For more than a century, the pulse-pounding throb of Harley-Davidson’s signature 45-degree V-twin motor has been the anthem of the open road. America’s two-wheeled crown jewel, the Harley-Davidson Motor Co., has influenced generations of riders with a long line of motorcycles. Today, each of the motorcycles embodies its heritage while offering a distinct personality.
The Harley-Davidson Motor Co. was founded in 1903 by William Harley and Arthur Davidson. Arthur’s brothers, Walter and William, would later join the company. The company first produced small displacement single-cylinder motorcycles. The first glimpse of what would become Harley-Davidson’s signature motor was shown at the 1907 Chicago Automobile Show. Displacing a total of 879.7cc (53.68 cubic inches), the v-twin produced about 7 horsepower, almost twice as much power as the previous motor. Since then, the revised versions of this v-twin motor have been used by almost every motorcycle Harley-Davidson has produced.
In the early days, a prospective customer’s attention was drawn to a race-winning motorcycle, making competitive racing important to the success of a fledgling motorcycle manufacturer. Many of Harley-Davidson’s models, such as the Sportster, were designed with this intent in mind. Racing, however, was only one venue for which Harley-Davidson built motorcycles. By the 1940s, cross-country touring by motorcycle was growing in popularity and Harley-Davidson had motorcycles to fit the bill. These early touring bikes were powered by large displacement motors and featured amenities such as saddlebags and windshields.
Modern Harley-Davidson motorcycles fall into five categories: Sportster, Dyna, Softail, Touring and Revolution. The smaller Sportster was introduced in 1957 as a competitive race bike and became highly successful in flat-track racing. Touring bikes are designed for long-distance riding and are available in two basic designs: the Road King and the Glide series. The Road King pays homage to the 1940s’ touring bikes, featuring a large headlight with a windscreen and saddlebags. Glides are distinguished by their batwing fairing, hard saddlebags and other amenities such as CD players and CB radios. Softail models mimic the appearance of early rigid tail motorcycles, offering comfort and performance through the use of a concealed rear suspension system. The Dyna series, introduced in 1971, melds a smaller, more agile frame with the power of a big v-twin. The Revolution series stands apart from the rest of the lineup, using a drastically redesigned liquid-cooled motor.
Harley-Davidson, in a joint venture with Porsche, worked to develop a ground-breaking motor. The result was a 1,250cc motor that broke away from the traditional v-twin setup used since 1907. Featuring a 60-degree cylinder angle and liquid-cooling, the Revolution motor was introduced in 2001 with the VRSCA V-Rod. Competing against the rise of muscle bikes from other manufacturers, the V-Rod was the first of the Revolution models and was intended to expand the Harley-Davidson appeal to different markets.
Buell Motorcycle Co.
A division of the Harley-Davidson Motor Co., the Buell Motorcycle Co. was originally created by Erik Buell, a former Harley engineer. As opposed to the classic cruiser-style motorcycles produced by its parent company, Buell focuses on developing hard-edged sport motorcycles. Buell has proved itself a serious contender in the marketplace with innovations such as using the frame as a fuel tank and mounting the exhaust system under the motor to lower the center of gravity.