Harry Sperl is just wild about hamburgers. “Made short, they taste good, they look good,” he proclaims. “And the hamburger is an icon of the United States of America.”
If you’ve been to Bike Week or Biketoberfest in Daytona Beach, Florida, you’ve probably seen Harry, long hair and gray beard streaming in the wind, cruising Main Street atop his brightly-colored, oversized cheeseburger on wheels. The 55-year old Daytona Beach man has combined two great American icons—a big, juicy cheeseburger and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle—into the “Hamburger Harley,” a rolling example of high-octane fast food.
Although “Hamburger Harry,” as he’s known, was born in Wetterburg—not Hamburg—Germany, he considers himself truly American at heart. “The weather, the sunshine, the beach, the ocean, that’s it,” he says. “And American lifestyle, American way of life. I always say I was born in the wrong country!” Harry loves Americana—his home is decorated with everything from jukeboxes to classic car memorabilia—and he started collecting burger-related items 22 years ago. An entire room of his house overflows with burger-shaped toys and promotional items and features a hamburger-shaped waterbed.
Harry began the transition from hamburger hobbyist to Cheesy Rider at a motorcycle show seventeen years ago. Joking with friends, someone suggested he build a burger bike: “And I said, yeah, it’s already in my head, but that might take awhile.” After that, he began planning in earnest, and over two years, the idea evolved from concept to completion.
“I built it with my Hamburger Helpers; a collaboration of friends, artists and mechanics. Here is the brain, and I was sending the rays out to all my friends and all the other people, and they say, you are nuts, you never can do it! And I proved different!” he says proudly. Harry figures he’s spent over 100-thousand dollars on the bike, which began life as a 1987 Harley-Davidson Sportster. He and his helpers converted the motorcycle from two to three wheels and fabricated a fiberglass body. The bike’s mouth-watering burger comes “fully loaded;” topped with mustard, ketchup, mayo, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion. Its handgrips are pickle-shaped. Rear wheel covers look like slices of onion; front wheel covers are sliced pickles and tomatoes. “Harry’s Ketchup” bottles adorn the front forks. A carhop tray with burger, fries and milkshake cups (which house the speedometer and tachometer gauges) sits atop the purple onion-painted headlight. The burger bun goes up and down via electric motor for easy rider access. Since its completion in 1995, Harry and his Harley have been featured on television programs and in newspapers and magazines all over the world; he’ll gladly show visitors a bulging scrapbook of news clippings.
Harry lives—and dreams—large. He’d still like to add neon lighting, a sound system (to pump out the sound of sizzling burgers), and flame-shooting pyrotechnics to the bike.
Additional goals include building a hamburger helicopter, a burger bicycle and a double- or triple-decker burger bus built around a Volkswagen van. And if that isn’t enough to cement Harry’s reputation as the burger king, the big cheese, and the king of the grill, he’s commissioned an architect to draw up plans for a burger-shaped building to house his International Hamburger Hall of Fame. If he’s able to cut the mustard, so to speak, and find a sponsor, the burger museum will be Hamburger Harry’s legacy.
But for now, Harry is content to cruise around Daytona Beach. “Riding the bike is an adventure on a daily basis,” he says. “Especially for little kids. That’s the happiest thing, to see the reaction of children. They jump up and down and say mama, mama, look at this, a hamburger on wheels; this is great!”
And although hamburgers are certainly one of Harry’s favorite meals, sadly in recent years he’s found himself cutting back: “ Because of cholesterol problems, I have to reduce the consumption of my favorite food! But yes, I like good hamburgers!”
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Hamburger Harry’s home page:
Hamburger Harry’s business page:
To contact Harry Sperl:
Architect Eugene Tsui’s plans for the International Hamburger Hall of Fame: