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

Indian Chief

Indian Chief 1950s American classic motorcycle

Harley-Davidson can lay claim to manufacturing the world's best-known motorcycles. Well, American ones, at any rate. But, Harley has always had a rival. The mere mention of 'Indians' has long instilled panic in the suited and booted, in the Harley marketing department!

In the '20s, Indian's Springfield factory was high up the motorcycle heap. The Chief was their biggest asset. The 1200cc engine, in the 1947 model, was good for 85mph. Tuning took it to the 'ton'. An Indian, though, was not about death-defying numbers. Rather, it evoked the spirit of adventure. A bit like that firm in Milwaukee, in fact!

Indian motorcycles were extravagantly styled. Nowhere more so than the finely-fettled fenders. Their trademark curvature was unmistakable. Harley front mudguards are sometimes skimpy affairs. Those which adorn an Indian are heraldic. Almost as if the front wheel were wearing a headdress! Indian, then, was a company which liked to cut a dash. Sadly, the 'Roaring Twenties' glory days faded for Indian - while Harley went on to world domination! But, as in the game ... while most kids grow up wanting to be a cowboy, there are always one or two who would really much rather be an Indian!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1970s American classic motorbike

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson's XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor - in typical Harley fashion - a laid-back cruiser. More than anything - as far as categories went - it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand - dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had fulfilled his brief. For sure, the XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR's lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR's speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average - and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers - of whom there were a lot in the late '70s - were underwhelmed.

Harley's sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley's new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And - crucially for a Harley - the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl!' points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!

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!

Harley-Davidson Sportster

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1950s American classic motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson Sportster is a motorcycle institution. It first hit American highways in '57. There has been many a model since - and the Sportster still shows no sign of stopping. Throughout its venerable run, it has given many a new rider a first taste of the biker brotherhood. The Sportster has long held pride of place as the entry-level Harley. Pared down to bare biking bones, it has always cut straight to the chase. By '62, the Sportster was dishing up 55bhp - at 5,000rpm. That was thanks to its iconic V-twin engine layout. The motor's stroke, at that point, was a tall 96.8mm. That translated into hefty dollops of acceleration-laden torque. Top speed for the Sportster, in the early Sixties, was 110mph.

The XLCH Sportster weighed in at 485lb. That was light enough for a skilled rider to cruise through corners with relative ease. While hardly a sports bike, by modern standards - back in the day, it was a lithe and agile ride. Before the Sportster, British-built bikes had been the only way to go - at any sort of speed, anyway. So, the Sportster was a welcome addition to the roster of quick and capable roadsters on offer.

The Sportster has long been a mainstay of tidy, uncluttered design. As with any bike, the focal point was its small - but perfectly-formed - fuel-tank. Alongside it were a diminutive headlamp and relatively low-set 'bars. At least, as compared with many a custom-style machine. A single seat - and slender fenders - were in keeping with the Sportster's minimalist approach. In many ways, then, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has been the bedrock of this most prestigious of two-wheeled marques. Long may it continue to be so!

Harley-Davidson V-Rod

Harley-Davidson V-Rod 2000s American sports bike

By Harley-Davidson standards, the V-Rod verged on the radical. It was clearly a cruiser - in true Milwaukee style. But, it was a different kind of cruiser to what Harley fans were used to. The V-Rod VRSC - V-Twin Racing Street Custom - had superbike-like performance. Top speed was 135mph. Handling-wise, things were just as impressive. In a straight line, the V-Rod was ultra-precise. That was only to be expected - given its long wheelbase. The front forks were raked out to 38°, after all. But, whereas in the past, cornering would then have been compromised, the V-rod's cutting edge engineering saw it sail through twists and turns. And that with a dry weight of 594lb.

Visually, the V-Rod was striking, to say the least. A full-on 'silver machine', Harley did not stint on aluminium. This was no 'iron horse'. Rather, the V-Rod was an object-lesson in à la mode metalwork. Solid disc wheels set off intricate frame tubes. An elegantly-shaped tank morphed into a slanted headlamp. The clean lines of the pipes blended in perfectly. The 1130cc V-twin engine was a design delight in itself.

