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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

  • April 21, 2011
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • Harley-Davidson

Harley-Davidson Courts the Youth Market; Seems Confident About Future

There’s a pantheon of motorcycle mythology in our culture, and some of these stories are heard so often they must be true, right? One of these—oft repeated by posters to the MD chatboards—is that Harley-Davidson is living on borrowed time, selling the same overpriced, under-performing products to the same aging buyers…and when they die, so will die H-D, as a singularly brainwashed pack of Baby Boomers are solely responsible for the MoCo’s undeserved success. That the same predictions were made in 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001 makes no difference to the doom-criers.

So if that’s true, what’s the best-selling brand of streetbikes to 18-34-year-old buyers? Honda, with its CBRs? Kawasaki, with its friendly Ninja 250R and race-winning ZX-6R? Surely, then, it must be Yamaha, because what red-blooded 21-year-old wouldn’t want to blast off down the road on the svelte and sexy YZF-R6?

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The correct answer is actually Harley-Davidson. According to H-D’s Director of Youth Market Outreach Mike Lowney, Harley is the market leader with what it labels “Gen Y” buyers, folks born between 1978 and 1994. They’re after the “Gen Xers” and before the “Millennials,” children and grandchildren of that important Baby Boom demographic. I asked if that was an arbitrary age range, picked to make H-D look good, but no, it’s a “standard industry metric,” often used to conveniently describe the group for marketing or demographic purposes.

Is it just a blip, an aberration picked up for one year in an unstable market? Not at all, said Lowney—H-D became number one with young adults in the heavyweight (650cc and bigger, and yes, it includes dual-sports) category in 2006, and added all street models to its trophy case starting in 2008. Incidentally, I can’t confirm any of this data with the Motorcycle Industry Council, as it’s not generally available for public dissemination, so we have to take the MoCo’s word.

Lowney and Communications Manager Paul James described to me a sort of three-legged stool that’s supporting this surprising popularity. The first leg is marketing—getting the word out. That’s achieved by looking for new media and ways to get the attention of those 18-34 year olds. Younger buyers tend to listen to people they know more than media or marketing, so outlets like Facebook are important, and H-D has been no slouch there—there are 2.2 million “like” votes on its FB page, up from one million a year ago. H-D claims the majority of these users are young adults. This is called “relevance,” according to Lowney, “engaging with them on their turf and their terms.” Motorcycle shops and dealerships are intimidating, especially Harley dealers, what with all the black leather, tattoos, and big, heavy boots. It doesn’t scare you or me, but it’s intimidating to those outside the sport. Go to them, where they feel comfortable, and they’ll be more receptive to your message.

That’s why a program called “Jumpstart” seems particularly effective. It’s a setup that allows aspirational consumers to “ride” a fully-functioning motorcycle strapped down to a stationary frame. They can start it up, shift the gears and gun the throttle without being tossed down the road. The rigs are in dealerships, but H-D’s people also take them to events like concerts, Ultimate Fighting Championship matches, or other extreme sporting events. Lowney describes how Jumpstart draws in people who are “new to motorcycling, but their eyes light up and we see a big smile…they’re lined up around the corner.”

Another leg is the Dark Custom lineup, which seems to have been successful. Since 2007, these stripped-down, blacked-out and lower-priced models have proven popular with younger buyers, and many H-D dealers I’ve talked to mention Dark Custom models like the 48, 883 Iron or Cross Bones when I ask which bikes younger shoppers gravitate towards. According to James and Lowney, the appeal isn’t just in the tough-guy, rattle-can look of the bikes, but also the suggestion that owners can customize and make the bikes unique. Gen Ys and Millennials “want to be different and part of a crowd as well…they want to customize the way they want it to look cool.”

Yet another boost has been younger buyers snapping up used Harleys as prices fall. These sales don’t help the MoCo directly (unless they use H-D financing), but used buyers are more likely to buy a new Harley next time around.

Still, this must all be a matter of too little too late, right? I asked if there were enough Xers, Ys and Milenials to keep H-D going. My theory is that young people have too many choices—snowboards, mountain bikes, whatever—to flock to motorcycling the way Boomers did in the ’60s and ’70s, but I’m wrong, according to H-D’s data, which shows the number of 18-34 year-old riders is actually growing. Good news for everybody.

It doesn’t make sense. After all, aren’t Harleys antiquated, slow, heavy relics that are unsafe to ride in modern traffic conditions? No, they are not—I’ve ridden enough Milwaukee metal to tell you it is  competitive (and growing European market share proves this), with performance and reliability that rivals  similar products. But still, why would a 700-pound, 60-horsepower machine interest a young man or woman who could get a 400-pound, 170-horse machine for less dough?

