What do you want from Harley-Davidson?

Early this week I caught this news snippet regarding Harley-Davidson’s announcement about the closure of the Kansas City manufacturing plant. Harley Davidson Museum MotoADVRThat news, while tragic, is unfortunately not particularly surprising after so many recent articles have been written about declining sales from the Motor-Company. Similar to when Polaris shuttered Victory’s doors, social media platforms are on the verge of a full-blown meltdown from the sheer volume of comments on the subject. Many folks see the recent news as chickens coming home to roost, others echo the sentiments that millennials don’t understand the value of the American motorcycle, while others suggest it’s merely the ebb and flow of the market. I’m of course not innocent in all this; I’m sucked into the Harley discussion the same as the next “biker”. I admit, I don’t know what’s going on, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I can’t help but offer my two cents. Thus, I ask the question, what do we want from Harley-Davidson?

When I first started “shopping” for a new motorcycle, I won’t say that I eliminated Harley-Davidson from the search, but it quickly became evident that there were other options available. Price was a large factor, but I admit, I was also looking for something “different” than what a lot of other motorcyclists were riding. As an opinionated, “rebellious”, new rider that knew everything, I once thought I needed to defend this “anti-Harley” stance, yet in recent days, I’ve actually come to terms with reality, and recognize what Harley has to offer, even if, perhaps, they have not.

After rubbing elbows with a wider, more obscure portion of the motorcycling community, Harley Davidson Roadster MotoADVRI have begun to appreciate that each motorcycle is a tool, and in turn different tools have different jobs. Despite the polarizing nature of the “Bar & Shield” label, I believe that cruisers, and more specifically, Harley-Davidson has its place in the market. That said, current market trends seem to suggest that Harley is either not delivering what new buyers want, or has perhaps over saturated the market. I’ll admit, I’m no economist, for all I know this news is simply the first of many sad stories for all the manufacturers as the motorcycle market is contracting as a result of stagnant wages and disinterested buyers. That said, I feel it’s worth throwing the “Home Team” a bone and at least telling Harley-Davidson what we’re looking for from their brand.

Some will say they want to see Harley-Davidson launch a sport-naked (despite that whole Buell thing), design a new engine, and in a resounding voice, ditch all the excess steel. Whereas I would applaud such an effort, Harley Davidson Evolution Engine MotoADVRI actually think Harley has the all the tools, and the DNA to deliver an adversely different product, while only making minor changes. While dual overhead cams, liquid cooling, and over-square engine architecture are often thrown in the face of the low horsepower “Harley crowd”, I personally think that many dismiss the convenience of maintenance simplicity offered by the modern Harley engine. As I found myself poking around in the Scrambler’s valve train on three occasions in a year’s time, let me tell you, the concept of self-adjusting hydraulic tappets starts to sound a pretty appealing; at least for the daily commuter. Beyond maintenance and engine simplicity, and despite the unending jokes of American V-twins “marking their territory”, I consider the modern Harley engine to be relatively reliable. There is no question, modern bikes of all makes have fallen prey to a myriad of recalls in recent years, but where the power plant is concerned, I suspect and Evo engine will treat you right. Look, I don’t want this to sound like a cheerleading bit for Harley-Davidson, I merely want to set the stage for the changes I want to see going forward. Thus, without further ado…

 

Diversity…

No seriously, I want to see real diversity. When I first started seriously looking at buying a motorcycle, Harley-Davidson sold five motorcycles; the Sportster, the Dyna, the Softail, the Electra Glide, and depending on who you ask, the V-Rod. With the advent of the XG series “Street” models, that expanded to six, only to be rescinded to four with the retirement of both the V-Rod and the Dyna. Late last year Harley was pushing the #FreedomMachine “What’s In the Box” campaign. 2018 Harley Davidson Fat Bob MotoADVRI was really excited, with the promise of releasing 100 new models over the next 10 years and considering that the Milwaukee 8 was already “a thing”, I assumed Harley had finally revamped the Evolution engine and we were finally going to see a new Sporty. Instead, we received EIGHT Softail models… with a ninth that followed shortly thereafter. Don’t get me wrong, I welcome the new Softail models, especially the new Fat Bob, but nine flavors of essentially the same bike is downright ridiculous. In a world where a new Harley is viewed as a “blank canvas” for customization; were exhaust, bars, and leather seats are throw-away items that are expected to be replaced at the parts counter, I fail to understand the need for nine iterations of the same chassis straight from the factory. The Softail Slim, Lowrider, and Street Bob are now essentially the same bike with marginal differences. I full well understand that engineering takes time, and that there’s a flavor of motorcycle for every motorcyclist, but considering the availability of OEM and aftermarket parts for Harley, why do we need to slice the pie so thin?

