01 October 2011

On Two Wheels, Part 2- Starter Bike

There's always a special place in your heart for "firsts", isn't there?
You're looking at one of mine in that photo. At 15 I found out a trusted Uncle was selling his car, a 1953 Ford Victoria. I bought it from him, then stored it until I could drive it legally. When I turned 16 and became a legal driver I started driving the Ford, but I also wanted to upgrade my two-wheeled capabilities. I wanted to go distances that would be impractical at 35 mph on the Cushman. Now, let's back up a moment...
My first experience with things "Made in Japan" was with the cheap toys we got from that country. You could actually look inside some of these toys and see the labels from the beer cans the toys were made of. The phrase "Made in Japan" meant cheap and fragile. That reputation worried me about some of the first Japanese motorcycles that hit our shores. For me, the "Harley-Davidson" name printed on the gas tank meant quality and dependability.

Shopping around bike shops, I saw a used bike exactly like the one pictured above for sale... a 250cc Harley-Davidson "Sprint". The Sprint was actually Harley's response to Honda's invasion...
H.D. realized they needed a small, entry level bike to draw folks to Harley shops and hoped when they moved up to a bigger bike they'd stay under the H-D roof to make that purchase. So Harley bought the Italian company Aermacchi (who made airplanes during WWII), and simply added the Harley-Davidson name to the small, decent motorcycles being produced by that company. How well that venture worked out for H-D is debatable... everyone knew these little bikes were not made in Milwaukee and looked at them skeptically. But I liked the looks of the Sprint and hoped if I did have problems needing service, my local H-D dealer would treat me right.

I owned the bike three years and put almost 10,000 miles on it, finally selling it when I was drafted into the ARMY.

With some minor complaints, it was solid, dependable transportation. It had a single-cylinder, pushrod engine and came up short on horsepower when compared to the efficient vertical-twin overhead cam engines being produced by Honda. In a 1/4 mile race, the Sprint would always fall a couple bike lengths behind a comparable Honda. It vibrated so badly I couldn't feel my hands after an hour of riding. But the Sprint would go 85 miles per hour, (and the speedo needle pointed to 85 on the rural roads I traveled FREQUENTLY!) It had an exhaust note like a shrieking banshee, (which I loved then but would HATE if my neighbor had a bike that sounded like it now), and would go forever on a tankful of gas.

It actually turned out to be a great starter bike, and in spite of its shortcomings I still have fond memories of it. If money wasn't an object and I had a place to store lots of bikes, I might buy one to tool around town on today.
(But as we've discussed earlier, 250cc bikes being offered by manufacturers today are better in EVERY way, and I'm also tempted to buy one of those simply because they are a SUCH FUN to ride!)

Later, I'll tell the story about moving up in the motorcycle world without having to worry about the money factor. Come on back!


Old NFO said...

Good story! I had completely forgotten about the 250cc Harleys!

Greybeard said...

They also sold two-stroke 125, 165, and 175cc bikes for a while too, Navy. I'm not sure who produced the early (mid to late 1950's) machines, but they later sold a 175 that Aermacchi built. I had two buddies that owned the earlier 175 (Hummers), and they were decent little bikes.
Harley also sold the "Topper" scooter for a short while, but I think it was a disaster.

Timothy Frazier said...

Never seen one before. When did Triumph come up with their "Sprint"? I'm just curious...I know they own the "Thunderbird" name and Ford actually paid them to use it for the car.

Makes me wonder if Triumph had to buy/lease that name from HD in order to paste it on their later model of that name.

Greybeard said...

Apparently Harley quit making "Sprints" in '74, Tim. When was Triumph's Sprint born?

Timothy Frazier said...

From Wikipedia:
"The Sprint ST was first introduced in 1999 as a complete redesign of the earlier Sprint 900 (1993–1998) styled by Rod Scivyer."

From info gathered so far, it would appear that HD had the name first. Perhaps it wasn't trademarked/copywrited, though.

I just think it's interesting that Ford had to pay Triumph to use the Thunderbird moniker and wondered if Triumph had to pay the piper too.