That’s easy to answer if you’ve actually ridden an H-D. Riding a Harley is a unique experience that can’t be precisely duplicated on another brand. Whether that experience is a better one is, of course, much more subjective, and that will be debated endlessly. But if you want to cruise on a Harley you have to buy, well, a Harley, and that will never change, no matter what you call the generation that’s doing the cruising. As long as Americans buy motorcycles, a large number of them will be made by Americans.

And how can that be bad?


  1. Justin says:

    the best part is that, in the real world, I see people of all ages and colors riding all types of bikes. and a lot of times they ride with each other.

    i think it’s mostly on the internet where everybody has to be right and all the others have to be wrong.

  2. Owns A Triumph says:

    Harleys have always been *yawn*…..

    There is only so many ways you can redress the same model

  3. Maynard says:

    I am waiting for the day when the Boomers decide they can’t ride any more. There will be a glut of very nice bikes to choose from. The used market could be HD’s biggest competitor then.

  4. Moto65 says:

    I just don’t buy HD’s stats. At least not where I live. BTW, I live 100 miles from Milwaukee. Most of the bikes on the roads around here are Harleys. But they are not ridden by younger riders. I think HD will be around a long time but on the whole, they attract an older rider that is very tradition and peer pressure conscious. You won’t find many progressive, free thinkers riding a Harley.

  5. ben says:

    I am in my 30’s, have nbo interest in heavyweight cruisers of any kind. I find the “badass biker” costume to be idiotic. Seriously, HD,give it a break and just try building a good bike instead.

    I do like the XR1200 a little and was interested in a few Buell models. The XR1200 will need to lose AT LEAST 100 pounds before I consider purchasing one.

  6. KAWZIES says:

    If you live in California, or anywhere with mountains, canyons and curves-then you’re really missing out on the real fun of motorcycling if you buy a 700-800 pound HD or any cruiser. While I realize people on cruisers still have a good time on the twisties, they DON’T realize that they can have a much better time on a higher performance bike. I used to ride cruisers, until I realized there was a lot more fun in riding the twisties on any other type of bike. Now if you’re just gonna ride the highways or main roads, then cruisers are great. When a lot of these new, younger riders are out on their Harleys and see other riders on sportbikes and fast nakeds flying by them, many of them will, like I did, see the light and dump those beasts, or add a fast bike to their stable. So in the end it makes sense that Harley attracts young, novice riders who are just too ignorant to know better.

    • kpaul says:

      Yep I agree. You bring up a great point about how the demand for bikes is probably much different in California vs the Midwest. If you live near twisty roads a sportbike/naked is the way to go. Now if you lived in Midwest like Chicago or St. Louis or Dallas etc a cruiser might be OK. Living in Seattle with our access to many twisty mountain roads I can’t imagine not riding a sport bike or naked like a Speed Triple. So this who

      • sliphorn says:

        A very short distance south and west of St Louis lies the highlands known as the Ozarks. The Ozarks provide some of the most technical twisties one could ever want. They are far more challenging than the mountains of the west.

        • Kjazz says:

          I dunno, I’ve spent many long weekend on roads in the Sierra Nevadas, there are serpentine, unstriped, single lane, but beautifully paved fire roads out there that are almost unimaginably twisty and entertaining. If you’re referring to the Tail of the Dragon…. well, believe me, California is not lacking in directly comparative roads. YOu have to know where to go. But while the Dragon is a short stretch used by hundreds of bikers daily, there are UNTOLD, probably a 1,000 miles of similar roads scattered throughout California. And most are so far from any towns that they are never crowded.

          I would certainly agree that the Ozarks (and spots in CA) are much more fun than the big mountain roads in the Rocky Mountains. But that’s a completely different scale of road.

          • sliphorn says:

            I’m not referring to the Smokies though they are great too. The Ozarks have loads and loads of serpentine and very technically challenging roads. It’s all good!

    • Wilson R says:

      I know guys on cruisers that regularly pass up squids when they get in the twisties. It’s the rider, not the bike. Always has been, alway will be.

      • Mark P. says:

        Yeah, I’m sure we’ll see some up and coming new rider on a H-D Roadking passing Biaggi going into turn one any day now. Please… Yeah, if you put some narcoleptic incompetent on a crotch rocket against Valentino Rossi on a FLHTCU, Rossi on the bagger will come out on top. But let’s put down the crackpipe and be realistic; equal riders on a cruiser vs. a crotch rocket, the cruiser is going to lose.

      • Davis says:

        “It’s the rider, not the bike”. I really agree with this but only if the different riders are on the same bike. Otherwise, your not comparing rider skill alone, too many variables to be valid.

        Anyway, once you get to a certain skill level, how fast you can go really comes down to tires and ground clearance.

      • Wilson R says:

        I’ve seen guys get passed up by riders of FXR’s and Sportsters that were well ridden. Not very unusual, really. I guess you guys don’t get out to the twisties that much.

