Harley-Davidson motorbike history

Harley-Davidson is an American motorcycle manufacturer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is an old company, founded in 1903 by William Harley and Arthur Davidson. It survived both the Great Depression and the Japanese imports that began in the 1960’s, and currently employs some 9700 people as of 2006.

Harley-Davidson products, commonly known as simply as Harleys, are primarily large (750 cc +) bikes designed for highway cruising. A brief foray into smaller-engine products by acquiring Italian manufacturer Aermacchi was abandoned in 1978. The bikes today are usually easily recognizable, even to non-Harley aficionados, by their sonorous, growling exhaust note and passionate customization by owners. The company has a cult-like following that keeps active through several Harley-Davidson owners’ clubs, events, and even a museum. The marketing department is kept busy licensing the famous Harley-Davidson logo, which accounts for as much as 5% of revenue.

Harley-Davidson’s reputation is somewhat tarnished by association with biker gangs, of which the Hells Angels are the best example. These are large marauding groups of bikers, and they are known for harassing other road-users, general unpleasantness and lack of hygiene, and on occasion some serious crimes.

Harley-Davidson has undergone some internal turmoil, first from the 2005 charges of stock-price manipulation by inflating sales figures. The company was also hit hard by the 2009 economic crisis, which caused a precipitous 66% drop in profits over 2 quarters. The company has been forced to close a few manufacturing facilities, retrench 25% of its workforce, and explore new markets like India.

Harley-Davidson bike range

Harley-Davidson products reflect their American Midwest origins, with names that may seem a tad strange to other cultures. Examples are the Screamin’ Eagle, Fat Boy, Cross bones and Night Rod. Other models are the Softail, Sportster, V-Rod, Road King and the massive Electra Glide. These are all big, heavy cruisers with common engine displacements of 1200, 1400 and even 1800 cc.

Looking at buying a Harley-Davidson? Check the vehicle history of any Harley-Davidson by entering its number plate in the field above.