14 January 2014
Evolution and Technology
That's a likeness of the first real motorcycle I owned- a 1963 Harley-Davidson Sprint "H", made for H-D by the by the "Aermacchi" company in Italy.
At 250cc's it was Harley's attempt to compete with Honda in the small-bike market. I owned the bike a little over two years, putting 9,000 miles on it in that time. You'll hear many of my fellow bikers bemoaning the fact they didn't keep their first motorcycle. Not me.
Oh, the bike was fun to ride and reasonably dependable. And at the time I bought the Sprint the technology it used was about equal to most Hondas it was trying to compete with.
I still think about this little bike and smile, realizing how far technology has advanced in 50 years.
It had one cylinder, and vibrated so badly the license plate cracked and fell off.
It leaked just a little oil somewhere on the left side of the engine, insuring my left boot and pantleg would never rust away.
It had a manual fuel shutoff valve beneath the gas tank. If you failed to remember to turn it to "off" when you got off the bike, you were likely to find that fuel had syphoned down into that horizontal cylinder. If that happened, when you flipped that kickstart lever down to try to fire the bike up, your efforts would be futile... the cylinder would seemingly be seized, because liquids are NOT compressible. The only way to start the bike would be to remove the spark plug, kick the engine through a couple times, then replace the plug to start the bike. If the bike had been sitting overnight with fuel in the cylinder it also required an oil change, because fuel would have seeped past the piston rings into the crankcase, diluting the oil. (As a 16 yr. old kid, I found myself in this position more than once.)
Most bikes today come with "on demand" fuel valves... they only provide fuel to the engine when the engine is running. No more fear of "hydraulic lock".
To start the bike you inserted a big, metal and plastic key into the top of the headlight. Turning it one click to the left would turn the headlight on.
If you lost the key, a 3-penny nail would suffice in place of the key, but turning the headlight on would be problematic. (I think many old BMW motorcycles used this same system.)
Bike keys today are like cars... individually purposed for individual bikes. Turn the key on, and the headlight comes on automatically.
The old Sprint had drum brakes front and rear. Most bikes today come with a disc brake on the front. Many have a disc, (maybe two) on the front, and one on the rear, (as does "Pizza Bike", my Moto Guzzi).
Electronics have revolutionized motoring, both in cars AND motorcycles.
Like automobiles, many bikes today come with traction control and anti-lock braking systems.
Ignition systems are also electronic.... no more points and condenser.
Those 250cc's would propel that bike to 80 mph... plenty fast enough to safely run with traffic on major roads. But the Hondas it was to hopefully compete with would run off and leave it breathing hard. (I once was embarrassed/outrun by a beautiful little two-cylinder Honda 160.)
Many 250's today will tap 100 mph. Some will actually exceed it.
As my first step into motorcycling after I'd been riding the wheels off motor scooters for a while, the Sprint served its purpose.
But I sure am glad technology has taken much of the irritation out of motoring in general.