Blistering V-Twin performance and S&S Cycles go hand in hand.
From the early days of Bonneville salt flat record-setting machines built in an upholstery shop to a V-Twin performance empire; S&S cycles has quite a unique and diverse history. Everything they've done since George Smith and Stanley Stankos founded S&S in 1958 has been about pushing the venerable v-twin engine to its absolute performance maximum.
Today, S&S Cycles sells the parts and components needed to maximize the performance from current and classic Harley - Davidson V-Twin engines, as well as V-Twins from manufacturers like Indian and Royal Enfield.
So, how did S&S Cycles become the performance juggernaut that it is today? Strap in, this one’s going to be fun!
From the beginning, George and Marge Smith we’re all about speed. Remember, motorsports in America was still a fledgling idea back in the 1950s and most events were relegated to drag races on the street in souped-up Ford coupes. Regulated drag racing as a competitive sport was something that was completely new to George and regulated motorcycle drag racing was an even more foreign concept.
In 1952, George saw an ad for a local drag strip that was hosting a “winner take all” event and a $1000 purse at Half Day Speedway in Chicago. Now, George had always loved tinkering with his 1939 80” Harley Knucklehead motorcycle but the thought of running down a drag strip was an entirely new idea. George worked up the courage and convinced Marge that he could win that $1000 and set about to become king of the drag strip.
Nicknamed TRAMP, George’s Knucklehead was heavily modified for drag racing duty. Flathead UL 4-9/32” stroke flywheels and 3-7/16” bore cylinders, along with a revised cylinder head that gave him top-end power were the basis for this motor. Fuel was not the pump stuff, no way. TRAMP ran on Nitro-Methane, which gave instant power at the expense of durability and unpredictability. Although the final fuel mixture was a hybrid of nitro, alcohol, and other fuels; the effect was immediate and pronounced.
That summer, George absolutely dominated the drag racing circuit and smoked every single competitor to take the championship title. That $1000 prize? He was swindled out of it by shady promoters.
Salt Flat Heritage
The buzz around the speed trial at the Bonneville Salt Flats had become a fever pitch in the motorcycle world, and George wanted a piece of the action. His friend Stanley Stankos was not only a gifted builder but a gifted racer as well. The pair set their minds on modifying TRAMP to achieve and smash the world record for the class at the Bonneville event in the summer of 1954. Although the 80 cubic inch engine was a solid performer in local drag competitions, it was no match for the unforgiving requirements of running at speed across the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The decision was made to completely revamp TRAMP’s engine, and replace it with a larger 91 cubic inch motor that was running 3-11/16" steel cylinders that were machined from solid steel slugs, along with custom-made pistons. George and Stanley built a casting machine right in Stanley’s upholstery shop and set about custom-making the pistons for TRAMP. After much trial and error, the motor was built and TRAMP was ready for the flats.
George, along with Stanley, his sponsor Al Molenaar from Southside Harley-Davidson, and his buddy “Baldy” Spindler took TRAMP out for its inaugural run on the flats. How good was TRAMP? 152.02 mph good. Enough for a world speed record and the beginning of many, many trips back to the infamous dry lake bed. In fact, the Bonneville Salt Flats would become a central pillar in the testing and development of future S&S product lines.
Building An Empire
In 1958, George and Stanley cemented S&S Cycles (named after the founder’s last names) as a household name in the hearts of V-twin enthusiasts everywhere. Their very first products were lightweight aluminum solid lifter pushrod kits for 61” and 74" Knuckle and Panhead Big Twins but that was only the beginning. A year later, Stanley exited the business because he wanted to build his upholstery shop and business interest was transferred over to his wife Marge. Since Marge was a trained bookkeeper, this just made sense.
By 1960, George figured out that he not only needed to sell the parts but a comprehensive installation kit that any intrepid DIY’er could build-out himself or herself at home. These stroker kits included extra-long pushrods, pushrod cover keepers, cylinder base shims and studs, and intake manifold designed for each stroke and detailed installation instructions are offered with the flywheels.
As the business flourished, efforts at the flats continued to evolve and in 1969, racers Leo Payne and Warner Riley (with the help of George Smith) push a Sportster to a stunning 202.379 mph. The Riley Payne / S&S partnership would extend for another 10 years beyond and see numerous records fall in the process. George Smith was also heavily involved in a Denis Manning Streamliner project that was also co-sponsored by Harley-Davidson. This insane creation would achieve the Bonneville National Land Speed Record for a carbureted, fuel burning, single-engine, and streamlined motorcycle. It achieved a stunning 265.492 mph and earned Smith the nickname of “ Fuel Wizard” for his knowledge of nitro-methane engines. Over the years, Smith and Riley would achieve 16 records on the S&S equipped Sportster.
As S&S grew to sell everything from stroker kits to carbs and cams, the continued focus on Bonneville was crucial, as well as their growing alignment with drag racing. There’s another whole blog that could be written on the series of records smashed in insanely capable streamlined machines but it all culminated with the eventual induction of George Smith into the National Motorcycle Hall Of Fame in 1994. Unfortunately, this was posthumously completed as George had passed away the year before, but the legacy of George never faltered.
From S&S sprung Hubba Hubba Racing, an outfit that would go on to win, you guessed it, more records at the drag strip with S&S equipped bikes. The business would grow from offering parts to installation kits, as well as complete motors that were ready to install and only required fuel and oil to get going. These motorcycle crate engines were an early precursor to what is so commonly done today by gearheads all over the world.
From massive events that take place at their headquarters, to quarter-mile shootouts, the community around S&S is incredible. Take only look at the S&S catalog and you can peer through history and see a man whose desire was not to get rich or achieve fame but to simply make Harley’s go faster.
We can respect that.