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  1. the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way



As far as iconic U.S. military vehicles go, one of the unsung motorized heroes of the American military is the motorcycle. Though it may have faded in and out of fashion with the armed forces, the military has been utilizing the motorcycle’s simple and nimble functionality since the Mexican Revolution. From leading the charge with mounted machine guns and V-twins to special ops running silent with all-electric bikes, motorcycles have seen their fair share of combat.


28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918

Combat Role

Harley-Davidson J and JD Series


In the lead-up to World War I, America got involved in the Mexican Revolution. Tired of Pancho Villa's shenanigans along the U.S./Mexico border, specifically the raid on Columbus, New Mexico, President Wilson sent General John J. "Black Jack" Pershing and a few U.S. Army cavalry units down to Mexico.

An extremely robust motorcycle, the J model featured Harley's 61 cubic inch, air-cooled, V-twin F-head mill mated to a three-speed transmission. For the expedition, the Army ordered the bikes in four general configurations - solo bikes for troop transport, sidecar rigs for command transport, gun carriers mounted with machineguns, and sidecar-equipped cargo bikes for carrying ammo and other materiel. Some were configured in the field to carry stretchers for the transport of wounded troopers. These bikes did extremely well in the rough terrain along the border, and their success set the stage for a mass mobilization of motorcycle troops in future conflicts.

Harley-Davidson Model 17F/J

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It was the Harley-Davidson Model 17F/J that was used in the greatest numbers during what was known then as “The Great War.” The bike, which was powered by a sixty-one-cubic-inch F-head engine, proved so successful that the U.S. military ordered 20,000 for use in Europe. 

The Model seventeen featured fifteen horsepower—rather hefty at the time especially compared to The Trusty—along with a simple three-speed transmission. What really made this Model 17F/J so versatile was the fact that it could be fitted with passenger sidecars as well as hospital stretchers. Machine guns could be mounted to the bike, which was able to navigate terrain that would have swallowed the trucks of the day.


Policing. Scouting. Couriers.

Motorcycle-Mounted Reconnaissance Officers



1 September 1939 – 2 September 1945

Escort Role

Harley-Davidson model WLA “Liberator”


Contrary to popular belief, motorcycles never saw direct combat during World War II. Their use was limited to policing, scouting and courier duties, in stark contrast to WWI, when motorcycles were used for actual fighting. But because military convoys were typically led by motorcycle-mounted escorts—including Brigadier General George S. Patton’s 2nd Armored “Hell on Wheels” Division that liberated much of occupied Europe—Harley-Davidson’s WLA became known as “The Liberator.” Motorcycle-mounted reconnaissance officers were usually the first soldiers to enter occupied territory, making theirs one of WWII’s most iconic and enduring images of freedom... 


The Harley-Davidson WLA was developed to be a tough-as-nails dual sport adventure bike decades before the concept of a dual sport adventure bike would become mainstream.


The model name WLA follows the standard Harley model code, “W” is the family of motorcycles, “L” means high-compression, and “A” stands for Army.

 “The Liberator.” Based on the civilian WL, the upgraded version for the military featured a 45-inch flathead motor that were easy to work on in the field. The 740cc V-Twin engine offered twenty-three horsepower, which made the WLA ideal for military police and dispatch riders. Nearly 70,000 of these bikes were produced for the war effort. The WLAs were often outfitted with holsters for the Thompson submachine gun.


Policing. Scouting. Couriers.

Motorcycle-Mounted Reconnaissance Officers

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The Liberator

Harley-Davidson’s WLA—The Bike That Won the War | Icon The Liberator

After the end of the Second World War some of the WLAs were refurbished and used in the Korean War, but by the early 1950s most of the Army’s bikes were sold as surplus. This was the birth of “biker” culture as returning soldiers bought the bikes. 

Gulf War

2 August 1990 - 28 February 1991

Reconnaissance Role

Harley-Davidson MT500/350

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Harley bought the rights to the popular Armstrong MT 500 British military motorcycle. They were favored due to their versatility, reliability and agility. Also, they were quite powerful. The one cylinder 482 cc four stroke engine put out a whopping 32 horse power. This meant the MT 500 gave an exhilarating ride. Yet, even at that the MT 500 experienced a very limited production run. Primarily, they were used for recon during Operation Desert Storm and troops in other locations around the globe.

The MT500 is powered by a 500cc Rotax single-cylinder, air-cooled engine with 4 valves, 5 gears (unit construction), and most were kickstart only – though a small number were made with an electric start. The name stands for “military transport, 500cc” and there was also an MT350, which was fitted with a 350cc engine.

Policing. Scouting. Couriers.


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Sgt. Artie Muller

Rolling Thunder National

Rolling Thunder®,Inc.


Time-tested. Practice-proven. 

Since 1988

Rolling Thunder Ride For Freedom



Harley-Davidson has partnered with Rolling Thunder® Inc. since 2001 to unite riders in support of the men and women who serve our country.


Producing Greater




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Motorcycle-Mounted Reconnaissance Officers



Next Generation
More Than a Motorcycle Dealership

Robert Patrick




Military Programs & Benefits

Harley-Davidson is proud to support our military active duty, deployed, and veteran’s soldiers.

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