Harley-Davidson The ‘Marvel from Milwaukee’

History -of -Harley -Davidson

What do Arnold Schwarzenegger and superstar Cher have in common? How about V8 Supercar driver Russell Ingall and former Rugby League great Brad Fittler?

If you guessed all ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles you win the kewpie doll.

Millions of words and thousands of books have been written about the ‘Marvel from Milwaukee’, the motorcycle revered around the world and which has been named one of America’s best-known brand names, along with Jeep, Levis and Coca Cola.

Harley-Davidson: the Early Years

The company’s history has been well documented. Suffice to say, the company was established in 1903 when three brothers, William, Walter and Arthur Davidson and a boyhood friend, William Harley, decided to build a motorcycle.

In those early years, they were to call on another boyhood friend to help design a magneto; his name was Ole Evinrude, a name to become as synonymous with outboard engines as Harley-Davidson was to motorcycles.

Harley-Davidson: The making of a Legend

So what exactly is the magic that separates a Harley-Davidson from other motorcycles?

‘Bad boy’ actor Mickey Rourke, another of the countless Harley-riding celebrities, often spoke of his fascination with the Harley Davidson; “It’s a personal thing that cannot be described, it’s part of you,” he explained.

Harley-Davidson has survived two world wars, the great depression, the sale of the company to the giant American Machine and Foundry (AMF) in 1969 and the eventual buyback by management 12 years later.

Since then, Harley-Davidson has gone from strength to strength – although US sales of the motorcycle tend to vary, international sales always seem strong and rising.

Harley-Davidson has long been a presence in Australia; in fact, the Brisbane firm Morgan and Wacker (it also trades on the Gold Coast as Gold Coast Harley-Davidson) is the world’s oldest Harley-Davidson dealership outside the United States.

Harley-Davidson: HOG Origins

Many Harley-Davidson riders are members of HOG, the Harley Owners’ Group.

Over the years, Hog has become almost a generic word to describe a heavyweight motorcycle and many believe the name stems from the group.

Not so; in the US during the 1920s, Harley-Davidson was a force in various forms of motorcycle racing and the official factory team was known as ‘the Wrecking Crew.’

The crew chose as its mascot a pig, giving rise to the term ‘hog’ which was easily adopted to signify the Harley Owners’ Group.

Harley-Davidson: The Harley Lifestyle

Harley-Davidson motorcycles are still found on race tracks in the US and parts of Europe, with events tailored for and restricted to Harleys.

The Harley-Davidson in Australia is generally regarded as a cruising motorcycle, an incredibly powerful machine, but not employed for sheer speed.

With the legendary V-Twin 1584cc engine, the big Harley-Davidson motorcycles have as much (and more!) ‘grunt’ as some small cars.

The company does produce a smaller range, known as Sportsters with 882cc and 1200cc engines and many buyers opt for the ‘little’ Harley before graduating to the 300kg heavyweight.

Harley-Davidsons have been described as “a blank canvas”, for one rarely sees two Harleys the same.

It has long been rumoured that the company makes more money from the sale of its accessories and motor clothes than it does from its motorcycles.

From handlebars to exhaust systems, wheels to foot and hand controls, Harley-Davidson owners are always adding to (or subtracting from?) their ‘hog’.

Sportswear, from t-shirts to leather jackets, helmets, gloves and boots, even cowboy hats can be purchased carrying the famous H-D logo and are all eagerly sought after by Harley riders.

Model names, too, are a unique Harley-Davidson factor; ‘Fat Boy’, ‘Street Bob’, ‘Springer’, ‘Road King’ and ‘Fat Bob’ have all been labelled as names only Harley-Davidson could get away with.

How do you describe a Harley-Davidson? Not an easy task, but consider a legendary graphic on one of the company’s still big-selling t-shirts; it says ‘It’s a Harley-Davidson. If I have to explain you wouldn’t understand.’

The Harley-Davidson motto has long been ‘Ride to Live, Live to Ride.’ May it always be so.

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