It’s amaz­ing what you can as­sem­ble from boxes of bits. Odgie ac­ci­den­tally bought a side­valve Har­ley. So after de­rid­ing them for years, is he won over by the ar­che­typal Amer­i­can V-twin?

Real Classic - - Contents - Pho­tos by Odgie Him­self, RC RChive

It’s amaz­ing what you can as­sem­ble from boxes of bits. Odgie ac­ci­den­tally bought a side­valve Har­ley. So after de­rid­ing them for years, is he won over by the ar­che­typal Amer­i­can V-twin?

I’m not a Har­ley fan. I was once. At age 14 I promised my­self I’d own a Har­ley one day. It was 1968, the Sun­day Times ran a colour sup­ple­ment on the Cal­i­for­nia Hells An­gels. I pasted it on the wall next to my bed, Sonny Barger and Free­wheelin’ Frank, all hair and sun­shine and huge chrome V-twin en­gines. One day, I told my­self...

It took 21 years. I was in my mid-30s be­fore I had chance to buy a Sport­ster. But hey, I fi­nally had my Har­ley. And my first ever, brand-new, zero miles mo­tor­cy­cle. The nov­elty soon wore off. It was slow, it didn’t han­dle, the brakes were ap­palling. Within 1500 miles I had to strip and re­build the gear­box after dis­cov­er­ing that lots of the early Evo Sport­sters suf­fered from gear­box fail­ures (I was told H-D UK were qui­etly fix­ing one a month un­der war­ranty). They de­vel­oped a bad habit of se­lect­ing two gears at once and fir­ing var­i­ous com­po­nents out the back of the cases. Er, crikey. Sure enough, the tol­er­ances were rub­bish. I ma­chined and reshimmed it, but such things stay with you.

In the end I made a half-de­cent ma­chine out of the bike. I bored it to 1200cc, re­shaped the combustion cham­bers and flowed the heads, fit­ted a per­for­mance carb, per­for­mance ig­ni­tion sys­tem, Su­per­trapp ex­haust sys­tem, changed the wheels and tyres, bet­ter brakes, new rear shocks and fork springs. I picked up an old XLCR tank and seat unit for it, and did it out flat-track style (yes, some of us were play­ing that tune 30 years be­fore the hip­sters). But it was worth a for­tune, and I could never quite rec­on­cile own­ing so much mo­tor­cy­cle along­side my usu­ally fru­gal ex­is­tence. In the end I sold it, bought a brand new Cos­sack, a well de­cent tri­als bike, and still had kazil­lions of quids left over. Les­son learned.

Fast for­ward 25 years. Har­ley can pro­duce mo­tor­cy­cles that don’t fall apart so eas­ily, and they’ve ac­tu­ally changed the way peo­ple buy mo­tor­cy­cles. By of­fer­ing 627 dif­fer­ent styling op­tions around one base de­sign, they do the cus­tomis­ing for you. Born again bik­ers, tired of ex­tract­ing their Fire­blades out of hedges, now re­lax in the steady throb of a Mil­wau­kee (well, China and In­dia) made V-twin.

And theyth dod it iin droves,d spawningi a steady in­flux of look-a-likes, not just the mar­ket­ingsavvy Ja­panese fac­to­ries, but you’d be hard­pressed to find any com­pany now that doesn’t pro­duce at least one cruiser in its range, even Chi­nese 125s. The world moves on.

I don’t move on quite so quickly. I still view £30,695 for a Road Glide® Ultra with ‘new for 2016 colour-matched Tour-PakTM light­ing bezel and an at­trac­tive new seat cover de­sign’ as, well, faintly lu­di­crous. Ad­mit­tedly now they’re built in In­dia the basic starter mod­els are com­par­a­tively cheaper, but still for that price you could have a prop­erly cus­tomised mo­tor­cy­cle, or per­haps more rel­e­vantly to the RC reader, a Gen­uineTM Brit bike. But any­way, I now own a Har­ley 45.

It came my way by chance, a friend of a friend of a friend needed help after his brother died sud­denly and left sev­eral con­tain­ers of mo­tor­cy­cles and parts to be sorted out up in Scot­land. We went to give de­cent prices for the BSAs to help out the widow, but buried in one con­tainer was a Har­ley side­valve engine. As we pro­gressed deeper, I un­cov­ered a frame, forks, what looked like the right wheels, then even a tank. No gear­box, but then the next time we vis­ited, in an­other con­tainer, I found a large plas­tic bucket and lots of rusty gears. The gear­box shell looked too big to be any­thing Bri­tish, so we added that to the pile. Then I bought the lot.

