Why Do People Love Harley-Davidson?

The early days of this website were published from the saddle of a Triumph cruiser. A cruiser, whose engine I so loved, gave birth to the Scrambler I still covet today. I, like many young American motorcyclists, didn’t understand the preoccupation with the overpriced wares being sold in Harley-Davidson dealerships all over the country. After bringing home a late model, carbureted Sportster this spring, and putting 5,000-odd miles on it over the summer, I made a few revelations. To the dismay of many, it’s evident that the Motor Company has tapped into the tastes of the American core motorcycle consumer, and love them or hate them, I believe I now understand the reason.

They Play for the Home Team

Be it veterans returning from Europe with memories of their WLAs1, or the 80s “Made in America” campaign, Harley Davison clearly benefits from being the brand built here in the U.S. In the age of global trade, “assembled” here is by far more accurate. However, be it patriotism, convenience of dealer network, or fear of part shortages, Milwaukee Muscle dominates the American market share, and aside from the following reasons, much of it’s because their roots are here.


There’s a motorcycle for virtually every interest and discipline; off-road, road racing, touring, adventure… and yet cruisers still dominate the American landscape. Why is that? Because the roads here are painfully straight and the vast majority of us live near the city. The average American motorcyclist rides 2,000 miles a year or less. I’m betting those miles are ridden over about 20 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day; likely to the local pub, burger joint, or ice cream stand. When those 100-odd mile excursions include a lot of stop lights and muggles2, any motorcycle will do, so why not be relaxed in the process?

Lots of people have scoffed at or slandered American cruisers for their efficiency in maintaining a straight line. They’re right, not only do Milwaukee’s Best struggle with limited ground clearance for cornering, the chassis geometry literally self-straightens faster and more effectively than any other motorcycle I’ve ridden. My Sportster WANTS to maintain its lane, regardless if my hands are on the bars or not. Certainly many would find this “feature” annoying, but in the land of concrete jungles and endless freeways, it fits the bill when sightseeing takes priority over canyon carving.

The Status Symbol of Choice

There are many stereotypes about doctors, lawyers, and Larpers3 gobbling up Harleys in the ’90s and 2000s. In my experience, there’s often a shred of truth hidden in the satire of stereotypes. Unfortunately, any way you slice it, a $30,000 Harley is still a lot cheaper than a Corvette (the Corvette-Harley owner Venn diagram is probably interesting though). Beit pricing strategy, limited demand (back in the ’90s), fit and finish, or “the experience”, Harley-Davidson holds a reputation for premium. When folks feel the need to spike the football, have a midlife crisis, impress coworkers, or finally pull the trigger on that retirement gift to themselves, the American V-twin is often the trophy of choice.

An Accessory

It goes deeper than that though, for as much as folks want to poke fun at bar and shield garage queens, the reality is that motorcycles are almost purely a recreational purchase, and like cars, are selected based on emotion more than function or application. To put it another way, it’s a two-wheeled accessory to show off to your friends. Motorcycles in this country are a fashion statement; and yet again, Harley Davidson benefits as the home team. But seriously, there’s a reason Harley sells branded clothing, it matches that shiny accessory in your garage.


Years ago I sat on a Sportster in a dealership and the salesman said, “this is a nice blank canvas for you.” At the time, I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Why would anyone buy a $12,000 unfinished motorcycle? Guess what, not all motorcyclists are like me. Lots of folks would prefer to make art from machines, often more so than riding them. Again, considering the bikes are built in Wisconsin, there’s an entire factory and aftermarket parts network set up to get you blingy bits of every variety if you so choose. And if it’s not motorcycle art and expression you seek, many still enjoy farkling4, I mean accessorizing their most expensive fashion accessory.


“They shake and vibrate like all hell. They turn gas into noise without the byproduct of horsepower.”

It’s true. All of it. And that’s what I love most about my Harley. Today we live in a world of sanitized convenience. Our cars have been silenced inside and out, for the comfort of the occupant and the passersby. Modern automobiles shift their own gears, hold their own speed, and to some degree, literally drive themselves. The modern car has the same utility today as it did in 1950… and today they’re as soulless as a toaster.

Soulless, a word I’ve often heard used to describe metric cruisers. There are, without a doubt, exceptions, but true to their engineers’ efficient nature, many motorcycles are, unfortunately, appliance-like. They are reliable, require little maintenance, they’re affordable, are otherwise ubiquitous, and unfortunately, often fail to stir the soul.

Soulless, a Harley is not. Thanks to AMF, many claim Harleys are unreliable. Considering their intentionally unbalanced engines, a Harley vibrates the seat if not rattles the fillings from your skull. They can be infinitely transformed, and despite pricing, have no reputation of performance to uphold. It is a two-wheeled lump of anthropomorphous iron, and above all else, that’s what owners love about them.

