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At Harley-Davidson, The Old Formula No Longer Seems To Work (Opinion)


It has been widely reported that Harley-Davidson stock is performing poorly as a direct result of declining sales and profits. Take a look at this Chicago Tribune story, for instance, or this Bloomberg article. The Tribune details the closure of Harley’s Kansas City plant, together with the moving of Kansas City production to York, Pennsylvania. The result will be a net loss of roughly 260 U.S. jobs.

Long term, the bigger problem for Harley is a declining demand for its huge, cruiser motorcycles … the mainstay of its business for decades. Before an industry-wide slump beginning in approximately 2008, Harley was making money “hand over fist”, and making efforts to diversify its product line – internally with Buell and through the acquisition of MV Agusta. In 2009, Harley decided to pull back and focus on its cruiser business … dumping both Buell and MV Agusta in the process.

What Harley-Davidson is left with is a product line that has appealed, almost exclusively, to a generation of riders that is disappearing. If you have been to the Sturgis rally in recent years, you will know what I mean. Harley riders (and their passengers) are typically old … some of them very old. They have the disposable income, but not the life expectancy, to keep the brand afloat.

Harley-Davidson’s recent efforts to bring younger riders into the brand, including the introduction of smaller-displacement, less expensive models, haven’t borne enough fruit to keep investors happy. Now, Harley is touting an aggressive move into electric motorcycles as an element of its recovery.

A Harley spokesman has said it will spend $25 million to $50 million per year over the next several years on electric motorcycle technology, with the aim of becoming the world leader in the electric motorcycle market. On seeing this, I literally laughed out loud. While Harley clearly has a strong brand, that brand is associated with a somewhat distinctive sound (remember “potato potato” and the efforts to trademark it?), and a culture bedded in ICE.

Frankly, the move towards electric motorcycles sounds like an act of desperation, rather than careful calculation. I think that Harley will be, in effect, abandoning the core of its brand by this effort, and, instead, heading into the teeth of fierce competition with more aggressive, entrepreneurial players. I don’t see any advantage accruing to Harley in this fight from the loyalty it has developed with ICE cruiser riders.  I hope Harley proves me wrong.

Perhaps, just about any effort Harley makes at this point is “too little too late.” While the entire industry struggles with the aging demographic of motorcycle enthusiasts, and the question of how to bring younger riders into the fold, will the Harley-Davidson “lifestyle” that appealed so strongly to a dying consumer base attract younger, entry-level riders? Bandannas, leather and an exclusive (us versus them) attitude – an attitude that “we are a real cool club and you’re not a part of it” – an asset, or heavy baggage going forward? Time will tell.


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301 Comments

  1. ze says:

    “Harley riders (and their passengers) are typically old … some of them very old”

    AND FAT SOME ARE VERY FAT !

    • Austin ZZR 1200 says:

      Yes, very very fat.

    • Tom K. says:

      I’ve probably got less than 50 miles of lifetime Harley riding time, and have gotten fatter and fatter since the last time I rode one, I cut myself last week and leaked waffle batter all over the floor. So you can only imagine the effect they have on folks that own them.

  2. todd says:

    They need to ditch their name and spin off a new brand. I don’t know of any sub-baby boomers that are interested in the H-D brand, there’s just too much baggage and image that needs to be retained. Non-riders I’ve talked to have suggested they would want a light dual sport bike IF they were to ride anything at all. Some like the idea of electric motorcycles but H-D would not be the sort of dealership they would want to enter for that experience.

  3. PN says:

    If H-D struggles, I really don’t care. In fact, if it went out of business, I wouldn’t miss it at all. It has been projecting a ton of pretension for way too long. Go to Sturgis and get drunk and maybe get a tattoo.

  4. takehikes says:

    Simply their bad decisions coming home to roost. They put all their marbles in one bag, a big one, but still one bag.
    Going to be lots of cheap HD’s in barns and garages all across America for sale. Millenials are setting you up for a fire sale.

  5. ABQ says:

    Young kids these days…they don’t even know how to hitch a team.

    Seriously, many kids don’t care for any vehicle other than a bicycle. And the older people can’t push around the big bikes that Harley makes. But, the biggest problem is that they cost MORE than a car.
    As for me, I saved money for 13 years to buy a Harley. Then I got hit by a car. Uninsured motorist coverage paid me enough to buy a Harley Free Wheeler trike. We are at the point where we have to get hit by a car to afford a Harley??? Yep. That would explain it.

  6. Miles says:

    The article above this announces FIM’s new Ebike category for 2019. Two articles below is a lightweight electric off road bike.Indian has finally built overhead valve street bikes (only 70 years late). Formula 1 umbrella girls got the boot earlier this week from the new owners. As Bob said, “Oh, the times they are a-changin”.

  7. Mark says:

    I’ve owned and ridden many brands of bikes. Started in the Honda Cub. Loved it and wish they would sell them again in the states. Owned several HDs as well. The problem, as I see it, is the aging public. I like HD’s but now they are too heavy for me due to my age. I am considering a three wheeled bike. The only factory three wheeled bikes are the Can Am and HD. I prefer two drive wheels in the back. Problem is the cost. A person can buy a really nice car for what a HD three wheeled bike cost.
    HD is caught between a rock and a hard place as I see it. Older people can’t ride the heavy bikes and younger people won’t buy them. As others have said they need to change their mind set to the who is riding today and what they are looking for.

