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Anniversary badge on a 2003 Harley-Davidson
Anniversary badge on a 2003 Harley-Davidson
Harley-Davidson Motor Company
Type Public company
Founded 1903
Headquarters United States Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Key people James L. Ziemer, CEO
Thomas E. Bergmann, CFO
James A. McCaslin, Div. President & Div. COO
Donna F. Zarcone, Div. President & Div. COO
Industry recreational vehicles
Products Motorcycles
Revenue $5,015 million USD ( 2004)
Employees 9,000 ( 2004)
Website http://www.harley-davidson.com/

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company ( NYSE: HOG) is an American manufacturer of motorcycles based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. It is one of the two remaining American mass-producers of motorcycles (along with Victory Motorcycles). The company emphasizes heavy bikes designed for cruising and known for their distinctive exhaust note.

Harley-Davidson motorcycles (popularly known as "Harleys") are distinctive in both design and sound. Harley-Davidson motorcycles attract a loyal following (in marketing terms, the owners form a brand community).

The Motor 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, which is a profitable side business ($41 million of revenue in 2004, or almost 5% of net income).

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

The Harley-Davidson V-twin engine

Harley-Davidson 45° V-twin, Evo Sportster.
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 to fire at uneven 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.

The Big V-Twins

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide "Ultra Classic".
Harley-Davidson Electra Glide "Ultra Classic".
  • F-head, also known as JD, pocket valve and IOE (intake over exhaust), 1914-29 (1000ccm), and 1922-29 (1200ccm)
  • Flathead, 1930-1948 (1200ccm) and 1935-41 (1300ccm).
  • Knucklehead, 1936-47 61 cubic inches (1000cc)m, and 1941-47 74 cubic inches (1200ccm)
  • Panhead, 1948-52 61 cubic inches (1000ccm), and 1948-65, 74 cubic inches (1200ccm)
  • Shovelhead, 1966-85, 74 cubic inches (1200ccm) and 82 cubic (1340ccm) inches since late 1978
  • Evolution (aka "Evo" and "Blockhead"), 1984-99, 82 cubic inches (1340ccm)
  • Twin Cam 88 (aka "Fathead") 1999-present, 88 cubic inches (1450ccm)
  • Twin Cam 88B (counter balanced version of the Twin Cam 88) 2000-2006, 88 cubic inches (1450ccm)
  • Twin Cam 96, 2006-present, 96 cubic inches (1584ccm)

All Big Twins are air-cooled 45-degree V-Twins.

The Small V-Twins

  • D Model, 1929-31 750cc
  • R Model, 1932-36 750cc
  • W Model, 1937-52 750cc, solo (2 wheel) frame only)
  • G (Servi-Car) Model, 750cc 1932-73
Evolution Sportster cruising around downtown Buenos Aires
Evolution Sportster cruising around downtown Buenos Aires
  • K Model, 1952-53 750cc
  • KH Model, 1954-56 900cc
  • Ironhead, 1957-1970 900 cc, and 1971-85 1000 cc
  • Evolution, 1986-present, 883, 1100 and 1200 cc

All Sportster engines are air-cooled 45-degree V-Twins.

Revolution water-cooled engine

  • Revolution, Designed and developed by Porsche in Germany, 2002-present, 69 cubic inches (1.13 L), 60 degree V-twin, Liquid cooled.
  • Used in VRSC (V-Twin Racing Street Custom) models. At first it was used in a single model called the V-Rod. By 2006, the line had been expanded to five consumer model V-Rods, including the standard 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 variant: the VRXSE SE Destroyer. The Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod Destroyer is a 165+hp, professional-level drag racing motorcycle designed exclusively for competition by Harley-Davidson Custom Vehicle Operations; it comes stock with larger 79 in³ engine, air shifter and wheelie bar, among other features. The Destroyer is tuned to make sub 10-second quarter mile runs in the hands of an experienced rider.

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 may be one of the following:

E, F, J, U, V (Big Twin), D, G, R, W (Small Twin), 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 (1990-present) or Foot-shift (1972 and prior)), 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.

Model families

Modern Harley-branded motorcycles fall into one of six model families: Touring, Softail, Dyna, FXR, Sportster, and VRSC (or V-Rod). Model families are primarily distinguished by the model frame. Some are also distinguished by engine, suspension, and other characteristics.


The touring family, also known as "dressers", includes three Road King models, and five Glide models offered in various trim. The Road Kings have a "retro cruiser" appearance and most models are equipped with a large clear windshield. Road Kings are reminiscent of big-twin models from the 1940s and '50s. Glides can be identified by their full front fairings. Most Glides sport a unique fairing referred to as the "Batwing" due to its unmistakeable shape. Touring models are distinguishable by their large luggage, rear coil-over air suspension and are the only models to offer full fairings with Radios/CBs.


