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File:Harley Davidson 2003.jpg
Anniversary badge on a 2003 Harley-Davidson

Template:Infobox Company The Harley-Davidson Motor Company Template:Nyse is a manufacturer of motorcycles based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making it one of the two remaining American mass-producer of motorcycles (along with Victory Motorcycles). The company emphasizes heavy bikes designed for cruising, bikes known for their distinctive exhaust noise.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles are distinctive in design and attract a loyal following. Harley-Davidson motorcycles hold their resale value very well compared to other vehicles. A well maintained vehicle might never drop in value at all, although regular maintenance and customization are expected.

Detractors contend that Harleys are badly engineered, under-powered and under-performing, and have poor handling and suspension. This is attributed to an American pedigree that favors designs for long, low-speed cruising on flat, straight roads.

The company supplies many domestic police forces with their motorcycle fleets. Harleys are especially noted for the tradition of heavy customization that gave rise to the chopper-style of motorcycle. It also licenses its logo, a profitable side business that now makes more money for the company than the motorcyles do.

Since 1998 Harley-Davidson has also owned Buell Motorcycle Company.

The Harley-Davidson V-twin engine

File:Harley V-twin.jpg
Harley-Davidson 45° V-twin, Evo Sportster.

The classic Harley-Davidson engines are two-cylinder, V-twin engines with the pistons placed at a 45 degree angle. The crankshaft has a single pin, and both pistons are connected to this pin through their connecting rods. This design causes the pistons not to fire at even intervals.

On the V-twin, the sequence is as follows:

  1. the first piston fires (this is the 0° position)
  2. the other piston fires at 315° into the stroke
  3. there is a 405° gap (as both cylinders go through their exhaust stroke) until the first piston fires again

This design, which is covered under several United States patents, gives the Harley-Davidson V-twin its unique "potato-potato" sound.

On 1 February 1994, the company filed a trademark application for the distinctive sound of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle engine: "The mark consists of the exhaust sound of applicant's motorcycles, produced by V-twin, common crankpin motorcycle engines when the goods are in use". Nine of Harley-Davidson's competitors filed comments opposing the application, arguing that cruiser-style motorcycles of various brands use a single-crankpin V-twin engine which produce a similar sound. These objections were followed by litigation. After six years, Harley-Davidson withdrew their trademark application.

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide "Ultra Classic".

The Big Twins

  • Knucklehead, 1936-47, 61 and 74 cubic inches (1.0 and 1.2 L)
  • Panhead, 1948-65, 61 and 74 cubic inches (1.0 and 1.2 L)
  • Shovelhead, 1966-85, 74 cubic inches (1.2 L) and 80 cubic inches since late 1978
  • Evolution (aka "Evo" and "Blockhead"), 1984-99, 80 cubic inches (1.3 L)
  • Twin Cam 88 (aka "Fathead") 1999-present, 88 cubic inches (1.4 L)
  • Twin Cam 88B (counter balanced version of the Twin Cam 88) 2000-present, 88 cubic inches (1.4 L)
  • Revolution, 2001-present, 69 cubic inches (1.13 L), 60 degree V-twin (all of the above are 45 degrees), Liquid cooled (all of the above are air cooled)

The Sportsters

  • Ironhead, 1967-1984, 900, then 1000 cc
  • Sportster (a smaller version of the Evolution engine), 1985-present, 883 and 1200 cc

2002 water-cooled engine

  • Revolution, 2002-present, 69 cubic inches (1.1 L), used in VRSC (V-Twin Racing Street Custom) models. At first it was used in a single model called the V-Rod; it now comes in four consumer models: The V-Rod, the "roadster-styled" Street Rod, the long and low Night Rod, and the VRSCSE² Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod.
  • There is also a non-street fifth variant: the VRXSE SE Destroyer (comes stock with larger engine, nitrous oxide injection, wheelie bar, among other features.

Model designations

Harley model designations are a sequence of letters and numbers, combined in limited ways. The sequences can be long, as in the 2006 model designation FLHTCUSE.

The first letter is one of the following:

F (Big Twin), M (Military), X (Sportster), or V (VRSC)

Letters are appended singly or in pairs, as follows:

B (Belt Drive), C (Classic or Custom), D (Dyna Glide), DG (Disk Glide), E (Electric start), F (Fat Boy), H (High compression), L (Hydra Glide forks), LR (Low Rider), P (Police), R (Race or Rubber-mount), S (Sport or Springer), SB (Single belt final drive), ST (Softail), T (Touring), WG (Wide Glide), I (Fuel injection), SE (Screamin’ Eagle), U (Ultra)

Custom Vehicle Operations models can also have a number (2,3,4) added.

