Harley-Davidson isn’t just the most famous motorcycle company… it’s also one of the most legendary and beloved brands in human history.
The sound of a Harley-Davidson engine is so distinctive, everybody’s heads turn when they hear one coming down the road.
While the sound can be dampened or enhanced depending on the exhaust pipe setting, the origin of it is down to the engine design. The engine’s pistons are timed so that one fires on one revolution of the crankshaft and the other fires on the next revolution. This means that one of the two pistons involved is always firing on every revolution. Each popping of the piston is the sound of the exhaust valve opening one time, which happens on every second revolution of the crankshaft.
If you listen closely, you can even hear the snap, crackle and pop sounds of the pistons being separated by the pauses in between each pop. And make no mistake – it’s a sound that is clearly distinguishable from any other on the road.
Harley-Davidson got its all-American start in 1903, at the dawn of the “Motor Age.”
Back in 1901, in a tiny shed in a Milwaukee backyard, Arthur Davidson and William Harley began working on their first bike. Aged 20 and 21, their goal was to take the strenuous effort out of biking and turn it into an enjoyable and fun activity.
Joined by Davidson’s brothers, Walter and William, it wasn’t until 1903 that the formative models of the Harley-Davidson were presented to the public, releasing three motorcycles that would mark the beginning of the Harley-Davidson enterprise.
From that point onwards, variations of the bike were released in quick succession; including motorcycles with bigger and more reliable engines, and ones that could reach higher speeds.
In a small shed in Milwaukee – 1900s…
After drawing up plans for a small engine designed to fit on a regular bike frame, they finished the first model in 1903. While the test was mostly successful, the bike was unable to climb hills without the rider providing pedaling assistance.
But Harley and the Davidson brothers did not give up. They immediately began working on a new and improved machine. They created a bigger engine and loop-frame design. After completing the prototype in 1904, they entered the bike into a local motorcycle race at the State Fair Park, where it placed fourth.
Now that they had a working model, bare Harley-Davidson engines were listed in the January 1905 Automobile and Cycle Trade Journal. Just four months later, the motorcycles were in production. That first year, five bikes were produced – three of which were sold by the first Harley-Davidson dealer, Carl H. Lang of Chicago.
By 1906, Harley and the Davidson brothers were moving out of their shed and into their first factory, which was located at the current site of Harley-Davidson headquarters. They produced 50 motorcycles during their first year in the factory – ten times more than the year before.
Within one year of building their first factory, they were already preparing to expand it with a second floor. In September, Harley-Davidson officially incorporated. They produced 150 motorcycles in 1907 and began selling them to police departments.
The company continued to grow and improve year after year. New features and designs were constantly being introduced. The factory was expanded several times to keep up with the ever-growing demand for Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Harley-Davidson has played an important role in American history…
The company produced over 20,000 motorcycles for the US military during World War I. And as one of only two American motorcycle companies to survive the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson also played an important part in World War II. The company produced over 90,000 motorcycles for use in the war. Harley-Davidson was awarded two Army-Navy “E” Awards for Excellence in Production, in honor of their efforts during the war.
Over 115 years, Harley-Davidson has grown from its humble beginnings to a world-wide icon. But no matter how many things have changed over the years, one thing has always remained the same – Harley-Davidson’s commitment to producing a high quality, innovative bike.
Having undergone several ownership changes and competition from a range of other companies, the Harley-Davidson brand remains just as durable as ever. Come the 21st century, it’s the most popular bike in the United States and one of the most well-loved globally.
The Harley rider community is vast. And it likes nothing more than to gather for massive annual rides, especially the one that ends in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Harley-Davidson has in business for 116 years, but the iconic American company is facing numerous challenges…
A declining ridership in the US and an aging customer base makes life difficult for Harley. And then there was President Donald Trump, who messed with business by threatening trade wars and complaining about Harley shifting production outside the US.
But Harley is still roaring into the future. The all-electric LiveWire arrived in 2019, and developed smaller bikes to appeal to younger riders … while maintaining its cruiser game to compete with a resurgent Indian, one of Harley’s historic rivals.
Data suggest a considerable generational divide in attitudes toward heavyweight motorcycles, the sort of bikes sold by brands such as Harley and Polaris’ Indian brand. It turns out that younger people do consider buying motorcycles, but for entirely different reasons than older customers, and that has potentially profound implications for companies such as Harley-Davidson.
Ultimately, the company’s success could depend on getting a new generation of riders into the saddle and convincing them to “live to ride and ride to live.”
Harley will remain Harley. It isn’t yet time for the sun to set on the greatest motorcycle brand in history – very far from it as The United States Census Bureau’s most recent estimate put the number of US households at 126,224,000 and the MIC Owner Survey found that 10,124,400 of those homes had a motorcycle.
A Harley is and always has been a wellbeing tool. As far back as the ’80s, Harley-Davidson has pitched their hogs as an escape from the the trials and travails of normal life.
