Harley-Davidson – Silodrome https://silodrome.com Gasoline Culture Thu, 19 Apr 2018 06:21:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 18077751 Cohn Racers Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X https://silodrome.com/custom-harley-davidson-xr1200x/ Tue, 27 Mar 2018 07:00:25 +0000 https://silodrome.com/?p=75566 Cohn Racers Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

The Harley-Davidson XR1200X The Harley-Davidson XR1200X was the high-end version of the short-lived XR1200 series by the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer. That “X” suffixed to the name denoted Showa Big Piston Forks and twin full-floating Nissin front brake rotors up front with Showa shocks (with piggyback nitrogen-charged reservoirs) in the rear – the most modern suspension...

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Cohn Racers Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

The Harley-Davidson XR1200X

The Harley-Davidson XR1200X was the high-end version of the short-lived XR1200 series by the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer. That “X” suffixed to the name denoted Showa Big Piston Forks and twin full-floating Nissin front brake rotors up front with Showa shocks (with piggyback nitrogen-charged reservoirs) in the rear – the most modern suspension and brakes ever fitted to a production Harley-Davidson road bike.

When it was released the XR1200X seemingly surprised many motorcycle journalists with its handling and braking ability compared with other Harleys, and many of the media bikes came back with worn down footpegs and near-empty gas tanks.

The general motorcycling population has been clamoring for a proper modern Harley street tracker for years, the XR1200X met this demand and showed that the Sportster could be sporty. The XR1200 series was only built between 2010 and 2012 before being discontinued in favor of other models, but the bike has built up a cult following around the world, and good examples are still fetching solid money.

The Cohn Racers Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

The motorcycle you see here is a comprehensively rebuilt Harley XR1200X by the talented team at Cohn Racers – a custom motorcycle garage based in Coral Gables, Florida.

Cohn Racers is run by Juan P-Ilzarbe, a former Apple employee who left the tech company to found his own motorcycle garage to build limited edition series of custom motorcycles. The custom XR1200X is bike #2 of the 10 motorcycle series called “Muscle R”, it was built for John Kunkel founder of 50 Eggs, and a diehard motorcyclist with a penchant for fast Harleys.

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

The project began with a nation-wide search for a low mileage XR1200X, once one was located and bought the  build began with a teardown and inspection.

The plan for the build was to reduce weight, improve handling, and improve braking. The stock Harley XR1200X already produces a mighty 74 ft lbs of torque, but its wet weight of 573 lbs is a limiting factor. Reducing the weight improves acceleration dramatically, but it also improves braking and cornering performance – all three of these elements are important for any sports-oriented motorcycle.

The rear subframe was removed with a new unit welded into place, and the original forks and brakes were replaced with upside down Öhlins Racing forks, with radial Brembo brakes featuring hefty 320mm rotors. Rear suspension was swapped out for a pair of Öhlins piggyback shocks.

The onboard DME was re-tuned for better engine response and smoothness throughout the rev-range, but it was decided to keep the V-twin reliable rather than try to dial it up to 11 and risk issues down the line.

A new seat pan and seat was fabricated, the team at Relicate Leather supplied the leather for both the new seat and the matching leather tank strap. The original wheels were swapped out for lightweight spoked units front and back, shod with Continental Conti Twinduro TKC80 Dual Sport tires.

The completed bike would fit into both the street scrambler and street tracker genres, and it’s an excellent example of what can be achieved using a stock XR1200X as a foundation. If you’d like to read more about Cohn Racers or order your own custom you can click here to visit the website.

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X

Custom Harley-Davidson XR1200X 1

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Harley-Davidson Big Twins – The Shovelhead https://silodrome.com/harley-davidson-big-twins-shovelhead/ Sat, 13 Jan 2018 07:54:37 +0000 https://silodrome.com/?p=75545 Harley-Davidson Big Twins – The Shovelhead

As Harley-Davidson entered the sixties so did the dominance of the bikes of the Rising Sun. Bob Dylan sang “The times they are a changin’…” but one of the changes he misses in his iconic song was the progressive decline in “Wrench Competency” amongst motorcycle owners and indeed amongst young people generally. Realizing that much...

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Harley-Davidson Big Twins – The Shovelhead

As Harley-Davidson entered the sixties so did the dominance of the bikes of the Rising Sun. Bob Dylan sang “The times they are a changin’…” but one of the changes he misses in his iconic song was the progressive decline in “Wrench Competency” amongst motorcycle owners and indeed amongst young people generally. Realizing that much of the market for motorcycles would be for young men who wanted to ride fast and hard to get thrills but who did not want to enjoy hours in the workshop fixing and tinkering with their bike the Japanese made bikes that were fast and easy to ride. But they made these bikes to be reliable so “wrench impaired” young guys would not be frustrated by breakdowns or maintenance. Harley-Davidson were still in the bubble of the old motorcycle culture that they had been a part of from the time before the First World War and, just like the British motorcycle industry, were not prepared for the invasion of the cheap, reliable, fast and easy to ride bikes that came like a veritable D-Day upon America’s shores, and into her stores. Harley-Davidson did not have the resources in 1960 to create a whole new competitive small motorcycle line so they purchased a half share in Aeronatica-Macchi, and created Aermacchi Harley-Davidson.

