4. Tsunami-Tossed Harley

Last year, we named Japan’s Tōhoku earthquake and tsunamis the top motorcycle news story of 2011. About 15,000 people lost their lives and many more were left without homes. The motorcycle industry was also shaken up, with the Big Four Japanese manufacturers seeing disruptions in production.

A little more than 13 months after the earthquake, a curious shipping container washed ashore on an island off the west coast of Canada. The container was the first notable debris from the Japanese tsunamis to travel across the Pacific Ocean and reach North America. Within the container was a heavily damaged but mostly intact 2004 Harley-Davidson Softail Night Train.

The motorcycle’s owner, Ikuo Yokoyama, was located in Japan, alive but still living in temporary housing. Harley-Davidson offered to restore and reunite the Softail with its owner but Yokoyama, who lost family members to the disaster, turned down the offer, asking instead for the motorcycle to be enshrined in the Harley-Davidson Museum as a memorial to those whose lives were affected by the earthquake.

Following Yokoyama’s wishes, the Harley-Davidson Museum opened the tsunami motorcycle exhibit in October, becoming a symbol of the disasters. The exhibit bears a plaque which reads:

“Metals like steel and aluminum, along with rubber, plastics and leather, all deteriorate. Add in moisture, oxygen, and salt and the process intensifies, particularly for metal. While the trailer holding the motorcycle was adrift, some seawater was likely inside, causing initial corrosion. The destruction rapidly increased after the motorcycle was washed out of the trailer and onto the beach. Laying on its left side, the bike was pounded with water and dragged over the sand and rocks by the tide.”

“The resulting mechanical damage breached the bikes surface finishes like paint and chrome plating, leaving parts vulnerable to salt water. The surfaces on the other side, such as the chromed oil lines on the right side, were not broken and show little signs of corrosion. The bike has not been cleaned since it left the beach on Graham Island. The remaining salt and sand is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts moisture. As long as these stay, accelerated corrosion will continue. Despite this, a decision was made to leave the motorcycle exactly as found. Cleaning out otherwise restoring it would erase the evidence of what this machine has been through, and the motorcycle would no longer serve as a testament to the ongoing tragedy of the tsunami.”