Originally built as 1 cylinder racing bikes, Bill Harley decided to try his hand at a 45 degree V-twin. Contrary to popular belief, Harley Davidson did NOT invent the V-twin. Since that first build Harley has not drastically changed their engines. Some of the more notable changes to the Harley were:
1914 - A sidecar was added and Harley entered into serious racing with the "Wrecking Crew"
1915 - The 3 speed transmission was introduced.
1918 - The single cylinder engine was discontinued.
1926 - Single cylinder engines were re-introduced
1928 - The first twin cam engine and front wheel brakes.
In the 1950's the Hell's Angels helped bolster the image of the Harley. These outlaws used Harley Sportsters because they were fast, easy to work on, reliable and cheap. They were also appealing to members because most were ex-military and rode Harleys during their service years. Ironically enough, the bike that was the standard for the real Outlaw Bikers of America are now referred to as "girl bikes" or "Skirtsters".
In the early 60's Harley Davidson started losing its grip as the "Leader of the Pack". Foreign motorcycle manufacturers started producing more powerful, lighter and more reliable bikes at far lower cost.
In 1969, due to financial struggle, Harley Davidson merged with AMF. Unfortunately, the quality drastically decreased and sales plummeted. in 1981 senior members bought back the share from AMF and got quality control back in line.
From that point Harley became more of a status symbol than a high performance machine. Still relying on the very inefficient 45 degree v-twin, they continue to pump out slow and uninspired models that look far too much like the previous year. Overpriced, underpowered and built with more than 75% of the parts manufactured overseas, people still flock to purchase a Harley because it has somehow come to stand for America and for being tough.
Author's note: I used to ride Harleys and used to believe in what they stood for. Then I was cured of my brainwashing when I wanted to purchase a new bike this year. $18,000 for a slow, ugly 75% Jap bike that claims to be American is far too much. By this definition the Honda VTX1300C that I purchased instead is American as it is assembled in Maryland. It is also far more powerful and reliable and costs $8,000.
Before any ignorant HOG zealots decide to fire off any insults and tell me how you think you are all "1 percenters" and you are going to kick my ass (GOD, I can't believe I even associated with you morons) do me a favor... take off your Harley shirt and read the inside tag. Where was it made? Yep, China, Pakistan, Mexico... American, my ass! Stop feeding the fake persona that is HD!
person 2 "Yup, a real Harley Davidson."
person 1 "Easy Rider has convinced me that HD is the only real American motorcycle! I want to buy one but my wife won't let me."