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‘Harley and the Davidsons’ Star Reveals Secrets From the Untold Motorcycle Story

Robert Aramayo plays the Harley-Davidson engineering visionary in Discovery Channel's miniseries, which airs over three nights beginning Labor Day.

'Harley and the Davidsons'

‘Harley and the Davidsons’ starring (L-R) Gabriel Luna, Michiel Huisman, Robert Aramayo and Bug Hall

Discovery Channel

It’s no accident that Discovery Channel premieres its original “Harley and the Davidsons” miniseries on Labor Day.

The three-part series turns back the clock to reveal how the creation of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle was a true labor of love by three men from blue-collar immigrant families, who championed labor rights. They were even inducted posthumously in 2004 into the Labor Hall of Fame for their company’s accomplishments and ongoing contributions to the workforce. Despite being one of the most iconic American brands, however, the Harley-Davidson story is not widely known.

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Star Robert Aramayo revealed in an interview with IndieWire, “My experience of Harley was this really: I knew that they were motorcycles, I knew that they had great merchandising, and I thought that it was created by a man named Harley Davidson. So that was my knowledge prior to this project, but I was astonished as to the story and how the company came to be. And certainly the origins of the story was kind of crazy to me. It almost seemed like an amazing, untold story.”

Aramayo plays Bill Harley, the young engineering genius behind the creation of the company’s motorcycle in the early 20th Century. Along with his two friends, brothers Arthur and Walter Davidson (Bug Hall, Michiel Huisman), they founded the Harley-Davidson company.

Watch a scene with the three of them below, in which Bill has missed his chance to attend university but returns to find Walter has ridden an early model of his motor-bicycle:

“This was a time period in which people were riding about on horses. This is a time period when innovation was at the forefront, and the American dream was real,” said Aramayo. “I was surprised to hear that Bill Harley’s family were English and the Davidson family were Scottish. The sacrifices that those people made enabled their children to go on and pursue something that was really what we call the American dream, but it’s the sacrifices of the generation before them. Bill Harley’s family had nothing, they had a sick brother and no money. And yet Bill Harley went on to be a part of the biggest motorcycling company in the world.”

Discovery Channel consulted with Harley-Davidson family members to build out the miniseries’ characters and with the company, which opened up its archives to allow for research. Alex Wheeler had the daunting task of rebuilding working replicas of the bikes from scratch, which meant manufacturing the original 1903 motor, since nothing like it exists today outside of museums. Watch the video below to see the bikes being made:

As the ultimate engineer, Harley had both the technical know-how and creativity to innovate, because he was an artist first. “The great thing about the first episode with Bill is that you see the coming-of-age story for Bill,” said Aramayo. “He wants to create, but he doesn’t particularly have an outlet to express himself. With Bill, it started with him drawing — not drawing a motorcycle or drawing an engine — it was drawing first. It’s the people who surround him, Arthur and Walter, that sort of push him in the direction of the bike.”

Aramayo found it challenging to grasp an engineer’s wealth of knowledge, but did attempt to have a basic understanding of what Harley, who had worked as a draughtsman, wanted to achieve in his designs.

Robert Aramayo in 'Harley and the Davidsons'

Robert Aramayo in ‘Harley and the Davidsons’

Discovery Channel

“I did a lot of drawing lessons,” the actor said. “My teacher [Otilia Boeru] was amazing. Before every episode was shot, I picked out some elements that seem to me particularly interesting or tricky to me that I wanted explained. She was always there for me. That was the majority of my time not filming was spent drawing really and with Alex Wheeler in the workshop, understanding the engine and how it works.”

Getting into the artist’s mindset was another challenge. “The second episode for Bill is like second album syndrome,” said Aramayo. “Someone wants you to create at an incredible rate, and it’s difficult to maintain. You release the first album, and everybody loves it and then people want that again. But unfortunately, you’ve spent your whole life writing the first album, and the second album has to come very quickly.”

Bug Hall and Robert Aramayo in 'Harley and the Davidsons'

Bug Hall and Robert Aramayo in ‘Harley and the Davidsons’

Discovery Channel

Fortunately, Harley found a way to overcome his artist’s block. Over the course of his career, he received 90 patents and was the brains behind the company’s biggest technical achievements, such as the loop frame, the V-Twin engine, the eight-valve racer, and his masterpiece, the 36 EL “Knucklehead.”

Successfully designing something fast and powerful was just the beginning though, and Harley had to deal with the fact that the motorcycle’s speed, a draw for adrenaline junkies, could also be incredibly deadly. In the first video below, a reporter confronts Arthur about the motorcycle’s safety. The second video addresses the rise and eventual fall of “motordromes,” wooden arenas where motorcycles raced.

The inherent danger is just part of the early motorcycle culture that is examined in the miniseries, which spans 30 years. It will also address the auto industry’s reaction to these upstart vehicles, the first African-American Harley dealership owner and women riding the bikes. Throughout it all, Harley had the help of the Davidson brothers, whose friendship was as equally important to the success of their company as their complementary partnership.

“My peer Bug explained it very well. He said that Bill is the brains, Walter is the spirit of the rider, the sort of the beginning of the culture of riding,” Aramayo said. “And somebody’s got to sell it, and that’s Arthur. Arthur originally in our story has the idea and then he has to show Bill that it’s something that can be done. Arthur is central and integral to Bill’s progression I think.”

Watch the actors discuss the characters’ complementary skills below:

Aramayo and Huisman had another reason to bond. Although they weren’t in the same scenes together, both had appeared on “Game of Thrones,” Huisman as mercenary extraordinaire Daario Naharis and Aramayo in flashbacks as a younger Ned Stark. With that Medieval-flavored fantasy, “Harley and the Davidsons” and the upcoming “Lewis and Clark” under his belt, Aramayo appears to be the go-to guy for period dramas, which is perfectly fine with the actor.

“One thing I love about these worlds is that they seem now so Other to us,” he said. “‘Game of Thrones’ is a fictional world, so it makes sense, but I think that any world that is period is always incredibly fun to play because it’s a slice of life from another time. ‘Harley and the Davidsons’ is a slice of Americana. I think that there’s such value in showing those periods of time in teaching us because they teach us so much about our own time period.”

“Harley and the Davidsons” airs over three consecutive nights beginning Monday, Sept. 5 at 9pm on Discovery. Watch a trailer for the miniseries below.

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