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1970 Harley-Davidson XR-750

I’m talking about the Harley-Davidson XR-750, which last month marked the 50th Anniversary since it’s debut.

From 1953 to 1969,  Harley-Davidson manufactured the KR750, the backbone of American dirt track racing.

The motorcycle engine was an air cooled, side valve 4-stroke 45° V-twin (flathead), 45.125 cu in (739.47 cc) displacement built for racing.  Unique for Harley’s at that time, the KR model shifted on the right, like a British bike, which worked great for dirt track.  It wasn’t until 1975, when DOT specified that all motorcycles sold in the U.S. had to have a standardized, left-side gear shift.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing

Prior to 1969, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the Grand National Championship were structured to favor “sidevalvers” (side-valve engines) rather than overhead-valve (OHV) engines.  The intent was to deliberately favor American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and disadvantage the competition which was mainly from British manufactures i.e., Triumph, BSA, and Norton. The AMA rules allowed side-valve engines of up to 750cc capacity but OHV engines were limited to 500cc. The 50% engine size advantage stacked the odd in the favor of the side-valve bikes.

As you might imagine, the British manufactures complained…about everything—the rules, the manufactures, the officials, the drivers, the races, and the racing itself.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

As a result, in 1969, in prep for the 1970 race season, the AMA approved that all professional Amateur & Expert dirt track and speedway engines could be 750cc, regardless of configuration or valve style. This rule change eliminated the 250cc penalty for OHV engines that had existed since 1933.  Many British manufacturers begin designing and developing OHV 750cc engines for competition. To be approved by the AMA (for Class C competition), a motorcycle must be a standard catalogued production model and at least 200 units of the same model with identical engines and transmissions and must be available for inspection and/or purchase within the United States.

XR-750 Engine – Ported and Polished Heads

Unhappy with the decision, but with a desire to continue the racing legacy, Harley-Davidson set out to create a new overhead-valve racing motorcycle.  The Milwaukee motor company leveraged their OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR.  However, it’s engine had a displacement of 900cc (55 cu. in.) and would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. Harley-Davidson engineers accomplished this by decreasing the engine’s stroke from 3.81″ to 2.983″ and increased the bore from 3.0″ to 3.2″ bringing the engine in just under the 750cc maximum.

The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson “XR”, a 750cc V-twin overhead valve engine, for Class C competition on Feburary 27, 1970. It had been tentatively approved in late-1969 as the “750 Sportster”, but the motor company lacked having 200 units available for inspection at the time. The motorcycle is dubbed the “iron XR“, or “Iron Head,” due to its steel cylinders and heads.

Even Knievel

For the 1972 race season, there were a number of changes.  A vote was taken on November 18, 1971, and the AMA Competition Congress voted to allow qualified women to compete in all forms of AMA Racing.

The Water-Cooling was approved, as long as it is an integral part of a production motorcycle.  Titanium frames were outlawed from all AMA competition. The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson XR-750, an updated version of the XR, for Class C competition on April 12, 1972. The updated engine used aluminum cylinders and heads to address the overheating issues that plagued the XR model. However, due to delays in getting all 200 units completed, it wasn’t approved in time for the Daytona 200, but debuts at the Colorado Springs national on April 30, 1972.

Speaking of aluminum heads, they were made, then shipped to Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics in Long Beach, California to be ported and assembled. The new cylinder head design included larger valves. The cylinder heads were then shipped back to Harley-Davidson’s factory in Milwaukee for fitting to the new engines. This V-twin engine was not quite of the same dimensions as the Iron Head. The bore was increased to 3.1” and the stroke reduced to 3”. Carburetors were 36mm Mikuni, one for each cylinder. The exhaust systems were mounted high on the left side of the motorcycle well away from the carburetors.  Power was 82hp at 7,700rpm giving the bike a top speed of around 115mph.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team

Branch wrote engineering books on his engine air flow work and eventually sold Branch Flowmetrics to Mikuni in the late 1990s.  Branch was the only independent company to ever supply Harley-Davidson ported and polished heads!

In 1972, Harley-Davidson was the first-ever “Grand National Manufacturer’s Championship“, which compiles the highest finish of each brand at every Grand National Championship event.  Between 1972 and 2008, the XR-750 won 28 of 37 AMA Grand National Championships. The XR-750 racked up more wins than any other motorcycle in AMA racing history and earned the description of being the “most successful race bike of all time.”  In addition, the XR-750 became a cultural icon with legendary stuntman Evel Knievel at the handlebars. Evel Knievel began jumping an XR-750 at the height of his career from 1970 to 1976.

Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling.

For 2020, the Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track team will use the updated Harley-Davidson® XG750R flat tracker, powered by the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected and race-tuned 750cc Harley-Davidson® Revolution X™ V-Twin designed for the Street 750 motorcycle.

Full details on the Flat Track team can be found HERE.  Flat Track racing news is HERE.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company – Hamamatsu, Japan

The date was March 15, 1920 when the Suzuki Loom Manufacturing Company (later changed to Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd)  was founded by Michio Suzuki.

Suzuki Motor Corporation celebrated its 100th anniversary last month. Suzuki manufactures cars, marine engines, wheelchairs, and legendary motorcycles such as the GSX-R, championship winning RM-Z motocross bikes, agile scooters, and revolutionary ATVs.  The company has over 45,000 employees and has 35 production facilities in 23 countries and 133 distributors in 192 countries. Suzuki’s domestic motorcycle sales volume is the third-largest in Japan.

1952 Power Free 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine

I never owned one, but a good buddy (here’s looking at you GL) bought a new Suzuki GS-1000, that he let me ride a several times.  The GS Suzuki’s were very popular in the late 70s and early 80s.  The the lack of oil leaks, great performance, and their reliability were big selling points.  The DOHC in-line 4-cylinder 4-stroke engines were powerful and required very little maintenance, but the four Mikuni carburetors did require regular balancing with vacuum gauges.

Suzuki entered the motor-vehicle field with the launch of the Power Free, a 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine.  In Hamamatsu, Japan where the Suzuki Headquarters was located, there were strong seasonal winds that made it difficult to bicycle when there was headwinds. Shunzo Suzuki would ride his bicycle to go fishing, but thought “it would be so much easier if this bike had an engine…”

1971 – GT750 750cc, 2-cycle Motorcycle

This thought and idea developed into the Power Free, which launched in 1952. At the time, regulations on riding motorised bicycles changed from licence-based to permission-based, allowing everyone to ride them after taking a simple course. This trend really helped Power Free to become an immediate success with record sales.

The below information isn’t a comprehensive list, but provides some highlights of key motorcycle launches.  Some product introduced were mainly for the Japanese domestic market and not available in the U.S. History:

  • June 1952 – Suzuki enters the motor-vehicle field with the launch of the Power Free 36cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine.
  • March 1953 – Diamond Free 60cc, 2-cycle auxiliary bicycle engine debuts and its monthly production exceeds 6,000 units amid a bike boom.
  • March 1955 – Colleda 125cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • June 1963 – Mitsuo Ito becomes the first Japanese rider to win the Isle of Man TT in the 50cc class.
  • March 1967 – Thai Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd. is established for assembly in Thailand. (First motorcycle plant outside Japan)
  • September 1971 – GT750 750cc, 2-cycle motorcycle debut.
  • January 1972 – GT380 380cc, 2-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • October 1981 – GSX 1100S Katana 1100cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debut in overseas markets.
  • March 1984 – GSX-R 400cc, 4-cycle sportbike debuts.
  • March 1985 – GSX-R750 750cc, 4-cycle motorcycle debuts.
  • August 2009 — TU250X 250cc, 4-cycle motorcycle with old school charm debuts.
  • August 2016 – SV650ABS sportbike debuts.
  • January 2018 – New sportbike GSX-R125 ABS, GSX-R series debuts.
  • October 2018 – Suzuki unveils all-new KATANA for the overseas market.
  • November 2019 – Suzuki Unveils the All-New V-STROM 1050 and V-STROM 1050XT.

The Suzuki Hayabusa — The ‘Ultimate’ Sportbike

The journey of any company for 100 years is never easy.  Suzuki has overcome a number of crises since the foundation and continues to thrive.

Suzuki has grown into a company with many motorcycle fans across the globe. The founder’s philosophy of ‘focusing on customers’ and striving to deliver products that customers want across the globe marks another beginning of the next century.

For a complete Suzuki motorcycle lineup go HERE.

Photos courtesy of Suzuki Motor Corporation

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

The 38th year of the largest motorcycle gathering on the west coast was scheduled for April 23-26th.

Earlier, the longstanding promoter of the event, Dal-Con Promotions, had no plans to return in 2020 and went “dark.”  In January, the motorcycle rally status, which draws tens of thousands of riders to Laughlin every year, wasn’t clearly known and the local chamber of commerce declared it OFF and removed it from the organization’s event calendar.

