Motorcycle Throwback - The 1903 Harley-Davidson
August 27, 2013 - San Diego, CA
Harley-Davidson is not only one of the most popular motorcycle manufacturers; they're also one of the oldest. Starting out in a 10x15 foot wooden shed with nothing but the words "Harley-Davidson Motor Company" scrawled across the door, the dynasty had the humblest of beginnings. In 1901, William S. Harley drew up the blueprint of an internal combustion engine that could be fitted onto a bicycle. Of course, this blueprint didn't include chrome exhaust pipes and looks a lot different from the Harleys we all know and love so well today.
In 1903, William S. Harley and his partner Arthur Davidson put together this dream with hand forged parts and a whole lot of ambition. Within the year, they managed to make three of their motorized bikes and made them available to the public. Although the term public seems to be a stretch as three bikes is hardly enough to go around.
The 1903 model of the Harley-Davidson was run by a single-cylinder 10.2-cubic-inch motor that drove the rear wheel with a leather belt and had a 1-1/8 inch bore and 3-1/2 inch stroke. The model kept the original bicycle pedals and chain so that the rider could pedal the bike until it was up to speed enough to start the engine. Next time your battery dies and you have to push start your engine, pretend that it's 1903 and starter systems haven't been invented yet. (Now if only gas prices today were the same price as in 1903 too.) The bike pedals also had a second purpose. The tiny engine would have a hard time powering the motorcycle up hills and riders could use the pedals to add a little man-power to the engine to get themselves over steep inclinations.
At full speed, without the extra leg work or pedaling, the motorcycle could rocket to a speed of a brisk walk. It's hard to imagine that Harley and Davidson had intended for the bike to be a racer. However, two years later on the Fourth of July, a Harley-Davidson bike did win a fifteen mile race in Chicago with a time of nineteen minutes and two seconds. Still, we certainly don't recommend trying to take it on the Autobahn for a joy ride. But, back in the day, it did make transportation more fun for the three people who could own the 1903 Harley-Davidson.
The Harley-Davidson motorcycle has done a lot of evolving since it first appeared in 1903. We're sure that the founders could hardly even begin to imagine what their motorcycle would become. A cultural movement all in itself, motorcycles wouldn't be the same without the iconic company of Harley-Davidson. And with thousands of dealerships and stores nationwide, they've certainly come a long way from that tiny little wooden shack where the empire was born.