    • EZ Mark says:

      I don’t see where Harley is caught between anything.
      They can sell the big twins next to other types of bikes.
      The question is, can they make smaller, lighter bikes for a reasonable price that can perform with the Japanese?
      The Street 750/500 is very poor quality compared to the Big 4.
      I imagine a 250 or 400cc would be even worse.

  8. Evan says:

    And they will want too damn much for the electric bikes too. STOP. Harley should make a line of affordable, gas engine, entry bikes that appeal to cash strapped hipsters and youth. The graybeards that put 30K in a Harley will join the T-Rex. Imagine cool Enduro style, and street bikes for both on and off road, small engines, light weight…fun. Seriously, these would sell.

  9. FreddyJ says:

    The next generation seems to define themselves more by their life experiences rather than what they own. The list at http://time.com/money/2820241/10-things-millennials-wont-shell-out-for/ includes cars and homes, and I would expect motorcycles to fit into this category also. What they might be more interested in is renting a bike as a part of a specific experience. Many Harley dealers rent motorcycles, but most of them are too big & expensive. I expect less-expensive rentals and/or the https://www.twistedroad.com/ concept to gain momentum with the younger crowd…

  10. Jim L. says:

    When I saw photos of Harley’s new Fat Bob my response was this bike looks pretty cool. Then I saw the foot pegs way out front, the seat much too low for my comfort level, and I realized that I could never ride this thing. I am a 60 something with 2 bikes in my garage, an older Speed Triple and a KTM Superduke. Often I hear that when you get older you slow down and buy a Harley. For me as I get older, I feel weight will be the big factor. Nothing Harley builds is a light weight motorcycle.
    I would like to see Harley succeed, but they just don’t have anything I could buy.

    • joe b says:

      So true, I agree.

    • Jim Adam says:

      Maybe you should try one before writing it off. The low seat makes it easy to mount and flatfoot the bike, and the forward controls do away with knee pain. They also have a low center of gravity so they feel much lighter than the weight would suggest. The bike is getting stellar ride reviews.

      • CrazyJoe says:

        I find a klr or a honda nc 700 harder to handle at slow speeds than a harley.

      • Jim L. says:

        Last summer I swapped bikes with a guy that owns a 2015 Street Bob. It had an upgraded motor so it was pretty quick. The KTM still easily outran it.
        You are correct about the low center of gravity, but the riding position killed me. I felt like I was hanging on the bars when the speed got above about 40 MPH and my back was really sore after about 45 minutes. I also felt that I didn’t have complete control because I couldn’t weight my feet.
        That said, the new Fat Bob does look great. It also looks like they have upgraded the brakes and suspension to something closer to what I am used to.

  11. Tommy See says:

    80 percent of the owners have to be loud . Funny how most of us grow up and enjoy peace and quiet. They will sell a lot of the new electric bikes.The Name will always march on.

    • Lynchenstein says:

      If nothing else, I think the Harley electric will at least look good. None of the electric bikes on sale right now look good to me at all. I’ve never enjoyed the Harley ride experience, but I’ve often admired the appearance. Perhaps a good-looking electric bike could be a winner. I’m going to wait and take a test drive before making up my mind.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I agree. It is not just a beautiful electric motorcycle, but a beautiful motorcycle in general.

        Of course being Harley Davidson, they couldn’t resist the urge to do something silly – adding gear whine in the case of the Live Wire. I can’t see how that could possibly not get on my nerves after a while, but I really should hold judgement until I try one.

      • Tom K. says:

        As much as Harley engineers value torque above all else, electric is a natural fit. And, who says an electric motor has to run in a circular plane? A V-twin linear electric motor with two reciprocating pistons, driven by phased stator windings in the “cylinders”, would allow them to keep their signature engine style and still make less horsepower than a traditional motor with equivalent amp draw, just for the sake of Heritage (there’s gotta be an electrical engineer (or a clever ten-year old) who can describe that better than I just did, but you get the idea – think rail gun).

        Anyhoo, a couple of calibrated oil drips, carbon-colored wrinkle paint, and you’ve got something for everyone, maybe they could call it the “Blackhead”. Juice Boy? Voltster?

        • mickey says:

          That’s pretty funny

        • bmidd says:

          You win. I couldn’t figure out a way to describe how Harley would take current technology, dumb it down and make it less efficient than you did…very clever.
          I can’t wait to see the voluminous accessory catalog and the way Harley paints a bike a different color and calls it a “Bold New Model”!