  1. The WLA was a Harley-Davidson model with a 45 cubic-inch flathead engine used by the Allied armed forces during WWII.
  2. Inside city limits, reaching, let alone exceeding, the speed limit is often believed to be a magical feat; Muggles are people that do not believe in magic.
  3. Larpers, or LARPers are Live Action Role Players; people who assume a false identity in the pursuit of entertainment.
  4. Farkling is the action of installing farkles. A farkle is an item installed on a motorcycle that adds effing sparkle.
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35 Responses to Why Do People Love Harley-Davidson?

  1. Dan says:

    I’ve never owned an Apple product or a Harley Davidson product. And never will

    Liked by 1 person

  2. parasympatheticsynapse says:

    While the shapes remain the same, the engineering on modern HDs is miles above what they used to be.
    Besides being more comfy than any bike I’ve owned except for a Victory Cross Roads (and I’ve owned and rented Gold Wings, RTs, FJR, Versys yada yada), the best part of my HD is how bloody simple it is. If a light bulb goes own a screwdriver and 30 seconds will rectify that. On my metric bikes, having to tear apart 10 plastic fairing bits fastened with 50 plastic screws that never want to be reused is par for the course to do anything as trivial as changing a light bulb.
    When it comes to maintenance, I change the oil and occasionally the tires and air filter. I’m coming up on 50k trouble free miles on mine where they suggest to change the fork oil.
    Guy recently in the HOG magazine did 100k miles in 100 days on his M8 Road Glide w/o it missing a beat. Look up Million Dollar Bogan on the Youtube and you can see how badly a modern HD can be mistreated and keep right on ticking.
    I agree that it’s not the fastest bike to play racer boy thru the mountains on, but it goes fast enough to still be plenty fun. Much more capable than the vast majority of riders will ever experience anyway.
    As to customization, I think you fall a little closer to HD bros than you would like to admit. I’m pretty sure Rosie didn’t leave the factory with the war grin 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bud Bingham says:

    I would saw that is about 90% of most Harley Riders. My 1980 Sportster was an AMF. When I tell people I had no issues with the bike, they can’t believe it. It was a decent bike for my riding style back in 1980-1985. Now not so munch. However I would get a XR1200 Flat Track. Nice read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • MotoADVR says:

      As always, thanks for taking the time to read my endless rambling. There’s a bike for every taste. Love it or hate it, they’re just toys for most of us, and when folks can peacock, keep up with the joneses, or need something less mundane, HD delivers 🤣


  4. Stop writing good articles. I swear I have to do a deep dive think for days now on my bike preference.


  5. rider marc says:

    Haven’t been able to do it. I’ve been to H-D dealerships and admired some details of different bikes. Had some interest in a V-Rod with mid-controls–I bought a Z1000 instead. I like the new Revolution(?) engine–on the right side. What happened to the left side? I keep watching H-D and maybe there will be something for me; but, it needs to happen sooner than later.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. zed14 says:

    Nice article. While I get it … I don’t get it. But I have too say HD certainly do lifestyle like no one else. Before going to the US a few years ago I owned zero HD shirts and after riding in the US for a couple of weeks I now own six.

    I can’t see myself owning one. But I never say never…


    • parasympatheticsynapse says:

      People don’t know what they don’t know. Most think motorcycling is about buying the bike with the best specs then making videos and babbling on ad nauseum about physics they don’t understand.
      When you’re mature enough to use a motorcycle for more than a symbol to show what great competency you have in toddling down public roads on scorching hot race replicas for an hour on the occasional sunny day, you too may discover the zen of actual riding.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. TheQ says:

    Hmm, I generally love motorcycles including those from H-D. I rode an FXDR and loved it though others had no good words for it. However, I didn´t buy one due to the extreme high price trag over here in Austria with all the tax etc.. But given another pricepoint I would have had a hard time not to buy it. Later i tried the Pan American and whilst it was nice to ride it didn´t speak to me (as so much bikes didn´t in the past) and therefore I didn´t buy one. In regards to reliability i think someone who is into motorcycles can just decide with which issues he can life best. Cos no matter which brand you look at, you´ll always quickly find out that they´ve issues – one more than others but generally they all have. Be it lousy back breaks, breaking shaft drives, self-removing bolts etc. – even my beloved Triumph´s have their “special features” 😉 Whilst i don´t have a H-D yet in my garage I wouldn´t rule out to ever own one – I´m sure H-D will one day offer a model that speaks to me and then I´m sold, no matter what others have to say about it 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • parasympatheticsynapse says:

      Rear brakes are an issue I hear many complain about. Newer riders aren’t aware that they’re kind of a vestigial organ on more sporty bikes.
      Prior to the era of ABS, mfgs often made rear brakes nearly useless. And there was good reason for that. If you’re hard on the front brakes of such a bike, the rear wheel won’t be on the ground anyway, but if you don’t brake hard enough to get the rear tire lofted, it will have very little contact with the ground. Barely touching the rear brake in such a condition will cause the rear end to fishtail around rather uncontrollably. Hence, mfgs made little effort into putting much bite into the rear stoppers.
      Now with ABS, they could safely make them stronger, but there’s still not much of a reason to as the front brake does all the work on those bikes anyway.
      Another thing I hear frequently is that cruiser bikes have bad brakes. Usually, coming from people riding sporty bikes with strong (arguably way too strong for street use in many cases) front brakes. The deal with long wheel base, heavy steel construction is that the front brake ain’t going to “endo” a cruiser. Front brake used together with the rear brake on these bikes hauls them down plenty fast.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MotoADVR says:

