Why Is A Harley Called A Hog?
And Other Manufacturer Nicknames Explainedby Allyn Hinton, on
William Shakespeare wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” for a little play called Romeo and Juliet, maybe you’ve heard of it, but I would submit that the nicknames earned by motorcycles and manufacturers have much more in the way of a meaningful meaning than the simple labels we use every day. We just can’t help but come up with nicknames, sometimes for the manufacturer, sometimes for the bikes, and sometimes it applies to both. I want to take a look at some of the names that stand out among the detritus of history and try to shed some light on their origins. Just think of it as a bit of a semantic scavenger hunt. Some are pretty obvious to those in the know; this is for everyone else.
Continue reading for my exploration of manufacturers’ nicknames.
Where do you get MoCo out of Harley-Davidson?
The earliest appearance of the bar and shield was in 1908 as a decal available for the bike's toolbox.
First off, I want to touch on Harley-Davidson. Not only is it still the King of American manufacturers, but it’s the only one to survive both World Wars and to have operated continuously since its inception in 1903. As H-D has such deep roots, it’s had some time to accrue a handful of handles. The “Bar and Shield” is one of the more obvious ones since the official logo for the brand is literally a bar placed horizontally across the middle of a shield with the words “Harley-Davidson” scrawled across the bar that splits the words “Motor” and “Company” at the top and bottom of the shield. It’s earliest appearance was in 1908 as a decal available for the bike’s toolbox and was trademarked in 1910.
Yeah, I know, many have “Cycles” as an alternate script at the bottom, and some even have “Clothes” as part of the T-shirt sales campaign, but it’s the “Company” Bar and Shield that’s pertinent here ’cause that’s what the factory officially calls its bike-building division and its the contraction of motor company that gives us the MoCo. I never particularly cared for it myself; I mean, if the object is just to shorten the words for the sake of brevity, wouldn’t just calling it “H-D” do? Sometimes there’s no excuse for nicknames, or art/fashion.
Why is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle called a “hog”?
Even as the “Harley Hogs” nickname faded on the racetrack, it persevered as a slang term for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
This is a fun little story that takes us back to Marion, Indiana, in 1920. World War I was over and motorcycle racing was emerging as a popular new sport. Having dominated the podium at the inaugural dirt-track race that had taken place on Memorial Day of the previous year, Harley-Davidson was eager to go for a repeat performance with it’s “Wrecking Crew” team. Yes, they were the original “Wrecking Crew.”
A rider named Ray Weishaar adopted a young pig from one of the local farmers just before the races, named it Johnny, and it became the team mascot. Weishaar beat the field for yet another first-place finish for the MoCo and upon winning, he picked up the pig and rode it around the track on his victory lap. That set up a short-lived tradition of taking Johnny for a victory lap every time a Wrecking Crew member won a race. One of those winning moments is frozen in time in one of the most iconic pictures of the era when Weishaar offered Johnny a victory sip of his Coca-Cola, a product fairly new under the sun at the time and with a much better ingredients list than nowadays, I’m told.
After dominating the field time after time, race fans and some in the media began to informally refer to the team as the "Harley Hogs," whether it be for Johnny’s participation or the media calling the team hogs for “hogging” the first-place finishes. However, the "Wrecking Crew" name was the one that persevered over time. Even as the “Harley Hogs” nickname faded on the racetrack, it persevered as a slang term for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. So ensconced in culture was the name that the 3rd Edition of the Dictionary of American Slang even contains an entry for "hog" as being a "1960s motorcycle or motorcyclist" with a following entry mentioning Harley-Davidson by name.
Of course, in more modern times the factory uses the word as an acronym for its in-house bike club, the Harley Owners Group, as well as its official market name. As for the Wrecking Crew, Indian Motorcycle took that label in the ’50s with its dominant race team, and it was been pulled out of retirement again for the 2017 Indian Flat Track Racing team that proved to be more than the rest of the world could handle right out of the gate in its freshman year after a long hiatus from the sport.
How do you get “Trumpet” from Triumph?
Early headstock logos showed the Triumph name pierced by a trumpet that ran the full length of the word.
This one also takes us back to the years immediately following the end of The Great War early in the 20th century. I reached out to Triumph for some details, having been inspired by a question from one of my readers (Hi, Michael!), but turned up empty handed on exactly why there was a trumpet in the early logos. Good thing it’s no great mystery, in general. Why may elude us, but the proof is in early headstock logos and patches that showed the Triumph name pierced by a trumpet that ran the full length of the word. I’m sure the similarities between the name Triumph and word trumpet made it easy to adopt the latter and use it as an endearing term (I’ve never heard it used as a derogatory).
Yamaha, The Tuning Fork Company
The appearance of the tuning fork goes back to Yamaha's roots in the late 19th century.
Yamaha’s “Tuning Fork Company” moniker hails from even deeper roots than the above brands. You see, back in 1898, Yamaha’s predecessor the “Nippon Gakki Company” was looking for a trademark logo, and it would ultimately settle on a Chinese phoenix with a tuning fork in its mouth. A tuning fork, for folks that aren’t music-savvy, is a two-pronged fork used to tune musical instruments. Originally, the company was known for high quality organs so a musical-related image was appropriate.
The three tuning forks of the Yamaha Logo represent twofold meanings. One meaning is the cooperative relationship that links the three pillars of their business: technology, production, and sales. The other meaning represents the three essential musical elements: melody, harmony, and rhythm. Even today, Yamaha is one of the big names in musical instruments.
In 1916, the company applied for a patent on the now-iconic, triple tuning-fork logo that graces, in one form or another, both the motorized vehicles and the musical instruments it produces. That’s right kids, I bet you didn’t know you were looking at what is essentially a 19th century logo, did you?
Honda Red Riders
The “Red Riders” name has become synonymous with the racing team specifically, and Honda riders in general.
The origins of Honda’s “Red Rider” nick doesn’t go back quite so far historically, but kinda’ like Yamaha’s fork, it came in on the ground floor sometime around 1946 when the company was founded or sometime shortly thereafter. Mr. Soichiro Honda’s emblem of choice was the now-famous Big Red Wing that still sees use today. The red color became significant to the company, and since Mr. Honda espoused the belief that in order to compete in the market you had to compete on the racecourse, it became associated with his racing livery as well. Since then, the “Red Riders” name has become synonymous with the racing team specifically, and Honda riders in general. Of course, it gets plenty of reinforcement with Honda’s “Ride Red” slogan, and so there it is.
Is a BMW a Beemer or a Bimmer?
BMW cars are not “Beemers” because a “Beemer” is a motorcycle.
Now for the Bayerische Motoren Werke and its “Beemer” nickname. Sure, it seems obvious that it’s a corruption in the enunciation of the BMW initials, but there’s also some subtle nuance involved here as well. You see, BMW originally got an early boost from its motorcycle development, and like everyone else, hit the races to make a name and sell some bikes. “Beemer” became the nick for BMW while one of its competitors, the Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) got branded with a “Beeser” nickname. It’s important to understand that BMW cars are not “Beemers” because a Beemer is a motorcycle. Cars are instead “Bimmers” so as to avoid confusion; yeah, I’m sure that never tripped anyone up...
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