The History of the Harley-Davidson

Great things come from humble beginnings. Nothing embodies this truth more than Harley-Davidson. The brand began as an experiment between four friends in a guy’s garage and went on to become the premier manufacturer of motorcycles the world over.

Motorcycle production was already firmly established throughout Europe in the early 1900s. At that time, though, it was still in its infancy here in the US when William Harley and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson assembled their first motorcycle in 1903. Harley and the Davidson brothers were competing against a number of other domestic manufacturers (almost 300 of them at one point), but most were only backyard operations and would eventually shut down. Fifty years later, Harley-Davidson would be the only one left standing.

Similar to other bikes on the market at the time, that first Harley-Davidson was little more than a bicycle driven by a single-cylinder motor that powered the rear wheel through a leather belt. They retained the pedals and chain so the rider could start the motor and kick in a little extra leg power to climb a steep hill-quite a difference from the powerhouse it would become, yet still treasured and tucked away under motorbike covers by hardcore enthusiasts everywhere.

The quest for speed and power led to rapid advancements in technology with developments that included the introduction of the famous V-twin motor in 1907, one of the industry’s first clutches in 1912, and a chain drive in 1913.

The next big leap forward came with the introduction of Harley-Davidson’s first flathead V-twin in 1931. One of the most successful models ever manufactured, it remained in production until 1973 and was used in a wide variety of applications, including military, racing and, of course, on the street.

Over the three decades that followed, Harley-Davidson experimented with and developed improvements that included overhead-valve mechanisms, a recirculating oil system, the incorporation of hydraulic lifters in the valve train, and the introduction of a hand-clutch/foot-shift. Competing with foreign imports and the domestic manufacturer, Indian Motorcycle (which closed its doors in 1953), Harley-Davidson released a number of smaller bikes throughout this time period with Italian partner Aermacchi. Unfortunately, for a brand intent on producing distinctly American motorcycles, these pared-down offerings were Harley-Davidsons in name only and probably hurt the company’s image without contributing significantly to the bottom line, especially at a time when all of its competitors had folded due to a non-existent market.

But, it was then that the tide turned…permanently. The mid-80s saw more advancements in engineering, including the addition of a belt-drive, isolated engine mounts and five-speed transmissions. With this success, a wide range of supporting products for the Harley enthusiast surfaced, like official motorcycle covers, motorcycle ramps and even a motorcycle license plate frame. Harley-Davidson’s place in American history was secure.

In business for nearly a century, Harley-Davidson has seen its share of ups and downs and has evolved, adapted and thrived, as pioneers often do. Demand for their bikes far outweighs supply with record-setting profits and stock prices to match. Due in large part to the quality of its products, Harley-Davidson has inspired a fan base dedicated to the preservation and promotion of all things Harley, often protecting their American legends with a motorcycle cover, and showcasing older models at events all over the country, safely transferring them to and from with a motorcycle loading ramp.

Not bad for something you used to have to pedal up a steep hill!

The Triumph Thunderbird Motorcycle

While practically everyone on the planet has heard of the Triumph Bonneville, the Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle has not achieved the same amount of fame. And yet, the Thunderbird was at least as important to Triumph as the ‘Bonny’ in terms of sales and popularity .. it simply doesn’t get mentioned as often. Among the Triumph faithful and aficionados though, the Thunderbird is perhaps the most important Triumph to be produced.

It all started with three riders driving across 500 miles at 92 mph on three different – but recorded as stock – Thunderbird 6T motorcycles. In 1949, that was a testament to durability, reliability and speed. From that year until 1966, Triumph produced the Thunderbird motorcycle out of the Meriden factory and shipped them all over the world. All models had a 649c.c. two-cylinder engine – a big increase from the 498c.c. Speed Twin it was modeled after – and was mated to a 4-speed gearbox. It proved to be so well liked – perhaps loved – in the U.S. that, after 1950, Triumph sold more bikes in America than it did in any other country including in the homeland of England.

The Thunderbird motorcycle went away after 1966 only to reappear in 1981 as the Thunderbird TR65. It was simply an ‘economy’ version of the T-140 Bonneville and was only sold in the U.K. and a handful of British Commonwealth countries. It lasted three model years and then Triumph suffered some very tough times.

However, John Bloor brought the company back to full-on production in 1990. Triumph Motorcycles Ltd. of Hinckley began another model run of the Thunderbird motorcycle in 1994. This beauty had an 885c.c. 3-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed transmission and rode on very confidence-inspiring 18 inch front and 16 inch rear wheels. A tractable 69hp and 52ft/lb of torque carried the 485lb dry machine over any distance in any place you could find fuel. It was blessed with classical good looks, two-tone paint and historical emblems and exhaust. Like the first T-bird, it was built for cruising and its parts and accessories catalog was ready to help with anything a rider may need or want.

The Thunderbird 900 Sport motorcycle was produced in 1997. It had many upgraded components – wheels, brakes, suspension, etc. – and put 82hp to the ground – a significant increase. The design was slightly modified as well, but it retained its lovely retro styling. The 900 Sport was the last 885c.c. Thunderbird motorcycle to be made ..

Until the 2010 Thunderbird motorcycle was developed! The latest addition is a rather large twin with 1600c.c. in displacement, a comfortable cockpit, great handling and smooth character. It still lives up to the needs of a cruiser or touring rider, and it is a very exciting and well-balanced ride. The Triumph Thunderbird motorcycle enters a new century and a new icon is born.