Motorcycle Cannonball 2014 – Adventure Power’s Team American Iron

The third running of the coast-to-coast Motorcycle Cannonball is less than a month away and this one is going to be amazing. Covering over 4,000 miles it runs from Daytona Beach, Florida to Tacoma, Washington. (Map and details at

Buzz Kanter's 1936 Harley VLH for the 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball

Buzz Kanter’s 1936 Harley VLH for the 2014 Motorcycle Cannonball

I plan to ride this totally rebuilt 1936 Harley VLH. We rebuilt it from one end to the other at Retrocycle in Boonton, NJ and followed the progress in the pages of American Iron Magazine.

In addition to rebuilding the chassis and entire drivetrain, we installed an amazing and virtually invisible Retrocycle 12 volt upgraded electrical system so I can actually use the lights to see and be seen. Our team sponsor and battery supplier is Adventure Power, the tires are from Continental, synthetic oil from Amsoil, and general support from the folks at Wheels Through Time.

There are four bikes and riders on this year’s team, name Adventure Power’s Team American Iron – American Iron Magazine columnist, and return Cannonballer Cris Sommer-Simmons on a 1930s Harley VD, her husband and rock star (Doobie Brothers) Pat Simmons on a 1929 Harley JD, 3 time Cannonballer Paul Ousey on his 1925 Harley JD and me – publisher of American Iron Magazine, Motorcycle Bagger and Motorcycle magazine, on this 1936 Harley VLH.

Buy a 2014 Support Staff T-Shirt for Team American Iron Motorcycle Cannonball

Buy a 2014 Support Staff T-Shirt for Team American Iron Motorcycle Cannonball

You can buy a blue or gray Support Staff t-shirt – while supplies last – to help support the team and get a cool shirt. Click SUPPORT to order yours.

You can follow our progress on Youtube on the Buzz Kanter channel HERE. I will attempt to upload new videos from the road every few days if I get the opportunity.

You can subscribe to American Iron Magazine, thw best selling Harley magazien in the world, in print by clicking PRINT, or in digital delivery worldwide by clicking DIGITAL.

Posted in Big Twin Flathead Harleys, Classic Harley Events, Classic Harley News, J Model Harleys, Motorcycle Cannonball | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Harley 8 Valve Racer..

I wanted to share some additional research I’d found about a beautiful and rare Harley that I learned about because I saw a beautiful picture.  The bike is an 8 valve Harley racer.  In the pictures I’d seen, what makes it stand out to me is that it has additional valve gear to work the eight valves.

Buzz put a link to the bike on this blog earlier, but the link is now broken and I’ve done some additional research on the bike(s) that I thought you would find interesting.

Harley-Davidston 8 Valve Racer

Harley-Davidston 8 Valve Racer

In the late teens, it continued to be more and more important to win races and Harley developed the 8 valve racer. The racer had incredible technology for the time. While it used production Harley 61 cases, all of the rest of the technology was much improved. The heads were 8 overhead valve heads that were controlled by a single camshaft. The engine used high compression and high gearing that required compression releases and towing until the valves could be lowered. I’ve since learned by watching a video posted by Buzz below that the compression release was a hand lever on the right handlebar.

Racers of the time needed to be bikes which were on sale, similar to the regulations that were in place for Trans Am or NASCAR racing. These type of rules have given us great street cars like the Plymouth Superbird. In the case of the 8 valve racer, Harley priced this motorcycle at about 5 times the price as Indian did for its similar racer of the time.  While Indian was happy to sell a bike to customers, Harley-Davidson’s pricing clearly kept to the rule of having the bike available to the public, but most believe Harley did not want to really sell bikes to customers.   Harley exiting racing in 1921. There was never a reported sale of a 8 Valve Racer to the public. There was reported to be a very small number of factory racers. As a result of the lack of customer bikes and the few factory racers account for the bikes scarcity today. There are only 4 known remaining examples.

