Video: WWII Harley footage

Dailies -


Harley_WLA.jpgPhoto: Harley-Davidson Archives

Harley’s really getting into this whole WWII thing, first with the Military Appreciation campaign and now uploading a whole mess o’ period footage of their motorcycles in action. This represents a serious step in the right direction, focusing on a time when Harleys had actual function beyond transporting be-chapped pirates between theme bars and McMansions. Now, the company just needs to figure out how to make products with the simplicity and substance of bikes like the WLAs pictured above.  >

  • RT Rider

    Harley still makes the same bikes, just with different paint jobs and more chrome.

  • JRed

    Wes, would you apply your statement “the company just needs to figure out how to make products with the simplicity and substance of bikes like the WLAs pictured above” to companies like Ducati, BMW, Yamaha and the like? Because to me, air-cooled engines with almost zero plastic and shrouding is “simple” and “substantive,” whereas ride-by-wire and traction control aren’t. I understand that you dislike the company and its characterized riders, but frankly I see the same “cookie-cutter/sheep/lifestyle” mentality within segments of the sportbike group, and pretty much all segments within the sport. I’m not suggesting you do a 180 and embrace all things Harley. But I’d find it refreshing to see you apply as much thoughtful and consistent consideration to ALL brands as you do heaping sophomoric vitriol against this one brand. This is a great site, but the hatred of your stereotype Harley rider isn’t.

    • Wes Siler

      I don’t hate anyone, I just want the most historically significant and largest motorcycle manufacturer in this country to live up to its potential and I have fun making that point in a variety of ways.

      It’s also important to note that there’s more to motorcycles than sportsbikes or cruisers, there’s a huge variety of different kinds of motorcycle.

      Simplicity isn’t a value pushed by the Yamaha brand, but they do have fun, basic products like the TMAX and Mt-03. BMW does simplicity extremely well with bikes like the F650GS, Ducati has the GT1000 (it’d be awesome to see them do smaller versions of the sport classic range) and the Monster 696.

      All this military footage points out that Harley has an extremely strong heritage to draw on, yet fails to do so with any of its current products. The WLA was a motorcycle, capable of fulfilling all the universal functions that form of transportation was expected to at the time. Now the company sells expensive, flashy lifestyle accessories. Show me the motorcycles.

    • DoctorNine

      Ural does Classic Harley better than HD Inc. Heck, even Royal Enfield does basic transportation better. A Sportster? Are you kidding me?

      • Fatrod

        Sorry, Ural does classic BMW. Please learn things.

        • FatA**

          I think it’s pretty obvious he meant that Ural looks more like a classic Harley than anything from HD Inc. Please get glasses. Or flush your douchebag.

  • jcodyb

    I think that photo at the top looks badass. I’d ride one of those.

  • Bryce

    I love sport bikes and the like too, but Jred has a point. Harley still makes a very basic transportation machine, it’s called the Sportster. It’s a motorcycle, it does what a moto should do. Basic transportation for about the price of a KIA. Just because these old bikes look simple doesn’t mean that they were inexpensive utilitarian vehicles for the every man when they were new. Ask the old timers, they had a bike OR a car, few could have a new example of both. Unlike the new breed of rider, they rode the things in the rain and even the snow. What Harley’s consumers do post purchase is their problem not Harley’s. They could point this out in their advertising, but their profit margin is probably much smaller on the basic bikes.

  • Case

    This military stuff bugs me for two reasons. One: it’s all hot air until Harley delivers a bike that fits with this new campaign.

    The second reason is just a general annoyance I have when people fellate the military about their ‘sacrifice’ in an effort to sell something. It’s lame and should be flagged as such.

    However, Harley has a great opportunity here to leverage their chrome garbage as retro and cool; if they can deliver a bike that accurately touches on this utilitarian history AND is affordable then they might be onto something.

    What about an enduro or dirtbike? Or even a dual-sport that was semi-dirt capable? This kind of engineering is hard (read: expensive), so they don’t do it. And the competition in that market is tough. Instead they’re stuck in their rut, miles and years behind everyone else, and eventually the brand will die because of it. They can’t compete on hardware, so they sell ‘lifestyle’. What a joke. Cartman was right.

    (damn that’s a lot of words – must be Friday).

    • BobG

      What a load of crap. The typical Harley hater. The biggest bike you ride is probably a schwinn.

