The sound of distant thunder was the first thing I heard this morning. A minute after rolling from bed, with the sound of thunder still rumbling in the distance, it dawned on me this was the weekend for the annual Laughlin River Run and this was the price paid for buying a home one block and a vacant field away from I40.
As I was eating breakfast with the ebbs and flows of the thunder in the background, meditation on all things Harley Davidson began to dominate my thoughts. As this happens every River Run I wasn’t surprised by this turn of thoughts. I was, however, surprised by the direction of those thoughts.
Harley Davidson is truly an American icon. Its cornerstone is the spirit of the infancy of the American automobile industry. The company is also a modern success story used as an example at the Harvard business school.
The story begins in 1868 when Sylvester Roper unveiled his steam powered motorized bike. In 1869 an improved version with hand grip throttle made its debut but these cycles were seen as little more than circus curiosities. The next foundational stone was laid in 1885 by Gottlieb Daimler.
By the turn of the century the bicycle craze that had swept the world entered a new faze as daring and innovative individuals began attaching gasoline engines to their cycles. As with the automobile, numerous companies were created to meet the need. Two of these would become American icons and one would spawn an entire subculture.
In 1901, William Harley and Arthur Davidson began experimenting with a variety of engine/bicycle configurations. By 1903 the partnership initiated production for sale of their motorcycle. The rest, as they say, is history.
My exposure to the legacy of Harley Davidson and the cult like following of many enthusiasts is a long one. My step father loved motorcycles and purchased his first one, a 1929 Harley Davidson, in 1936. This was the bike he rode from Iowa to California in 1937. His love for motorcycles paralleled his fascination with automobiles and airplanes.
His interest with airplanes faded as his hearing problems prevented flying. The passion for vintage vehicles waned with budget constraints. The enjoyment he derived from motorcycles continued well into the early 1990s.
In spite of this I never learned to ride. When I was a youngster the excuse was they were unsafe. Few who knew me when I was at the height of my short lived career as a cowboy bought that one.
From the vantage point of age I see now it was a fear of being seen as a conformist, something I worked hard to avoid, that kept me from learning to ride. I am not a man of regrets but will make a few trips down the road of what if on occasion.
I have known many riders, those who were the role model for the outlaw biker, met a few who were legendary, such as a fellow named Sonny, and more than a few who just loved the freedom of the open road after a long week of working nine to five. I have lost a few friends and more than a few acquaintances to bike accidents.
In spite of these associations and my fascination for automotive history the Harley Davidson story is largely a blank slate. With that in mind I selected these titles that to further my education.
One thing I bet isn’t found on these pages is a reasonable excuse for why so many owners do everything possible to make the bikes so damn loud!