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Harley-Davidson 16 F in the driving report

A true legend from 1916

Legend, myth, icon – such terms are reflexively used when speaking of Harley-Davidson. And it doesn’t make them any more meaningful. Here, however, the term legend is appropriate, because in the Harley-Davidson 16 F from 1916, the V2 from Harley really got going.

Tea HDriving the arley-Davidson 16 F at the time of its creation was impossible for the Germans, probably not even conceivable. In 1916 they had other things to do. The First World War raged with all its might. On July 1, after a fortnight of artillery bombardment, the British and French launched the attack on the Somme Front in northern France. In close ranks because they believed the German positions had been completely shot down. They ran into murderous machine gun fire.

Harley-Davidson 16 F in the driving report

A true legend from 1916

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1911 Silent Gray Fellows livery

The battle for Verdun and the center of the fortress belt there, Fort Douaumont, raged southwest of the Somme. Since the German offensive in February, the enemy armies have been at war there with incessant severity and the unimaginable use of heavy artillery. Both battles did not end until the autumn of that year, after hundreds of thousands of soldiers had lost their lives. They made no decision; however, it became apparent that the German army had overstretched its forces.

Change of scene and time: A narrow, tree-lined street winds through a quiet valley near Flonheim. A car only drives there now and then. I am glad that I can get to know the Harley-Davidson 16 F here and under such circumstances. It belongs to Thomas Trapp from the Harley Factory in Frankfurt, and can be viewed there by every visitor along with other of his treasures. Just for today we kidnapped her from Hessian to Rheinhessen. Against the green of the trees and the yellow of the grain fields, their gray paint, underlaid with a blue sheen, stands out equally well.

1916 was the last year in which Harley-Davidson used this paintwork of the so-called Silent Gray Fellow from 1911, which, incidentally, was copied from a color created by Peugeot. Later vintages of the identical motorcycle, which entered the war with the US Army in 1917, were olive green. Gray looks more noble.

Special handling is required


1916 was the last year Harley-Davidson used this 1911 Silent Gray Fellow paint job.

After a few steps on the kick starter and the usual trying with the cold start enrichment, the engine starts. And that’s already a big show on a small scale. The exhaust of the Harley-Davidson 16 F sounds powerful, but by no means loud, while the mechanics are robust, but by no means uncultivated. The open bumpers and rocker arms of the hanging intake valves perform their mechanical ballet in front of everyone, the front wheel bounces in time with the ignitions, and the rising heat of the engine makes any remaining spray oil droplets evaporate in small clouds.

When driving the Harley-Davidson 16 F, you have to learn completely different hand movements or foot movements than with all other old motorcycles that I have been allowed to move so far. Today the foot clutch has its premiere, but the "Model 16 F", unlike the more recent BMW R 32, has a throttle grip. Gasoline and air supply are controlled synchronously. Shifting takes place on the left of the tank, and this arrangement demands a lot of concentration and coordination from a newcomer. Involuntarily I reach left with my right hand to switch; that probably stuck from the time when I owned a racing bike with frame shift levers, which I also operated with my right hand.


In the interplay of the handy chassis and the happily crackling 989 V2, the historic Harley exudes an infectious enthusiasm.

The clutch is difficult to dose. The lever system for their actuation is provided with a sliding surface against which a friction lining presses. It prevents the clutch from being engaged in an uncontrolled manner by the engine vibrations. However, the preload is a bit tight and makes sensitive operation by foot difficult. But gradually the left hand learns what to do when shifting gears and then also takes over coupling with the optional hand lever on the left under the tank.

Harley-Davidson 16 F weighs around 150 kilograms

It’s better that way, now it’s going well. The wheels of the three gears find each other quickly and without scratching, and the tires with their rectangular contour also become more supple over time and allow a hint of lean angle – measured by modern standards. At least enough to drive the young-at-heart old lady quickly through the meandering curves. This is probably not the driving program that the American designers had in mind back then, but the Harley-Davidson 16 F completes it with flying colors. Contrary to popular beliefs about the “heavy motorcycle”, it is lightweight at around 150 kilograms and is very easy to drive.

In the interplay of the handy chassis and the cheerfully crackling 989 V2, the historic Harley exudes an infectious enthusiasm. She is a cultivated but expressive personality who expresses herself freely. The Harley-Davidson 16 F holds nothing back, vibrates, makes a sound, sprays oil droplets, becomes stubborn when rushed over bumps, or burns the rider’s right calf if it comes too close to the bulge of the combustion chambers. The good machine of modern motorcycles is alien to her, and that is precisely what makes them so pleasant to use.

Up to 100 kilometers per hour


Happy anticipation: jacket on, helmet on – and after a few attempts to start the V2 pounds off.

But above all, it always strives forwards. Up to 100 kilometers per hour on straight stretches and confidently on the inclines. You can guess why Harley-Davidson built the variable-speed engines until 1929. Only sometimes does the Harley-Davidson 16 F keep running too happily when the driver doesn’t want it. The braking torque of the motor is low, the braking power of the half-hub inner shoe brake in the rear wheel is modest and the effect of the outer band brake, which heats the same brake drum from the outside, is not worth mentioning.

The wise advice to drive with foresight is getting close to the edge of smart-shitting given the potential delays. Prophetic gifts would be better for some people driving through town or when meeting drivers with dubious right of way. That had to be said. But I don’t care.

Because this Harley-Davidson 16 F is the best Harley I have ever ridden with or without brakes. Proud owners of modern machines, please forgive me for this view. Like other sporty colleagues at MOTORRAD, I was previously of the opinion that I was still too young for this brand. The 16 F taught me better. I’m not too young for modern Harleys, but modern Harleys are not old enough for me.

The successor to the 16 F in Europe


Harley in the film: In “Mathilde” an F 16 plays next to Audrey Tautou.

Even before the First World War there were a few Harleys in Germany, and since 1910 the Hamburg dealer Georg Suck has been repairing some of the rare individual items. He later became the first German Harley importer. But the Harleys became really known in this country and throughout Europe when the USA entered the war in 1917 and the olive-green painted military machines, which were otherwise identical to the Harley-Davidson 16 F.

The Harley in the cinema

It wasn’t until 1929 that a kind of test from a Harley-Davidson appeared in “Das MOTORRAD”. In the exciting, lavishly staged French feature film “Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles” (2004), which was published in Germany under its stupid and meaningless title “Mathilde. A great love “suffered, a Harley from military stock plays a small role. The subplot about its owner, the clever war profiteer Celestin Poux, has been woven into the plot by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet with a keen sense of the historical facts. The film is based on the novel "The Mimosa of Hossegor" by Sebastien Japrisot.

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