According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, there is trouble a brewing in the Bar & Shield crowd this week, as Dave Zien was denied a powertrain warranty claim on his 2014 model year Harley-Davidson trike.
For those not in the know, Zien is a former Marine as well as a former Wisconsin State Senator, but he his best known in the two-wheeled community as the man who has logged the most documented miles on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (~2.5 million), as well as putting over a million miles on his 1991 Harley-Davidson, which now sits in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame.
All those miles aside, Zien’s issue with Harley-Davidson stems from the flags mounted on his trike, and the fact that Zien can often be found bombing around on his trike, with his flags waiving not only during rallies and parades, but also at highway speeds.
Saying that while flags at parade speeds are of course just one of the many ways Harley-Davidson owners can customize their machine, the Bar & Shield brand contends that the aerodynamic forces of two large flags (Zien has seven flags in total mounted on his trike) puts an undue stress on the machine, and thus Harley-Davidson cannot cover Zien’s warranty claim.
Clouding the issue is the fact that Zien is often found touring on his Harley-Davidson to speak on behalf of veterans, mostly at biker rallies; and that Zien’s large 3′ x 5′ flags include the American flag and Gadsden flag, which touches a nerve with the conservative riding community.
“Ain’t nobody gonna stop our flags, not even Harley-Davidson corporate,” Zien told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. “It’s just my way of serving the Lord with prayer, flags and Harleys.”
On the other side of the issue is Harley-Davidson’s stance that flags of that size should only be used at parade speeds, and that because Zien’s flags were not aftermarket parts made by Harley-Davidson, it therefore complicates Harley-Davidson’s ability to cover Zien’s warranty claim.
“When you alter a motorcycle with noncompliant products, that does impact your ability to make a warranty claim,” retorted Harley-Davidson spokeswoman Maripat Blankenheim to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal. “We have a right to protect our product. And [Zien] isn’t using our product for the purpose for which it was designed.”
The courts have been pretty clear about how non-OEM aftermarket parts affect warranty claims, so it is interesting Blankenheim would bring that issue up — especially when the parts in question are not part of the drivetrain itself.
One could also argue that a motorcyclist mounting flags of this size, and using them at highway speeds, was a foreseeable use of the Harley-Davidson trike, especially considering the company’s core demographic and involvement in rally parades.
There is an interesting exercise here though: if Zien was flying a parachute, of equal aerodynamic drag force to his seven flags, would his warranty claim hold the same weight? When you strip away the political noise that comes with the American flag and Harley-Davidson riders, and look at the issue strictly from a product warranty point-of-view, things seem to change a bit.
Ultimately, that thought experiment comes to the aerodynamic resistance generated by the flags at highway speeds, whether a Harley-Davidson transmission can damaged by that much added resistance, and whether that damage constitutes a product defect or a use outside of what is foreseeable for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Unfortunately for Harley-Davidson though, you reap what you sow, and after years of producing marketing materials that are charged with “American Freedom” messages, the company has created a certain vocal demographic within its riding community. Corporate brands are ultimately hostage to the company’s fans and consumers, and Harley-Davidson is no different.
While the brand resonates well within the conservative biking culture, Zien himself is a known Tea Party activist, Harley-Davidson is ultimately at this group’s whim, which is how Harley-Davidson now finds itself with a marketing problem, in addition to a product warranty problem. We suspect Zien will be getting a new transmission soon enough.
Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal