View Full Version : 21 J Kickstart lever finish

07-28-2016, 09:43 PM
Can anyone (one of you AMCA Judges out there?) advise me of the original finish of the kickstart levers of 1921 J Models. My 21 gearbox didn't have the kickstart mechanism attached when I got it and, of the two levers in the parts box which came with the motorcycle, one was parkerized and one had the remains of plating on it. I replated the latter and it is now on the machine, but I suspect it may not be correct.

I have seen nickel plated, parkerized, black and olive painted finishes on photos of restored 1921 machines, and well-worn, difficult-to-make-out, rusty finishes on photos of original motorcycles. I've not seen an original 21 "in the flesh", and here in New Zealand am a bit far away from Milwaukee to check out the 21 JD in the H-D museum, assuming it is in original finish and not an early restoration of course.

My assumption is that, by 1920, H-D management were only too aware of the changing and shrinking market for motorcycles, with the Model T Ford making the motorcycle cost-uncompetitive as family transport. Cost cutting in both production methods and materials would have resulted in fewer plated parts from then on, but identifying when this occurred in the 20-24 period can be a challenge. I suspect that changes could even have been made during a year's production run?

Any comment gratefully received.

07-29-2016, 02:42 AM
Mike, I have been told that it should be dull nickel plated although this is not a definitive answer. That said, my 20J gearbox had already been restored when I got it and the kickstart lever is painted olive.

If there is a definitive answer I would love to know too but my money is on nickel because it will be less likely to wear or chip off like paint will do on a part like this.


Robert Luland
07-29-2016, 08:51 AM
I have a whole lot of factory photos and I can't find one that shows a nickel plated kicker arm on a three speed. There all painted black. The kicker pedal, return spring insert and the clutch pull rod cover are nickel but not the arm. Bob Luland

07-29-2016, 10:34 AM
Bob, that's a great photo and confirms that my painted kick-start lever, which I thought was wrong to be painted is actually right.

Also the photo shows a couple of other details that I had been scratching my head about. Thanks. (Sorry to hijack the thread Mike)


07-29-2016, 04:29 PM
Fellas have a good look at that image.
Compare the dark colours on the bike with the main tank colour and then look at the kicker
It looks more like the main tank colour than any of the known black bits

07-29-2016, 05:01 PM
Fellas have a good look at that image.
Compare the dark colours on the bike with the main tank colour and then look at the kicker
It looks more like the main tank colour than any of the known black bits

Tommo, I had already thought the same but didnt mention it. The exhaust we know to be black and shows much darker than the kicker. The kicker is a similar shade of grey to other parts that we know to be Olive Green so my guess is that that kicker is Olive.


Steve Swan
07-29-2016, 05:08 PM
What a wonderful picture of such a gorgeous motorcycle.

Robert Luland
07-29-2016, 05:34 PM
Pete, I think your on to something. That's a high def picture. You can really blow it up with out distortion. I just blew it up and I have to agree. It's the same color as the kicker cover. My eyes are shot. Bob L

07-29-2016, 07:56 PM
Now I'll really throw the cat among the pigeons.
If you look at the factory picture of a 1921 in the H.D. book "The Legend Begins" it appears that the kicker is plated.
I'm assuming that your photo is of a 1920 Bob so maybe 20 is painted and 21 is plated.
Nickel was short following the 1st World War and it may have taken until 1921 for supplies of nickel to return to normal and be available for industry.
There was a serious amount of nickel jacketed projectiles used between 1914 and 1918 and this made nickel expensive and in short supply.
That's my thoughts on it anyway.
I'll see if I can scan the 1921 image and put it up.

07-29-2016, 08:30 PM
The bike in the picture Bob posted is a pre production 1920, but it has 1919 cylinders. I recognized the picture from Jerry Hatfield's book. I agree that the kicker arm looks to be olive green.

07-29-2016, 09:46 PM
Thanks for the input folks (and you're not hijacking the thread, John).

Peter makes an interesting point. Two factors were impacting on H-D production and sales in the 19-23 period - wartime shortages of some materials at the beginning of the period, and a shrinking motorcycle market at the end. In the "coffee table" publication "the H-D Motor Co. Archive Collection" the mostly unrestored 1919 J Model has a painted kicker arm; the arm on the 20 J is obscured; the restored 1920 Sport Model has a plated arm, which may or may not be as per original. The 23JD looks to be unrestored (or an early restoration) and has a painted or parkerized kicker arm. In the photograph of the same museum 23JD from the Pierce Colorwrite website, reproduced below (trusting I'm not breaching any copyright - no commercial interest on my part and a recommended website) the arm is clearly black.