  12. dman says:

    I realize the whole industry is struggling, at least in the US, but I don’t think Harley’s core problem is young people not being interested in bikes. When I started riding as a teen in the early ‘70’s young people couldn’t afford Harley’s, and at least where I lived we didn’t aspire to them either. Honda could grab you with a Scrambler or a CB350 then you could stick with them to a 750, and later Gold Wing or CR or Shadow or Interceptor, not just upscale but across the spectrum of bikes. It’s very similar to where Detroit was back then … except 40 years later Detroit offers a broad range of vehicles. But even now, Harley’s lineup is like GM in the ‘70’s: a zillion variations of the same big bike, the Big Twin being like GM’s BelAir, Impala, Caprice, SS, plus Olds, Buick and Pontiac variations. Then there’s the Sportster, a little cheaper, but not really economical: that’s their Chevelle/Cutlass etc. The newer overhead cam 500 and 750 are like the Corvair or Vega … a little more advanced technology but not really interesting. Harley needs to be a full line manufacturer, maybe on road only, from 250 on up, Sport, standard, Cruiser, and touring, to compete with the Japanese. It took Detroit a while, and they still get distracted by big pickups, and can’t quite do luxury or near-luxury sport sedans right , but at least Ford and GM now offer a broad product line from entry to high end. Harley needs the same.

  13. My2cents says:

    So many opinions so little content. If you exclude the people who haven’t ridden a Harley-Davidson then you’re left with people either love the brand or those who choose not to spend that amount of money. With markers like “too slow”, “outdated” and “over priced” being thrown around like rice at a wedding. The Japanese motorcycle manufacturing tidal wave of the late 70’s and early 80’s chased the Harley-Davidson domain with inexpensive cruiser models which borrowed drive trains from previous years standard models, and in some cases reverted to two valve heads from four. The next generation of Japanese cruisers slowly blended into V-Twin formats with a mix of either liquid or air cooling. One could only imagine a young engineer at a Japanese factory being told to build a new motorcycle with air cooling, two valve heads, and oh ya it has to have more vibration. It is no wonder so many Japanese workers were jumping out windows in the late 80’s.

    Short story long everyone is still chasing Harley-Davidson and always will. Scrap yards full of old motorcycle parts rusting away with few people even slightly interested in them, except Harley-Davidson. If 70 odd horsepower with 110 ft/lbs isn’t your cup of java so be it. For me it is about the ride and I don’t care what I ride just as long as I can, but riding a Harley-Davidson is a awesome pleasure.

    After all these years of riding when I hit a restaurant late in the evening and my motorcycle it carefully parked where I can see it but yet somewhat masked by shadow generated by those sodium vapor lights. A trained eye can see the outline and I admire it’s beauty in my eye. The waitress brings me a menu and pours a hot coffee and makes small talk but within seconds asks “you riding a Harley?” to which I have to answer no. The moment is gone in a flash, you know they never ask if I’m riding a Honda, KTM, Yamaha, Star…what the hell is that anyways?, BMW, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Moto-Guzzi, etc. You see it’s not really the woman who impresses me it’s the ease in which people outside of the inner circle of all brands of motorcycles, the non riders and how they relate to what is motorcycle to them.

    I ride them all enjoy them all and really think Harley-Davidson builds a great motorcycle with the most fantastic paint and chrome. I always loved the expression “If I have to explain then you wouldn’t understand”.
    Oh by the way the new 4 valve engine is a great engine with power everywhere, I can’t wait to ride the 114.

    • Tom K. says:

      If some pharmaceutical company hadn’t copied (and morphed) the name of Yamaha’s first entry into the cruiser market, and then applied the name to the drug intended to turn a parabolic hose into schedule 80 pipe with the express purpose of promoting more love in the world, it all may have been different. But I’ve got to admit, they created a better ride than Yamaha did.

  14. Gham says:

    Last year I bought a 2009 HD Ultra,it looks like new with 24K miles and will probably last me the rest of my riding (touring) life.Paid less than half what a new one cost and got 24 months warranty in the deal.There are so many great used options available I’m not surprised it’s killing the new market.

  15. JVB says:

    The British Motorcycle industry was in a similar place in the late 60’s. How’d that workout for them?? Don’t think HD will die, but the global demand will be a small fraction of what it is now. I was shocked at how many HD there were in Europe. Took an Edelweiss tour last summer and after BMWs, HD was the second highest number of bikes that I saw; say what???

    Buell should never have been cut. Too late …

  16. Jim S says:

    I have dismissed Harley-Davidson since I was an adolescent. I would buy if they made something that looked like it wasn’t from 1903. The XLCR was close and the XR1200R was closer yet. But I wanted a smoother engine that didn’t sound like a John Deere Tractor. I will sacrifice the flat tracker seat for a full length comfortable seat. Honda was close but missed with the 1983-84 VT500FT twin. The look was right but it needed to be at least a 750 or a 1000cc. I want Harley-Davidson to survive but better model choices and embrace a real standard/modern naked as well.

  17. Harold Klassen says:

    I’ve tried to like Harleys, I thought about a sportster, now they only make them low, and you’re a girl if you buy one. I even went to a dealer once and was steered quickly from the sportster to something bob 20k bike as the one I really wanted, not! I just don’t like sitting with my feet out front and butt on the back tire, what is they don’t get? They’re entitled to build any bike they want and I’m entitled to buy any bike I want. The look pretty, just not for me, too bad. Indian is going the same way, too bad.

