Blasphemy, heresy, stupidity, sacrilege, un-American, and downright irreverence. Go ahead, get all those words out of your system. I’ll wait.

The default opinion of marketers, analysts, and the general population is that Harley-Davidson has one of the strongest brands in the United States, this being confirmed by the fact that every business student in America has studied Harley’s marketing efforts if they’ve ever taken a brand management course. So why would I start a three-part series on how to fix Harley-Davidson by arguing to change one of the most revered marketing houses in the motorcycle industry?

Giving credit where credit is due, Harley-Davidson, or I should say its admirers in business school academia, wrote the book on demand generation marketing geared towards the baby-boomer generation. However, in defending this market position, Harley-Davidson has painted itself into a corner by only engaging a very small segment of the population with its product. Unless they redefine and reposition their company image and who it resonates with, Harley-Davidson is going to watch the continued erosion of its footing in the motorcycle industry, and also the continued deterioration of its only industry leading quality: its brand.

This concept of redefining and repositioning the Harley-Davidson brand is a smaller, but parallel process central to the ethos of what needs to happen on a larger scale at Harley-Davidson. No other company logo has been tattooed on more body parts than Harley’s Bar and Shield; this emblem in itself is a billion dollar industry worldwide when you consider all the merchandise and licensing agreements sold. With such a lucrative market position resting at its feet, it’s incredibly difficult for a company like Harley-Davidson to consider tampering with such a large revenue stream. However this is exactly what the company must do in order to survive the coming years.

What was once an Amazonian-sized river of dollars flowing into Harley-Davidson, has diminished greatly in this past year and a half to resemble more of a babbling brook. For those who aren’t that familiar with brand equity analysis, a brand’s total value can be derived by adding up the combination of brand related sales (merchandise & licensing), and adding in the difference between the company’s balance sheet derived stock price, and actual trading price on the stock market. This disparity is often called “goodwill” by investors, and is attributed to consumer-added value of a company’s brand. Before the economic crisis, Harley-Davidson’s perceived brand value extended beyond the revenues it tangibly created with its Harley-Davidson t-shirts, jackets, etc, and was conservatively estimated at nearing $8 billion worldwide. Recently however this value has dropped considerably, and current estimates place it closer to $4 billion today.

As the economy rebounds it is unclear how much of this lost value Harley-Davidson will reclaim; but one thing that is for certain is the fact that as Harley-Davidson’s median customer age increases, the ability for the company to maintain its brand value will continue to wane. The only way to ensure constant brand integrity is for the company to engage riders outside of its core demographic, and engage them in a new way. In order for Harley-Davidson to achieve this, I propose that it must do the following:

Fire 75% of Its Marketing Staff
That statement is purposefully made to be inflammatory, but I want to make a very strong point here. Everything that I’m saying in this article has been argued before. It is not groundbreaking. It is not new, and these points have already been raised by executives at Harley-Davidson. As recently as three weeks ago, the company released the following statement to its investors via its 10-K filing to the SEC:

“To sustain long-term growth, the Company must continue to be successful in promoting motorcycling to customers new to the sport of motorcycling including women, younger riders and more ethnically diverse riders.”

The point and purpose of this article has already been made in a Harley-Davidson conference room, and regurgitated to the investors of the Milwaukee-based company. However what we’ve seen from Harley in its marketing communications lately is the same song and dance. There is a complete divergence in what is being preached for a company roadmap, and what is happening in actuality. The glib response would be that someone didn’t get the memo, but there’s a larger problem at play here instead. This marketing schizophrenia should not be a surprise to anyone who understands that companies have cultures. For the past two decades Harley-Davidson has put together one of the best marketing teams in communicating meaningful interactions with the baby boomer generation. It is in this company’s culture to think and market they way they do, and that is something that cannot be undone overnight.

Consider these marketers as specialists in their field. While Harley-Davidson is very good at marketing to men in their late 40’s (median customer age for HD riders in 2008 was 48.0 years of age, 89% of which were men), their specialized team of marketers is toothless to engage younger riders. Consider the baseball analogy where Harley-Davidson is faced with sending in a shortstop to do the work of a pitcher. The basic skills and mechanics for each player is the same, but only a truly specialized individual does either of these jobs well, and at the caliber necessary for a true professional.

In essence, Harley-Davidson needs marketers that don’t think like its current marketing group. It needs marketers who aren’t specialists for the over 40 crowd. Instead Harley-Davidson needs to find talent from companies like Red Bull, Apple, and dare I say Ferrari. The proof of this is the marketing materials we have today. Harley-Davidson is an advertiser on Asphalt & Rubber (through Google Adsense, not directly); you may have noticed their ads recently. Their message revolves around the pitch: “Maybe you didn’t feel any stimulation from the $800 billion the government pumped into this busted-down economy.” I received this same ad in my mailbox a couple days ago coupled with an added incentive of financing a VRSC V-rod.

The problem I have with this communication isn’t the fact that I’m not interested in the VRSC, but is instead nestled with the reality that this ad potentially alienates over 60% of the country’s liberal leaning citizens. Rest assured, there are politics in motorcycling, and Harley-Davidson is making a direct reference to a hot-button political issue to regarding our economy in order to gain support for its marketing program. While this ad resonates with the conservative-devout, it does so at peril. In advertising you can draw advertisements along the lines of those that either reinforce a brand’s core demographic, or those that look to extend a brand into new demographics. Harley currently does the prior, while as we’ve seen earlier, Harley has stated that their goal is to do the latter. The appropriate internet meme for this would be “epic fail”.

Focus on Lifestyle Branding, Avoid Pigeonhole Brand Identities
The next logical step in this thought-process is the need for Harley-Davidson to move away from the pigeonholed motorcycling identities that have become the definition of what being a “biker” entails. For the past year we’ve seen the “Screw it. Let’s ride.” campaign carry on, which has Harley-Davidson continuing to play into the same demographic stereotypes that we saw the Republican Party unsuccessfully leverage in a bid for Congressional control during the Bush (Jr.) administration.

There’s a not-so-subtle point I’m trying to make here, but the big take-home message is that the politics of motorcycling are disparate force that reinforces one group, while alienating another. A strong lifestyle brand should appeal to all audiences, and as such Harley-Davidson should focus its brand messaging on things that all motorcyclists (and non-motorcyclists) identify with, for example: freedom, individuality, exploration, community, etc. Exchanging these messages for ones currently being used will allow the Harley-Davidson brand to carryover into new rider segments much more easily and with less backlash.

Focus Brand Elements on Experiences and Emotions, and Not on Mechanics
Building on the concept that branding should be lifestyle-agnostic, comes the notion that the brand elements themselves should be able to transcend all communications, and all possible company roadmaps for the future. An integral component of the Harley-Davidson brand is the v-twin cylinder configuration, and the “Harley-Davidson sound” it makes.

I’m a die-hard v-twin rider. I get the association riders have with this motor design; however to incorporate it into the company’s brand elements means you’ve locked-in your brand to be associated with this motor…forever.

There’s nothing wrong with making v-twin motorcycles, but an issue I’ll address in the next installment of this series is the need for Harley-Davidson, Inc. to move into motorcycle segments that are outside of the cruiser arena (Harley-Davidson claims a section of the touring segment, but I’ll go into why I believe that’s a false statement in the next article).

In order to expand its product offering from a niche market into other lucrative markets, Harley-Davidson will have to consider engine configurations outside of the v-twin configuration. Before anyone starts bringing up examples of Ducati, and its v-twin powered line-up I’ll divert your attention to MotoGP and the company’s V4 motor, and ask you again where that company is headed with its designs in the next five years. Despite this, Ducati is a good example of the proper balancing of mechanical and emotional brand elements.

The Italian company is of course famous for its “L” configured v-twin motors, trellis frames, and desmodromic valves, but you’ll notice rarely in its marketing campaigns does it touch on these elements by name. Instead, Ducati focuses on its racing pedigree and exotic nature. These are elements that translate well, and when it became time for Ducati to adopt a V4 MotoGP configuration and carbon monocoque frame, the company did so with relative ease because the mechanical elements were not core to the Ducati brand. Further examples can be found in Ducati’s product line expansion over the past few years, which include the successful introduction of a sport-tourer. Contrast this with the possibility of Harley-Davidson being able to achieve the same feat with its current culture and design thought process.

I still remember when the VRSC debuted with its Porsche designed motor. The HD loyal had more than a few comments about whether the bike “sounded like a Harley”, imagine the dialogue that would have occurred if the motorcycle had strayed even farther from the Harley-Davidson norm.

Closing Thoughts
Without redefining and repositioning the overall Harley-Davidson brand and its underlying components, Harley-Davidson is doomed to continue being stuck in its same rutted-path, regardless of its desire to move along a different course. The way the Harley-Davidson brand is built right now lends itself to being highly skilled at achieving one singular message, but that message is unable to transcend and resonate with motorcyclists outside of its core group of followers, and more importantly it fails to resonate with consumers who are this brand’s future. If this company truly wants to change, and engage new and current riders into the Harley-Davidson family, as it has so stated its desire to do so, the brand itself must change first and lead the way for the rest of the company and its culture.

This change must come from a decisive shift in the way the Harley’s marketing department thinks, and the way its advertising arms manage their creative engagement with motorcyclists and the public at large. This means foundational changes to what elements comprise the Harley-Davidson brand, and how the company uses those elements to engage its audience.

  • Hayabrusa

    Good article! But, I hope part 2 explains that H-D must reinvent their bikes, also. I’m not saying stop what they do best, but diversify. Funny, since they lost their only street cred with the ‘non H-D’ crowd by dumping Buell. I fit their demographic perfectly – male, and age 48. Haven’t owned a Harley and maybe never will, unless they put out something un-Harley-ish (the XR1200 is a good start!). The much bigger question is – will H-D LISTEN to pundits such as us, or will they continue with their ‘Screw it, we’re doing what WE want to’ mantra?

  • That’s actually exactly where Step 2 is headed. Shoot I hope I didn’t just give it away too much. ;)

  • Oscar

    Considering that 89% of Americans believe the “Stimulus Package” has not created jobs ( ), I’d say pointing that out isn’t a bad political move at all. However, reminding people of their economic troubles is probably not the best way to get them to buy something.

  • Sean Mitchell

    I think they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. Any new product lines will alienate their core the same way a crusier would alienate Ducati’s core (remember that Vyper concept that was born in the pit of hell?). And riders of other types of bikes are going to be slow to accept a sportbike/tourer/dirtbike/whatever from Harley. They only thing to do is attract new riders, but there aren’t enough of them to keep the company affloat. You still have to cater to current riders.

    It will take an absolute miracle to change their direction. You said it best, they’ve painted themselves into a corner. Certain products die in this world: Beaver skin hats, print newspapers (eventually) and….perhaps Harley Davidson.

  • Pete M

    Outstanding article, you hit the nail on the head. I’m looking forward to part two.

    As a Buell 1125R owner I hate HD with a passion.

  • Willie

    HD is dead. OK senile.
    I’ve always thought they should have been paying royalties to Hell’s Angels but they’re all dead or in jail or without a known physical address.
    This always was no more than a one big myth story – hardly a marketing plan.
    And the motorcycles ? I’ve owned several and always sold them with less than 2500 miles.
    Ridden others. They were all disappointing, unless you liked to just polish shiny bits.
    HD has proven inept and clueless. There only “plan” was geographic expansion and licensing of the Hell’s Angels schtick.
    It’s over.