News reports surfaced in late February that Jerry Jackson, of Five Star Exhibits, Inc., negotiated and acquired the intellectual rights — including the rights to the trademarked Laughlin River Run title and the event was back on.  Although, Five star Exhibits stated they were not a promoter of events and would not contract with entertainers and/or food and beverage concessionaires.  The web site was refreshed with new information, but without a promoter, motorcycle enthusiasts were expecting a different experience from past years.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Laughlin River Run has officially been CANCELLED.

It’s disappointing not to be able to enjoy this time in our lives with other motorcycle enthusiasts, but the health and well-being of everyone is paramount.

Photo courtesy of Five Star Exhibits

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

“Top-Dogs” Existing Harley-Davidson

Companies often don’t announce their troubles in advance — it’s a strategy that prevents mass exodus. But, when “top dogs” start leaving a company in packs, it’s probably time for you to consider the same.

The latest Harley-Davidson departure is senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Harley-Davidson did not disclose a reason for her departure, which is set for April 3rd.

For Harley-Davidson workers, the question of whether—and how long—to stick with a beleaguered employer is one that hits plenty of people at one time or other. Deciding whether to stay or go is always a tough call, and compounding the decision this year is that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity offender for job displacement.

A number of high-ranking executives have left Harley-Davidson in the span of six months:

  • October 2019 — Neil Grimmer was removed from his post as president of global brand development following an investigation that the company said showed violations of the company’s code of conduct.
  • October 2019 — Heather Malenshek, who was chief marketing officer and senior vice president, marketing and brand, left the company.
  • November 2019 — Paul Jones left his role as vice president, chief legal officer, chief compliance officer and secretary of Harley-Davidson.
  • February 2020 — president and CEO Matt Levatich announces his departure, but the hedge fund, Impala, stated he was fired by the board.
  • March 2020 — senior vice president and chief operating officer Michelle Kumbier leaves the company.

The motor company announced that Bryan Niketh has been promoted to senior vice president of product and operations and will assume Kumbier’s former responsibilities. Kumbier’s global sales responsibilities as chief operating officer will be assumed by acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz.  In addition, assistant general counsel Paul Krause, who has been serving as interim chief legal officer, has been hired for the role permanently.

Harley’s drip, drip, drip of declining sales is well-trodden media territory.  If negative media coverage is unrelenting, the business stands little chance of bouncing back very soon.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy stuff, especially given all the uncertainty. The lockdown situations in the U.S. and abroad in markets like Italy, Spain and France, will clearly impact Harley’s production and sales.  And after lifting a two-month or more lockdown are there going to be any buyers if there is a sharp recession or are people going to curtail their discretionary spending given “respectful exits” and the economic consequences?

Harley-Davidson needs to nail the fundamentals and it’s now more important than ever to continue to develop and produce amazing new products.

Photos credit: Patrick J. Endres

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

April Fools 1983

President Ronald Reagan With CEO Vaughn Beals

In 2020, April Fools is passé and pranks are out.  The pandemic crisis has changed humor!

The popular metaphor for speech is “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” which may cause panic.  The seriousness of COVID-19 has the capacity to frighten in a visceral way the public and dedicating a blog post to misleading people just seems like a very bad idea.

Do you remember a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when tariffs were being used to control unfair trade practices (labor, environment and other issues).

Former H-D CEO Matthew Levatich With Recode’s Kara Swisher Discussing Tariff’s

Recall the hysteria of — Tariffs bad, Harley good?

Harley-Davidson execs and investors panicked when the European bloc raised its 6% tariff to 31% on motorcycles. That made each motor company motorcycle about $2,200 more expensive to export, and forced the company into opening another manufacturing plant in Thailand.

Thirty-seven years ago today, President Ronald Reagan took bold steps to protect Harley-Davidson from foreign competitors.  It was April 1, 1983, when Reagan ordered massive tariffs on large Japanese motorcycles to help the last surviving maker of American-made motorcycles.

President Ronald Reagan at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987

I’ve previously written about how during the 1970’s, Japanese motorcycle manufacturers flooded the U.S. motorcycle market decreasing Harley-Davidson’s market share. It had only been a few years 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.

With poor quality and high-maintenance requirements, Harley was skiding toward bankruptcy.  In 1982, Harley-Davidson sought protection from the International Trade Commission (ITC) and requested a tariff on all overseas heavyweight motorcycles. This was the first and only time such a request was made to the ITC. They also lobbied the Reagan administration to raise tariffs on Japanese manufacturers because of “Dumping,” which 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.

