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Archives Warehouse — Harley-Davidson Museum — Milwaukee, WI

Before jumping into the nuts and bolts…

Disclaimer: Some of the names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

This article is the first in a series of planned posts about a collection of vintage motorcycles in the northwest and the man whose work was steeped in the craftsmanship necessary to become proficient at restoring this collection.

Outbuildings, Workshop and Showroom

I’m not a motorcycle archivist, but definitely a fan of reflections in a classic motorcycle headlamp. Vintage motorcycles turn heads wherever they go.

You might find on a typical road trip to Sturgis, a classic motorcycle rattling along in it’s own space in the slow lane.  You’ll roll up along side to pass then with a nod to the rider, be momentarily distracted from the road as the vibrating antique parts try and reach out to tell their story.

I came to know about this remarkable collection of classics in the northwest and was most fortunate to interview the family.  Getting a tour of this private collection is a slow-walk through motorcycle history in America.  I was not only impressed with the number, but also the significance and uniqueness of them.

January 1937 H-D Enthusiast

As a general rule, bloggers are impatient and eager to illuminate a story, especially when it comes to finding a rare stash of motorcycle history.  But, I wanted to be deliberate in the research of the bikes and truly capture the ‘soul’ of the story — the man who is behind the restorations and who made the magic.

Let’s call this man, Robert (Bob) — the heartiest of men with a large stature, a strong handshake, a friendly smile and a genuine love of wrenching on classic motorcycles.

There’s something a little magical about taking an old, neglected, forgotten motorcycle, bringing her back to life, and restoring it to her former glory.

Why do classic motorcycles grab us fiercely by the heartstrings?

There is no simple answer to that question, but one thought is they intersect with our own history.  If not you, then your father or granddad, all who would’ve been lucky to ride one of these works of art and as is often the case, it triggers a flood of fond memories.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model U

To provide some historical context and mental imagery — it was a time when there were far fewer people around, fewer laws and regulations, when gas was cheap, when driving was a pleasure, and if you owned a powerful two-wheeled machine you could point the chrome headlight down an empty road and go!

In 1937, the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic — at about the same time, a new generation of side-valve engines were introduced from the Milwaukee motor company.  Replacing the V series which had a “total loss lubrication” system, the new U series motors in 1937 were dry-sump oil designs. Most of the motorcycle parts were made in common with the Model E 61 inch OHV motorcycle that debuted a year earlier.  As it turns out, Bill Harley was granted patent 2,111,242 for this oiling system on March 15, 1938.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9B

The completely revised engine had many upgrades that separated it from the earlier V motor including new cases, cylinders and now had roller bearings throughout the lower end. New forks, frame and sheet metal improved the image of the new bike, with styling cues heavily influenced by the Art Deco movement, something that the flowing lines of paint and emblems reflected.

Fast-forward to 2020 and my private tour was finally here!

1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45

I’ve aspired to attain eminence in photography and my bucket list includes photographing motorcycles in a professional studio.  But, finding a studio with a large white soft-box that’s big enough to ride a motorcycle into is an obstacle.  Well, it is for a regular guy and renting a commercial studio with light stands, multiplex flash strobes, drop clothes and diffusion panels to eliminate reflections in the paint wasn’t in the budget.

But, I’ve digressed…

I stepped through a side-door entrance and onto the wooden floor of the showroom that houses the motorcycle collection. The space is huge and it’s open and airy with an industrial aesthetic and light pouring in through multi-paned windows.  There is a lingering smell of oil and I noted a few drops on the polished floor.

1916 Indian Power Plus

A beautiful collection!

I didn’t want to be that annoying “tourist” snapping too many photos, but I was that irksome camera-happy dude on this day.

It was a “ride through history” on rare and collectible motorcycles. More significant, were the remarks about the attention to detail and listening to the fascinating backstories, anecdotes, folk-lore and the restoration tales that my “tour guides” shared on each of the motorcycles.

A panoramic scan of the showroom is an overload of storytelling. Side-stepping across the wooden floor finds a person gazing across more than a dozen motorcycles stacked side-by-side.  Set up like an academic library, against an outer wall are multiple bookcases and shelves, where hundreds of engine manuals and parts catalogs were filed away.