  • Willie

    I’d short the stock @ anywhere above 26.50 with a stop above the 30 area.
    Take a look at a monthly chart of this dog !
    Remember Enron ?

  • Patrick

    Great piece! I agree in principal with everything the author says, but also with most of the comments. I really don’t know what Harley can do at this point. All attempts to produce anything but the cookie-cutter Harley have met with luke warm looks and a few enthusiastic comments, but no real sales. The XR1200 generated huge buzz, and arrived on our shores in a down economy, which has lead to almost no sales. I’ll be Harley cans that idea, and never goes down that path again.

    According to most articles I have read, the V-rod family is one of the poorest performing lines in the fleet, and Buell (which might have been their saving grace) is dead. Anything the motor company tries to do outside the norm is squelched.

    Unless 30-somethings who might be able to afford a new Harley start finding it cool to own one, they’re in real trouble.

  • Ray

    The sad thing here for me is that I’d love to WANT to buy an American motorcycle. I tested some Buells last year and sat on the XR1200. The Sportster line is getting close (with the Iron, Nightster and 49), just not quite there yet.

    But if they finally get it right and I buy a Sportster-ish bike, what will they do? Try and push me into buying one of their big bikes because the Sportys are starter/girls bikes. They had a whole marketing campaign about trading up a year or two ago. Just shows how backwards the thinking is.

  • Pat

    Great article, but I agree with some of the other posters here, I’m not sure they can ever be saved. As a new-ish rider (3rd year) starting in my early 30’s, I don’t think I once considered their bikes to be desirable. The brand image doesn’t appeal to me nor does the product lineup. I’m not the fat bearded tough guy they portray in the advertising, and I’m not sure I want to be :)

    I’m part of the Japanese standard/naked/ss crowd. These are the guys/girls (there’s lots of em!) I hang out with, these are the people I ride with. They love their inexpensive and reliable bikes they bought on looks and sound and representation in professional racing. We have the same level of passion for riding and machines Harley wants from their own customers. We *love* our bikes. We have huge website forums dedicated to each model and we have representation in online social media. We follow our companies on Twitter and Facebook, hanging on every word about every minor 0.1% improvement to every model.

    The HD brand seemed to be all about counter-culture and anti-establishment, but you can buy made in China crap with their logo’s plastered all over it at Wal-Mart, they’re utter sell-outs, and it’s *us* getting profiled by cops and frowned upon in the traditional media, not them (rightfully so, some of us are real clowns on the street, but they don’t go around chasing fat guys with beards!).

    So to conclude, they’re not cool in any modern way and won’t ever get that way following their current path. Start by producing one midrange power bike (think 600-650cc) that produces smooth power delivery, precision handling, no vibration, reliability, a modern engine note and (gasp!) and modernized version of that logo. Focus heavily on design and quality and play up the “Made in the USA” tag. Think of what BMW just did with the S1000RR, correct direction resulted in huge interest and sales. The look should be on par with the Japanese, they’re not quirky foreign designs, they’re the *standard* for sport bike looks nowadays.

  • michael

    HD = Freedom to never grow, change, think outside the box or wear proper protective gear.

    USA, USA, USA…………

  • MTGR

    Image change is tough but it can be done.

    Look at the impact BMW is already having with its S1000. Yes, it was not their first attempt to break out of the old guy image but none of the priors tried hard enough. BMW faithful hated the idea of it and most sport guys never took it seriously, until tests started showing up claiming it smoked all the Jap 1000s – now a lot of sport bike guys are interested in it and the BMW guys don’t seem to mind it so much either.

    But the S1000 had to succeed on the merits of its ability to begin earning any of that respect. It can’t be a half-hearted mostly cosmetic revamp of a standard model like the XR 1200 is of the Sportster (especially if you intend to turn around and charge several thousand more for it than the standard virtually idfentical Sportster like HD did).

    Go big or go home.

  • Ceolwulf

    “In order to achieve something you’ve never achieved before, you have to become someone you’ve never been before.” – Brian Tracy

    H-D first achieved their popularity by being the best, highest performance bikes you could realistically purchase in the US. But they haven’t held that spot in fifty years. May as well be never at this point.

    Anyway by now their image is so entrenched that even if they made the very best sportbike or standard on the market most of the target market would never even consider one because they wouldn’t be caught dead atop anything with THAT badge on it. No one else has that problem. Even “old man bikes” BMW didn’t, largely (I suspect) because of the performance credentials of the car division.

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  • Rob

    This is a REALLY interesting read and I’m certianly looking forward to the next couple of installments. One thing to note is that the CEO (Matt Levititch) was the President of MV Agusta prior to coming back to H-D. And while it’s unfortunate that H-D dumped MV Agusta, I’m hopeful that he learned some things during his time there that will help him set a new direction for H-D. I may not have owned a Harley to this point, but I would love to be enticed by some great motorcycles from them.

  • MTGR

    I may be dating myself here, but there was a time when BMW sports cars were not considered the coolest or fastest either. BMW changed that by jumping back into motorsports in a big way, up to and including F1. Same goes for Mercedes.

    And, as unlikely as it sounds, if HDs’ 80s-era Superbike had turned out be a winner in as dominating a fashion as the Suzuki GSX-Rs have, and HD had followed that up with production sportbikes that all the popular moto-press called the fastest out there, I guarantee you would not be able to walk at a bike night or track day without tripping on an orange and black sport bike with the HD emblems on the tank.

    Think pink racegear is dumb? Everyone did until Bubba Stewart wore it and won everything, then Fox could not keep the stuff in stock no matter how many they ordered.

    Nothing changes the image of something faster than associating it with superior performance and winning, it is the reason manufacturers and sponsors alike spend millions upon millions on racing. As Carrol Shelby said of his famous Cobra racer, “everyone laughed at it and thought the ideas were stupid until we broke the track record on our first try, then overnight it was cool and innovative and everyone wanted one.”

  • Alex

    Few days ago I parked my 97 ZX6R on the meeter in San Francisco. The guy in the large truck wanted to pull in as well and I helped him by guiding his behemoth into the spot. He exits out of his car and says: “I guess thanks for moving your scooter”
    I say: “Scooter?”
    He says: “Yeah man, I ride Hareley, everything else is scooter for me”
    Nuff said.

  • Hayabrusa

    This could be the best ‘blog’ I’ve ever been a part of! :) If all of the convenience stores in greater Milwaukee are out of Rolaids tomorrow, we know the right people are reading also! I find it interesting that a number of the readers have already written them off – makes sense, but it will be an excruciatingly long and painful death, me thinks. Boy, I can’t wait to get my new Multistrada S!!!

  • @Rob

    Matt Levatich is actually the COO of Harley-Davidson. Keith Wandell is at the helm of Harley-Davidson. Wandell was the COO of Johnson Controls before coming to HD, and is the first CEO of HD to come from outside of the company.

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  • BRose

    The dealer network does not help. I rode my 2004 Multistrada ( Ducati) to a Harley dealer on Saturday. Lots of people there; no one under 45 , most well into their 50’s. I wanted to look at an XR1200. They had one new one; I looked at it; I sat on it, I walked off and came back and sat on it for about 15 minutes. Not a single person said a single word to me the entire time I was there. I ride with Harley riders; I rent Harley’s from time to time and go to Sturgis; Laughlin etc. I OWN a Ducati. Like several people on this blog; I would love to see Harley spruce themselves up and motivate someone like me to OWN something they build.
    Its clear that its not going to happen. Erik is lucky to get out before the big one! Sadly, what will happen is that a Chinese or other foreign entity will swoop in and buy this poor hulking mess at pennies on the dollar in about 2 years. Why did they think they could take “alternative” not just mainstream, but to Wallstreet and think it was sustainable forever?

  • jim

    dumping Buel was proof of their stupidity. it was as close to a harley as i could get.

    marginal design can be covered with chrome and sold, but not to someone who isn’t stuck in the ’40s.

    Ducati’s handle and stop and accelerate, they’re not overweight or slow and they may be pricey too but you do get something other than myth.

    Buel was their only hope for the future. he even finally got the motor he needed. then harley essentially stabbed him in the back. that was really underhanded. the feds pulled them out in the ’80s but this time their narrow vision seems to be fatal

    Britten was giving them the answer unreadable as it was to harley. Buel showed up and built it for them and they still missed it. they successfully ignored Vincent too. it won’t take an asteroid. it’ll be self induced.

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  • Jessee

    Harley Davidson seems to want and like the outlaw image. They promote there buyers to buy straight pipes for there bikes. Harley spent 4 million dollars on a “sound lab” and they hire “common people” to come in and listen to different Harley engine sounds. This just shows how stupid HD is. They care more about how an engine sounds than spending money on improving there aging line of bikes. With the present HD buyer heading for walkers and RV’s Harley is in real trouble. Young buyers do not want there heavy underpowered and overpriced bikes. I think Harley spends more R&D money on there new line of belt buckles and jock straps than they do on there bikes. They bring out the same machine year after year with new colors and more chrome.
    I believe Rotax offered HD 125 million for the Buell line and they were turned down. Dumping Buell was a mistake. Buell was HD’s only entry into the youth market and just when Eric was starting to use the Rotax engine instead of the Harley boat anchor engine. I went into a Harley dealer last summer to look at a XB12XT. I was totally ignored by the sales staff. If I walked in with long hair, a pony tail, tattoos and a beer gut they would have ran right up to me. I am in my late 20’s and I would never even consider a Harley and none of my friends would either. Harley uses the term “American Thunder” in there advertising. What a joke! You should be scared of thunder. The only thing I’m scared of when a Harley is near is that either a piece is going to fall off and cause me to wreck, or I’ll slide in a patch of oil that the Harley leaked onto the road ahead of me. American Thunder my ass! Thunder is powerful and loud. Harleys are just loud. I think the truth in advertising should apply to Milwaukee as well, if so, it would be called “American Noise”.

  • Sleeping Dog

    To move beyond the cruiser segment, HD need not abandon the V-twin, but it will need more compact drive trains. When a manufacturer is defined by motor design, think Porsche with its boxers or BMW with the opposed twins, its easier to move into a new segment if you bring the existing engine configuration.

    It took at least 15 years for the hardcore BMW rider to accept that an inline 4 was a BMW, now the company introduces singles and inline twins and no one bats an eyelash.

    HD has a long way to go to broaden its market and in the near term the pain of change coupled with inertia will make mining the existing base very tempting. Its next quarters numbers that Wall St. worries about, not 5-10 years from now.

    Good article, I’m looking forward to the remaining.

  • Hayabrusa

    Jesse – Some great humor in your post, the ‘sad’? thing is that a lot of it is probably TRUE! Sound Labs for loud pipes, R&D for belt buckles – just awesome!!

  • joe

    It seems evident that enjoying motorcycling is not one of their core values.

  • RT_Rider

    I like the “Screw it – Lets Ride” Harley advertisement. It is obvious that the people in the HD R&D department must do the same thing as HD has not come out with anything new in the last 50 years. It is truly a shame that the only major motorcycle manufacture in the U.S. produces such a line up of pure junk. Slow, heavy, and outdated with stupid names like Fat Bob and such. Good God just because that crap is made in the U.S. does not mean we owe them any loyalty.