Harley-Davidston 8 Valve Racer

Harley-Davidston 8 Valve Racer

The racers were successful throughout the 20’s overseas but were not seen in the US after 1922. There are 4 of the 8 Valve racers known to exist, and that’s a pretty neat feat considering there is less than three whole bikes parts. Some is due to the continued variability and modification that goes on with racing motorcycles, some due to parts being destroyed. On the four remaining bikes, some of the pieces have had to be reproduced. Most of the 8 Valve racer parts were found in Europe and one of the most complete bikes is still in Italy.

While nothing would make me happier than to tell you more and more about the 8 Valve Racer, there is an excellent piece that I just don’t think I could improve on at:

The video below is of a Harley 8 Valve running with some other beautiful bikes in Germany

Buzz Kanter shows of Dave Fusiak’s 8 valve racer reproduction.

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Old TV Show With James Garner Riding Belt Drive Classic Harley

Classic Harley Belt Drive Bike On Old TV Show

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1933 Harley-Davidson VL Restoration: Engine Preparation


Over the winter, I’ve made a lot of progress on my 1933 Harley-Davidson build.  Now that the engine has been sent to the machine shop for rebuilding, I wanted to take some time and write about what it took to get the engine ready to be rebuilt.  If I had to sum it all up with one picture, it would definitely be this one of me standing at the blasting cabinet.  Almost every part had to be cleaned with fine aluminum oxide media to remove 80+ years of dirt and grime.


I’m going to begin with the cylinder heads and work my way down through the rest of the engine.  On a flathead engine, the valves are located in the cylinders, so there are no moving parts in the cylinder heads.  The heads simply bolt to the top the cylinders, hold the sparkplugs and provide a combustion chamber.  The main problem you run into with VL heads is that the cooling fins are often broken from improper removal of the headbolts.  My heads only had a few broken fins, so I chose to “massage” the broken fins with a grinding wheel to get rid of the jagged broken edges.  This cleans up the heads visually and you’ll hardly notice the missing fins once everything is painted and installed.  For more serious damage, I’d recommend contacting Tom Faber to have your fins replaced.  You can see examples of his top notch work at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, which is one hell of a reference!


Moving down to the cylinders, I was lucky enough to find a set without any broken fins and close to a stock bore.  My cylinders had been bored once already, but that only brought them out to .005″ and .010″ from stock.  All that was needed to prep them was some time in the blasting cabinet to clean off the old paint and a fresh coat of aircraft primer.  The cylinder heads received the same treatment, leaving me with a set of clean green cylinders and heads.


The real work began when I started on the engine cases.  First there was a general cleaning using lacquer thinner before moving onto a couple hours of more aggressive cleaning in the blasting cabinet.  Then the cases were carefully inspected for damage during which a hole was found in the right front engine baffle which needed to be repaired.


This proved to be a time consuming repair as a number of custom tools had to be built to complete the job.  To start, a piece of copper plate was fabricated to cover the hole and clamped into place.   Copper doesn’t easily weld to aluminum, so with the copper plate covering the hole, I could TIG weld a new bead right across it.  Then the numerous cracks which spread from the hole were each welded up.  The removal of all the excess weld material required another custom tool and a hand held router.  I started with a standard 1/2″ four-flute end mill and made an aluminum sleeve to cover the cutting surfaces on the sides of the end mill.  This kept the end mill from cutting into the sides of the case, but left the bottom of the end mill exposed to cut away the excess weld.  I made slow passes across the baffle, lowering the end mill 1/32″ each pass until I reached the desired height.  I did this with the cases bolted together, which allowed me to measure the finished heights from the intact left side baffle.


With the cases repaired, I moved onto chasing all the threads in the various tapped holes before doing a really thorough cleaning.  All that welding, grinding and tapping, along with being cleaned in a blasting cabinet meant there was potential debris hidden in every nook a cranny of those cases.  Every hole was cleaned with wire brushes and blown out with compressed air, before the entire case was submersed in warm soapy water and scrubbed with bristle brushes.  This was followed by more compressed air and another scrub/soak.


The last step was to coat the inside of the cases with a sealant called Glyptal.  All the surfaces that I wanted to remain clean were taped off and then a nice smooth coat of Glyptal was applied with a brush.  After a two hour bake, the inside of the cases were smooth and sealed.