The only item missing in this showroom was an onsite cafe!

1925 Henderson Four

There is even an old draughtsman drawing board complete with an articulated protractor head displaying some vintage documents.  The illustrations contained a collection of various engines schematics from their earliest incarnation.

Deep breathing makes a person more aware so, I quickly exhaled, then took another big breath while meandering my feet slowly across the showroom floor.

A bright Teak-Red restoration caught my eye; it was a stunning 1937 Harley-Davidson Model U.  It’s a little like seeing a childhood photo of someone you miss.  Then I turned to look at a bicycle form of mechanical sculpture…a tribute to the original “Silent Grey Fellow” was gently positioned in the corner — a rare 1913 Model 9B single cylinder… the very essence of simplicity!

Engine Manuals and Parts Catalogs

These old motorcycles were made when clunky was normal and oil leaks were expected. It’s oddly endearing.

Gleaming in the middle was an Azure Blue over Silver 1948 Harley-Davidson Model 45 and at the far end of that row was a shiny Dark Blue 1925 Henderson 4-cylinder.  And placed at a right-angle near the Henderson was a beautifully weathered 1916 Indian Power Plus that looked as if it had just been pulled out of a barn for the first time in many decades.

I’ve listed only a few of the motorcycles in this gem of a collection.

It’s striking and every motorcycle reaches out to tell a unique story of the time, money and effort required to be restored. Imagine how often you’d want to call in sick to skip work so that you could tinker with these bikes.  It speaks volumes of Bob’s discipline, persistence and the decades long practice of his craft.

If you are like me, old things make you feel young.  Admittedly, I have a fascination with dusty items and will be posting several articles on these vintage motorcycles, the workshop and the man behind the restorations.

Stay tuned…

Photos taken by the author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  Cover of the 1937 Enthusiast is courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

My Big Brother Motorcycle

1984 Honda Magna (VF700C or V42)

It’s a play on George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel 1984 — where the world in 1984 is under control of Big Brother and the Thought Police who enforced the rules against individuality and original thinking — essentially praising society’s achievement on the “Unification of Thoughts.

Taking a page from Apple’s Super Bowl ad, my “1984 wasn’t like 1984,” — thumbing my nose at the roots of America, I purchased a little slice of freedom and original thinking in the form of a Honda VF700C or V42 Magna.

That shiny jet black Honda Magna (V42) had a liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam 90° V4 engine (displacement is 699cc or 42.7 ci) with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 10.5:1.  Honda claimed it’s output was 82 crankshaft HP at 9,500 RPM.  The motorcycle had a smooth shifting 6-speed transmission, a wet multi-plate clutch that was hydraulically activated and shaft final drive with helical gearing in the rear-drive unit.  The motorcycle featured twin horns, coil rear springs, hydraulic clutch, air preload front fork with anti-dive valving, and an engine temperature gauge.

1984 Honda Magna (VF700C)Specs

Braking was delivered via a hydraulic activated double twin-piston disc brakes up front and a traditional non-ABS mechanical internal expanding drum brake in the rear. Great for leaving skid marks, but not so much for stopping!

The instrumentation was housed in chrome and included an analog speedometer, tachometer and engine coolant temperature gauge, along with lights for oil pressure, neutral, turn signals, tail light burn-out and a light that illuminated “OD” which let the rider know the transmission was in 6th gear.

As I reminisce on riding the Magna, I recall it having good power and a broad torque band.  Given its light weight and low center of gravity, the motorcycle was easy to ride in the city or a twisty two-lane country road. The Magna’s features were truly pushing the state-of-the-art for a production cruiser in its day.

From a historical viewpoint, only a few years had past since Harley-Davidson executed the epic buy back from AMF.  Their sales hadn’t reached the levels they envisioned, in part, because the AMF era was famous for shoddy quality, bikes requiring a lot of maintenance and the Milwaukee motor company was getting knocked down publicly and in need of some sunshine.

