Apart from walking (or running) and riding on the back of an animal; efficient land transport relies on wheels (sledges and runners only have limited application). Like the wooden wheels on a horse cart; the original motor cars and motor cycles had wheels that were purely functional – they kept the vehicle off the ground and allowed it to move when the engine turned the wheels.
The Early Days
At the start of our current, internal combustion engine age; people were even making their own cars and motorcycles; literally in their backyards or barns and they would concentrate more on the engine, transmission and body details and put any sort of wheels onto the result. Some of these hand builders became successful and moved on to factories and mass production methods. One such example was William S. Harley and his long time friend Arthur Davidson; who started to make their first a motorcycle in 1901. They were later joined by Arthur’s brother Walter; but did not have anything to actually ride until about 1903 and, even then, their motorized cycle was incapable of climbing hills without human pedal power assistance. It wasn’t until 1906 that they had a bike that people would want to buy and they could then open their first factory on Chestnut Street in Milwaukee – although in somewhat different form; the Harley-Davidson Motor Company is still headquarted in Milwaukee to this day.
Harley Davidson no longer make small (ride to work) bikes; but, new Harley’s are still rolling off the production lines. These are all big bikes; but, the wheels are still somewhat ordinary; new Harleys are somewhat pricey; so people who buy them are most likely to ride them just as they are without any major modifications. However, there is a huge market for secondhand Harleys and most of these are being purchased by people who wish to restore them or make major modifications to customize them to their own desires.
The factory wheels are relatively easy to replace with a set that has more visual appeal; the custom wheels still have to fit within the frame and forks (which may also be modified) and drive sprockets, brakes, etc have to be correct size; but a lot can be done with regard to spokes, width and finish (chrome plated being the most popular). The firm of DNA Specialty, Inc. produces a range of aftermarket motorcycle parts and their DNA Mammoth Harley Wheels are extremely popular amongst Harley enthusiasts customizing their bikes.