Motorcycle of the Century | 1969 Honda CB750

The Bike That Changed Everything

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Kevin Wing

1949 Harley-Davidson FL Hydra-Glide

This is the bike that inspired a million imitations, both from within Harley-Davidson’s own styling department and, decades later, from halfway around the world, when the Japanese jumped on the bandwagon and began building “American-style” heavyweight cruisers. It's the archetypal motorcycle, with a timeless look that’s as compelling now as it was back then.

Harley-Davidson debuted its FL chassis—a variation of which is still its best-seller today—way back in ’41, and introduced the famed, 1200cc Panhead engine in ’48. But it wasn’t until the following year, when the antique springer fork was replaced with a modern telescopic unit, that the quintessential American cruiser silhouette took form. Dubbed the “Hydra-Glide” in reference to the new hydraulic fork that delivered twice the travel of the old springer, this latest Big Twin offered much-improved ride quality and road-holding ability. The new fork also imparted a modern look more in line with the telescopic-forked British bikes that were beginning to food the American market.

The deep-skirted front fender and thick, widely spaced fork legs—the upper halves enclosed in streamlined, stamped-steel nacelles—give the Hydra-Glide a broad-shouldered look that has never gone out of style. The rest of the bike, including the Fat Bob-type tank with its center speedometer and the sprung saddle cantilevered high above a rigid rear triangle, is just as memorable. Compare a vintage Hydra-Glide to a modern Heritage Softail Classic—or even a Star Roadliner—and you’ll count more similarities than diferences. This is style with staying power.

Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!

*Please enter your username

*Please enter your password

*Please enter your comments
Not Registered?Signup Here
(1024 character limit)
I was working my way through Grad school as a mechanic in a Honda/Triumph shop  when the CB750 was released in the US.  We were blown away to say the least.  It made the CB450 and the Bonneville look like toys in comparison.
  • Motorcyclist Online