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

  • ImmigrantByBirth-AmericanByChoice

    “Gadsden flag, which touches a nerve with the conservative riding community.”

    That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We conservatives embrace the “don’t tread on me ” philosophy. Me thinks the writers (possibly non-conservative) political bent is showing thru.

  • Campisi

    Unfortunate wording aside, I’m sure the writer meant to say that the Gadsden and American flags being involved with the situation are a large part of why you conservatives are up-in-arms about the whole thing.

  • Zinc

    “Gadsden flag, which touches a nerve with the conservative riding community.”

    Sentence just written poorly…we know they embrace the flags.
    Telling someone they shouldn’t fly flags is pretty sensitive stuff though.

    HD shouldn’t have covered it anyways…considering that the bad publicity will eventually force them to.
    Corporate will call it a misunderstanding at the dealer level…

  • Zinc

    Meant to say “HD should have covered it”

  • ImmigrantByBirth-AmericanByChoice

    Campisi my friend,

    Where is the proof that it is “conservatives” who are up in arms? And if there is, what side of the issue are they up in arms over?

  • jzj

    It was a clutch failure. “Harley-Davidson says the warranty on Zien’s motorcycle, a trike that has about 15,000 miles on it, is still in effect. But the company says his warranty claim was denied…”

    So: 2014 trike. 15,000 miles. Clutch failure. Warranty claim denied. But the warranty is “still in effect.”

    Bafflingly bad determination that, in 15,000 on a new vehicle, flags fluttering at highway speed could make a clutch go bad.

    Bafflingly bad PR that this guy, of all guys, is the guy you’ve chosen to screw.

    And simply baffling that the warranty is in effect but the claim is denied.

  • Dana

    If I had a name like Maripat Blankenheim I’d be snotty too. If I was Harley, I’d fire her. I know it’s not her decision to honor the warranty, but her statements are really combative. She shouldn’t be doing PR.

    Harley should fix this guy’s bike and hope this all blows over, and before he shows up on an Indian.

  • Conrice

    As everyone else has pointed out – What conservatives would be upset with the Gadsden flag?

    Either way though – while I can understand that flags do cause more drag, considering all of the other things that cause stress on Harleys – the trailers, the sidecars, and (unfortunately) the outright size of some of the men/women who ride them, it’s a cop-out to say the flags void a power train warranty.

    A company like H-D, which hugely built on their aftermarket products, surely doesn’t void the warranty on things like aftermarket pipes, air filters, rims, and the other vast array of customizations that they advertise – otherwise not too many of their bikes would ever have a warranty after 5 minutes of being sold.

    This is really bad for H-D though. Especially with a guy that seemingly has that many connections in WISCONSIN….

  • Shawn

    Wait a minute – isn’t this the bike that Harley-Davidson gave him after he donated his million-mile bike to the museum?

    Pretty bad PR. Harley may have a legitimate claim with their warranty stance, but they seem to be forgetting the optics of the situation. Like it or not, the court of public opinion has weight.

  • “Touching a nerve” is not an idiomatic expression for “making one upset” — it means to cause an emotion, which clearly it has some with of the commenters here. Interesting that it’s being focused on though.

  • Nick

    Seriously? HD is worried about flags? Have they seen some of the members of our obesity epidemic riding around on their bikes?

    This is just a serious of blunders all around by HD.

  • Maripat

    I had a brand new xr1200. It was prepped with their kit parts to go into their AMA series. They wouldn’t warranty a faulty oil tank (it split at the mold seams) because it was prepped for the track.

    duh. absolutely baffling.

    HD has an incredible ability to shoot themselves in the foot with bad pr decisions.

  • smiler

    Only in America.

  • Gonzo

    Actually, true conservatives are upset that the Gadsden flag is being dragged through the mud by the fake grass-roots movement known as teabagging.

    Beyond that though, it seems that Hardly Able-son is FINALLY admitting they build crap. I could see their argument if it was the part of the bike where the flags were mounted that were failing, but the trans? Sorry. Maybe if they hired more engineers than lawyers they might have a good product. And how about that VRod? Proof that Harley can’t design a proper water cooled engine to save their life. That’s a Porsche designed engine in there, NOT a Harley.

  • buellracerx

    One of many notable blunders on HD’s long road to ruin. The company was built on passionate motorcycle riders who would have replaced this guy’s clutch (probably with uprated components) because it’s just the right thing to do. Hopefully Indian learns from this history…they would have replaced it to keep this guy, as their customer and bread & butter, happy.

    What’s really baffling is that there isn’t enough design margin as to the torque capacity and heat dissipation in the clutch on the trike to cover this “over-use”. Something no doubt driven by either commonality with other big twins in the portfolio or, worse, by the ID department. Its undeniable that there has been a cultural shift at HD, even within engineering.

  • Jw

    This is when victory or some other brand should step in a give him a new trike. They would get some attention for this.

    As for HD I can say my job takes me a many different dealerships, HD is the most arrogant and difficult to work with. The ego factor alone , I so not want to go in there.

  • Jw

    Next thing we will see is the HD pro-rated drivetrain warranty based on rider weight as follows:

    300-350 pounds – 95% paid
    350-400 pounds – 80% paid
    400-450 pounds – 65% paid
    450-500 pounds – 50% paid
    500+ pounds claim denied

    HD cannot even make a good china built wall clock..

  • Jw

    “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.”

    Yet the HD brand is the essence of a global motorcycle molestation epidemic. How’s many non compliant parts do folks put on a Harley that are not “designed by Harley” ?

  • They’ll be declining warranty claims by Harley riders from wearing all those leather tassles next! How much drag do they create?

    Actually, that could be a pretty good deterrent for such a crime in biking fashion…

  • TRL

    This is really dealership issue. The dealer should have talked to the service rep and gotten this covered under “goodwill” warranty. Failing that, the dealer should have just eaten the repair for this particular case. I get that it sets a precedent, however, sometimes you make an exception because the benefits outweigh the costs.