  18. oldjohn1951 says:

    HD doesn’t listen. When I went to the local dealership all I heard was what “I can do with this bike.” Get a clue HD: it’s what YOU are going to do with the bike for me. I’m the customer. You are there for me, not the other way around. Being a domestic manufacturer, the amount bikes, color schemes and options should take up pages and pages in the sale book. HD has what should be the distinct advantage that comes with domestic production; the ability to give the customer whatever they ask. But when people with cash in hand asked for a street-legal XR750, HD just trotted out what they wanted to build while expending the least amount of effort possible. Nobody was fooled and both efforts failed.

  19. MikeG says:

    Since the 1980’s employee takeover and help from the so-called “free market” GOP in the form of tariffs, Harley rode an unexpected wave of popularity. They improved the product just enough to make them legit vehicles, if not top shelf motorcycles. Popular culture and a demographic of riders with enough disposable income created robust sales, and it was fertilized by wistful nostalgia and a (mostly phony) bad-boy image.

    But waves are, by their nature, cyclical. And some waves reach the shore, the tides turns, and then that’s the end. Could this be it for Harley? My guess is that electric bikes won’t be a savior, and I don’t picture them diversifying their line up to legitimately become a full-scope provider. Sadly, what I predict is they will drastically reduce production to meet demand, and their products will become like those $35,000 Indians of a few incarnations ago. Specialty, parade bikes more-or-less.

    Full disclosure, I’m a former moto industry type with motocross and road racing and extensive test riding experience. I never thought of owning a Harley until a few years back and I bought an FLHX. It’s great. When you’re 50+, not every ride needs to be MotoGP, and the Harley is a satisfying compliment to my sport bike for local stuff, as well as a competent touring rig with a quick change of seat. It’s a keeper, though, and I’m certainly not going to be one of those new-Hog-every-two-years types….which brings me to my last point: How much of Harley’s business model has relied on tricking people into buying “heirloom” bikes that are instant “classics” only to trade them in on a new “heirloom” classic before they pay off the last one? I think that strategy is going to fail, and that might be part of what we are witnessing.

  20. Mark says:

    It seems to me as if Harley Davidson has a tragic flaw in their Corporate personality that will cause their own self-destruction … They will bring the entire she-bang down while staying true to their supposed roots…. That being said, I find the @ss whipping provided by newcomer Indian on the track in 2017 an indication of how this all is going to play out. Crash and burn baby – bring out the XR750!! btw..probably could sell a shitload of those today??

    Anyway, I will say it once and I will re-peat it again.. Harley Davidson needs desperately to get the corporate MBA/PhD/BfD butt-heads out of charge and bring in some riders. But this will never happen because HD isn’t selling motorcycles, they are Selling a lifestyle. We still hear this junk about betting the future on electrics. Yeah, I want a HD scooter to ride to starbucks…Wait till all of these people who own the $20-$30k big twin cruisers die – there will be so many used bikes that no one will be buying new. Sportglide is Nice but I will never be able to afford one while I am working till eighty…

    Sorry to say, it looks like another American tragedy in progress….

  21. Rokster says:

    I am 100% convinced that Harley could have been in the same position as Triumph and BMW if they brought out a line of light, powerful flat track/roadster/scrambler-like bikes. HD has such a strong racing history that it boggles the mind that they are simply ignoring that rich legacy, even while it is clear for all to see which bikes are selling like crazy currently. And you can see they are halfheartedly trying (Roadster) but they just don’t have the balls to do it right. Incredible…

    • Mark says:

      This is spot-on. I’d love to have an street-tracker style bike that weighs around 400lbs and has about 100 horsepower. Something that’s as comfortable to ride two-up as Triumph Bonneville.

  22. A P says:

    All those comments on “why kids and young adults don’t get into motorcycling” and not one mention of the major issue… Insurance. Up here in the Great White North, a new rider can expect to spend several $thousand PER YEAR to ride at most 7-8 months. At 65 with 40 years no-accident record, I “only” pay $900/yr on an F6B.

    The insurance industry sees motorcycles as a huge loss segment, plus the autonomous vehicle lobby knows motorcyclists will never “fit” with their plans to eliminate non-autonomous vehicles. Motorcycles are simply too small and too quick/maneuverable to be easily detected.

    • JVB says:

      it’s not the 19yr olds on sport bikes driving up rates. it’s the old RUBbie (Rich Urban Biker) on some $30K HD that dumps it in the parking lot with $50 of chrome damage.

      • A P says:

        Sorry, NO! The problem is that the insurance industry (at least here in Canada) has been allowed to split the motorcycle segment away from the general non-commercial vehicle risk pool. Yes, there is a small amount of “subsidization” of motorcycle risk in the general vehicle pool risk transfers, but not nearly enough. Despite both the Hurt Report and MAIDS showing that in bike/car collisions, the vehicle, not the bike is usually at fault. And multi-vehicle collisions are well over 50% of all motorcycle claims.

        Whether single or multi-vehicle scenarios, one disability-producing claim can cost an insurance company $millions. How many parking-lot tip-overs will it take to match that?

        And the motorcycle industry response to the obvious negative impact the current insurance system has on new riders? Nada, zilch, zero… but there’s all sorts of industry resources for any “new” racing series, and a recent “rediscovery” of low-tech, small displacement bikes. But no matter how low the sticker price on a bike, if insurance premiums remain exorbitant, the potential young riders will spend that cash in other ways that don’t fill insurance corporate pockets.

        Put another way, in Ontario, a new rider’s yearly insurance premium, EVEN ON A USED 250, will buy a new iPhone and a ton of video game time.

        There’s yer problem.

  23. Neal says:

    An 883 should be competing with the CBR500. Harley needs to cut back on the overstyling and cut back on the price. If you could get a basic 883 with simple wheels and simple finishing for $7k, Harley could actually develop a younger customer base. So much of what Harley does these days is try-hard fashion styling. The Iron 883 is a mess of surface treatments and overwrought wheels now. And the Street bikes are just awful products.

  24. Bubba Blue says:

    Well, how’s Suzuki doing? How’s Kawasaki doing? It isn’t just Harley. It’s $20,000 motorcycles. When bikes were $4K-$8k they made some sense.

    I’m afraid it’s going to happen. Harley-Davidson will decline. I’d love to buy a new Harley. $22,000 for a Road King? No possibility. Ain’t gonna happen. $15,000 for a Low Rider? Uh-uh.

    You can get pretty nice Camaros, Mustangs and used Corvettes for the price of some of the big Harleys.

    [My advice, forget all the infotainment systems and save $2K/bike. Or, they cost the manufacturers about $250 and they’re all profit. Profit that’s going to kill them. Stereo’s don’t work goo on motorcycles. You’re supposed to have ear plugs in anyway. Motorcycles are a way of getting away from it all, not of buying into it. On the new Harleys, Hondas, Yamaha Cruisers, you ride while watching an LCD screen. What’s that all about?]

  25. Max says:

    Never use acronyms without at least one reference. WTF is ICE?

  26. Neil says:

    Every dealership has sales people out of some 1977 movie. Harley, get with the program. Build a Harley village around your factories so every worker does not have to be owned by the bank and thus need huge wages to pay all that interest. Labor costs reflect cost of living. So work together to save that money and reinvest it.

  27. Tank says:

    “Harley Davidson stock is performing poorly”- and that’s when the market was at record highs. What’s going to happen in a down market?

  28. arrowrod says:

    Ive been trying to buy a Sportster since 1960. Every ten years, I dutifully go for a test ride.
    They are atrocious. Very heavy vibration, and slow.
    To my eye, they are gorgeous.
    That’s 58 years.
    It’s 2018, and Harley can’t make a 100 HP, greatly reduced vibration, 400 pound Sportster.
    Apparently Indian is going to build a flat track replica bike. WTF?

  29. Pete says:

    Just a few comments: I have a 2007 Road King with over 60k miles. I do most of my own maintenance. I have had zero problems outside of normal wear items such as brake pads and tires. Your comment about an “exclusive attitude” rubs me the wrong way. Over the years I have previously owned a Suzuki, a Honda, another 2 Harleys, and a BMW. My best 3 riding buddies have a Suzuki, a Honda, and a Harley. Outside of some good natured teasing none of us could care less what the others ride, just happy to have some good buddies to ride with. You’re right on about the aging demographic. I’m 59 and unless, God forbid, the Road King gets crashed or stolen I’ll probably be sticking with it for as long as I continue to be blessed to be able to ride.

    • RyYYZ says:

      Well, many of us have extensive experience with H-D owners whose mouths are forever running about “Jap crap”, “get a real bike”, “I’d rather push a Harley than ride a Jap bike”, delusional ideas about performance, group rides (unescorted parades is more like) holding up traffic and getting upset if someone wants to get past them, all that stuff. Like many stereotypes, it didn’t come out of nothing.

      Riding a sport bike, these days I just don’t want to get stereotypes as one of those “Ride of the Century” idiots stunting and disrupting traffic on the highways (never mind the stolen and unlicensed bikes and assaults on drivers).

      • Pete says:

        That’s unfortunate, but I am sure there are plenty of Harley riders like you mentioned out there. There are also a lot of us who have had multiple brands of bikes and like and respect them all. I sorta still wish I had hung on to my Beemer…

        I know what you mean about group rides. “Unescorted parades” is a very accurate description. Running red lights and speeding way to fast. Not to mention at least a beer at every stop! I’ve been on a few group rides and poker runs but never again, way too stressful for me. And I do remember running into a few Harley riders that made disparaging comments about my Beemer, though on the flip side I also met Harley riders who were very interested and complimentary towards the same bike.

        All in all, I find most bikers I’ve met, Harley or not, are pretty decent people but there will always be a few douche bags…

  30. EZ Mark says:

    As I approach 60 years old, riding 900 pound motorcycles is more like work than fun.
    My Yamaha is under 500 pounds and more fun than any cruiser I’ve ridden, with better handling to boot.

  31. Pacer says:

    Harley f#@ked up. If they had let Buell do their thing they would have a strong presence in the meat of the market, naked and adventure bikes. Buell may not be perfect, but they were innovative and unique. When they came out with the fuel in the frame bikes, the plan was for a 150 horse turboed 1200. Harley was afraid their customers would not be able to handle it. There’s the problem. They were so self centered they thought Buell was supposed to be a Harley side kick, not it’s own brand. I went to dealerships to look at Buells and the salesmen were obviously not into it. Harley thinks the sun revolves around them, and well it looks like the sun moved.