This alliance enabled Harley-Davidson to introduce a range of small motorcycles including the Topper motor scooter and the Sprint, all of which were made in Italy at the Aermacchi factory in Varese. This excursion into badge engineering was not successful and was not good for the Harley-Davidson public brand profile. Even whilst that experiment in testing the market was happening Harley-Davidson were at work on improving their classic V twin engine to make it both powerful and reliable. The power increase was becoming more urgently needed because Harley-Davidson motorcycles were becoming heavier and heavier. A fully optioned Electro Glide tipped the scales at a not at all dainty 800lb. The introduction of rear suspension and electric starters had added more weight than the Panhead engine could compensate for.

Harley-Davidson’s engineers worked for seven years to improve the Panhead engine to create something that could succeed in the second half of the twentieth century. The result of their labours was the Shovelhead. It was a nice solid engine and was a good improvement over the Panhead. It put out more power to bring power to weight ratios back up where they needed to be. But both the new Shovelhead and its daddy the Panhead were really just improved versions of their grand daddy the Knucklehead, which was still based on the engine designs that Bill Harley had created back when he was studying engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Thus it was that the new Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine was more an effort to solve the unsolved problems of the Knucklehead than it was to start with a clean sheet of paper.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine diagram

At its bottom end the Shovelhead engine design is the same as both the Knucklehead and Panhead that preceded it. Same V-twin layout, same single central camshaft working four push-rods to operate overhead valves. The real design differences in the engine were in the cylinders, cylinder heads and overhead valve mechanisms, in the pistons, and in continuing improvements in metallurgy. In fact the Panhead and Shovelhead are so similar that some Panhead owners upgraded their engines to turn them into Shovelheads simply by changing to Shovelhead cylinders, pistons and heads.

These hybrids are known as Panshovels. The name Shovelhead comes from the shovel shape of the rocker boxes that replaced the pan shaped covers of the Panhead. The Shovelhead was not designed solely as a motorcycle engine. In 1962 Harley-Davidson purchased a sixty percent share in the Tomahawk Boat Manufacturing Company partly because they wanted the access to fiberglass manufacturing expertise and capability but also because they intended to make a version of their V twin engine for marine applications. This was part of the design brief for the engineering team working on the Shovelhead. It turned out that the Shovelhead engine did not perform well in the humidity of marine environments so it was only developed as the next generation Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine. 1966 was the year of the Shovelhead’s introduction. The capacity of the new engine was 74 cu. in. (1208cc) and remained so up until half way though the 1978 model year when it was increased to 82 cu. in. (1340cc).

For the first year of production an alloy cylinder head was used but was then replaced by a steel one in subsequent years. The design straightened out the air flow into the combustion chamber and that contributed a 10% increase in power. The combustion chambers were made more shallow to better dissipate heat which necessitated a change in valve angles. Compression ratios were increased from 6.0:1 to 8.0:1 or more which caused more heat to be generated. The combination of the changes described above along with deep fins on the heads were all needed to enable the new engine to cope with the increased combustion heat.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine diagram

As the Shovelhead became established and people came to appreciate the improvements in the engine so competition riders got into modifying the engine to find out just what was possible. One of these was a drag racing competitor named Joe Smith from West Covina in California who formed Joe Smith and Son Racing Team. Joe and his son built a drag bike with a somewhat modded Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine and took it racing at Baker’s Field in 1971. Joe Smith and his son increased the capacity of their Shovelhead engine to 108 cu. in.

To enable the sort of high engine revs he needed he replaced the stock flywheels with S&S ones and Burkhardt barrels. The engine breathed its nitro mix through an S&S carburettor and the valve action was taken care of by a Leinweber camshaft. The modified Shovelhead engine was ensconced in a custom long wheelbase drag frame of Joe Smith’s own design. Joe even attached lead weights to the forks to keep the bike from wheel-standing. Wheel-standing might look impressive to spectators but it does not contribute to fast quarter mile times. Joe’s bike broke the 9 second barrier putting down a time of 8.97 seconds and a top speed of 167.28mph to etch his name, and that of the Harley-Davidson Shovelhead, into the record books.

As Harley-Davidson moved into the seventies however the times were a changing still and in ways that even Bob Dylan would not have imagined. Already in 1969 Harley-Davidson had voluntarily allowed themselves to be sold to sporting goods manufacturer American Machine and Foundry. AMF injected much needed capital into Harley-Davidson but they also demanded increased production and through a combination of pressure to turn out more bikes and some worker discontent with management the quality of Harley-Davidsons began to decline. The Shovelhead engine got a major improvement in 1970 with the switch from a generator to an alternator to provide really adequate electrical power. This meant that the old bottom end taken straight from the Panhead with its slab sided lower engine casing was replaced with a nose-cone shaped casing.

A new blow came in 1974 when the first phase of the fuel crisis resulted in a decline in fuel quality and with the lowering of the octane rating of the fuel the Shovelhead engines with their higher compression ratios became prone to engine knock which in turn lead to overheating. The overheating caused gasket problems and gasket failures with the attendant oil leakage, none of which was good for Harley-Davidson’s reputation. Meanwhile AMF kept demanding more production believing that they could just sell more bikes that would develop problems and fix them after sales not really considering that people won’t keep buying a product that develops a bad reputation. Worker morale was progressively degraded further and the whole situation became a vicious cycle.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead motorcycle

In 1978 new emissions regulation meant that the high compression Shovelhead engine could no longer address the heat issue by running a bit rich to cool combustion. To counter this the piston to cylinder wall tolerances were reduced to assist cooling, and so to keep the piston size and shape within those tighter tolerances expansion reducing struts were cast into the pistons. At this stage Harley-Davidson found themselves in a bit of an arms race against government regulation.

