PHOTO COURTESY OF HARLEY-DAVIDSON MOTOR COMPANY ARCHIVES
Flattering Harley-Davidson through history
If the old saying "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" is true, then Harley-Davidson has been honored almost since its very beginning by competitors. Looking through any motorcycling photographic history book shows that the ingenuity of the earliest Harley-Davidson motorcycles was duplicated by competitors. This fact was acknowledged by both H-D advertising pieces and industry experts. A 1909 print ad mentions those who copy or "adapt" Harley-Davidson designs and regards them as a fine tribute while also reminding the reader that there is no substitute. Other Harley-Davidson advertisements of that era mention "copyists" and "imitators," and the review sections of the magazine The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review (pictured) seem to confirm the assertion.
Many people, especially motorcycle history buffs, ask if Harley-Davidson has ever been copied by competitors. Maybe the question should be posed not just to Harley-Davidson, but to others in the motorcycle industry as well. For example, in the January 1982 issue of Cycle World, author Steve Kimball wrote, "Measured by longevity of design the greatest milestone could be a Harley-Davidson, but which one? Touring rallies are filled with Electra-Glide replicas, usually with four cylinder engines hidden beneath the chrome and glitter of accessories such as light bars and extra big front fenders. There is an entire industry for pieces to convert Hondas and Yamahas to look like Harley FLHs."
Today, one can look at catalogs from competitors and see just how much flattery is paid to Harley-Davidson. As one example, the Honda Shadow Sabre would strike any motorcycle enthusiast as a faithful tribute to the Harley Davidson FLSTF Fat Boy motorcycle. Kawasaki's Vulcan line pays homage to the FLHR Road King and FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide motorcycles. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Harley-Davidson has had praise heaped upon it for more than 90 years.
Some have even argued that Harley-Davidson's devotion to originality was detrimental. A brief history of Harley Davidson in the October 1978 issue of Cycle World cited Harley-Davidson's "unwillingness to copy anyone directly" as a key factor in the hard times faced in that era. Judging by recent history, sometimes the question "Why can't you be like your brothers and sisters?" is best left ignored.
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