Ride Free

More than just a slogan

The two words ‘Ride Free’ evoke powerful emotions for Harley-Davidson® enthusiasts, and now they have inspired a new Parts & Accessories collection


Words: Charles Plueddeman

In 1985, Willie G. Davidson managed to distil the essence of the Harley-Davidson® experience down to two simple words: Ride Free.

Willie G. understood that at its core, Harley-Davidson represents freedom – the freedom of the open road and freedom of expression through customisation. Ride Free. It’s as simple as that.

A worthy cause

Thirty-four years ago, as Harley-Davidson vice president of styling, Willie G. was supervising a team designing special graphics for a run of Liberty Edition Harley-Davidson bikes that would be offered for the 1986 model year. Each featured the official logo of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, a private-sector effort to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, led by Chrysler Corporation Chairman Lee Iacocca. The foundation’s first goal was the repair and restoration of the Statue of Liberty in time for its centennial in 1986. Harley-Davidson pledged to donate $100 each from the sale of 1,750 Liberty Edition motorcycles. The special paint and graphics package was offered on Sportster®, Tour Glide, Electra Glide®, and Low Rider® models. One element of the design was a dramatic rendering of Lady Liberty, with room below for text.

“Having the actual image of the Statue of Liberty on our bike, these two brands representing freedom, inspired me to create this simple statement,” said Davidson, who retired in 2012. “Ride Free is the visceral experience our brand represents.”

Design process

Initially, he wrote the words ‘Ride Free’ in marker on a piece of paper and handed it to the design team, which adopted his distinctive printed style for the logo.

“This is how we frequently worked in the styling department,” explains Harley-Davidson Principal Stylist Ray Drea. “Willie would sketch out his basic idea and give it to a designer to explore iterations and bring the final concept to production. In this case, his penmanship is the design.”

The Statue of Liberty Ride Free logo was placed on each Liberty Edition model, either on the top of the fuel tank or on the top of the Tour-Pak® luggage. In 1986, Harley-Davidson organized two cross-country Ride for Liberty tours, one led by Davidson and the other by Harley-Davidson CEO Vaughn Beals. Picking up riders and donations along the route, the two caravans met in Washington, D.C., and Davidson and Beals led thousands of riders on to Liberty State Park, New Jersey, where a Motor Company cheque for $250,000 was presented to the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

As his celebrity status in the Harley-Davidson community grew, Willie G. was often asked by fans for an autograph, and he began incorporating ‘Ride Free’ in his distinctive script with his signature.

A modern collection

Now that sentiment of freedom is the theme of the new Ride Free Collection from Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Parts & Accessories, an assortment inspired by the iconic phrase.

“The Parts & Accessories team suggested a collection based on ‘Ride Free’, and I was assigned to the project,” said Drea, who specializes in graphics. “There’s so much emotional energy behind those two words, and I thought it would be awesome to get Willie involved, too. He suggested that we keep the design of this collection simple and attainable. We presented him [with] multiple concepts and later showed him the design on the actual parts, and he approved.”

The Ride Free Collection components include Wrinkle Black and chrome air cleaner inserts, timer and derby covers, hand grips, footboard inserts and a fuel tank console door to fit a variety of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. There are also self-adhesive ‘Ride Free’ medallions in two sizes that can be placed on any flat surface. In addition, the ‘Ride Free’ logo is featured on new black shirts for men and women, and on an adjustable cap.

Two words rarely meant so much. 

Visit h-d.com to see the Ride Free Collection and find your local authorised Harley-Davidson dealership.