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William Harley, Arthur Davidson & Soichiro Honda Didn't Like Bikes!

Apr 9, 2008
When we think of the business empires that were started in garages, images of computer whiz-kids immediately come to mind. But the trend of giant Oaks from little acorns goes back much further than this. As far as motorcycles are concerned, they don't come much bigger than Harley Davidson and Honda, who as the pioneers of the motorcycle culture held a commonality in that their dreams were born on different sides of the globe from a dislike of bikes.

By bikes, I mean of course, the pedal variety. In 1903 William Harley and Arthur Davidson with the help of Arthurs brother, Walter, took their first steps on the road to glory in an attempt to conquer the hills of Milwaukee with a motor powered bicycle. Their first attempts failed, but by 1904 they had improved their design enough to be able to enter a race at the state fair. They came fourth, and within two years had moved from their garage to their first company factory address. The address in Chesnut Street, now Juneau Avenue, is still their corporate headquarters today.

Although separated by a generation, Soichiro Honda also began his career surrounded by bicycles. His father, a blacksmith by trade also owned a bicycle repair shop where Soichiro grew up with a fascination for all things mechanical. After a six year apprenticeship on an auto repair shop in Tokyo Soichiro returned home to set up his own auto repair shop but it was his adaption skills in adding a piston engine to a bicycle that would start him on the road to success.

By the time that The Honda motor Company was formed, the Harley Davidson Motor Company was a world leader in motorcycle production. They had supplied custom bikes to the army through two World Wars until the Jeep took over as the utility vehicle of choice. In 1952 under increasing competition , Harley Davidson applied for a 40% import tariff on foreign motorcycles. The application led to charge of restrictive practices against the company. This would be the first of a string of events that would lead the company into decline during the following decades. Through Hollywoods portrayal of the bikes in outlaw biker movies such as The Wild One in 1953 starring Marlon Brando and later, in the now cult movie, Easy Rider with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson, the Harley Davidson name became synonymous with rebellion and illegality. What we view today as an integral part of what makes a Harley special, was, at the time, damaging sales of the bikes and threatening the very future of the company.

Things got worse in 1969, when the company was bought by American Machinery and Foundry. AMF attempted to streamline production resulting in a labor strike that let to the manufacture of sub-standard machines. There unreliability became a standing joke and the bikes gained nicknames such as 'hardly driveable' and 'hogly ferguson' It was from this last nickname that the riders of Harleys would later be called 'Wild Hogs'.

It would take a group of thirteen investors to lead the recovery in the fortune of Harley Davidson motorcycles. Bought in 1981 from AMF, they implemented new manufacturing protocols and regained the reliabilty standards of the companies early models. Funnily enough though, it was the depiction of the bikes between the 50's and 70's that would finally give Harleys the cult status they hold today.

They say that 'What doesn't kill you, will make you stronger'. Well, whilst Marlon, Peter and Jack's portrayals came close to ending this American icon, it was the cult status of the era and these films, that would endure to provide the maturing 'baby boomers' with their piece of nostalgia.

Harley Davidson became the custom bike to own through the nineties and its stock price soared. No longer the evil machine of rebellion, the bikes had become the symbol of a generation of achievers looking to recreate the image of their teenage heroes.

In todays 24/7 society, with Blackberrys and pagers, mobiles and handhelds, hitting the road on a Harley, with nothing but the sound of the exhaust in your ear, is the new dream, for a new generation looking to escape their 100mph lifestyle, by doing 120mph alone on the open road instead! Go Hogs!
About the Author
When it comes to Harley Davidson Parts , merchandise, Harley Davidson motorcycles, new and used Harley Davidson bikes,lookcyclesusa is the place to shop. Read More at OMDN
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