The late seventies was a time when lead was being banned from gasoline, something that only made matters worse for the high compression Shovelhead engine. So with fuel quality becoming erratic, government legislating to remove lead from fuel and to regulate emissions, Harley-Davidson were faced with the need to design a new engine, and work began on what was to become the Evolution. The Shovelhead engine still needed to soldier on however. In 1981 a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson bought Harley-Davidson back from AMF for 80 million dollars and set about re-structuring and re-building their reputation for quality control. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan was in office and Harley-Davidson complained to the United States International Trade Commission that the Japanese motorcycle companies were importing so many motorcycles into the United States that it was placing the viability of the domestic makers in jeopardy.

This was found to be the case and the Reagan administration placed a 45% tariff on imported motorcycles 700cc and over that year. Now that Harley-Davidson were no longer under the control of corporate accountant thinking they were free to really concentrate on building what they were good at. Harley-Davidson did not just make mass production motorcycles, but created bikes for a whole cultural sub-set of Americans. Harley-Davidson deliberately went for the “retro” appeal of their motorcycles and created motorbikes around the retro-looking Shovelhead engine that looked and sounded like the Harleys of old. They also outsourced supply of some components not attempting to re-invent the wheel by building everything themselves. Quality control went up, style appeal went up and it was and is a style that the Japanese cannot emulate even though they tried their very best. They could make a V-twin that looked a bit like a Harley, but the Japanese bikes only managed to look like Harley copies. To get the real McCoy you needed to go to the Harley-Davidson dealer and shell out your shekels for the genuine article complete with its OHV external push-rods Shovelhead engine.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead engine

1984 was the last year of production for the Shovelhead engine. But it remains popular today and is common in custom bikes where the builder wants that retro look, sound and feel. Although Harley-Davidson don’t make the engine any more there are a number of small custom shops that do, its a Harley engine that people just like and keep coming back for.

Its an engine that has been worked on and refined over decades and nowadays it is nicely de-bugged. For a custom retro-style motorcycle its one of the best engine choices one can make. But for those who wanted a retro-style bike with a new engine Harley-Davidson had that new engine for 1985, the Evolution.

Harley-Davidson Shovelhead Electra Glide motorcycle

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Mule Motorcycles – The Midnight Express Harley Tracker https://silodrome.com/mule-motorcycles-harley-tracker/ Tue, 14 Nov 2017 07:00:51 +0000 https://silodrome.com/?p=68080 Mule Motorcycles – The Midnight Express Harley Tracker

This is the exact motorcycle that Harley-Davidson should build. Perhaps with the addition of fenders for legal reasons. The world-famous American motorcycle company has seen stock prices plummet over 23% so far this year, with sales of its motorcycles sliding globally, and revenue down almost 10%. I’m sure the bean-counters in Milwaukee have a plan, but...

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Mule Motorcycles – The Midnight Express Harley Tracker

This is the exact motorcycle that Harley-Davidson should build. Perhaps with the addition of fenders for legal reasons. The world-famous American motorcycle company has seen stock prices plummet over 23% so far this year, with sales of its motorcycles sliding globally, and revenue down almost 10%.

I’m sure the bean-counters in Milwaukee have a plan, but it’s doubtless a dry Powerpoint presentation about the importance of emerging markets, and I doubt it includes anything even remotely as exciting as the street tracker you see here – which is actually what we all want to spend our hard-earned pesos on.

Mule Motorcycles

Mule Motorcycles is run by legendary custom bike builder Richard Pollock. Richard’s been doing this a long time, years before it became popular, and many of the newer generation of tracker/scrambler builders will point to him as a major source of inspiration.

This build was close to Richard’s heart as it was being built as a personal bike for Mel Cary, a former protégé and good friend. Before working at Mule Motorcycles, Mel worked as a machinist and engine builder, mostly in the fast-paced worlds of Top Fuel dragsters and drag boats.

The Midnight Express Harley Tracker

Before his time with Richard at Mule, Mel owned a series of Ducati superbikes, but it wasn’t long before he wanted a street tracker of his own. And not just any street tracker would do.

The project started with a barely-ridden Harley-Davdison Sportster, with just 240 miles on the odometer. Mel decided to bolt the forks of a Ducati 996 on using A&A dirt track clamps – as a hat tip to his previous bikes, a significant suspension upgrade over the stock Harley springs.

The new twin shocks on the rear are similarly superior to the stock units, they’re originally from a Formula open-wheeled racing car from Switzerland, Richard sourced them 10 years ago and was saving them for a special build.

The distinctive wheels are 19″ Morris HD units, they were widened by Kosman Specialties, then powder coated. The fuel tank and seat are signature designs from the team at Storz Performance, who make them specifically to fit Harley Sportsters, ensuring a perfect fit.

Due to the fact that a stock, low milage Sportster 1200 is a torque monster anyway, it was decided to leave the internals alone and just get it breathing easier. A Mikuni HSR42 carburetor was bolted on, with a custom stainless exhaust curling out underneath into twin mufflers exits under the oil tank.