    • Steve says:

      you are assuming that what you like is what every other rider will like too. Don’t you understand that most 45+ Harley riders have probably ridden &/or owned multiple bikes in their lives. I’m 54 & have had 13 bikes since I was 18. From 2 stroke dirt bikes to 600CBR’s to BMW RT’s, etc…..

      Why do you guys feel the relentless need to convince everyone that your bike is the best & Harley is the worst?

      • KAWZIES says:

        I’m saying that if the young buyers described in the article START with a Harley, it’s likely because they are ignorant of all motorcycling has to offer besides wearing the costume and the grimace. If you went thru a lot of bikes before your Harley-more power to you. That means you are perfectly fine riding at a nice leisurely pace on the twisties and scraping hard parts if you want to go faster. Harley’s are good cruisers, but cruisers in general just don’t offer much performance. No need to convince anyone of that it is fact.

        • Doc says:

          Let’s go for a ride KAWZIES. I’ll put on my costume(t-shirt, jeans and Sketchers) and take the Roadking and you bring your whatever sportbike and put on your racer wannabe outfit(leathers, boots, race replica Rossi full face). It’s all about the ride, not how fast you get there or how much of a squid you like posing for your teeny bopper girlfriend. There was a time I wouldn’t give you a plug nickel for a Harley. I’m not Harley loyal, actually big Honda fan here, but I do think for what they are intended for, they are probably the best at it. Not the best at any one thing, but as an overall package. There seems to be alot of experts on Harleys and their owners on this forum that have probably never ridden one. I’ve seen alot of wannabe’s, posers and the like on sportbikes. In fact all types of bikes. It’s not just Harleys. If you’re happy with what you have, why are you wasting so much time worrying about Harley riders? Besides, if you’re only happy if your bike has all the technology that can be crammed into it, then you’re missing the whole point of the ride.

  7. kv says:

    H-D manufactures an overpriced, underengineered fashion accessory which just happens to resemble a motorcycle. Their excellence at marketing is what make h-d the “gottahaveit” brand.

    Yes, h-d’s are better now than they’ve ever been, and may even be catching up to some brands in initial build quality. They even have some fairly nifty toys aboard, like an iPod dock, keyless ignition, etc., etc.

    Still, don’t be surprised if your service advisor tells you your bike needs an engine mount replaced because it failed due to metal fatigue. To me that’s just wrong and yes, it happens frequently.

  8. Danny says:

    At a minimum one third of these sales are just fashion statements and will never leave the garage after the second summer. I know of two Harleys that are sitting in lofts as decorations, the fluids and battery removed before it left the dealer. I especially like the “I ride America” Harley stickers I’ve seen this past month, one on a Camry and one on an Accord.

    My dad has his eye on a bike his wife’s coworker owns. 2008 Sportster with less than 1000 miles. Prefect for him to ride back and forth to work instead of dragging out his Electra Glide everyday. The owner bought it having never ridden a motorcycle in his life and is lucky he didn’t hurt himself before he parked it.

    Harley is just lucky enough to survive the cycle between being cool and not cool. They are a fad and always will be, and their sale will be cyclic forever. At least when the people buying these bikes decide to get rid of them there will be a steady supply of very low mileage used bikes. That will drive down the value and make it cheaper for real riders to get a bike.

    • Gabe says:

      I like how you consider 108 years of continuous operation–longer than any other brand in history–through 2 world wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession and every other demographic and social upheaval “a fad.” What will it take for you to admit that H-D is in it for the long haul? 200 years? 300?

      Also, because many H-D buyers tend to be occasional riders (some may say “poseurs”), does that mean the company has a doomed business model? What if Honda or Suzuki or Ducati had a similar demographic (and you can go on CraigsList and find 100 sportbikes and dirtbikes one or more years old and with less than 1000 miles on them) does that mean those brands are also “just fashion statements?” Why are you picking on H-D-riding poseurs and not the poseurs riding other brands?

      H-D is a motorcycle company. They build and sell motorcycles. They are probably the most profitable and successful in history. It will probably be in business as long as there are paved roads and motorcycles.

      • Scott in the UK says:

        More successful than Honda? One thing I totally agree with you gabe is that thier business sense seems to be spot on – they are there to make money – bottom line thats it. If they sell ornaments that happen to resemble motorcycles, or if the future business model is to sell a t-shirt and a belt buckle every poseur in the USA (rider or not) that matters not a bit. Its all about the money.

      • Davis says:

        Thank you Gabe.