Over time I've trawled through a lot of photos on the net of what purport to be original paint 21 and 22 J Models, and some certainly look to have the remains of dull nickel on them. So perhaps there was a short period when wartime materials shortages were eased, and before another round of William Davidson's cost cutting at the factory took effect, when some kicker arms were plated.

So, mainly painted (body colour or black?); with some early 20s possibly plated? Heavens knows how judges can be definitive about some of this stuff!

Eric, you are very knowledgeable about 1916 Js. What's your experience of kicker finish on these early models?


07-29-2016, 10:12 PM
Here's the image for 1921 from "The Legend Begins"
Make up your own mind.

07-30-2016, 01:14 AM
I've gone looking in my brochure collection and from the 1919 and 1921 H.D. Sales Brochures come the following two images
1919 is definitely plated but the 1921 one appears painted.
Look at the nickel plated kick starter return spring washer and compare its finish with that on the kick start lever and once again make up your own mind.

07-30-2016, 03:04 AM
Tommo, you reminded me that I have an original 1920 Dealer Brochure. Its a UK brochure but I doubt that the kicker finish differed.

On page 10 there is similar picture to your 1919 picture.


On page 8 there is a description of the transmission.


Here is the picture in the bottom right corner close up


The picture of the whole bike shows the kicker in a lighter shade than the Olive Green, much like the 1919 brochure. However the close up of the transmission shows it the same as the gearbox case which we know to be Olive. To confuse things the close up also shows parts that we know to be nickel plated also in the same colour as the kicker and the case so I donít think the line drawings in the brochure are definitive.

These are drawings and not photographs so there may be some variance to the actual specification. Maybe the picture of the whole bike was drawn in 1917 and HD just used the same one for subsequent years until a significant variation in spec was introduced (which I think is very likely).

At the moment my money is on paint and I am erring towards olive green but I am happy to be convinced otherwise by the knowledgeable people on here. Has anyone got any more contemporary photographs?


07-30-2016, 06:28 AM

Here are photos of two different 1920 model bikes. One of them went through an auction house and the other photo came from Ebay. It can be seen the brighter image shows the kicker to being the green color and the other is hard to tell but I would say black. So it might of differed on the person assembling the bike or if someone special ordered the kicker arm to be black. That part I'm not sure about but I hope these photos help.


Robert Luland
07-30-2016, 06:39 AM
I wouldn't be so fast to trust an artist illustration. I new a woman that did this for Korvettes when I was a kid. She would redraw over old work all the time to save time. Those artist were no different.

07-30-2016, 07:13 AM
This thread has highlighted the pitfalls to be found even in factory photos and brochures. As Eric pointed out, Bob's photo of the 1920 model was prepared in 1919 for the 1920 catalog, using some 1919 parts. (But the kicker is pretty clearly painted Olive.) And Peter and John's brochures show how difficult it is to establish the finishes of some parts from brochure illustrations which were initially highly detailed prints from plate glass negatives like Bob's, but were then handed over to the art department (perhaps of Klaus, Van Peterson and Dunlap, the H-D advertising agents who prepared a lot of their catalogs and brochures) for airbrushing and refining.

However, Bob reminded me that I had seen his photo in Jerry Hatfield's "Inside Harley-Davidson" and had another look through that useful book. And Peter's and John's posts reminded me that I have the original, battered rider's handbook for my 21F.

In JH's book, there are other unmolested photos. Page 49 - 1922J - Brewster green or black kicker. Page 50 - 1923J - Brewster green or black. Page 55 - 1924J - a Brewster green or black kicker behind Ottaway's right leg. (Oddly, all the Sport Models seem to have plated levers.)

Like John, I'm leaning to paint.

I have attached the lubrication chart right side view from my rider's handbook. It is a JD by the look of the cooling fins on the pocket, but I assume that there was no difference in finish between the 61" and 74" models. The photo has been less "enhanced" by the art department than some of the others and, despite all the evidence of painted kickers elsewhere, this one certainly looks plated. But that stll could be the artist "improving" the factory product. Look at the way the fenders have been highlighted to the extent that the paint is whited out. The kicker may have got the same treatment.

Has anyone out there got a photo of the right side of the 21JD in the H-D museum?


07-30-2016, 07:16 AM
Very helpful photos Jamie. If only I could find a couple of pictures of 1921 bikes like those.