Mule manufactures their own handlebars, which were used on this build, with Berringer controls and calipers, paired with Brembo rotors. The blinkers and mirrors are by Rizoma, the headlight bracket is from Joker Machine, and the stock gel battery was swapped out for an ultra light lithium ion unit that dropped weight significantly.

The completed bike keeps its stock Harley-Davidson Sporster frame, with its rubber mounted 1200cc V-twin. It’s a bike that Harley could build themselves with minimal effort, and if they ever did they’d be showered with so much money it’d look like a late-90s rap video. So long as they did it properly. Maybe they should hire Mel and Richard.

If you’d like to see more Mule Motorcycle creations you can click here to visit their website.

Additional information provided by Pipeburn

Photography by Olivier de Vaulx

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1941 Harley-Davidson WLD https://silodrome.com/harley-davidson-wld/ Thu, 09 Nov 2017 07:00:02 +0000 https://silodrome.com/?p=67708 1941 Harley-Davidson WLD

Steve McQueen famously owned a Harley-Davidson WLD, much like the example you see here, and he loved it so much he kept it right up until his untimely death in 1980. While we’ll never be as cool as McQueen, many of us do share his love for machines. And unlike many of his now-multi million...

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1941 Harley-Davidson WLD

Steve McQueen famously owned a Harley-Davidson WLD, much like the example you see here, and he loved it so much he kept it right up until his untimely death in 1980. While we’ll never be as cool as McQueen, many of us do share his love for machines. And unlike many of his now-multi million dollar sports cars like the Jaguar XKSS and the Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, the Harley-Davidson WLD is a vehicle we might actually be able to afford.

The Harley-Davidson WLD

Harley-Davidson launched the WLD in 1937 as a replacement for the outgoing “D” model. It was powered by the Flathead WL 45 V-twin – the engine that would be the backbone of the company’s lineup, and would also power the iconic Harley-Davidson WLA that was used extensively by the US Army during the Second World War. The extensible engine would also find use in the legendary Class C Flat Track AMA racing series, on dirt ovals right across the USA.

The WLD was the slightly more sporty model, a step up from the WL. It was commonly referred to as the Special Sport Solo, and featured a single seat, a higher compression ratio, and a slight power advantage over its entry-level sibling.

As with all Harleys of the era, the WLD was kept simple and serviceable. It features a single downtime frame, a 3-speed hand shift, a duplex chain primary, a dry multi-disc clutch, 6 volt electrics, a hardtail rear, a springer front end, a Linkert carburetor, a bore/stroke of 2.75″ x 3.81″, and a total capacity of 45 cubic inches (737 cc).

Up front there’s a single headlight, mounted above an electric horn, and both wheels are clad in classic swept Harley fenders.

The most famous of the WL series bikes was the aforementioned WLA. The “A” stood for “Army”, as it was a standard issue motorcycle for the US Army – the military would order well over 90,000 units over the course of the war, as well as spare parts for many more. The Harley-Davidson WLA was ridden by hundreds of thousands of GIs during the war in both Europe and Asia, and it would be largely credited with instilling a deep love of both Harley and the humble V-twin into the hearts of a generation of young American men.

After the war many of the WLAs were decommissioned and sold to civilians, many of whom were former GIs. This period is associated with an explosion of motorcycle culture across the USA, much of which happened in the saddle of motorcycles just like the WLD.

The 1941 Harley-Davidson WLD Shown Here

The motorcycle you see here is a comprehensively restored example, rebuild using genuine Harley-Davidson factory parts and now showing just 3 shakedown miles on the odometer since the restoration was completed.

It has its original high-compression engine fitted with lightweight alloy heads that do an excellent job of shedding heat. It’s finished off in an attractive red and black paint scheme, with beautiful sweeping red fenders and that iconic red fuel tank.

If you’d like to read more about the bike or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing on Mecum – it’s due to be auctioned between the 23rd and 27th of January and there’s currently no listed estimate.

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1988 Buell RR1200 Battletwin https://silodrome.com/buell-rr1200-battletwin/ Thu, 02 Nov 2017 07:00:26 +0000 https://silodrome.com/?p=67473 1988 Buell RR1200 Battletwin

Just 65 examples of the Buell RR1200 Battletwin were ever built, it's quite an important American motorcyle as it was the first street bike ever built by Erik Buell - the engineering whizz who would make a name for himself taking lumps of Harley-Davidson V-twin and making them go fast. He even made them go around corners.

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1988 Buell RR1200 Battletwin

Erik Buell and the RR1200

Just 65 examples of the Buell RR1200 Battletwin were ever built, it’s quite an important American motorcyle as it was one of the first street bikes ever built by Erik Buell – the engineering whizz who would make a name for himself taking lumps of Harley-Davidson V-twin and making them go fast. He even made them go around corners.

Erik Buell started working on machines as a kid in Pennsylvania, he got into motocross racing before shifting to the asphalt, and he worked as a motorcycle mechanic to put himself through an engineering degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

Upon graduating, Erik famously flew himself to Harley-Davidson’s headquarters in Milwaukee to “beat my way in the door” as he tells it. He was hired, and before long he was working on new prototypes as well as the more traditional highway high-milers.

Erik’s passion for racing never left him, in fact it still hasn’t, and neither has his attraction to unusual engineering solutions. He got back into racing while working at Harley using the little-known Barton square-four, two-stroke motorcycle.

