1949 Harley-Davidson Model S

The Harley-Davidson S was one of the manufacturer's first forays into marketing a motorcycle for younger people and entry-level riders. Check it out!

It’s been a while since we’ve featured an authentic, restored Harley-Davidson in our Ride of the Week series, so we were more than happy to find a few vintage bikes at Cleveland’s Crawford Auto Museum that were on loan from the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. One of those was a bright red 1949 Harley-Davidson Model S.

The story of the Model S begins at the conclusion of the second World War, where the United States army had captured tooling and drawings of the German RT 125 from the DKW factory following the war’s end. The DTW RT 125 was one of, if not the most advanced two-stroke motorcycle in the world at the time, and the stolen blueprints inspired different bikes manufactured in the Soviet Union, Poland and the United Kingdom.

In the 1930s DKW pioneered the Schnurle two-stroke loop scavenging process. Essentially, this is the process of exhaust gases in a cylinder of the internal combustion engine being replaced with the fresh air/fuel mixture for the next cycle, which guarantees proper combustion and consistent power output. DKW also developed a highly efficient arrangement of transfer ports. These two features were included in the RT 125 to great commercial advantage.

The Model S was first introduced in 1947 with a small single-cylinder, 125cc motor that made a measly 3 horsepower that was sent through a three-speed foot-shift transmission. While the bike made little power and could barely reach 45 mph, it sold relatively well being Harley-Davidson’s first foray at attracting younger and entry-level riders. It had a production of 31,793 units, and likely swayed many new riders into upgrading to a beefier bike later down the line.

The Model S has a single Langsenkamp-Linkert carburetor, a front girder with rubber band spring and a rigid rear for suspension, and front and rear drum brakes. It would go through a few changes over the years; the 1949 model was six volt and had a bulb and reflector headlight like most vehicles at the time, and in 1951, a telescopic fork replaced the rubber-band front suspension.

The Model S would be replaced by the Model 165 with its 165cc motor in 1953 through 1959. In 1955 the Hummer was also added to Harley’s catalog, which returned to the old 125cc capacity engine. You’ll likely hear the Model S be referred to as a “Hummer” – although incorrect, the term has generally been used to refer to all American-made single-cylinder Harley-Davidson motorcycles manufactured from 1948 to 1966.

If you have a motorcycle, ATV, UTV, snowmobile or jet ski you’d like to feature in MPN’s Ride of the Week series, please email MPN Content Director Greg Jones at [email protected].

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