Robert Luland
07-30-2016, 08:26 AM
I had to dig but no go on the right side. Bob L
http://i952.photobucket.com/albums/ae1/RobertLuland/1921%20J%20Factory_zpsl3xjatlh.jpeg (http://s952.photobucket.com/user/RobertLuland/media/1921%20J%20Factory_zpsl3xjatlh.jpeg.html)
http://i952.photobucket.com/albums/ae1/RobertLuland/1921%20J%20Factory%202_zpsc1oia9vo.jpeg (http://s952.photobucket.com/user/RobertLuland/media/1921%20J%20Factory%202_zpsc1oia9vo.jpeg.html)

07-30-2016, 06:50 PM
Thanks for digging Bob. I have found that photos of the right hand sides of original paint bikes are very difficult to locate. The left side with the H-D branded primary cover seems to be the "proper" side for formal photos, and account for most views; and when the left side is photographed, either a sidecar or the rider's leg is in the way.

I suggest, from looking at Jamie's photographs, that the kicker may have been parkerized black/dark gray, before painting, which left a blackish looking lever after the olive paint had worn off. I've decided, in the absence of a clear photo or convincing evidence, to go down that route.

There must be someone out there with a pre-restoration or original photo of a 21 J.

07-30-2016, 06:51 PM
I think this is a very good example on how judges need to be very careful about making judgement on things when there is no definitive answer and period factory original literature is sending mixed messages.
You turn up to judging with a painted kicker arm and the judge says it should be plated.
Where is he getting his definitive decision from?
As an aside I have more than one nos kicker arm and they are all parkerised.

07-31-2016, 05:24 AM
Last Autumn Bonhams auctioned what was described as an original and unrestored 20J. The good thing about Bonhams is that they post very high resolution photographs on their website. Here is the link:


The reason that I am leaning towards painted in Olive is that the previous owner of my 20F gave the engine and transmission to a well known restorer (Bill Healing) with the brief to restore them. I have some pictures of the unrestored motor and tranny (see below) but it is hard to tell what the finish was but I am assuming that once Bill had cleaned the parts off he was able to establish the original finish on various parts. Loads of bits were nickel plated so in that case why would he have painted the kicker green if it should have been plated? The rebuild cost was an eye watering amount of money so it cant have been done for economic reasons, I believe it was painted because that was the original finish.

Here is an after picture:


Here is my bike before the work.






07-31-2016, 06:17 AM
I particularly like the dull nickel finish on the restored motor and transmission John. Were you tempted at all to try to preserve rather than restore your 20F, or was it past the point of no return as mine was?

07-31-2016, 07:59 AM
Thanks Mike, The full answer is here:


The short answer is I have decided to leave it as it is, ride it and see how I feel about it before I apply any paint or plate.


07-31-2016, 09:07 PM
I have 2 questions-

Who is doing the dull nickle? Is it the plating process or the base metal prep?

Any one have access to 1926 JD photos left and right side in the great clarity of those posted earlier? With all the investigation I did during resto, I'd like to keep improving. For example, I did not nickle the clutch pedal and brake pedal. I'd like to go back over the bike and upgrade it.


07-31-2016, 10:19 PM
Dan, I don't know if you have already been down this path but Yesterdays, the Dutch vintage motorcycles sales company, has a considerable archive of photos of J Model Harley-Davidsons that have been through their hands, at least a couple of which are 26 models which purport to be in original paint. Some photos are read-only and can't be downloaded for your own files. Some can be copied, though you will no doubt have to take care about copyright. An example of one of their photos, stated to be of a 61' 1926 machine, is attached.



07-31-2016, 10:31 PM
And another one, from a series of photos of a bike for sale which I found when I googled "1926 Harley Davidson Images".



Steve Swan
07-31-2016, 11:01 PM
not to hijack this thread.... Bob Luland sent me these pics of original 26 (when i was fitting together my 27.) Bob said the clutch pedal on this 26JD is cad plated. to keep retail price as low as factory could, beginning early 20's, fewer and fewer parts were nickle plated. untouched factory pictures support a light colored pedal.


Steve Swan
07-31-2016, 11:06 PM

Steve Swan
07-31-2016, 11:23 PM
a factory picture and 3 pictures of my Dad on his new 27. he said and wrote down it was a 74 ci. i do not remember him calling it a JD. not to derail this thread, but i note what appears to be a Schebler Model H on his bike. my question is, "Were Model H carb fitted to a particular model or applicaton?" Sidecar ? Standard ? iron pistons ? alloy pistons ?

these pics make it pretty evident the clutch pedal is light colored, consistent with cad plating, not Parkerized or some other dark finish.


on my Dad's bike, i also note the oil pipe going from tank pump to crankcase appears to not have a coil as usually seen.......