Erik would engine up re-engineering much of the bike and eventually taking over the rights to the designs when Barton went bankrupt. A series of AMA rule changes left Erik with a bike but not suitable series to race it in, not to be defeated he set to work creating a new racing bike using the engine from the Harley-Davidson XR1000.

The Development of the Buell RR1200

This new motorcycle would be named the Buell RR1000, it had a bespoke frame that was stiff, lightweight and utilized the engine as a stressed member, it also had horizontally mounted rear suspension beneath the motor (for mass centralization), and an aerodynamic fairing so well designed that even many modern superbikes can’t match its drag coefficient in a wind tunnel.

Despite its relatively primitive V-twin, the Buell RR1000 was a quick bike – largely thanks to the clever engineering that went into the rest of it. 50 were built in 1987 and 1988 before the supply of XR1000 engines dried up, leaving Erik to find another suitable engine. He didn’t need to look far, the new Harley-Davidson Evolution V-twin was now available with a 1200cc capacity, so the RR100 was re-engineered to accommodate the new engine – creating the RR1200 Battletwin.

This new model would be road-legal, and it attracted a huge amount of attention as a result. The 65 unit production run sold out quickly and today, they’re very attractive to enthusiasts, collectors, and museums.

The example you see here was hand-built by Erik Buell and his team in 1988, and it has just 15 miles on the odometer – barely delivery mileage. It’s wearing the same original paintwork that was used on all RR1200s, and it appears to be almost factory-fresh – as do the wheels.

If you’d like to read more about this bike or register to bid you can click here to visit Mecum. It’s due to be sold at the Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction due to be held between the 23rd and 27th of January, and there’s currently no estimated value listed.

Images courtesy of Mecum

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Redonda Motors Harley-Davidson Ironhead https://silodrome.com/harley-davidson-ironhead-sportster-custom/ Mon, 29 May 2017 07:01:55 +0000 http://silodrome.com/?p=62459 Redonda Motors Harley-Davidson Ironhead

Redonda Motors and JP Barranca Redonda Motors is a Portugese custom and racing motorcycle workshop run by JP Barranca, an engineer with a fascination for just about anything on two wheels. JP and his team have turned out custom Triumphs, Hondas, Ducatis, and Harleys over the years and their fledgling racing team fields a Suzuki GT...

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Redonda Motors Harley-Davidson Ironhead

Redonda Motors and JP Barranca

Redonda Motors is a Portugese custom and racing motorcycle workshop run by JP Barranca, an engineer with a fascination for just about anything on two wheels. JP and his team have turned out custom Triumphs, Hondas, Ducatis, and Harleys over the years and their fledgling racing team fields a Suzuki GT 750cc in vintage competition.

The Harley-Davidson Ironhead Sportster

When JP decided to take on a 1985 Harley-Davidson Ironhead Sportster he knew he was taking on an entirely different beast to the European and Japanese motorcycles he’d build previously. As it happens, 1985 was the final year of the now legendary Ironhead engine before the Evolution engine made its appearance. The Evolution power unit was introduced with either an 883cc or 1100cc capacity, and it marked the end of the road for the Ironhead motor after a remarkable 28 year production run.

Today the Ironhead is remembered alongside the Knucklehead and Panhead as one of the most iconic engines to emanate from the Milwaukee factory of Harley-Davidson. It made its first appearance in 1957 and powered the Harley Sportster family of motorcycles through what was arguably their most iconic decades – the 1960s and 1970s.

Sportsters fitted with the Ironhead were proper carburetor fed American motorcycles with a lumpy engine note you can hear coming from a block and half away. The engines were mounted directly to the frame without any attempt at rubber bushings or vibration management, and if worst came to worst you could generally fix them by the side if the highway with hand tools, duct tape, and a big hammer.

The Redonda Motors Ironhead Sportster

When the team at Redonda got their hands on the ’85 Sportster they decided to turn it into an American cafe racer with a healthy dose of retro styling befitting its heritage.

In order to improve the bike’s handling a new front end was sourced from a 1998 Suzuki GSXR and fitted courtesy of a new set of triple trees, the Suzuki hubs were laced to the original Harley rims to keep the same tire sizes. The upside down Suzuki forks and dual discs were paired with a new set of Koni Racing shock absorbers on the rear with a new 4-piston Konico caliper.

The team at Redonda decided that the original 1000cc V-twin already produced more than enough torque, so they aimed to improve reliability rather than increase power. A new S&S carburetor was fitted along with a new digital ignition and a Dyna coil.

Perhaps the most time consuming part of the build was the new 2-into-2 exhaust, it was welded up in-house from stainless steel. The exhaust curves down from the right side under the engine into the muffler, and from there up to the left side into a pair of matching slash-cut tips.

Upfront a new headlight was sourced from a Honda Dream, it suits the Harley better than the stock unit and has the advantage of an integrated speedometer. A set of clip-on handlebars were also fitted, with bar-end mirrors, and a set of dual airhorns were installed to the left side of the engine – just to make sure other road users can be alerted to your presence if needs be.

To finish the bike off it was decided to paint it in a classic American combination of metal flake candy apple red and white, with retro accents on the headlight, fenders, fuel tank, primary cover, and seat cowl.

If you’d like to see more from Redonda Motors you can visit their website here – their Facebook here – their Instagram here – their Twitter here – or their Pinterest here.