        I can’t say I disagree. On pavement the average rider has little use for the rear brake. Off-road this is of course a very different conversation. My scrambler has impressively shitty brakes compared to newer ADV bikes. I will say I very much use the rear brake, but it’s also a very different animal versus a sport bike. Also agreed, the rear brake on my harley makes a big difference.

        Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      They’re unquestionably not for everyone. I’ve tried writing the article before, and I may revisit it, but what people love about motorcycles is very different. I suspect lust and aesthetics is primary for most people, but certainly not all. Function and character are what hooks me. Hence my stable of geriatric motorcycles.


  8. Simon says:

    Mate thanks for these words, you have given me some insight into what I have never understood. Here in Europe I own and ride 4 bikes and I have a track bike tucked away too. I am English and I once purchased a BSA but as soon as I discovered Japanese bikes I have never wanted anything else. I have covered UK, France, Spain and Italy (where I now live) on my TMax, FJR, MT10 et all and I LOVE these bikes. I once took a ferry from Rome over to Barcelona Spain and I met a lovely group of Harley riders who planned to ride all round Spain. Well, two of the five bikes failed to start up when we docked so they headed to the local Harley dealer, on my FJR I headed south and covered 1150 kms that day to reach Estepona, WHAT a ride…….

    Liked by 2 people

    • MotoADVR says:

      There’s an American cliche I’ve seen written on Harley forums “If I had to explain it, you wouldn’t understand”. An arrogant statement at that, but I’m happy to explain it. Moreover, people love what they love, and most people don’t care why. All of this is okay. From my end, I like to bridge the gap and translate perspectives for people. This article also started out as a criticism of Japanese cruisers. Metric cruisers are vanishing from dealer floors. And this article is the explanation of why. People don’t pick cruisers for their function (despite being functional expressway machines), they choose them because of aesthetics and character. If the terrain and demographics were different, the bikes of choice would be different. Which is why I think European motorcycles are dramatically different.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TheQ says:

        OT: European motorcycles? 🙂 I think that “different horses for different courses” is what you wanted to adress. If we´d have “express ways” as in the US we would for sure choose different bikes, but having curves, mountains and narrow cities and not even close to the vast land the US of A is, a H-D would not be the best choice (maybe that´s why H-D introduced the Pan America to gain some of the European Clients?).

        Liked by 1 person

      • MotoADVR says:

        Exactly. Horses for courses for sure. I also think that because of weather and infrastructure some people own a motorcycle as their only mode of transportation in Europe. That’s possible in some portions of the US but snow is a major hurdle here for many. That relegates most motorcycles to “toys” here and also changes the demographics.


  9. parasympatheticsynapse says:

    Yet oddly, some combination of govt regs and race rep spec sheet expectations are making them increasingly alike.
    When I rode Ducs, people were proud of Dr T and his Desmo driven valve trains. We rejoiced in their rattly dry clutches. Their chromoly steel frames provided stability of legend. Hell, even their racing L-twins made sense for road bikes as the power delivery was linear and strong. Only mfg to run Ohlin/Bimbos on their sporty bikes too.
    As time has marched on, Ducati is now running an aluminum framed, spring actuated V-4 with a wet clutch. Same formula Honda used in the early 80s Interceptor. Only like modern race engines today, they rev to the moon and have exponential power delivery. Great on a racetrack where their throttles are always at or near pinned. Such delivery is not worth a shit on the streets.
    Every Japanese and their mother now have to offer rock hard Ohlins suspensions/grabby ass Bimbo brakes made for blitzing around perfectly manicured European racetracks at triple digit speeds. The young’uns have been convinced that a bike worthy of their mad skillz must come with those race bits to bounce down their pothole filled streets at 48 mph. And you’re welcome that if you want a sporty street bike today, as you too will pay an extra $6k+ for the displeasure of outfitting a street bike with race parts.
    And it’s not just Ducs. The Tele/Para Lever Boxer Beemer of old has given in to screaming Japanese knockoff inline 4s.
    Triumph seems to be the one brand that stuck to their guns. Now many mfgs are making parallel twins and triples.
    As far as the cliche’s go, I won a tee-shirt at a carnival when I was circa 16 that said “Put your legs around some real steel.” With an illustration of a well proportioned dama straddling a HD. After I threw it in the dirty clothes, I never saw it again. Seems my mother wasn’t too pleased with my prize…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Harley’s CEO Jochen Zeitz Has Killed the Golden Goose | Moto Adventurer

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