Everyone has heard of Harley-Davidson. They have done an incredible job of becoming an iconic American motorcycle manufacturer. So where did they come from and what are they all about?
Harley-Davidson was founded out of a shed in 1903. By William S Harley and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson, in Wisconsin. Harley and the Davidson’s produced and sold their first bike in 1903. The fourth member William Davidson then joined in 1907. They began hiring employees by the end of the decade. Started making their signature 45-degree air cooled V Twin. The stock was split four ways between the founders. The staff and factory size doubled from the year before.
Over the next decade, Harley-Davidson continued to expand in size. With help from the American military. Buying Harley’s during the First World War, over 20,000 were used. The numbers only grew in World War II when 60,000 Harley’s were contracted.
Harley went through a change in ownership in the 60’s. Going public in 1965. Then merging with American Machine and Foundry in 1969.
In the 1980’s Harley faced a threat. There were motorcycle buyers and dealers springing up from everywhere. Honda was growing massively, they became the new market leader in this time. Honda and Harley were covering slightly different markets though. As Honda was producing light bikes compared to Harley’s heavy machines. In a quality inspection, 5% of Honda bikes failed. However, Harley had a bigger problem as over 50% of their bikes not pass. Due to a production failure and unskilled employees. They had to think fast and make some serious changes.
In 1981 the company was sold to 13 investors. Led by Vaughn Beals and Willie Davidson for $80 million. Inventory was controlled by using the Just In Time method of manufacturing. This was aimed at reducing flow times within production. Improving response time with customers. By producing in smaller quantities. They were able to ensure quality. This also meant if there was a production flaw it didn’t affect many parts. Harley cut down the costs and motorcycle production, focusing on surviving in the market. The company wanted to follow the Japanese production management process. Following inventory practice, employee improvement and Statistical Operator Control (SOC).
Between 1985 and 1987 Harley-Davidson:
- Increased productivity by 50%
- Reduced inventory by 75%
- Scrap and rework went down by 68%
The 80’s and 90’s saw the introduction of legendary model families. Such as the Softail, FLT and Road King. Following Harley’s rebirth, it became extremely successful. On its 100th anniversary in 2003 the revenue had increased at an annual rate of 17%. Profits climbed at an amazing annual rate of 36%.
Harley has managed to keep its iconic American imagine through the years. The company has been able to adapt and keep up with the current market. For example, Harley created the V-Rod to offer more performance-oriented models. This was also the first liquid-cooled Harley. The company then looked at the demographics of its audience. Realised it needed to crack into the younger ages by making edgier makeovers of the classics. Like Cross Bones and Dark Custom line such as Iron 883.
Harley has been working in one of the most competitive markets in the world for over 100 years now. People are still in love with the brand.
As one of the CEO’s of Harley-Davidson said:
“There are very few products that are so exciting that people will tattoo your logo on their body” Richard Teerlink
So how has Harley managed to last this long? They have been able to attract to new audiences. While maintaining loyalty from their existing fans, which is something a lot of companies could not accomplish. It’s not just because Harley is a good motorcycle manufacturer. Harley’s mission statement isn’t to sell you a motorcycle. It’s to the sell you the ‘purest from of freedom.’
Harley has captured the spirit of bikers, which has now created a counterculture status.
UK Harley-Davidson Clubs
The UK has a lot of Harley-Davidson clubs, who hold bike nights, events and ride outs:
Founded in 2006, the club ride Harley’s come rain or shine, and now has around 170 members. Most of them are based around Hampshire, West Sussex, Dorset and the surrounding areas.
They often hold Charity events and has risen well over £15,000 in the last few years. If you want to go and join in on the fun, the group meet every second Wednesday of the month. From 7.00pm at The Good Companion Pub, Portsmouth PO3 6ES.
This is an independent Harley-Davidson riding club founded in October 1991. Most of its members are throughout South East of England. However, they do have some based around Europe.
They are always looking for new members to join in on their ride outs and events… If you’re in the area, get in touch!
Red Rose is located in Lancashire, it is a HOG chapter 7772. To date, they have over 130 members. They have scheduled ride outs and events through the years. They’re ‘committed to riding safe and having fun’. They welcome new members. But you do have to be a current member of HOG to apply.
This is a really friendly Harley Club. They hold events and rallies all over the UK and also Europe. The group so formed in 1998 and has a membership of around 250 people. They see the bikes as a way to make new friendships and mostly just have fun!
The Invicta Chapter is sponsored by Kent’s official Maidstone Harley-Davidson Dealership. All of the clubs committee, organisers and road Captains are actively planning events and ride outs.
This is the Harley club of Somerset which was founded in April 1999. In 2003 they actually joined the Federation of Harley-Davidson Clubs. They now attend all of the Super Rallies and Presidents Meetings.
The club has many ride outs, produces a monthly News Letter. Meeting at The Maypole, Thurloxton the 2nd Monday of the month.
✤ Ace Cafe
Ace Cafe is a well known biker hang out in London. A lot of clubs head here on ride outs, it was a venue built for petrol heads. They often have live music playing here. On the last Thursday of every month, they hold an event night purely for Harley lovers.
Harley have kept their classic look of leather and chrome while updating their hidden technologically. The modern Harley’s have:
✓ Heated seats and grips
✓ Touch-screen navigation
✓ LED headlights
✓ Adjustable suspensions
Harley-Davidson motorcycle lines can be split up as below, with example bikes:
► Sportsters – XR1200X
► Dynas – FXDC Dyna Super Glide Custom
► Softails – FLSTF Fat Boy
► Touring – FLTRU Road Glide Ultra
► V-Rods – VRSCDX Night Rod Special
► Trikes – FLHTCUTG Tri Glide Ultra Classic
► Custom Vehicle Operations – FLHTCUSE6 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide
Harley-Davidson is a brand to be respected
Whether you like the bikes or not. It can’t be argued that they have withstood the test of time. In the early days, they managed to survive strong competitors. Change of ownership and a bad management processes.
They went onto streamline how the company was run. Marketed to both the new and old demographics. Produced classic looking bikes with some modern twists. All of this has created one of the largest followings the world has ever seen. Harley fans seem to be everlasting and fiercely loyal.
Harley-Davidson is not just a bike, but a lifestyle
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