Watch A 1939 Harley-Davidson EL Knucklehead Cruise Japan



a man riding on the back of a motorcycle


© Provided by Motorious


Americans aren’t the only ones in love with vintage Harley bikes.

When you think of classic Harley-Davidson motorcycles, you probably automatically assume an American would be the only one interested in riding it. At least, you would if you believe the story some people like to push that in other countries Harleys are looked down upon universally. As you can see in the video accompanying this article, there are dedicated Harley-Davidson riders in other parts of the world like Japan, proving these bikes have a far broader appeal.

You can literally just sit back, relax, and just enjoy this video. Maybe consider putting it on full screen for a truly immersive experience. It might be the closest you get to riding one of these Harleys.



a motorcycle parked on the side of a road: Photo credit: Mecum Auctions


© Provided by Motorious
Photo credit: Mecum Auctions

That melodic sound you hear is Harley-Davidson’s EL “hemi” overhead valve V-twin engine, which was lovingly termed “knucklehead” because of the bumps on the cylinder heads. Originally developed at the beginning of the Great Depression to be the first overhead valve design for the brand’s street bikes, the launch of the new engine was delayed until 1936. The American motorcycle brand used it all the way through 1947, although it stopped for several years during the war effort. Since this is a 1939 model, its engine displaces 61 cubic inches, with the larger 74ci version launching in 1941.

EL was the designation for the Special Sport version of these motorcycles, while ES indicated a bike set up for use with a sidecar. At first consumers were afraid to purchase these motorcycles since OHV engines were up to that point perceived as very finnicky and even fragile, requiring constant maintenance. However, as the Great Depression came to a close and the engine had proven itself, these motorcycles became quite popular.

If you look at a Harley-Davidson Knucklehead you can see how the design influences its modern designs. While simple, the stance is brash and decidedly American, departing from the stylistic tone set by Italian, German, and British motorcycles of the time.

The only real complaint about this video is that the rider doesn’t dismount at some point and walk around the Harley. We would love to have gotten a nice view of the entire motorcycle, which from the description still wears its original paint. You see it briefly when the guy gets off, but it’s not a great view and we’d love to see more detail.

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