There’s a very interesting and worthwhile bikers’ group called The Davidson Legacy who have bought and refurbished the tiny stone cottage on Brechin in Scotland and turned it into a memorial site, which all Harley riders will enjoy visiting. It was the original home of Arthur Davidson, the Scottish-American co-founder of Harley-Davidson.
Arthur was born in 1881 and sadly killed in a car crash in 1950. One of the famous stories about his raising of the stake to found the Harley-Davidson Company with his partner William S. Harley refers to Arthur’s “Honey Uncle” – a bee-keeper from Wisconsin – who helped the boys out by lending Arthur $500
“Take the Work out of Bicycling!”
As a young man in Wisconsin, Arthur was an enthusiastic fisherman, but he felt that the hard work of pedalling an ordinary cycle to reach the lakes and rivers took the pleasure out of angling. This is said to be what inspired him to get involved with designing and building a motorcycle with his friend and colleague Bill Harley. Their first prototype, however, wasn’t powerful enough to cope with the Wisconsin hills without a little human pedal-power to assist it! Nevertheless, “Take the work out of bicycling” became their earliest sales slogan.
When I bought my first Harley, an Electra Glide, the dealer said, “You’re not just buying a motorcycle, you’re buying a legend!” and, of course, he was absolutely right. It can be argued that there are two main parts to a Harley – the visible and the invisible. The visible elements consist of the superb aesthetics, the design features, the overall look of the bike, the engine, the transmission, the controls and the seating. The invisible elements are just what that knowledgeable dealer said: those are the legendary aspects of being a Harley rider, and a Harley owner. There’s a very real sense in which you go back to 1903 when Arthur and William were building their prototype to make fishing easier and more accessible.
I’ve been a biker for over sixty years, but who’s counting? It’s just as satisfying and exciting today as it was when I started as a teenager! But you certainly learn a lot of things over the years. One thing I’ve learnt is that size is vitally important: bike and rider have to fit each other. As a fifteen stone (95 kg) martial arts instructor and weightlifter, I like big bikes and I enjoy handling big bikes – but they’re not every rider’s cup of tea. What you need is a bike that suits you. Bikes are uniquely personal. Height is vitally important. The strongest muscle’s no use if you can’t get a foot down quickly, easily and firmly. Be sure that you and your bike are exactly the right height for each other.
A low-slung, sporty, racing appearance is all well and good – but on a long run, comfort has priority. An appearance doesn’t have any concern for your bones and muscles. A comfortable saddle does. Look for a well-positioned saddle. Wide enough? Too wide? How does it feel with your hands on the bars? Are you more-or-less upright? Slightly backwards? Slightly forwards? Give the bike a long enough test run to feel confident that you could take it from Cardiff to Norwich without needing an immediate sauna and massage when you get there!
Speed and Power
Experienced bikers know the connection between these two factors, but it’s a subtle one. There are bikes that can produce exhilarating top speeds but some of the pleasure is dissipated by the effort that you feel the bike is making to get you there. It’s like watching an Olympic event in which a competitor achieves a great result but collapses with exhaustion immediately afterwards. The best bikes, the truly great Harleys, have the power to reach the speed you want and to maintain it effortlessly. I always advise going for a big engine size, with plenty of power to spare.
Which one to Choose?
Go to a first-class dealer such as Webuyanybike, who have a deservedly high reputation and a very wide range of bikes on offer. Make sure you and the bike are right for each other. My personal preference is always for the Road King with its air-cooled ohv V-twin 1450 cc engine, 5-speed box and overall weight of 323 kg. It’s got a 64 inch wheelbase and a top speed of 110 mph. It really suits me and that’s what counts in the long run.