Serial Number One
Serial Number One dates to the 1903-04 era. Company founders built at least one prototype before it and, of course, production machines after it that differed both in the power of the engine and in general configuration. Meticulous research by Archives staff and external experts proved that Serial Number One was built without fenders and used in competition, probably to illustrate the power and reliability of the motor. After all, as the company name implied, Harley-Davidson Motor Company sold motors as well as motorcycles.
While it is clearly identified on many of its components as Serial Number One, it is definitely not the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle. That distinction would go to one of the prototypes. Instead, it is the developmental platform from which the first true Harley-Davidson street motorcycles sprang. It is the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle to be considered ready for production and, except for refinements that civilized it as a street machine, is essentially the same as those models that followed it.
Serial Number One, then, is not the very first Harley-Davidson but it is the first true Harley-Davidson motorcycle as they were later developed. And, beyond any doubt, it is the oldest Harley-Davidson motorcycle in existence today.
The Package Truck
In 1914, Harley-Davidson was only 11 years old as a Company, but had already proven the value of the motorcycle as a tool for working people. By this time, the United States Postal Service was utilizing over 4,800 Harley-Davidson motorcycles for rural delivery routes, making it one of nine departments of the Federal Government using Milwaukee iron.
But it was in 1915 that Harley-Davidson sold its first Package Trucks, or the first "delivery motorcycle." The first Harley-Davidson product designed specifically for utility use, the Package Truck started one of two platforms. The first was a sidecar chassis outfitted with a wooden trunk with a hinged top or vertical back door. This was the most common platform. The other style, which was less common and shorter-lived, was a "trike" format called the Forecar, which had two wheels in the front of the vehicle holding the cargo container and the rear half of the vehicle being a conventional motorcycle. Typically, a Package Truck's motorcycle component had a low-compression engine and a transmission designed for sidecar use to account for the extra weight.
Package Trucks were often highly customized by the businesses using them. Among other unusual variations was a container shaped like a milk bottle for a Dayton, Ohio, dairy and the well-known open rack often associated with Coca-Cola delivery vehicles. Harley-Davidson built Package Trucks until the 1957 model year. It is unknown exactly how many were built. However, production of Harley-Davidson commercial and utility motorcycles would continue through 1973 with the Servicar.
The Sport Model
One of the most unusual motorcycles ever produced by Harley-Davidson was the W, or Sport model. Produced between 1919 and 1923, the Sport model is still the object of motorcycle historians' fascination and coveted by collectors.
The most notable aspect of the Sport model was the powertrain. The intake and the exhaust shared the same manifold for the purpose of heating the fuel mixture more efficiently than past methods. It had two cylinders like most Harley-Davidson motorcycles of the era, but the Sport model used an opposed inline twin. As one might expect, this resulted in an engine that was in virtually perfect balance when running. As a matter of fact, the old legend has been proven true that when the Sport model was placed in its center stand with its engine running, a nickel could be balanced on its edge on the gas tank and not fall over! The 600cc engine turned a flywheel that was outside of the crankcase, allowing for a larger diameter, and thus smoother drive. The final drive was a chain that was completely enclosed in an oil bath. The Sport model could also claim to be the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle with an automatic oiling system, a unique front suspension and the first gas tank graphic emblem other than the previous utilitarian "HARLEY-DAVIDSON."
The Sport model was also different in many other regards as well. It was the only Harley-Davidson motorcycle to use its unique gas tank and front fork and the only model to have squared-off, dropside fenders. It was also the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle to utilize a keystone frame, meaning the engine was a structural part of the entire motorcycle.
The early Sport models were available for $335, and the price actually dropped to $275 in the final year of production. It had always enjoyed greater popularity among European riders. The lack of popularity in the United States was due partly to the relatively low power of the bike. At the same time of the Sport model, Indian unveiled the Sport Scout at a similar price, with considerably more power. However, the Harley-Davidson Sport motorcycle enjoyed a good run in its era. When the line was closed out in 1923, almost 10,000 Sport motorcycles had been built. It had been the first motorcycle to top Pikes Peak in Colorado, and set the "Three-Flag Record" from Canada to Mexico - a trip that was more than 1,700 miles - in under 65 hours in 1919. The Sport model was a styling triumph and gave the Harley-Davidson engineers some new directions to take future products.
El "Knucklehead" Bike
To understand how and why Harley-Davidson and the rest of the motorcycle industry got to where it is today, it is important to first understand the 1936 model EL. The motorcycle is most noted for its 61-cubic inch powerplant: The famed "Knucklehead" engine. The first overhead valve V-Twin engine Harley-Davidson made for public purchase, the Knucklehead gave Harley-Davidson customers unprecedented power. Also, the very look of the engine that resembled a clenched fist to the eyes of many showed that H-D believed in the styling importance of a motorcycle's engine. Over time, Harley-Davidson's overhead valve V-Twin engines would be what separated Harley-Davidson from its competition.