The poor quality and hi-maintenance requirements on Harley motorcycles was a key factor in my decision to purchase Honda.  In fact, a member of our posse also purchased a Honda, a V65 Magna (VF1100C) the same year.  Man, those V65 Magna’s (1,098 cc) were fast.  It was Honda’s initial entry in the “1/4 mile wars” between all the Japan manufacturers during the ’80s.

As Harley skidded toward bankruptcy, you might recall they petitioned and lobbied the Reagan administration in 1982 to raise tariffs on Japanese manufacturers because of “Dumping.”

“Dumping” in this context refers to exporting a product at a lower price than is charged in the home market, or selling at a price that is lower than the cost to produce it.  In April 1983, President Reagan signed into law an act that imposed draconian import tariffs for a five-year period on Japanese motorcycles with a displacement of greater than 700 cc.  This would give the sole American motorcycle maker some breathing room from intense competition to retool, get its act together and turn profitable.

However, Honda quickly responded to the retaliatory import duties and retooled the engines (what had been the 750cc class, VF750C V45 Magna) to displace just under 700cc; making them immune to the financial impact of the tariff.  One of the bikes that debuted as a “tariff buster” in 1984 was the V42 Magna.  Ironically and in a show of engineering superiority, it had three additional horsepower compared to the 750cc!

Harley was eventually able to turn a corner and the motor company ultimately requested that the tariff protection end early — essentially stating, they were now strong enough to take on the best competition in the world!

The 5-year tariff officially expired in 1988. That same year the Honda Magna reverted back to its original size of 748 cc.

Photos courtesy of Honda and Harley-Davidson Museum.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Let me start off by saying I like Indian motorcycles. I really do.  I’m digging the variety of styles and the attention to detail on each build.

But, my heart is with Harley…

In a previous post I discussed the Indian “Challenger Challenge,” a campaign that invites motorcyclists to test ride the Challenger and the Harley-Davidson Road Glide® Special back-to-back for a head-to-head comparison.

It’s brilliant.

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider how this campaign would’ve worked out if Indian used any other motorcycle in their lineup vs. the Road Glide — one of Harley’s bagger cash cow.  It’s dangerous to make assertions about “might-have-beens,” or what analytic philosophers like to call “counterfactuals,” because no evidence can exist that fully demonstrates the falseness of such an assertion.

But, I’ve digressed.

A “bake-off” for the preeminent bagger, demonstrates a battle for supremacy in the public mind.  It’s also a battle for cultural supremacy, not a judgement about features, technical prowess or achievements.  It’s the subtlety of Indian craving the appeal of that, what makes a Harley, a Harley.  That ineffable something (that je ne sais quoi, if you need a phrase to go with your cappuccino).

So, in classic Harley fashion, and only 5-months in the role, Jon Bekefy (GM of Brand Marketing at Harley-Davidson) calls BS and snapped back at Indian.  Mr. Bekefy uploaded an agency polished Instagram post and in the process scorches Polaris. (Bekefy Twitter)

In other words, “Anything Polaris/Indian can do, Harley can do better.”  Clearly the General Manager of Brand Marketing at Harley-Davidson doesn’t want to get upstaged.

We all know that Harley-Davidson is not just a bike, it’s a choice.  An existential decision and the life that follows upon it.

Wait.  That statement may not be as defensible, since Harley is now promising to be another “transportation” manufacture delivering a Chinese 338cc bike where affordability remains paramount to the upscale EV future of two-wheel transportation and includes all bicycle types in between.

As Indian and Harley arm wrestle each other over boomer-centric models, it has a limited lifespan and is unlikely to generate a lot of new riders, but it’s pure theater and fun to watch!

Photo courtesy Instagram.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Riding On Painted Lines

Blue Mountain Scenic Byway

The Oregon Department of Transportation is responsible for furnishing and maintaining directional, regulatory, warning, and informational signing on the state highway system.

Can you explain the significance behind every color and symbol used in Oregon’s road signs?  How about the inspiration behind the center line that has divided roads for decades?

