Harley-Davidson provided sidecar equipped motorcycles to the U.S. military during both world wars.
Harley-Davidson began offering sidecars in 1914. Through the years Harley-Davidson sold sidecars to the general public and a number of government agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service and military. Harley-Davidson introduced a trike, the Tri Glide, in 2009. With the introduction of the Tri Glide, Harley-Davidson sales of sidecars sharply declined. In 2010 the company announced that they would cease production of sidecars once they had completed outstanding orders for 2011 models.
Background Of The Sidecar
Before automobiles became readily available and affordable, motorcycles provided an affordable mode of transportation. The problem with motorcycles as a primary means of transportation was a bike’s limited ability to transport passengers and cargo. In the early 1900s, a number of solutions were attempted. These included a passenger trailer and a fore-car, which placed the passenger in front of the driver. Cartoonist George Moore published a cartoon depicting a wicker carriage attached to the side of a motorcycle in the January 1903 issue of “Motor Cycle” magazine. The idea caught on and soon dozens of companies were manufacturing sidecars. Their popularity waned with the advent of mass-produced, affordable automobiles like Ford’s Model T. This continued from the early 1930s through late 1960s, when they began to experience renewed interest.
Early Harley-Davidson Sidecars
Before Harley-Davidson began manufacturing their own sidecars in 1919, the Flxible (the company’s founder left out the first “e” so he could trademark the name) and Seaman companies made sidecars for Harleys. By 1919, Harley-Davidson was selling seven sidecars for every 10 motorcycles. A year later, Harley-Davidson sold over 16,000 sidecars. A reprint of a spare parts manual for Harley-Davidson motorcycles and sidecars from 1913 to 1921 lists eight different models of sidecars with names like Gondola, Friend, Meadow and Mimic.
Specialty Harley-Davidson Sidecars
Harley-Davidson sidecar-equipped motorcycles have been employed since the early 1900s by police, fire and rescue departments, the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. military. Many of the sidecars used by the military in both world wars were equipped with machine gun mounts. In 1916, U.S. General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing rode a Harley-Davidson sidecar into Mexico in pursuit of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. That machine has been restored and is on display at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, New Mexico.
Late Model Harley-Davidson Sidecars
As part of Harley-Davidson’s 75th anniversary celebration in 1978, the company introduced the FLH Classic Sidecar. Harley-Davidson made only 200 of this limited-edition sidecar. Harley-Davidson officially only recommends sidecars for its Road King and Electra Glide motorcycles, both members of the Harley Touring family. As late as 2004, it was estimated that Harley-Davidson had between 20 and 25 percent of North American sidecar sales. The final four models of sidecars offered by Harley-Davidson were the CLE, RLE, TLE and TLE Ultra.