, Research Paper
The Evolution of the Harley Davidson
By Barry Morgan
Nearly a century ago, the first motorized bike was invented. The idea came from two ambitious young men, William J. Harley and Ben Davidson. Upon completion of their first successful prototype in a backyard shed, they were ready to show the world their newest creation. They could have never imagined the fame and fortune that was waiting just ahead of them.
The invention of this unique machine sparked a revolution in the transportation industry. It could cover ground that was considered to be too treacherous for a four-wheeled vehicle to attempt. The narrow, two-wheeled design and the massive power made this possible and grabbed the attention of people everywhere.
By the time World War I had begun, the United States Army had incorporated them into their ranks. However, the demand was not just from the Army. Civilians were finding the freedom of the wind in their faces and the sun on their backs completely addictive when they straddled one of these powerful machines.
Although the first motorcycles looked nothing like the ones we see today, they were still considered to be the “American Dream” to many free-spirited young men. The flashy paint jobs and chromed-out motors with their loud mufflers expressed the “born to be wild” attitude of the daredevil riders. The low, road-hugging frame was constructed of a one-piece steel tubular design that had no rear shocks of any kind. Hence came the nickname “Hard-tail”. It was a stiff, spine-crunching ride that left even the most dedicated biker tired and hurting after a couple of hours of hard riding. The power train was a forty-five cubic inch, V-twin flathead motor with a four speed transmission that was shifted by hand on the side of the gas tank. The clutch was operated with the left foot, which made it extremely awkward when stopping at a red light or a stop sign. It did not take long to see the need for a more practical, comfortable ride. Thus, the inventors created the “swing-arm” frame.
The “swing-arm” frame was built for comfort and tighter handling capabilities, which exploded onto the market. The design constituted two shocks on the rear of the frame, one on either side of the tire. The seat was also made of thicker foam than before. Harley Davidson also introduced the five-gallon “Fat Bob” gas tanks, which enabled the rider to take longer trips without having to stop for gas as often. The new frame design could also house a bigger engine. Therefore, the manufacturers increased the engine size to an eighty cubic inch, 1340 c.c. (Cubic centimeter) V-twin with a four-speed transmission and a foot shifter, using a hand-operated clutch.
By this time, other motorcycle manufacturing companies had emerged everywhere. Japan, England, and Germany started building motorcycles that were basically all alike, other than the name. Dedicated Harley owners considered these foreign bikes “disposable,” since it was cheaper to throw them away and buy a new one rather than to repair them. They could not incorporate the quality that kept the Harley Davidson on top of the consumer’s best-buys list since their existence. Even today, the best selling motorcycle in the world, Harley Davidson, also happens to be the oldest motorcycle company in the world.