SPORTING MACHINES ON TEST: The 350 cc. Harley-Davidson. “THE RABBIT.”
RFADERS may look askance at the photographs of this machine and wonder if the author has taken leave of his senses, for whoever saw a sporting machine with such handlebars and footboards ? Think again, dear reader, and recollect how those super-speedmen, the U.S. motorcycle police invariably “sit-up,” even at 80 m.p.h., and how the great little Freddie Dixon always uses foot boards for road racing. The truth of the matter is that American machines steer so superlatively well that the ” crouch and hang on” attitude is absolutely unnecessary except for track
racing ; but this talk of racing is all wrong—racing is not the only side of motor sport and it certainly has nothing to do with the machine in question.
There is something decidedly ” different” about the American motor-cycle, something hard to define, but there nevertheless : it seems to be a subtle blend of comfort, solidity and attention to detail, without any unwieldiness or lack of performance. The 350 c.c. Harley-Davidson impresses one immediately as one of those machines eminently intended for going somewhere and back, as opposed to the all too common, delicate toy which so many machines resemble. Built for far rougher use than it is ever likely to be subjected to in this country, the Harley, we are told, is very heavy for its size (260 lbs.), this we find hard to believe as its weight distribution is so cunningly arranged that it is one of the most easily handled mac:lines we have ever met. This effect was enhanced by a lively little engine and rather low gears which combined to produce surprising acceleration and vim. The maximum speed was something between 50 and 55 m.p.h. at which speed the engine was naturally turning round rather rapidly, but no appreciable fuss or vibration became evident.
A Machine with a Past.
The particular machine lent to us by Messrs. HarleyDavidsons had been ridden by their representative in several extremely rough trials, Scottish Two Days and Scott Scramble included, and the somewhat sloppy piston advisable for really hard work was inclined to tap a trifle when cold. This small matter was amply counteracted by the entire freedom from loss of power after miles of low gear mud-plugging, and full throttle work ; the other parts of the machine showed absolutely no sign whatsoever of rough treatment. Of course, it may
have been re-enamelled and overhauled before we had it, but after ill treating it to the best of our ability we are quite prepared to believe that this was not done, even after the Scott Trial.
We absolutely failed to develop a breakage or a rattle in any part of the machine, even footboards and mudguards surviving several violent collisions with boulders and tree trunks. An argument with a tree resulted in a dented tank, but this can cast no possible reflection on the machine, as the dent was caused by the tree itself and not by the handlebars, which cannot swing round on to the tank. The reader may perhaps wonder what all these collisions and things mean—the old story again—reliability trials ! The Harley was ridden in two, on successive week-ends, by different people. Both were scramble events, including water, open downland and the usual boggy farm and woodland tracks. In the first it made second fastest time and in the second it won the premier award, and in both events it went through at least one hedge ! In addition to this it was crashed quite heavily at about 35 m.p.h. in some colonial section. That the machine stood up to this treatment so well is remarkable, most of the other competitors suffered the usual annoying breakages of mudguard stays, footrests and controls, but as we said before the Harley finished intact. Another interesting point is that both riders were accustomed to the conventional British hand clutch and right hand gear change, yet both, found the Harley perfectly controllable in spite of its somewhat awkwardly placed foot clutch. A small criticism occurs here, when turning in a
confined space, such as a narrow road, the steering lock is limited by the long handlebars fouling the knees,— it is impossible to dangle one’s legs out of the way owing to the necessity of keeping the feet up on the clutch and brake pedals. The footbrake is powerful and smooth, but the handbrake, also working on the back wheel, does not seem very effective, and of course the lack of front brake is a serious defect shared by all American motorcycles. The single cylinder Harley is fitted with a WheelerSchebler carburettor, operated by a single twist grip control ; adjustable pilot and main jets are fitted, together with an air strangler, so that slow running, easy starting and the correct mixture for all conditions
are easily obtained. These features were found particularly useful during the recent cold weather.
During the fortnight we ran the machine, the only trouble we experienced was an attack of” non-startitis ” one cold morning, easily traced to a stuck contact breaker arm. This was doubtless aided by the wetting which the machine underwent when the accompanying photograph was taken.
Economy of petrol is one of the features of the small Harley and together with the enormous tank combines to render re-fuelling a very rare occurrence, so much so that we found it very hard to estimate the consumption. 100 m.p.g. is not by any means an exaggerated claim.
Oil consumption seemed on a proportionate scale and was unobtrusively attended to by a mechanical pump.
Although at first it appears that the Harley has a “straight through” exhaust pipe, it is actually fitted with a very efficient silencer, so that at low speeds the exhaust is almost inaudible, while even on full throttle the ” man in blue” could hardly take exception to the noise. The one great point not dealt with so far, is comfort, and in this the Harley Davidson excels. On ordinary roads one can forget that the object beneath is a motorcycle, the position is just right for comfortable touring, and the only controls used at all often are throttle and brake, both being workable without any change of position. The whole machine glides smoothly over potholes and bumps, like a well sprung car and if fitted with a
handlebar screen and shield we could not wish for anything pleasanter for a Boxing Night expedition to Exeter!
This comfort is due to the luxurious pan saddle, the large tyres and lastly the famous Harley forks.
Taking all things into consideration the HarleyDavidson is a thoroughly good machine, suitable alike for the roughest of competition work and the most gentlemanly touring to say nothing of serious business travelling.
We feel sure that if the Britisher were to overcome his inherent prejudice against American machines, and to make himself more familiar with their virtues, a large number of 350 c.c. Harley-Davidsons would be seen in this country.