ODOT Signs

It was interesting to learn, that the first modern centerline was painted in 1917. White was chosen by its designer, Edward Hines, who was inspired after seeing milk spill from a delivery wagon on a newly-paved road.  In 1935, highway officials gave local governments options when it came to painting centerlines. They could be either yellow, white, or black, depending on the color of the underlying pavement. By 1955, 49 states had adopted white stripes to divide their traffic lanes.  The ONLY holdout, Oregon, who preferred yellow, arguing that it was safer.

The federal government balked at such a ridiculous suggestion and threatened to withhold $300 million in highway funds. Oregon begrudgingly complied, but likely felt vindicated in 1971, when the federal government mandated that centerlines now be painted yellow, with white stripes reserved for roads where traffic drove in the same direction. (Lines on the sides of roads didn’t gain traction with officials until the mid-1950s. Before that, edge markings were prohibited. They were finally advocated in 1961, and then mandated in 1978.)

Route Signs

How about when Oregon Department of Transportation spent $680,000.00 to switch out 400 speed limit signs for House Bill 3402 when it passed in 2015 and increased the speed limit to 70 MPH on selected roadways.  At $1,700.00 for each sign…that is some kind of phenomenon speed sign!

If you’re like me, as you ride by a roadway sign, you likely understand the signage on a subconscious level and that’s why the designs were chosen in the first place.

Colored signs were erected along a stretch of roadway in the mid-1950s. The signs led to two cities: Utopia and Metropolis. Drivers were later polled about which sign color they preferred. Green came out on top at 58 percent, followed by blue (27 percent), and black (15 percent).

Many road sign features have interesting origin stories.

IMPORTANT: Riding on painted lines reduces grip when it rains.

REMINDER:  “White lining” is NOT legal in Oregon.  This is the act of lane-splitting or when a motorcycle travels along the white line between two adjacent lanes of traffic.

Photos courtesy of ODOT.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Indian Challenger vs Harley-Davidson Road Glide

Earlier this week, Indian announced the “Challenger Challenge,” a campaign that invites motorcyclists to test ride the Challenger and the Harley-Davidson Road Glide® Special back-to-back for a head-to-head comparison.

It’s not the typical, behind-the-scenes advertising effort by Indian to sell a product in its own time and in its own way.  Instead, it’s a high-visibility campaign marked with in-your-face marketing which proclaims — the Challenger will absolutely “smoke the competition.”

That’s a blue-collar craftsmen and beer-bellied “motor-head” inflammatory call to battle!

Will Harley-Davidson laugh and say, ‘Good try, bad result‘ expecting it to reinvigorate the Road Glide sales or will the Milwaukee gurus sit up and make a hard-eyed comparison of the competition’s strengths?

I’ve posted previously that motorcycle growth rates domestically are decelerating.  Wall Street is worried that the motor company has tapped out demand for their line-up as sales cool.

Challenger Challenge Stats

My initial reaction of the Indian campaign was, it being reminiscent of the 1980’s when commercials were a sign of the times — desperate, struggling times that car manufactures hoped would turn prosperous.  You might remember, “If You Can Find a Better Car, Buy It” ad campaign?  The face behind that familiar slogan was Ronald DeLuca — the advertising whiz hired by Chrysler Corporation chairman Lee Iacocca to turn around Chrysler’s late-1970s death plunge in a recession-weary America.

Indian has the not-so-simple task of convincing Americans that the motorcycling passion isn’t an archaic lifestyle teetering on the edge of the toilet bowl.  Or if Millennials are truly killing motorcycles, then why not ride it out in style with a new Indian Challenger!

Carey Hart and Big B

The Challenger Challenge is set to launch at Daytona Bike Week on Friday, March 6th.  The product demo tour will visit Indian Motorcycle dealers around the country, as well as select motorcycle rallies and events, including Sturgis in August. In addition to the national tour, select Indian Motorcycle dealers will have a Road Glide on hand to ensure that any customer who visits their dealership can take the Challenger Challenge.

Of course there will be a full-court press with social hashtags and digital media including a video series where Carey Hart and Bryan “Big B” Mahoney, pit the new Indian Challenger against the Road Glide Special in a series of rubber burning tests that showcase power, torque, braking and handling.

