There’s something truly captivating about a company with a fascinating story. You probably know a Harley-Davidson is an iconic American Motorcycle. But, did you know that it’s been around since 1903? At the time, motorcycles were a new invention. They looked rudimentary, like a bicycle with a motor. And that’s exactly how Harley-Davidson’s prototype looked. It had a loop frame with a 440cc single-cylinder motor. They called it “Model 0.” William Harley and Arthur Davidson worked on that bike from their friend’s garage. It took them a long time, but after two years of labor, the very first Harley was born, circa 1903.
Here’s how it all came together. Harley, age 21, brought his motorcycle idea to his neighborhood buddy, Arthur Davidson. As childhood friends, they both lived in houses on Ninth Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later, the other Davidson brothers, Walter and William, joined in. The four young lads were all avid motorcycle enthusiasts, and their passion helped build America’s most well-known motorcycle brand.
The Original Factory
The Model 1 was manufactured in the backyard shed of the Davidson’s family home. In 1903, the Harley and Davidson boys set up shop. It was inside this small wooden shed, measuring only 10 by 15 feet, that Harley-Davidson was founded. With the words “Harley Davidson Motor Co.” carved into the front door, the first factory headquarters were established.
By 1907, the headquarters were moved to Chestnut Street, now Juneau Avenue, where they built a bigger and better factory—about five times as large. Harley, straight out of engineering school, created the signature air-cooled V-Twin engine, doubling the engine capacity, a much more powerful bike. That year, 150 motorcycles were produced. By 1914, 16,284 machines were built! That factory, remarkably, is the location of Harley-Davidson’s current corporate headquarters. The company ranks as one of the world’s oldest automakers.
Harleys Purred Before They Growled
That familiar rumbling thunder, revving to a powerful roar as the traffic light changes, uniquely distinguishes this bike. And, while that growl-like rumbling does alert drivers that one of Harley’s decibel-prolific machines (or, likely, a whole pack) will soon be passing through the center lane, they didn’t always sound so, well, uncivilized.
In fact, the original Harley prided itself on its refined mode of transportation and marketed the motorbike toward an upscale lifestyle. To this end, they tried for years to engineer a quieter motor. In fact, the first company catalog name for the Harley was “Silent Gray Fellow.” Today, the Harley remains a luxury indulgence, an extravagant purchase, a bold statement impossible to miss, but definitely not quiet.
How Harley-Davidson Survived the Great Depression
When the Great Depression hit, H-D motorbike sales plummeted from 21,000 to 3,700 per year. Unfazed, the company demonstrated its commitment to innovation by introducing the Model D Flathead, a new sleek and modern-looking model which became so popular it stayed in production until 1970. They also introduced the revolutionary, three-wheeled Servi-Car. In order to boost production levels, Harley-Davidson made a bold move. In the 1930s they built a production line in Japan by teaming up with the Sankyo Seiyako Corporation.
It went well until WWII tensions prompted Sankyo to cut ties. The Japanese company continued to produce Harley-like bikes under the Rikuo name. Almost every American motorcycle company went belly-up during the Great Depression. Only Harley-Davidson and its original competitor, Indian Motorcycle, rode out of the Depression Era intact.
The Iconic V-Twin Engine
It was the Indian company that unwittingly helped build Harley-Davidson. When Harley engineered the V-Twin engine, he used Indian Motorcycle's bike as a model. He basically copied their engine exactly, but today it’s his engine that is considered a Harley-Davidson’s trademark design. So, what the heck is a V-Twin engine? The V-Twin engine is characterized by its v-shaped design which, essentially, connects two single cylinders at their lower ends, giving it a distinctive v-formation and doubling the power of a single-cylinder engine.
In 1907, Harley-Davidson’s first V-Twin engine was introduced. Its internal combustion cranked out a 7-horsepower motor. It could zip along at top speeds of 60 miles per hour. In 1908, they manufactured 450 of the V-Twins. About this time, Harleys began to dominate the motorcycle racing circuit.
The Racing Department
They kept making them faster. Harley-Davidsons were the first motorbike to clock speeds at 100 miles per hour. In 1913, the first Racing Department was formed. William Ottaway was its first racer, as well as its assistant engineer to lead engineer, William Harley. This was Harley-Davidson’s chance to directly challenge Indian’s dominance. The next year, in 1914, the company formally entered racing. Team Harley-Davidson precipitously earned themselves a nickname, the “Wrecking Crew,” referring to their overwhelming supremacy on the track.
