In 2018, Harley Davidson sold over 228,000 motorcycles. Over half were sold in the United States alone.
Today, their motorcycles are still considered some of the best on the market.
Why Harley Davidson? Because they’re more than just motorcycle manufacturers. Harley Davidson represents a culture, a community, and a way of life.
Read on to learn about the history, culture, and desirability of Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Who Is Harley Davidson? A Brief History
To clarify, Harley Davidson was not one man with a cool name.
Walter and Arthur Davidson joined ranks with William Harley in 1903. What began as a single-cylinder motor attached to a sturdy frame became 50 and then 150 motorized cycles.
Motorcycles were a symbol of leisure until Walter began competing in races. After winning a 175-mile race, Walter transformed motorcycles, specifically Harley Davidsons, into a symbol of freedom and speed.
The Harley Davidson brand saw many improvements in manufacturing throughout the years. It survived the Great Depression only to become a huge asset during WWII. A change in ownership and practice led to massive strikes in the 1980s, and still, Harley-Davidson persevered.
Their rich history shows Harley Davidson to be not only a symbol of freedom but of resilience and loyalty. These associations are apparent in the popular culture surrounding Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Harley Davidson in Popular Culture
Over the past century, Harley Davidson motorcycles have been associated with lawful justice and rebellion. This in part accounts for the widespread love of the Harley Davidson brand in American culture.
By 1908, police forces began buying and using Harleys due to their high quality and respectability. To this day, police officers in America use primarily Harley-made motorcycles.
In fact, the look of Harley Davidson law enforcement motorcycles has become iconic. Tons of Harley fanatics go searching for vintage models to add to their private collections.
Of course, that’s not the only association people have with Harley Davidson bikes.
In 1969, the film Easy Rider brought Harleys to the big screen, showcasing one of the most iconic Harley Davidson’s in the popular imagination. With this film came the tie between Harley hogs and the rebellious nature of searching for oneself outside of the “norm.”
Harley Davidson motorcycles continued to pop up in film and television. Motorcycles have long been featured on the big screen, and Harleys, in particular, became a mainstay in American cinema.
Films like In the Line of Fire, 1993, and Robocop 2, 1990, depict Harleys as the rightful companions of the law. Films like Rocky III, 1982, Ghost Rider, 2007, and Machete, 2010, depict Harleys as the ride of choice of cool outcasts and justified rebels.
Whether a film or TV character was on the side of the law or working outside of it, Harley was there. Answering the question, “Why Harley Davidson?” from a cultural perspective is easy: because Harleys are cool.
However, Harleys aren’t just for cops and rebels.
Harley Davidson and American Veterans
Harley Davidson motorcycles were often used by American troops in combat in the 20th century. This bound their history with much of American military history. There is also a distinct relationship between Harley Davidson motorcycles and the veterans who have returned home after serving their country overseas.
Harley Davidson offers discounts on motorcycles and gear to veterans all over the country. They’ve also recently partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project. (The Wounded Warrior Project is a charity geared towards helping veterans readjust to their life back in the States.)
Many veterans struggling with PTSD have built communities with other Harley riders around the country. Many veterans have reported that getting out on the open road has helped ease some of the symptoms of PTSD.
From veterans to police officers to all-around motorcycle enthusiasts, community-building is important and has been a huge part of the resilient Harley Davidson popularity.
The Harley Davidson Community
What’s more American than the sprawling picnic tables, sound stages, and the shining, parked motorcycles that mark Harley Davidson community events?
There’s more to the Harley Davidson community than supposed outlaw groups like Hell’s Angels, founded in California in 1948. Hell’s Angels sometimes hung around with celebrities like Hunter S. Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, and even rock legends like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. It’s easy to understand why these groups come to mind.
More often than not, however, Harley-based community groups aren’t outlaws. They’re more committed to their brand, their bike, rallies, and rides than to building a reputation of mystery and danger. What every Harley rider knows is that Harley Davidson is a way of life, and it’s one worth sharing with like-minded people.
Whether you’re new to the world of motorcycles or a seasoned rider, there are always events and rallies to attend. No matter where you live, you’re bound to find something nearby. And if not, the open road calls!
It’s not hard to stumble across a Harley Davidson event even if you didn’t know it was scheduled. Why? Because they have an easily recognizable logo that many Americans could spot from a mile away.
The Harley Davidson Brand
One thing business experts can agree on is that Harley Davidson did a great job of branding their company.
As far as Harley Davidson in the cultural imagination, that may have been a lucky coincidence. The company founders didn’t necessarily expect that an association between a motorcycle and freedom would turn into an association with respectability, strength, and all-around coolness.
What the company has done is take the Harley Davidson logo and put it on other products besides bikes. You can find the Harley Davidson logo on motorcycle gear, of course, but also on blankets, teddy bears, t-shirts, and more.
There’s also the distinct look many riders, and their regional Harley chapters, have developed. It allows the public to immediately identify them as bonafide Harley riders. The look is actually an adaptation of the so-called “one-percenters” like Hell’s Angels.
The look consists of leather vests and jackets with huge patches identifying their community stitched on the back, and of course, Harley logos.
Why does this branding contribute to their popularity? Printing that logo on all sorts of merchandise brings more than just seasoned riders into the community. It gives friends, family members, enthusiasts, and even children the opportunity to feel some kind of personal connection to the brand.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that all these Harley-branded products contribute to the business’s financial success. Plus, it generates walking and talking advertisements for the company. It would be difficult to find a single American who couldn’t identify that logo! After all, it belongs to one of the most successful motorcycle manufacturers in the world.
Reasons to Buy a Harley Davidson
Harleys didn’t become a huge part of popular culture just because they look cool. (Although, that probably helped.)
Harley Davidson motorcycles are also built well. They’re built to last, and when a part or two needs replacement, they’re built to be worked on.
They’ve also gained an honest reputation as cross-country travelers. Harleys are heavyweight bikes and have greater rake angles and longer wheelbases. What that means is that Harleys have great stability, and while they may not be as agile as some other makes and models, they’re more reliable on long rides down the highway.
Harley Davidsons are also highly customizable. This, in part, goes back to how easy they are to work on.
Wondering where the name “Chopper” came from? This is it. For decades, motorcycle enthusiasts have loved how easy it is to strip a Harley down, chop it up, and put it back together as a whole new bike.
For anyone who loves a good DIY fixer-upper or customization job, Harleys are a great option. It’s easy to track down the parts necessary to do the job, whether they’re to be found in the closest Harley shop (and it’s probably not far) or from a third-party or independent dealer.
Harleys also keep their value, so there’s no need to worry about money down the drain. Between their longevity and the lengths to which some collectors will go to track down unique or well-preserved Harleys, Harley Davidsons can be considered a valuable investment.
Harley Davidson: Not Just a Motorcycle Manufacturer
Harley Davidson is much more than just a motorcycle manufacturing company. It’s more than a company that’s worth a ton of money.
Harley Davidson changed the face of American history and culture. It created a new kind of “cool,” and put motorcycles at the center of that coolness.
What started as a motorized bicycle became the colorful, shining motorcycles of the 1960s and then the darker, tougher bikes of the 1980s. It’s easy to appreciate the nostalgia for those older models while looking forward to what the future holds for Harley motorcycles.
To stay updated on the future of Harley Davidson, keep an eye out for news and information on new model releases right here on Biker.Report.