After filling the lit­tle van with two A10s, an M20, and stash­ing a dis­man­tled heavy­weight Har­ley around them, we trun­dled back home on the sus­pen­sion bump stops. As soon as we had the van on the drive, out came all the Har­ley parts to try and put it to­gether and see what was what. A cou­ple of hours later, it turned out we had 90% of a mo­tor­cy­cle. Crikey.

I ordered up the parts needed to fit it to­gether prop­erly – head bear­ings and spac­ers, special nuts and var­i­ous sundry items. I was im­pressed with the avail­abil­ity of parts: you can buy just about any­thing. I chose

to deal with 45parts.eu in the Nether­lands, sim­ply be­cause their prices were good and their web­site easy to nav­i­gate. The ini­tial plan was to just get a V5 for it and sell it on – that van full of bikes had cost me ev­ery penny of my life sav­ings and also my girlfriend’s – but I couldn’t get a dat­ing cer­tifi­cate with­out the Har­ley look­ing com­plete, so I needed a gear­box, seat and ex­haust.

I spent a day study­ing rusty gear­box parts, com­par­ing them with ex­ploded di­a­grams on the in­ter­net (how of­ten do I bless Google th­ese days?), then order­ing the nec­es­sary re­place­ment new parts from Hol­land. A knowl­edge­able friend re­built the gear­box for me (cheers Nige), which saved me in­ves­ti­gat­ing the com­plex­i­ties of as­sem­bly and shim­ming. No bushes here: ev­ery sin­gle gear and shaft sits on its own loose rollers, th­ese things were clearly made to last. A suitable seat came cheap off eBay, I knocked up some ex­hausts (from bits of an old BSA A10 siamese sys­tem, also from the same ship­ping con­tainer), made or sorted a few other parts needed, took some pho­tos and sent off for the date-cert.

Ah, and then you know how it is. The bike sat in the shed look­ing at me, me look­ing at it, and then you start won­der­ing whether it will run...? The engine turned over freely for about 355 de­grees then stopped, ditto in the other di­rec­tion. This had to be pis­ton or crank re­lated – so then you take the heads off, don’t you? Bear in mind that side­valves have very lit­tle pis­ton-to-head clear­ance, they’re more like a diesel, so it turned out that a com­bi­na­tion of loose car­bon and rust was sim­ply re­fus­ing to be squished at TDC. The valves and seats were rusty and one ex­haust valve was stuck open – not sur­pris­ing since the engine had sat for at least 30 years in a ship­ping con­tainer by the sea – but the bores looked good and the crank felt okay. Mmm.

The bar­rels were lightly honed, I re­cut the seats, refaced the valves, and left the crankcases filled to the brim with oil while all this was go­ing on, fig­ur­ing it would seep into ev­ery bear­ing and mov­ing sur­face. Old age also makes you cau­tious, so in def­er­ence to good prac­tice, I also stripped, cleaned and checked both oil pumps. Then I drained the crankcases (Har­ley thought­fully pro­vide a plug), fit­ted new rings, and put it all back to­gether.

I had the orig­i­nal Linkert carb, but parts to re­fur­bish them are be­yond ex­tor­tion­ate and they’re a rub­bish carb any­way. I had an old A65 carb to hand. I’d re­placed both be­cause one was blocked in the idle cir­cuit, but the other was half de­cent. I don’t do cfm cal­cu­la­tions when swap­ping carbs, I’m just a sim­ple soul. I just think to my­self, A65 – 46bhp with two carbs, ver­sus Har­ley 45 – 23bhp with one carb. In my world that means the air- fuel re­quire­ments can’t be that much dif­fer­ent. So I made a man­i­fold and stuck the old 30mm Con­cen­tric on the side.

