1920 Reading Standard

The Reading-Standard was built by the Reading-Standard Company of Reading, Pennsylvania, from 1903 through 1922. Although it was in production for 20 years, the Reading-Standard is defined as a minor marque because its production was extremely limited after World War I, and its one significant technical innovation occurred in 1906. Consequently, the Reading-Standard’s meaningful impact on the industry and sport was confined to the 1903-1916 era.

From 1903 through 1907, a Thor F-head single cylinder motor was offered in a diamond frame. The 1903 and 1904 models were identical in all major respects to the Indian. These models were also referred to as “Thoroughbred” motorcycles. In 1905 came the first breakaway from Indian practice, when the combined gas and oil tank was moved to the top horizontal frame tube. The 1905 model also was the first American motorcycle to use standard dry cell batteries which were commonly available, instead of special batteries designed solely for motorcycles. During this time, the firm sent an engineer to Europe to study motorcycle design.

The early 1906 models were very similar to the 1905 models, but late in the season came the feature which put the Reading-Standard on the map. The late-1906 Reading-Standard was the first American motorcycle to use a side-valve engine. The side-valve configuration was chosen as a result of the European visit. The chief designer of the side-valve motor was Charles Gustafson, Sr., who later gained a high reputation as an Indian engineer, and when Indian switched to side-valve engines--the Reading-Standard idea made its way to Indian. Reading-Standard continued to offer F-head designs as well.

On July 26, 1906, three Reading-Standard motorcycles were ridden to the top of Pike’s Peak. No other motorcycles duplicated this feat during the next five years. In 1907, the combined fuel and oil tank was replaced by separate tanks for each function. The reshaped fuel tank had a larger capacity. The oil tank was moved behind the engine and was clipped to the underside of the upper rear fork. The saddle height was lowered and larger 2 ½ inch tires were fitted. A short wheelbase, one-piece tricycle was offered, with a main frame that looked like a woman’s bicycle with the inclined engine suspended below the frame and just behind the steering head.

The 1908 single cylinder models were fitted with a compensating sprocket, but otherwise were the same as the 1907 singles. An innovation for 1908 was the twin cylinder F-head model, which had the front cylinder cams located on the left side and the rear cylinder cams located on the right side. Long wheelbase forecars were brought out in 1908, one version with a wicker body for carrying passengers and the other version with a parcel box. The passenger forecar stayed in the lineup through 1910, and the package forecar through 1916 when it was equipped with a steering wheel instead of handlebars. These forecars were built by attaching independent packages to the front end of regular motorcycle frames, the cars and twin front wheel substituting for the regular front fork and single wheel.

Reading-Standard was fully abreast of technical trends. For 1909, a parallelogram front fork was fitted, and this remained Reading-Standard practice throughout production. Another new feature on the singles was the loop frame with two top horizontal frame tubes. Reading-Standard thus joined Indian in the trend to loop frames which were made popular by Harley-Davidson, Merkel, and Wagner. There were sixteen different variations of Reading-Standard machines for the 1909 season, quite an undertaking for a firm that was building less than 1700 units per year. Still another new feature was the use of mechanical inlet valves, also introduced by Indian at that time. The 1909 catalog bragged, “No limit to speed but the law.”

In 1911, Reading-Standard came out with a two-speed rear hub. Hub gears were a popular idea at the time because of their use in bicycles. However, Reading-Standard eventually concluded that the rear hub was a bad place to concentrate the extra weight of a motorcycle transmission because rigid frames and rugged roads made for a lot of broken spokes.

The new 1912 twin incorporated reduction gearing and a leather faced cone clutch built in the motor base. For 1913, adjustable footrests, a Corbin V-band brake, and foot operated drum brake were major improvements. Also, an optional green finish was offered. The 1914 models had a redesigned frame which lowered the saddle position two inches. A countershaft-mounted hand-controlled Eclipse clutch was fitted.

For 1915, Reading-Standard brought out an Eclipse two-speed foot-operated planetary gear set integral with the rear hub. Footboards made their first appearance. There was only one color offered, the traditional Reading-Standard brown.

In the 1916 lineup was a three-speed transmission and kickstarter. A heavier frame and front fork were fitted on the 1917 models, along with a rounded fuel tank and an new braking system. A spring seatpost, like that of Harley-Davidson, also debuted around 1916.

Reading-Standard reach the high point of their production history in 1917, 1918, and 1919, when about 1,700 motorcycles were produced each year. The 1917 motors had enclosed valve lifters, and the magneto was moved to the front of the motor. On the Model 17TE, and electric lighting system with Bosch magneto ignition and generator combination were standard equipment, as well as a combined headlight and horn unit.

Following the lead of the big three factories for 1918, Reading-Standards came in military olive drab. The electrical system was changed to a magneto and separate front mounted belt driven generator. On the 1919 models, the olive finish was continued. The fuel and oil tanks were combined.

The 1920 twins had a redesigned motor with different cylinder top finning and larger valves. Although the larger valves provided better breathing and more power, the change led to cracking between the valve ports because of the reduced distance between the valves.

Although a smaller seller nationally, the marque enjoyed pockets of popularity. In the city of Reading, over 100 Reading-Standard motorcycles were sold annually by the Hettinger Brothers agency. In Portland, Oregon, almost all of the postmen rode Reading-Standard in the early-1920s.

Reading-Standard had long emphasized that all of their competitive successes were won on stock machines. A 1919, advertisement had stated, “When an R-S wins, you know it is a stock machine. We build no specials.” However, in 1921, the factory rolled out a defunct Cyclone, painted and labeled as a Reading-Standard. Ray Creviston, one of the top dirt track racers of the day, was hired to win victories. But Creviston and the Cyclone had no success.

The 1920 through 1923 models were essentially unchanged. The Cleveland Motorcycle Company bought Reading-Standard in 1923, and for the 1924 season announced a new Reading-Standard Greyhound model. The Greyhound had Ricardo cylinders, a grey finish with blue striping, and a Robert Bosch combination magneto-generator. The prices for these Cleveland assembled Reading-Standards were artificially low, at $285 and $320 for the standard and electric models, compared to 1920 freight-on-board Reading prices of $350 and $385. This suggests that Cleveland may have had no intention of continuing true production, and was simply making quick and easy bucks by unloading Reading-Standards which had been bought for a song from the bankrupt Pennsylvania firm. The Greyhounds were the last Reading-Standards, as the Cleveland company soon dropped both the Reading-Standard and the long running Cleveland two-stroke single cylinder lightweight in order to concentrate on their new four cylinder model. A few dozen Reading-Standards survive, scattered around the world.

Adapted from the Illustrated Antique American Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide by Jerry Hatfield