Few motorcycles in the world are as instantly recognizable as Harley-Davidson. Known the world over for its beautiful cruisers, this all-American icon has had countless iconic motorcycles that now reside in the two-wheeled hall of fame. Despite slowing down a couple of years ago, the MoCo has recently proven to the world that it means business when it comes to innovating its motorcycles to suit the tastes of the modern-day rider. Having said all that, let’s take a quick look at the world’s most legendary motorcycle company from a bigger picture.
It started as a simple dream. In 1901, a young man just twenty years of age who went by the name William S. Harley wanted to design a small combustion engine to attach onto his bicycle in order to create a more efficient form of transportation. William, along with his childhood friend Arthur Davidson worked on what they called a “motor-bicycle” in their backyards over the span of two years.
However, despite taking two years to build, the two friends, along with the help of Arthur’s brother, Walter Davidson, found that their little 116cc gas engine was too weak to power their bicycle, and that they had to help it out by peddling, especially when going uphill. Unfazed by what many people would consider a failure, the three friends set out to improve their invention. Little did they know that they would start a revolution that would change the world forever.
The dawn of an era
Fast forward several years later, World War II broke out, and Harley-Davidson had already begun making a name for itself in America. As such, the company supplied loads of motorcycles for the US Army in World War II. After the war, it continued to produce motorcycles and saw massive success both in racing, as well as in the private market.
Subsequently, war veterans and civilians were able to purchase Harleys used in service during the war. With some simple modifications such as chopping off the fenders, extending the forks, and fitting taller and wider bars, these bikes were largely responsible for the chopper culture which continues to be extremely popular even today.
It's not a hobby, it's a lifestyle
All throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, Harley-Davidson continued growing. Churning out new motorcycles nearly every year, it wasn’t until the 70s—when the gasoline crisis hit—that it began seeing a slowdown in sales. To make matters worse, the entrants of various Japanese manufacturers such as Honda had managed to attract a whole new crowd of motorcyclists—a stark contrast to the bad boy image which Harley-Davidson had made for itself.
Luckily for Harley-Davidson, in 1983, then-president Ronald Reagan imposed a 45-percent tariff on imported motorcycles with engine capacities larger than 700cc. This helped keep competition, particularly from Japan, at bay, and hopefully help the MoCo stay afloat despite trying economic times. Despite all this, H-D stuck to its roots, and centered on the retro-styling and nostalgia offered by their machines. Because of this, the company garnered quite a lot of die-hard followers who saw the company as more than just a motorcycle brand, but a way of life.
The turn of the century
At the turn of the century, it appeared that Harley-Davidson had found a second wind. The massive following it had gained from the years prior seemed to have paid dividends. Naturally, kids back then who could only dream of owning a Harley now had jobs, and could actually afford to buy the bikes of their dreams. On top of this, hardcore H-D loyalists remained faithful to the brand, patronizing its products.
Despite the threat of the financial crisis in 2008 putting Harley-Davidson in shakey ground, the MoCo trundled along, somehow managing to stay afloat despite the seemingly endless barrage of economic challenges plaguing the world at that time. Fast forward to the present day, and we see some iconic motorcycles from Harley-Davidson donning modern apparel, and remaining as popular as ever. With machines like the Iron Sportster 883 serving as a solid gateway into Harley ownership, the MoCo offers tons of enticing premium bikes too, such as the Low Rider, Fat Boy, and even the Sportster 1200.
An eye to the future
With the recent unveiling of the Harley-Davidson Pan America, it’s clear to see that Harley is taking the future seriously. With the world beginning to crave things other than low-slung cruisers, the MoCo’s first foray into the world of adventure is truly remarkable. On top of this, the company has had a rather lukewarm venture into the world of electric two-wheelers with the LiveWire. In more recent news, Harley just launched its own electric spinoff brand which goes by the LiveWire name.
In the global stage, Harley-Davidson has also forged some strategic partnerships with some notable Asian motorcycle companies. In India, the MoCo has joined forces with Hero MotoCorp to develop and distribute its bikes in the country. Harley has also teamed up with Chinese motorcycle manufacturer QJ Motor, the same company which owns Italian-branded motorcycle company Benelli. The two companies have been working hard to develop small displacement cruisers for the Asian market. Given the recent developments from Harley’s end, it’s clear to see that the company is gearing up for the long haul. It’s exciting to think about what this iconic motorcycle manufacturer has in store for us in the near future.