Milwaukee Italian: 1969 Harley-Davidson Rapido

041216 Barn Finds - 1969 Harley Davidson Rapido - 1

Italy, meet Milwaukee; now play nice, you two! This is a 1969 Harley-Davidson ML-125 Rapido and it can be found just west of Norcross, Georgia. This all-original Italian-made Harley is… wait, what was that? Yes, these bikes were commissioned by Harley-Davidson to help them compete with the smaller Japanese motorcycles that were so popular and were almost flooding the US market. I’m guessing that you may have either had one of these bikes or you knew someone who had one.

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These bikes were made by Aermacchi in Italy and were brought to the US by Harley-Davidson to try to take a little bite out of the market that was controlled by the Japanese bikes entering the market in the late-1960s and early-1970s. They were made from 1968 through 1972 and they were actually a pretty well-designed motorcycle that attracted young folks to give them a try. Or, maybe it was more of an attraction by their parents who wanted to “buy American”, not really realizing that they were buying an Italian bike with an American badge on it. Here’s what this bike will look like after you’ve restored it.

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Their advertising line says it all, “The all-new Harley-Davidson Rapido gives you a neatly balanced combination of power, poise and precision… all engineered to move you out front and keep you there in style… Tune in, Turn on, Tear out!”  This example only has 1,102 miles on it and it’s in nice, but obviously not perfect, condition. You would mix the oil and gas for this one and then let’r rip and see that sweet trail of blue smoke behind you! Ahhh.. the good ol’ days.

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Some of the controls are backwards here compared to a lot of other motorcycles at the time; other than most British bikes, that is. The shifter is on the right side and the rear brake is on the left; that would take some getting used to for me. Here’s a YouTube video of one of these bikes running, I love that sound!

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Here’s that beautiful, Italian-designed two-stroke, single-cylinder that powers this motorcycle. And, here’s what the other side looks like. She’s a beauty, no? I love unusual vehicles and this one fits right in there as being something you just don’t see too often. It’s listed on Craigslist with an asking price of $1,875. Did you have one of these bikes or are you in the American-Harley-only crowd?

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Rick

    Less than $2K seems awful cheap to me for this little “Harley” given its apparently good condition – if this were close by I’d have a hard time not buying it. I see prices for early motorcycles like this climbing in the near future (as long as they run and are in decent condition). Look at the prices that a similar vintage Honda MiniTrail 50 goes for these days – $3K and up in good condition – and there were literally zillions of those around back in the day. Small bikes like these are gonna catch up pricewise, just watch.

    Like 1
  2. offrdracer

    I had one of these as a teen. Every time I bring it up, people always say to me, Harley didn’t make a dirt bike, did they? Haha

    Like 1
    • qocrowe Crowe

      Yes, they did because we have a 1968 Sprint.

      Like 1
      • DonCook

        Does it run? Pictures, is it for sale?

  3. Tirefriar

    I had a Moto Morini that was originally imported from UK. It had the reversed foot controls. Firs ride was the most stressful but after a couple of miles and starting/stoping it wasn’t an issue anymore. Tripped some people out…

  4. Paul R

    Had one of them for a “Pit Bike” back in the drag racing days. Great entertainment watching people try and ride it not familiar with the shift/brake layout. Of course I never warned them until it was too late!

    Like 1
  5. Charles H.

    Looks to me, like the typical American layout, with the shifter being on the left hand side…..love these old bikes! a cousin once had a early 70’s version Street/Trail 125 that I tried for several years to buy from him, but would never let go of it.

