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1972 Harley-Davidson 125cc Rapido

Rapido 005Ah, our first street-legal vehicle ... that life-changing moment when freedom from family finally becomes possible. In 1971 Tennessee, it could happen when you were at least 14 years old, got your parents' signatures, had a motor-driven cycle with 5 brake horsepower or less, could see, paid $6, and rode within a 7-mile radius of your home during daytime hours. 

I had the luxury of learning to drive a tractor at 6, a car around 8, all on our farm. We had bicycles, a mini-bike, and a go-kart, so going to a slightly larger motorbike was not a problem. But, unfortunately, choosing one was. Honda was breaking ground with its fantastic line of bikes, and I saw their reliability and features through my friends. I wanted a blue 1972 Honda CL100, a dual-purpose on/off-road bike that sadly is not made anymore. However, my father was writing the check, and he wanted  *American* - a Harley-Davidson.

Anything sold by Harley-Davidson under 500cc was built by Aermacchi in Italy, but my father could not grasp that concept because the bikes had "Harley-Davidson" written on them. He grew up in The Great Depression, was still fighting World War II, and simply would not give his money to the Japanese, though the only two new cars he ever bought were German Volkswagen Beetles--in fact, he bought the third VW ever sold in Nashville. We had a great family friend, the late Bill Abernathy, who had just purchased the first 1972 model Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide 1200 sold in Tennessee, so it was deemed by the powers that be that I would have the first 1972 H-D 125cc Rapido sold here (Do we see a pattern forming?).



Rapido 001 It was Saturday, Sept. 4, 1971, that we went to Boswell's Harley-Davidson in Nashville and got the bike. Mr. Abernathy loaned us his bike trailer to bring it home. At $604.72, including tax, two optional mirrors, and a  legally-required crash bar, the Rapido was a bit pricey. The CL100 I wanted was available around $500, but again, I had to forego blinkers, decent lighting, underseat storage, reliability, color choice, peer acceptance, and 4-stroke engine mechanicals due to patriotism.
 
The 2-stroke Rapido's gas tank cap had a built-in cup to measure oil for every gallon of gas bought. Such an unnecessary hassle. I think the dealer did not hook the battery up correctly, as the magneto poorly powered everything on the bike ... lights, horn, etc, at different engine rpm. The horn would change tempo and volume simply by revving the engine, and the lights would dim and brighten. I never found any factory-related use for the tiny 6-volt battery.

Most H-D dealers would like to forget these bikes, both then and especially now. A few months after getting the bike, I perused the accessories catalog and found a luggage rack and tool kit for the Rapido. At first the dealer said these items did not exist, but after I pointed them out in the fine print, he gladly ordered them. The tool kit came in very handy ... the single spark plug would often foul, leaving the bike immediately dead wherever that happened, day or night. A bud and I fashioned trouble lights on our bikes, which were not only life savers at night, but also the only use I ever got out of the exposed battery. 

If I seem ungrateful about the bike, I don't mean to be. But for the same money, we could have had such a nicer motorcycle. Once on a trail ride, the carburetor literally fell apart. Yay tool kit! The Rapido was a 4-speed, most of the others had 5. Less than a year after getting the bike, the once-lustrous metallic red paint turned pink, and the Harley-Davidson cans of touch-up paint were horrible, not even close to the original color. Oh, and though the bike was dual-purpose, my father and Mr. Abernathy deemed that it should have the optional lower front fender and windshield for road use. Shall we say "Dork-cycle," and beyond my control.

The Rapido ran by a single-cylinder, 2-stroke engine displacing 123.15 cc, true horsepower unknown to me. Maybe the only clever thing on the bike was a rear wheel hub with two sprockets... one for street, the larger for trail. Just loosen the back wheel, slip it forward, and replace the chain onto the larger sprocket for getting muddy. It sat 30.5 inches off the ground, cleared Mother Earth by 6.3 inches, held 2.38 gallons on gas, and weighed 211.5 pounds. I remember the bike as being very smooth and quiet, but the brakes would disappear at the first sign of a wet road. Not a reassuring feeling at all.

Some things on the Rapido were backwards... shifter, shift pattern, brake pedal, kick starter, all were on the opposite side and/or function compared to every Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha made then. Whenever anybody else rode the bike, they hated it because the brake pedal was on the wrong side, causing them to shift up rather than slow down. The next model year, 1973, all of this was corrected ... the new bike even had blinkers! But that came too late for this nice little motorcycle.

