The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) introduced 21-inch (350cc) racing in 1925. The small-capacity category quickly gained traction, with Indian and Excelsior fighting for board and dirt track supremacy. It’s safe to say that Harley-Davidson immediately felt left out, joining the new class just one year later, in 1926, with its iconic “Peashooter” racer.
Designated as AA and BA variants, the race models set out to dominate the competition. Thanks to its overhead-valve (OHV) configuration and vestigial exhaust system, the racing Peashooter gained 50 percent more power than its production counterpart. That extra oomph equated to a 30-mph advantage and a nearly 100-mph top speed. Oh, by the way, Harley maximized the bike’s velocity by foregoing brakes.
H-D couldn’t take such risks on the production side, however. While 21-inch racing presented a proofing ground for the mini-Hog, the single-cylinder-powered model also opened new markets for the Motor Company. European nations, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand commonly turned to small-capacity motorbikes for cheap transportation.
Harley met that demand with its Model A and Model B Peashooters. Unlike their hopped-up siblings, the production variants opted for a side-valve layout. The A codename pertains to models with a magneto while the B trim indicates a battery/coil. Even with the arrival of the Model S race bike, Harley continued producing the Peashooter family until the mid-1930s.
With such an illustrious history, it’s no wonder Wheels Through Time Museum Associate Director Matt Walksler was so blown away when he received a serial number one 1931 Peashooter engine. From the race-specific head to the dual-port exhaust, Walksler immediately puts his Peashooter knowledge on display.
The rare Peashooter engine may require some elbow grease, a matching carburetor, and an entire chassis, but we can’t help but hope that the tiny, mighty mill anchors a new project for the master restorer.