Note that these conventions for model designations are broken regularly by the company.


Company founding

The company considers 1903 to be its year of founding, though the Harley-Davidson enterprise could be considered to have started in 1901 when William S. Harley, age 21, drew up plans for a small engine that displaced 7.07 cubic inches (116cc) and had four-inch flywheels. The engine was designed for use in a regular pedal-bicycle frame.

Over the next two years Harley and his boyhood pal Arthur Davidson labored on their little motor-bicycle using the northside machine shop of their friend Henry Melk. It was finished in 1903 with the help of Arthur's brother, Walter Davidson. Upon completion the boys found their little "power-cycle" unable to conquer Milwaukee's modest hills without pedal assistance. Bill Harley and the Davidsons quickly wrote off their first motor-bicycle as a valuable learning experiment.

Starting fresh, work was immediately begun on a new and much improved machine. This first "real" Harley-Davidson motorcycle would have a bigger engine of 24.74 cubic inches (405cc) with 9-3/4 inch flywheels weighing 28 pounds. The machine's advanced loop-frame was similar to the 1903 Milwaukee Merkel motorcycle. They also got help with their new engine from outboard motor pioneer Ole Evinrude. Elder brother William A. Davidson also lent a hand in the enterprise.

The prototype of the new improved loop-frame model was assembled in a 10 by 15 foot (3 by 5 meter) shed in the Davidson family backyard. The machine was functional by 8 September 1904 when it was entered in a Milwaukee motorcycle race, the first known appearance of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

In January 1905, small advertisements were placed in the "Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal" that offered bare Harley-Davidson engines to the do-it-yourself trade. By April, complete motorcycles were in production on a very limited basis. In 1905 no more than a dozen machines were built in the backyard shed. (Some years later the original shed was taken to the Juneau Avenue factory where it would stand for many decades as a tribute to the Motor Company's humble origins. Unfortunately, the first shed was "accidentally" destroyed by contractors in the early 1970s during a clean-up of the factory yard.)

In 1906 Harley and the Davidsons built their first factory on Chestnut Street (later Juneau Avenue). This location remains the Motor Company's corporate headquarters today. The first Juneau Avenue plant was a modest 40 by 60 foot single-story wooden structure. That year around 50 motorcycles were produced.

In 1907 William S. Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Madison with a degree in mechanical engineering. That year additional factory expansion came with a second floor and later with facings and additions of Milwaukee pale yellow ("cream") brick. With the new facilities production increased to 150 motorcycles in 1907. That September a milestone was reached when the fledgling company was officially incorporated. They also began selling their motorcycles to police departments around this time, a tradition that continues today.

Production in 1905 and 1906 were all single-cylinder models with 26.84 cubic inch (440cc) engines. But as early as February of 1907 a prototype model with a 45-degree V-Twin engine was displayed at the Chicago Automobile Show. Although shown and advertised, very few dual cylinder V-Twin models were built between 1907 and 1910. These first V-Twins displaced 53.68 cubic inches (880cc) and produced about 7 horsepower (5 kW). This gave about double the hill-climbing power of the first singles. Top speed was about 60 mph (97 km/h). Not bad in those days of primitive mud-rut and sand roads. Production paced factory expansion, jumping from 450 motorcycles in 1908 to 1,149 machines in 1909.

The success of Harley-Davidson (along with Indian's success) had attracted great attention and many imitators. By 1911 some 150 makes of motorcycles had already been built in the United States -- although just a handful would survive the 1910s.

In 1911 an improved V-Twin model with mechanically operated intake valves was introduced. (Earlier V-Twins had used "automatic" intake valves that opened by engine vacuum). Displacing 49.48 cubic inches (810cc), the 1911 V-Twin was actually smaller than earlier twins, but gave better performance. After 1913 the majority of bikes produced by Harley-Davidson would be V-Twin models.

By 1913 the yellow brick factory had been demolished and on the site a new 5-story structure of reinforced concrete and red brick had been built. Begun in 1910, the red brick factory with its many additions would take up two blocks along Juneau Avenue and around the corner on 38th Street. Despite the competition, Harley-Davidson was already pulling ahead of Indian and the rest of the pack and would also dominate motorcycle racing after 1914. Production that year swelled to 16,284 machines. Although the future looked rosy, on the horizon lay the gathering storm clouds of world war.

