Spirits Cast in Iron

Every now and then, in our history as Americans, we manage to harness spirits and wrap them in steel and glass, leather and chrome. In the early part of the 20th century, independence and adventure were encased in the form of Henry Ford's Model-T. In the '40s, fortitude and vision were fashioned into North American's P-51 Mustang. In the '60s, unlimited raw power and passion were merged to form Carrol Shelby's 427 AC Cobra. But spanning this entire period of American history was the evolution and embodiment of the "American Spirit" by the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company of America.

There are two great world powers that seriously manufacture motorcycles: America, with one company, and Japan, the land of uniformity, tight standards, and compliance with half a dozen or so. The philosophy of Japan produces the fastest, best handling, and smoothest motorcycles in the world. As far as Americans are concerned, it is a philosophy that completely misses the point.

In these modern times, technology has grown numb to the beating of the human heart. The failing of advanced design is that it seeks to avoid altering the rhythm of that great muscle that throbs in our chests. Efficiency is the antithesis of soul.

An American seeks movement, not transportation. We didn't cross the length and breadth of this great nation on a mag-lift monorail. We slammed and fought our way in heavy, capable wagons, and most importantly, astride living, breathing, uniquely American quarter horses. Americans have no desire to drive. Americans yearn to ride.

We don't want to lay forward on our stomachs, atop ergonomic swirls of plastic, leading with our heads, necks craned up, legs trailing and clamped tight in prudent submission so as not to offend the wind. We mount a Harley with head high, natural, proud, and deliberate. We spread our legs and arms forward and wide in defiance of the wind. We sit low and close to the fast-moving asphalt so that is sees us and knows that an American has passed by.

The Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company of America never separates its engines into six or eight socialistic cylinders, each dividing the labor more fairly. Tiny pistons work together for the common good to produce smoothness and harmony with each claiming only a reasoned, and fair, small turn of the crank.

Harley-Davidson allows only two cylinders of massive size. Like our two great political parties, they are so large and powerful that each feels a birthright to dominance and they struggle to obtain it, all the while moving forward. The great Harley-Davidson pistons refuse to settle for genteel sips of fuel and air like their foreign counterparts, laboring without sweat in unobtrusive little chambers, insulated and dampened so as to mute and absorb their individual voices into the collective. Harley pistons pull back in cavernous armored lairs, drawing in full lungs of the explosive mix and, with malice, blast fire from their nostrils, roaring with such force and pressure that all they survey bends to their will. This work of dragons is begrudging, for each would demand a full turn of the crank were it not for iron collars and chains that harness their rage for our purpose.

A Harley is never started, it is awakened. It shakes its mount with clear, heavy blows from pistons firing. At idle, it begs an answer as to why it has been disturbed. The clutch is drawn back to set the bit firmly in its teeth. The rider pushes down in the stirrups and a solid strike of gears causes the beast to prance impatiently, snorting and angry at the temporary restraint. The throttle gripped and twisted without trepidation, not because fear is uncalled for, but because the American heart denies it. With a turn of the hand, spurs set deep as the clutch releases the reins. The tail drops and digs, not with a linear progressive whirl, but with surges that yank and pull with the thundering cadence of hooves. The rider need only resist being thrown and resolutely give no care to point of origin or destination to match heartbeats with the beast.

Courage, character, and defiance! Thy name is Harley Davidson!

Written by Stuart Burman