From a 1901 engine blueprint, to the first production machine in 1903, and on to the latest, 122 horsepower, V-Rod Muscle, Harley Davidson have been building iconic motorcycles for over a century. From inauspicious beginnings in a 10 x 15-foot wooden shed with “Harley Davidson Motor Company” scrawled crudely across the door, the company have continued to defined the motorcycle’s visceral appeal.
The engine is the beating heart of every motorcycle and Harley Davidson have been responsible for some enduring designs. The first V-Twin engines were introduced in 1909, with the “F-head” following in 1911, the latter remaining a Harley Davidson workhorse until 1929 when the 45 cubic inch V-Twin was introduced, remaining in service in various guises until 1973.
During both World Wars, Harley Davidson supplied increasing numbers of motorcycles to the US military. In 1918, almost half of all motorcycles produced by the company were sold for military use and production of civilian motorcycles ceased almost entirely during World War Two. During both conflicts, the Quartermasters’ School familiarised army mechanics with the specifics of the Harley Davidson repair manuals.
By November 1945, production of Harley Davidsons for the civilian market had resumed and, by the early 1950′s, the side-valved K model (which would later evolve into the Sportster) had been introduced, partly as a response to smaller, more agile British motorcycles.
Harley Davidson motorcycles also have an illustrious sporting pedigree, recording many Daytona 200 and National Championship victories. In 1970, Cal Rayborn set the land speed record for a motorcycle at Bonneville, averaging over 265mph on a streamlined, Sportster-engined machine.
The evolution of Harley Davidson motorcycles continues but preserves the marque’s genetic heritage. The XL Forty-Eight is an example of this evolution, combining modern mechanical integrity with a design evoking the rawness of early custom Sportsters, while the race-inspired V-Rod, a modern performance machine introduced in 2001, combines fuel injection, overhead cams and liquid cooling with styling that is unmistakeably Harley Davidson.
To prove the company’s legacy, in 2003, 250,000 bikers congregated in Milwaukee for the company’s centennial celebrations, just one more milestone in a remarkable history.