For the purpose of today's article I'm going to make a broad generalization: the cruiser is a relatively recent invention that was concocted in the boardrooms of at least one major manufacturer. There was once a time when Harley Davidsons and Indians were simply styled in the manner of their era and were just as susceptible to being stripped to their bare essentials and ridden in anger as anything coming out of Europe. Their styling was once current, their performance once competitive, their function never intended for weekend warriors escaping office drudgery in leather-clad road pageants. The overwrought modern cruiser and the carefully cultivated image of its riders were but a distant glimmer in the eye of a clever marketing maven.
It could have been different. It should have been different. The cruiser wasn't born in the boardrooms of Harley-Davidson in the 1980s. It was the product of a man with a singular vision, whose work would prove to be under appreciated and his skills as a remarkable designer and craftsman virtually forgotten. These prototypical cruisers weren't created by tacking tassels onto nostalgic throwback machines – they were an optimistic vision of the future welded out of steel tube and beaten out of sheet metal in Orley Raymond Courtney's workshop before being rolled out into an ignorant world in the mid-1930s, and once again in the early 1950s. Courtney's work was bold, innovative, and without peer in the United States, or anywhere else in the world. Above all, it was beautiful. And it is now virtually forgotten, his stunning and forward-thinking designs contributing to a future that never happened.