World War I era

In 1917, the United States was drawn into World War I. The military demanded motorcycles for the war effort. Harleys had already been used by the military in border skirmishes with Pancho Villa, but World War I was the first time the motorcycle had been broadly adopted for combat service. The company had consolidated its position as the motorcycle of choice for police forces. Harley-Davidson provided over 20,000 machines to the military forces during World War I.

By 1920, Harley-Davidson was the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Their motorcycles were sold by dealers in 67 countries. Production was 28,189 machines.

In 1921, a milestone was reached in motorcycle racing. A Harley-Davidson machine was the very first to win a race at an average speed of over 100 mph (160 km/h).

During the 1920s, several improvements were put in place, such as a new 74 cubic inch (1.2 L) V-Twin, introduced in 1922, and the gas tank we still see today, called a "Teardrop" tank, in 1925. A front brake was added in 1928.

World War II era

One of only two American cycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson again produced large numbers of motorcycles for the army in World War II and resumed civilian production afterwards, producing a range of large V-twin motorcycles that were successful both on racetracks and for private buyers.

Tarnished reputation

1998 Harley-Davidson FXSTC

In 1969, American Machinery and Foundry (AMF) bought the company, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. This tactic resulted in a labor strike and an even lower quality of bikes. The company also ceased to be an innovator in the motorcycle industry, with a design that remained basically unchanged for many years. The bikes were expensive and far inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales declined, quality plummeted, and the company almost went bankrupt. The venerable name of "Harley-Davidson" was mocked as "Hardly Ableson", and the nickname "Hog" became pejorative.

Heavyweight leadership regained

In 1981, AMF sold the company back to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson. They introduced the "Sturgis" model boasting a dual belt-drive. Inventory was strictly controlled using the Just In Time system. As a result, quality and buyers slowly returned. The motor company increased sales and gradually captured an ever increasing zealous following of loyal customers.

Rather than trying to match the Japanese at their own game, this new management deliberately exploited the "retro" appeal of the machines, building motorcycles that deliberately adopt the look and feel of their earlier machines and the subsequent customizations of owners of that era. Quality increased, and technical improvements were made, but these goals were never achieved at the cost of substantially modifying the design of the machine except by gradual degrees.

By 1990, with the introduction of the "Fat Boy", Harley once again became the sales leader in the heavyweight (over 750cc) market. There was a controversy that the Fat Boy model was allegedly inspired by the name of the bombs (Fat_Man and Little Boy) that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The company vehemently denies this and claims it is coincidence. Harley maintains dominance in sales to date.

In 1999, Ford Motor Company added a Harley-Davidson edition to the Ford F-Series F-150 line, complete with the Harley-Davidson logo. This truck was an extended-cab for model year 1999. In 2000, Ford changed the truck to a crew cab and in 2002 added a super-charged engine (5.4L) which continued until 2003. In 2004, the Ford / Harley was changed to a Super-Duty, which continues through 2006. Ford will again produced a Harley-Davidson Edition F-150 for their 2006 model-year, as well.


In 2003, Harley-Davidson Company celebrated its 100th birthday. On Labor Day weekend the city of Milwaukee hosted the largest Harley-Davidson event, if not the largest motorcycle event, in history.

Harley riders also frequent certain regularly-held events:

Harley Owners Group

File:Harley Rider.JPG
Harley-Davidson 2002 Heritage

Harley-Davidson established the Harley Owners Group (HOG)[1] in 1983 in response to a growing desire by Harley riders for an organized way to share their passion and show their pride. By 1985, 49 local chapters had sprouted around the country, with a total membership of 60,000.

Rapid growth continued into the 1990s, and in 1991 HOG officially went international, with the first official European HOG Rally in Cheltenham, England. Worldwide membership numbered 151,600, with 685 local chapters.

As the '90s continued, HOG spread into Asia, including new chapters in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By 1999, worldwide membership had hit the half-million mark, and the number of local chapters totaled 1,157. Today, more than 800,000 members make HOG the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle organization in the world, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

See also

Harley-Davidson motorcycles has long been associated with the sub-cultures of the:

External links


  • Wagner, Herbert, 2003. At the Creation: Myth, Reality, and the Origin of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, 1901-1909 (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 228 pp.)
  • Bach, Sharon and Ken Ostermann, eds. 1993. The Legend Begins: Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, 1903-1969 (Harley-Davidson, Inc., 227 pp.)

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