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Get Your Motor Running in York

Harley-Davidson Factory in Pennsylvania Offers Tours to Demonstrate the Dedication Needed to Put Together the Classic American Chopper

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call
Visitors to the Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pa., sit on display motorcycles at the factory’s visitor center.

Some travelers like to ride motorcycles to see the countryside during the fall.

If that’s too much of a commitment, you can always do the next best thing and see where that motorcycle came from.

The Harley-Davidson factory in York, Pa., is an excellent way to get a feel for the classic American chopper.

The factory tour of the vehicle operations plant brings visitors behind the curtain into the largest Harley facility in the United States.

It also gives some insight into a company that prides itself on setting people free from their inhibitions to experience the open road.

Harley-Davidson’s own road to success began in 1903 with William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, who experimented with the then-new internal combustion engine to develop their motorcycle.

You’re not entirely free inside the tour, however. Visitors are not allowed to take photos of the factory in order to prevent the manufacturing methods from being copied by competitors. Still, that’s only a minor inconvenience when you are seeing the behind-the-scenes operations.

The factory is bustling, and noise echoes throughout the building. Welding, screws and bolts being locked into place, the start of an engine being tested and the chains of the assembly line clanking give an auditory component to the tour without being overwhelming. Still, you’ll need a special headset to hear the tour guide over the cacophony.

The tour’s biggest component, though, is visual. Watching the day-to-day procedures of putting a complex heavyweight motorcycle together is fascinating.

Whether you want to own, never have owned or do own a Harley, the tour captures your interest. Seeing the work, skill and dedication that goes into assembling one bike fascinates visitors.

Tour guides share details of production and explain the global marketplace where Harleys are sold. (Thirty percent of the company’s motorcycles are sold outside the U.S.)

If a bike is all black, it takes roughly six hours to make. If it’s two-toned, it takes twice as long.

The precision and attentiveness required throughout the factory are evident in the number of employees and constant movement.

It is a city all its own, and Harley’s willingness to share its work makes the tour all the more worthwhile. It’s a culture, and Harley, like the idea of motorcycles in general, seems to satisfy this mystery, this adrenaline rush, this bad boy (or girl) idea that many at times long for.

The workers are a part of that Harley culture, sporting Harley attire, heavy work boots and bandannas and appearing as strong and rough as the well-painted motorcycles they are bolting together.

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