Harley-Davidson Is Rolling out Special Bikes and Big Parties to Celebrate 115 Years

We spoke with Bill Davidson, great-grandson of one of the company’s founders, about what’s in store to ring in its big anniversary.

byEric Brandt|
Harley-Davidson Is Rolling out Special Bikes and Big Parties to Celebrate 115 Years

2018 marks the 115th anniversary of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Every five years, Harley likes to mark the occasion with commemorative bikes and a big party in Milwaukee and the 115th anniversary is no different. I had a chance to speak with Harley-Davidson Vice President of Marketing Heather Malenshek and Vice President of the Harley-Davidson Museum Bill Davidson. Davidson is the great-grandson of William A. Davidson, one of the company’s founders.

The big event will be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 29-Sep. 2. The party will be centered at the Harley-Davidson Museum but will encompass multiple venues throughout the city. H-D is also hosting an anniversary event in Prague July 5-July 8 for which Harley is expecting about 100,000 participants from all over Europe.

Another celebration of 115 years will consist of a series of commemorative motorcycles. The color schemes are a matte denim blue and a blue and black two-tone aesthetic. Every category of Harley-Davidson motorcycles except the Street line gets a 115th-anniversary edition. For Sportsters, it’s the Forty-Eight, for Softails, it’s the Breakout, Fat Boy, and Heritage Classic. Touring is the Street Glide, Street Glide Special, and Ultra Limited, and for Trikes it’s the Tri Glide Ultra. Topping the range for the CVO family is the CVO Limited.

115th Anniversary Edition Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Harley-Davidson

“Those have been flying out of the dealers,” said Malenshek of the 115th-anniversary bikes. “They were aimed more at our younger customers but they’re being swept up by just about everybody.”

I asked what the theme of the 115th-anniversary celebration is, other than the obvious theme of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, “Our 115th anniversary will be unlike any other anniversary that we’ve thrown,” said Malenshek. “Our goal is to create more riders globally so we’re planning events for the 115th anniversary that are going to attract riders and non-riders alike to really give people a taste of motorcycling, our community, and our brand in a way that is welcoming and inviting.”

Malenshek went on to talk about the new “All for Freedom, Freedom for All” social media campaign which invites Harley riders to share their stories using the hashtag #FindYourFreedom. “That’s our invitation to the world to join us,” said Malenshek of the new marketing platform.

The 115th-anniversary celebration in the U.S. isn’t just limited to Milwaukee. Harley is sanctioning rides from around the country to converge in Milwaukee to celebrate 115 years of the brand they love by doing what they love—riding. “We’re going to have people riding in from all four corners of the country,” said Malenshek. “When they come to Milwaukee we’re going to have a celebration of moto culture.”

Since Bill Davidson is the vice president of the museum, I spoke with him about the Harley-Davidson museum and the brand that his family was so instrumental in not only starting but growing into what it is today for over a century. “The Harley-Davidson Museum is a true treasure chest of our great legacy and great heritage,” said Davidson. “It truly represents 115 years of our history, our motorcycles, and our culture.”

“The wonderful thing about the Harley-Davidson brand is that we can attract people from all walks of life from all over the world; both riders and non-riders,” said Davidson. I asked what the museum and the 115th-anniversary celebration will do to attract new riders who might not have considered Harley or motorcycling at all.

“Our brand has so much strength that there’s a lot of curiosity that follows our brand,” said Davidson. “Every day we see people come to the museum who aren’t riders and they’re curious. It’s an opportunity for us to share the wonderful legacy and heritage of the brand with them.”

On top of the iconic brand speaking for itself, Davidson talked about JumpStart machines which allow new riders to operate a real motorcycle on a dyno with no risk of crashing and demo rides for the folks who are into riding and considering a new Harley-Davidson.

“The fact that we’ve been producing motorcycles nonstop since 1903 is fantastic,” said Davidson in a not-so-subtle jab at Indian Motorcycles. Indian likes to advertise that it’s America’s first motorcycle company, but Indians haven’t been in continuous production since the brand’s founding in 1901.

“The future is very bright for our company,” said Davidson sounding very optimistic about the brand. “It’s more than just a motorcycle, it’s an expression of who people are,” said Malenshek. “I think that’s what not only sustains us but makes us thrive.”

Harley-Davidson has been banking on “legacy” and “heritage” to sell motorcycles and bandanas for a long time, and it sounds like that strategy will continue. Here’s hoping Harley-Davidson’s 115th year goes better than its 114th.