Harley-Davidson the Legend BookRider’s Library – Harley-Davidson the Legend book

There’s the Legend itself— Harley-Davidson Motor Co. – and then there’s the book destined to be something of a legend in its own right, “Harley-Davidson the Legend.”

Among the many books I have in my Rider’s Library about Harley-Davidson, this book stands out, not only because of the quality and breadth of its content, but because of its sheer size.

It is a mammoth tome measuring 10.75” wide, 12.5” high, 1.75” thick and tipping the scales at 9.7 pounds! Its 682 pages on glossy high quality bond paper make it by far the biggest and most comprehensive book on the Motor Company I’ve yet seen.

In addition to the weight of its construction, it also carries the weight of Harley-Davidson itself, as an official licensed product.

Perhaps the reason this volume is so—well, voluminous—is the fact that it is the second edition of the 1998 two-volume book, “Ride Free Forever—the Legend of Harley-Davidson.” Compressing two books into one can’t help but lead to one very large book. How extensive is the content? Heck, the table of contents is four pages long in triple columns.

Interestingly, this masterpiece about one of the most American of brand names was created by two men you may have expected to write about BMW; they are both from Germany.

Oluf Fritz Zierl was born in Munich and co-author/photographer Dieter Rebmann is from Sindelfingen, Germany. Each is a photojournalist with extensive experience working in automotive and powersports subject matter.

Like most other books about Harley-Davidson written as histories with their release to roughly coincide with the observance of one of H-D’s many anniversaries, the book starts out with a detailed retelling of how it all began in Milwaukee.

But this account is not only in greater depth than most, it is illustrated in more detail, as well. For example in explaining how the company came to be a “corporation” not just four guys building some new contraption, the authors relate the story of the process of incorporation, complete with an image of the handwritten subscription list signed by the four founders, showing their respective number of shares, dated September 17, 1907.

William S. Harley, chief engineer and treasurer held the least — five shares at $100 a share — while the company’s first president, Walter Davidson held the most with 50 shares.

The development of the company as reflected in the design and technology of the product, expansion of the business model, exports and its entry — if reluctantly — into racing is treated in scrupulous detail with insights not found in most similar books.

There is a decidedly human side to the whole story, as well reflecting the fact that without some extraordinary people, companies like Harley-Davidson just can’t happen. One of the best stories in the book is about Corporal Roy Holtz from Chippewa Falls, Wis., and how, on November 8, 1918, he rode his Harley sidecar rig into captivity behind German lines in World War I.

Holtz, it turns out, is the soldier riding a motorcycle past a column of surrendered German troops in a famous photograph with the hand-written caption on it saying, “The first yank and Harley to enter Germany. 11/12/18.” It turns out, it is more likely that Holtz was actually leaving Germany to rejoin his unit after three days as a POW in Germany when the photo was taken!

As unique and detailed as the narrative is, the images that number in the hundreds offer some surprises, as well. Atop the list would be the four-page centerfold that shows all the component parts of a complete motorcycle, save those that are welded or riveted together laid out in one place. The subject was a completely disassembled 1997 FLSTS Heritage Springer Softail.

Photographed from over 50 feet above the floor where the entire thing was laid out, the remarkable image includes every nut, bolt and screw that was part of the bike from the rear-view mirrors down to the contact patch of the tires. The layout of the parts covered an area 28 feet long by 8 and a half feet wide!

From the early days and the founders to biker gangs, to the Shriners, Motor Maids, movie stars, war-time bikes, racing, touring, customs and much more, “Harley-Davidson the Legend” has it covered. If you want to have only one book about Harley-Davidson on your bookshelf, this would probably be the one to have.

Book data:

  • Title: Harley-Davidson the Legend
  • Author: Oluf Fritz Zierl and co-author/photographer Dieter Rebmann
  • Published: 2000
  • Publisher: Konemann Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, Bonner Strasse 126, D-50968, Cologne
  • ISBN: 3-89508-297-X

Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.