These big-twin motorcycles capitalize on Harley's strong value on tradition. With the rear-wheel suspension invisible on the bottom of the frame, they are visibly similar to the "hardtail" choppers popular in the 1960s and '70s, as well as from their own earlier history. In keeping with that tradition, Harley offers Softail models with "springer" front ends and "heritage" styling that incorporate design cues from throughout their history.


Dyna motorcycles feature big-twin engines and traditional styling. They can be distinguished from the Softail by the traditional coil-over suspension that connects the swingarm to the frame, and from the Sportster by their larger engines. On these models, the transmission also houses the engine's oil reservoir.

In 2007, Harley-Davidson released a line-up of five Dyna models: Super Glide, Super Glide Custom, Street Bob, Low Rider, and Wide Glide.


The FXR frame was effectively replaced by the Dyna frame in 1995, but was revived in special limited editions in 1999 and 2000.


Introduced in 1957, the Sportster is the longest-running model family in the Harley-Davidson lineup. They were conceived as racing motorcycles, and were popular on dirt and flat-track race courses through the 1960s and '70s. Smaller and lighter than the other Harley models, they make use of 883 or 1200cc engines and, though often modified, remain similar in appearance to their racing ancestors.

In 2007, Harley Davidson celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sportster and produced a collectors' edition called the XL50 1200 Custom, of which only 2000 were made for sale world wide. Each motorcycle is individually numbered and the colors came in two versions (Mirage Pearl Orange and Vivid Black).


Introduced in 2001, the VRSC family bears little resemblance to Harley's more traditional lineup. Competing against Japanese and American musclebikes, the "V-Rod" makes use of a new Porsche-designed engine that, for the first time in Harley history, incorporates fuel injection, overhead cams, and liquid cooling. It is visually distinctive, easily identified by the hydroformed frame members that support the round-topped fuel tank. Based on the VR-1000 racing motorcycle, it continues to be a platform around which Harley-Davidson builds drag-racing competition machines.


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 (116 cc) 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 friend Arthur Davidson labored on their 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 power-cycle unable to conquer Milwaukee's modest hills without pedal assistance. Will Harley and the Davidsons quickly wrote off their first motor-bicycle as a valuable learning experiment.

Work was immediately begun on a new and improved machine. This first "real" Harley-Davidson motorcycle had a bigger engine of 24.74 cubic inches (405 cc) 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.

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.

1907 model.
1907 model.

In 1907 William S. Harley graduated from the University of Wisconsin-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 (440 cc) 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 (880 cc) 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). Production jumped from 450 motorcycles in 1908 to 1,149 machines in 1909.

The success of Harley-Davidson (along with Indian's success) had attracted 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 (810 cc), 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 would dominate motorcycle racing after 1914. Production that year swelled to 16,284 machines.

World War I

Ralph Hepburn races his Harley in this 1919 photo.
Ralph Hepburn races his Harley in this 1919 photo.

In 1917, the United States was drawn into World War I and 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 adopted for combat service. 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 still seen today, called a "Teardrop" tank, in 1925. A front brake was added in 1928.

World War II

Harley copied the BMW to produce its XA model.
Harley copied the BMW to produce its XA model.

One of only two American cycle manufacturers to survive the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson again produced large numbers of motorcycles for the US 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.

Harley Davidson, on the eve World War II, was already supplying the Army with a military-specific version of its 45" WLD line, called the WLA. (The A in this case stood for "Army".) Upon the outbreak of war, the company, along with other manufacturing enterprises, shifted to war work. Over 90,000 military motorcycles, mostly WLAs and WLCs (the Canadian version) would be produced, many to be provided to allies. Shipments to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program numbered at least 30,000. The WLAs produced during all years of war production would, unusually, have 1942 serial numbers. Production of the WLA stopped at the end of the war, though it would resume production from 1949 to 1952 due to the Korean War.

The U.S. Army also asked Harley-Davidson to produce a new motorcycle with many of the features of BMW's side-valve and shaft-driven R71. Harley largely copied the BMW engine and drive train and produced the shaft-driven 750cc 1942 Harley-Davidson XA. Due to the superior cooling of an opposed twin, Harley's XA cylinder heads ran 100° cooler than its V-twins'. The XA never entered full production: the motorcycle by that time had been eclipsed by the Jeep as the Army's general purpose vehicle, and the WLA—already in production—was sufficient for its limited police, escort, and courier roles. Only 1,000 were made and the XA never went into full production. It remains the only shaft-driven Harley Davidson ever made.

As part of war reparations, Harley-Davidson acquired the design of a small German motorcycle, the DKW RT125 which they adapted and marketed as the "Hummer" from 1948 to 1966 (in in the UK, BSA took the same design as the foundation of their BSA Bantam).

Tarnished reputation

1998 Harley-Davidson FXSTC
1998 Harley-Davidson FXSTC
"Captain America" replica bike from the film Easy Rider
"Captain America" replica bike from the film Easy Rider

In 1952, following their application to the US Tariff Commission for a 40% tax on imported motorcycles, Harley-Davidson is charged with restrictive practices.

