Facts About Harley Davidson Motorcycles

Written by phil whitmer
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Facts About Harley Davidson Motorcycles
Harley Davidson motorcycles were first built in 1903. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

The Harley-Davidson brand name is synonymous with American-made motorcycles. Since the Indian Motorcycle Company went out of business in 1954, Harley-Davidson has had no domestic competition. The refined styling engendered by the competition with Indian set the pattern for a classic look that is often imitated by foreign motorcycle manufacturers.

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Historical Facts

The Harley-Davidson Motor Company began in 1903 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Initially, the bikes were built in a 10-by-15 foot wooden shed. In 1904, the original Harley-Davidson dealership opened a showroom in Chicago, Illinois. A 1908 Harley motorcycle held the economy record by getting 188.234 miles per gallon. By 1910, Harley-Davidson bikes won seven racing, enduro and hill climb titles to give the machines competitive credentials. Harley-Davidson became the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer in 1920.

Firsts

Harley's first production motorcycle, built in 1903, was a racer. Powered by a single-cylinder engine, it had a 3.125-inch bore and a 3.5-inch stroke. In 1905, Harley-Davidson won its first race on a 15-mile course in Chicago. The well-known "Bar and Shield" emblem introduced in 1910 quickly became the symbol of Harley-Davidson. The first sidecars were offered on the 1914 models. In 1920, winners carrying pigs on their victory laps generated the nickname "hogs" still in use today.

V-Twin Engine

The first Harley-Davidson V-Twin engines introduced in 1909, two years after Indian began producing a similar engine. The first Harley V-Twin displaced 49.5 cubic inches, or 1,000 cubic centimetres and produced seven horsepower. The big V-Twin engine's 45-degree opposed cylinders gave it a distinctive look that became an iconic American symbol. The "F-Head" engine was introduced in 1911 and remained in production until it was replaced by the 45 cubic-inch "Flat-head" in 1929. The first 74-cubic inch V-Twin engine was built in 1922.

Service Bikes

The first Harley-Davidson police duty bike sold to the Detroit, Michigan Police Department in 1908. As of 2011, the Police, Fire and Rescue Division of Harley offers three different models to police and fire brigades. In 1917, about a third of all Harleys sold to the Armed Forces for military use. Starting in 1941, all civilian bike production ceased until November of 1945. By then, Harley-Davidson built almost 60,000 bikes for the Armed Forces.

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