    I an not an outlaw, do not like to dress up like a pirate, do not like loud exhaust, do not like 3 foot tall handlebars, do not have any tattoos, do not have a beer belly, am not a felon, and I am under the age of 50 so I guess I am not cut out to be a Harley rider.

  • Pete

    I agree with Jessee, dealing with cavemen at Harley dealerships is a joke. Harley will never be able to make a performance-handling machine, or understand them. Look at the money they wasted on the V-Rod. They made a modern example of there antique motorcycle and even the Harley riding morons will not buy it. There pathetic attempt at super bike racing was proof, as they were the laughing joke at the race tracks !!!! Harley’s fastest motorcycle, the Sportster, isn’t anywhere near deserving of its name. There is no “sport” to the Sportster, and with a 883cc engine pushing out a meager forty seven horsepower, you have all the makings for a Black Angus set in motion by a mouse fart.

  • johnrdupree

    Great read, and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.

    I don’t think the problem for H-D will be marketing to a new segment, it will be actually building something for a new segment. To appeal to younger buyers and to buyers who use their bikes (as opposed to just preening them) the bike has to Do Something. Sitting out front at your local isn’t Doing Something. The baggers do something, I guess, but not as well as other bikes in that segment.
    For younger buyers and buyers outside the faithful, they’re going to have to compete on merit, something H-D hasn’t done since the 60’s. They won’t be able to rely on the same architecture they use now because it is only good for one thing, and that thing is largely irrelevant to the buyers they need. H-D is used to selling to a homogeneous group of 40+ white guys who don’t really do anything with their bikes but hang out with other 40+ white guys and their bikes. Now they’re going to have to build bikes for commuters, scratchers, adventure tourers, sport tourers, etc. They can’t do all of that at once so start with the segment most like your own and go from there. (I’d start with a sport tourer. Use a smoothed out V-rod motor and build something taller, with a shorter wheelbase and shaft drive. Wrap it in Euro looking bodywork, angular and slightly Germanic, with detachable bags and ABS, traction control, heated-adjustable everything. And make it work, because if it doesn’t Do Something then it’s a waste of time.)
    BMW, Ducati, and even Triumph have all done this and have a huge head start on H-D. Those are the brands H-D needs to be studying.

  • MTGR

    I can’t speak for others here, but I suspect a lot of us have already written HD off because this is not the first time they have been lead to the chopping block and their response every time has been to add even more chrome and paint options, stick their heads in the sand, and wait for the government or someone else to hopefully bail them out. And, as the article noted, each time it has painted them further and further into a corner. So far their ad efforts, public statements about ‘focusing on their core business’, and the sale of MV, and killing Buell, all indicate they intend to do the exact same thing yet again.

    It is like an obese man who started out thin, it took him years of improper diet and get to his big weight so he can’t just turn into a thin man in a week of proper eating and exercise, it will take years to go all the way back to the thin man again even doing it full-heartedly. And the modern uneducated-day-trader quick-buck-searching stock market is not going to wait the 10 to 15 years it would take for HD to get back to the right weight.

    The Government so far has not been willing to raise our taxes even further in order to bail out HD yet again (thankfully, my kids will probably still be paying for Dodge and Chevy mismanagement as it is). So last option, which is what should have happened with the auto makers too, is to let the free market economy do what it always was supposed to do – kill off the old and weak to make room for a newer, younger, better group to take over (whether that means a foreign-owned HD or a new company altogether).

    I don’t dislike HD. If the XR1200 were more like the real XR and priced realistically I would have considered one, but the reality is it was a warmed over Sportster with a higher MSRP than a bunch of much better and just as cool motorcycles. HDs’ greed and lack of vision put them where they are, not the economy. It is survival of the fittest and HD is a big fat old hog. So, RIP HD.

  • Alan

    But the ridiculous thing is that Harley had a way out of its disappearing overweight baby-boomer demographic. It owned Buell and MV Agusta, two brands with serious appeal to younger bikers and a potential springboard into significant sales to real performance enthusiasts worldwide.

    Perhaps the finances were so dire they had to pull out of these brands. But then why close down Buell rather than sell?

    I heard it from a man who knows that BRP was willing to spend big bucks to acquire Buell, but the Harley board turned them down (with self-inflicted wind-down costs of $125m as a result) because they reckoned BRP would likely be far more successful with the brand and show them up for the incompetents they are. I mean, selling Buells through Harley dealers was a brilliant success and showed a real understanding of the two brands’ fundamental values, didn’t it??!!!

    My man also says the new bosses at Harley are on a massive bonus contract that rewards only bottom line turnaround by 2011, and everything else can go hang. So these guys are going to pick up hundreds of millions by massaging the short-term financials even if there is no long-term turnaround plan.

    Harley is finished.

  • If HD was so good at marketing ,How come Buell was’nt more visable to the general

    Bikers know about Buell,But everybody around the world knows about Harley whether they ride or not.

  • Gary

    Dumping Buell was stupid, refusing to sell them so somebody could still make an American sport-bike was a slap in the face to the American motorcycle community that has supported Harley all these years.

    Think about what Harley did to Buell and then read those flag ads above. “We don’t do fear” . . .


    Harley is afraid of a little competition from a tiny sport-bike manufacturer. I won’t set foot in a Harley show-room again until they sell the Buell rights.

  • King

    “If HD was so good at marketing ,How come Buell wasn’t more visible to the general

    That is the very point I was trying to make. NOBODY interested in a Buell wanted to go into a Harley dealership and deal with those morons. A Harley dealer wants to sell you a Harley then they can sell you the “Lifestyle Shit” like t-shirts, do-rags, belts, belt buckles, ass less chaps and the list goes on and on. That is were the money is. Buell buyers were not interested in shirts, jocks or ash trays. Harley Davidson is really a clothing and aftermarket motorcycle supply company that sells an aging line of motorcycles to get people to buy into the “Lifestyle”. Just look at there crazy advertising. Does Harley say ANYTHING about there new ADVANCEMENTS like traction control and electronic suspension adjustment etc. Noway, HD shows some old guy with a beard, pony tail and a beer gut. It is too late for HD to do anything. As it has been stated, there prime buyers are just about over the hill and out of motorcycling. Young buyers will have nothing to do with the Harley “Lifestyle”. Younger buyers want performance, styling and technology and a new Harley has none of that. Buying a brand new Harley is just like buying the same bike your grandfather had. Harleys are just plain tired looking and ugly. HD promotes there customers to put straight pipes on there bikes so they can sell them a $1,000 pair of pipes. They do not care if there loud and obnoxious motorcycles irritate 90% of the American public. Believe me, if there was a nationwide ban on straight pipes and every motorcycle had to have a muffler with a catalytic converter Harley Davidson would be out of business in 6 months. Most of the morons riding a Harley buy them because they think they sound cool without a muffler. Those morons could care less about performance or technology as they are only buying the bike to show off on.

  • heavy-duty

    The “show me your tits” outlaw image that HD promotes is not appealing to younger buyers who don’t buy into that HD aura. That train has left the station and if HD doesn’t do anything to appeal to technology-minded motorcycle enthusiasts their market-share will continue to erode. In the UK the HD dealers have created the XR1200 Trophy Series Race which I think is a great idea (at least a start in the right direction) to get younger buyers into their showrooms. HD blew it by not taking advantage of the synergy of owning the Buell and MV Agusta brands. They are going to go the way of Indian, which would be a shame, if they don’t change their stripes soon.

  • RainMan

    The XR1200 is a overpriced Sportster and you still have to wade thru the Harley dealer bullshit to look at one. The XR1200 is just like the Buell to a Harley dealer. Selling a XR1200 is a one-off to a dealer with no future clock, ash tray, t-shirt and pantie sales. You must be aware that in the U.S. 95% of Harley riders consider the Sportster, XR1200 and V-Rod to be a girlie bike.

  • I hope Harley does reinvent themselves. I fit what is considered HD’s future – 21, college-educated, motorcycle enthusiast…and right now HD to me is an embarrassment when it comes to the American motorcycle experience. I would never buy a Harley currently because of their weight, handling, and adherence to their narrow-mindedness. I’m not a Buell fan exactly, but I have a huge respect for Erik Buell and what he so passionately created with the crap HD gave him to work with…and I am disappointed that HD shafted him – what a bloody croc! HD could benefit greatly with even a gram of the vision and ethic that Erik Buell had. HD needs to look at Confederate Motorcycles – they have created a product and a soul that, while in harmony with the quintessential thundering v-twin and rebellious nature, overall redefines the American motorcycle – using avant garde process fused with vintage cues. Before Confederate and their Wraith/Hellcat/Fighter, I was totally fed up with American v-twin motorcycles…especially as HD was basically the only choice. Yet, Confederate got me really excited and hopeful for a resurgence in US bikes. Why can’t HD capture even a fraction of that spirit and use it to reinvent themselves?? Also, I know that for me, as well as many of my young contemporaries, Japanese and European bikes are where it is at…so HD needs to somehow break into that dominance with a fresh, sporting (lightweight, efficient, well-handling) bike that will attract our demographic. Otherwise, a great majority of my 18-30-ish demographic will just continue looking at Harleys as bricks riden by “older” tattoed rednecks at Sturgis!

  • In fact – give me an MV Agusta Brutale over a Sportster anyday!

  • Gary

    I don’t think Harley has yet begun to understand how much damage they’ve done to their image by not allowing Erik Buell to make motorcycles.

    There is a large segment of the motorcycle community – some on BMW’s, some on Ducatis, some on Yamahas, some on Harleys, some on Buels – who share a common bond. They all LOVE motorcycles.

    That segment recognized a portion of themselves in Erik Buell. That segment goes to races, rides with friends, reads about motorycycles and BUYS motorcycles.

    I have seen the comment often repeated that if people who were fans of Buells actually bought Buells then maybe they’d still be around, but that’s as short sighted as Harley’s management. There are a lot of motorcyclists who have taken pride in watching an American bike finally able to come close to competing with foreign competition purely on performance.

    The anger in seeing that taken away will have a stronger negative effect on the image of Harley amongst the motorcycle enthusiast segment than any positive of a XR1200 spec. series.

    That segment understands what Harley is saying about themselves with their actions: “We don’t care about individuals, we don’t care about motorcycles, all we care about is MONEY.”

    That segment may not be Harley’s primary demographic, but if one of those people have 5 motorcycles and one of those motorcycles is a Harley, they have spent just as much as a typical harley customer who has one bike that happens to be a Harley.

    Harley management is likely perplexed right now about why every online discussion about Harley seems to turn to a discussion about Buell. They’re perplexed because they don’t understand motorcycles and they don’t understand the motorcycle community.

    In case anyone in Harley has the sense to read some of this, I’ll give them the clue they can’t seem to find for themselves: SELL THE BUELL RIGHTS TO ERIK BUELL if you ever want to have a place at the table of the motorcycle enthusiast table.

  • I totally agree with the article. I also think that the way Harley Davidson has built its image can be the same reason why it can’t take off in this modern times. The market segment that it has built has become quite exclsive that younger market segment can’t seem to identify with the brand and feels alienated by its communication strategy. If the marketing communications will not change, the brand might die together with its current market. All the more that the company has to build new set of users to continue its legacy.