Rapido 010 In August, 1972, a motley crew of the four of us (Mr. Abernathy, me, David, and Kevin, shown here), packed the three small bikes into the back of Mr. Abernathy's new Chevy pickup, and the Electra-Glide followed on a trailer. I don't remember where the luggage went. We drove four hours east to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and had a great weekend, limited license legalities aside. The two Harleys performed well; the Kawasaki died from a clogged exhaust, and Kevin immediately went broke, spending all of his money on a "Lamp of China"of unknown origin.
 
If you ever visit the Smokies, please use a bike, convertible, or something with a sunroof. Nothing else on wheels can give you the proper view.

We traded the Rapido in Dec. 1972, for a new black 1973 H-D SS-350 (Formally called the Sprint), identical to the cop bikes in the James Bond film "Live And Let Die." The SS-350 was another Italian-made disaster; the vibration from the single-cylinder "thumper" engine, as it was called, cracked the license plate into several pieces in less than six months. But I was 16 soon anyway, and we sold the bike for cash to go towards my first car, a red 1972 Chevy Vega, less than a year old. 

Rapido 003So even though I consider the Aermacchi Harley-Davidsons to be an epic fail, why do I lust for this bike? Well, simply because it brought me my first feeling of freedom in rural Middle Tennessee. It got me off the farm and to my friends that lived relatively far away (five miles). The purchase price and serial number have stuck in my head for 38 years ... 7A10333H2 was stamped on the frame.
 
I doubt this bike still exists, but you never know. This time last year, I saw somebody was restoring a similar bike. I emailed them and said I had an original Owner's Manual for their bike, and they were welcome to it if they wanted it--but no reply ever came.

I can't believe I still have a sales brochure for this bike after all these years. Somewhere in the living room is the Owner's Manual. Our family took very few pictures through the years, yet the first one here is me at 15 on the bike in 1972. Mr. Abernathy passed in 1981. I still see David and his family every Friday night; his son Daniel helped me with this post. Kevin is probably enjoying his "Lamp of China" somewhere.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

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Wonderful piece, Chuck. I have only one question: what in the devil is a "Lamp of China"?

It's probably small consolation to you, but I understand that the American-built Harleys of the same vintage were just as poorly assembled and unreliable.

Thanks, Cookie! Well, a "Lamp of China", at least in this case, was an ornate oil-burning mantle lamp. Mr. Abernathy named the thing after he had to loan Kevin $20 to get home on.

As far as this vintage V-Twin Harley-Davidson quality goes, it seems Mr. Abernathy's 1200cc bike was assembled with only one side of the piston secured onto the rod. The pin eventually slid out, scored a groove into the cylinder wall, and he had to have that major component replaced. Every time he shifted, a puff of blue smoke would exit the tailpipe. I cannot recall if warranty covered that or not, but since he had been Parade Marshall for the Shrine for 18 years, I assume the dealer did not charge him.

Nice piece. When I think of Harleys of that era, Michael Parks and "THen Came Bronson" pops into my mind.
Watched too much TV I guess.

A few of the Aermacchi show up on ebay and a few other places. In good shape they go for a pretty penny. As parts bikes the go for $50. Great story.

I actually like mixing two-stroke oil. Not so bad. What kind of sucks these days in filling a tank on a moto are those crazy fume recovery boots on the filler nozzles. they are made for cars, not motos.

Well, you are up to 6 comments! You would've had more (from me) but I was gone all weekend.

I agree that these bikes were dogs. Plain and simple. Harley should've stayed out of this market, especially with a 2 stroke as their motor choice. Add to that how far ahead the Japanese makers were in both small engined bikes and 2 strokes and Harley had to almost come up with the perfect bike. Even being "American" made wasn't enough for people to buy them. My dad started his career as a motorcycle mechanic in this period (early-mid 70's) and it was bikes like this Harley that convinced him to work in a Honda/Yamaha/Kawasaki/Suzuki only shop. He went on to become a Honda Gold Certified mechanic. By the time Harley had recovered from being broke and from making some REALLY poor build quality bikes with little innovative design, my dad had given up on any bikes made in America. We would see this every year going to the Sturgis Bike Rally where we could arrive and keep riding and the Harley guys were struggling with break downs, or had to do maintenance work before they could go ride, and they were always hunting for parts. I wouldn't hesitate to own a Harley from before this time, or from the modern era, but I'll pass on ones like this!

--Big Chris

I had a '72 (I think) Harley 250 Sprint. I bought it from a college friend for $125.00 in '78 or so. Owned it for two years, burned a hole in the piston and sold it for fifty bucks. I loved that bike. It didn't vibrate too much and rode like a dream. It came with a windshield but all it did was bounce engine noise back at me so I took it off.