The 115bhp motor had its roots in Harley's VR1000 race bike. Porsche Engineering assisted in its development. In marketing terms, Harley declared this Evolution engine a 'Revolution'! It boasted twin overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Water-cooled - and with a 60° 'V' - it took Harley performance to a whole new level. The venerable old pushrod motor was history. Harley-Davidson riders could not believe their luck. They had long been on bikes that ruled the roost, looks-wise. Well, in their opinion, at any rate. Now - with the advent of the V-Rod - they were competing technically, too. Talk about having your motorcycle cake and eating it!

Buell Firebolt XB9R

Buell Firebolt XB9R 2000s American sports bike

When it came to the Firebolt XB9R, Buell had broad shoulders to stand on. Harley-Davidson is a hugely successful brand. It is therefore well-placed to lend a helping hand to those lower down the pecking order, should it care to do so. To the likes of, say, Buell - who were given permission to transplant Harley's iconic V-twin into their own creations. Not that Harley was losing out. Erik Buell - founder of his firm - was a kingpin of innovation. Harley no doubt hoped some of his boundless ingenuity would rub off on their own marque. In marketing terms, at least!

Erik Buell was a Harley man through and through. He had been both an engineer and racer for them. He was uniquely positioned, then, to conceive and construct the RR1000 - a Harley-powered race bike. As is so often the case, success at the racetrack led to a road-going sequel. The Buell RS1200 featured a vibe-reducing rubber-mounting set-up. It was also fitted with a radical rear shock. Horizontally slung beneath the engine, it was both technically, and visually, arresting. It was in '93 that the 'big time' beckoned for Buell. Harley took out a 49% shareholding in the company. That was later increased. With Harley-Davidson at the helm, Buell was set fair. Exciting products were sure to follow. Erik Buell's singular vision of how a motorcycle could be built - rather than how it should be built - was always a key factor.

The Firebolt, then, was in a roster of radical bikes built by Buell. It was released in '02. Its most conventional component was its motor. That was a tuned 984cc Sportster powerplant. After that, Buell departed from the Harley script. The Firebolt's frame spars, for instance, were also its 'fuel tank'. Likewise, its swing-arm held the oil. Those chassis parts were forged from light aluminium. Bizarre as they sound, such 'double acts' harked back to motorcycling's classic era. What was indisputably 'new skool' was the Firebolt's front brake disc. Comprised of an ornately-fashioned 'ring', it was fixed to the wheel's rim, rather than its hub. On the subject of braking, top speed for the Firebolt was 130mph. Handling was impeccable - courtesy of the chassis wizardry. Cue plaudits, then, for Erik Buell - clearly, a man at one with his craft. The Firebolt XB9R came right out of the biking blue ... and shot a surge of creativity into the world of motorcycle design!

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide 1960s American classic motorcycle

Glamorous as they are, not many bikes have made it to the movies. One that did swan serenely across the big screen was a Harley-Davidson. The film was Electra Glide in Blue. The 'hog' fully lived up to its star billing. It caught Harley's free-wheeling spirit, to a tee ... even if it was a police bike! A kingpin of long-legged tourers, the 'Glide' was American to its apple-pie core. It was made to go places. After all - as another great movie put it - 'It's a big country!'

Styling-wise, the Glide was pure Americana. Big, basically. Big fenders, big tires, big gas tank. And - most importantly - big attitude! No marque does machismo quite like Harley. If you are uncomfortable being looked at, don't even think about getting one. Whether you want to be or not, on a Harley, you are a star. There are those who would kill for that kind of kudos!

The Electra Glide's technical spec was impressive. In '65, its motor measured 1,198cc. Piston stroke was 100.6mm. In other words, tall and torquey. Mind you, the Glide needed its pulling power. 770lb was a lot to shift. Notwithstanding, top speed was a cool 95mph. Unsurprisingly, the Electra Glide received glowing reviews. It still ripped up the red carpet, though - in true Harley-Davidson style. 'Here's looking at you, Glide!'