The first race tracks were offroad courses on extremely rough terrain. The first Harley that ever raced broke completely in half when it hit a deep pit. Leslie “Red” Parkhurst broke several speed records in 1920. After the races, Parkhurst would showboat by taking a pig, his team’s mascot, around the track on the victory laps. By 1922, all eight national championship races were swept by Harley-Davidson’s riders. The bike became synonymous with total domination.
The Police Department
The motorcycle has a long history with America’s police departments, and it all goes back to the HOG. Naturally, Harley-Davidson’s rugged reputation for offroad supremacy caught the attention of police departments. During that time in America, only 144 miles of paved roads existed. The Harley was faster and handled better than both the horse and the automobile. Affordability was also an advantage.
In 1908 the first H-D motorcycle was sold to the Detroit Police Department. It was the perfect solution to patrolling rural areas. This makes H-D the longest-serving motorcycle of any police force. The city of Milwaukee added the bikes to their force in 1910. In 1911, Chief August Vollmer set up an H-D motorcycle patrol unit in Berkeley, California. By the 1920s, Harley-Davidsons were used by 3,000 police departments across the United States.
The Trademark Harley-Davidson Sound
The grumbling rumble of these bikes is, technically, not a trademark sound. However, the company did try to trademark it. In 1994 they filed a lawsuit, but many competing motorcycle companies fought it. H-D dropped the suit. The sound is definitely unique. It comes from the exhaust of the distinctive V-Twin engine. The crankshaft inside the engine works off a single pin so that both pistons are connected. The atypical rhythm of those pistons firing causes the choppy sound some call “potato potato.”
The real reason for the distinctive sound has nothing to do with engines and parts if you ask riders. They will tell you that the loud, ground-vibrating sound is not only a cherished H-D characteristic but also a safety feature. It’s true. Well, it’s a genuine belief in HOG culture, at least. Since motorcycles cruise down between lanes, cars are less likely to accidentally take out a bike while changing lanes—if they hear them coming.
Too Loud or Not Loud Enough?
The gentle roar of a Harley is pretty loud. Straight off the factory floor, Harleys emit 80 decibels of sound, a noise level equivalent to a garbage disposal. While Harley owners wouldn’t call it noise, it’s certainly got volume. Some owners opt to make the bikes even louder by removing the muffler. This engine tweak, sorry, modification, raises the bike’s decibel performance to 100. It’s also illegal.
They argue it’s safer and makes the bikes faster. (No oxymoron here.) What removing the muffler will do is cause hearing-loss. Unprotected ears subjected to 100 decibels of sound will suffer irreparable hearing loss after just 15 minutes of exposure.
This year the company plans to produce and ship out about 222,000 new motorcycles. In 2018, Harley-Davidson sold 132,868 bikes domestically with a worldwide total output of 228,051 machines. These sales generated about $6 billion. Harley-Davidson dominates the motorcycle business, comprising half of all domestic sales. However, sales have been a little soggy over the past few years.
Always the innovator, the company plans to release an electric Harley soon. The biker look is wildly popular in some circles. Motorcycle-related product and specialized Harley merch brought in $262 million in 2017. Selling logo-heavy leather gear represents a respectable 5% of the company’s sales.
Harley-Davidson: Not Your Average Military Contractor
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Harley-Davidson was a robust company ready to help out with the War effort. The company cranked out over 20,000 military-ready motorcycles to fulfill government orders. The Harley-Davidson Model 17 packed a hearty 15 horsepower engine onto a modest 3-speed transmission. They were used for general transportation; leading convoys, dispatching messages and other miscellaneous transport. Some, with a sidecar attached, became ambulances able to transport one or two wounded soldiers on stretchers.
In WWI, many were used in the infantry, barreling into the front lines with machine guns strapped to sidecars. The superior vehicles made an impression on Europeans. Many began to drive them after the war. In fact, the oldest Harley-Davidson riders club is in Prague. It was founded in 1928.
