1930 Harley VL

1930 Harley-Davidson VL

The flathead, side-valve engine in a 1930 Harley-Davidson VL

Most of the spring and fall festivals that small towns put on now include a bike show. The Daffodil Festival the weekend of March 13 in Magnolia was no different. There were close to 100 bikes entered in the show. They ranged from tiny little scooters to massive touring bikes. Some were new, while other were either vintage or just plain old. There were bikes customized to the point at which you couldn’t easily tell the brand while others were offered as pristine examples of stock machines.
The bike that caught my eye was a partially restored 1930 Harley-Davidson VL. I talked with the proud owner and soon realized there was more of a story here than just a restored motorcycle. It was thrilling to discover that the old side-valve flat-head engine had roared to life just the week before, after 65 years of slumber. The bike had been given to the man’s father before he was married, some time in the 1930s. It and a 1929 Indian Scout were the payment he received for working at a carnival.
I was amused to see the classic oil spot under the bike. Harleys are famous for “marking their spot.” and this old war Hog was certainly true to form. But I gained a little more respect for it when the owner explained that this bike had an automatic chain oiler that kept the drive chain lubed with used engine oil. The oil was coming from the chain oiler, not from a bad seal in the case.
The most obvious difference in this bike and a modern one was the “suicide shifter.” This machine has a gear shift lever operated by the rider’s left hand. The clutch is a foot clutch, also located on the left side. I know that many, if not all, motorcycles of this era had hand shifters, including the Indian Scout. While the idea does seem truly suicidal to me, this old Harley fit right in with the rest of the pack in that time.
This venerable old cycle showed the origin for many of the features that are classically Harley. While I don’t particularly appreciate some of them on contemporary motorcycles, I see the necessity for them in the world this bike inhabited. I found myself honestly appreciating and admiring not only this old hog, but also the biker who rode it.
Look for more posts on this pioneer of biking.

— Guy Wheatley

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