  • No Harley For Me

    Every time I think of a Harley Davidson motorcycle I see a old outdated, heavy and loud motorcycle with high handle bars and an older guy dressed up like the Village People trying to let everyone think he is some kind of bad ass. If I told someone, for example, over the phone that I road a Harley they would immediately see that same image of me in there minds. HD markets to the older generation and the Sturgis type rider. That market does not care about modern technology so all Harley Davidson has to do is keep up the “outlaw Image” and this market segment will keep on buying. Just look at HD advertising. They sure as hell are not trying to capture the younger market with there ugly blacked out bikes. I checked out there web site and was dismayed. In a attempt to market the “ALL NEW 48” (another remake of the sportster) they show young riders sitting around smoking and drinking and riding with only a stupid bucket helmet. I really doubt that that is a realistic picture of the youth of today – maybe what the misguided Harley advertising department would really like to think. HD gives the American public the finger every year when they have to balls to announce there “NEW” line up when all it really is is last years bikes with new colors and more or less chrome. Killing Buell was the last straw for me. As far as I am concerned Harley Davidson does not exist……..

  • Brad

    We must remember the AMF days of Harley Davidson to see any hope for a solution. Under AMF ownership they dumped all sorts of models with crappy build quality and almost killed the company for good. The only way to survive is for Harley to put some money into a separate brand with both starter models and sport bikes with the freedom to be sold at stand alone dealerships or with other brands. They had this opportunity with Buell but did not know what to do with it. This brand must be able to use other engines besides a V-twin dental filling extractor and use sales people that actually give a damn about their customers.

  • Damien

    One of the most interesting articles on the subject I found on the web.
    Just a word from the old Europe, France actually…
    Here the HD brand – well known – targets the same typical HD customers, a small market share… Some years ago, these baby boomers were the only ones able to purchase such bikes.
    Today, for the same price, 30-40+ years old motorcyclists do not want to be mistaken with baby boomers. To ride different, we have plenty of choice !
    Buell was mostly the reason why time to time you saw recently younger potential customers entering a HD store. Now the game is over concerning Buell…
    I bought a brand new XB12SS some 2 years and half ago (a good bike, by the way) to replace a Multistrada 1000. It’s time for change… but surely not for a HD, after the consideration they gave to Buell customers !

  • MIke

    OMG. The Buell people chime in every time. The bikes were less desirable than the other products competing for customers, for a variety of reasons. Chief among these were the appearance and the awkward chassis geometry. So a less attractive, less sexy sportbike was Erik’s business model? HE WAS UNPROFITABLE FOR NEARLY THREE STRAIGHT DECADES! Go back to the Star Trek convention and stop bringing up Erik’s holy name on every stinking forum you can find!

  • 305ed

    Your article begins with a flawed premise: the assumption that Harley needs saving. Demographics of a Harley owners has waxed and wained throughout their history, but attracting “younger” riders is not part of the over-arching strategy. That demographic is notriously inable to put their money where their mouth is. Witness the cacaphony of cries for product created by OEM’s and sold only in Europe. If a manufacture capitulates and does bring it here, the lastest and greatest, technologically advanced, great handling bike dies a wicked death. Harley funded Buell’s pipe dream and then said enough. A good, maybe very good, product did not resonate with buyers. And that is because Harley builds cruisers. The naysayer groupthink which loves to hate every product that the Motor Company builds is not their target demographic. You want a standard, buy a Honda. You want a sport bike, buy a Duc or a Gixxer. You want a cruiser, well consider that the Big 4 currently offer 68 models of V-Twins. Or maybe you should look back at who understands the cruiser buyer best. Harley.

  • Sound Lab?

    It has been mentioned that Harley spent 4 million on a “sound lab”. HD sells it bikes on the sound and that is why the engine has remained unchanged for 40 years and the reason the V-Rod does not sell. The V-Rod does not sound like a Harley so the Harley morons will not buy it. If Harley does anything to the motor in the area of modernization and changes the sound the “loyal” Harley buyers will not buy it. That is why 90% of Harley buyers put straight pipes on there bikes the minute they buy them. They only want to be heard and show off. A Harley SOUNDS like it is a powerful motorcycle when in fact it is just the opposite. It is a slow, heavy, poor handling and outdated motorcycle that “sounds” like the opposite. Buell built a odd looking bike, very true but the big factor against Buell from the get-go was the outdated Harley motor. Who wants a “sport bike” with an antique motor in it plus going into a Harley dealership to try and buy one was a major feat in itself. Harley seems to not care about the younger buyers. Sure, I have seen a FEW young riders on Harley’s but that is the exception. Harley wants to continue with there “Outlaw” image and market to the 50 to 60 year old buyers who could care less about modern technology- they only want to cruise thru town dressed up like a pirate with a loud motorcycle and show off . I doubt that Harley has any plans to modernize there aging line of bikes. They make there money selling the boutique items like belt buckles and clocks so selling a motorcycle to someone is just a means to the end. The end meaning selling that bike buyer all the rest of there aftermarket line-up. Don’t look for HD to change anytime soon. I think when the 50 to 60 crown is no longer buying bikes Harley will run the Uncle Sam for help to stay out of bankruptcy and they will probably get it too. A LINE OF AGING BIKES FOR AGING BUYERS………

  • Dawg

    Interesting. I have never been interested in a Harley, though of course I respect the heritage.

    I was excited when I saw the new XR1200 appear – and it does look great – but was dissapointed when I realised what a heavy bike it was. There seems to be a real interest in simple, stripped back to basics, bikes and particularly flat track style machines, so Harley were on the right track but ultimately did not go the whole hog.

    A quick look at Triumph, who also have a great heritage, and you will see a company not resting on it’s Laurels, but innovating and producing a wide range of machines. Triumphs have become really popular in Italy, France and Germany as well as the UK because of the way it markets it’s heritage, but with competitive products. Their range of bikes has something for all types of rider, from sport machines to cruisers.

    The same can now also be said of BMW with the launch of their new sports bike. Harley needs to innovate. Unfortunately they probably can’t now afford to develop new products. Fortunately for them they will probably always have a rider who likes the appeal of the brand and it’s rather old fashioned machines. The problem is for them that bikers now have an overwhelming amount of other machines to choose from, most of which out perform the Harleys in most areas.

    The only Harley I would consider is a very light, powerful tracker style machine. Or a cafe racer style machine.

    Harley has a racing heritage. They have to believe they can win again.

  • Singletrack

    What kind of Harley would I buy? Nothing they currently make. However a V-Rod engine in a VFR type chassis would be nice.

    Where else to go from here?

    – Motocross – Get the Cannondale tooling, invest another $500Million and try to compete against the Japanese and KTM? Not bloody likely.
    – Supersport bikes – been there, done that (poorly).
    – Dual Sport/Adventure – Rebrand the Buell Ulysses as a H-D.
    – E-bikes – Oh yea, that’ll go over well with the faithfull.
    – Standard UJM (or is that UAM) – The Sportster has that segment covered.

    But all of the above category sales combined don’t match up to the Cruiser and Touring market in North America. Harley is in the right place, for now.

    But, the glory days may be fading into the sunset, the Boomers are moving to tricycles and the market for heavy, slow cruisers won’t likely be the same again. If H-D recalibrates to selling 150,000-200,000 bike per year, they could still be a profitable company, like they were 10 years ago. Although I wouldn’t want to pitch that plan to the shareholders :(

  • 4Cammer

    Trying to wrap my head around the statement that Buells have “awkward chassis geometry”. They are are particular in set-up, but are excellent handing bikes when done so correctly. It is all in the owners manual…

    HD lost me when they killed Buell and orphaned my XB9R. Bad enough they (and the lousy -save for a few-dealer network) never had any interest, direction or grasp of marketing to sell the bikes, now they have given the finger to 136K of us owners. Gotta sell those HD branded Barbie and Ken dolls…

    Good luck HD. I thought you might have had me with the XR1200. As stated above that bike does not fit the mold, the dealerships have no desire or ability to sell a bike that does not come with forward controls, and they just sit in the corner…seen that before.

    I am 43, two kids and a Mrs of 20 years. Bald and a goatee. The HD “sales”guys love to see me come in the door as I fit the “type”. That is unless I come in off of my Buell w/a helmet and leather jacket that was designed to take a spill and not just a place to put patches on. HD needs to change that to survive.

    Hope they do.

  • WingMan

    4 Cammer and Singletrack have made some very good points. Right now HD does not make a bike that I would be interested in. I am a touring or sport touring rider. I have a 2009 Gold Wing and I stopped at the local Harley dealer (now out of business) and they were not interested in dealing with me. I did not fit the mold and was not interested in buying any screaming eagle junk and pants, panties and jock straps. I told the salesman that I wanted a price on the bike only. He told me he would be right back and I stood around for another 30 – 45 minutes and he never came back. I left and bought the Gold Wing and I am glad I did. Our local riding group does not like to have Harleys with us on our many touring trips. We do not like to ride behind a Harley as they all burn oil and we do not like the smell. Also, everyone with a Harley has to put loud exhaust on them so with them in the back we do not have to listen to them. The Harley have a difficult time passing cars if they are loaded with gear and 2 people.

  • akatsuki

    With the sportster they could easily come out with a cafe racer. That would be a good first step.

    Really, the reason I don’t respect Harley is that they are generally anti-engineering. Their rep is for big bloated heavy bikes with tons of extra crap thrown on, and their target demographic is the same.

  • Fred

    Harley Davidson does not care about the young riders of today because they do not have anything to sell to them. Young riders want light fast highly tech bikes. HD is just the opposite, there bikes are heavy slow and old tech. Harley Davidson wants to sell pants, jackets, decals, clocks and do-rags. There line of ancient motorcycles are just a means to an end for HD. Sell the sucker an old out of date bike with a “lifestyle” and they will buy it. At least the over 50 and overweight crowd will. Most Harley riders need a huge cruiser because that is all that will haul there fat ass around. Two 55 years old fat people would look pretty funny on a sport bike or a sport touring bike. I have a friend who looks at my BMW with envy but he weighs about 280 lbs with a huge beer gut so all he can ride is a cruiser. At least he is not stupid enough to buy a Harley.

  • Mondo Endo

    I think they can keep the loyal customers and expand into other areas by building a world class sportbike, Buell doesnt and didnt count. Look at the chance BMW took with their 1ooo sportbike. BMW has as loyal a following as Harley and really shook up the supersport world with their new bike. Harley could do the same but no needs to pull out all the stops as BMW did to be a success. Unless they do something to appeal to people who arent pirates I think they will continue to spiral down into non existance and that would be a shame.

  • No Harley

    When I was in my teens in the 60’s I thought a Harley was a cool bike. Now I am in my 60’s and I think a Harley is a piece of crap. Harley is still selling the same bike that I though was cool in 1960. Harley has to realize that this is 2010 and not everyone want to play dress up like a pirate and ride around there city showing off with loud exhaust. I like motorcycle touring and I would not consider what Harley calls a touring bike. They are heavy, under powered, not very good looking and well it is just a 1960 motorcycle with a 2010 price tag.