The Japanese Production Line
After 1912, Japan began to import Harley-Davidson motorcycles. They used the vehicles for military, police, and state purposes primarily, and so when the demand for the machines began to strain domestic factory output, the idea to set up a factory in Japan came up. In 1929 it happened. Sankyo paid H-D $75,000 for the rights. It was during the darkest days of the Great Depression. The move quite possibly saved the Harley-Davidson company from bankruptcy. But by 1939, leading into World War II, the factory fell into Japanese Imperial hands and Harleys were produced under the Rikuo name. It wasn’t until 1962 when H-D reestablished its Japanese dealership network.
Most Harleys are American-assembled in Kansas City, Missouri and York, Pennsylvania. The V-Twin is built in the Milwaukee factory. But for international and European demand, assembly plants in Thailand, Brazil and India pick up the slack. Parts come from many places. With a made-in-America image to uphold, the company doesn’t share where in the world parts come from, but industry specialists know Japan, Italy, Mexico, China and Australia all make parts.
Harley and the Davidsons
It was William Harley who first came up with the idea, who went to engineering school and designed the Indian-modeled V-Twin, so, it was agreed that the Harley name ought to come first. But it was Harley’s friend, Arthur Davidson, 20-years-old at the time, who jumped in feet first on their boyhood dream to motorize the labor-intensive grind of bicycling.
The friends enlisted the help of Arthur’s brothers. Walter Davidson, a railroad machinist, was lured back home by the prospect of riding one of the new inventions. Finally, William Davidson, the eldest of the three who was a tool-room foreman for a railroad shop, pitched in too. They built the first motorcycles out of the wooden shed, but soon had to build a larger factory in town. Production grew by leaps and bounds and soon the four partners had to hire 35 employees.
The Bicycle Model
You read that right. H-D came out with a standard bicycle in an effort to lure young boys into the trademark mode of locomotion. It was from 1917 to 1921 that the company offered the Harley-Davidson Model 318. The product was costly. The Davis Sewing Machine Co. built the bicycles with parts shipped from Dayton, Ohio. After four years of paltry sales, the product was dropped from its line.
An advertisement of the day pictures two boys whizzing by on bicycles with another boy, forlorn, watching them ride by. “Gee, wish I had one,” reads the ad. It goes on: “What sport a fellow can have with a good bicycle! Cross-country spins with ‘the bunch!’ Hunting and fishing trips! Too bad every boy can’t have a Harley-Davidson Bicycle.”
“Harley Davidson Popular With Uncle Sam”
So, read a newspaper article of the day in the midst of the Pancho Villa Expedition. As it turns out, WWI was not H-D’s first military contract. That goes to the military expedition on the Mexican border. Sent to the conflict by President Woodrow Wilson, Army General John J. Pershing immediately requested Harley-Davidson motorcycles in order to fend off Mexican revolutionary, Villa, and his men. Then H-D president, Walter Davidson, worked closely with the War Department in supplying the motorcycles, as well as training the men to operate them.
Some motorcycles were equipped with machine gun-mounted sidecars. When the U.S. entered WWI a year later, the War Department put their order in. Twenty-thousand H-D motorcycles. Fun Fact: Though Pancho Villa is commonly pictured on horseback, Villa relied on motorcycle transportation as well. His brand of choice was not a Harley, he rode an Indian.
There’s a Reason it’s Called a Hog
Finally. Harley Owners Group (HOG) is a bona fide Harley club, including member benefits, for anyone who purchases a new Harley-Davidson. HOG, established by the company in 1983, was the marketing department’s attempt to connect with riders and build the Harley-Davidson culture. The acronym plays into the motorcycle’s history, there’s a reason it’s called a Hog, but it’s not because it’s a corporate biker’s club. In other HOG-related news, back in 2006, the company was able to change its NYSE stock ticker symbol to HOG. Shares immediately spiked to a record high of $74.93. And then the excitement cooled off. Today, a HOG stock is trading at around $40 a share.
The truth is, the Hog hoopla harks back to Harley-Davidson’s racing days. During the 1910s through to the 1920s, a burly group of farm boys led the H-D racing team to prominence. Otherwise known as The Wrecking Crew, these fearsome hog farmers made a habit of winning. To celebrate, they began taking victory laps with one of their pigs each time their team won. The pig became their mascot and they became known as the Hog Boys. The Hog comes from strength and prowess straddling power and speed. And it comes from the mark those American boys made on racing history.