A good portion of my internal engine parts are being replaced with new parts from Eastern Motorcycle Parts, so things like valves, springs, pistons, shafts, etc will all be new.  That still left the cams, tappet blocks, flywheels and connecting rods which needed to be cleaned and repaired.  All of these parts were placed in the blasting cabinet to be cleaned up.  For the tappet blocks, flywheels and connecting rods, that was all that needed to be done and they were gone over with a wire brush before being washed with lacquer thinner and placed to the side.  The cams needed a little more work since the #4 cam had broken threads on the worm gear with drives the oil pump.


Since these were a matched set of cams, I didn’t want to just replace the broken cam, but instead used another #4 cam as a parts donor.  V-series cams are not made from a single piece of stock, but instead are made in two parts.  One part being the shaft and the other the drive gears and lobes.  These are just pressed together, so to repair my cam I just needed to press out the shaft with the damaged threads and press in the donor shaft.


The last major component to tackle was the cam cover.  The oil pumps and the timer are mounted on the cam cover, so all of these had to be removed and disassembled before cleaning could begin.  The cam cover was by far the dirtiest piece and took a bit of scrubbing with lacquer thinner just to get it clean enough to go in the blasting cabinet.


Like all the other parts, a trip through the blast cabinet followed by going over the parts with a wire wheel made them look good as new.  After many hours of cleaning and repairing, all the pieces were ready.  Now it’s on to the transmission!


For more in depth articles on this project, check out Riding Vintage.

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Harley Davidson’s Forgotten WWII Motorcycle – the XA

I was researching a post on Police Harley-Davidsons, when I ran across what may be one of the rarest Harley-Davidsons.

Harley-Davidsons were the main General Purpose vehicle of the US Army in WWI and many other US Army actions, such as the Army’s raid on Pancho Villa.  In World War II, the motorcycles usefulness was challenged and surpassed during the war by the Willy’s-Overland Jeep.  The Jeep’s use by the Army came about very quickly. As it became clearer that the US would become involved in the war, the Army gave 135 companies 49 days to create a working prototype.  The American Bantam car company came up with the best design but was deemed too small to produce the quantity needed so the initial design was given to Ford and Willys-Overland to impove.  Willys was able to lighten its design enough to use a heavier and more powerful motor, which won Willys the bid. Ironically, to produce the 640,000 Jeeps used during WWII, Ford was given a contract to produce Willys-Overland final Jeep design. Don’t worry, we’re getting to the motorcycles..

The main Harley-Davidson used in WWII was the WLA.  These were Harley-Davidson civilian WL’s modified for military use, including 45 cubic inch V-Twins. Estimates vary but we can be pretty sure Harley produced 60,000 to 70,000 WLA’s during WWII.  Some estimates put the number of WLA’s at 80,000, with about 20,000 being used by the Russian Army.

The military was aware that the German military motorcycle, manufactured by BMW, had advantages over the WLA.  It could go twice as long between maintenance and the BMW shaft drive was much more dependable, particularly in the North African desert that would be part of the conflict.  The desert also exposed the natural design flaw of the V-Twin and lack of reliability in a 1940’s chain drive.  While a V design is relatively easy to package in a frame, the V layout has always made it difficult to cool.  The front cylinder can have difficulty getting enough air across its fins and therefore to cool the cylinder, and the back cylinder’s airflow is blocked and heated by the front cylinder. Modern Harley’s have fancy technology, like turning off the back cylinder in high temperature that the WLA didn’t have.


Harley duplicated the BMW R71 flathead  motorcycle to create the XA, including the flat twin.  Testing showed that the copied BMW opposed twin allowed the cooling fins for both cylinders to be cleanly out in the airstream, which kept the oil temperature 100 degrees cooler than the V-Twin.

The boxer engine’s weight characteristics were valued.  As in modern BMW and Honda motorcycles, and Subaru and Porsche cars, the boxer doesn’t provide as much horsepower as a similar inline or V, but it improves handling by keeping much of the engines weight low in the frame.