  • Jeffery

    A good example of new technology for Harley Davidson is the V-Rod. They spent millions of dollars designing a new bike that looks just like there old bike. The V-Rod is a complete failure as the Harley crowd will not buy it because it does not “Sound Like a Harley”. The Harley purists consider the Sportster and the V-Rod to be a girls bike and will not buy them. Harley Davidson’s complete marketing is dependent upon the “Sound” of there bikes. The people that buy a Harley only care about one thing and that is the way the bike sounds. They spend thousands of dollars the day they buy a Harley on new “Straight Pipes” and Harley Davidson tunes the engines from the factory for the best sound possible with or with out a muffler. It has been stated earlier in this forum that if a nation wide band on motorcycles with out mufflers was enacted Harley Davidson would be out of business. Who knows why Harley really killed Buell. I think they shot themselves in the foot big time but then I am not some highly paid corporate big shot. Harley Davidson has a loyal group of followers but they are all in there later stage of life and will not be riding motorcycles much longer. Young motorcycle buyers think a Harley is a big joke. A major problem with Buell was the old Harley motor and selling them in Harley dealerships. Young buyers did not want to put up with the Harley dealer BS. I tried twice to test ride a Buell and both times when the salesman noted that I was not interested in a Harley he lost interest in me. It is a fact that the Harley Davidson motorcycle is outdated technology, over weight and over priced and I would be willing to bet a lot of money that HD will not change one thing in the future. They will continue to market there bikes and clothes until the light goes out and I think the light will go out sooner rather than later. I think it is too late for HD to make changes and they probably do not have the money to design a total new line of motorcycles for younger buyers. Good By HD, I will not miss you at all.

  • Ken

    BMW pulled this trick off, and they certainly didn’t do it by sticking to large capacity boxer twins, a feature that could easily have been puffed up as “brand heritage”. Instead, they used singles, parallel and boxer twins, in-line fours, anything they thought necessary. And they colonized every niche that they thought they could bring something to. I bet their engineers loved them for it.

    If HD have any sense at all (which cannot be confirmed) they should be looking at BMW and Triumph very, very closely. Let’s face it, either the sacred cow gets butchered, or they do.

  • Stupid Pete

    Ken makes a very good point about “brand heritage” and the “scared cow getting butchered” but I doubt Harley would pay any attention to that. If you read the earlier posts, HD spent millions on a “Sound Lab” that they can invite the public into so they can listen to different Harley engine sounds and then vote on which sound was the best. This is an example of HD marketing. Harley only cares about there “sacred” V twin and how it “sounds”. The Harley engine and its sound is what sells Harley’s. If Harley Davidson put the newer V-Rod engine in there bikes or changed to a flat 6 like the Honda Gold Wing they would be out of business in 6 months. The people that buy a Harley only buy them for the “sound” they make because they “think” it sounds cool riding down the street making a bunch of noise. Harley makes money selling engine noise and clothes. That is why they do not have to make any improvements to there bikes. People only buy the noise and the “lifestyle”.

  • wayne

    Anyone remember the VR1000 super bike? I do and I always said that if they made it available to the US market, I would buy one. (Never mind that is the ONLY HD I would purchase). I’d say John Britten proved that a fast, sexy and ridiculously advanced v-twin need not have an Italian pedigree with his V1000, but that seems to be wasted on HD because, as we’ve already noted, they’re far too concerned with selling a sound with the lifestyle and t-shirts to match.

  • Mike

    I’m 24 years old and just bought a 2009 Sportster 1200 Custom last month. This is my first Harley, I’ve never ridden on one of the big V-twins and probably will never buy one either. My plan is to give this bike a “bobber” look and feel. I think there is definately a market for the younger riders in the USA with this style of motorcycle. Maybe Harley would be wise and go after this market…

  • Skipper

    The Sportster, isn’t anywhere near deserving of its name. There is no “sport” to the Sportster, and with a 1200cc engine pushing out a meager seventy or so horsepower, you have all the makings for a Black Angus set in motion by a mouse fart. If Mike wanted to buy a bobber style bike he would have been better to look into a Triumph or better yet a Moto Guzzi. Of course HD will give him all his money back if he trades it in on new old Harley. This is about the only way HD can sell the Sportster. The “real” Harley crowd will not buy the Sportster or V-Rod as they consider them girls bikes. Even if I was dumb enough to buy a Harley I sure as hell would not buy a new one. There are lots of late model used ones for sale for a fraction of new cost. These were bikers that suckered for the Harley image until they realized what they bought. The Sportster is so out of date I can not believe people still buy those things.

  • Watcher

    Harley is loosing almost 3 million dollars a day right now so a take over is very likely. I doubt the company could be saved as is though. The line of bikes is just too outdated and it would take millions to design a new line of bikes. The new owner would need a new engine design because the old V twin is too outdated to redesign. Maybe a boxer engine like the Gold Wing or twin like the new Triumph 1700cc motor.

  • HD’s are awesome…

    for their intent. The biggest niche there ever was.

    It is HIGHLY annoying they haven’t seized the opportunities in performance. Motus Motorcycles is poised to pick up where HD could have easily gone (imagine that model while still having Buell in the picture with the latest EBR model).


    HD will continue to entrench themselves in the status quo. They will succeed to some degree due to:

    the heartland states, southeast states, & lots of the northeast states are HD-crazed. The “Dads” in these states will pass the HD spell onto their sons/nephews/neighbor kid. But, the numbers of interested “sons” are waning with each generation removed from the b-boomers.


    not promising as most comments suggest for many reasons (attitude of HD management/staff; dealerships; product line). HD is truly a titanic for these reasons. Can’t change direction. They celebrate 100+ years all the time, but what the hell are they doing today that will help them celebrate 200 years?

    HD being linked to a v-twin is not a problem just as it is not a problem for Ducati (even if the author did mention the V4 Ducati). The bigger problem is not having any model that is easily transferrable to alt-power. e.g. an electric Road King has zero appeal for anyone. Electric may not be the answer in 40 years, but diversification is the answer. If they can continue to build the a couple of models like the Road King while adding diversity, that seems to be what many would appreciate.

  • No Harley For Me

    HD spends too much time and money on clothes, clocks, ash trays and belt buckles. It is no wonder there bike are as outdated as they are. It makes one wonder if they only sell bikes to augment there real product which is clothes etc. If someone buys HD they will have to change the company image from a beer drinking outlaw biker. When I think of a Harley I see a old heavy motorcycle with 3 foot handlebars and a guy with tattoos and beer gut and tattoos riding it. Maybe Honda had something when there ad used to say “you meet the nicest people on a Honda”. I am 34 years old and I would quite riding motorcycles if I had to ride a Harley. I went into one Harley dealership to look at a Buell and that will be the last time I step inside a Harley dealership. A total bunch of morons.

  • Ride to Live

    I used to say, I would buy a Harley when Harley built a V-Max, I now own 2 V-Max and a Harley Night Rod. I believe that it is too soon to write Harley off as “dead.” I believe that the future of Harley Davidson will depend on keeping the current customer base and creating new Harley owners by taking a look at the bikes that are most successful from the competition and creating new models that encompass the styles and features while retaining the individuality of being a Harley. I have customized my Night Rod and have had people walk up and take a closer look saying such things as “I thought it might have been a new Japanese bike or somethhing and had to take a closer look, then I realized it IS a Harley” And I have only gotten compliments on it.

    If the new designs were based on the cstomization trends with multiple model options available within each specific model line, Harley Davidson could indeed put a whole new generation of riders on a whole new generation of machines. Harley has to be open to allowing those of us who hold a vision for the Harley Davidson brand to have input with the designers, and to create both the reliable standard design Harley Davidson motorcycles and clothing lines and progressive “push-the-envelope” designs. Just as the V-Rod line brought new interest and offered a new look and direction to Harley, so could the ideas that I just outlined, bring new interest, new riders, and new life to the distinctly American Motor Company.

  • Ride to Live

    No Harley, you make a perfect point about the Harley touring bikes, I know a few guys who own them and one of them told me that he is going to sell his Electra Glide Ultra because it is too heavy. He is 60 years old and he wanted to buy a bike that him and his wife could go touring on, but slow/ no speed traffic is problematic after awhile for him and he dreads even worse, the thought of dropping the bike and having to right it.

    I have seen quite a few guys on V-Rods, but they tend to be new riders, “sport-to-Harley” riders, or riders who started on Japanese bikes and wanted a Harley to add to their “stable.” I bought my Night Rod used and I have no complaints about it’s performance and quality, I just wish the gas tank was larger, just like with the V-Max. My next customization will be to drop a 5 gallon RevB tank by Unlimited Engineering under the seat. I hope that Harley’s execs will realize that there was a time when businesses realized that they “had to spend money to make money”, but in doing so, in the long run, the products and profits were worth it.

    I see a competitive future for Harley Davidson if only the current execs will be willing to risk being as much the visionaries that the founders were.

    And yes, No Harley for me, the saying is “you meet the nicest people on a Honda”, but I have to say, I met some of the nicest people at the Southern Thunder Harley dealership and that is why I am still riding my Harley 2 years later.

    Most of us Harley riders are family folks who don’t tear down the road without baffles, and most of the new Harleys are pretty quiet compared to old. I think my bike is loud, yet people tell me all of the time that they either don’t hear me or barely hear me when I come and go on my bike and it has a Vance and Hines 2 into 1 performance exhaust system on it. Compared to my V-Max stock exhaust, my Harley has a louder rumble and growl, but I have heard some sport bikes with aftermarket exhaust systems that bury out the sound of my Harley.

    There will always be stereotypes for the riders of the different classes of motorcycles, whether it is the image of young guys speeding in and out of traffic on Japanese sport bikes, leather clad Euro bike riders, or “guys with `ape hangers’ handle bars, beer guts and tattoos” on Harleys.

    I am sorry to see the end of Buell, unfortunately, we are sadley seeing the effects of the current economic state continuing to affect our companies, as well as companies worldwide.

  • Bo

    I have to wonder how many of the Harley bashing ‘experts’ who have posted here have actually ridden one. My guess is that most of them are afraid they couldn’t handle it, or can’t find one to match their fluorescent yellow jackets and pink panties. I have two suggestions for them; 1) Know your subject before you open your mouth and 2) express your opinion about the brand but don’t attack or stereotype the owners. Did Malcolm Forbes fit the descriptions provided by ‘Pete’ or ‘RT_Rider’ (moron, felon)? I think not. Nor do most of the other Harley owners, myself included. I know a few morons, and even a felon, who happen to ride Japanese, Ducati and BMW (OMG!). And please don’t forget that Harley Davidson is an American company employing many American workers. Tell me, when was the last time a BMW riders group staged a veteran’s memorial ride, or a children’s toy run- or even attended one? So feel free to ride what you want but show a little respect for those who don’t choose the same brand as you, we all share the passion.

    That said, I too will do a little Harley-bashing, but I have owned and ridden Harleys (Brit & Jap too) for many years and currently own two Buells- and two (vintage) Hondas, a Yamaha and a Kawasaki. My beef has already been expressed by others: the fact that HD wouldn’t sell Buell. The city of Milwaukee tried, as did others, to keep Erik’s dream alive and HD should have allowed it to happen. Erik, his team, and we ‘Buellers’ know what a great thing it was to have an American sportbike. For that reason Harley can kiss my ass, but they won’t get close to my wallet.

  • HD Hater

    Here is a good example of Harley Davidson.

    I do not think that Harley has any idea how many people they piss off.

