SHIFTING GEARS, by Buzz Kanter, Publisher
It all started with a phone call from “Cousin Gerard,” who is not my cousin
I’ve seldom met a classic motorcycle I didn’t like. And that goes double for antique American race bikes. No matter how many old Harleys or Indians I might have—my garage seems to be a neverending turnstile of motorcycles that enter and exit my life—I can always find a way to add one more. Well, this is the story of one that got away.
It all started with a phone call from “Cousin Gerard,” who is not my cousin, but a friend I bought some old Harley parts from many years ago. He reaches out to me when he hears of a cool old bike or part I might be interested in. Nice guy and a good friend to have, right? Well, an older friend of his passed away, and his son was selling off his dad’s stuff, including an unfinished 1920s Harley race bike. A 1920s Harley race bike, you say? Gerard knows how to get my attention.
He didn’t know much, but said it was a 1926 Harley Peashooter racer. His friend had it in boxes for more than 20 years. Harley Peashooter racers were potent and technically advanced, and they are rare racers. Single cylinder with OHV top ends and split exhaust ports with twin exhaust pipes—very cool, very powerful. Okay, so he got my attention. The bike was a seven-hour roundtrip drive away, and I was ready to jump in my truck for the right bike and deal. But first I needed to know more about the bike and asking price.
Gerard, who briefly saw the bike the day before, answered as many of my questions as he could. Yes, single cylinder. Yes, dual stubby exhaust pipes. Yes, Schebler barrel carb. No, it was not a direct-drive operation, as it had a clutch and transmission. And I’d never heard of a clutch setup operated by both hand and foot. He could only send me one old photo of the bike, and he quoted an asking price that was reasonable for a Peashooter racer.
I started pulling Harley history and reference books from my shelf and reading up on these rare bikes. Starting in 1926, Harley offered a number of single-cylinder motorcycles: the A and B Solo, which were flatheads, the AA, which is how these cases were stamped, the BA Solo, which were OHV models, and the S Racer, which I thought (and hoped) this bike was. In 1926 Harley sold 61 AA models in total, so it would have been a rare bike indeed.
I forwarded the one photo I had of the bike to my friend and old Harley guru Dale Walksler. He said it looked pretty interesting, but he and I both wanted more photos of both sides and some details to see what it was and figure out what it was worth. I spoke with the seller, and based on the one old photo, agreed on a price range; we could do the deal if the bike was what I had expected. I was getting pretty excited at the prospect of buying a rare 1926 factory racer Peashooter. Why would a Harley racer have a clutch or transmission? Wasit built as a road racer? And what’s with the hand- and foot-operated clutch? When I got a batch of current photos a few days later from the seller, they generated more questions than answers. The more I looked at the new batch of photos, the more I was convinced that this was a fantasy bike built by someone trying to make a street bike look more like a factory racer.
After speaking with Dale and others with more knowledge of these early racers than I have, I had to face reality. We all felt this was an interesting machine, but not a factory racer. As such, I had a lot less interest in it. I explained to the seller what we felt he had and explained it was a cool machine with great potential, but I felt it was not worth his asking price. I wished him luck and thanked him again for his time. A friend once told me some of the best deals are the ones not made. I guess this is one of them.
If you love classics and plan to be in Daytona for Biketoberfest, check out the Old Speed Show, sponsored by Dennis Kirk, and the Sons of Speed boardtrack races at New Smyrna Speedway, Saturday, Oct 21.
Ride safe, ride smart, have fun.
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