In 1969, American Machinery and Foundry (AMF) bought the company, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. This tactic resulted in a labor strike and a 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 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.

Leadership regained

In 1981, AMF sold the company to a group of thirteen investors led by Vaughn Beals and Willie G. Davidson for $80 million. Inventory was strictly controlled using the Just In Time system.

Rather than trying to match the Japanese, this new management deliberately exploited the "retro" appeal of the machines, building motorcycles that deliberately adopted the look and feel of their earlier machines and the subsequent customizations of owners of that era. Many components such as brakes, forks, shocks, carburetors, electrics and wheels were outsourced from foreign manufacturers and quality increased, technical improvements were made, and buyers slowly returned. To remain profitable Harley continues to increase the amount of overseas made parts it uses, while being careful not to harm its valuable "American Made" image.

The " Sturgis" model, boasting a dual belt-drive, was introduced. By 1990, with the introduction of the "Fat Boy", Harley once again became the sales leader in the heavyweight (over 750 cc) 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.

Ford F-150 crew cab Harley Davidson edition
Ford F-150 crew cab Harley Davidson edition

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.

Building started on $75 million 130,000 square-foot (12,000 m2) Harley-Davidson Museum in the Menomonee Valley on June 1, 2006. It is expected to open in 2008 and will house the company's vast collection of historic motorcycles and corporate archives, along with a restaurant, café and meeting space.

Origin of Hog nickname

Beginning in 1920 a team that consistently won races had a hog, a pig, as their mascot. Following a win, they would put the pig (a real one) on the back of their Harley and take a victory lap. A photo of the pig is also on their website. In 1983, an organization was formed, taking advantage of the long-standing nickname by turning "hog" into the acronym H.O.G., for Harley Owners Group.

Harley-Davidson attempted to trademark "hog," but in 1999 ultimately lost the case, with the appellate panel ruling that "hog" had become a generic term for large motorcycles, and is therefore unprotectable as a trademark.

On August 15th 2006 Harley Davidson Inc. had its NYSE ticker changed from HDI to HOG.


In 2003, Harley-Davidson Company celebrated its 100th birthday. On Labor Day weekend the city of Milwaukee hosted the largest Harley-Davidson event, and possibly the largest motorcycle event, in history.

Other motorcycle events:

  • Sturgis Motorcycle Rally - held at the beginning of August each year in Sturgis, South Dakota, 514,951 attended in 2004.
  • Laconia Motorcycle Week - held since the first Loudon classic race started 1923. Located in Laconia, New Hampshire.
  • Daytona Beach Bike Week - held since 1937 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
  • Republic of Texas Biker Rally - a popular event in Austin, Texas held every June.
  • Myrtle Beach Bike Week - a Spring and Fall rally in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Click on link here.
  • Rolling Thunder - an annual rally in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness of veteran issues (specifically POW/MIA soldiers).
  • Bikes Blues and BBQ - held the last weekend of September each year in Fayetteville, Arkansas, an estimated 350,000 attended in 2006. Official Site.

The Harley-Davidson Riders Club of Gt Britain & H.O.G.

Harley-Davidson 2004 Heritage
Harley-Davidson 2004 Heritage

The Harley-Davidson Riders Club of Gt Britain www.harley-davidson-hangout.com (est 1949) was the first British riders club (as opposed to motorcycle club and organised national rallies and ride-outs from the outset. The 1982 rally began a popular run of events, probably due to the good fortune of having William G. Davidson attending his first rally outside the USA, in Great Britain. He is thought to have been more than curious to discover how the secret "Evolution Motor" had found its world exclusive on the cover of the spring edition of the HDRCGB magazine, the "Harleyquin", but having a forgiving nature, Willie G. returned in 1984, along with Vaughn Beals and Len Thomson to officially show off the Evolution engine by bringing a test ride fleet to the second Brighton Super Rally. The demonstration rides were the first at any European Rally, and it was following Willie G's visit to this event that HOG came into being in the USA, so perhaps a seed had been sown.

Harley-Davidson established the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) in 1983 in response to a growing desire by a new breed of Harley riders for an organized way to share their passion and show their pride. By 1985, 49 local chapters existed, with a membership of 60,000.

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

As the 90s continued, H.O.G. spread into Asia, including new chapters in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By 1999, worldwide membership had reached half a million, and the number of local chapters totaled 1,157. Today, more than one million members make H.O.G. the largest factory-sponsored motorcycle organization in the world.

H.O.G. benefits include organized group rides, exclusive products and product discounts, insurance premium discounts, and the Hog Tales newsletter.

Famous owners of Harley-Davidsons include singer Elvis Presley, comedian Jay Leno and professional wrestler The Undertaker Here is a link to other famous Harley Davidson riders - .

Harley Davidson in popular culture

TNT (band) has a song called Harley Davidson which is about the motorcycle. It actually inserts the distinctive sound of a Harley's motor. Their drummer, Diesel Dahl is a member of the Hell's Angels.

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