The Green Omen
Green may be lucky for the Irish, but for the Hog, it’s a bad sign. No one knows exactly where the superstition came from, but bikers know that an olive-green painted motorcycle is bad luck. There are several theories. Most of them are associated with motorcycles used in WWI and WWII. Painted Army green and used for messaging and general transport along enemy lines, many men were killed delivering messages. Snipers routinely took out soldiers on motorcycles. Their ghosts apparently haunted the green painted machines. Perhaps it was PTSD-related?
Another issue with green-colored motorcycles is that since many of them that were used in WWII and then sold after the war, they were not in the best condition. Those Army-green motorcycles were unreliable, breaking down easily and becoming a symbol of bad luck. During the early racing days, Harleys lost too many Englishmen riding olive-green bikes. Engendering animosity, it gave those bikes a bad name. And, finally, perhaps green is just an unlucky color, with cultural significations of greed and jealousy. The superstitions were real, but they’ve been fading in recent years.
Harley-Davidsons Hit the Big Screen Sooner Than You Think
Motorcycle gangs like Hells Angels began popping up after WWII. Hunter S. Thompson, an eccentric journalist of the peculiar, documented motorcycle gangs’ outlaw lifestyle in his 1966 book. When Easy Rider hit the big screen in 1969, the movie about life on the road, freedom and the rebellious counterculture became a blockbuster. Harley-Davidson and Easy Rider were, like, synonymous.
But Harley-Davidsons starred in the movies much earlier. The outlaw biker genre debuted with The Wild One. Based on gangs like Hells Angels, and starring Marlon Brando as rebellious gang leader “Johnny Strabler,” the movie portrayed (and popularized) reckless biker subculture. Brando’s character donned a Triumph Thunderbird, but co-star Lee Marvin rode a Harley-Davidson Hydra Glide.
The Legend of the Little Bell
Have you ever noticed a small bell attached to a Harley’s lower frame? These bells are more important than they look. As a good omen, they ward off troublesome spirits that lurk on the open road. Sometimes called a Guardian Bell or Gremlin Bell, bikers have trusted these good luck charms for time out of mind. No one really knows its true origin.
Bikers attach it to the lowest part of their bike’s frame because it’s the best location to ward off road-dwelling spirits. Legend has it that the spirits cannot live in the bell’s presence, their super-sensitive hearing can’t stand it, they get trapped in the bell’s hollow recess, tortured, and spit out onto the road. Since the sprites are the cause of all the bike’s problems, it’s best to have a bell. However, the charm works best if it’s obtained by gift.
The Original Biker’s Club
In 1928, the oldest Harley-Davidson biker club was serendipitously formed. It’s a cute story. The Praha Harley Club, based in Prague, came together because of Bohumil Turek, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle racer. It was on his wedding day celebration. He and his bride, who also raced Harleys, were joined by 90 friends, all riding Harley-Davidsons.
Ceremoniously, they lined up their bikes to accompany guests into the reception. The striking motorcycle reception line inspired the motorcycle club idea, and, by the close of the days’ festivities, the Harley Club Praha was founded.
Harley-Davidson’s Great Depression
During the ‘50s and ‘60s, Harley-Davidson hit some hard times. The company, on the brink of bankruptcy, was temporarily purchased by American Machine and Foundry (AMF), a company that could care less about H-D’s fate. Due to the buyout, the workforce was severely cut. As a result, labor strikes and lower quality machines were produced at expensive prices. The dip into subpar quality generated a negative-reputation backlash.
The Harley-Davidson name was derisively mocked. Epithets like Hardly Driveable or Hardly Ableson tarnished the brand. “Hog” began to be used derogatorily. The company was sliding into oblivion. In 1981 a group of investors rescued the company from certain demise.
The Depression-Era Servi-Car
The stock market crash of 1929, the financial market’s darkest day, reverberated throughout the economy causing half of America’s banks to go under, washing away millions of Americans’ life savings, and leaving 30% of the workforce unemployed by 1933.