    Now all that said, I like Harleys. Ridden enough of them to understand, and appreciate them. They’re just a one trick pony.

  32. KevinF says:

    I’m 55 and in the heart of HD’s target demographic. 8 bikes in the garage, but zero Harleys. My preference in a new bike is for standards or sport models, 100 HP and up. Harley offers anything I want, as long as it’s a V-twin cruiser. No thanks.

    Harley-Davidson is in a tight spot. Sport riders wouldn’t consider the brand even if it offered a new sport model today, and its loyal customers are aging.

    HD still has a large portion of the US market but it must embrace a new strategy that isn’t exclusively V-twin cruisers. You meet the nicest people on a Harley? 🙂

    • Tom K. says:

      Got to admit, that sounds much nicer than “Better my Sister in a cathouse than my Brother on a Honda”…

      I remember one db telling me to “Get a Harley” at a stop light once (I was on a Yammie). I told him that “I can have all the Harleys I want, all I have to do is roll off the throttle and my mirrors fill up with them”. More than a little animosity on both sides back in the 70’s, I guess.

  33. clasqm says:

    Indian caters to the same market segment as H-D. Last I heard, Indian couldn’t build bikes fast enough to stock their dealers. In the long run, a better product will obliterate “lifestyle” loyalty.

    Electric bikes are actually a great niche for H-D right now. Think about it. Everyone and his dog builds liter-plus adventure bikes, but who can compete meaningfully with BMW? Do you really want to build a superbike to take on Ducati et al? Do you think taking on KTM in off-road machinery is a good idea? In any one of those, it would take years of development and millions of $$$ just to become competitive, and only then can you start to become a leading option. There’s no way to do all of them at once.

    In the electric segment, every big manufacturer is just testing the waters and H-D would only have to compete with startups like Energica and barely-established Zero, now that Polaris has killed Brammo. The first manufacturer with brand recognition to move in there in a big way will have an enormous advantage.

    Electric bikes come in broadly road-only and dirt-capable models, but they have not yet splintered into a thousand sub-categories like gas bikes have. Apart from some overpriced pieces of exotica, most ones available are “go anywhere, do anything” bikes like we had forty years ago. That makes it much easier to enter that market.

    And yes, we will all end up riding electric. The gamble is whether this will happen in 5 years or 50. If H-D read the signs right and the shift is upon us, then they may make it to their 200th anniversary. If they got it wrong, well …

  34. DoctorNine says:

    Harley-Davidson needs to imagine a 100cc hybrid starter machine that kids can get when they are 14-15 years old, and learn to ride on. Then they can take that idea and size it up, as their new tidal wave of hybrid motorcycle aficionados grow into larger bikes.

    It’s possible. With imagination and marketing. They could survive.

    • todder says:

      Those are called trail bikes. I always thought to reach young riders, you have to start with simple dirtbikes and move up to an entry level enduro. Electric dirtbikes are starting to get exciting with no noise, instant power and lightweight. Once they get hooked, potentially graduate to street machines.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        The problem with dirt bikes is that few people have anywhere to ride them. There isn’t anywhere to get away to these days for younger kids, not that most parents will even let them get out of sight to go somewhere to begin with. And if they did, would those parents let their kids rid off on a death machine, no roll cage, no airbags? It is sad to say, but I suspect most kids can escape further on the internet than they can out their back door.

        I think one of the main problems for all motorcycle makers right now is that the culture around growing up has evolved into something quite different during the past 20 – 30 years.

  35. randy says:

    not building something like this fake concept hoax this:http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2012/04/a-beautiful-hoax-2013-harley-davidson-fxdx/ is why I have stayed away.

    • Neal says:

      Have you seen the new Fat Bob?

    • Blitz11 says:

      What i found interesting was the “turnover” in the posters. Many of those who posted then I don’t see now, and many of those i see post now didn’t post then. (I would guess that this site has higher readership now than it did back then.)

      To me, it just goes to show that everything changes, and one had better be adept at change, or you’re going to be passed by. I think Harley will survive, and progress, but if it wants to hold market share, it, too, has to change.

      To be honest, if they did a performance softtail FXDX, i am on it.

      That was a good find.

      • mickey says:

        hmm I was surprised how many of us were posting then and still posting now. that was nearly 6 years ago. An eternity in internet speak.

    • nickst4 says:

      Sorry, but to a non HD enthusiast, that hoax bike looks like any other HD Definitely well within the mould of all of them, barring the USD forks which don’t make it into a new style…

  36. Bill says:

    First; I own a Harley and a “non-Harley” so I’m not stuck on the brand. Decades ago, you bought a used Sportster as a first Harley and eventually bought a “Big Twin”. Or not. But buying a Sportster was your way into the Harley world at a lower cost than a Big Twin. By shifting advertising for Sportsters to the female gender they have alienated many prospective buyers and by making so many models of Sportster “low” only, they have lost some tall customers to other brands. By reducing demand for their “entry-level” bike they lower their market share. And, of course, raising production levels above demand is only sustainable for a short while.

