Showing posts with label American Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label American Classic Motorcycles. Show all posts

Henderson KJ

Henderson KJ 1920s American classic motorcycle

As early as 1929, the Henderson KJ was hitting 100mph. It came courtesy of a 1,301cc in-line four engine - outputting 40bhp. What made the top speed stat yet more impressive was that the KJ weighed in at a portly 495lb. The KJ's plucky powerplant was an air-cooled eight-valve inlet-over-exhaust unit. Whatever its configuration - it clearly worked!

In its day, the KJ was a luxury motorcycle. It flaunted a long list of fancy features. For starters, electric lighting, a fully-enclosed chain and leading-link forks. State of the art stuff, in the Twenties. As was the illuminated speedo' on the gas tank. And the KJ's straight-line stability - thanks to its long wheelbase - would have given ample opportunity to consult said clock. Bill Henderson - the firm's founder - must have been proud.

Mercifully - by the time of the Great Depression - Henderson had moved on. Ace was his new venture. The company which bore his name fared badly in the crash. The KJ's finery did not come cheap. It had no chance of selling well amidst serious austerity. Henderson struggled on as best it could - but it was always a lost cause. In '31, Schwinn - the new owners - threw in the towel. With the demise of the KJ, America lost a beautiful motorcycle. Its pinstriping, in particular, was close to perfect. And the rest of the design followed suit. In short, the Henderson KJ was class on two wheels ... direct from the USA!

Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45 1940s American classic motorcycle

These days, the Harley-Davidson WL 45 is seriously old school. That is a good thing, of course! '45' referenced its engine capacity - in cubic inches. The side-valve 45° V-twin slung the WL to a top speed of 75mph. A long way from Harley's high-tech Evo powerplant of today. Still, that was plenty enough speed, given the WL's suspension set-up - or lack of it. Well, at the rear, at any rate. The WL was a full-on factory hard-tail ... no concealed shock absorber here! The WL's sprung saddle, though, kept it comfy. At the front, however, things were looking up - hopefully, not literally! '49 saw the introduction of Harley's Girdraulic damping system. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history book.

The WL's motor made 25bhp. That was an improvement on the W model - compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm was now available. The 3-speed gearbox was controlled by a hand shift and foot clutch. While the roadster's performance was not exactly earth-shattering, Harley's WR race bike did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair to the road bike's output, it did have its work cut out. 528lb wet was plenty of weight for the WL to heave. Saying that, it was not excessive for a bike of its size. Bear in mind that in the Forties, carbon fibre was just a glint in a scientist's eye!

Bikes like the WL45, then, were a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and its current range. 45ci equated to 750cc - or middleweight, in modern money. The 45-powered bikes were hugely important to Harley. Indeed, they helped the firm weather the Great Depression. Were it not for those bikes, Milwaukee's finest may well not have survived. Many a biker's life would have been lessened - such is the impact Harley-Davidson has had. So, much is owed to the WL 45 ... and its pioneering predecessors!

Indian Four

Indian Four 1940s American classic motorcycle

The Indian story started in 1901 - in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. It continued until '42 - and the outbreak of the Second World War. Originally called Hendee, the Indian Motocycle Company came into being in '23. And, no, that is not a typo! One of Indian's most iconic machines was the succinctly-named Four. As the name suggests, its engine sported four cylinders. They were arranged in a longitudinal inline-four configuration.

Top speed for the Four was 90mph. Pretty quick, in the early Forties. The Four's side-valve set-up - 2 per cylinder - gave 40bhp, at 5,000rpm. The longitudinal layout meant overheating could be an issue, though. Cooling air struggled to find its way to the rear pots.

The Four looked every inch the classic American motorcycle. The fenders' rakish lines were pure Indian. Certainly, the bike had nailed down the 'laid-back' custom look. Styling-wise, the solo saddle, front forks and straight exhaust perfectly complemented the downward diagonal of the top frame rail. Comparisons cannot help but be made with arch-rival Harley-Davidson. But - complete with its in-line motor - the Indian Four was every bit as glamorous as a motorbike from Milwaukee. V-twin fans may conceivably disagree, of course!

Indian Powerplus

Indian Powerplus American vintage motorcycle

So far as Indian was concerned, its Powerplus model was a cut above other motorcycles. The American company's customers clearly agreed. Sales-wise, the Powerplus was a soaraway success. Between 1916 and '24 - the span of its production run - occasional modifications were all that were required.

The Powerplus' 998cc engine produced 18bhp. That gave a top speed of 60mph. As a result, Indian entered the Powerplus in the 1911 TT. It vanquished all comers. Indian collected a clean sweep of podium places. The firm broke long-distance records, too. In '14, 'Cannon Ball' Baker shot across America. It took him 11 days, 12 hours, 10 minutes ... precision-timing, back then!

But, the Powerplus did not just perform well. In design terms, too, it impressed - clad in a mantle of Indian red. Its fuel tank was embellished with the 'Indian' scripted logo - in appropriate gold paint. Viewed today, the swept-back handlebars were a vintage objet d'art. Throughout, old school engineering was in artful abundance. Hours could be spent taking in the visual delights of the Indian Powerplus. Almost as many, in fact, as it took it to traverse the States!