Motorcycle Monday: Harley-Davidson UMG
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Find out more about this legendary classic.
While there are many legendary Harley-Davidson motorcycles out there, the UMG is sometimes talked about but is often misunderstood to one degree or another. Part of the problem is that few, if any, have been preserved in their original form, and there is an interesting reason for that. Another reason is that some people do not understand the origin or original use of the bikes. Below is some background on this classic American motorcycle.
Photo credit: YouTube
Everyone knows the Great Depression has been tough for all types of businesses, including motorcycle manufacturers. With jobs tight and money tight, people held onto their bikes or found other ways to get around instead of buying a new one. Harley-Davidson fought for new market niches and decided to steal a business from rival Indian, who had been the only motorcycle supplier to the New York Police Department since the motorcycle team was founded in 1911.
Rather than showing off just one of the existing models, Harley-Davidson was so earnestly interested in disrupting this very visible, predictable, and therefore sought-after part of Indian business, that he designed a special model for the police force, the UMG. Based on the Model U released in the mid 1930s. This bike formed the basis for the UMG, although numerous changes made it a separate model. It would go head-to-head with the chief to fight for law enforcement supremacy in the Big Apple.
Photo credit: YouTube
Rather than taking a radically new approach, Harley-Davidson took the safer and easier route, simply mimicking the Indian Police Chief's motorcycle. A 74-inch flat head from the U series with a 3-speed gearbox served as the drive for the Harley. However, because the New York Police Department had very specific requirements for its fleet motorcycles to ensure reliability, the company had to add a magneto connected to a generator instead of a battery. In fact, the "MG" in UMG stands for "Mag Generator".
Another big change Harley-Davidson had to make to meet NYPD requirements was to reverse the layout of the motorcycle controls. The throttle was on the left, the gear stick was on the right, and the spark advance was also on the right. The front brake was also on the right, which was unusual for a Harley in the 1930s. Even the foot clutch was opposite of normal function, engaging when the lever was operated backwards instead of forwards, or in other words a heel clutch.
The Indian chief look was rounded off by a beautiful dark red paint on the fenders, the frame and the tank. Despite all this imitation, Harley failed to oust Indian as a motorcycle brand from the NYPD. It wasn't until the death of the Indian motorcycle company in the 1950s that Harleys were used again by officers in the Big Apple.
Photo credit: YouTube
The UMG was manufactured by Harley-Davidson from 1937 to 1939. As was often the case back then, accurate records were not kept, or at least not kept, which means no one really knows how many of these motorcycles were made. Of course, that hasn't stopped historians and motorcycle enthusiasts from guessing. Some estimated that there were around 400 Harley-Davidson UMGs in operation, but others believe they were below 100.
Unfortunately, only one UMG is known in the USA today, which is still in the police force. It is owned by the Wheels Through Time Museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Unfortunately, others have been destroyed or modified, which is all too common with vintage motorcycles.
To learn even more about the Harley-Davidson UMG, check out the Wheels Through Time video tour. We are incredibly grateful that you are so willing to share this unique, historic bike with everyone else.
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