 

Redefine “Heritage”

In recent years I feel like Harley-Davidson advertising is borderline mocking itself. “Feel the Freedom”, while not a true Harley tagline, seems like the quintessential Harley advertisement. Harley Davidson 1937 Flathead MotoADVRMeanwhile, “Freedom Machine”, “Resistance is Futile”, “Don’t Wannabe”, and “Roll Your Own” are actual H-D slogans. A while back I caught this satirical bit about the MoCo; “Heritage” and “Tradition” are used excessively to mock the brand. From the 90’s up until very recently, marketing has successfully lifted Harley to the powerhouse it is today; essentially selling “toys” to droves of consumers. I do not begrudge Harley-Davidson their success (nor the customers who love their motorcycles); I do however think they have another card in their hand to play. Here in America, there was a point in time where Harley was synonymous with rugged machines and equally self-reliant, adventurous customers. Harley Davidson Shed MotoADVROver the holiday break I finally caught “Harley and the Davidsons”; while fictional, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic about the competitive and “independent” beginnings of motorcycling in this country. I think the Motor-Company needs to leverage that idea to market and sell a bike that is properly suited more toward those interests as “Adventure” seems to be the portion of the motorcycle market that has expanded in recent years. The Milwaukee V-twins sold today are still easy to maintain, but the overall structure of the bike is a little less inviting when the pavement becomes less than ideal. I believe Harley has the tools to remedy this situation, with merely subtle changes.

 

Build a Standard

In recent years, Harley has edged closer and closer to selling a neutral seating position “standard” motorcycle. The new Roadster, which I’ve discussed at length, and the new Street Rod are welcome steps in that direction, but both seem to lack full commitment. Harley Davidson Street Rod MotoADVRBe it poor positioning of controls, or just poorly executed rider triangle, both bikes are on the verge of offering riders an alternative to the typical laid-back Harley ergos, but fall just short. Per my previous comments about “minor tweaks”, the Sportster frame with minimal “massaging” could easily give birth to a factory standard, if only the auxiliary parts would follow suit. With regard to the Roadster, I mentioned this directly to the dealer when they were pushing the sale; ultimately I simply think it’s bad business to sell a bike to someone and immediately turn around and charge them for extra parts to “finish” what the brand started. While I understand each rider’s comfort and stature are different, at 5’10”, 185, I view myself as the “Average Joe”, and I’m unquestionably not the first to comment on the “odd” ergonomics of both of the before mentioned models.

 

What I’m trying to say is… I want a Harley Scrambler

Harley has heritage in spades; bring back that dirt legacy to the showroom floor. Way back when (…way back), motorcycles were once the only means of transportation for some folks. Harley Scrambler MotoADVRNeedless to say, a lot of dirt roads were involved, which I suspect probably has a few things to do with the continuation of modern hill climb and dirt track racing. Despite that rich history, Harley really doesn’t sell a dirt worthy motorcycle. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect the Milwaukee marque to up and build a modern dirt bike with twelve inches of suspension travel; nor do I expect them to throw their hat into the ring with a large displacement Adventure bike; especially considering BMW’s level of wiz-bang-ery. No, not at all; but in an era where virtually every manufacturer is selling a factory scrambler, I think Harley has the tools to beat them at their own game, as the original “retro” and the most rugged dirt machine.

 

2016 Harley Davidson Road Glide MotoADVRThis may be a pipe dream. This may be the musings of a millennial without a clue. However I still say it’s worth a shot. I don’t want Harley to stop selling the Heritage Softail, the Road Glide, or cruisers in general. I don’t want the Motor Company reduce its quality and emphasis on fit and finish. I do however want the strongest American Motorcycle brand to continue to produce motorcycles. I especially want them to sell motorcycles that I want to own, not when I’m 50, a motorcycle I want to own right now.

The future is obviously uncertain, and this is only one man’s opinion. So…

What do you want see from Harley-Davidson?

 

 

 

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32 Responses to What do you want from Harley-Davidson?

  1. MarylandMoto says:

    When I visited Wheels Through Time I was impressed with the amount of off road ready machines. Whether they were from flat track, hill climb, or just before roads were invented. There were even a couple enduro sidecar rigs with roll chart holders. I think it would do Harley well to remember some of those machines.

    • MotoADVR says:

      You nailed it. That’s exactly what I was talking about. When you look at Harleys from the twenties until 1970, they are adversely different than what you find in show rooms today.

  2. witttom says:

    XR1200R (or X) + Dual-Sport Tires = Scrambler

    • MotoADVR says:

      I have never liked the styling of the XR1200… but the more I ride the more I want to ride one, because functionally it seems like a bike I would enjoy.

  3. curvyroads says:

    A thoughtful and detailed essay, with more objectivity than I would be able to muster.

    As a 20+ year rider of many brands, with Harley most-noticeably absent in my 9 bikes, and definitely not a millennial, I still have to say there is absolutely nothing I want from Harley Davidson. 🙃

    • witttom says:

      Drew isn’t asking what do you want that Harley currently has to offer. He’s asking you what Harley needs to do, to get your business.

    • MotoADVR says:

      While Tom was right, I was fishing for “what do you want to see”, but there is an inevitable fact… “nothing” is a legitimate answer; and that’s okay too! Ultimately it’s been pretty big news and a topic I’ve been interested in covering with the readers here for some time. I admit I was a bit nervous to hit the publish button… not sure where it would go. I’m glad folks have commented and been honest about how they feel. There’s no wrong answer here.

  4. Ry Austin says:

    “Some will say they want to see Harley-Davidson launch a sport-naked (despite that whole Buell thing)…”

    Call me ignorant if I’m uninformed, but I think that Harley’s last venture into something resembling a sport-naked was the XR1200, and that only lasted four or five years in the US. Sure, it has its fans, but when I bought my new ’09 from a dealership in ’11, the various Harley employees I spoke to implied that it hadn’t sold well because it hadn’t appealed to the “Harley customer”… What, middle-aged, weekend warrior dudes packing their own spare tires?

    Sure, Harley might have pricing issues and variety issues and innovation issues, but it seems to me that one of their biggest problems is one they may have created generations back and perpetuated since–for several decades at least, they’ve apparently identified their market (a mere fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the riding market) as, yes, middle-aged wannabe rebels that just cruise from roadhouse to roadhouse… I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s not riding. Sure, I enjoy roadhouses and the good food and drinks and scenes they usually offer, but that’s just a speck of the riding experience.

    Oh, and before I get called out on it, Harley got my interest and my business with the XR–didn’t catch my eye before and hasn’t since–and I’m glad that I’m free to respond to your blogpost however I see fit…

    • curvyroads says:

      Hear, hear!

    • MotoADVR says:

      You may well be correct with the timeline regarding the XR1200 vs. the Buell. Per my previous comments above and on your Instagram page, that XR grows on me more and more each year. I personally want to take a Roadster and give it the cafe treatment it deserves. I believe it is essentially the XR1200 with a slightly downgrades engine (cams or something, maybe I’m wrong), and aesthetics, but I think suspension is similar, pipes are just typical sporty pipes… that’ll I’ll hack anyway.

      That said… I am curious about the legitimacy of your perspective. The sentiment of your comment is unquestionably not the first I’ve read. I’ve also had that thought myself a few times in the various places I go. There’s pub down the street from my house, unquestionably my favorite watering hole. While it’s not a “biker bar”, there is one right next door. People watching is pretty epic; Rosie the Scrambler gets quite a few sideways looks considering the mud… At any rate, I agree, that is not the flavor of riding I’m interested in, but it seems apparent a lot of people are considering sales numbers, but perhaps the bar hoppers are just the ones I see… dunno… Ultimately this almost seems like a chicken or the egg argument, did the brand build the “image”, or did the “image” build the brand? Either way… it’s unquestionably the image most “non” or “anti” Harley riders identify (“Asphalt Pirate” I think they call it).

  5. witttom says:

    With the vast majority of Baby Boomers now having an AARP card, maybe Harley should start making golf carts.

