torsdag 15. desember 2011


Years ago I was given a picture as well as a tip on where an old Harley sidecar racer where resting, this was then supposedly for sale by its owner.
As, back then my finances where rather limited I didnt allow myself to strike any deal, and I didnt offer to many thoughts on this bike for years (which is not quite true as I heard of others from time to time considering the same bike) until recently when I learned the bike had finally changed hands after all those years.
For me and others this bike was known as the bike that had been raced by "Harley Nilsen", which Nilsen? for sure I didnt know.

Recently I was in the area of the bike`s new home and its owner Eirik offered me to visit his garage to check it out.

This bike is a cool homebrewed racer based on a std 25-27 Harley twin with a cut down sidecar. Engine is a std. 1929 61" (at least from the outside view). Still there is some other cool features worth to notice. The rear part of its fork is the oddball dropforged JDH style, the one not mentioned in any parts books - ever. For those familiar with sites as the AMCA forum as well as the Caimag forum, not to forget anything related to Cutdowns or early bobbers will know this part.

Another detail is the original fork stabilizer, a Harley accessory causing the front part of the fork to get less flexible. AND yes the original is cast in steel, not brass. This is another issue which is consistently discussed at various forums.

A homemade arrangement made by shackles and wire is attached to the forks right side to further improve its stiffness when going left only at the race tracks.

Leather protection is added to the fuel tank as the rider on a sidecar racer has to move a lot to keep the front wheel grounded. Hoops are attached all over the bike to allow the sidecar monkey to be present where needed. His job is something different to any other. At least there are no brakes on this hack as sudden braking is what scares modern sidecar monkeys the most.

Front wheel seems to be turned 180 degree as the drum is opposite to the fork lug where the brake shackle should be anchored. Talking on front wheel, seems like front tire is taken from a period tractor, cool.
Rear tire is one scary tire, that’s a monster I have never seen on a bike before, bet that gave a god grip on those horse tracks or uphill events.
Having checked out the bike in itself I started dwelling with them cool plaques attached to the sidecar boot.
This is so cool; every race in which the bike has participated and the great wins by Harly-Nilsen is proven by those plaques from 1933 to 1939 as well as a particular plaque for 1940-45.

Plaque details from sidecar hood.
AMK, we know NMK Norsk Motorcycle Club in the earlier years (to become Norsk Motor Klubb), who were AMK? I had heard of AMK before but hadn’t used any effort in investigating this until now triggered by this bike.
AMK were kind of an opposite of the NMK. This as AMK where the Workers Motor Club (we have previously learned NMK where more upper class guys), one could easily state AMK to be to the left of those NMK guys as the worker movements in the thirties where strongly directed towards socialism.
AMK was founded in 1933 (hence a 1933 memory plaque on the sidecar), the year of the great economic depression that scared the entire world as well as it got the working class to grow even stronger.
And, of course did the working class ride motorcycles as well as being interested in the sport of such, but from what I have learned AMK were not allowed to participate in races organized by NMK in the early years. If is true or not I have not figured out by now, I will need to dig further into that.
What I do know is both NMK & AMK came along with their motorbikes covered with flowers in an event held in Oslo the summer of 1945 when the war had just ended. I bet they by then had figured the class issue was of less importance and where able to join their forces on the racing issue.

I had never seen or studied the AMK logo prior to the visit in Eiriks garage, a red star in a green circle surrounded by corn ears.
No doubt those guys where politically left wing.

From the plaques we learn Harley-Nilsen have been the "workers champion" as well as "Scandinavian champion" trough out the thirties. In addition there are plaques for races held all over eastern Norway. I don’t know for sure, tough I recon the 1940 to 45 plaque is there to tell there was no racing during WWII.
Unfortunately my investigations have turned out there is limited to none information to find on the AMK in official archives, I have been told most of the labor movement lost everything during the war.

My interest is now facing who was this Harley-Nilsen once riding the bike?

First off I learned the guy behind the nick Harley-Nilsen`s true name was Erling. A search on the www got me in contact with his daughter Grethe. Even if born after her father had ended his career as a motorcycle racer she was well aware of her father`s keen interest in motorcycling and his participation in races during the thirties. She was indeed pleased to share information with me on Erlings life during our phone conversation.
Erling was born in 1904, passing away too young at the age of 59 in 1963. For sure he had been a working class hero, a mechanic of god`s grace with a load of artistic skills added to his practical ones.
Not only did he own a bunch of various Harleys during the thirties, forties and early fifties giving him his nick name Harley-Nilsen, he did wrench, rebuild and even build his own improvements to the bikes to make them serve his needs. In pictures provided by his daughter showing some of his bikes, most of the earlier ones have the modification to the side of their front fork as seen on Eiriks race bike. Apparently Erling believed in this modification. According to a news paper clip from 1946 he made at least 7 or 8 enclosed sidecars trough the years, this to prevent his wife from getting soaked when touring the country side. Erling`s Harley`s started with the early style IOE`s from the twenties, later there would be thirties VL`s.

Erling and wife with a Harley rebuilt to the Nilsen spec.

Grethes mother dressed in an aviation style helmet, googles, kidney belt, motorcycle gloves and windproof coverall. Life is a thrill on a motorcycle.

A very cool detail in relation to Erlings motorcycle rebuilds is the fact he made scale models of his bikes, one off which is still in the family.
Picture of a Harley scale model, even this have plaques on the sidecar hood.

Same bike as the model in a newspaper clip from 1946.
Erling was not only a Harley enthusiast, motorcyclist, motorcycle racer and working class hero. He according to his daughter invented stuff as well, small things and bigger ones, such as the principals for the “Lillebror” camper to be produced by the company Widerøe from 1957 to 1971. The Lillebror invention was most likely a product evolving from trailers Erling would pull behind his sidecar hacks when he went camping at the countryside
A more artistic mission where the huge 8-10 meter(25-30 feet) Banana once located on the roof top at Banana Mathiesen in Oslo. Guess what Mathiesen imported!, all our Bananas for a decade. This Banana is still in existence at the Hennie Onstad art museum.
In addition to working in his own workshop from where he serviced a bunch of Oslos Harley riders at the time, Erling added a steady job as scene mechanic / builder at Chat Noir. This was Oslo’s most reputed theatre during the 1900`s
Erling Løwer Nilsen seems to have been one of these guys with unlimited resources and endless days.
I look forward to learn more from his racing career as well as the AMK, stay tuned.

Erling with his cream 1929 JD, this bike represent the end of the IOE era. Most of Erlings bikes where painted cream (as his racer), according to his daughter this cream colour was sort of an trademark to him.

Added 17.12.2011;
This is a picture I really appreciate, Erlings two daughters checking out their fathers old race Harley.
Both girls seems to have the racing gene from their father.
The other pic show some of Erlings prizes won in AMK races during the thirties.

Erlings daughter Grethe, Eirik & Arne Bjørn, Dagfinn Johansen, Aftenposten
Note: Pics of pics showing some of Nilsens Harleys will be replaced as soon as they have been properly digitalized, promise too.

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