  • Not Stupid

    Well Bo old boy just because Harley is a so called “American Company” does not mean that we, as Americans, have to buy the outdated overpriced crap they produce. Harley has its head ups its ass and is stuck marketing to the over 50 crowd that like to ride a motorcycle no more than 10 miles on a sunny day and then just to show off there loud exhaust and Harley Davidson promotes this behavior. All this “motor company” and “american iron” BS is just that BS. They sell a motorcycle with 70 horsepower and then sell you a screaming eagle kit for 3 or 4 thousand more. Where do they get these names? Screaming Eagle, Nightster, Fat Bob – Ultra. Good God, if HD spent as much time and money on designing a decent motorcycle as they do thinking up stupid and useless names they might not be in the trouble they are. HD spends more time and money on designing next years clothes and stupid names than they do on product improvement. HD has a worn out motor and a worn out name that only the over 50 crowd in interested in. Who in the hell would want a 900 pound lead slug with a 70 hp motor?

  • Shaswata Panja

    Before anyone forgets Halrey has been extremely successful in what it has benn doing since the mid 80s when it was almost wiped out by the Japanese for that it has the biggest of respect..Just some figures

    They sold 273,000 of 543,000 651+cc motorcycles sold in the US in 2006..(Total Motorcycle sales for 2006 was 1,022,000 icluding 54,000 scooters 681,000 street and 35,000 dual sport and rest off road bikes) That is just over 50 percent of its target market….In Europe in 2007 it had around 9.6 percent market share in the above 651+cc market (38,900 out of 403,000 units) European statistics is comprised of 14 of the richest European countries along with Greece. I admit the European figures might not tell the whole story as Europe has a huge market for 600 cc supersport and naked , street bikes which are not included in these statistics but still it was impressive nonetheless..What’s more amazing HD’s international sales increased from 76,000 units in 2006 to 97,000 units in 2008 ( a year of shrinking market) An impressive 27 percent increase in 2 years A stellar results by any standards let alone in shrinking market…So there share in Heavyweight motorcycle market in Europe (651+cc) has actually increased to 12 %.

    Now lets move over to Australia and Japan.

    In 1998 they had around 24 percent of of the above 251+cc market in Japan (18,000 out of 75,000 units) One of the unheard sad stories of motorcycling is the rapidly shrinking haveyweight motorcycle market in Japan…In 2006 they captured around 27 percent of the Japanese heavyweight motorcycle market (250cc above) with 13,500 out of 50,000 units) the heydays of 250+cc motorcycle market in Japan was in in the period between 1980-85 when the size of the market was always between 130-145,000. But with Japan being in a constant depression for the last 20 years those levely might not be seen again . Same goes for sports and performance cars sales in Japan. The highest level for 651+cc market seen in the Australia Japan territory was 69,222 units in 1998

    The above 651+cc market for motorcycles worldwide (US,Canada,Europe,Japan,Australia) has risen from 322,000 units in 1991 to 878,000 units in 2003 (Last year for which combined Data is available)…And Harley’s share for the same period has risen from 20% to 32.8%

    It is safe to say that with informed calculations these levels rose to around 1.1 million during the high of 2006 and Harley with around 350,000 motorcycles in 2006 maintained its market share at around 32 %..For a company that produced only 37,000 motorcycles in 1986 and was almost pulverized by Japanese competition in the late 70s it is nothing short of miraculous….Nobody here can argue that to get a non-biker interested in motorcycling you just have to quip the two words Harley-Davidson…Harley-Davidson has actually increased the size of worldwide heavyweight motorcycle market with its own growth and its phenomenal brand image which is more often spread around the world by popular culture rather than the Motor Company itself…Without Harley Davidson big motorcycles could have been pushed out to the fringe…I feel sorry that Honda or Yamaha could not do as much in spreading the popularity of big bikes like HD did.

    But where Harley has failed is in the introduction of new technologies..Despite its size other companies have become regular industry first when it somes to features like electronic fuel injection, disc brakes, ABS, Ride-By-Wire, Traction Control, Electronic Suspension, 2WD among others…

    I guess this is has been the single greatest failure of HD but its contribution in making big bikes popular among non-bikers and growing the worldwide bigbike market is unimaginable

    To many big bikes just mean HD

  • Willie


    Now research the numbers on beer, potato chips and bratwurst sales. Oh, cigarettes too.


  • mike

    Funny that so many comments seem either from harley haters or beull lovers, but not much balance. Where here is one. I’ve owned Yamaha, Honda VFR, V-Rod, and currently own a StreetGlide. Harley has:
    1) a well branded, tuned, high quality product. I loved all my harleys and they are just as great as my Honda VFR in quality and style that lasts.
    2) the DID expand the brand with the VRod. A really different and very fast bike. So classic HD cruiser lovers do not love it. Thats ok, I never got any flack. I loved that bike and again, compared to the Yamaha or the VFR, it was at least as good in performance, quality, ownership experience
    3) harley cruisers are very good and yes, sounds counts. And they have the most aftermarket customization options, etc.
    4) best dealership experience by far. The Jap brands, while I love their technology, are sold by generic ‘sell only’ stores with no sense of style. A Harley dealer is a destination,
    and I have had many great encounters at many dealerships.
    5) while I liked the buell ‘difference’, they were never successful in any large way and had great quality problems in general (not always). I wish buell could have survived to take the rotax engine to success, but i must admit it was another error to launch it with quality (e.g. heat) issues…a chronic buell tendency to launch a bike before it was ready

    So….does harley need brand updating? Yes. Is it as bad as the author says? No. Have they made attempts in the past? Sure, Vrod and Buell. Sucessfull in hose? Not really. Should they keep trying? Yup!

    In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy all kinds of biking, especially harley, a real american brand that has been around for a 100 years, no small feat.

  • Pete

    “In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy all kinds of biking, especially harley, a real american brand that has been around for a 100 years, no small feat.”

    Very true Mike and Harley has not changed in 100 years either. I hate all this made in America BS that the Harley idols are always crapping about. Harley is more interested is selling you a shirt or jock strap than a motorcycle. They promote unsafe motorcycle riding with there stupid outlaw biker advertising. If you are stupid enough to buy a Harley so be it. I will also bet you have a harley t shirt, clock, belt buckle, finglerless nose picker gloves and loud exhaust. It has been said in the past that there is a sucker born everyday.

  • Skipper

    “In the meantime I’ll continue to enjoy all kinds of biking, especially harley, a real american brand that has been around for a 100 years, no small feat.”

    Very true Mike and Harley has not changed in 100 years either. I hate all this made in America BS that the Harley idols are always crapping about. Harley is more interested is selling you a shirt or jock strap than a motorcycle. They promote unsafe motorcycle riding with there stupid outlaw biker advertising. If you are stupid enough to buy a Harley so be it. I will also bet you have a harley t shirt, clock, belt buckle, nose picker gloves and loud exhaust. It has been said in the past that there is a sucker born everyday.

  • Biker57

    I just loved Bo’s contribution. Anyone who thinks Harleys are crap “can’t handle it or can’t find one to match their fluorescent yellow jackets and pink panties.”

    Sums it all up, I think. I can just picture the dude – fat boomer with what he thinks is attitude, aftermarket skull and iron cross stuff all over his ride, wears his cap backward, etc… Typical Harley rider.

    Sorry Bo, we hate your slow, heavy and useless bikes, and your sad lifestyle Harley bullshit. Why? Because we’re used to proper machines, you know, fast and exciting ones, with technology from after the 1970s!

    And my pink panties suit me a lot better than your colostomy bag does you!

  • Alan

    Really interesting contribution Shawata – thanks a lot.

    You come to this message board and see all the old bald inmates fighting over a comb and point out that there is indeed light beyond the grimy asylum windows.

    Harley did do something special building big bike motorcycling as a lifestyle choice but that was a long time ago. They have added very little to the industry in a long while, in my opinion.

    You point out the substantial numbers of bikes Harley have sold in different markets in the last 25 years and you’re right, but any observer could have seen that their brand values and goodwill were diminishing assets, and they had to somehow look beyond their boomer comfort zone and prepare for the future. They didn’t.

    I personally think that those European and US manufacturers who fail to ride the Asian wave will be left behind. HD sells 200,000 a year, BMW 100,000, KTM 80,000, Ducati 40,000, Triumph 35,000 – peanuts. The Chinese market is 14,000,000 a year and the Indian 9,000,000. OK so most of these are scooters, but the big bike element grows exponentionally year on year.

    Those that want to survive will follow KTM’s link up with Bajaj. A strong international bike brand with a cash-rich emerging market motorcycle powerhouse –

  • LowRydr

    Already spent too much time reading the posts on this article, so I’ll just cut to the chase. Just as difficult to stomach as a bearded old guy riding a Harley is seeing all those 30 something barrel bellied dudes stuffed into tight leathers riding a sport bike thinking they look fabulous. To these dudes: You’re in the wrong demographic and we don’t want to see leather abused in that way.

    I’ve been riding Harley’s since my mid-30’s and I’m 43 now…always wanted one…much more so than any sport bike. My 19 y/o son contemplated getting a sport bike for a year, but eventually changed his own mind and decided to buy his first Harley because he and his friends thought that Harleys were much “cooler”…and a year later he still thinks the same way.

    Also some are using an isolationist US view…Harley’s are one of the most popular bikes in Europe (besides real European brand touring bikes) and the Middle East even though they cost much more there than in the U.S. – go figure.

    Then, of course, there is the issue of trade-in value…how many Harleys of ANY age (other than Sportsters) do you see being sold for less than 10K USD? I can pick up a 2 year old sportbike for nearly the cost of it’s manufacturer’s supplied replacement rims from their catalog plus it will have all the carbon fiber bits and racing exhaust already installed…thanks, ah…but no thanks.

    So the only thing that I can gather from reading the majority of the posts is that if I really have to explain it, you just wouldn’t understand.

  • Shaswata Panja

    Alan thanks for your response….Yes Big motorcycles started coming in India after 2006 and Harleys will start selling from April 2010…Ducati is already selling 70-100 units in its first year in India…The 650+cc Bike market in India has grown from zero to around 1000 units a year in 3.5 years(I can give you the links if you want)…One of the facts that it was zero I donot know the figures of China but you can safely bet any new market trend in India will project itself three fold in China..The reason taht there was no market for big bikes was that the Indian Government’s motorcycle pollution laws were geared towards bikes under 500 cc only, the laws did not take into account of the emissions from big motorcycles..This was though changed..One of the funny stories about Harley is that India allowed Harley into India after India was allowed by the US to sell mangoes. You have to remember that a typical big bike in India costs twice of that in US as India has 100 percent tax on completely built motorcycles and cars imported into India….One of the great things about Indian bike market is that there actually only 4-5 big players–Hero Honda (50 percent Honda JV), Bajaj, Honda, TVS, Yamaha and Suzuki(struggling though) with Royal Enfield as fringe player. This means the big two Hero Honda and Bajaj are really cashed up….Hero Honda was actually looking towards bidding for one of the IPL teams for around 300-350 million dollars..They are sitting on that much reserves….The Indian Bike market is not as much fragmented as the Chinese with its 100 different manufacturers…

    Whats good about the Indian market is something that might pay dividend 20-25 years later..