President Ronald Reagan and CEO Vaughn Beals at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987 — Recieving Appreciation Award

It was a different time and President Reagan used tariffs, versus tweets, to change the course of the American motorcycle industry.

On April 1, 1983, April Fools Day, President Reagan signed into law an act that imposed draconian import tariffs for a five-year period on Japanese motorcycles with displacement of greater than 700 cc’s.  This would give the American motorcycle maker some breathing room from intense competition to retool, get its act together and turn profitable. While the act was supposed to last for five years, then CEO Vaughn Beals asked that it be lifted a year early in 1987.

It was as good then and just as good today… Remarking about the celebrated Harley-Davidson turnaround in 1987, President Reagan quipped (recorded in this Podcast), “Never bet against Americans.

If you are in need of some reading humor, check out these previous April Fools posts:
Harley-Davidson Boom Box Infotainment Virus
I Quit
Harley-Davidson Launches Blackline L-Edition
Keith Wandell Retirement Revs Up Harley
Wagoner Tapped As Harley CEO

Bonus:  President Reagan’s Remarks (Video) to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Recode and Ronald Regan Foundation

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Is Harley-Davidson committed to lending a hand?

It’s not obvious that Harley-Davidson execs realized their normal marketing plans will no longer cut it as COVID-19 overtakes nearly every facet of American life!

I’m not talking about an empty kumbaya ‘Let’s Ride’ sentiment.  Clearly, the typical messaging in the motorcycle marketplace isn’t going to work the same way as prior to the WW coronavirus pandemic.

Stating the obvious, one would think that Harley-Davidson would play into the motor company’s more than 116-year history and remind consumers how the company has responded during world wars and during previous disasters in America.  While buying or servicing your motorcycle may not be top-of-mind at the moment, offering up some type of payment relief program to consumers affected by this disaster would not only provide some peace of mind to customers, it would reaffirm that the motor company is really focusing on the consumer health situation vs. self-serving attention in suspending U.S. production to disinfect manufacturing equipment and pulling financial guidance for wall street.

Digital Advert — ‘Breathe’ by Droga5

The last significant digital advert (‘Breathe‘ — February 10, 2020), by Droga5, was a message of the outdoors and the experience of riding in a world that is humdrum.

In case you missed it, the world is no longer humdrum…  Droga5 should waive client fees for ‘pivoting’ H-D creative and media to be more reflective of the current situation.

Where is Harley-Davidson marketing?  Not only to pivot the current creative, but how about immediately trying to get a little bit of free publicity via “specially curated images” for video conference backdrops. Spitballing here… It’s important to be reassuring right now and not try to say to people ‘Rush into your Harley dealership for a sales event.

Where is the Harley-Davidson Foundation, the philanthropic organization of Harley-Davidson Inc.?  Where is Harley-Davidson Credit?  How about offering a program giving new motorcycle buyers very low-to-zero percent financing and the option to delay their first payment for 90 days?  Where is Harley-Davidson Service?  Maybe provide free service or reduced costs for people who only have a motorcycle for transportation?  And lastly, where is the “We’re With You Every Step” inspirational statement from the United Steelworkers and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’?

The COVID-19 pandemic is producing economic and social disruptions not seen before, and major industries have already felt the impact. People aren’t buying as much stuff. People are getting laid off. Despite government reassurances, the anxiety of closed businesses and lost employment and wages weigh heavy on people.

But, lets bring it back to the local situation in the northwest.

As of this morning, March 30th, the Coronavirus situation is:
Oregon: 13 deaths, 548 cases — Oregon numbers
Washington: 195 deaths, 4,896 cases — Washington numbers
United States: 2,600 deaths, 143,532 cases — U.S. numbers

While not essential for health, sustenance, shelter, and hygiene—it’s time for Harley-Davidson to step up and find a way to exist, operate, and communicate in ways that offer one of some combination of help, hope, and entertainment.

To Be Fair:  It is important to note that Harley-Davidson, it’s dealership network and the Harley-Davidson Foundation have made significant charitable contributions over the years.  From donating motorcycles to the Haitian Earthquake to funding Red Cross for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and to natural disasters in the U.S. like hurricane Florence.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

SS Thistlegorm Bow

I like fish.

When SCUBA diving, as you descend through the water, just at that point where the reef or wreck features become clear, fish of all kinds will often swim right up to you and nibble anything they can, in order to get a better idea of just what you are.

It’s common practice to tuck away longer hair and keep your fingers balled up to avoid having them nicked by pesky fish passing-by.  In some parts of the diving world, the nibbles seem to take this habit to another level.

