Outlaw Machine

Brock Yates, Author Little Brown and Company $36 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-96718-1
Few people would dispute that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are sluggish, expensive gas-guzzlers, outperformed by their quicker, more up-to-date Japanese counterparts. How is it, then, that the antediluvian Harley is wildly popular, coveted and revered by hard-core riders and RUBs (Rich Urban Bikers) alike? Yates offers a detailed history-cum-explanation. William Harley, and brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson, operating out of a shed in the Davidsons' backyard in Milwaukee, were an early success. But the company spent decades struggling once it became clear that automobiles, not motorcycles, would be the transportation of the future. After WWII, the company's survival came at a price: media hype about gangs like the Hell's Angels, and a spate of exploitation movies culminating in Easy Rider, effectively defined the bike as the plaything of rebels and ruffians. Yet it is precisely this association, long scorned by management, that lies behind Harley-Davidson's current revival. The Harley--with its bulk, its propensity to break down, its V-twin design unchanged since 1909 and its thundering noise--has become an American icon. While this book covers all the major moments in the company's--and the bikes'--history, Yates's attempts to link social history with the rise and fall of the motorcycle's appeal are forced. The prose can be turgid: Harley riders ""assume an attitude of bloated potency and importance embodied in the motorcycle itself."" Ultimately, the players in this story--from the pioneers who created the legendary machine to the devotees who ride and adulate it--never come to life as fully as does the motorcycle itself. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-7679-0516-9
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