1934 Harley-Davidson VL on display at the National Motorcycle Museum.
In 1933, Harley-Davidson, much like the vast majority of American manufacturing businesses, was suffering hard due to the Great Depression. That year, the company was operating on a two-day working week and their sales bottomed out at 3,703 units (60 percent of all motorcycles sold in the USA that year!) from approximately 21,000 units four years earlier. This 1934 Harley-Davidson VL is a typical example of their best-selling bike from that era.
The 74 cubic inch (1,213cc) Big Twin VL series engine was a flat head made between 1930 and 1936 in the the then traditional motorcycle mode readily defined by heavy duty leading link, girder front forks; single sprung leather seat on a rigid, steel tube "hard tail" frame; full valance front fender; hand shift on the tank; bicycle pedal kick-start; removable cast iron cylinder heads; and enclosed primary drive case.
Harley's main competition, Indian, had first produced a flat-head big twin about 14 years earlier. Even so, the VL series had its troubles at launch with the first two months' production being recalled. Shaky start, maybe, but the VL brought Harley timely success as the reliable yet exciting ride of the day.