Sometimes you don’t know exactly why you love a product, you just do! Equally, there are well-known brands that have featured in favourite films that have drenched your psyche with admiration. As a result, you have become a passionate supporter. One such product is Harley-Davidson Motorcycles.


There’s Nothing Like a Harley

I am readily prepared to admit that big motorbikes scare the bejeezus out of me. I had a Vespa for several years in London. While two-wheeled aficionados will scoff, it was very easy to enjoy. Big motorbikes are heavy, and I perceive them to be unwieldy and, above all, dangerous.

Several friends, owners of Ducati, Indian and Triumph, have waxed about the open road on their two-wheeled companion; I am yet to be convinced. Harleys, for me, are altogether different. They sound wonderful, a throaty growl that can be heard several streets away. They are bulbous, resplendent in chrome or matt black with a wide-butt sprung leather saddle that looks thoroughly inviting.


Harley-Davidson Early Years

Harley-Davidson, Inc. was founded in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) in 1903 by a team of four including William S. Harley, and his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson. They worked together on a design for a simple engine that would sit inside a bicycle frame. Initially, it was not a great success and required pedalling! A later and much bigger version proved more successful and an early prototype – the very first Harley-Davidson – was raced in September 1904, at Milwaukee’s State Fair Park.

Juneau Avenue – Home to Harley-Davidson for more than a Century

In 1906, Harley-Davidson built their first factory making an initial 50 cycles a year. Production was expanded to 150 per year by 1907. The factory was on Juneau Avenue (Milwaukee) and is still the location of Harley-Davidson’s corporate headquarters.

The V-Twin engine – with a 45-degree angle between the cylinders – was the next major development in 1909 and by 1913 the majority of Harley-Davidsons were V-Twins.

1912 heralded the arrival of the patented, and very recognisable, adjustable sprung seat which was used until 1958. 1917 saw the US military purchasing over 20,000 motorcycles. They survived the Great Depression by controlling expansion and by the late 1930s, Harley-Davidson was again producing motorcycles for the US Army. They delivered more than 90,000 for military use.

Off London’s King’s Road, at the Wandsworth Bridge Road end, is a showroom named Warrs. It is home to the oldest Harley-Davidson dealership in Europe, founded in 1924 by Captain Frederick James Warr, the same year they became an official Harley-Davidson outlet. The business is still run by the Warr Family, with John Warr as MD.

In 1941 the FL was introduced to the Harley-Davidson model line with its Knucklehead OHV engine that was changed to the Panhead engine in 1948 with aluminum cylinder heads and improved cooling.

The Post War Decline

In 1949, the FL – being renamed the Hydra Glide in 1950 – was given a new front suspension featuring distinctive hydraulically damped telescopic forks. The third and final change given to the basic FL model occurred in 1965 when Harley-Davidson engines were equipped with electric starters, an innovation that resulted in a new model name of the Electra Glide.

Post War the company struggled and in 1969, American Machine and Foundry (AMF) bought Harley-Davidson, rationalised production and reduced the workforce. Sadly this resulted in a reduction in quality. Additionally, their products failed to compete with the cheaper Japanese imports.

Harley-Davidson’s Rebirth

In 1981, AMF sold the company to a group of investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson, a relative of the founders. They conscientiously built models that exploited the brand’s retro appeal.

The iconic Softail series of motorcycles was introduced in 1984 and in 1990 this was joined by the Fat Boy. In doing this, they regained their preeminence in the heavyweight market. In 1994 the company unsuccessfully sought trade-mark protection for the distinctive sound made by a V-Twin engine.

In 2008, a 12,000m2 Harley-Davidson Museum opened in the Menomonee Valley which houses the company’s heritage collection.

Harley Owner’s Group

It is said that the experience of driving a Harley-Davidson, with its telltale rumble, is more than merely riding a powerful motorcycle. Many commute on their preferred two-wheels and spend their evenings and weekends pursuing their passion.

The Harley Owners Group (or HOG) is a community-orientated club operated by Harley-Davidson. It has a worldwide membership in excess of one million and its merchandising offer gives those who are not yet owners the chance to indulge in branded leather jackets, Tshirts and bandanas.  Founded in 1983, it is said that HOG members spend around 30% more than non-member owners on events and merchandising. To become a member of HOG there is, as you’d expect, one rule. You must be an owner of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.

There are valuable membership benefits including discounted insurance. Once you are a HOG member you can join a local Chapter that has a link to the local Harley dealership. The Chapters organise events and may collect dues from members.

In 2007 the Marbella HOG Chapter was founded. It now has over a hundred members from eighteen different nationalities. It was the 4th Chapter in Spain. As of 2013, it holds an annual Costa del Sol Rally.

Hells Angels

Another club with worldwide membership is the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, many of whose members ride Harleys. The Club was founded in 1948 from the ashes of World War II and now has 500 chapters in 60 countries.

To join, the applicant requires a driving license and a minimum 750cc motorcycle. Following a lengthy and seemingly democratic process, the applicant is described as ‘Patched’ as a full member, which allows them to wear the iconic Hells Angel woven patch. The Hells Angels have been beset by accusations of criminal activities and in 2019 the entire club was banned in the Netherlands.

Stars of Screen

No matter what your age is, a Harley will have appeared in one of your favourite movies. These include Peter Fonda’s 1951 Panhead Chopper, ‘Captain America’ in the cult 1969 movie Easy Rider; Bruce Willis’ character Butch’s Chopper in Pulp Fiction; Arnie’s Fat Boy in Terminator 2; Chris Evans’ character, Softail’s Cross Bones in Captain America: The First Avenger and the 1973Aermaachi Harley-Davidson 350 S in Live and Let Die.

This is a combination of very clever product placement, if such a commercial concept had been properly developed by the late 1960s, and the recognition that Harley-Davidson is simply the coolest motorcycle ever made!

There is little wonder that hordes of celebrants of 25th Wedding anniversaries, 50th birthdays, or recent divorces, head to the open roads of the US, Route 66 and Highway 101 in particular, to drive a Harley in its homeland. The aim is to relive, albeit temporarily, a sense of visceral freedom that only the combination of wind and petrol fumes in your face and the open road can offer.

Giving my above comments, I really prefer to look at and listen to these alluring vehicles, as they have a wonderful aesthetic quality. Sadly for me, however, they are at their very best when ridden by someone else!


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