No brakes. No clutch. No transmission.
No problem. This 1926 Harley-Davidson “Peashooter” was, after all, a full-on factory racer. Anything that didn’t help it go faster was just dead weight that was removed in a quest for victory.
In the late ’20s, the fledgling AMA held races in a variety of engine classes, and the smallest was the 21-cubic-inch (350cc) class. This single-cylinder Harley, now owned by Bruce Linsday of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is an example of the bikes that usually led the standings.
Its serial number indicates that it was the second Peashooter made that year, which means it was almost certainly piloted by a factory racer.
Based loosely on the production version of the same bike, the overhead-valve factory racer-both side-valve and overhead-valve versions were available to the public-was much more purpose-built. Its frame was shortened, a minimal telescopic fork was added, and the whole package weighed in at a mere 215 pounds.
The 350cc motor, with its exposed valve train and vestigial exhaust pipes, differed markedly from the production version, having the full benefit of the Harley factory tuners. Racing engines had a good 30 mph or more on the production versions, reportedly topping out at nearly 100 mph.
Part of the idea behind the 21-inch class was to help make racing on rickety board tracks and dirt ovals safer by lowering speeds. But it didn’t work for long.
“After a short time, they had the little ones going nearly as fast as the big ones,” Linsday says. “That’s just how racing is.”
As it does today, racing also served as a showcase to boost sales, and the racetrack results for the Peashooter helped give the production version a moderate sales boost. They were purchased both as racers and everyday bikes. The Peashooters were even shipped overseas, seeing competition in speedway events and becoming a popular lightweight sporting motorcycle for European enthusiasts.
This particular Peashooter surfaced 15 years ago at a swap meet in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Linsday saw it and snapped it up. Using photos from the Harley archives, he completely restored it.
“I’m always looking for old motorcycles,” Linsday says. “This just happens to be a really unique one.”
Having survived its dangerous job as a board-track racer, this Peashooter was previously on display at the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio-on a replica section of board-track.