it.
Fred and his wife BJ each have modern Harleys. When they go for a ride and he takes the ’22, they joke how Fred gets all the attention and BJ can expect none.
Fred did say that he has driven the old bike a lot over the years he has had it.
Can you see the hand control just behind the silver shift lever, in the picture to the right? It is a hand clutch. It was relocated to the handlebar in later years. If you watched Fred take off from a stop on a hill, you will witness some unusual moves. You will hear the engine rev up. Then you will watch what looks like him bending over to scratch the left cheek of his behind. That is not what he is doing!
Here is what you are seeing. He is holding the bike from moving backwards with his right foot on the brake while operating the throttle with his right hand. His left foot is on the ground to keep from falling over. The gear shift is in first ready for take off. When he is ready to move forward, he revs the engine a little and reaches below his left ‘cheek’ to release the hand clutch… all orderly and in good taste.
Asked why he wanted an early Harley Davidson motorcycle, Fred said his grandfather had a 1917. He has only seen a picture of his grandfather on the Harley, but at that moment many years ago, that was Fred’s dream.
Fred Gonet owns and operates his restoration shop in Proctersville, Vermont. G & G Restorations has been in business for many years and is known throughout the Eastern US for its high quality work.