Refined Pioneer: 1921 Reading Standard

Some antique motorcycles do much better in current conditions than they did when they were built. One of these is Mike Terry’s 1921 Reading Standard.

| September/October 2017

  • 1921 Reading Standard
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • Caps on the cylinder head give access to the valves.
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • 1921 Reading Standard
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • To prime the engine, the cup on the right cap is filled with fuel, then opened to drain the fuel into the cylinder.
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • 1921 Reading Standard
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • 1921 Reading Standard
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • The Reading Standard’s ample foot boards were the norm in 1921.
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • Owner Mike Terry aboard the 1921 Reading Standard.
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell
  • 1921 Reading Standard
    Photo by Sedrick Mitchell

1921 Reading Standard
1,173cc (71.57ci) sidevalve 45-degree V-twin, 3.375in x 4in bore and stroke, 16-18hp (est.)
Single 1.25in Schebler Model HX
3-speed hand shift, chain final drive
6v Splitdorf generator, Bosch magneto ignition
Single downtube keystone frame w/engine as stressed member/NA
Dual leg leading-link with single spring front, rigid rear
Independently operated internal expanding drum (right pedal) and external contracting band (right handle grip)"
3in x 28in front and rear
Fuel capacity:
3gal (11.4ltr)
Price then:
$375 w/ lighting, $345 w/o

“It has the power of a postwar Harley. It goes faster than it will stop.”
Mike Terry, collector, about his 1921 Reading Standard

Some antique motorcycles are time travelers. They do much better in current conditions than they did when they were built.  One of these is the Reading Standard.

The Reading Standard was built in Pennsylvania for 19 years starting in 1903, long before there were decent roads. Motorcycle frames had to be tough to put up with the era’s bad roads, and the Reading Standard’s frame was not tough enough. Collector Mike Terry, the owner of the 1921 Reading Standard featured here, has six Reading Standards, and the frames on four of them had been broken and re-welded. One had an extra support added. “It’s a keystone frame, with the engine a stressed member. There’s no top motor mount, and I’m not sure why,” Mike says, adding, “the fragile frame must have contributed to bad sales.”

Early days

Many early motorcycle manufacturers were essentially assemblers, using components brought in from different manufacturers. From 1902 until 1907, Indian, one of the most famous among early American motorcycle manufacturers, sourced its engines from the Aurora Automatic Machine Company in Aurora, Illinois. The Indian/Aurora contract provided that Aurora could sell additional engines on the open market. Designed by Indian’s Oscar Hedstrom, these single-cylinder engines were well designed and well built for their time, and powered a lot of early American motorcycles.

One of the companies using Aurora power was Reading Standard, which commenced production in 1903. For the first two years, Reading Standard bikes not only used Aurora engines designed by Indian, they also copied Indian’s diamond frame and the “camelback” tank set over the rear fender. They were, in fact, almost identical to the same year Indian. In 1905 the company changed the shape of the tank, moved it to the top tube in front of the seat and started using standard dry-cell batteries to power the bike’s ignition. The next year, Reading Standard hired engineer Charles Gustafson Sr. and sent him to Europe to study engine design.

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