Harley and the Davidsons Preview
For those who have invested more than they’d like to admit, the mystique surrounding motorcycles is palpable. Motorcycling can quickly become an all-encompassing hobby that envelopes daily decisions. Most riders have been there, especially when it comes to balancing checking accounts.
One thing has definitively been missing, though, and that’s TV for these passionate riders. The Discovery Channel picked up on the lack of motorcycle-related programming, and ran with a simple idea: a drama surrounding the beginnings of the one of the most iconic American brands, Harley-Davidson.
The aptly titled Harley and the Davidsons miniseries premiers on Labor Day Monday, September 5, on Discovery Channel, which struck me as a bit odd. A miniseries based on the exploits of the “outlaw” brand seems a far cry from the nature and educational-themed programming typically found on Discovery Channel. But the creators of Harley and the Davidsons have put together something that proves to be engaging and pretty informative.
It’s all about the humble beginnings of The Motor Company, and although writers did take some creative license for the sake of a good story, Arthur Davidson, Bill Harley and Walter Davidson represent the three facets of the business: Arthur, the quintessential hustler turned marketing man; Bill, the gifted engineer; and Walter, a roguish, race-minded man that seems to embody the rebel nature that is still integral to Harley-Davidson’s image, no matter how you feel about.
Set in the early 20th century, the cast and crew used time-period specific reproduction models. If there was any question of the legitimacy of the riding, toss your fears out the window; the actors actually did scoot around on motorcycles while filming.
During the release party at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, we caught up with Dutch actor Michiel Huisman, who portrays Walter Davidson.
“I got to ride 100 year old Harley-Davidsons for four months,” Huisman beamed, “I was the one who literally rode every bike. A lot of these bikes were rebuilt or reproductions because the original doesn’t exist or it’s behind glass at the HD museum.”
Without giving away too much, his quote does lineup with his expression when first getting some seat time on the first prototype machine. Walter Davidson, unsure of his all-in investment, takes the prototype model for a spin and his reaction probably wasn’t far off from our own when we first took a motorcycle out.
As iconic as Harley-Davidson is, I find it odd that I know almost nothing about the founders themselves. That sentiment was echoed by Huisman: “Funny enough, even though there is a lot of writing about Harley-Davidson, there isn’t much information about the founders. Of course, there is a lot anecdotal stuff from the family, but I was surprised about how little we know about these guys and Walter, so what we did in the show is based it all heavily on historical facts but we also had to take some liberties to create the drama.”
When it comes to historical fiction, that debate always arises.
During the first episode, you’ll learn much – even info that ardent Harley fans will find surprising. In the early 20th century, there was a fair amount of sensationalist anti-motorcycle press produced – press that apparently Harley-Davidson reveled in.
And if the show’s writers are to be believed, the term “murdercycle” was born during this time period. This entire time I thought Murdercycle was nothing more than the title for one of the finest cinematic masterpieces that mankind has ever produced, but I digress.
In short order, the brand ideology is outlined – but more importantly, how and why this ideology was achieved is explained. The lifestyle aspect of Harley-Davidson is explored, but its origins are quite interesting.
Waning consumer sales, mainly due to fierce competition and lack of dealer networks, forced Harley-Davidson create motorcycle for postal carriers, police forces, and other government institutions – all things that I found incredibly interesting and all of which, according to the show, were born from the mind of Bill Harley himself.
In all, I enjoyed the bits I watched. Maybe it’s because I ride, but perhaps it’s because it’s simply a good show.
When I asked Huisman about his start in riding, he said: “In my teens, my parents would take us to Italy, that’s where my fascination with bikes began. I was riding Vespas at 16. As soon as I was old enough, I picked up a BMW GS. I’d jump on the train with my bike, wake up in a few hours and spend a week touring in the summers. I honestly never thought I’d own a car, of course that was until I had a daughter.”
It isn’t much but knowing that someone with a riding background is involved in the main cast puts my overly cynical mind at ease. My verdict? It’s worth checking out – you won’t be disappointed.
The idea of motorcycling in America is certainly well represented, and though it was just a short line, the thrill of it all seemed to be summed up in an exchange between Walter Davidson, portrayed by Huisman, and Arthur Davidson, portrayed by Bug Hall: “Can it go any faster?”
We don’t need bikes to go faster, but we are always searching for it. Whether it’s in our best interest or not, human nature is bent on pushing boundaries; it’s what we do as a species. Back then, the modest three-horsepower engine was blazing fast, and provided more than enough danger, as you’ll find out during some scenes featuring board track racing. The three-part Harley and the Davidsons miniseries runs from September 5-7, starting at 9 p.m. ET each night on Discovery Channel.
Harley and the Davidsons Miniseries – Photo Gallery