Motorcycle Term of the Week – Harley Cannonball

One of the best parts of life is learning new things.  Nobody knows everything, including me.  Today, I learned something from eBay.  I learned a new term – the Harley Cannonball.

I spend a lot of time stalking motorcycles and motorcycle parts on eBay.  Honestly, it is stuff I shouldn’t even be looking at.  I try to keep myself to one big project at a time, but it is hard not to daydream.

One of the most common things that I look for (that I shouldn’t be looking for) are early 1900s Harley single cylinder engine cases.  The easiest keyword to search for is “Harley Peashooter,” although to be clear 99.9% of the early singles were not Peashooters, as the Peashooter was a very specific racing version of these early singles.

In addition to the Single A, Single B, and Single C (which are hard to search for using keywords in eBay), there are also the earliest of Harley singles where the cylinder is tilted forward in the frame (i.e. it doesn’t point straight up and down) and the frame curves down around and under the circular crankcase (sometimes called a cradle frame).

Obviously, this would be an amazing grab off eBay; but again, it really isn’t easy searching for these on eBay.  Using the keyword “Harley Single” results in a million hits related to brake cylinders and miscellaneous other items.  Then I stumbled upon something – the term “Harley Cannonball.”  Searching for “Harley Cannonball” leads to these very engine cases.  Superficially, the term makes sense as the bottom crankcase really does look like a cannonball, although I am not sure if that is the origin.

Is “Harley Cannoball” a nickname or slang name for these early Harley singles?  I am honestly not sure.  I tried to do some internet research to confirm whether this was “a thing” or not and came up with basically nothing.  These days, anytime you search for “Motorcycle” and “Cannonball” together you end up at a website related to the Cannonball motorcycle run, which is also a really cool thing.

Bottom line, whether or not “Harley Cannonball” is an official or unofficial name for these early Harley single engines, I will be using it during my eBay daydreaming searches.

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