We will know soon enough if the campaign is more about finding new customers who don’t necessarily want to own a motorcycle or boosting the Indian public image and extending the brand’s good name.

Photos courtesy of Indian Motorcycle.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Maya Hansen at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week — Madrid

Valentine’s Day…

Have you noticed that Barbie beauty standards have wormed their thick smoky eye shadow and shimmering red lip gloss way into the world of motorcycling?

It’s true, companies use scantily clad women in sexy poses, draped over the fuel tank to sell motorcycles.

Clearly, the advertisers think if you’re a male in the market for a motorcycle, then a woman fixing her hair and makeup in the chrome reflection, while wearing lingerie, a bikini or underwear is as important as the size of — the engine combustion chamber.  It’s the kind of situation in the dealer showroom one could only hope to find oneself in when purchasing a motorcycle.

Right?

We’ve all seen these so-called “perfect biker babes.”  They strap themselves into black leather bras, lean forward and pout with cherry red lipstick.  When they disembark the motorcycle they shake out bouncy platinum hair, adjust their cleavage and scan the area for a Glamour photographer in hopes of a modeling contract without even smudging their red lipstick.

Maya Hansen Clothing Line and NZI Helmets

Let’s transport back to the real world.

Photographers from Glamour are nowhere to be seen.  Because in reality, most women don’t spend much time draped across a fuel tank semi-clothed on a random motorcycle. Especially if there’s a camera around.  In all my years of riding, I’ve never seen a woman get off a motorcycle, shake out her hair, and be offered a modeling contract!

Breaking the stereotype — nobody looks twice when they see a woman riding a motorcycle these days.  Women don’t want to be objectified for any purpose and especially not for hawking a motorcycle.  The public’s perception that motorcycle riders are predominately male is ‘long gone.’

In fact, according to a 2018 national survey by the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), they found that among all age groups, women make up 19 percent of motorcycle owners, compared with less than 10 percent less than a decade ago. The survey found even greater ownership among younger generations.  With Millennials, 26 percent of motorcycle owners were women. Among Gen X, 22 percent were women.

Advertising sells products, but the ridiculousness of women draped over, like melted candle wax, awkwardly positioned a-top a motorcycle – is perhaps an easy way to grab attention to try and sell something – it’s not necessarily the best approach.

For equality, here is a similar motorcycle photoshoot, but with “perfect” men.

Photos courtesy YouMotorcycle, Maya Hansen and NZI Helmets.  Photos taken at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week — Madrid, Spain.

Disclaimer: As I’m sure you can imagine, the internet knows no mercy when you misstep to be a perfect model of a human.  I mean no disrespect if you are, or are not perfect and certainly not looking for a stampede of angry followers accusing me of being tone deaf for the sake of generating clicks.  If you ask, I’ll candidly admit that I don’t have a clue about “What Women Want” when it comes to fashion.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

1922 Spare Parts Directory

Harley-Davidson has been preserving its parts history for over 116 years.

When the motor company incorporated in 1907, Arthur Davidson acted as secretary and general sales manager. He traveled the world recruiting new dealers and establishing the dealer network. He knew the importance of a strong dealer network, but also understood the importance of having skilled mechanics to take care of the customer and thus he also oversaw the development of the Service School.

Harley-Davidson first instituted teaching courses in 1917. Production in 1917 was devoted to the military and the motor company developed the Quartermasters School to teach military personnel how to fix their machines in the field. Recognizing the value of the classes, they continued the classes, which were referred to as the Harley-Davidson Service School. The Service School was a success and adjusted to needs of the company throughout years, even including managerial and sales classes.

1922 Exploded View of Parts

During WWII the focus again turned to military training. Harley-Davidson produced approximately 60,000 WLA models for the military and converted the Service School into the Quartermaster School to train military mechanics.  From 1941-1946, motorcycle models did not change and, due to the many shortages brought on by the war, even paint was hard to come by.

The name “Service School” lasted into the late 1990s when training efforts were consolidated into the Harley-Davidson University (HDU).

Photos taken by author of the nostalgic November 1, 1922 — Directory of Spare Parts

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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