H-D was not immune. The company’s motorcycle sales crashed to 3,700 from 21,000. One strategy the company utilized to overcome the Depression was this new product. Introduced in 1932, the invention of the three-wheeled Servi-Car helped Harley-Davidson stave off the worst of the Great Depression. The model became so popular it was in production until 1973, the company’s longest-running line. Today they are a rare item. A restored 1951 Servi-Car comes with a $29K price tag!
Evel Knievel was a Harley-Davidson Man
The iconic 1970s extreme-sport daredevil, Evel Knievel, trusted Harleys most. His stunts included jumping a record 19 cars, clearing the Snake River and jumping 50 stacked cars. He crashed several times. Once, while attempting to clear 13 Pepsi trucks, he broke both legs, his arm, and his collarbone. Career highlight: He suffered more than 433 bone fractures, putting him in the Guinness Book of World Records for lifetime survivor of most bone breaks.
His favorite bike, the enterprising ad man that he was, goes to Harley-Davidson. The Harley-Davidson XR-750 racing bike, to be specific. Evel Knievel’s last jump was in 1977 when he accidentally took out a cameraman injuring him moderately. He couldn’t go on putting others’ lives at risk.
The Origin of the Chopper
Harley-Davidson did not invent the Chopper. American biker dudes are responsible for that. Back in the 1950s, this new style of custom motorcycles emerged. The front end of the bike was modified so that the wheel stretched out in front. To do this they “chopped” the front end off and replaced it with the longer forks, hence the name. The iconic “Captain America” bike from Easy Rider epitomizes the Chopper.
Choppers were first modified by WWII soldiers returning from the War. They customized the bikes to increase speed and improve performance. Chopper culture spread from motorcycle clubs to mass merchandising. There was even a reality TV show called American Chopper, it featured building choppers in O.C.
The Reliability Ratings
If you want a reliable motorcycle, buy a Yamaha or a Suzuki. Lower down on the list of brands that consumers ranked as reliable is Harley-Davidson, followed by Triumph and BMW. In 2015, Consumer Reports surveyed 11,000 of their subscribers who reported failure rates on nine different brands. H-D had a 26% rate of failure, while Yamaha had an 11% rate.
Customer satisfaction ratings, on the other hand, are a whole different ball of wax. Which bike would owners definitely buy if they were to do it all again? Number one: Victory. And, number two, Harley-Davidson, with a 72% zero-regret rate.
Harley-Davidson’s Commitment to the Environment
Fossil fuel emissions cause global warming. Increased fuel intake causes acceleration and speed. Automakers, until lately, have dismissed this conflict out of a strong commitment to profitability. However, these days, with Tesla leading the pack, electric vehicles are becoming more and more profitable and buyers want them. Even Harley-Davidson is introducing an electric motorcycle. Released just this year, it’s called a LiveWire. A genuine Harley, sans the trademark throaty rumble.
When H-D broke EPA rules by selling “super tuners,” bikes that boost power but also emissions, they were slapped with a fine. The EPA collected $12 million from the company, a promise of compliance, and another $3 million that will go toward community help. Specifically, the company committed to helping out by providing cleaner-burning stoves in various towns. H-D must also ensure that all future bikes will be EPA-approved. To their credit, the company was praised for cooperating with the agency.
The Harley-Davidson Motor Company Story Roars to Life in TV Show
Discovery Channel produced a TV miniseries called Harley and the Davidsons in 2016. The program, which aired on three separate broadcasts, played out like a Harley-Davidson infomercial, only gratis. It was a drama-dripping portrayal of the company’s first bike and its emerging racing prowess.
Drenched in American nostalgia, one touching scene celebrates the joy and freedom of the motorcycle when the show portrays Walter Davidson riding jubilantly through a Wisconsin farmland. Hog country. The TV miniseries brings out the contagious passion of the founders.
The Original, Authentic, Fully Legal Harley Fest Event
Every five years, Harley riders across the nation embark on a pilgrimage to their motorcycle maker’s mecca: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Harley-Davidson sponsors the event they call the Harley-Davidson Rides Home event. The pilgrimage just celebrated 115 years in 2018. The company organizes the nationwide journey, setting up meeting points in four strategic cities: San Diego, Tacoma, Portland, Maine and Ft. Lauderdale.
They map out the route to the wild celebrations and motorbike extravaganza at the hometown of Harley and the Davidsons. Well over 100,000 riders descend on the city over Labor Day Weekend. All you need is a Harley-Davidson and a sense of adventure.