Photography courtesy of Joaquim Barranca and Helder Silva

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A Brief History of the Harley-Davidson XR-750 https://silodrome.com/brief-history-harley-davidson-xr-750/ Mon, 27 Feb 2017 08:32:21 +0000 http://silodrome.com/?p=59175 A Brief History of the Harley-Davidson XR-750

Prior to 1969 the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the AMA Grand National Championship were deliberately structured to favor side-valve engines rather than overhead-valve engines. The result of this was to favor American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and to disadvantage the overseas competition which was mainly from...

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A Brief History of the Harley-Davidson XR-750

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

The British motorcycle manufacturers put up with that for a while but by the late sixties their market in the USA for bikes around 500cc was shrinking and customer demand for bikes in the 650cc and 750cc classes was increasing. So the British worked to get the AMA to level the playing field and in 1969 the sought after rule change was enacted so that both side-valve and overhead-valve engines of up to 750cc were allowed in the AMA Grand National Championship. The effect of this on Harley-Davidson was to precipitate the need for a new OHV-engined racing bike that could successfully compete against the Brits and keep the Stars and Stripes at the forefront of AMA competition.

The Creation of the XR-750

Harley-Davidson XR-750

The OHV Engine (Iron Head, 1970-1971)

To create their new OHV racing motorcycle engine Harley-Davidson did not have to start from scratch because they already had an OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR, the problem being that engine was a 900cc (55 cu. in.) unit that would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. To accomplish this Harley-Davidson engineers decreased 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. That engine, based on the Harley-Davidson Sportster XLR, featured the four camshaft design originally created by Bill Harley back in 1929. This design provided an individual camshaft to operate each of the four valves, and although this might sound needlessly complicated, it had the advantage that each push-rod was kept at the best angle for the camshaft to operate the rocker arms and it enabled fine tweaking of the cam timing.

The cams were connected by gears to the crankshaft and formed a rugged and reliable system. This new engine with its compression ratio of 8.5:1 had iron cylinder heads, something which was to prove problematical with engine overheating leading to these engines being nicknamed “waffle irons”. Ignition was provided by a magneto mounted on the cam covers. The XR-750 Harley-Davidson flat track race bikes with the Iron Head engine raced in the 1970-1971 season. They were reasonably successful when the conditions were cool and the races were on the short side but were not competitive when conditions were hot and/or the races were long.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

The Bike

The new V-twin engine was mated to a four speed gearbox in a unit construction, mated to a chain final drive, and installed into a special frame that was built light and handy for flat track racing. The XR-750 was so compactly well balanced that it would become not only a favored flat track racing bike but also a favored stunt bike. Starting with the steel twin loop full cradle Sportster frame Harley-Davidson engineers reduced the backbone frame tubing from 1.65” to 1” diameter. (This frame, with modifications, became the basis for the later Harley-Davidson Café Racer.) The fuel tank for the XR-750 was a small 2.5 US gallon (9.5 liter) fiberglass unit. Front forks were by Ceriani and rear shocks were twin Girling. The 19”x4” wheels were spoked with aluminum rims. The fiberglass seat’s height was kept low at 31” (790mm). This was a dirt track racing bike that was made to go, not to stop, so there was no front brake. Dry weight of the bike was just 295lb (134kg).

Harley-Davidson XR-750

The OHV Engine (Alloy Head, 1972-1985)

With the XR-750 proving itself to be a partial success, with the exception of the “waffle iron” overheating problems, Harley-Davidson engineers knew they would have to bite the bullet and shift to aluminum cylinder heads combined with some improvements to the engine in order to make their racing bike run cooler. New alloy heads were designed and made, then sent to Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics in Long Beach, California to be ported and assembled. This new cylinder head design included larger valves. The cylinder heads were then sent 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”. Carburettors were 36mm Mikuni, one for each cylinder. The exhaust systems were mounted high on the left side of the bike well away from the carburettors. Power was 82hp at 7,700rpm giving the bike a top speed of around 115mph (185km/hr).

Harley-Davidson XR-750

The XR-750 in Competition

Back in 1969 when the AMA changed the rules to remove the advantage for side-valve engines the folks at Harley-Davidson were likely not happy about the change. But being forced to develop the new OHV 750cc competition engine proved to be a great move for Harley-Davidson and by the time they got their new alloy head 750cc racing V-twin perfected they had a world beater motorcycle. The XR-750 would go on to dominate in dirt track competition right up into the twenty first century. From its introduction in 1972 until 2008 the XR-750 would win twenty nine of the thirty seven AMA Grand National Championships. The XR-750 racked up more wins than any other motorcycle in AMA racing history and earned itself the description of being the “most successful race bike of all time”.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

XRTT Road Race Version

With the success of the XR-750 dirt track motorcycle Harley-Davidson decided to create a road racing version which they named the XRTT (the “TT” was likely a reference to the legendary Isle of Man TT). The XR-750 needed some significant modifications to turn it into a competitive road racing motorcycle. A road racing bike needs to both go and stop quickly and so the XRTT was provided with dual Fontana four leading shoe front drum brakes and a single disc rear brake. The Fontana drum brake assembly was however too heavy and added too much unsprung weight so it was changed to front discs. Interestingly, the XRTT was the last racing motorcycle to be fitted with drum brakes.