    Performance oriented bikes for around 1500-2000 dollars are being pitched at the 16-25 year old market…These bikes have great styling,electronic fuel injection, dual spark plugs,Digital clocks,monoshock at the rear, gas charged forks, disc brakes up front and rear and sometimes liquid cooling…They have capacities between 150-250 cc and produce anything between 15-23 bhp…Some of the bikes in this segment are Bajaj Pulsar (150,180,200,220) , TVS Apache, Hero Honda Karizma and Yamaha R15….

    Pulsar basically kickstarted this genre with Yamaha taking it a notch higher with its liquid cooled engine…Slowly bikes have graduated from a utilatarian tool of transportation to a product that personifies cool and style..If you want to attarct fine specimens of the opposite sex it has become increasingly imperative in India to ride one of these bikes and their ads and marketing are almost always targeted at the late high-school, college going crowd of the middle class whose parents are ready to buy them a shiny new toy….I see a parallel with the boomer generation of US…When this demographic (the first young guys of India#s amrketized economy) become 40-45 they will finally be abe to afford big bikes they always aspired when the rode their 150 cc bikes in college….So yes , India might not give good volume for the next 10 years or so..But after that it is going to explode So as you rightly pointed out motorcycle makers which are intimately nurturing their relationship with India and China will reap the most benefits

  • No HD

    No matter how you put it a Harley is just a slow out of date overweight and ugly motorcycle. Harley riders sucker for the “Lifestyle” and HD loves that because they don’t have to improve the junk they make, just keep bringing out “new” aftermarket junk. These idiot Harley riders spend thousands of dollars on all that crap. What a bunch of motorcycle clowns. I guess they do not realize how stupid they look riding down the street with there legs stuck out in front of them. (we call that the Harley enema position) Really looks stupid and we laugh our ass off every time we see one of these clowns.

  • Biker57

    It’s all here on this thread.

    Harley riders and real bikers. The old fat guys who want to hand down their sixties engineering nostalgia and the others who want to move on.

    And we even have a dude who says he is in his forties and wants his son to ride Harleys. Child abuse?

  • Phil

    Harley should have developped a high-performance light weight V-Twin and given it to Buell. Instead they decided to get rid of Buell… how dumb was that?!? You don’t need to compete head to head with the Japanese, there is a market for those who can deliver peformance with a good chassis and an air cooled v-twin the way Ducati does, instead of selling bikes by the pound…

  • Mad Biker

    Hey Phil were have you been hiding? Harley Davidson can’t develop anything except a new line of do-rags and more chrome shit for there outdated motorcycles. Harley gave up developing motorcycles 40 years ago. Harley’s latest development was a new four million dollar sound lab. It is basically just a room that HD invites the public into to listen to Harley engine sounds then they vote on the best sound. Harley Davidson is years behind every other motorcycle manufacture. It is just too late to change there pirate image. Who wants a heavy, slow, overweight and overpriced outdated motorcycle. If you do HD makes a whole line of them. Just think you could be the proud owner of a Fat Bob or a Nightster or a Night Train. LOL…..

  • Scorcher

    Anybody that dresses like a pirate to ride a motorcyle is buying in……. and living a fairy tale. Phony seems to fit. I am a true Harley rider,initiated with 40 years of knowing the company and the bikes. Ask a Harley rider or any dealer what a tapered based rim is,or what the Sparkling America bike was. They don’t know crap about the company they are so in love with. Ask a Buell rider about any bike Buell has ever produced in three decades and they are at least aware of it,if not knowing all about it. Why is that? Passion,true passion. Harley has lost me forever with killing off Buell. All my remaining #1 Harley logo decals will be appropriately displayed upside down and the ones I have on something will be removed. I no longer want to be associated with the company or it’s make believe riders,other than the Harley riders that that DO “get it”……..

  • Not an Outlaw

    Harley Davidson had to borrow $600 million dollars from Warren Buffet to bail out HD Financial Services at 15% interest. HD was lending money to anyone who came in the door looking at motorcycles. Now HD will sell you a new bike and give you all your money back when you buy another new one. Harley lost $125 million shutting down Buell. The interest on Buffets loan is $90 million a year. When will the stupidity end? Harley is selling an aging line of motorcycles to an aging buyer. Younger buyers are not interested in a 67 horsepower V-Twin powering a 800 lb bike that shakes the shit out of you. The new CEO is not familiar with motorcycles and that shows with his stupid decision to cut Buell and concentrate on the V-Twins. If you have any HD stock I would get rid of it quick as the future for HD does not look good. The company has hundreds of millions in debt not counting the new Buell factory building that is sitting empty. That building was custom built for HD and they will have to pay big time to get out of the long term lease. A company with a outlaw image that is being run by a bunch of outlaws.

  • Asbjorn

    Great article. Reading all this reminds me of StarBucks. Here’s a company that started with the intention of creating the best coffee. Trained their employees properly to make great brew.
    Then they grew; internationally and explosively. Now they are faced with a growth problem. Questionable quality and a line of credit that dictates that growth must occur or bottom line suffers.
    Same with HD. They have a line of credit that looms large over their financial future. That might be one of the motivating factors for dressing up current designs and cast it in “youth market” clothing. Won’t work. They are now slaves to their past success and do not have the finances to create something new.
    If I were Wandell (which I am glad I am not), I would expand by leverage buy (while there is still power in HOG stock) into adjacent industries – like Briggs and Stratton or Kohler Engines. That would, over time, help dealer network and HDI alike to supplement with new revenue streams to replace the stagnant bike sales and diminishing pirate clothing revenue.
    Bringing another bike marquee into the showroom is like inviting the Pope to preach in a Baptist church.

  • In addition to my suggestion of moving into cafe racers, I think they could also move to V4s in their engine line-up. People will complain, but a V4 will still have that great low-end torque…

  • Not An Outlaw

    Asbjorn has a good point but selling anything but Harley’s in a Harley dealership is asking for disaster. One of the main reasons, if not the main reason for Buell’s failure was Harley dealers. They did not want to sell Buells and bitched like hell about it. A Buell buyer was a dead end road to a Harley dealer. A Harley dealer wants to sell you a Harley then they can sell you all the pirate clothes, more chrome parts and screaming eagle kits to get the horsepower at least up to what you get in a Jap bike. A typical Harley dealer devotes about 80% of there floor space for all the aftermarket shit. A Buell buyer would not sucker for the Harley panties, ash trays, clocks, shirts, do rags etc and Buell took up floor space. Once a Harley salesman found out you were looking at a Buell he would make himself scarce. Harley Davidson cares more about there line of clothes and crap than they do there motorcycles. The motorcycles are just a means to an end for HD and the dealers. If you are over 50 with a beer belly, tattoos and have a pony tail Harley will sell you motorcycle and finance it for you without even checking your credit. I know because I have seen it happen.

  • Not An Outlaw

    Asbjorn has a good point but selling anything but Harley’s in a Harley dealership is asking for disaster. One of the main reasons, if not the main reason for Buell’s failure was Harley dealers. They did not want to sell Buells and bitched like hell about it. A Buell buyer was a dead end road to a Harley dealer. A Harley dealer wants to sell you a Harley then they can sell you all the pirate clothes, more chrome parts and screaming eagle kits to get the horsepower at least up to what you get in a Jap bike. A typical Harley dealer devotes about 80% of there floor space for all the aftermarket shit. A Buell buyer would not sucker for the Harley ash trays, clocks, shirts, do rags etc and Buell took up floor space. Once a Harley salesman found out you were looking at a Buell he would make himself scarce. Harley Davidson cares more about there line of clothes and crap than they do there motorcycles. The motorcycles are just a means to an end for HD and the dealers. If you are over 50 with a beer belly, tattoos and have a pony tail Harley will sell you motorcycle and finance it for you without even checking your credit. I know because I have seen it happen.

  • Swampy

    The problem is, the change that H-D(****), needs to make to bring a new demographic to their market is a new product. To bring a new product will take longer than the deadline H-D has looming over their heads. What they needed was to look into the future while they were on top years ago and start the process of change that they needed today to expand their market.

    The Vrod, what was to be the new “future” was never marketed correctly, nor was it engineered to completion correctly. It started as a fresh concept that was completely polluted during the engineering process by old skool vision, and was birthed a bastard with no known market. What?… you don’t want a 700 lb sportbike with forward controls?

    It almost is like that for every new break through product, this giant force shapes and molds the product back to what it was doing 100 years ago, like a Buell Blast touting “mini-ape hangers”

    The hand writing is on the wall with the opening of H-D manufacturing plants in India, they are making the opening movements to entrench ever deeper by cutting manufacturing costs in an attempt to increase profits by hoopla-ing the new improved old design to an ever shrinking prospective market, while alienating their ever precious “Core Market” with Made in India/China goods.

    H-D has squandered a 20 year head start, and it will be another 50 years before they have another chance.

  • mustbestupid

    WOW! what a bunch of California crybaby’s. Someday when you all hit your 40’s laying on you’re gut with your ass in the air, never mind… My motto, Bob that shi…….. 1200N. Not overweight at 48. Damn Toyota owners, Love my stump puller.

  • I think a great avenue for Harley to grab a toe hold of the younger market is a muscle bike similar to the V-Max.

    Build something performance oriented so people think about HD and performance in the same sentence without busting a gut.

    It won’t be an easy process but I think most U.S. riders would love to ride a world class sportbike developed by a U.S. company.

  • Steve Ford

    Great posts.
    Hardley Abelson sells overpriced, overweight cruisers and gigantic touring bikes because that’s all that they CAN sell.
    Aermacchi from years back, Buell, MV – the typical Harlee owner (and employee) views anything sporting as “Jap Crap”; the V Rod is tolerated but it took quite a long time and was heaped with derision by the faithful.
    I worked in H-D dealerships for years and if it weren’t for the Buells, their products would have been laughable.
    The demographic appears to have shifted and they’re totally clueless.
    Tough noogies, H-D!

  • mustbestupid

    Sounds like a fish story Steve.

  • James

    Closing Buell was the worst error.

    I’m from New Zealand, had great number of jap bikes (and a few Italians I might add) all through my riding life, and always I swore to my friends that you could never get me onto a hog. Then at 36 I test rode an XB12r. Not ‘refined’, but boy it was fun.

    A Buell is different, tank under the seat, aircleaner where the tank should be, muffler under the frame, perimeter front disc, oil in the swingarm! Britton has always been a hero to me, and I saw a lot of that innovation in the Buell. The bike was alive with character and a real hoot to ride in the twisties, and she never let me down either. The sporty motor – while not the epitomy of technological excellence or grace – gave me enough performance to bring a smile. I wasn’t interested in going 320kph anyways..

    And while it wasn’t a ‘Hog’, the Buell had good enough cred at rallies and the Harley guys actually considered the Buell to be ‘one of their own’ so to speak – so it was great at breaking down barriers in that respect.

    Anyways, I transferred overseas so the Buell had to go. Shortly after arriving in the new country I find myself at the local Harley dealer. There, sitting on the floor was the last VRSCR (Street Rod) available in Asia, the model having been recently discontinued, presumably because it almost handled Ok. The normal bars, normal pegs..normal riding position clicked with me. So, despite swearing never to own a Hog, I plonked down the dosh and bought into the dream.

    My point is this Mr Harley, if it wasn’t for the Buell, I would have never transitioned to a ‘proper’ HD, and even then, the only Harley I could convince myself to buy was as un-hoggish as possible.

    Now both are gone from the market – the Buell and the Street Rod relegated to history..(hopefully the Buell will return in the future perhaps!)