While You’re There Check Out the Harley-Davidson Museum
The H-D company also owns and operates the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Full of hometown history, the museum contains rare relics and offers a unique learning experience. In the gallery room, guests are free to saddle up on authentic Harleys. Touching is definitely allowed.
Original models of Milwaukee police bikes are on display, including a 1947 police Servi-Car. The Model 1, the oldest Harley in the world is there. In the engine room, they’ll teach you how a V-Twin works.
The AMF Buyout
In 1969, during the company’s darkest days, Harley-Davidson was struggling with solvency. Options were slim and plans to sell the company surfaced. AMF agreed to buy H-D for $21 million. AMF had little interest in motorcycles, the company produced bowling balls. Sure, bikers might frequent bowling alleys, but AMF probably thought liquidation looked better. They could make a shipload of bowling balls with liquid assets.
AMF managed H-D abysmally, cut labor, lowered quality. They drove the value of the company down so low that, amazingly, 13 former H-D executives were able to pool their money and purchase Harley-Davidson from its negligent AMF keepers.
The Porsche Harley Engine
From 2001 to 2017, Harley-Davidson produced a V-Twin muscle racing bike in collaboration with German auto maker, Porsche. Their first collaboration effort stretched back to the 1970s, but the AMF buyout and bankruptcy risks put the brakes on that until the 2000s. In 2001 it happened. The model was called Harley-Davidson VRSC, abbreviated for V-Twin Racing Street Custom. The drag racer's nickname is V-Rod.
The revolutionary engine was developed in partnership with Porsche. Its specialized cooling system facilitates the production of a 115-horsepower engine, allowing the bike to hit top speeds of 144 miles per hour!
The Shaft Drive Engine
Harley-Davidsons have always been chain-driven bikes. But during WWII they received a higher order. The United States Army wanted a shaft-driven motorcycle, just like the one BMW made. H-D responded. Obviously, the Army had no other options as purchasing bikes from the German BMW company was completely off the table.
H-D produced a very similar model based on BMW’s. It was called a Harley-Davidson XA, and 1,000 models were sold to the Army in 1942. No more were orders were placed.
H-D Founders Inducted into U.S. Dept. of Labor Hall of Fame
In 2004, Bill Davidson, H-D director of motorcycle marketing and great-grandson of founder William Davidson went to Washington D.C. to accept the honor of the Labor Department’s award. All four were inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame, William Harley, Arthur Davidson, Walter Davidson, and William Davidson.
During the ceremony officiated by U.S. Secretary of Labor, Elaine L. Chao, the company’s success was celebrated and highlighted. Secretary Chao praised H-D for their positive impact on the U.S labor force and the economy.
The Mystery of the Logo
The iconic “bar and shield” logo was developed in 1909, over a hundred years ago. It features the company name prominently on a bar that stamps a background shield image with the words “Motor” and “Cycles.” In 1911 the company patented it. For its day, H-D proffered a shrewd and savvy advertising presence, but it took them over six years to officially brand it. Presumably, the company was too busy manufacturing bikes. Mysteriously, little is known about who designed the legendary logo.
In 1910 the company officially launched the “bar and shield” that we know today, and on which all future logo-designs were built upon. Today, some varieties come with wings or an eagle attached. The original logo remained untouched until 1953 when a 50th-anniversary version was introduced. Today, the brand and its iconic logo are known worldwide, making the H-D logo one of the most recognized symbols across the globe. It’s also a lucrative engine, generating $40 million in revenue in 2010, just for the licensing rights.
The Famous King Kong Bike
It was one man’s dream. Build a monster of a custom bike. Felix Predko was a factory-trained Harley technician who worked as a mechanic for Zfepka Harley-Davidson from 1940 to 1962. He created a one-of-a-kind, motorcycle beast that is now corralled at the Harley-Davidson Museum. In 1949, Predko was inspired to create a custom bike that doubled everything. Double the engine, double the pipes, double the saddle, double the handlebars.
It took him four years to finish it. He started with a 1941 Knucklehead and two V-Twin engines. He modified the taillights using vintage Cadillac, recycled parts. He modified the horn with scuba tanks to produce, quite literally, deafening “honks.” A horn so loud that it could shatter a window. In total, the beast measures 13 feet long and weighs 1,000 pounds.
