Classic American Motorcycles
This is one of many illustrated classic motorcycle guides I've created for the community. I hope you enjoy it. If you wish to find out more about the classic US motorcycle art featured in this guide please click here.
This guide celebrates nine classic American motorcycles:
Excelsior Super X
The Excelsior Super X was introduced in 1925 and was the first of a new class of American 45cu. in motorcycles. Followed swiftly into the marketplace by Indian and Harley-Davidson forty-fives, the Excelsior featured a neat unit-construction engine/gearbox. The engine was mounted in a duplex cradle frame with leading-link forks. Performance was exceptional at 65mph (105km/h), which gained the Super X an enviable reputation.
Henderson Model KJ
In 1929 Henderson introduced the KJ, a new machine designed by Arthur Constantine. It retained the 79cu. in. (1301cc) capacity of earlier K series models but the crankshaft now had five main bearings and alloy pistons were used. New frames allowed lower seats and a streamlined fuel tank, which included an instrument panel. Sadly the KJ was short-lived as Schwinn pulled out of the motorcycle business. The last Hendersons were made in 1931.
The first of Indian's famous Scout models were introduced in 1920. The work of irish-born designer Charles B. Franklin, the Scout used Indian's familiar 42-degree, V-twin configuration and side-valves. The engine was mounted in a twin-loop cradle frame that was fitted with Indian's traditional leaf-sprung fork. The design of the Scout engine was so successful that it was scaled up in 1922 to create the Chief.
Indian Chief Roadmaster
After World War 2, the only Indian motorbike that returned to production was the big V-twin Chief. Still powered by the old side-valve engine, it exchanged its leaf-spring front suspension for a girder type design, that had already been used on a small number of military Indians built during the war.
The WLD motor bike was a high compression version of the WL series, which first appeared in 1937. Harley introduced its first 45cu.in. side-valve V-twins, the D series, in 1929, to compete with Indian and Excelsior. The "Forty-fives" were smaller and lighter than Harley's big twins, although equally rugged, proven by their later success as military motorcycles.
Harley Davidson Hydra-Glide
Harley's big FL-series bikes received numerous updates through the years. Most notable was the replacement of the venerable Knucklehead engine with the Panhead in 1948, the adoption of telescopic front forks on the Hydra Glide of 1949 and the addition of rear suspension on the Duo-Glide in 1958. The big Indians had used plunger-type rear suspension since the early 1940s.
Harley-Davidson XL Sportster
The XL Sportster series was launched in 1957 and the 55-cubic-inch (883cc) overhead-valve XL was the lone American entry in what would be called the superbike class. Descended directly from the K model, two models were to predominate: firstly the touring XLH fitted with big tank, buddy seat, single exhaust and coil ignition; and secondly the sports XLCH with small tank, single seat, dual pipes and a magneto.
Harley Davidson Electra-Glide
In 1965, Harley-Davidson introduced an electric-start version of the big FL series and called it the Electra Glide. This machine was still powered by the Panhead engine but for 1966 Harley-Davidson released an updated engine, mating new aluminium "shovelhead" cylinder heads to the iron barrels and gaining a welcome increase in horsepower.
In 1971 Harley-Davidson released their first "factory custom". Known as the FX Super Glide, it combined the frame and engine from the big FL series twins with the front forks and other trim pieces from the XL Sportster, hence the FX designation. The original Super-Glide featured "Euro-style" pipes and a patriotic red, white and blue paint scheme. It would be known, in a loose sense, as the first factory chopper.
Thank you for reading my guide and I hope you found it interesting!