Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Making an American Icon: How Harley-Davidson Roared to Life


They’re real. They’re unsafe. And they’re spectacular.

We’re talking about the motorcycles featured on Discovery Channel’s scripted miniseries Harley and the Davidsons, which tells the success story of the birth of an iconic American brand, and then watches that brand race around tracks at dangerously high speeds.

The three-part miniseries follows Bill Harley (played by Robert Aramayo), Walter Davidson (Michiel Huisman) and Arthur Davidson (Bug Hall) as they risk their money and futures on building a motorcycle that will one day become the standard for all others.

On the rev up to the premiere, (Monday, Sept. 5 at 9 p.m.) we spoke with the man charged with bringing these machines back to life on screen, bike fabricator Alex Wheeler. Note that we didn’t say “CGI artist.” These bikes are real. And in real life, things get messy. Here are some of the challenges Wheeler and his team faced and how they solved them.

Related: 5 Business Lessons I Learned From Being a Member of a Motorcycle Gang

There aren’t a ton of functioning vintage Harley-Davidsons lying around.

“We realized that we would need about 80 running bikes for this script. Bikes from 1903 aren’t that readily available, so we had to build them from scratch based off drawings and photographs. We built the frames, and our first real problem was the motors. There aren’t working motors you can buy off the shelf that look historically accurate. So we decided we would go ahead and build them from scratch as well. There was a hell of a lot of work in that!”

Related: 9 Iconic Inventors Who Changed the World

Original hogs aren’t super camera friendly.

"We assumed that the early bikes would be easy to ride because they were available to the general public. And nothing could be further from the truth. They are very difficult to ride. You are basically riding a bicycle with a reasonably powerful motor attached to it. Coordinating the races with these motors was challenging -- they don’t just easily throttle up and go. And the races in the show were probably far more intense than were intended for those bikes, so they were breaking all of the time. Some of the mechanics you see in the background of the racing scenes are actual mechanics in costumes who are really fixing the bikes to keep the shoot going."

Real life is harder than fantasy.

"My shop did some early work on some cars that made it into Mad Max and we did some cars for Doomsday. Generally speaking, cars give you a lot more room to hide things. You put all this crazy bodywork on it with a V-8 sticking out of the hood. It looks like a beast, but it is essentially a Honda. But with these bikes, they are so naked. There was no hiding anything. We had to go to great lengths to make them look as authentic as possible. This was definitely one of the most difficult and exciting projects we’ve ever worked on."

Capturing a legend.

"This story is the ultimate American Dream. These blue-collar guys got together and built it from it from nothing and transformed it into an icon and a major industry. It wasn't the first bike on the market, and early on, didn’t have the greatest innovations even, but they survived two world wars, the Great Depression, various takeover bids along the way and they never changed. It’s the grandfather of all bikes. The beauty of a Harley is that you don’t buy them finished. You finish it off yourself. It is one of the most customizable brands in the world -- paint, forks, exhaust. If you’re driving a standard Harley, you just haven’t gotten around to modifying it yet."


How to Fix Brain Fog and Boost Your Focus

The No.1 productivity killer is brain fog. Here are Ben Angel's tips for beating brain fog and boosting focus.

How One Small Button Can Transform the Creator Economy from a Buzz Word to an Actual Economic Model

The co-founder and CEO of PIP, a creator economy monetization solution, shares how his company is helping content creators get paid more easily.

This Company Wants to Pay You for Your Steps. Here's How it Works.

The co-founder and CEO of Sweatcoin explains how the company’s move-to-earn vision is helping people be healthier while also getting brands in front of 100 million users.

Javier Correa of Sombrero Mexican Food on Restaurant Expansion Strategy

Interview with Sombrero Mexican Food Owner Javier Correa Jr. on celebrity endorsements, finding an effective pace, and the balance of scaling a business.

Do You Inspire the Best in People? Apply for the Tony Hsieh Award

The Tony Hsieh Award seeks out progressive, value-driven leaders and innovators

3 Ways to Achieve 'Superhuman Focus' in Just Two Weeks

Focus is a valuable asset for any entrepreneur. Here's how to upgrade your energy, focus, and drive.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself If You're Thinking About Becoming a Health Coach

The chief revenue officer at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition shares how the program works and the myriad of ways you can use a health coaching certification.

Josh Altman and Matt Proman Are Teaming Up to Disrupt the Real Estate Industry

Serial entrepreneur Matt Proman and real estate mogul and 'Million Dollar Listing LA' star Josh Altman have joined forces to launch

Robert "Don Pooh" Cummins of Brooklyn Chop House on Opening Restaurant Doors

Interview with the Brooklyn Chop House owner and franchising expert about working in the music industry, opening restaurants, and creating avenues for black entrepreneurs.

Feeling Unmotivated? 3 Biohacks to Supercharge Your Focus and Drive

Here's Ben Angel on the top three motivation myths and how to use biohacking to become more focused.

This Physician Wants to Change the Way You Carry Your Baby

Dr. Lena Shahbandar is a physician and entrepreneur who designed a new baby carrier to help parents and caregivers reduce back and joint pain.

Jennifer Allen of Levy Restaurants on a Commitment to Company Culture

Interview with Levy Restaurants VP of Restaurants Operations Jennifer Allen about running successful businesses, being a "restaurant girl", and her company's strong values.

How to Bounce Back After Any Setback with Biohacking

Here's Ben Angel on how to apply biohacking and neuroscience to take back control of your life.

Why Companies Need to "Onshore" to Ensure Sustainable Growth

Entrepreneur Network Partner Ashley Crouch sits down with Sidney Wheatley, CIO of the Private Family Office to H.H. Sheikh Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulla bin Hamad Al-Khalifa.

Discover Entrepreneur Series

Whether you need advice on how to get your business off the ground or you’re just looking for inspiration, our video series have something for everyone. Browse our library below to find a series that speaks to you and your interests.