Harley-Davidson® is probably the most revered brand of motorcycle in the world. It towers above all as a way of life more than anything else. The famous, or sometimes equally infamous 'potato, potato' throb that pours from the fat, chrome-plated exhaust pipes is enough to command a respected audience from even the most disinterested bystander.
If you have ever put your butt in the low slung saddle of a Harley motorcycle, choked the throttle and felt the unbridled thunder of its large-volume twin cylinders between your thighs for the first time, you never quite recover from the experience. You become a part of a global fraternity of riders who live with an unspoken sense of freedom. It instills in you a particular energy, a hard to define enthusiasm and a sense of rebellion.
I've had three Harley's in my life so far - 'Big Red', 'Black Betty' and 'Beetlejuice'.
An owner's relationship with his / her Harley is difficult to explain. It is a trusted friend, your animated alter ego, an excuse to escape, an addicted rush . . . You almost always find yourself staring at it lovingly long after the day's ride. Cooling down, it clicks and snaps with a pleasant reassurance, punctuating that deep sense of fulfillment that fuels the desire for another open road.
The worldwide legend known as Harley-Davidson® began quite inconspicuously. It was born out of a friendship between two young men growing up in the same neighborhood. William S. Harley the son of an English immigrant was at an early age already a skilled handyman interested in all things technical. He had a particular talent for drawing and a great love of nature, and above all, riding his bicycle. William's interests were shared in equal measure by his best friend Arthur Davidson, the son of a Scottish carpenter. Both grew up in Milwaukee, today still the home of Harley-Davidson.
Bill and Arthur displayed great interest in the growing technology of motorcycles, in particular the possibilities of the then revolutionary De Dion-Boutoun engines. During 1901 the inspired ideas and notions gradually settled until the great goal was defined – the manufacture of a reliable and sturdy motorcycle of world-class quality, of which as much as possible should be built. After countless prototypes and as many failures, the young entrepreneurs finally had success in 1903. In their workshop a new, improved engine saw the light of day. Mounted on a sturdier, specially designed frame, it delivered about 3 hp. It was this embryonic design which displayed many of the characteristics of the modern motorcycle. This first Harley-Davidson motorcycle clocked up an amazing 100,000 miles without any serious breakdown. A legend was born. Ever since then the roads have played host to the likes of 'Knuckleheads', 'Flathead Forty-Fives',' 125 Hummers', ' Panheads', 'Hydra Glides', ' Fat Boys' , 'Heritage Softails' and the 'V-Rods'.
Due in large measure to Hollywood, Harley-Davidson® has also earned icon status around the world. The list of stage, film and television stars who have owned Harleys is virtually endless. Roy Rogers, the 1950's country singer; Clark Gable; James Dean; Elvis Presley; Peter Fonda, who became famous on his motorcycle "Captain America" in the 1969 cult classic "Easy Rider"; Jack Nicholson; Women riders like Brigitte Bardot, Barbara Streisand and Ann-Margret; Johnny Depp; Mickey Rourke in the movie "Harley-Davidson & the Marlboro Man"; The Tonight Show's Jay Leno; George Clooney and his mate Brad Pitt and of course the famous trio of Schwartzenegger, Stalone & Willis.
Today the Harley Owners Group, or HOG's as we are affectionately known, is spread around the world. Bound by a single philosophy, it is that enigmatic bond that makes equals out of surgeons, mechanics and freewheeling nomads who still travel the wide open spaces of untamed landscapes. The simultaneous firing up of a pre-dawn breakfast run that fills the air with a thunderous symphony of anticipation is probably the most awe inspiring expression of this brotherhood. This 'clique' soon becomes a second family and develops its own special ethos. That has always been the way.
The powerful heartbeat of my Harley is the ultimate stress-buster. That indescribable feeling, which fills me with strength and satisfaction, is simply not discussed, it just is. Either you get it or you don't, but ol' man Harley is still writing its own history as the brand that was, is and will always be nothing less than a true original.
Harley-Davidson®, we salute 110 years of freedom.
Homepage Photo: Theo Crous & Mike Header Photo: Desmond Louw