By Tom White
In the late 1960s, the market for small-bore two-stroke
trail bikes was exploding. When Harley-Davidson realized that Hodaka was
selling 10,000 bikes a year, they decided to jump into the 100cc
trailbike market. Since Harley owned the Italian Aermacchi factory, they had them build an
Italian Harley dirt bike. It was called the Harley Baja 100 and was
hopelessly tall, short wheel-based, underpowered and ill-handling.
But Harley didn’t give up on the Baja 100. They had their race team hire
some of the best desert racers in SoCal. The riders included Bruce
Ogilvie, Terry Clark, Earl Roeseler, Larry Roeseler, Mitch Mayes and,
later, Hodaka ace Bob Rutten. As you would expect, Baja 100s were soon
dominating the trailbike class and selling like hot cakes.
Unfortunately, what the customers were buying wasn’t what the Harley
team was racing. The stock Baja 100 had rigid footpegs, no horsepower, a
huge overlay sprocket on the rear wheel (that often came loose), a tank
shaped like a lunchbox and a very hard seat. Oh, did we mention stupid
handlebars and street-bike grips? The Bajas did, however, have Baby
Ceriani forks, abundant ground clearance and racy Italian
looks.Harley-Davidson’s entry into the offroad market coincided with the arrival of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki on the
scene. It didn’t take long for Baja customers to realize that they had
been duped. Harley-Davidson tried to enter the dirt bike market twice
after that—once in 1976 with the rear-forked 250 and again in 1978 with
the ill-fated MX250.
BAJA 100 FACTS
WHAT THEY COST
Suggested retail in 1971 was $670. Harley Bajas are growing in
popularity as collector bikes, and a well-restored example can sell for
as much as $7500.
Harley sold the Baja 100 in 1970 and 1971. In 1972 through 1974, they
produced the SR100, which was basically a Baja 100 with lights. The
offroad version was discontinued.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The Baby Ceriani forks are very cool, and with their large aluminum knob
“friction” steering damper, they really stand out. Though the tank
looks like an afterthought, its uniqueness makes it a must-have. Look
for the overlay rear sprocket, stamped pipe, Dellorto carb, and clutch
and brake lever assemblies with big grips that look like they came off
the big Harleys.
Replacement parts are very scarce. The “World’s Baja 100 Expert” is Rudy Pock. He built our featured machine for the Early Years of MX Museum and has a vast collection of spare parts. Contact Rudy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more info on classic bikes go to www.earlyyearsofmx.com