    Like 1
  6. Howard A Member

    Funny, I forgot all about these. I always said, Harley missed the boat big time, by not making a dirt bike of their own. This was such an usual bike for the burly Harley crowd. You have to be pretty ignorant to think Harley made this. Still, as stated, they sold a bunch of these, and many got their 1st taste of dirt bike riding with these. They weren’t the best dirt bikes out there, but these were usually ridden hard and took the abuse. I had a Bultaco Pursang http://cemoto.tripod.com/photos/m117.jpg
    that had the controls reversed, even the kick starter was on the left side ( although, had provisions for the controls to be reversed, but I never did that) I had a friend with the 250, 4 cycle version, http://www.curbsideclassic.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/HD-Harley-DavidsonSprint250-1965.jpg
    which I believe was also an Aermacchi. A good bike, but I remember, always hard starting. I don’t think anybody ever thought of saving one of these, as bike technology skyrocketed after these, and most were thrown away. Great find for a collection, but I wouldn’t be caught dead on one today.

    Like 1
    • Ross W. Lovell

      . Greetings All,

      Back in the early 70’s there were numerous rebadging going on, Sears used Bridgestone, Penton started out with a Sachs engine that they breathed heavily upon for more performance. DKW=Sachs, Rickman=Sachs, Greeves, Villiers, and then there were the Italians, who seem to have a flair for making them handle but build quality had some issues.

      What surprised me was Spain was a player in some great engine designs, bad fiberglass though, like your Bultaco but they never did a rebadge for anyone.

      The HD 100 that was an offshoot of the 125 was an absolute bulletproof bike. These did unbelievably well at desert racing no doubt due to some ingenious teams but they had the basics to work with.

      Remember the Sprint. Had a friend with one, we both road in the dirt. it wasn’t my cup of tea as it was way too unconventional for me. By the end of the summer, the bike had won me over. While it was different that didn’t spell poor performance. Wee both flogged that bike in a lot of areas others pushed.

      Wish HD had pursued this market. Always found it odd that HD doesn’t move their customers UP to their VTwin as opposed to having to cannibalize other Marques customers.

      So one day you just decide to you need 1000cc road bike having never rode before, that can’t end good.

      Like 1
  7. geomechs geomechs Member

    Actually these went back further than ’68. I’d say ’66 (’67) production year anyway would be more accurate. I remember the Rapido and the M-50. Then the Sprint, a 250 and later 350 4-stroke horizontal single. The Sprints were stump pullers; their forward center of gravity made them tough contenders at the local hill-climbs.

    Like 1
  8. cyclemikey

    I have an Aermacchi in my collection – a ’68 Sprint SS250. It’s a little tiger. They’re still campaigned successfully in vintage racing.

    Like 1
  9. Ross W. Lovell

    . Greetings All,

    If I’m not mistaken this bike morphed into the 100 Baja. Seem to remember the lack of a front down tube/s for frame. The HD had approx. 10″ of ground clearance. Could be wrong though.

    The Sprints…….never realized they offered two displacements. I always thought they were rebadged Benellis.

    They were good offerings but being Italian could not have helped the parts department. Give them credit for trying.

    Always thought it was odd that when these went away, A new two-stroke name entered the scene via an old marque, Indian. These were impossible to keep running between the workmanship and parts traveling from miles away.

    Like 1
  10. jfrank

    I had one of these, it was my first motorcycle when I was 12. I saved a whole summer worth working at a dairy Queen, got it used from one of my parents friends. It didn’t run when I got it, figured out that the key on the flywheel had steered and timing was off. I remember being embarrassed at first showing up with it and my friends had Yamaha 100, kawasaki 100, etc… The Harley was faster. Top end. Shifter on the right side, 1 up, 3 down. Lots of memories trying to use it as a trail bike.

    Like 1
  11. David Wines

    I also had one of these about age 13 , remember the two rear sprockets for different gearing haha , my neighbor had the yamaha 100 , a wonderful time n my life !

    Like 1
  12. Wil

    I have a orange and black just like one pictured. Have had it over 20 years in storage low miles could use some restoration . Any idea value of one of these now days

    Like 1
    • Don Cook

      Is it for sale?

  13. Wil

    Yes everything I have is for sale if the price is right 😀it hasn’t been started in several years but has been stored inside as a garage ornament. My x wife and I use to ride it around my old neighborhood with a few beers in some throw over saddle bags and stop in to visit friends on occasion for a few kicks

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