    Demographically, I am in the ‘Zone’ for Harley ownership and all the merchandising opportunities that entails, but quite frankly I am more interested in the experience of riding rather than polishing chrome and playing out the stereotypical bad biker role while forking out for overpriced badgewear.

    So my patronage to any HD product will be history too, as long they stick to making 1950’s Buicks on 2 wheels.

  • Willie

    I stand corrected, informed and correct. Reading Shas above I confess ignorance of asian perspectives on HD, an American icon apparently in their eyes. No reason in principle (that being cultural-consumption evolution based on Veblen’s Conspicuous Consumption) that the Hell’s Angels Myth couldn’t be exported. Testosterone poisoning and the delusional symptoms it produces is an equal opportunity disease.

    But, I remain correct in my original post that geographic expansion of the Myth was and still is HD’s only “marketing plan”. But what the hell ? The stock is up @ 8% today and RBC sees it going to $36. I’m stopped out of my short (just another day trading ) but will look to reenter when the chart says that the KKR buyout rumor hysteria is fading.

    Never underestimate the power of the male of the species to overestimate his _______ . Maybe Henry Kravis is on to something.

  • mustbestupid

    Old Buick’s? One please. Don’t let em mess with your head James. after a few nasty wrecks on one of those death machines, the lad’s might come to there senses…

  • RogueWave

    A lot of time has gone into spinning a rather seductive yarn with this article that has pretensions of being some deeper analysis, but it neglects some fundamentals:

    > Harley D is one of the best known brands ever created on the planet, period – That has in part been derived from limiting itself to a carefully distilled and refined product – A half-blind mongolian yak herder could pick a harley at 100 paces – That is a beautiful thing and something you need to be very careful about departing from when jumping to “fixes” – a bird in the hand and all that..
    > The model development thats come from Harley in the last couple of years has diversified the brand dramatically and tarted it up ready for diversified marketing i suspect – eg the Sands-alike sporty variants – funky & well cheap – very accessible for the newer rider and eg the brand new cheaper “Lo” Fat Boy offering one of the first genuinely short/female friendly rides out there in a totally credible package for a change – beautifully designed, creative vis market segment, yet careful not to denigrate the awesome brand they have built
    > The owner market is much broader than the baby boomers – I have been riding in very mixed circles for 25 years (NZ/Australia/UK/USA) and i think they have a fairly diverse owner base really? Which however brings me to my next point..
    > ALL motorcycle brands have a huge problem in that the baby boomers and a minor proportion of gen-x-ers comprise the bulk of bikers – I have attended ducati club, bmw club, italian bike club, jap club runs, race groups, mixed social – And they all suffer from a very similar demographic timebomb – Yes some of the harley groups include older riders, but this seems to me to mainly because older saner riders dont want a sportsbike crouch – BMW groups are similar for similar reasons – You certainly wont cure motorcyclings demographic problem by diversifying Harley!!
    > Harley is a fantastic company. But at the end of the day we cannot escape the fact that they sell a top end luxury product – You must therefore expect that any company selling such a luxury product will suffer a caning vis sales losses during a depression. Thats what we are seeing.

    Losing such sales during a depression is inevitable. This does not mean that change is the answer – On the contrary they need to reduce costs and scale of production to meet the market reality to retain profitability. But it is very important to remember that change is not the panacea it is often wrapped up to be.

    Most companies would kill to have anything like the brand (and product line!) that Harley has painstakingly built over the years. Now they’ve got to stay the course all the while being liberal in no short measure with the medicine. Let’s support a great company rather than run them down with bitching and whining about any perceived product or management imperfections.

    I am personally very grateful for some of their support to Erik Buell’s vision, albeit imperfect – as their efforts culminated in the brilliant Buell 1125CR currently gracing my garage!

    Harley must do what it needs to do to survive – I think it would be naive in the extreme to suggest that they try to do so by competing in a wide variety of market sectors globally. So the central thesis or this article is bullshit in my opinion. Enjoy the ride!

  • Rob

    I agree with just about everything you state here. I own a 2008 Harley Street Glide and when I ride to work in a Polo shirt you should see the looks I get from other Harley riders. I think they say to themselves (poser) but funny thing is I bought a Harley for the same reason they did. I could care less what they think.
    I think Harley is afraid to alienate its “core” of buyers and that is why they haven’t strayed from the norm. I wish they would have liquid cooled engines so I don’t have to sweat my arse off, I mean come on enough already, it is antifreeze/coolant not a major deal.

    I still think Harley people buy Harley’s because of the heritage and I am not sure people who want sport bikes would ever buy a “sport” bike from Harley….See Buell

  • Rob

    By the way I should have added that we buy Harley’s because we want to buy American made products. We by Harley’s because we believe in the American way and want our American companies to survive, we are tired of buying everything from foreign made companies. Just about everything here is from China or Indonesia.
    Also it is kind of a “club” Everywhere I go I hear all kinds of people saying nice bike, beautiful bike, awesome bike etc etc. Harley owners go to Harley dealers just to hang out and shoot the shit and to meet other riders. Harley riders are people from all walks of life, blue collar people, white collar people and everything in between. There is nothing like going to a Harley gathering and meeting people that would scare the hell out of you in a dark alley and finding out they are some of the nicest people you have ever met. It’s a way of life, yes it’s a brand image that us Americans that like cruisers want to keep alive at all costs because it is one of the last American companies around! Yes they are loud and yes we like them that way, no we don’t want to ride something that makes our lawn mower sound like it has a modified exhaust on it and no we don’t want to go 150MPH and weave in and out of traffic tempting death like the Japanese bikes.
    When was the last time you saw thousands upon thousand of Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, or Ducati riders gathering for a bike week? NEVER! Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of good will rides and donation rides to help out people that Harley riders ride in on a weekly basis every year.

    Ride your other bikes but I will never ride anything but a Harley!

  • Scorcher

    Take beer out of the equation and you lose 90% of your harley riders at a bike week. A lot of them are there to see if they have the most chrome,loudest pipes,look/act the toughest or can do the longest burnout. I just go to watch the circus. Been to 7 of them and figured that out at the first one..but yeah,nice guys when you get them off the bike…… or sober. Hundreds of thousands of bikers……. and the race stands are neart vacant at Loudon during bike week. WTF? The parking lot has very few harleys in it….but everything else from a to z.

  • Really thoughtful and well-written piece this, thanks. I support much of what is said but (with an eye on your follow up piece) I’d like to offer your a perspective from the UK.
    I live in Oxford, England, where, by chance, HD has it’s EMEA HQ.
    This is a rural area, but with lots of high-tech industry and academia and, consequently, lots of money. Kind of like Northern California if you like.
    As a result you do see lots of Harleys around here, mostly at the weekend if it’s sunny. I’ve never, ever, seen one ridden by anyone under 40.
    I’m 39, and I ride a BMW K1200s, but I really like Harleys. The reason I don’t have one is that the bike is my daily transport, rain or shine, and a HD just wouldn’t cut it for that job, and wouldn’t survive a single British winter without endless cleaning and polishing.
    And this is the key part of what I want to say, really; Harley’s are designed to run along long, smooth, sunny highways. Riding a bike as agricultural as a HD on the UK’s twisty, pot-holed, crowded, wet roads just makes no sense. As a result they’re sold as fashion items to the Boomer generation who ride once a week (in the main – there are exceptions of course).
    HD has begun to address this with Euro-focussed models with less chrome, more modern suspension and so on, but ultimately this is tinkering with a product which doesn’t fit the market.
    The answer, and many of you over there won’t like it, is European manufacture of European-spec bikes, built and marketed at European buyers.
    Make the bikes better, keep the best elements of the brand image, scrap the 1950s build elements and the branding which goes with it.

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  • Ride to Live

    Fact is, Harley Davidson will survive this slump and they will at some point have to again, move forward in their design and technology department, just as they did when thy created the V-Rod series.

    As far as nad dealership experiences, I own both Yamaha and a Harley motorcycles, and I have been to awesome dealerships for both and I have had awful customer service at other dealerships. Word of bad customer service usually travels far and fast, and nothing will make your business slump faster than word that your sales and/ or service department are not customer satisfaction based.

  • Ride to Live


    Good point about the fund raisers for everything from local people needing medical help, or families trying to pay for outstanding medical costs after their loved one(s) died to anti-child abuse fund raisers, to animal shelter or animal rescue support fund raiser rides. Just this past Sunday there was a Motorcycle Awareness Rally at the state capitol with sponsors such as MAC (Motorcycle Awareness Campaign) and CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association), plus multiple local and statewide motorcycle riding clubs, and yes, the majority of bikes there were Harleys. Most of the bikes that I saw on the highway going away in the opposite direction on thehighway as I was headed to the state capitol were not Harleys. While I hear alot of people both Harley and non-Harley riders complain about mandatory DOT helmet laws and lacking protective laws for motorcyclists injured or killed by negligent motorists, but when there are rallies for these causes, guess who the majority of riders are that turn out, Harley riders.

    I used to be guilty of going for a day long ride rather than going to the rallies or fund raisers, but since I bought my Harley, I have been aware of far more of such events and I know now, I can still go for a days ride of my own, while also stopping to support those in need and supporting those who are fighting for the rights of motorcyclists and ATV riders.

    I don’t care if others do not want to ever buy a Harley, I ride because I love to ride and I only own motorcycles, and I ride year round, rain, shine, freezing or below, hotter than 100 degrees.

    So, lets stop bickering about what color jacket one wears or what position one rides in, and lets stand together as motorcyclists, and do what we all love, “Let’s Ride!”

  • I have visited your posts before. The more I read, the more I keep coming back! :-)

  • Englebert Humperdinck

    Stop marketing to fat 50 year old Republican has-beens. Step 1 would be to make a bike that would attract some people that think “riding” a bike is more than tooling up to the nearest bar to swill Yuenling Light with all the other fat 50 year old has-beens, all dressed *identically* in their gray hair, black Harley t-shirts and Levi’s (ooooh, you’re all such rebels!), and then riding the 2 miles back home again before their wives kick their ass for not mowing the lawn and playing with the kids like they should have been.

    Harley’s are a joke, and Harley riders are the punchline. Wake me up when you decide buy a real bike instead of falling for a stupid marketing campaign.

  • jeeko

    Mahal bagi kebanyakan orang,..

  • Donny

    I hope harley makes the XB 12 SS BUELL ,they are the best motorcycles in the world,but you can not buy one,because the dealer will bit you and throw you out of the dealer ship,IF YOU LOOK AT ONE,and you can not buy a computer chip bike with out dealer support in 2010.(PS) IF THEY build the XB12 SS and name them harley davidson they will sell,and they will have dealer support,and the XR 1200 is not even close to the XB 12 SS in handling,touring ability that includes passenger,and its speed.

  • I always thought Harley made a great bike. But, more than that, they build a great image with the right marketing. But, times have changed and they have not kept up. SOmeone above mentioned they need to stop going after the over 50 crowd. That might be the case even though that is where to money is.

    I am a sport bike guy but, having riden HD, I think Harley’s are heavy, look heavy, and have handling issues.

  • I think Haley is in trouble.
    It’s true there are just going to be some people that ride a Harley but that doesn’t grow a brand. They really have to reach out to the disposable money crowd; whoever that is right now.