  37. CrazyJoe says:

    Kind of wondered why their dealerships reminded me of Euro car dealerships and how much it drove up the price. They are priced high but fit and finish are great and most of them look great and continue to do so as they age. I saw a Ducati recently the white plastic wasn’t as breath taking and the wheels were a faded pink. Sad really. Compared to a Road King.

    Motorcycling is kind of tribal isn’t it. The stuff that used to make people go out and buy a honda cub or a scrambler is long gone. At least ignored by the motor press. You have to fit into a category. I ran across a dozen or so kids in Tennessee. I doubt there was a bike over 300 cc among them. There was even a few scooters in the mix. No one popping wheelies or acting bad ass. Just out for the ride.

    • MGNorge says:

      Your comment on the stuff that made people go out and buy a Cub or a Scrambler is long gone caught my attention. I agree and I find that sad. I’ve always felt the tiddlers offered the stepping stones for first putting the bait out there, setting the hook, and then opening up a lifelong relationship with motorcycles. I don’t see that so much in today’s bikes, at least not in the same way. Competing with today’s young and their attention to personal electronics and their penchant for staying more centered indoors is going to be difficult. Compare that with us who grew up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who were outdoors all the time. Motorcycles were our freedom machines, smelling of gas and oil, that took us where we wanted to go.
      Harley has remained too focused on those who grew up with bikes in their blood. It has been lucrative up until now but they seem slow and confused as to just how they form themselves for the future. Afraid to leave the past and unsure of their next step.

  38. robert says:

    Last one out the factory turn out the lights-it’s coming we all knew it would not last forever-they had a mighty good run-it will be fun to watch it all fall apart-question how many do they need to make to stay in business

  39. kawzies says:

    To me it’s incredible that Harley has seen this coming for so long and just cannot deal with it. It’s like in Austin Powers where the henchman is screaming for 5 minutes as a steamroller comes at him at 3 MPH.

  40. Doc says:

    Reading the comments is interesting to say the least.

  41. Paul says:

    I test rode a 2018 114 Cubic Inch Fat Bob last week in San Diego. It is the only updated Harley I considered in years as a potential purchase. While light-years beyond the paint shaker engines of past Harleys, the test ride confirmed that Harley has far more work to be done. A 1900 CC engine that produces only 71 rear-wheel horsepower is pathetic. The turn signals are flat-out dangerous: Instead of a single turn signal button on the left stalk, Harley has separate turn signal buttons on either stalk that aren’t push to cancel. And the small instrument panel no bigger than a pack of cigarettes forces you to take your eyes of the road too long to glean any useful information, especially to confirm your turn signals are off. I’ll stick to my KTM Superduke GT that produces 150 rear wheel horsepower with 2/3 the engine size, and weighing 200 less pounds. Harley simply isn’t competitive.

  42. marloweluke says:

    BMW got it right. They were perceived as old men’s touring bikes, good for long miles in the saddle and high mileage reliability. Very boring and their customer base was dwindling. They saw the trend that Harley is now caught up in and started to make the S1000RR/R/XR series and arguably beat the Japanese at their own game. Of course they have their own niche with the 1200GS series, but at least they have a wide model range from small singles (310cc) to 1600cc inline six tourers. I would never have considered buying a BMW ten years ago, but I would now. HD never.

  43. Martin Owings says:

    I think part of the problem is HD mostly competes in only one category (cruisers and touring cruisers), the Street models being the lone exception. In previous decades the competition for cruisers was far less of a challenge. Now all of the majors from Japan and even Europe have amazingly good motorcycles that compete in that category. I think it is time Harley starts building things other than heavyweight cruisers. They HAVE NO off road or dual sports, NO real sportbikes. Electric motorcycles could be a start if they make them affordable or unique in a meaningful way. I think they just need to start making stuff more people want rather than sticking to one niche. But, it is hard to overcome 100 plus years of history.

  44. oldridertom says:

    Interesting responses. From where I sit up here in British Columbia things look a little different. Our local HD dealership could not keep bikes in stock this year. They took bikes that were allocated to other areas and sold them. They were open 7 days a week (unheard of for any other brands) and a lot of their customers were younger. That may change but I think that building strong customer loyalty has been a large part of their success. Lots of “Party in the Parking lot” weekends. Those who think Buell could have been the saviour of HD forget the glee with which he bragged about crushing Blasts to make way for his new models, probably alienating more than a few Blast owners in the process. Not a good way to build customer loyalty and I would have fired him also.Electric bikes? Why not. Its all the rage and they have to do something to grow the brand. I loved their proto E-Bike and look forward to see what’s coming. A lot of folks say they have to change the products they are making and then dish out the crap when they change the products they are making.

    • Provologna says:

      From a business perspective, Eric Buell appears to be one of the dumbest apes to ever get control of a motorcycle marquee.

      • ApriliaRST says:

        > Eric Buell appears to be one of the dumbest apes to ever get control of a motorcycle marquee.