  • Watching

    Wait until the baby boomer bunch are in wheelchairs. Then harley will have no one to sell there overpriced, underpowered and outdated junk to. The younger buyers will not give harley the time of day. I would not be caught dead riding a harley. To me they are a joke. Old men dressed up like the Village People with there loud exhaust trying to impress people. What a joke….

  • jconli1
  • Watching

    Here you go – a good definition of a harley rider.

  • Jason

    I am in agreement with Wes.
    If a company is going to draw on a moment in history where its product was considered the best available, the company better be able to show how it has continued that tradition through the present and into the future.

    During WWII, Harleys were admired for there roughness and dependability. At that time, Harley represented the most forward thinking motorcycle manufacture in the U.S. (see the video above regarding the military spec driveshaft). Harley also practiced the basic tenants of motorcycle design: reduce weight, increase horsepower, provide better handling, provide easy maintenance, etc. Due to the WWII wartime surpluses, Harleys afterwards were known for being inexpensive.

    How does a Harley motorcycle epitomize these values and ideals? They don’t and that’s the problem. The jokes abound about Harley’s reliability. Most of those are based on truth. Harleys break… they break early and often. Furthermore, I dare anyone to take their Harley, any Harley, through a hilly field as shown in any of the WWII videos above.

    Where are the technological improvements? The technology that they rely hasn’t changed in thirty years. The most technologically advance bike Harley wasn’t branded Harley; it was a Buell. What did Harley do with Buell… they killed it. (Mindful Harley isn’t selling the division to someone to make some much needed money and letting that person put in the time, money and effort to make Buell a successful motorcycle company. Rather they just shuttered it up.) This is not carrying on a tradition. On the contrary, it demonstrates that Harley will turn its back on technological innovation.

    Compare this against another v-twin manufacture, Ducati, and its marketing statements: – “A Ducati on the racetrack or at any traffic light must deliver better acceleration, better handling, and better braking than anybody else. (…)” – “So what does ‘Back to Basics’ mean? It means putting the key brand characteristics – design, quality of finish, performance, riding enjoyment, braking etc – right at the centre of new product development. Riding enjoyment means lightweight motorcycles. Weight is something of an obsession for us.” – Claudio Domenicali, Ducati Corse CEO and Ducati Motor Holding Product Director

    “Remember, my job is to come up with bikes with the best possible set-up so if, in time, technology evolves and provides us with solutions that were once deemed impractical, then these solutions should, I think, also be used on Ducati motorcycles.” – Claudio Domenicali (same article as above)

    Harley, where is the affordability? The cheapest new model I found started at $15,000, and it is not a “new model,” but a cheap redesign with different colors and rims.

    I think what strikes a chord with everyone is that Harley squandered this tradition, like a playboy that received a huge inheritance.

    Instead of continuing to competing on the basic tenants, Harley shifted to distinguishing its unchanging product based on heritage, lifestyle and national pride. Harley has spent that inheritance on convincing the last generation to by its bikes. Now what Harley?

    Does Harley have a new answer to this question: “Why should I, the consumer, buy your motorcycle?” In the past, the only answer was: “Because it is a Harley.” That answer, “because it is a Harley,” and the associated “better than thou” attitude with it (that is found in everyone associated with Harley, from upper management all the way down to dealers) is what is wrong with Harley.

    That answer, “because it is a Harley,” isn’t good enough and all that nostalgia is lost on my generation.

    That being said, I like the ad campaign, though I am fan of the pin-up/WWII genres in general.

  • Patrick

    Give it a rest already. This sight is degrading into American Angst light. What happened to the HFL I used to love coming to?

  • Bryce

    I don’t think the looks of the bike are important at all. Urals and Enfields are both very cool bikes that I would love to own, however, they are generally thought of as shitty bikes. The build quality is horrible, they only look like the older, tougher versions. I’m not pushing the Sportster at all, but what Wes was mentioning was basic utilitarian bikes whos performance and reliabilty are more important than looks(or top speed for that matter). Obviously things should be updated, I doubt that any of us really want inferior suspension, points ignitions, poor lighting and a damn foot clutch to mess with for daily drivers. Basic bike…thats all I’m sayin

    • IK

      The poor build quality of Ural is maybe general perception (unfortunately for the company), but not the fact. Actually it is simply not true.
      As for Ural performance – just read the ride report and watch the video posted on this site.

      • Bryce

        IK, your’re kinda right on the Ural thing. They have that reputation, but that’s not completely true. I felt kinda bad after I bashed ‘em. Still, these bikes are not really made to ride hard and often, they just aren’t as tough as the BMWs they were made to look like so long ago. I’ve heard some really good things about them, and some really bad things, part of which may be from people who aren’t mechanically inclined enough to do the upkeep they require.