After it went belly up I got a '71 Triumph 650 Tiger. Now THAT was a nice machine! Kick start only, six volts (boo!) and plenty of size and power. I totally rebuilt that machine and painted it black with gold trim. It was beautiful. Then two months after I'd rebuilt it some cretin in a VW with no insurance pulled a U-turn in front of me and crashed it up but good. Lucky for me, I walked away from the crash - but real slowly. Fixed it back up and then sold it some years later. Haven't ridden a motorcycle again. I like walking without a limp.

Big Chris, the Japanese were so far ahead in 1971 that they still make basically the same engines as they did back then, and before. I saw one on "The Price Is Right" the other day. Whereas the Honda mirror bars were curved for safety, the Harley ones were javelins in an accident. The details of a Japanese bike are always amazing. Honda has made over 60 MILLION of one model, The Super Cub, the most-produced vehicle model of all time, even besting the VW Beetle (In volume). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Super_Cub

Bryan, I'm glad you didn't suffer with your Sprint like I did mine. The vibration on the SS 350 was so bad, the mirrors were useless. I should still have the cracked license plate somewhere... I wish we could posts pics on these comments to explain stuff LOL.

Chuck - I wonder why the difference in vibration levels? Of course, the bigger the single lung, the more the "Thump", I guess. One thing that could have made a difference... The title didn't say "Harley-Davidson"... it said "Honda"! That old Italian bike must've been convinced that it was one of those smooth-riding Honda machines!

Over the winter, not long after I had gotten the bike, I decided to do a quick "Rattle Can" paint job. It had been black with a silver racing stripe down the center of the tank but I turned it all black. Put gold H-D wings on the tank and I was ready for the show circuit! Actually the Triumph turned out to be a real knockout. It was hand-rubbed black lacquer and when I painted the gold trim, the tank was sitting across the garage and gold spray dust settled on top of the black tank. At first I was like "WTF!" but then I was all like "OMG" and then, of course... I LOL'D! I just left the fine gold dust on the tank and painted over it with clear and it looked like a million bucks. After I had my Triumph back on the road I'd park my bike somewhere and like clockwork, someone would walk by, look at the gas tank, do a double take and then just start lightly stroking the paint. I loved it! And FYI, I never once claimed that I did it on purpose. That just wouldn't be right.

What's up, y'all!!

Bryan, I guess it's all in the name! Yes, in theory, a small displacement should not shake around as much as a larger one. Honda did make larger single-cylinder engines. But then again, they also had a 4-cylinder 350!

I learned another cool paint trick by "accident", however, this will take some experimenting. Paint one color first. Then, before it dries, paint another coat on top. When both coats dry, the result should look like cracked vinyl. I made this great mistake while painting a truck model that I hope to feature here soon. I'm not sure if it'll get posted or not, but here's a hint: "Come and listen to my story..." LOL.

My boyfriend has one of these bikes and is restoring it! Do you still have the Owners Manual?

Roxanne, I'll look for the manual. I'll be gone till Tuesday, Feb. 24.

That would be great! He is in the process of looking for piston rings for it but is not having any luck.

I have a 1969 Rapido which I bought in 1974. It got me to school and around the area in Adelaide, South Australia when I was growing up. Its still in original condition and attracts lots of attention from bike enthusiasts. I too have lots of fond memories associated with this bike. I have bought parts for it over the years and plan to restore it to original. My son now is itching to get his hands on it but he's still too young to ride on the street. I wouldn't part with it for all the Chinese lamps in Hong Kong!

I have a 1970 Harley 125 rapido, I'm looking to sell. Email me if you know anyone with any interest, I don't check this website at all, so feel free to contact me at [email protected] .

Hi Chuck. I just read your article and found it enlightening, especially since a 1972 HD Rapido just fell into my hands from my Dad's barn. Apparently it was once my older brothers. Any how, any input from you would really help out since I'm gonna try and restore it. I know, I know. . . its hardly worth it but to me its another piece of HD history, forgetable or not. Thanx

Hey, G C! What color is your Rapido? Red and yellow were first, I think blue came along later in the year. Are the photos from the sales brochure any help? I've had that since September, 1971 LOL. --TCG

I am wondering where you find replacement parts for it

I have a yellow and black 72 rapido. I also can get parts for it being that I work in a cycle shop. (Freedom cycle) south bend In. This is a fun bike to putt around on.

where can I get one?

I have a working 1972 rapido, it shifts on the opposite side as american bikes. It still runs.

Oh, I had a high school kid rebuild the engine, he bought a kit from somewhere in southern california.
less than 10,000 miles on mine.

Robert, if the serial number is 7A10333H2. I'd love to meet you.

Can anyone tell me how to get parts for 1971 harley Rapido????
thanks

my mom has a harley rapido.in fact she's had two at one time (all original parts) but yet she does nothing with it. it's more of a showpiece and less of a machine

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