The Tramp that Started S&S Cycles

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Since their humble beginnings in a basement back in ’58, S&S Cycle has been producing high performance parts that have proved themselves time and again, both on the street and at the racetrack.

Nowadays their parts lineup not only includes hundreds of performance parts, but also complete engines covering every OHV Harley-Davidson big twin made since 1936.  Behind all their success is one motorcycle, a 1939 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead, nicknamed the Tramp.

The motivation for building the Tramp was not to research performance parts for a future company, but rather something much simpler, the desire to go fast.  S&S founder George Smith picked up what would become the Tramp as a basketcase, hoping to build a drag bike which could claim a $1000 prize at the local drag strip.

To start, George changed the displacement from the stock 61″ up to 80″ using UL flywheels to increase the stroke.  He also modified the heads so they would each accept a Riley carburetor.  To fuel the engine, George decided to run  nitro methane.  This fuel was relatively new to racing and potentially dangerous, so George had to develop his own recipe adding gasoline and alcohol to stabilize the nitro methane and maximize performance.


The final result was a motorcycle that could run over 120 miles per hour and beat all the competition at the drag strip.  By the end of the season, George had won the championship, but was stiffed by the promoter and never took home the $1000 prize.

Next stop for the Tramp was the Bonneville Salt Flats and a shot at a Land Speed Record.  Needing even more horsepower for this event, George upped the displacement again, increasing it to 91″.  This time he couldn’t just use off the shelf parts and found himself making new cylinders from solid steel slugs and casting his own aluminum pistons.

These improvements added another 30 mph to the top end of the machine and George was able to post a time of 152.02 miles per hour.


The continued success of the Tramp led George and his friend Stanley Stankos to found S&S Cycles in 1958.  One year later, Stanley threw in the towel, but George and his wife continued.  Originally S&S had been named after the last names of the founders, but by a lucky coincidence, George’s wife’s maiden name also started with “s” so the kept the name and the rest as they say is history.

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