  • geonerd

    I understand your guys’ appreciation for artistic endeavor; a fresh perspective for the American motorcycle industry. But, from these Harley Ad stories you’re running, I’m not seeing anything beyond clever marketing. And sure, that’s important, and maybe it signifies some kind of a paradigm shift on HD’s part. But until I start seeing the “go” in this “show” it’s all just more of the same bullshittery we’ve been subjected to for as long as I can remember. Screw it, we’re better than you because we’re American, and everyone knows American stuff is the best. Even when it really, really sucks.

  • Justin Penney

    The Sportster COULD be a basic, standard bike (again) but the current U.S. lineup is lacking a model with proper suspension.

    I owned a Nightster for a year and a half. Harley has the quality and attitude down. That wobbling lump of motor just feels great. All of the rider interaction (switch gear, gauges, etc.) feel nice. The cable routing and overall assembly was impeccable.

    The problem, too low. I began down the path of addressing the suspension then realised that I was going to be dumping a lot of money at the Nightster making it something that it’s not. I sold it an bought a BMW G650GS.

    The Sportster line needs a few tweaks to be a standard.

    • Suspension with some travel so it’s comfortable to ride farther than the nearest bar.
    • A seat with at least a hint of padding.
    • Ditch the restrictive air filter, and exhaust and sell them with the good stuff in place. The added power will be appreciated.
    • Shrink the back wheel. The wide tire was a hindrance anytime gravel popped up.
    • Offer a better stock tire. The stock Dunlops were often felt greasy. However, they were great for burnouts.

    Unfortunately, that wouldn’t sell much. As much as the enthusiasts say these things, the more the Sportster goes the other way. The “custom” model being the one that I see the most.

  • C Mad


  • Tom

    Of course Harley has to look to its past for glory because they are so damned incompetent to be able to boldly lead any innovations into the future!

  • Watcher

    Harley is dying a slow death and it is there own fault. They spend all there R&D money designing new belt buckles and shit like that. They haven’t had anything new since 1950. When the baby boomer people get to old to ride harley will be out of business. The younger buyer will never buy that overpriced and outdated crap.

    • BobG

      Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, another hHrley business plan expert. You have no clue whatsoever.

    • BobG

      Watcher, you’re the reason I come to this site. I love reading the Harley hater posts. You either don’t know how to ride a bike, can’t afford one or your wife or girlfriend won’t allow you to have one. You have no balls. Like it or not, Harley builds what their customers want. You’re simply jealous, so all you can do is criticize. You act like the rest of the motorcycle world is doing great, and Harley is blowing it. Do you ever read or watch the news? Try it, you actually might learn something.

  • C Mad

    harley does build bikes “their” customers want. The problem is that “their” customers are now getting hip replacements and social security. They need a new market stat!

    • BobG

      See above.

  • Young Rider

    Watcher hit the nail right on the head. Harley better wake up before it is too late. There market is getting older and the younger buyers are not interested in the harley “Lifestyle”. Younger buyers do not want outdated bikes. Also, BobG is also right. HD builds what their customers want but the only problem with that is due to customer age a lot of there customers are dying everyday. I can not imagine a young 20 – 30 year old buying a HD. God, I would be embarrassed to be seen on one. My friends would have a ball making shit out of me. Of course I could always buy a “official Harley Pirate Outfit” (t shirt, vest, do rag) and ride with the old guys. LOL….

  • Tom

    BobG can continue in his self-righteous orgy of false religion. But Bob, you cannot change the demographics. South Park nailed you guys spot on…you’re not cool anymore and there is not a damn thing that you can do about it.

    You may now return your head to the sand and keep your rump raised to get penetrated from the rear.

    • BobG

      You people amaze me. I’ve been riding Harleys since 1975 when I was 20. I’ve also been riding Yamahas,Hondas and Suzukis. I don’t ride a Harley to be cool. I LIKE THE BIKE SO I RDE ONE!
      Why do idiots like you even care? If Harley goes away, so what.Why do you care? Do you care if Moto Guzzi goes away or Ural or Triumph? Just because Harley doesn’t build a bike that you like, you bash them?
      Numerous manufacturers build bikes that I don’t care for, but I don’t bash them. This Harley thing definitely has to do with you not being able to own one. Did some big bad biker kick your ass in front of your wife or something?
      And enough about Harley and their retro style. Almost every manufacturer is building retro models. Why is that? Because they sell! Get Real.