Of course, noth­ing is ever that sim­ple. For rea­sons best known to God and Wil­lie G, the 45 runs an in­ter­nal throt­tle ca­ble through the han­dle­bars… ex­cept it isn’t a ca­ble, it’s a wire. When you twist the throt­tle it pushes the carb open rather than pulling it. I couldn’t quite fathom how to make that op­er­ate the Amal with­out hor­ren­dous com­pli­ca­tions, so in the end I just dis­man­tled and re­moved the in­ter­nal sys­tem and used a nor­mal one-inch ex­ter­nal twist­grip as­sem­bly and with a new ca­ble I made up to suit. Then I hot-wired a bat­tery to an old twin-post coil, poured some petrol from my trusty jug down the fuel pipe, and let’s give her a kick.

Cough, splut­ter, slight roar, die. Hmm, this thing’s got legs.

Hav­ing gone com­pletely soft in my old age, I pushed it off the bike bench and took it out­side, not wish­ing to re­peat in the volatile con­fines of the shed the small fire me and our kid had just caused in his unit while try­ing to start one of the A10s in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances. I could get the Har­ley to run, but it was eight­stroking like crazy and I couldn’t pour petrol down the fuel pipe fast enough. A sim­ple mis­take, un­der the tight con­fines of the tank as I’d fit­ted the slide, the nee­dle had pushed up the clip. Drop it back down to the mid­dle

‘As any good petrol-head knows, it is torque that makes ac­cel­er­a­tion, and power that makes speed’

groove, add a bit of re­tard, kick, and... go!

Mmm, runs pretty nicely in fact, all things con­sid­ered this counted as A Good Re­sult. I couldn’t ac­tu­ally ride it be­cause there were no brakes, which is par­tic­u­larly less than ideal with a hand change and foot clutch, but I stuck a big block of wood in front of it and tried to find a gear. I found one too, but the clutch was drag­ging heav­ily, so we lurched for­ward over the wood and (luck­ily) stalled. Time to stop play­ing now be­fore I launch my­self and sev­eral grand’s worth of vintage mo­tor­cy­cle into the wall.

As you keep get­ting sucked in, so the plot keeps thick­en­ing. Now I wanted to ride it. I re­lined the brakes, fit­ted new clutch plates and a pri­mary chain, made a gate for the side of the tank so I could see where the gears were meant to be, hooked up the left hand twist­grip to the dis­trib­u­tor (again when you twist it, it pushes and pulls the dis­trib­u­tor to pro­vide ad­vance/re­tard – the orig­i­nal fly-by-wire?). Then I set off again.

A Har­ley 45 isn’t the eas­i­est bike to ride at low speed. The clutch is left foot, but coun­ter­in­tu­itive. So you press your heel onto the rear of the rock­ing pedal, se­lect first, then roll your foot for­wards slowly, even­tu­ally press­ing down with your toe to en­gage drive. Of course, dur­ing all this you can’t put your left foot down for bal­ance. After end­ing up in the neigh­bour’s gar­den, I soon learned to do my U-turns at the end of the drive to the right in­stead of the left.

The brakes were dire too, so stop­ping was still an is­sue. With a few more new parts and a good coat of look­ing at, I got the rear brake to be ac­cept­able, but three re­builds later the front was still pretty use­less. Even with ev­ery­thing op­ti­mised and the ad­just­ment set to slight drag, the lever still came back to the bars with all the min­i­mal brak­ing which that en­tails. The front lin­ings are tiny, only cover­ing half the shoes and not a lot big­ger than a Ban­tam, but I did hear the Amer­i­cans de­lib­er­ately re­duced front brak­ing so in­ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers didn’t keep bring­ing them­selves off. Mmm.

Then I re­mem­bered the small hole half­way down the front brake arm. Well… no harm in fit­ting the ca­ble end to that as an ex­per­i­ment. And that was a rev­e­la­tion. Sud­denly the front brake ac­tu­ally did some­thing. Which begs the ques­tion, did Har­ley put two holes de­lib­er­ately, a spongy one for in­ex­pe­ri­enced rid­ers, and an ‘ex­pert’ set­ting once you ac­tu­ally knew how to ride prop­erly?

