Harley-Davidson. It’s one of those iconic brands that needs little introduction, with its instantly recognizable black and orange logo that conjures up images of open roads, leather jackets and the blissful freedom of riding in the open breeze. Ask anyone who owns a Harley-Davidson, and they’ll likely tell you they own more than just a motorcycle – they own a lifestyle, an experience and the history of a brand that has been respected for more than a century. And that’s exactly the mood Bill Davidson wants to share with the world in his role as vice-president of the Harley-Davidson Museum and Factory Tours, a position he took on in 2010 after acting as the company’s vice-president of core customer marketing. “Whenever you throw a leg over the seat of a Harley-Davidson – whether it’s for one mile or 500 miles – that experience is going to bring you exhilaration,” says Davidson. “It’s just a phenomenal experience.” Davidson should know. After all, he’s the great-grandson of the company’s co-founder, William Davidson, so you could say motorcycles are in his blood – although he admits that wasn’t always the case. “When I was growing up, I really didn’t know the connection,” he says. “I was surrounded constantly by motorcycles and I knew my dad and my grandfather and my uncle worked for Harley, but I didn’t really make the connection that my last name was on the tank of a very famous motorcycle.”
But as Davidson grew, he became more enamored with the motorcycle culture that is his family’s legacy and, by the time he was 14, he had decided he would one day join the world-renowned company that bears his name. He came on-board in 1984, and is now a Harley-Davidson aficionado himself, owning 13 motorcycles that are ready to ride at an instant. He sounds physically pained when asked which is his favourite, as a parent trying to choose his or her favourite child. “If I had to absolutely choose one, it would be my 1990 Fat Boy.”
That passion shines through when Davidson talks about the museum as well, where he’s on a mission to convey that same sense of wonderment with Harley-Davidson fans around the world. “Our museum is a
world-class treasure chest, filled with memorabilia that is truly depicting 109 years of an iconic brand,” he says. “It’s much more than a nostalgia trip for motorcycle enthusiasts or gear heads. It really provides a look into American history, art, pop culture – and many times like you’ve never seen it before.”
The museum houses a vast collection of one-of-a-kind Harley-Davidson motorcycles, such as the famous Serial Number One – the first motorcycle the company produced. There’s also the world’s largest collection of unrestored Harley-Davidsons, each one exactly as it was the day it came off the assembly line, and customized bikes that Davidson says are more like works of art than vehicles. Plus, there’s Harley-Davidson memorabilia, including meeting notes and advertising brochures, posters and billboards dating back to the company’s humble turn-of-the-century beginnings. And that’s just a glimmer of the history that lives on; Davidson says the museum currently only has five per cent of what it owns on display, allowing for continually rotating exhibits.
But it’s more than the history that gets under the skin of Harley-Davidson fans, and it’s something that can’t be summed up in a museum. “There’s the sense of the open road, the freedom. When you’re on a motorcycle, nature and your surroundings are exaggerated – the sights, the smells, the sounds – and that’s a great experience to ride and see the wonderful scenery and beauty that we all have around us.”
Photo provided by Harley-Davidson Motor Company