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.
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:
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:
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.
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.”
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.
“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:
“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.