The required geek paragraph.  The engine was square (Bore/stroke 3.063 in × 3.063 in) with a 5.7:1 compression ratio.  It had a 6V system and produced 23 HP. The transmission was a 4 speed.  XA’s were originally produced for leading link forks.


The XA provided a number of additional advantages. It was designed with a foot shift allowing both hands to stay on the handlebar, larger capacity battery and a radio shielded electric system. The XA was originally designed with a springer front end, but in later production it was replaced by H-D’s first telescopic front end. The motorcycle was designed for just a single rider.

Harley offered reduced prices on the XA to the military based on volume but the military decided to only order 1000 bikes for evaluation.  At this low volume, the XA cost $870 a bike, about twice what a WLA cost.  In fact, the XA cost more than the Willys version of the Jeep, which was $648.74 at initial contract, growing to $749 by the end of the war.

Indian also produced a shaft drive motorcycle to meet the government’s requirements, called the 841.  It was a V-Twin designed based on a Moto-Guzzi.

Because of the Jeep, the army dragged its feet on making a decision on the XA.  The success of the Jeep essentially made the decision for them.  The Jeep had many advantages including that it was less expensive than the XA, didn’t fall over and could be used with less training. The Army never ordered any more XA’s.  The WLA was judged sufficient as a vehicle to get into difficult spaces and to provide the messaging capabilities that were required from a World War II military motorcycle.  The Jeep, with its 4 wheel drive and water cooling was able to work well in adverse temperature and conditions.

The XA never saw conflict, it was used in various locations around the U.S.  It seems ironic that the motorcycle that was specifically designed for the brutal conditions in North Africa never made it outside of the United States!

Estimates have it that there are at most 300 XA’s left in the world, and that 60 or less are in running condition.  When I looked on eBay to see what an XA might be worth, or how many have been sold, there was only one XA listed and it was withdrawn before it was sold.  If you find an XA in good condition, make sure you bring pants with big pockets if you’re planning to pay in cash.

Modern XA

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Harley-Davidson’s First Land Speed Record

A large part of the reason Harley-Davidson is the leading US Motorcycle manufacturer after more than 100 years was its early reputation of reliability and speed established by many racing and hill climb successes. Walter Davidson himself won the 7th annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability run in 1908 with a perfect score.

With all of Harley-Davidson’s racing success, the first time Harley held the Motorcycle Land Speed was in 1970, perhaps ironically, just after AMF purchased the company.

Early Land Speed Records are a combination of firms you would know and those you wouldn’t. Curtiss, OEC and Zenith traded the record with Brough-Superior through the 1930’s and then Brough-Superior and BMW traded it back and forth until BMW held the record from 1937 to 1951. Triumph held the record for the vast majority of the muscle car error (1956-1970).

In 1970, AMF had just purchased Harley-Davidson and the firm continued to struggle against Japanese competitors. AMF decided it needed to do something to bolster Harley’s performance image as a way to improve sales and sent a factory backed effort to the Bonneville Salt flats. While there, they ran into the young designer, Denis Manning.
Manning had fashioned a streamliner that measured 23 inches in diameter.  The streamliner leaned the rider back to reduce frontal area. While larger than some of Mannings previous efforts (the pictures of his previouse efforts are scary, they looked barely big enough to fit someone in), the Manning Streamliner placed the front wheel right between the drivers legs, and the engine behind his head. It weighed about 700lbs. Manning piloted the streamliner to 187 miles an hour using a stock Sporty motor running on gasoline.*ytimg*com%7Cvi%7Ct5ktIKH0cSY%7C0*jpg/

Rayborn and the 22 Streamliner

The Harley-Davidson factory team was so impressed with his design that they joined forces with Manning. They wanted to use his strong, wind cheating design combined with their motor. When the effort came together H-D offered to pay Manning if they broke the record, and to cover his room expenses if they didn’t.

First, they had to adjust the streamliner to fit the H-D driver Cal Rayborn, who was about 5 inches shorter than Manning. Harley wanted Rayborn in the cockpit, and given the speeds they needed to achieve, and the odd layout of the streamliner a professional pilot was a good idea. Manning, and now Rayborn had to pilot the bike looking out the small side window driving to stay on the center line.