Any­way, that was it. I was rapidly run­ning out of ex­cuses for not tak­ing it out on the road... Now bikes don’t nor­mally in­tim­i­date me. I’ve rid­den ev­ery­thing from Brough Su­pe­ri­ors to Raleigh Run­abouts, I’ve raced nitro drag bikes and methanol scram­bles TriBSAs, I’ve built and rid­den the most odd­ball chop­pers and I love the quirky ec­cen­tric­ity of the Zen­ster. I jump on most things with gay aban­don and nary a care. But I was wary of the 45. Which was an in­ter­est­ing and un­usual place to find my­self. I’d mas­tered most of the var­i­ous sin­gle as­pects of its con­trols on other mo­tor­cy­cles, but some­thing about the com­bi­na­tion of left-foot, coun­ter­in­tu­itive clutch, left hand shift and fairly min­i­mal brakes was both­er­ing me. I re­ally must be get­ting old.

Our lass pointed out that I could van it to an in­dus­trial es­tate, in­stead of pulling out from the shed di­rectly onto the busy dual-car­riage­way, which made sense but felt a bit too sissy even at my ad­vanc­ing years. ‘Do one thing ev­ery day that scares you’ as the old mantra goes, and away we went into the traf­fic.

In truth, you do soon get used to the clutch, you just re­train your mind to do what you want rather than what it wants. And then you get to en­joy the mo­tor­cy­cle. First off I was ini­tially sur­prised by the turn of ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s a heavy bike to pro­pel, with not much power. But of course it has huge dol­lops of torque, and as any good petrol­head knows,


‘More fun than an amuse­ment park’ claimed the 1930 ad­vert which fea­tured the re­cently in­tro­duced 45. In its orig­i­nal form, the 45 cu­bic inch (or 746cc) side-valve V-twin was de­noted the Model D but most folk will recog­nise its ‘Lib­er­a­tor’ WLA and WLC in­car­na­tions. Around 90,000 mil­i­tary edi­tions were built for WW2 and the 45 re­mained in pro­duc­tion un­til 1951.

The 1929 Model D crammed its new engine into an ex­ist­ing frame bor­rowed from the smaller, sin­gle cylin­der Model B. It fea­tured re­mov­able Ri­cardo heads, bat­tery and coil ig­ni­tion, a dry clutch and three-speed gear­box – and a gen­er­a­tor which stuck out sideways, due to the lack of space! The 45-de­gree Vee out­put 18.5bhp, good enough to pro­pel the 45’s 390lb to 70mph.

A new frame for 1930 meant that by 1932 the gen­er­a­tor had been repo­si­tioned to some­where more sen­si­ble. Dry sump lu­bri­ca­tion ar­rived in 1937, and by 1938 the dirt-track com­pe­ti­tion WLDR has been boosted to 27bhp which gave 85mph and more. How­ever, you don’t need a hot-rod for slow speed mil­i­tary ma­noeu­vres, so the WLA was de­tuned back to 23bhp. It gained a new clutch and trans­mis­sion but, fully equipped, weighed a whop­ping 540lb. That kept top speed to a sen­si­ble 60mph.

Th­ese days, a WLA or sim­i­lar 45 in ‘needs com­pletely re­build­ing’ con­di­tion will sell for a sniff un­der £10k. Ready to ride ex­am­ples starts at around £12,000 but prices rapidly es­ca­late to north of £20k. All of which is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to 1930, when ‘the cost is so low – a Har­ley-David­son is easy to buy and its up­keep is only a penny or two per mile…’ it is torque that makes ac­cel­er­a­tion, and power that makes speed. The torque shouldn’t sur­prise any­body. A full 750cc, two cylin­ders arranged in a V and low-com­pres­sion side-valve tick all the right boxes.

The left-hand shift takes a bit of get­ting used to and, with a newly re­built gear­box with lots of new parts in, it was still a lit­tle notchy on the first to sec­ond shift. But the three gears are well spaced, al­lied with grunt from tick­over which means once you’re in top you hardly need any­thing else, and if you do need to drop into sec­ond it changes pretty eas­ily. For some strange rea­son my gear lever has more travel than other 45s I’ve seen, and the ac­tion is the wrong way round for the model – you come back for first rather than for­ward. Doesn’t bother me at all. It seems the log­i­cal way to change gear any­way; push­ing for­ward to change up and pulling back to change down. So al­though I’ve no idea why it’s ended up re­versed, I was quite happy with it.

