1932 Harley-Davidson Hillclimber
The first Harley factory racer
Long before Supercross or Superbike was king, the ultimate battleground for motorcycles in the U.S. was hillclimb racing: one rider, one machine in an all-out run to conquer a steep, gnarly hill.
Back in the sport’s heyday in the 1920s and ’30s, the largest factories—Harley-Davidson, Excelsior and Indian—spared no expense to build some of the trickest factory racers anyone had ever seen. Victories on the hills meant sales on the showroom floor, so it should come as no surprise that when Harley decided to build its first true factory hillclimber, the result was something special.
The problem was that Harley’s previous attempts to convert production bikes into successful hillclimb machines kept coming up short. The answer was the 1929 DAH, which shared not a single part with the D model streetbike.
The heart of the project was an entirely new 45-cubic-inch (750cc) overhead-valve engine, with a single exhaust valve feeding two exhaust ports.
The DAH made its debut in July of 1929 at a Pittsburgh hillclimb, where John Grove rode the machine to victory. Still, Excelsior came out on top at the end of that season, and won the title again in 1930. Then Indian won in 1931.
Throughout that time, Harley continued to refine the DAH, tweaking the motor and redesigning the frame from a single downtube to a double downtube. But the most significant change may have been the decision to have veteran racer Joe Petrali ride the bike for the ’32 season. In the hands of Petrali, the DAH roared up a 625-foot hill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, that year to clinch Harley’s first-ever national hillclimb title. Petrali went on to win again in 1933, 1935 and 1936, while claiming dirt-track championships in each of those four seasons as well.
Since the DAH was a limited-edition factory racer, very few examples remain of the 25 or so machines built. This 1932 DAH factory hillclimber, previously on display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, is owned by Daniel Statnekov of Tesque, New Mexico. It features the rare double-downtube frame and an experimental trailing-link fork. It is very much like the one that Petrali raced, and only two examples of this configuration are known to exist.
“I love all my bikes, but I particularly like this one,” says Statnekov, who collects early Harley racers. “I see it as a truly beautiful kinetic sculpture that has great historical significance.”