They are a tool that Harley riders use to clear their minds, feel the thrill of the world rushing past them, and join a community of other riders.
Harley promises a lifestyle that ensures you can go anywhere, at any time without restrictions.
But the future holds some restrictions for any industry, and for Harley the future is:
By the year 2027, Harley-Davidson plans to add 2 million new riders in the US while also introducing 100 new bikes.
President and CEO Matt Levatich said The Motor Company has 50 new bikes in development for release over the next five years and plans to simultaneously expand overseas business by 50 percent.
So is Big Baggers out and diversity in?
As Bloomberg writer Kyle Stock asserts: “Sturgis was out; Coachella was in. They needed something cool to show on the wealthy, quasi-hipster music scene, something far from the fat-fendered, chrome-soaked hogs buzzing around South Dakota.”
The world market view and a need to get back to basics have been driving Harley’s development of models like the Street 500.
“There was a requirement to be more relevant to urban environments,” admits Harley’s director of U.S. marketing, Anoop Prakash. “Prior to the Street, we certainly believed and knew many riders would start in another brand.”
Affordability is the key to getting the Millennials – and the rest of the world – riding on a Harley.
Harley-Davidson announced it was opening a plant in Thailand…
While criticized by some labor unions, the move makes sense in order to meet Levatich’s stated goal of gaining 2 million new riders in the US and expanding overseas at the same time. Thailand is a major hub serving the growing Southeast Asian market.
“A factory in Thailand will allow us to be more responsive and competitive in the ASEAN region and China,” Harley-Davidson PR Manager Katie Whitmore said. “Increased access and affordability for our customers in the region is key to growth for the company in total. There is no intent to reduce H-D U.S. manufacturing due to this expansion.”
Harley opened a plant in India in 2011, and it also assembles motorcycles at a plant in Brazil, and Harley has emerged as a leading bidder for buying Ducati from Volkswagen, which did not realise.
Since Harley (and other manufacturers for that matter) has seen demand drop in the US as its loyal Baby Boomer demographic ages out of the market – it’s time to get another generation on Harleys.
As Prakash told Stock: “Nine bikes for under $12,000 breaks it down to $6 a day. Skip the latte; buy a bike.”
Riding a bike provides a certain lifestyle… it’s a cultural movement, and a rebranding of the whole motorcycle industry is maybe needed to suit a new generation of consumer. The lifestyle is not centered around the motorcycle, but encompasses the ‘experiences’ a motorcycle creates.
And the experience a motorcycle creates for new generations, would be something to investigate further before it can be capitalised on.
Having the guts, for one, to ride a bike – will always be cool – and that, which Harley brings is far from dead…
Under the new plan, Harley is following a “70-20-10” structure, with 70 percent of its efforts going into the core business, 20 percent into expansion into new segments that offer clear potential for more profit—for instance, the launch of the Pan America adventure bike—and 10 percent on testing ideas for longer-term growth, such as the company’s continuing plans to develop small-capacity bikes for new markets in partnership with China’s Qianjiang and India’s Hero MotoCorp.
The Hardwire brings the emphasis back to Harley’s strengths, and while it might mean we lose some potentially interesting new bikes, it’s hard to argue with the logic behind it.
“The priorities of our Hardwire strategic plan are built upon desirability,” Zeitz said. “We intend to: One, invest in our strongest motorcycle segments that drive profit; two, selectively expand into and redefine segments where we have a winning offering; three, invest in innovation in the electric market which will be a critical part of our future; four, grow our complementary businesses, both in product and lifestyle; five, enhance and customize the Harley-Davidson experience for all customers, riders and non-riders, across all steps of the customer purchase journey; and six, prioritize inclusive stakeholder management and how we think about people, planet, and profit.”
You are here by the grace of your lineage…
The premiere of Everything is a Road: The Path to Pan America.
Harley-Davidson is launching their first every adventure touring motorcycle, and Everything is a Road explores the company’s off-road history, unpacks how their expertise in touring has been reimagined as adventure touring and discusses the technology behind the design.
The most obvious survivor of Levatich’s More Roads to Harley-Davidson product plan is the Pan America adventure-tourer. Already shown to the public on more than one occasion, it’s set to get a full launch February 22, 2021. While it’s going to be a hard task to compete with the dominant BMW R 1250 GS in the markets the Pan America intends to target, it’s a route that has the potential to see Harley expand its market share in Europe, where cruisers and tourers aren’t big sellers.
“Adventure-touring is the largest segment in many European markets with both attractive margins and high growth,” Zeitz explained. “It’s also a largely untapped segment in North America, and we’re excited by the potential it unlocks for Harley-Davidson. This segment is a natural fit. With Pan America, we’ve built adventure-touring and are expanding the language of the Harley-Davidson touring experience deeply rooted in our history.”