De­spite its mea­gre shoe area, the front brake isn’t all that bad. I don’t mean it’s good, but it is on a par with Brit bikes of the era. Ditto the back, which needs a firm foot (all right, a fairly hefty one), but us­ing both in con­junc­tion means you can travel pretty quickly with­out too much fear. Han­dling? Well, it goes round cor­ners OK. But on 40 year-old tyres, on a bike with no ground clear­ance and a value higher than all my other bikes put to­gether, I wasn’t go­ing to play at Barry Sheene. But it tracks true enough and feels com­pe­tent be­neath you, which is al­ways a good sign, so I threw it around rea­son­ably con­fi­dently. The front forks work well, that same easy-go­ing ab­sorp­tion of un­du­la­tions you get with good

gird­ers, while the seat springs were a lit­tle hard for my rac­ing weight of ten stone, but would no doubt suit a rider of more am­ple pro­por­tions.

Other than pulling away from left-hand junc­tions, when the avail­abil­ity of a steady­ing left foot is, er, un­avail­able, the clutch isn’t re­ally a prob­lem. In fact, the whole gear change process be­comes one of those re­ward­ing things to mas­ter that you find on all un­con­ven­tional mo­tor­cy­cles.

So all in all, it’s quite a nice bike to ride. And if that sounds like a hint of damn­ing with faint praise, maybe it is. It’s a groovy old mo­tor­cy­cle, don’t get me wrong, yet I can’t bring my­self to rave about it. It has class and char­ac­ter and pres­ence and a price tag to match. But it just never en­gaged me some­how. All the way through re­build­ing it and work­ing on it I could never get emo­tion­ally in­volved with it. We never made any sort of con­nec­tion some­how. At the same time I was also fix­ing up a hum­ble Villiers 8E pow­ered Fran­cis-Bar­nett. At a tenth the value of the Har­ley, I got far more plea­sure and in­volve­ment from fan­ny­ing about with the Fanny B than I did from the Har­ley.

So I never re­ally fin­ished the 45. I rode it a few times and did quite en­joy tak­ing it for a blast, but I never got round to sort­ing out a charg­ing sys­tem. I just kept it hotwired to a 12V bat­tery, never fit­ted a speedo ca­ble (most of my bikes don’t have speedos fit­ted any­way), and sim­ply put it up for sale. Don’t ask me to ex­plain why, I can’t ex­plain it to my mates who think of it as a dream bike and can’t un­der­stand my lack of in­ter­est. And of course it will be some­body’s dream bike: I have one friend who bought his own Har­ley 45 when aged 22 and has been rid­ing it and lov­ing it for the last 35 years. It just wasn’t my dream bike. But then, it wasn’t meant to be when I bought it. It was sim­ply a way to buy and sell and add some ex­tra cash to the rac­ing fund. Maybe that makes all the dif­fer­ence: it was only ever a means to an end.

Or maybe Har­leys just re­ally aren’t my thing, man.

Power – and torque – from the engine pass through a con­ven­tional pri­mary drive and a beefy clutch to the gear­box. There’s lots for the rider’s left-side limbs to han­dle … like the foot clutch and hand shift

this,The T youth­ful­with lots re­belof Har­leys mar­ket promi­nent­was some­how among in­spiredthe aw­fulby moviesact­ing and like dire di­a­logue

The gate for the gears – Odgie made his own, so no sur­prises there

The 3-speed gear­box needs to be ro­bust, and in­deed it is. Noth­ing on the 45 is ex­actly del­i­cate

The orig­i­nal carb was a Linkert, but Odgie walked his own path an fit­ted an Amal in­tended for a BSA. Works well…

The cen­tre of at­ten­tion must be this, the 45 cu­bic inch engine – near-enough 750cc of side­valve grunt

Left: That foot clutch. Press down with your heel to dis­en­gage the drive; en­gage a gear and push down with your toe to get go­ing. This leaves you just one foot to bal­ance with. Easy…

Right: View from above. If it was still us­ing the orig­i­nal ig­ni­tion and throt­tle con­trols, there would be no vis­i­ble ca­bles. How­ever…

Be­low: Heavy metal: Har­ley’s se­ri­ously rugged 750 side­valve twin

Left: All you need to know is here

Above and be­low: Har­ley’s girder forks work well, de­spite ap­pear­ing a lit­tle un­usual to most Bri­tish eyes (al­though some Brough Su­pe­rior types might find them fa­mil­iar). The front brake even­tu­ally pro­vided suf­fi­cient stop­ping power for Odgie to feel a lit­tle com­fort­able – ob­serve the two holes to mount the ca­ble in the op­er­at­ing lever

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