Harley Davidson 1920 Eight-Valve Racer

Committed to bike racing in 1914, Harley Davidson soon began to take the sport seriously. Special eight-valve racing twins were introduced in 1916. The cylinders and heads on the eight-valve racers were the work of British engineer Harry Ricardo and featured a hemispherical combustion chamber that had been developed on airplane engines during WW1. The bike shown here is a 1920 version with distinct open-port cylinder heads that have no exhaust headers. The eight-valve racer had no gearbox or brakes. Riders slowed their machines using a combination of the throttle, the engine-kill button, and old-fashioned boot leather. Harley riders, however, were up to the task, winning a number of prestigious races this year. It is possibly one of only eight built, with very few of these still in existence. On the rare occasions when they are sold, they command substantial prices. These were built in very limited numbers until 1927 for the use of the factory’s own race team and chosen riders. Four versions of the machine were produced over an 11-year period, giving serious credibility to Harley as a racing-bike manufacturer. The race team secured numerous victories on the eightvalve racers and earned itself the nickname “the Wrecking Crew.” The sight and sound of these—quite literally—fire-breathing machines must have been incredible as they reached speeds of around 120mph (193km/h) on the steeply banked wooden tracks.
Harley Davidson 1920 Eight-Valve Racer
Harley Davidson 1920 Eight-Valve Racer

Harley Davidson 1920 Eight-Valve Racer
• ENGINE Overhead-valve, V-twin
• CAPACITY 61cu. in. (1000cc)
• TRANSMISSION Single-speed, direct drive
• FRAME Tubular loop Keystone racing frame
• SUSPENSION Leading-link front forks,rigid rear
• WEIGHT 692lb (314kg)
• TOP SPEED 120mph (193km/h)