The styling of the motorcycle itself can be properly credited as the inspiration for all modern cruisers. The teardrop gas tank shape, horseshoe oil tank, teardrop dashboard, 4-speed transmission, circulating oil system, the lines and angles of the frame and the art deco gas tank logo were all radical departures from previously conservative motorcycle styling. They would become among the most copied features of any Harley-Davidson model and proved to the motorcycle buyers of the day that they could travel in style.
To get some sense of the impact the motorcycle had, remember that all Harley-Davidson V-Twin engines to date have been based on the Knucklehead. Also remember that ever since 1936, a motorcycle's styling often means as much to a customer as does its performance. Don't forget that features such as the "springer" front fork assembly and horseshoe oil tank have found great popularity in the modern era, including non-Harley-Davidson motorcycles and aftermarket manufacturers. This is without even listing all of the EL features that never disappeared from motorcycle styling after 1936.
With the all-new model EL in 1936, Harley-Davidson took a big gamble, and an even bigger one by producing 1,526 units in the first year of production. But, as history judged, it was a gamble worthy of the ages.
Rare XS Model
Recently, the Archives had the fortunate opportunity to purchase an all-original and extremely rare XS model with sidecar. There are two primary characteristics that make the XS model so rare, the first is the vehicle's engineering. The motorcycle component is a model XA, which was the government-contracted, opposed, transverse twin cylinder engine motorcycle with a shaft drive. It was very similar to the BMW motorcycles of the era.
The U.S. government had requested the XA from Harley-Davidson because of the combat conditions of north Africa. The XA was meant to cool more efficiently in the desert heat and be more resistant to the unforgiving debris and sand that would have quickly fouled the final drive of a chain-driven motorcycle. A more notable feature of the XS model is the wheel of its sidecar, which was driven by an axle connected to the motorcycle's rear wheel. This feature has never been attempted on any other Harley-Davidson model.
Of the original XA platform, only 1,011 were built. They were shipped to the military for training purposes, but never saw combat. The government placed a follow-up order of 15,000 XA models, but by then the war had moved out of north Africa into southern Europe, so the order was cancelled.
While several XA models were built, what makes the XS model even more rare is the fact that there were only three built. The vehicle obviously never evolved past the experimental stage. The specimen acquired by the Archives is entirely unaltered and even came with appropriate military gear (tool kit, radio, spare wheel, first aid kit, etc.). It is not even known if the other two XS prototypes still exist.
In the years following World War II, Harley-Davidson recognized the demand that lay ahead for economical and efficient motorcycles. In late 1947, production of civilian Big Twins had already swung back into gear, but most surprising for the 1948 model year was the new model S motorcycle. The 125 model S motorcycle arrived at dealerships with an MSRP of $325, and if the customer could swing the extra $7.50, their new ride came with chrome rims. The single cylinder engine produced about three brake horsepower (bhp), which got the 200 lb. motorcycle up to about 55 mph.
The lightweights that followed over the coming years were important for another reason: They were a response to competitors, mainly European, that were taking advantage of the demand. In 1954, the 125 model S motorcycle was dubbed the Hummer. Following the development of the Hydra Glide front fork in 1949, the 125 model received telescopic front forks and was renamed the Tele Glide. Later incarnations in the 1950s saw an increase to 165 ccs, and sales were excellent.
The name of the Harley-Davidson lightweight was changed in 1960 to the model BT, or Super 10 motorcycle. With the displacement remaining at 165 ccs, the power was increased to nine bhp, but a five bhp version was offered in the U.S., where there were restrictions on the power available to a motorcycle ridden by young people. Sales must have been brisk, because in 1962, a line of lightweights was available, including the Scat, Pacer and Ranger models. The Scat was dropped in 1963, the same year that Harley-Davidson lightweights were being produced out of the then newly acquired Aermacchi factory, in Varese, Italy. The 1963 Pacer and Scat models even included rear suspensions, which placed the springs beneath the engine, a kind of early version of the Softail model frame!
Harley-Davidson closed out its line of lightweights with the 1966 Bobcat motorcycle, a 175 cc model that also incorporated fiberglass components from the then newly acquired factory in Tomahawk,Wis.
When we traced the origins of the Sportster motorcycle, we went back as far as the 1929 model WL, a 45 cubic inch middleweight. In 1952, the W models were replaced with the venerable K series, replete with new swing arm rear suspension, foot shift and telescopic forks. The K model engine was a single unit, with just one set of cases that housed the flywheels, crankpin, ears and cams, chain primary drive and the four-speed transmission.