Steve Swan
07-31-2016, 11:37 PM
here's more pics opf a 26 i found in internet public domain, there used to be a video of this bike being started and ridden, a fellow by the name of Dave in California posted these pictures on the internet a couple years back.


Steve Swan
07-31-2016, 11:39 PM
more pics of cal bike

08-01-2016, 05:17 AM
I was only using the painted/plated judging thing as an example in an effort to try and get a definitive answer, possibly from one of the AMCA judges if they are looking at this thread.
My opinion is that they were painted olive drab in 1920 and 1921 but it would be nice for someone to come up with some concrete proof.
Maybe someone with copies of 1920 and 21 Enthusiast magazines could have a look for period photos that would answer the question.

08-01-2016, 08:22 AM
Dan, dull nickel plate is the term to unpolished nickel plate. The metal prep is the same for dull or bright.

That said, originally nickel plate was done in what was called a "Watts Bath" solution which meant that the plating came out dull that could be polished to a shine. Later developments in plating science meant that the electrolyte had additives put into it that meant that the nickel plate came out shiny.

I have been told that dull nickel is more malleable than bright nickel so is best suited for things like copper oil or petrol pipes where a bright plating finish might flake off if the pipes need to be bent a bit after plating. I am no expert but to me that means that modern bright plating might be different to dull nickel.

Tommo, I agree that if someone has a machine in a Concours d'elegance and the judge knocks points off on a debatable item then you would feel hard done by. I also know that in the early days of motorcycling and cars a customer of a vehicle from new could request variations from stock so who is to say what is "correct" or not.

I have a bit of a conflict with all of this. I love to understand the differences between models year by year and understand how they changed including such minutia as what finish should be on the kick start.

On the other hand I am the last person who would enter a Concours d'elegance because I would have an argument with every judge over what is right or wrong.

To me an "original" bike would be one that had been used regularly for decades and during that time had been repaired, modified or updated over that period and so could differ significantly from "stock".


08-01-2016, 10:07 PM
I do have so many pix, and really appreciate these pix you guys posted. Its funny how after all the time spent scouring them, I still missed a few things. I really appreciate the effort you folks have put into the study and restoration of the JD- so many changes, so many models!! Here's an engine shot of how mine came out

Thanks again!17940

08-01-2016, 11:02 PM
I agree with Peter that, on the basis of all the info that this thread generated, the kickers on 20 and 21 models were painted olive, at least in some cases over a parkerized base.

I'm adding my thanks to Dan's to all who have taken the trouble to contribute. It's certainly added to my store of knowledge (and might help those involved in judging as well).

Photos of original paint 21 models still sought!


08-12-2016, 11:59 AM
Tommo, you reminded me that I have an original 1920 Dealer Brochure. Its a UK brochure but I doubt that the kicker finish differed.

On page 10 there is similar picture to your 1919 picture.


Whilst looking for something else earlier today I looked at this picture again and noticed that the exhaust silencer is not the 1920 silencer but an earlier one. The brochure is a genuine 1920 brochure so I believe that this confirms my theory that H-D used the same illustrations for numerous years despite changes to specification

It also confirms that illustrations cannot be relied upon as accurate sources for what is the correct specification for a particular model year.


Robert Luland
08-12-2016, 12:51 PM
Like I said earlier John. To save time the artists would just draw right over the old one. Not to be trusted. You got one hell of an eye kid! Bob L

08-18-2016, 08:06 PM
You're right John.

It looks to me too that the spring forks are also the earlier pattern with the shorter top springs. 1920 was, I believe, the first year of the longer top springs and therefore longer overall spring tubes, which stood noticeably higher above the handlebars than on earlier models.

I'm no expert but I understand (from Jerry Hatfield's "Inside Harley Davidson" among other sources) that brochures were prepared early in the year prior to the model year. So brochures and handbooks for the 1920 models would be in preparation in early-mid 1919, and use photographs of 1919 machines modified with available 1920 modifications and parts. Late changes in specification or non availability of new parts from the factory or contractors, or even minor detail changes which the factory didn't consider important enough to promote publicly, may not have made it to the brochure illustrations. Another trap for the unwary restorer 100 years later!