| A Harley-Davidson
New York, Aug. 28 (Reuters): As Harley-Davidson motorcycles roll into their 100th anniversary this week, owners and collectors are celebrating an American icon that has come to represent coolness and badness worldwide — at a growing price tag.
This image costs buyers of a new Harley-Davidson $8,000 to $25,000 — far more than other brands — and as much as $150,000 for rare, early models in Japan, a major market for Americana.
“Many motorbikes look like Harleys, but a Harley sounds so different,” said Lin Todd, a former helicopter pilot who, like other Harley fans, revels in the “heavy-throated, muscular sound” that other makers try unsuccessfully to imitate.
Even among newer models, “Harleys hold their value better than any other brand,” added Mark Andrew, who works for a trucking company. He estimated that his fifth Harley, for which he paid $15,000 in 1998 and accessorised, could sell for up to $22,000 — unless he trades it in at book value at a dealership.
The loud roar of the engine — which riders amplify by adjusting or removing the mufflers — is just one aspect of the black leather, bad-boy image that Harley-Davidson tried to shake for most of its life. The company — founded in 1903 by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, and joined later by Davidson’s brothers Walter and William — finally embraced that image in recent decades as “bad” became marketably “cool” and rock ’ roll became mainstream.
“It’s one of those images associated with freedom, individuality,” said Bill Jack, senior archivist at Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Co. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“Riders talk about motorcycling as a peaceful experience, a frontier activity. There’s a tribal nature to it. Information and history are passed on orally.”
That motorcycling aura has been popularised by movies such as Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953), Steve McQueen’s The Great Escape (1963) and, recently, Bad Boys.
But this image goes back to the 1880s, when inventors such as Gottlieb Daimler in Germany motorised a bicycle with a gas engine.
By the early 1900s, hundreds of companies were making these new loud and fast machines with no brakes or clutches that posed a danger to pedestrians and horses on the road.
Harleys were made especially rugged and heavy for the clayey muck in Milwaukee in the winter. The daredevil image stuck when in 1936, Harley-Davidson focused on the sports market to survive the plentiful cheap automobiles rolling off Henry Ford’s assembly line on to the roads.
Motorcycles from that period and earlier are the most valuable, because most were junked in a country that favoured the new.
Models from 1905 to 1909 are now worth $80,000 to $150,000, according to Manabu Okada, owner of Semba, Japan’s largest dealership. Taxes, freight and other charges push prices up in Japan, said the collector, whose grandfather started the business by buying up 200 military Harleys from the US army after World War Two. These models now sell for $13,000 to $18,000 on both sides of the Pacific.
In 1971, when cheap, reliable Japanese motorcycles ruled the market, broken-down Harleys from the 1930s and 1940s sold for just $75 each, said Herbert Wagner, author of At the Creation: Myth, Reality, and the Origin of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle, 1901-1909 .