Tanshanomi's Snap Judgments

Harley-Davidson SS250

Mon, January 25th, 2010

Featuring a different two-stroke street bike each day.

1974-76 Harley-Davidson SS250
Ah, the poor 'spaghetti hogs' of the mid-'70s. The forgotten Aermacchi 175/250cc 2-strokes were lighter and more compact than the archaic, horizontal-cylinder four-strokes they replaced, but nowhere near as tractable. On the other hand, despite a wider powerband, the motor's claimed 20 HP (at the crank) was laughable compared to the hottest 250 two-stroke twins and triples coming out of Japan at the time.
The best thing that can be said about the SS250 is that its handling is typical for a mid-'70s small-bore. Its light weight and low power are the only things preventing the wholly unsophisticated components from being completely overwhelmed.
I rather like the straightforward looks. The engine is elegantly shaped, there are no styling gimmicks—it's nothing remarkable, but it is pleasing.
The SS250 was among the very last of the Harley imports, manufactured at at time when both Aermacchi and Harley were in quality-control hell. The dealers that initially assembled and maintained them didn't like two strokes or care about the customers who bought them. Harley's small-bores were abandoned by the factory after a few short years, and parts are very scarce today. It's a recipe for disaster and heartbreak.
An agreeable bike if it's running right—but that's a very big 'if.' The small size and light weight would be attractive for short jaunts, but the noise and smoke of the two-stroke exhaust would be considered downright anti-social nowadays.
Among the last Italian Harleys, and one of the last full-sized, two-stroke, single-cylinder roadsters ever made by anybody, it doesn't deserve to be as maligned and overlooked as it has been.
Any surviving SS250 is like a stray puppy: they tug at your heartstrings out of pure pity for their pluckiness. Take my word for it: even though you'll feel like a callous jerk, think long and hard about what you're getting yourself in for and don't take it home.