Its 1920 the road is rutted packed dirt, gravel or in the big towns, paving bricks. Your motorcycle has no rear suspension. You feel every little bump and rut from the rear wheel through the frame and seat to your kidneys. Thank god you have on your riding belt, later to be called the kidney belt.
Photograph courtesy of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company Archives. Copyright H-D.
What makes kidney belts so historically interesting is that they were one of the first articles of riding wear that were adapted specifically for motorcycle riding, and they were also among the first articles to be personalized by the rider. Archival photos as early as about 1920, show motorcycle riders wearing kidney belts with personalized studs depicting the rider’s initials and other designs. Other historical photos over the decades show club riders and rally attendees in their favorite riding belts, both “stock” and highly personalized. Numerous belts in the Archives’ collections are as unique and imaginative as motorcycle riders themselves with highlights such as reflectors, hand tooling on the leather and even handles for the rear seat rider.
Harley-Davidson began offering belts to riders in the accessories catalog as early as 1927. The “Brown Cowhide Leather Belt” was offered as a “Grade B” for $3, or, if you wanted to splurge, the “Grade A” was available for $4. In later years, Harley-Davidson offered leather riding belts complete with studs, gems, conchos, pockets and the Bar & Shield logo. Alternatives to the typical flat leather construction were a woven leather configuration for flexibility.
On the right is a picture of my uncle sporting his personalized kidney belt. I can remember finding this up-stairs at grandma’s house when I was about ten. I thought my uncle may have been a wrestler, I had seen these things on the TV. The back side of the kidney belt had his initials in chrome studs.
Here is a picture of Bessie Stringfield sporting her kidney belt. It was said at the age of 19 Bessie began tossing a penny onto a map and then rode to wherever it landed.
Bessie Stringfield picture courtesy of The Selvedge Yard.
With the arrival of rear shocks in the late 50’s the punishment of the road had been tamed. Today the motocross riders are about the only ones to sport the modern kidney belt.
Some of this info is from an article by Bill Jackson, Senior Archivist for Harley Davidson.
You can click on any photo to see a larger image, enjoy.