1913 was notable for the acknowledgment by Harley-Davidson of the business
importance of factory-sponsored racing. Unlike many of the other
fledgling motorcycle companies, William Harley and the Davidson brothers
did not have backgrounds in bicycle manufacturing. Neither did they
have the direct personal experience of Charles Metz, Glenn Curtiss, Ignaz
Schwinn, George Hendee or Oscar Hedstrom with regard to the publicity
benefits that racing gave to the sale of their product.
From the very beginning of their enterprise, the intent of the Davidsons'
and William Harley was to build a rugged, dependable motorcycle that was
suitable for personal transportation. To this end, they continued
to produce slightly improved versions of their original model. In
1908, the year that Indian cataloged a chain-drive, two-cylinder production
racer, Harley-Davidson was still selling an improved version of the first
belt-drive, motor-driven bicycle that they had belaboredly constructed
Until the summer of 1908, the H-D Company ignored all types of competition.
A number of their bikes, however, were entered in various endurance or economy
events by private enthusiasts, but when Harley-Davidsons did succeed it was
generally due to their inherent ruggedness and dependability, never their speed.
Finally, Walter Davidson, President of the company, decided that H-D could no
longer afford to ignore competition, especially in light of the publicity
that the other factories were getting by boasting of their racing success.
Consequently, in June of 1908, Davidson personally entered an endurance
competition held in New York. When the results were tabulated the
32 year-old executive had scored a perfect 1000 points.
The following weekend Walter entered an Economy Run held on Long Island.
Once again, the president of the Milwaukee company racked up a sensational
victory as it was calculated that his machine had achieved 188 miles to the
gallon of fuel! Within a short time established dealers reported
increased sales as a result of the publicity that followed Walter's success.
Still, the Harley-Davidson company had a lot of catching up to do.
That same year, Bill Harley returned to the factory from the university in
Madison where he had earned a degree in automotive engineering. Upon
his return, the graduate engineer's first assignment was to design an updated,
more powerful version of the H-D single as well as a prototype twin.
The updated single was introduced for the 1909 sales season, but the 28
year-old engineer had teething problems with the twin and it took until
1911 before the first H-D twin was ready to be sold to the public.
By this time all racing machines utilized a chain drive as the means to
transmit power to the rear wheel. Following the lead of the other
major manufacturers, Harley-Davidson finally cataloged a chain-driven
motorcycle toward the end of the 1912 sales season.
While the H-D factory still declined to support an "official" racing
effort, or for that matter to provide private owners with financial
or technical help in their racing endeavors, Harley-Davidsons entered
by privateers continued to make laudable showings in some of the
well-publicized road races of the day. These so called "road
races" were in effect endurance contests often conducted over
unimaginably difficult terrain.
The most arduous was the 421-mile San Diego to Phoenix, Arizona road
race first held in 1913. Known as the nation's most punishing and
brutal race, riders gambled with sand, rock slides, dry washes, sun-stroke,
wrecks, trigger-happy Mexican bandits (the race was called off in 1915
because of raids by Pancho Villa along the race route), and renegade
Apache Indians on the prowl.
Readers of the trade press were thrilled by accounts of riders who, after
losing their machines in the deep sand of the forlorn desert, were
relegated to wander for hours, suffering from thirst and sand-clogged
boots. Harley-Davidsons, entered by privateers, finished 7th and
8th in the 1913 race with the result that the Milwaukee manufacturer
received more favorable publicity.
Paradoxically, the factory still proclaimed in their advertising that
they did not support racing or competition in any form. In the
September, 1913 issue of "Pacific Motorcyclist," Harley-Davidson's
full-page advertisement read: "Don't blame us when Harley-Davidson wins
a race meet, because we do not believe in racing. We do not employ
any racing men. We build no special racing machines, but the results
speak for themselves."