The term "Harley Hummer", loosely refers to all antique, Harley Davidson, American-made, 2-cycle, vintage, lightweight motorcycles produced between 1948 and 1966 at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin factory. However, technically speaking, the true "Harley Hummer" was only produced from 1955 until 1959, and it was a very basic, stripped down, no frills, 125cc motorcycle.
It all began in 1948, when Harley-Davidson released the "Model 125", a small, sturdy, light-weight, two-stroke motorcycle, of 125cc displacement. The Model 125's design, was actually a result of the German motorcycle manufacturer DKW, whose engineering designs were forfeited to the Allies, as a result of reparations at the conclusion of World War II. Other manufacturers also benefited from DKW's slightly altered designs, including BSA, with their Bantam model; the Russian MMZ M-1A Moskva (later known as the Minsk); and Yamaha with their YS-1. Today, the term "Hummer", also seems to incorrectly include the Harley Scat, Harley Pacer, Harley Ranger, Harley Super 10, Harley 125 , and Harley 165, although the two-stroke Harley Topper is excluded.
The Model 125 or S-125 was introduced by Harley-Davidson in 1947 as a 1948 model. Its engine was of two stroke design, which meant the operator had to mix oil, with the gasoline. This was a first for Harley. Failure to properly mix the oil with the gas, was sure to cause engine failure. It produced a whopping 3 horsepower which was sent through a three-speed foot-shift transmission. One of its more interesting features was a girder-type front end whose suspension consisted of five large rubber bands. It was touted by Harley, to get 90 miles per gallon of gasoline! Due to its low, initial price, and its economical price to operate, the 125cc was a very popular choice, with many groups, including paper boys, farmers, beginners, and even veterans returning home after the war, who had limited income. It was a popular addition, to the 1948 Harley model line-up.
Ten thousand Model S-125s were sold during the first seven months of 1947. Despite largely being ignored by dealers, the 125 gained a large following among young riders, many of whom would go on to ride larger motorcycles.
In 1951, the rubber band front end, was replaced by a more conventional hydraulic unit, which Harley called the "Tele-Glide". This was designed after the more popular, traditional, Harley "Hydra-glide" front suspension.
In 1953, the "Model 165" emerged, as a replacement for the Model 125. The larger engine size, 165cc, boosted horsepower to 5.5--a much needed update! Restyled sheetmetal gave the Model 165 a much cleaner look than its predecessor. In addition, 1953 also marked Harley's 50th year in business. To celebrate this event, a special brass medallion was designed, and would grace the front fenders of all 1954 models, including the Hummer. Sales of the small Hummer, were beginning to slow down, although V-twin sales were still strong.
By 1955, Harley Davidson was beginning to feel the pressure of the Japanese motorcycle invasion. Japanese dealers, such as Honda and Yamaha, were beginning to invade the American market, and the Japanese dealerships were able to offer much more reliable machines, at lower prices. Harley was hurting!
So, in 1955, with the help of a company employee, by the name of Dean Hummer, Harley introduced the TRUE "Harley Hummer". An American made motorcycle, that was stripped down to its bare essentials, in hopes of competing against its rising foreign competition. Although the Hummer appeared to be a stripped-down version of the 165, the engine had been redesigned. This new "B" model engine would see service through many newer models. A 1955 Hummer weighed 178 pounds, put out 3 1/2 horsepower and sold for $320 F.O.B. The new Hummer model lacked a battery, opted for a magneto ignition, and had no electronic horn, no turn signals, and no brake light system. Harley was simply stripping the model down to its bare essentials, and thus lowering the price, in hopes of competing with the foreign motorcycle market. Despite its lower price, sales continued to lag.
Even a properly tuned Harley Davidson Hummer, could not compete against the Japanese made machines. Sales of the Harley lightweight, began to suffer....severely! Harley was clearly losing the battle, as the Japanese motorcycles were much more dependable, offered a better suspension, and required very little if any maintenance, and were much faster! The Hummer remained in production during 1956, 1957, 1958, however, it was dropped after 1959.
In 1960, the Harley Super-10 emerged, replacing both the Hummer and Model 165. The model sported a newly designed 165cc “B” engine, but sales still continued to suffer. This would be the end of the road for the Model 165s "S" engine.
A little motorcycle called the Honda Dream, was everywhere! (See the Dream on display in our museum.) The Super 10 was discontinued in 1961.