SS Thistlegorm Stern

I’ve dived in some of the same pristine blue waters as the “Father” of SCUBA diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his legendary dive team, but I’ve never descended through water in the Egyptian Red Sea where these were first ‘discovered.’

I’m talking about the SS Thistlegorm.

It’s a 4,900 ton British armed freighter that was launched in April 1940 during World War II.  In 1952, Jacques Cousteau ‘re-discovered’ the SS Thistlegorm Wreck after following fishermen’s information and in 1956, the National Geographic with Cousteau made the first documentary on this war grave.  The local folklore is that Cousteau chopped down the mast so others would not as easily find the wreck.

Cousteau on SS Thistlegorm.  Article in the February, 1956 National Geographic Magazine.  Photo by Luis Marden

After the SS Thistlegorm three successful voyages to collect war related resources from the United States, Agentina, and the West Indies, she set sail on her fourth voyage from Glasgow in June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt.

The vessel’s cargo included trucks, armored cars, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, guns, ammunition, radio equipment , aircraft parts, railway wagons, and two steam locomotives, which were carried on deck. The cargo was to resupply allied forces in Egypt, which would become part of the famed British Eighth Army in September 1941.

The Albyn line named all of their ships after the thistle, the national flower of Scotland. Gorm is Gaelic for blue.  Between 1901 and 1960 the Albyn Line owned 18 ‘thistle’ ships, from the first Thistledhu, the black thistle, to the last, Thistleroy, or red thistle, the second of her name.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

Notably, there were more than 100 motorcycles aboard the SS Thistlegorm. The Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) produced the famous motorcycles found on the wreck, which are located in Hold #1.  The Norton 16H’s are in the lower level of Hold #2 and many are loaded onto Fordson War Office Transport (WOT) trucks.

Norton was the primary motorcycle supplier to the British Military during WWII, almost 100,000 of the Norton 16H Model were built for service. Due to the relatively high ground clearance and solid reliability the Norton, it was favored for despatch work, it was also used for training, reconnaissance, convoy control and escort duties.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

The Norton 16H had an extraordinarily long lifespan, they were originally introduced in 1911, then built through to 1954. The 16H was fitted with a 490cc side-valve engine and had a bore/stroke of 79/100mm. The “H” in the name simply means “Home”, the Nortons that were built for service overseas with the Australian, New Zealand, Indian and the Canadian Armies were denoted with a “C” for “colonies”.

The SS Thistlegorm was part of a convoy of 16 ships heading to Alexandria resupplying the British 8th Army at Tobruk.  The convoy was halted at Sha’ab Ali (Safe Anchorage F) because a tanker had run into a German mine at the entrance to the Suez canal, and the convoy had to wait until the wreckage was cleared.  The Thistlegorm was sunk during a surprise attack by a pair of Heinkel He-111 bombers dispatched from Kampfgeschwader (flight squadron) KG26 in Crete.  The German bombers were originally ordered to search for, and sink, the RMS Queen Mary.

After failing to find the RMS Queen Mary, they were heading back to base in Crete due to being low on fuel when they came across the ship convoy by accident.

SS Thistlegorm Prop

Four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew died in the bombing (Wreck Location Map: 27° 49′ 03″ N, 33° 55′ 14″E) as ammunition stored in Hold #4 exploded and ripped open the hull.

Most of the cargo remained on board following a long period of disinterest.  Until Dr. Adel Taher, the founder of Sharm’s Hyperbaric Medical Centre, ‘rediscovered’ the wreck in the early 1990s with three friends and dived it in secret for a few years.

Then growth of sport diving took off in the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh became a popular scuba diving destination.  The depth of the wreck is around 100 feet and makes it ideal for diving without the need for specialized equipment and training, but dive operators didn’t practice social distancing and word spread as the location became the most popular scuba diving and tourist destination in Egypt and the Red Sea.  Now there are severe issues with preserving artifacts and the history of the ship wreck.

1940’s Norton-Model-16H-Military

It would be tempting, even with unexploded ordinance, to retrieve a Norton or two, but the ship wreck is a war grave and not to be disturbed.

Bonus: A 1942 training film prepared for the British Army during World War II on maintenance of the Norton 16H via YouTube HERE.

References: Wikipedia, Dive Magazine UK, Dive Zone, Red Sea Wreak Project, The Thistlegorm Project 

NOTE: Trademarks, copyrights and other names or brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Photos courtesy of Denis Zorzin, National Geographic, Luis Marden, Dive Magazine UK, Super Jolly

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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