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Harley-Davidson Single-Cylinder Bikes | History

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In the midst of all the well-deserved praise given to decades of Harley-Davidson V-Twin engines, it can be easy to forget the many single-cylinder motorcycles that helped put Harley-Davidson on the map.

The very first Harley-Davidson motorcycle (on display in the Juneau Avenue main lobby) was a single-cylinder motorcycle with an atmospheric valve control and a leather belt drive. Single-cylinder motorcycles were the only motorcycles H-D produced until 1909 when the V-twin motorcycles hit the market.

walter davidson sr 1908 harley
Walter Davidson, Sr. with the motorcycle that won an endurance run, 1908.

Single-cylinder motorcycles were produced in the “F-head” engine platform until 1918. They reappeared in the 1926 “A” and “B” series motorcycles, giving rise to the Harley-Davidson “Flathead” configuration three years before the Harley-Davidson V-Twin Flathead motorcycles. The 1926 “B” series also debuted the overhead valve control 10 years before the famed overhead valve “Knucklehead” V-Twin motorcycle made its appearance.

Harley-Davidson single-cylinder motorcycles appeared again in the 1948 “S” lightweight series, which led to various 125cc and 165cc motorcycles (the honorable Hummerline). The only four-stroke single-cylinder motorcycle during this period was the Sprint series produced from 1961 to 1973. The last appearance of the single-cylinder motorcycle was in 1978 when the SX 250 model exited the product line.

Story by Bill Jackson, Harley-Davidson Senior Archivist

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