        What Buell needed was an actual purpose-designed engine. Whose fault was the lack of one? Once out of the control of Harley’s product planners, that was the first thing he did. Many of the Buell motorcycle’s issues could be traced back to trying to make a silk purse out of the Sportster’s sow’s ear engine. No motorcycle was more effed up by that than the Blast. No wonder Erik was excited to crush them.

        • Pacer says:

          I think Buell just needed money. He was was constantly begging for funding, and compromising to get it.

        • Mark says:

          True, but Erik Buell did a helluva job with that Sportster engine! I loved my Buell XB12S. Folks still put Buell heads on Sporty engines for the power. With all their R&D money, why couldn’t Harley do that without waiting for Buell to do it?

  45. Phil says:

    I’m concerned that Harley is just “the canary in the coal mine” regarding age related demographics in motorcycling (and even more widely, for all things motorsport).

    Cars are becoming more like “white goods”. For many buyers, how the car connects to their cell phone, is more important than engine performance. These are not people who are going to buy two wheels anytime soon.

    The problem is compounded by the fact children these days often don’t ride bicycles (parents just ferry them around in the family SUV). They will never ride motorcycles as a result.

    Think about almost any sport you like (except soccer, because its a potential money spinning career), and they are all having trouble attracting the young. Why… because its easier to sit in front of a screen, and be amused without any personal effort.

    It’s frustrating, as all us motorcyclist know – that first ride on a bike will change your life forever. However if the young aren’t interested, its a huge problem for manufacturers and consumers alike.

    • Bryan says:

      Now you are really seeing the picture. Motorcycles in general are threatened in the USA. The generation coming up want very little to do with them. They aren’t interested in the lifestyle and in general either ignore them or belittle them. Shoot, a lot of them don’t even want a car anymore. I drove UBER for a year or so and a lot of my customers didn’t own a car and didn’t want to. Most viewed personal transportation as too expensive and unnecessary.

      • Dan says:

        part of the problem is that traffic is congested in so many urban and suburban areas that driving is no longer fun at all. When I took my last car out for a test drive from the dealer lot I couldn’t even take it above 45mph, just sat in traffic. No wonder they care more about bluetooth connectivity and other gadgets than a powerful engine to idle along in traffic. I can see why a lot of the younger generation aren’t interested in cars.

        • Max says:

          I agree. People try and make it generational, but I think it’s more locational. I see plenty of young people in the country enjoying motorsports. Riding thru a city is something that’s about as exciting to me as getting a root canal.

    • 70's Kid says:

      I think that you make some very good points here sir. After reading through every single reply, at the time of this posting anyway, yours is the one that really gets to the heart of things.

    • Larry Kahn says:

      “that first ride on a bike will change your life forever.” Very true. Was 12 years old, hot for a go-cart, tried a friends Bonanza BC1100 mini-bike, scared the crap out of me and I was hooked. That was 70 mc’s and 50 years ago. Never did get a go-cart but do have a Miata now…close enough.

  46. downgoesfraser says:

    We received our first Goldwing at the dealership I work for this week and that that bike looks even better and smaller in person. Pictures do it no justice. Harley? pfffffft

  47. Moto-Kafe says:

    Harley-Davidson: “Embracing Technology”……from the 1940’s.
    Wow……remember 15 years ago (maybe longer??), when you had to “order” a H-D, wait weeks to get it, and then pay top $$$ for that bike?? What goes around (arrogant H-D lifestyle)…..comes back around…..to maybe bite you.

  48. PBrasseur says:

    HD needs to diversify obviously, demographics should be no surprise. What they need above all is to make high quality bikes, light-weight, with good ridability and solid performance. And they need to address more than the vintage market.

    Take a look at Triumph, that a good place to start.

  49. Sleeping Dog says:

    HD’s future will be something like this. Over the next couple of years the company’s market value will continue to decline. Eventually they will be bought out, either by a private equity firm or an major player in the ‘power sports industry.’ After this happens they’ll be a major effort to cut costs, they’ll break HD’s unions and cut wages and benefits. While they may keep final assembly in the US, component production will go to east and southern Asia.

    While I’m not a HD fan, I’ll still hate to see this happen.

  50. Jim says:

    The company that spent decades milking the “Lifestyle” gravy train.
    The arrogance of the dealerships who looked down on the rest of the sport.
    The owners with their contempt of all things not “The Motor Company”.

    Just deserts.

    • Provologna says:

      Yeah, I totally get that, but I still feel some ambivalence about H-D’s impending demise, which I suspect happens in my lifetime. If it happens, it shall be an epic closing, the passing of an era.

      Remember Oakland H-D dealer/ex-Hells Angel Sonny Barger? 15+ years ago he declared his disgust with his own clients, the dentists, LAH-yerz, and other professionals with enough money to buy one of his bikes.

      Would that not be insane if some Asian investor eventually buys the name?

    • PatrickD says:

      I think that Triumph are the cool ‘non-performance’ brand these days.

    • SmokinRZ says:

      And then they sponsor Sons of Anarchy which only encourages the douche bag image and behavior. My friend lives a few miles from the Waco Twin Peaks shootout and couldn’t rider his BMW GS for 6 months without fear of getting pulled over. I’m tired of explaining to people that I’m a motorcyclist not a biker.