The XRTT was fitted with a fiberglass road racing fairing which included a heat shield for the rider’s left leg. The fiberglass fuel tank capacity was increased to 6 US gallons (23 liters) and an aluminum oil tank was installed. The bike had Ceriani front forks and twin Girling shocks at the rear similar to its dirt track sibling. The XRTT featured a tuned dual reverse cone exhaust system. In the XRTT the alloy head engine from the XR-750 produced around 80hp when first introduced in 1972 which was progressively increased to around 100hp by 2008 as the bike reached the end of its competitive life.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

Street Versions, the XR-1000 and XR-1200

With the success of the XR-750 in competition the predictable response from Harley-Davidson aficionados was to want to buy a street legal and street practical version. Race bikes are finely tuned thoroughbreds and not really suitable for day to day road transport or touring and it took Harley-Davidson thirteen years before they decided to offer a road bike that was based on the XR-750. This was the XR-1000 and it was a blending of XR-750 and Harley-Davidson XLX Sportster parts to create a practical road bike with some of the XR-750’s character.

The XR-1000 had a 1000cc engine, two high rise flat track style exhausts, and twin Dell’Orto carburettors with K&N type filters. The XR-1000 sold for almost double the price of the base model Sportster XL and it consequently sold poorly and was discontinued after two years production from 1983-1984 inclusive. Harley-Davidson made another motorcycle intended not to be a road going likeness of the XR-750 so much as a Sportster with a bit of a café racer monoposto style about it.

This bike was the XR-1200 and it was introduced in 2008. The XR-1200 featured an Evolution engine producing 90bhp. Front brakes were twin discs with four pistons and the exhaust system on the right side of the bike was styled to be sweeping upwards at the rear. This bike received good reviews for the riding experience it provided. The riding position was quite upright as befits a practical road motorcycle. Handling was said to be excellent although the ride was firm. The bike’s engine put out 90bhp which was a nice increase over the 60bhp of the standard Sportster. The XR-1200 received some bad press regarding build quality, some owners seemed happy with their bikes but a significant proportion were critical. The model was discontinued in 2013.

Harley-Davidson XR-1000 XR-1200

The XR-750 as a Stunt Bike

For those who are not dirt track motorcycle racing enthusiasts the Harley-Davidson XR-750 is without doubt most famous as the stunt bike favored by the king of motorcycle jumping – Evel Knievel. Evel adopted the Harley-Davidson XR-750 back in 1970 when it was a very new model and he used it right through until he retired in 1976 (although he tried one last jump in 1977 which was not successful). As he himself said “Anybody can jump a motorcycle. The trouble begins when you try to land it.”

On his Harley-Davidson XR-750 Evel Knievel’s records for motorcycle jumps include a 129 foot jump over nineteen cars in 1971 (when the XR-750 was still using the ironhead engine) and a 133 foot jump over fourteen buses at Kings Island in 1975. Other stunt men have also used the XR-750 and even exceeded Evel Knievel’s records. Bubba Blackwell used an XR-750 to jump 157 feet over fifteen buses in 1999. In 2015 stunt rider Doug Danger jumped Evel Knievel’s personal 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750 over 22 cars at the Sturgis Rally beating Evel Knievel’s record by one car. Had Knievel witnessed it would no doubt have put a smile on his face.

Harley-Davidson XR-750 Evel Knievel

Conclusion

The XR-750 was a bike that Harley-Davidson may not have wanted to create back in 1969 when they were between a rock and a hard place and they just plain had to. But in taking on that design challenge Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling.

It was and still is a bike that Bill Harley would have loved. Harley-Davidson recently brought out a new flat track dirt race bike, the XG750R. It looks like it should prove to be a worthy successor to its XR-750 godfather – but it certainly does have big boots to fill.

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Harley-Davidson MT500 https://silodrome.com/harley-davidson-mt500-military-motorcycle/ Fri, 20 Jan 2017 06:01:22 +0000 http://silodrome.com/?p=57301 Harley-Davidson MT500

The Harley-Davidson MT500 is a bit of an unusual motorcycle. It’s thought that just 500 were ever made, and it’s not known how many have survived in original condition. The MT500 is powered by a 500cc Rotax single-cylinder, air-cooled engine with 4 valves, 5 gears, and kickstart only. It’s a mechanically simple motorcycle designed explicitly...

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Harley-Davidson MT500

The Harley-Davidson MT500 is a bit of an unusual motorcycle. It’s thought that just 500 were ever made, and it’s not known how many have survived in original condition.

The MT500 is powered by a 500cc Rotax single-cylinder, air-cooled engine with 4 valves, 5 gears, and kickstart only. It’s a mechanically simple motorcycle designed explicitly for military use – though it’s broad adoption never took place due to many militaries only wanting diesel-powered vehicles for matters of logistical simplicity.

The basic design started in Italy, before finding its way to Britain, being put into production with the Armstrong-CCM company in 1984. The model saw limited military use in Britain, Jordan, and Canada until it was phased out in 2000.

Harley-Davidson isn’t a stranger to badge-engineering motorcycles, and if you look back over the long arc of motorcycle history there are very few established marques that haven’t at least dabbled with rebranding bikes. The reason Harley bought the MT500 stateside was the hope of acquiring a military contract with the richest armed forces on earth. Sadly it never came to be, largely because of the aforementioned diesel-only guidelines.

