Harley-Davidson is best known for its big V-twin engine powered motorcycles. Harleys ooze attitude with their unmistakable exhaust sound. But for nearly 20 years, from 1948 until 1966, Harley-Davidson manufactured a series of two-stroke, single-cylinder lightweight motorcycles with engine displacements between 125 cc and 175 cc. These lightweight bikes have come to be referred to as Hummers, though that name was only properly applied to one particular model manufactured from 1955 until 1959.
Early Harley-Davidson Lightweight Motorcycles
As part of war reparations following World War II, the German DKW motorcycle company turned over its designs to the Allies. The British BSA company used these plans to develop the Bantam. In the U.S.S.R. the Mockba M1A was based on the German design. Harley-Davidson modeled their Model S-125 motorcycle on the DKW plans, and produced it from 1948 through 1952. It had a 125 cc engine attached to a rigid, or hard-tail frame and produced three horsepower. Through 1950, the Model S-125 had a girder-type front suspension that used five large rubber bands. The suggested retail price on the Model S-125 was $325 until the front suspension was changed to a “Tele-Glide” hydraulic front fork system. With the addition of the new front suspension the price on the Model S-125 went up to $365 in 1951. In 1953 Harley-Davidson replaced the Model S-125 with the larger Model ST-165. The 165 cc model was in production through 1959.
The Real Harley-Davidson Hummer
By 1954, sales of the Harley-Davidson Model ST-165 were declining, due in large part to competition from Japanese imports. The exception to low sales of the Harley lightweights was Omaha, Nebraska. The Harley-Davidson dealership in Omaha was selling more lightweight motorcycles than any other dealership in the country. That dealership was owned by Dean Hummer. In 1955, Harley-Davidson introduced the Hummer, a 125 cc motorcycle named after the owner of its Omaha dealership. The Hummer was manufactured through 1959. It was a stripped down bike, with a peanut-shaped fuel tank, Tele-Glide front suspension, a seat, headlight, rear brake, squeeze-bulb horn and little else. The Hummer had no speedometer, no front brake, no brake lights or turn signals. It didn’t even have a battery; the spark plug and headlight were powered by a magneto.
Harley-Davidson 1960s Lightweight Motorcycles
Harley-Davidson discontinued both the Hummer and Model ST-165 after 1959 and introduced the Super-10. The Super-10 featured a redesigned 165 cc engine and was in production through 1961. Harley-Davidson discontinued the Super-10 and replaced it in 1962 with the stripped down 165 cc Ranger, which had only one production year. Two new 175 cc models were introduced in 1962, the Pacer and the Scat. In 1963, the 175 cc models got a new frame with the Glide-Ride rear suspension, two horizontally-mounted shocks. The Pacer and Scat were produced through 1965. The last model of the American-made lightweights Harley-Davidson offered was the 1966 Bobcat. The Bobcat had a 175 cc engine and one-piece fiberglass bodywork.
The Harley Hummer Club
Harley-Davidson ceased production of its lightweight motorcycles with the 1966 Bobcat. And though the Hummer was only manufactured from 1955 through 1959, the name Hummer has come to be used generically for all the Harley lightweights made from 1948 through 1966. In 1979, Dave Hennessey bought a rust covered Harley-Davidson Hummer for $10. He began looking for other Hummer owners, primarily to share information and locate parts. In 1982, Hennessey began distributing a newsletter, “HummerNews,” and officially started the Harley Hummer Club with a membership of 120. The club was incorporated in 1997 as a non-profit organization and began appearing at Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) events. The club still maintains an active website and presence at AMCA events.