  6. Paul Riley says:

    When I learned to ride a motorcycle twenty years ago I bought a reliable standard, a used Honda VFR. I was brand agnostic and just happy to ride.
    I quickly learned that the Harley culture looked down on me for my choice of bike. In mass charity rides I was shunned and openly derided. I didn’t fit in with the tattoo, ponytail, leather, and loud pipe crowd. I never forgot that experience.
    Harley is successful selling a bad-to-the-bone image even if the bikes are underpowered, unreliable, loud, and expensive. You buy a Harley to belong to the tribe.
    I don’t want to belong, so Harley can’t make a bike that would interest me.

    • witttom says:

      I feel like this comment conveys a feeling of bitterness and it is laced with attitude, but it is a VERY valid viewpoint and you have put it into words quite well. I believe your experience is shared by many (myself included).

    • MotoADVR says:

      I echo Tom’s comment Paul; and I’ll also tip my hat at Ry, I’m glad folks feel they can be honest here. I do in fact think you experience is common; fortunately less common in recent years… although I think that’s quite evident considering the Kansas City situation. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next 5 years. I do however think “that ship has sailed” for a lot of people like yourself. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  7. Ry Austin says:

    You’re a helluva diplomat, Drew—you managed all this very well. 😉👍

  8. Basil says:

    Great read Drew. And some very interesting replies. In the mid 90’s I campaigned a bid to get support for the VR1000 Superbike to race the national circuit here in Canada. After all, 2 Canadians rode for the factory team, Miguell Duhamel and Pascal Picotte and I was managing one of the factory teams here and with top financing. Sadly they never did it even though we had the blessings of Deeley HD. The importer. The HD owners group also. And numerous dealers lined up to help. Such energy….pffftttttt ( thats the sound of a balloon letting it’s air out quickly)
    Ducati took up that fight and I now own a ducati 1098. Too bad, it could may been a VR1000 street version…. And what happened to Eric Buel is a darn shame….HD bought MV Augusta….and almost ruined it. There were rumours they were making a bid on Ducati……lord thank god that fell through…HD should stand for Hardly Detecting…because it is clear, some up there, do not have a pulse. Having said that…I do fancy an Indian Scout FTR1200. Forget HD…maybe Indian will read this and make your ADV bike Drew… Indian Scrambler? It’s so possible….

  9. sullybiker says:

    Harley are a company perfectly capable of excellent engineering and design. The Sportster is a classic, and for my money one of the most beautiful motorcycles out there.

    The rest? Kill them. Nobody cares.

    The ‘classic Harley customer’ is aging out, or not spending the money. MoCo built their own cage around them catering for a demographic that no longer cares.

    Innovate, innovate, innovate.

  10. sullybiker says:

    I also think America’s relationship with the motorbike is slowly changing, alongside a subtle shifts in attitude towards the motorcar. There’s a generation of riders crying out for laws and bikes that are at home as utilities as well as fun. Europe’s known this for years, and has a riding culture that has grown with it.

    Your average Harley rider is purely recreational, at least they definitely are here in Western PA. Less than 1000 miles a year. The bikes are toys.

    So what happens when you have less discretionary income? You don’t buy toys. If there’s a shift in culture with more people choosing two wheels (with laws that support it like lane splitting, and suitable parking infrastructure) a company like HD could be right at the front.

    • MotoADVR says:

      Very much agreed. If I can influence the proliferation of laws that emphasize the advantages of motorcycles, I’m sure going to. I’ve wanted to write a “Why don’t you ride a motorcycle?” blog, but just have’t found sufficient words to make it pithy. Thanks again for commenting!

  11. Paul says:

    Well I’m only throwing in my 3 cents here. First, I’ve never owned a Harley. The one HD that they did have that I had an interest in was the FXRT. Alas, I was young and no money. I have ridden several Harleys over the years and they do have a certain character to them. I really enjoyed riding a V-Rod. Why did they not slam that powertrain into a bagger?
    What I want from Harley is a motorcycle that from the showroom floor is complete, out the door it is good enough so that I am not thinking about adding and customizing. Not that does not happen but I don’t need to start immediately.
    A repeat of several sentiments. Offer something other than a cruiser. Plenty of aftermarket builds have demonstrated that it is possible. Even OCC built a dirt bike for Gander Mountain I believe. A Sportster was the base.
    With the cruiser line, so much that is offered has no real seating for a passenger, or if provided, minimal. You want to ride two up you better get a variation of the dresser.
    Now we read about the upcoming electric motorcycle that HD is going to offer for sale in 18 months. Going to get a charge out of that.
    My personal perspective, remember I’m not a Harley owner, is that I never felt drawn to the HD following. I have been that person just outside the circle. I ride as much as I can, not as much as Drew, and whenever I can. I am a commuter and touring rider.
    I don’t want HD to fail, I don’t think it will, but they definitely need to get their marketing to people out to non HD events and see the diversity there.