The majority of the Harley-Davidson MT500s that were built, were built to the same specifications. There are twin jerry can holders either side of the fuel tank – designed to hold either water or fuel. There’s a waterproof rifle case on the rear right side for an M16 or similar, and the case is designed in such a way that it can take both scoped and unscoped weapons.

All-original MT500s only rarely come up for sale, possibly because collectors are sitting on them in anticipation of a value increase as they edge closer to vintage territory. The 1999 model you see here is estimated to be worth between $20,000 and $24,000 USD, and it’ll be crossing the auction block with Bonhams in Las Vegas on the 26th of January – click here if you’d like to read more or register to bid.

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Steve McQueen’s 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin https://silodrome.com/steve-mcqueen-harley-davidson/ Mon, 02 Jan 2017 05:01:31 +0000 http://silodrome.com/?p=56762 Steve McQueen’s 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin

Steve McQueen’s love of cars and motorcycles is extensively documented, during his lifetime he rode, raced, and collected a huge array of vehicles – both modern and vintage. Although he’s probably better associated with motorcycles from European marques like Triumph and Husqvarna, McQueen owned a number of American bikes – in fact his first motorcycle...

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Steve McQueen’s 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin

Steve McQueen’s love of cars and motorcycles is extensively documented, during his lifetime he rode, raced, and collected a huge array of vehicles – both modern and vintage. Although he’s probably better associated with motorcycles from European marques like Triumph and Husqvarna, McQueen owned a number of American bikes – in fact his first motorcycle was a 1946 Indian Chief that he used as daily transport when he lived in New York City.

This 1912 Harley-Davidson X8E Big Twin was likely the oldest bike in McQueen’s personal collection. It’s a very significant model from Harley’s history, it was the first motorcycle the company produced that had all-chain drive, it also has a clutch, skirted fenders, and a large 1000cc engine with mechanical valves (as opposed to atmospheric).

That 1000cc (60 cubic inch) 8hp V-twin was released as an option halfway through 1912, previously the largest had been 49 cubic inches with 6.5hp (~800cc). The 60 cubic inch V-twin is now remembered as the first Harley-Davidson “Big Twin”, and although 8hp might sound like hamster-wheel levels of power now, it was a big deal back in 1912.

McQueen’s X8E Big Twin has a bit of a colourful past, as the eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed the fuel tank is wearing original patina on one side and a questionable rattle-can red on the right side.

The rumour is that Steve and his long-time friend Von Dutch settled upon a plan to repaint the bike together one night after a few too many drinks.

The job was never completed as they ran out of paint, but it some ways it might be better that it’s half done – as it tells a story.

It was sold in 1984 at the Steve McQueen estate auction at the Imperial Palace hotel in Las Vegas, and it still has its certificate of authenticity signed by Terry and Chad McQueen. It’s currently in running condition, but would likely require a re-commissioning before any serious riding is attempted. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid, you can click here to visit Bonhams.

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Ewan McGregor’s Indian Larry Panhead Chopper https://silodrome.com/ewan-mcgregor-indian-larry-panhead-chopper/ Fri, 30 Dec 2016 10:01:43 +0000 http://silodrome.com/?p=56721 Ewan McGregor’s Indian Larry Panhead Chopper

There are few (if any) chopper builders of the modern era held in higher esteem than the late Indian Larry, he strictly built bikes that were meant to be ridden rather than trailered around to shows, and his favourite engine (despite his name) was the Harley-Davidson Panhead. Indian Larry’s early life was difficult, he suffered...

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Ewan McGregor’s Indian Larry Panhead Chopper

There are few (if any) chopper builders of the modern era held in higher esteem than the late Indian Larry, he strictly built bikes that were meant to be ridden rather than trailered around to shows, and his favourite engine (despite his name) was the Harley-Davidson Panhead.

Indian Larry’s early life was difficult, he suffered physical abuse at the hands of the staff at Catholic school, and it’s rumoured he lost his little finger whilst building a bomb to blow the school up and avoid further beatings. After leaving school he moved to California and fell in with alcohol and drugs – becoming a bank robber to fund the addictions. Eventually the police caught up with him and he spent three years in Sing Sing in the mid-1970s, where he learned about mechanics, welding, and philosophy.

After prison he moved to New York and became friends with the likes of Andy Warhol and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe – one of the latter’s photographs of Larry ended up on the cover of Artforum magazine. Eventually he co-founded Psycho Cycles on New York’s Lower East Side and opened Gasoline Alley in Brooklyn in 2000. Tragically, Indian Larry was killed in an accident in 2004, today he leaves a strong legacy and a company that bears his name and continues building motorcycles in his distinct style.

The Indian Larry Panhead chopper you see here was built by his garage in 2010 and christened “The Machine” due to its bare aluminium and raw mechanical form. It caught the eye of keen motorcyclist (and actor of some note) Ewan McGregor on a visit to the Indian Larry shop, and he bought it on the spot.

McGregor is a hugely famous actor of course, but he’s also largely responsible for bringing motorcycle adventuring out of obscurity and into the mainstream. Along with his longtime friend Charlie Boorman, McGregor has completed multiple international journeys as part of their “Long Way” series, including “The Long Way Down” and “The Long Way Around”.

Ewan has now decided to thin down his personal motorcycle collection, and the Indian Larry Panhead chopper is due to be sold via Bonhams at The Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction on the 26th of January with an estimated value of between $22,000 and $26,000 USD – which seems rather reasonable given the bike’s double barrelled heritage.

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