1909 Harley-Davidson Police Motorcycle

Reader Contribution by Mc Staff
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Editor’s note: Welcome to National Treasures, where we’ll be featuring many of the amazing vintage motorcycles on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa. Of course, nothing beats viewing the museum’s amazing vintage motorcycle collection with your own eyes, so be sure to visit the National Motorcycle Museum website and plan your trip today.

1909 Harley-Davidson police motorcycle on display at the National
Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.

This 1909 Harley-Davidson police motorcycle is considered to be the earliest known police Harley in existence. Harley-Davidson lore says that the first police model motorcycle was delivered in 1908 to the Detroit, Mich., Police Department, starting more than 100 years of U.S. police departments riding Harleys.

This Harley is documented as a member of the Eau Claire, Wisc., Police Department fleet. Note that this original-paint example displays pinstriping on the fuel tank offering a rectangular panel for the police department name to be painted in. 

As with the military, the police needed the high maneuverability of a motorcycle in a reliable package, and Harley-Davidson was nothing if not reliable in those early years. At its peak, Harley-Davidson provided its motorcycles to 3,400 police departments in 45 countries around the world. 

1909 saw the launch of the first prototype v-twin powered Harley-Davidson. The motor was a 45-degree, 49.5 cubic inch, flathead twin that produced a quoted 7 horsepower and was called the 5-D. That year’s production offered four 30-cubic inch singles labeled Model 5, 5-A, 5-B and 5-C. The main difference appears to be the wheel diameter and ignition systems; Models 5 and 5-A had 28 inch wheels and battery ignition while the models 5-B and 5-C had 26-inch wheels and magneto ignition. 

The starting procedure for this bike began with placing it on the rear stand, setting the spark advance with the right grip, setting the oil feed with the valve on top of the front of  the tank, and engaging the clutch by pushing the lever forward on the left side of the tank. After a few cranks, the engine would start and you would disengage the clutch and set the timing to slight advance. Then, you’d push the bike off the stand, bring up the throttle, make a few cranks with the pedals to get rolling, engage the clutch and ride off in search of traffic offenders.   

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