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  13. MIke says:

    Fix this issue:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFI2Kd6D2Q8
    And this issue:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNc7EYTn3G0
    And this issue:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aw4QVmldQKI&t=41s
    And drop the price of the new Softies about $5k

  14. John Ogden says:

    Seems that perception is reality, but depending on where you stand the view is quite different. Most of the die hard motorcyclist I know are Harley riders. Sure when you sell as many bikes as HD you get people who don’t ride like some may believe they should, but all brands have those riders. They may not be as obvious because the sales aren’t close to hd sales and the anti Harley crowd isn’t looking for them. I would like to see HD come out with a decent scrambler, they could do it and use mainly bin parts. Plenty of people building sportsters and at least one company devoted to adv style sportsters. I for one believe the sportster motor is one of the best designs going, dependable, minimum maintenance, and good power delivery off road.

    I Would like for HD to give the sportster the same makeover they gave the dyna/softail. Rigid mounted motor, counter balanced and mono shock with cartridge forks. It would be easy for that to hit 500lbs and 6” travel for scrambler flare with high pipes. It would give the triumph scrambler a run for its money. What do I want from Harley? To continue to be a power house in motorcycle sales and find a way to sale bikes to a new generation.

    I’ve been on riding since I was 8 and now I’m 43, have owned most styles of bikes and consider myself to be motorcycle enthusiast. Not loyal to a brand, but loyal to motorcycling.

    • MotoADVR says:

      Thanks for commenting John, I think we’re on the same page here. To speak to your point, H-D has good representation in the long-distance riding community, that should say something. Some folks like to have shiny garage ornaments, but per my comments elsewhere, while people poke at the horsepower numbers of Harley engines, I see the hallmark in the simplicity you mentioned. I’ve recently said, had Hugo Moto been up and running 3 years ago, I probably would have scrambled a sporty in lieu of buying another Triumph. I’m of the mindset that the 1200 Evo is arguably the best engine Harley makes. I will also say I agree with your perspective, I’m greatly looking forward to the next generation sportster. As the Evo is the senior citizen among the Harley fleet, I was shocked to see that H-D decided to revise the big bore power plant first; to their defense, I assume Euro4 drove that. Hopefully we’ll see a bike akin to your vision on showroom floors in 2020 or sooner. I never thought I would say this, but as I pile more miles on the Scrambler, a Harley as a dedicated 2nd bike starts to look more and more alluring. Like all Harleys it’ll definitely need modification though… starting with rear shocks…

      • John Ogden says:

        I’ve built a sportster and took it to Inuvik and over to dead horse was a great trip with no issues with the bike save for a chain issue. A klr that was with me had the same chain problem, must have been bad mojo 🙂 I have no disrespect for the triumph, used them as an example since I see them as a icon for scramblers. I have been searching around for a good deal on the scrambler for a build. I think it would make a nice bike for touring around the back country with just a little suspension work.

        I really enjoy your view points. There was several years of Harley hate while I was riding super sports, and adventure bikes. I had some issues with my Triumoh tiger out in Wyoming, I called several dealership to try and get some help, no dice. They all wanted me to setup an appointment for next week. Being miles from home and desperate, I called the local Harley shop. They took me straight in, gave me coffee, sent off my electric gear that was in need of some repair, and fixed the bike. No charge except for parts, wouldn’t even let me pay for shipping to garbing for my gear. Such good people there. While heading up to bear tooth pass and thinking how great I was treated, I decided my next bike would be a Harley. Dealerships really make the bike, what ever brand that is.

      • MotoADVR says:

        More good points John. I think the dealership experience is a big part of the current stagnation in motorcycle sales. To your point, I think the service department is the biggest problem. Folks are focused on new bike sales, but in reality, I think it’s hard for most people to find a reliable service department. Also to speak to your point, I am very loyal to my local shop in Dayton. They have recently dropped Triumph; I expect I will support that dealership regardless of brand, simply because of the way I’m treated there.

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