For the next few years, H-D improved upon the K, but ultimately, a new bike was needed to make Harley-Davidson middleweights more competitive. In 1957, the Sportster XL model was introduced. Incorporating some of the engineering of the W and K models, the XL model finally brought overhead valves into the mix. The design sported cast iron cylinder heads and rocker boxes that eventually gave rise to the Shovelhead engine design in 1966.
Soon after came the XLCH, a designation for an off-road, tuned Sportster motorcycle. That bike was marketed nationwide by 1959 and introduced Sportster motorcycle riders to the "peanut" gas tank. Other incarnations showed the versatility of the Sportster platform, such as the dirt track-ready XLR (later replaced by the XR-750 in 1970), the XLCR CafŽ Racer in 1977, the XLS Roadster in 1980, the bare-bones XLX-61 in 1983, and the XLH 883, 1100 and 1200 bikes in the 1980s. The 1984 XR-1000 was one of the most unusual members of the family; it was street-legal bike but hardly looked the part.
The Sportster motorcycles diverse genealogy, reliability, and performance led to its place in motorcycle history. A formidable contender, the Sportster motorcycle will thrill riders for years to come.
With the 2000 model year, the Electra Glide line celebrates its 35th anniversary. The Electra Glide model is actually a continuation of a previous FL line that was manufactured beginning in 1941. The 1941 FL models eventually evolved into the Hydra Glide motorcycles, which came with an all new telescopic front fork in 1949. In 1958, rear suspension and a hydraulic rear brake were added and the name of the motorcycle was changed to Duo Glide.
These and other developments set the stage for the 1965 Electra Glide motorcycle, which was the first Harley-Davidson civilian motorcycle to come with an electric starter. The Electra Glide motorcycles of that year began to add features that riders still appreciate today such as fiberglass saddlebags, a windshield, fender valances and a comfortable seating position.
The following years brought many engineering and styling improvements to the Electra Glide motorcycle design. Some of the improvements include the Shovelhead engine in 1966, the Evolution engine in 1984 and Twin Cam 88 engine in 1999. In addition, the Electra Glide motorcycle served as a platform for a number of models: the Electra Glide Sport in 1977 (reappearing in 1987), the Classic in 1979, and the Ultra in 1989.
There's no doubt that the Electra Glide motorcycle has been the ultimate touring motorcycle and has secured a place for itself in Harley-Davidson's future.
FXS Low Rider
In Daytona in 1977, Harley-Davidson unveiled the FXS Low Rider® motorcycle.With its black paint engine treatments, highway footpegs and drag handlebars, the Low Rider motorcycle marked a major move in styling. It was the name of the motorcycle itself that pointed out the seating position. It was low enough into the frame that encouraged the idea that you no longer sit on the bike, but in it.
Over the coming years, the Low Rider model would prove to be the mainstay factory custom motorcycle in the Harley-Davidson product line. In some model years, it could be argued that you could not buy a cooler-looking bike than the Low Rider motorcycle. This is probably why in model years like 1988, riders could find Low Rider models in multiple incarnations. The Low Rider Custom version appeared with a vintage 1917 gas tank logo and leather strap down the middle of the gas tank, among other appointments. That same year, the Low Rider Sport version offered simple cast wheels, low-rise handlebars, rubber isolation mounts, anti-dive front suspension and dual disc front brakes.
1991 saw the beginning of the Dyna family of motorcycles (featuring rubber engine mounts, five-speed transmissions, more efficient oiling systems, etc.). Meanwhile the Low Rider model was being offered in further platforms, such as the Convertible model, and continued in the Sport and Custom variations. The 1993 model year would mark the first year that the Low Rider motorcycles were available as Dyna platform motorcycles.
The year 2002 marked the 25th anniversary of the Low Rider motorcycle, and few motorcycles in Harley-Davidson history have been through more evolutionary changes. In 2002, the Low Rider model was back to one version, the way it began. However, demand has not decreased, and a rider who is seeking one of the most versatile and coolest looking machines on the road can still turn to the Low Rider model.
A name from founders William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson (whose brothers William and Walter joined the company later). But why is the Company called Harley-Davidson and not Davidson-Harley?
This was a conscious decision on the part of the founders. William S. Harley, in the very earliest days of Harley-Davidson Motor Company, was the sole, and later, Chief Engineer. It was his drafting, designing and testing that made the first motorcycles ever produced by the young company a possibility. Arthur Davidson agreed that William Harley's name should come first for this reason.
Also, the use of the hyphen designates the fact that the company was founded by two people. From time to time, a writer will refer to the company as "Harley Davidson Motor Company," which is incorrect and makes it appear that the company was founded by one person named "Harley Davidson." So now, if anyone ever asks you how Harley-Davidson got its name, you can set the record straight!
©H-D. Harley, Harley-Davidson and the Bar & Shield logo are among the trademarks of H-D Milwaukee, LLC.