Friday, October 10, 2008

Harley 125

After posting the picture of my Pop’s 1951 Harley-Davidson 125, I have engaged the old man in a few conversations and did a bit of research. First, I was quite caught with the fact I could not locate the top edge of the windshield in the picture although I could make out the lower chrome strips on the windshield. He explained this quite easily. Several weeks prior to the picture he was riding down a gravel street in his hometown to visit his grandmother. After three near misses in the gravel, the bike went down and he stuck his face thru the bike’s windshield, which broke the windshield. Once he got home, he took a hacksaw and cut off the broken jagged windshield flush with the top of the chrome strip. He rode this way while he was saving up the $25 to replace the windshield. Someone mentioned the saddlebags, and he commented that he could not afford the motorcycle saddlebags. So, he purchased bicycle saddlebags, and those are what you see in the picture.

Now a little history of the Harley-Davidson 125. In the 1940’s, Harley was manufacturing a v-twin based motorcycle. As World War II ended, many U.S. soldiers came home with a desire to own a motorcycle and several had spent time during the war riding Harley’sWLA. Harley’s offerings stateside seemed a bit out of reach financially for most. Harley decided a small, inexpensive model would be a good way to boost sales. Part of the reparations from the war, motorcycle manufacturer DKW of Germany relinquished its motorcycle designs to the Allied Forces. Harley-Davidson received a copy of DKW’s designs, as did British motorcycle manufacturer BSA. The design was a smaller motorcycle with a single cylinder two-stroke engine. One can compare the 1948 Harley-Davidson 125 and the BSA Bantam and see almost identical motorcycles. The Yamaha YS-1 was also built from the DKW design.

The Harley 125 was introduced in 1948 with a front suspension that amounted to a series of large rubber bands and a girder fork. There was no rear suspension, but the seat was mounted on a spring. With the exception of the Harley XA, a military only model, Harley’s offerings up to this point were hand shift and foot clutch, but Harley built the 125 with DKW’s design of a left-side 3 speed foot shifter and a hand clutch and many found the lightweight bike was easier to operate. With 3.3 horsepower, the bike struggled to approach 55 mph but could log around 90mpg.

In 1951, the 125 was upgraded to a new front suspension called “Tele-Glide” which utilized telescopic forks and was a copy of the larger Harley’s Hydra-Glide front forks. Pop said that his had the Tele-Glide front forks and it was a huge improvement to the older models. He also admitted to boring the little 125 cylinder out to get a bit more power and “shaving the head a little bit”. In answer to complaints for lack of power, Harley upped the ccs in 1954 to 165.

Many refer to all 125’s as Hummers. This is a misapplication of the name. The bike became known as the 165 in 1954 and then was named the Hummer in 1955. The Hummer was named for Harley-Davidson employee Dean Hummer who helped tweak the bikes design. The Hummer did not have a battery. The bike was reworked with a magneto and was without an electric horn, turn signals or a brake light. The final Hummers were manufactured in 1959. The Harley K-model took the place of the smaller less expensive offering in the company’s lineup and was shortly thereafter renamed the Sportster.

1 comment:

"Joker" said...

That was a very interesting piece of Harley history there. I enjoyed reading it. 3 speed eh? Wow. And I sit around imagining the hell it must've been on the 4 speed shovelheads while on my 5 speed Sportster, wishing I had a 6 speed Big Twin!