  • The Dude

    Harley was marketing to a younger age group before they axed Buell. But there is a group of Harley heads out there that are younger. Check out, , and . These are all riders in their 20s who are riding Harleys. Harley is trying to reach this group with their “Dark Custom” line, however the Iron 883 is the only bike that somewhat falls into a 20 year olds financial ball park.

  • Tom

    BobG, for someone who talks about how you don’t matter, you sure work very hard to get a lot of attention. Obviously, subconsciously, you’ve been affected by the recent South Park episiode.

    As for caring if HD goes under. ummmm, thousands of Americans will then be out of a job and the ripple efffect this would have for communities would be devastating. The same would be true of Moto Guzzi. Business is good. Unemployment is bad…..even worse than your pathetic herd response to obvious HD company definciencies.

    For someone who claims to be your age, your reasoning ability is as finely tuned as your HD motorcycle.

    • BobG

      Tom, first of all, I don’t watch SouthPark. Secondly, what type of bike do you ride. Tell us about it.

  • Tom

    Whether you watch South Park or not is immaterial. The show still nailed you. My bike is a 2001 TLR. I love V-Twins that are well designed. HD doesn’t qualify in this statement.

  • BobG

    The show nailed me? You don’t even know me! I alsoride a Honda XR650L. What does that make me?

    JRed said it best in his post:
    …….but frankly I see the same “cookie-cutter/sheep/lifestyle” mentality within segments of the sportbike group, and pretty much all segments within the sport. I’m not suggesting you do a 180 and embrace all things Harley. But I’d find it refreshing to see you apply as much thoughtful and consistent consideration to ALL brands as you do heaping sophomoric vitriol against this one brand. This is a great site, but the hatred of your stereotype Harley rider isn’t.

  • Bob G

    I love V-Twins that are well designed. HD doesn’t qualify in this statement.

    Tom | November 11, 2009 10:21 AM | Reply

    Fine. Don’t buy one. I don’t buy what I don’t like either, but I also don’t perpetuate sterotypes about sport riders, motoX, trials dragbikes,tourers,etc. I just don’t understand why people like you have to constantly bash HD.

  • BobG

    Wes, I’m confused. Most of the HD bashers on this site complain that Harleys are just re-hashed models from prior years.
    Then you say: “All this military footage points out that Harley has an extremely strong heritage to draw on, yet fails to do so with any of its current products. The WLA was a motorcycle, capable of fulfilling all the universal functions that form of transportation was expected to at the time. Now the company sells expensive, flashy lifestyle accessories. Show me the motorcycles.”
    Have you not seen recent models? Several of them are all about nostalgia and draw from the heritage of the company.
    And as far as living up to their potential goes, they may be doing exactly what they want and are content with that. They’ve been very successful, so they must be doing something right.
    Are any other manufacturers not living up to their potential? I’m sure, but maybe they’re not because the market won’t support it.
    As far as lifestyle accessories go, just about every manufacturer sells that stuff. Not to the extent that HD does, but they do. Don’t confuse HD’s stuff with all the aftermarket crap out there that evry niche of biker has available to him. Not all of us who ride an HD buy that stuff. And if a group of people do in order to try and impress someone else, well, who cares?
    Let’s leave the stereotype crap out of these threads. You guys and/or gals have a neat site here and it would be that much better without the mindless bashing.

  • Tom

    The show nailed me? You don’t even know me!

    Yes it did. I don’t need to know you nor do I want to. Your protests at the Truth prove that it did. HD is facing bankruptcy in the very near future due to their arrogance based on your (and your ilk) blind alliegance. I want HD to thrive and how it can is obvious. HD directors simply have to WANT to go into the future. They will or they won’t. Thousands of jobs hang in the balance.

    • BobG

      Wow! What planet are you from. I should have known not to engage someone who forms their opinions from the social commentary of a cartoon. See ya!

  • Tom

    The sweet sound of your admission of defeat is much more sonorous than the potato farting of a typical HD. Thank you.

  • Josh

    I think people like Tom hate Harleys because of the way they look. I def want a bike that looks like that, which is why I’m actually going for an Ultima Thunderhorse.

    H-D is simply the top of the food chain when it comes to bikes that tom doesn’t like the look of, but there are others that make that same style of bike, and no, that style of bike is not becoming less popular. I would only believe that if I saw consumer reports backing it up. Though somehow I sincerely doubt that they are.