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Harley Davidson

It has been always a bit more expensive to have a particular taste. Therefore should you thinking of buying a Harley, keep in mind that then you are not only simply motorcycle owner but rather a member of a sect, either slightly treated with hostility or well received. Though, the company's founders, had to deal with problems entirely different kind ...

The company is founded, in principle, in 1903 in Milwaukee. There are four company founders who teach themselves the essential principles necessary for commercial life. Only one of them studies mechanical engineering during the early stage. Those are completely wrong who believe that the company only produces motorcycles with two-cylinder V engine at right angle to driving direction, mostly high cubic capacity and for a motorcycle of low nominal speed.

In the beginning there are, e.g., single cylinder engines which are started at approx. 10 km/h by tightening the belt drive to the rear axle thus initiating self propulsion. The speed of 10 km/h is reached by a usual bicycle drive. Later there will also be kick-starters and even more later of course electric drive. It is difficult at the beginning to adjust engine RPM but it works much better with the ignition than with the self-developed carburettor.

Rather soon and for long years to come they install Schebler carburettors which not only work better but are also cheaper. For ignition by the way they use the Bosch magneto ignition. Since there is no generator in the beginning, range is limited by battery capacity. In spite of all adversities the first Harleys are obviously rather durable. Different owners of the first model mentioned mileages of approx. 100,000 miles (approx. 160,000 km) which is a substantial performance even in view of small changes to certain parts.

Grey is the mostly used and probably only available colour by which the motorcycles make known as “grey, silent fellows“. At successive models it is possible to open the exaust canal for a bit more performance, however by the producers this is meant only for trips in the wide country side. Generally american roads are in poor condition even after 1920 and so the low performance - as it seems from today`s point of view – is sufficient.

The famous two-cylinder comes only years later and and adapts by its only slight broadening ideal the framework with a somewhat larger wheelbase. Already before this one can buy the motorcycle with sidecar, much later even a tricycle called service car. There is a photo of a family with six children in such a carriage. Fine that in view of this the achieved speed remains rather low!

The low fuel consumption of the first Harleys is legendary in spite of low compression and and to all eternity used cylinder heads with upright valves. Nevertheless, the motorcycles achieve quite spectacular racing results rather early, sometimes also by private drivers without any support from the company. Several records are won as well, though by company drivers using cycles with well-shaped linings.

Casting technology is mastered well right from the beginning and so cylinder and cylinder head are made as one piece. This prevents sealing problems. The only problems occur with the valves which have to be inserted (in the beginning from below) afterwards through large openings. The intake valve is operated only by negative pressure also in the time of the Twin but that reduces its performance so that its acceptance by the public suffers, and must be corrected.

Quite early Bill Harley thinks about springs suitable for the bad roads. Nevertheless, he keeps the rear wheel fixed to the frame (such as BMW also) for a long time and instead concentrates on a well sprung saddle. The unique feeling becomes legendary when driver and maybe passenger move downwards while starting off.

The Harley motorcycles should meet only the requirements of their users. New technology is invented only if really necessary. Repairs must also be practicable on the way and from technically gifted amateurs. They say that the companie`s racing successes are not primarily based on advanced technology but on incredibly precise preparation.

There is no help for it, during it`s more than 100 years of existance the company runs into serious problems several times due to hard competition. Of the countless motorcycle companies in the early days Indian is left as most important competitor but is also given up in 1953. Three economical crises in 1920 and 1929 and the end of the motorcycle boom after the Second World War cause problems for the producers. Occasionally Henry Ford asks almost motorcycle prices for his car.

As a family-run business with obviously high commitment not only by the four founders, Harley Davidson overcomes the problems, even though sale numbers had occasionally fallen to one quarter. The second generation of managers is not that successful. First the British with their duty-concessioned vehicles put them under pressure and later the end is near caused by Japanese motorcycle invasion.

HD slips under the roof of an investor and combination with the Italian Aermacchi company follows. It is the time when even smallest motorcycles carry the company logo. Not quite unsuccessful, particularly as a lot is going on in this technology, also in the racing sector. Nobody dare to say there had never been HD two-strokes!

Talking about this: boxer engines have been installed by HD as well, in this case lenghtwise of course. The latter are BMW replicas enforced by the military. HD also experimented successfully with DKW two-strokes. Simple thing to do since the USA (like all victorious powers) didn`t have to pay license fees for war booty.

After the Second World War the motorcycle becomes an important connection between the gangs frightening honest citizens. What might have ended in disaster becomes a lucky strike for the company later. After all, the main part in the movie “Easy Rider“ is played by a Harley made up as a chopper. The motorcycle as a means of transportation becomes idolization for many motorcycle groups which faithfully stand behind the company for all future.

Anyone who rides a Harley demonstrates a certain status. Which motorcycle fan does not dream, at least once in life to ride the Route 66 - it is not quite complete - on a Harley, even if it is not the own. "Get your kicks on Route 66" is still valid, attracting legions of bikers. There are probably around no other bike like the Harley Davidson so many groups, concerts, festivals. Whether it is old or new (and very modern) technique, used maintained or twinkling chromed machines, a certain attraction is safe to them.

This is absolutely necessary since quality standards started dropping in the meantime. Under jurisdiction of the American Machine and Foundry Company - since 1969 - things get even more worse. In the end the HD managers agree upon a risky action: they buy the company using their own money and raise expensive loans from the one and only bank that is ready to provide the money. From now on they work to meet the high interest rate.

The rescue of America's last motorcycle factory succeeds and finally turns it into a joint-stock company which changes completely. The same happens with the technique of the products, some even with the help of renowned companies such as Porsche. In the meantime Harleys don`t differ a lot, e.g. by the number of the camshafts/valves from fast Japanese motorcycles of the higher weight category. It is a game of skill, like a puzzle, to create new models with little expenditure. At the utmost the prices ... 07/11

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