Man Buries His Harley
In a strange tale of poetic comeuppance, a man was found guilty of burying his Harley-Davidson in order to defraud his insurance company. In 2000 he called the insurance company and reported the motorcycle stolen, after digging a hole and then burying the bike in his backyard. He said the bike was at his property one day, and the next day it was gone. The company covered it. They even paid the remainder of the loan on the bike.
The man thought he got away with it, but six years later, the “stolen” Harley was unearthed. A contractor found it while grading the property. He reported the find to the new owner. What comes around, goes around.
H-D Becomes World’s Largest Motorcycle Company in 20 Years
Between war contracts, police department orders, and the Wrecking Crew routinely dominating racetracks with deft demonstrations of the monster performance of its bikes, Harley-Davidson sold more motorcycles than any other company in the 1920s. They became the world’s largest producer, shipping models to 67 different countries. In 1920, the company had over 2,000 dealerships worldwide.
Today H-D commands half of the motorcycle market. As a single company, it’s a hefty share. However, Honda produces the most motorcycles.
And the Least Stolen Motorcycle Award Goes To. . .
Harley-Davidson. Out of five motorcycle brands, H-D comes in last for stolen bikes. Topping the list is Honda. No surprise there, they make the most. Next up is Yamaha with 7,517 thefts in 2012. Suzuki lost 7,017 bikes to theft. That year a moderate 4,839 Kawasakis were stolen.
And, the company with the least amount is H-D, which had 3,755 motorcycles pilfered in 2012. Honda topped out at 9,082 motorcycles stolen. Why were fewer Hogs nabbed? Perhaps even a thief steers clear of a biker dude?
The Racing Reputation
Arthur Davidson wanted his bikes to represent a refinement of life, a gentleman’s noble transport, until he realized how much revenue the publicity of the burly “Wrecking Crew” was generating. Harley-Davidson had previously steered clear of all racing associations with its bikes because of the deadly reputation of early professional racing. Those first contests, on dirt and board tracks, were raced without brakes and with riders wearing little protective gear. A wool sweater, a pair of goggles and a leather cap did virtually nothing to protect them, and they crashed often.
But top riders got paid up to $20,000 per year and crowds flocked to the tune of tens of thousands to see a man fly by at speeds of 100 miles per hour. In 1910 the company gave in, producing a racing bike line, the Model 6E. Soon enough, their advertisements flaunted Harley-Davidson racing wins. An advertisement title from 1910 boasts: “Have You Been Watching the Remarkably Consistent Winning of the 1910 Single Cylinder Harley-Davidson?”
The Seven Standard Harley-Davidsons
Of course, there’s the CVO, Custom Vehicle Operations. This motorcycle, riders can custom-build to their preference, but, in general, there are seven types of Harley-Davidsons. First, are the newer lightweight Street models. Second is the popular Sportster, also smaller and lighter, with a sleek racing look. Another option is the Dyna. This model is a high-performance, heavier model. Softails resemble hardtail choppers but come with a hidden rear-wheel suspension making it easier on the rider’s tail end.
The V-Rod is the superior performance machine Porsche helped build. This muscle bike is great for cruising. Number six is the Touring breed. Longer, heavier, and built for long rides to Harley Fest. Lastly, the Trike. Today’s version of the three-wheeled model, but even more comfortable than the Touring bike, and plenty of cargo space.
The AMF Bowling Ball Link
American Machine and Foundry (AMF) was founded a few years before Harley-Davidson. It became a recreational equipment business selling everything from garden tools to bowling balls. Other consumer goods they peddled were golf clubs, model airplanes, and yachts. The company even sold atomic reactors. AMF founder, Rufus L. Patterson, invented the first automated cigarette machine in 1900. As years went on, AMF developed a practice of absorbing new companies, H-D was thus acquired. In the end, its parent company at once saved H-D and drove it into the ground.
AMF crossed a line when it replaced the Harley name with its own. Terrible management caused the H-D company to lose more than $50 million by 1981. Harley, on the brink of bankruptcy yet again, was saved when a group of former execs bought it. Harley-Davidson was resurrected. The new ownership provided a desperately needed boost in morale, and the reinvigorated company returned to its former glory.