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.
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