A new, 175cc engine, was introduced in 1962. Three models were offered in 1962...the Harley Ranger (a stripped down back-woods version similar to the Super-10; 165cc left-overs), Harley Pacer (175cc), and Harley Scat (175cc). Rear suspension was incorporated in the street Pacer and trailbike Scat, both 175cc versions of the "B" engine. 1962 also marked the end of the hard-tail frame, as big changes were in store.
A totally new frame was introduced in 1963. H.D. called it the "Glide-Ride". This new style frame utilized a dual, spring-dampening, rear suspension. This was a welcomed change, however sales continued to lag. The Ranger was dropped from the 1963 line-up, leaving only the Harley Pacer and Harley Scat, both of which remained relatively unchanged, for 1964 and 1965.
In 1966, only 1 American lightweight model was produced....The Harley Bobcat. It sported a unique, one-piece, ABS body, similar to the one used on the Superglide, a few years later. Very modern for its time! Unfortunately, the Bobcat was dropped after only 1 year of service, thus ending the era, of the lightweight, American made, Harley "Hummer".
By 1967, Harley was hard-pressed to compete with the Japanese light-weight invasion. Harley Davidson had acquired the Italian Aermacchi division (Sprint 250 and 350), and the decision was made to shift small bike production to Italy, thus ending the 19-year old legacy, of the American made, "Harley Hummer".
Today, owning a Harley Hummer can still be a very fun and rewarding experience! Words can not explain the sensation, of holding the throttle wide open, watching the speedometer slowly reach a top speed of maybe 45 miles per hour, and being followed by a thick, jet stream cloud, of 2-stroke smoke! Keep on Hummmmmmmmin!
Why are they called "HUMMERS" ?
At a very early age, Dean Hummer purchased a Harley Davidson dealership in Omaha, Nebraska. This would have been in the late 40’s or very early 50's. Harley offered the model "125" at this time, but the "Harley Hummer" was non-existent.
Omaha, Nebraska was also home to the Cushman factory. Needless to say, selling lightweight Harley Davidson's was difficult in Cushman territory!
Dean realized it was going to be difficult to sell the lightweight Harleys in Omaha. So, anytime a prospective customer would walk in his dealership door, and even mention the word "Cushman", Dean would offer the 125 or 165 at a price that included little, if any profit. This caught on like wildfire! By 1954, customers were going out of their way, literally traveling hundreds of miles, to purchase a Harley 125 or 165, from the Omaha dealership. Dean's dealership was selling more Harley 125 and 165's than any other H.D. dealer in the country! In contrast, sales of the Harley lightweights were steadily declining nation-wide, but in Omaha, sales were unusually strong.
In early 1955, Dean received a phone call from Walter Davidson, who was president of the Harley Davidson corporation. Walter informed him that they needed to have a meeting, and had made arrangements for Dean to attend this special meeting in Milwaukee. He wouldn’t elaborate as to the purpose of the meeting.
Weekly telephone conversations with the president of H.D. were not uncommon back then, but an urgent (and expense-paid) meeting in Milwaukee perplexed him. In fact, Dean wondered if he was in some sort of trouble with the corporation. He made several phone calls to other dealers, and they too were clueless, and were not invited. So Dean nervously made plans to attend.
To his surprise, and relief, Dean was informed that the new model lightweight would be named the "Hummer"! Harley Davidson corporation, came out with the new model called the "Hummer", and Dean had little to do with the name, other than being #1 in sales, and having the last name of "Hummer".
A basic, no frills, version of the 125 was in order. This would lower the cost, and hopefully increase sales. When it came time to attach a name to the new model, "Hummer" was engraved into their minds. After all, Dean Hummer was selling the heck out of lightweights, and it was a catchy phrase "Harley Hummer". So, the term "Hummer", came about, as a result of Dean Hummer, who happened to have the last name of "Hummer", and was selling the heck out of lightweight 125 and 165 models, at a time when other Harley dealers were not doing so well, due to the foreign competition.
There has been the assumption, that Harley Davidson had a contest of some sort, and that the dealership that sold the most lightweights, was able to name the new model. However, Dean quickly dismissed that rumor, and said there was no contest, and it was simply a matter of coincidence!
Are they ALL called "Hummers"?
No! Only the 1955-1959 125cc bikes are properly called Hummers. The others have imaginative names like "Model 125". But the “Hummer” name has stuck, and most people call the whole series of American-made lightweights “Hummers.”