In 1915, William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson made a decision. Every year, they would take one of the motorcycles built at the motor company they founded 12 years earlier, off the assembly line and put it in an archive. Along with anything else they felt was important to the company’s heritage.
A century later, and just three miles from the 10-by-15-foot shed where their very first bike was built, that archive has become the Harley-Davidson Museum, the new mecca for die-hard bikers, gear heads, nostalgia nuts, and anyone else who appreciates a little two-wheeled history.
What they’ve got, housed under 130,000 square feet of brick and steel sitting outside downtown Milwaukee, is a collection of over 400 vehicles, rare memorabilia and interactive displays, including artifacts like the famous Serial Number One, the first motorcycle built by H-D in that shed in 1903. For a biker, that’s like standing in front of the first telephone, Edison’s lightbulb, and the Mona Lisa all rolled into one.
There’s also a collection of rare custom bikes, military bikes, old racers, and some of the original leather jackets and uniforms worm by early enthusiasts. Some short lived H-D vehicles are also there, including a couple of scooters, a boat and a golf cart, for those hardcore outlaw golfers. And no collection would be complete without Elvis’ first ride, a 1956 KH he bought right before “Hound Dog” became a hit.
My personal favorite exhibit is the Engine Room. Every engine ever developed by H-D, and even some concepts that never made it, are hung here. Interactive touch screens let you call up each engine, virtually kick start it, and listen to its rumble.
It’ll take a solid day to see everything they’ve got here, and it’s a day well spent. To give you an idea of what’s there, here’s some pics I took the day before the official opening:
This is the famous Serial Number One, the first bike Harley-Davidson made, encased under glass. The leather belt around the rear wheel isn’t a belt drive, it’s a crude transmission. And the white tires aren’t an early fashion statement, white is the actual color of raw rubber. Black tires weren’t available for a few years.
Another shot of an early model. Check out the suspension: a couple of springs under the seat. Made for some rough riding.
Looking partway down the nearly block-long line of bikes from the early 1900’s all the way to the latest bikes. Looks like the Evolution of Man, from ape to Neanderthal to now as you walk past them.
This seemingly endless wall holds a copy of every original tank H-D put out. Don’t hold the AMF years against them…
Customizing your ride is a tradition among H-D riders, and this job took years and thousands of lights and rhinestones to give it that “Electric Cowboy” look.
This is the infamous King Kong, an engineering wonder, where two Knuckleheads were fused into one 13-foot-long, two-engined, monster. And yeah, it’s rideable.
For more info on the Harley-Davidsom Museum, head over to www.h-dmuseum.com
[Hell Yeah! posts appear every Wednesday and feature balls-out gear and high-adrenaline pursuits that fit in with Rev Theory’s single, “Hell Yeah”. You can read my posts and others at RevTheory.com/blog]