There are many reasons to own a Harley Davidson motor cycle, these may include: having a mid life crisis, they are cool, they are a quality and dependable motor cycle, they are fun to ride, they retain their value more than other motor cycles, spare parts are getting even easier to locate (thanks to the internet), you may increase your popularity with your peers and may have your social life enhanced as you may get to meet other Harley enthusiasts at a Harley club as is found throughout the USA and abroad.
So let’s look at the American Motorcycle legend that is the Harley. Where did Harley Davidson come from? Harley Davidson started in 1903 in Milwaukee, USA by Bill Harley and Arthur Walter together built a one cylinder motor cycle that ran on gasoline and was originally built as a racing cycle. This new motor cycle has been described as being reliable and its appearance was new yet popular. It was built in a wooden barn that Arthur’s Dad had built. The motorcycles popularity became apparent in their sales figures as they went from a modest one sale in 1903 to a pleasing 11 in 1905, to an impressive 154 in 1908, which saw the launch of their company.
The company grew quickly so they moved into a custom built stone factory to house their 20 employees. The Harley Davidson logo as we know it as today as the bar and shield started in 1910. In 1912 with increasing sales of their motorcycles via an estimated 200 dealerships throughout the USA, saw the commencement of construction of a new six storey factory and the beginnings of their export industry with an initial sale to Japan.
The First World War was good for the Harley Davidson business as they produced about 15,000 motor cycles for the war effort which saw Harley Davidson dealerships reach 2,000 in 1917 and the motorcycle factory was reported to be the largest in the world.
In 1917, one-third of all Harley Davidson’s were sent overseas to the U.S. Military to fulfill their patriotic call and to aid in the war effort. The following year, roughly half of the motorcycles produced were sold to the U.S. military. In the end, about 20,000 motorcycles were used in the war, most of them Harley’s.
By 1918 Harley Davidson was the biggest motorcycle factory in the world with nearly 2,000 dealerships worldwide. This infrastructure and the motorcycles popularity had the company in a good position to survive the launch of the T model Ford whose new production line saw car prices fall and even the Great Depression.
1928 saw some impressive modifications to the Harley’s specifications namely its top speed now exceeded 85 mph thanks to the addition of a twin cam engine and front wheel brakes. The 1930’s saw the launch of the biggest Harley Davidson with a massive 1340 CC engine and the Knucklehead which finally outsold its biggest rival cycle the Indian.
War was once again good for the Harley Davidson business with the company suspending the production of its civilian models in preference for those destined to serve in the Second World War. 1947 saw the launch of Harley Davidson’s most popular model the Panhead. Two years latter hydraulic front brakes were added to the Hydra Glide Harley models. The forty’s were a difficult period for Harley as Triumph’s market share was 40%.
1957 Harley launched its Sportster model and it was very popular as it was at that stage the fastest model they had released. 1969 saw a merger with the company called American Machine & Foundry (AMF). This was a difficult time for the company as the merger saw the quality of their motorcycles suffer resulting in the Super Glide and 1970 SLCR Café Racer’s reputation suffered. Harley responded to its negative reputation by buying out its partners in 1981 and in 1984 launched its new Evolution motor and in 1971 launched the Cruiser model.
1980 saw the launch of the FLT model and in 1983 the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) was born. This club the biggest factory sponsored motorcycle club in the world and by the year 2000 club membership was over the 50,000 mark. Then in 1984 the now legendary Soft Tail model was launched. In 1987 Harley Davidson was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
The 1990’s saw Haley Davidson launch its new Fat Boy design and the construction of a new state of the art paint facility. 2001 fuel injection became available on the Soft Tail model. During the early 2000’s Harley’s market share increased to 62% so as this figure would indicate it was then and continues to be a very popular brand of American Motorcycle. So if you don’t already own a Harley at least you now know some of the story behind the legend.