Rayborn’s feet in the Streamliner

The bike was constructed of an aluminum tube with aluminum bulkheads on each end. The bulkheads were bolted to a steel subframe at the front for the front wheel and one at the rear for the engine and other components.

Rayborn, one of the greatest riders in H-D racing history, went from having trouble staying upright in the odd shaped bike with the odd seating position, to being able to control it well enough for some high speed runs. While learning, Rayborn even had a fairly severe end over end accident. The accident confirmed the team’s faith in the Streamliners solid build. With some work, the aluminum bike was rebuilt, and more important, Rayborn survived.

The Harley team installed a highly modified 89 Cubic Inch Nitromethane burning Sportster engine. The bike achieved 286 MPH on the way out and 284 on the return run while starting to eat a valve on the return run. Speed Record runs are the average of two passes and the effort achieved a new speed record of 254.84, pushing aside Yamah by about 3 mph.

The Land Speed win was not based on the best factory effort and fancy computer generated design. It was the combination of a quickly thrown together factory effort and a privateer that met on the salt, each with key pieces of the puzzle that fit together to take the record. Looking back, it’s ironic that the record was won by Harley when it was owned by AMF. The run was impressive but couldn’t do much to offset the terrible reliability of the product AMF was selling in dealerships to consumers. Harley’s image for performance and reliability were at low points when AMF owned the firm.

The key to the success of the effort was the combined knowledge and skill of the team on the salt. They were far more than ragtag bunch of mechanics. Of course, I’ve already mentioned how renowned the driver Rayborn was. He deserves at least his own post. Manning would go on to found BUB Enterprises Inc., most famous for creating Harley-Davidson as well as other brand motorcycle exhaust. Manning’s holding of the land speed record didn’t end with this effort. Harley took back the record in 1990 but since 2006, the record has been held back and forth by the Top Oil-Ack Attack Streamliner, and the Mannings own BUB Seven Streamliner.

When researching the events of this landmark land speed event, it’s easy to overlook a common sounding name, George Smith. Smith was one of the engine builders on the Harley program, responsible for much of the fuel management that allowed the Nitromethane sporty engine to power the streamliner to its record. George Smith began on the salt years before and held records of his own, but you likely would know him as one of the founders of S&S Cycles.

I suggest watching the Youtube video

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Classic Motorcycle Police Recruit Poster

Great old poster from the Maryland State Police looking to recruit new police motor officers.

Classic motorcycle police poster

$100 a month for “real men” sounds like a good deal. The motorcycle he is riding looks like a mid 1920s Harley JD.

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4 Classic Harley Riders On Team American Iron To Cross US on Motorcycle Cannonball

The third running of the bi-annual Motorcycle Cannonball will cross the US again in September 2014. This time it is from Daytona FL to Tacoma, WA on 1936 and older motorcycles.

Battery maker Adventure Power is the title sponsor for Team American Iron and the team, backed by American Iron Magazine, consists of author Cris Sommer Simmons on a 1934 Harley VD,  her husband Pat Simmons (of the Doobie Brothers) on his 1929 Harley JD, Paul Ousey on his 1925 Harley JE and magazine publisher (American Iron Magazine, Motorcycle Bagger, Motorcycle magazine, and American Iron Garage) Buzz Kanter on his 1936 Harley VLH.

Adventure Power’s Team American Iron Motorcycle Cannonball 2014 logo

Here is the team logo and team “support staff” shirts will be available for sale in early March on the web site.

Posted in Big Twin Flathead Harleys, Classic Harley Events, J Model Harleys, Motorcycle Cannonball, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

1914 Dodge City 300 Motorcycle Races – “The Coyote Classic”

Originally posted on Riding Vintage.


The inaugural Dodge City 300 was held on July 4, 1914 on a 2-mile oval dirt track located northeast of town.   This was an officially sanctioned event of the FAM (Federation of American Motorcyclist) and all the usual manufacturer backed teams were present.  These included  Indian, Excelsior, Pope, Thor,Flying Merkel and for the first time Harley-Davidson. Continue reading

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