      • kpaul says:

        Gabe I love your writing and I respect you opinion. I am just questioning the data HD is giving you. Also just because HD has been in business for 108 years doesn’t mean it will be in business for 100 more. Look at the names of companies that were in the Fortune 500 50 years ago compared to now. I think Harley has a flawed long-term strategy and I am betting it will fail or change. HD has maximized profit versus investment in new product. For any other product this would be folly. But for baby boomers who want nostagilia it made perfect sense. Good luck with that strategy going forward.

        • Steve says:


          trying to talk or discuss any subject with you is a lost cause. You take a stance based on emotion & refuse to budge no matter the facts.

          That BS about you respect blah, blah, blah… you don’t respect anyone that thinks differently than you. You take generic issues & hijack them to support some specific point you feel you MUST prove… in this case, that your precious “sportbike” is the greatest, safest, bike on earth & anyone who doesn’t agree &/or ride one is a stupid, idiotic a**hole…. & your other ongoing point… Harley & all it’s riders suck.

          Don’t you think we can read here kpaul? you might think you are superior but we all know what you’re really saying! Gabe just showed you in a little more gentler way & you threw it back in his face.


          • Kjazz says:

            chill Steve, opinions are just opinions…and KPaul eloquently stated his. Without climbing all over someone specifically. In fact, I’ve noticed you calling out several people specifically. Who made you watchdog?

        • Tom says:

          Nostalgia sells extremely well. Think about going back home, paying hundreds of dollars for an Eagles concert ticket. The key is, can there be enough nostalgia for a Harley when my grandson gets old? Perhaps, but Harley needs to come out with some cool XBox and Wii games to get the kids hooked. Maybe a Harley-Transformer cartoon series and movie. I don’t know, but I doubt my grandson will be nostaligic for a Harley, but I may be wrong.

          I think overseas sales will be better as anything Americana Pop Culture sells quite well there.

      • Kjazz says:

        The Harley of today ISN’T what Harley WAS throughout most of the years you bring up (108 years). In fact, it really only became what it is today sometime during the 1990s; and really only most recently during the past economic run up (mid-90s to today).

        In days of yore (!! when men were men etc etc etc and goats were scared !!), HDs were cutting edge machines (relatively speaking) around mid-century and certainly during the first half of the century. Then, they languished for many years and for decades were even a laughing stock (60s-80s). It all kinda came to a head with the ownership structure by a sports equipment company. (was it AFM??)

        I think fad is still a valid description. Albeit a big fad for sure!!!

      • Wilson R says:

        Thanks Gabe! A qualified statement from a known source.

      • Steve says:

        It’s always a good idea to have your facts in hand before you make a statement:

        Harley Davidson is NOT the longest in continuous operation for motorcycles it is Triumph. Triumph started making motorcycles in 1902, one year before Harley. And even thou Triumph, like Harley’s AMF years, it had it’s dark years under NVT regulated by the goverment of England. When John Bloor purchased Triumph he hired Les Paul to build Triumphs in limited numbers sold in the UK. Thus making Triumph the longest continuous operation in the motorcycle industry.

        Next, I find it hard to compare Harley Davidson with likes of Honda, Yamaha, BMW, etc, when you consider all the New Technology that now benefits the motorcycle industry.

        Then, we go to racing. Outside of the AMA hard on for making Harley only classes, when will Harley actually build a bike that handles and can win races. Oh, that’s right they had Eric Buell, who they TIED his hands and then fired one of the best AMERICAN designer ever.

        Last, yep Harley makes some awesome heavy, slow, chromed out, trailer motorcyles around. Let’s ride.

        • Doc says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t there a span of about 7 or 8 years when there were no Triumphs produced? And it started back up when John Bloor purchased the rights and restarted Triumph. I believe the year was 1990 when the first new Triuphs were produced.

          • Steve says:

            Actually John Bloor hired Les Harris to continue to build Triumphs in limited number every year until John Bloor had his own running in 1990… Check out the web sites I listed for the facts. Or just call Triumph.

      • Danny says:

        I consider any business that gets a significant percentage (the majority?) of its revenue from licensing and not their product line as permanent fad. You can get as angry as you want to, it won’t change the fact that their sales will always follow directly with how cool Harleys are with the non-riding public at that moment.

        If you define success with as repeatedly flirting with going out of business then I can’t argue. I’m not well versed on Harley history but I do know there have been multiple cases where it’s “business model” has brought it to the brink of ruin. Like the early 1950’s when it was forced to get the government to increase tariffs on British bikes. Or 1981 when it was less than two weeks from filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy before a loan was approved (according to a retired Citibank employee who worked on the loan). Or 2009 when it would have had to follow GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy if it had not received TARP bailout money (I believe this website was one of the many reporting on that story). I think they almost went under in the 1920’s also, but I don’t remember the details or where I read it. And I am also well aware that every American and European manufacturer that I can think of (except maybe Polaris) has had major financial problems at some point (or points) in their pasts.

        I have been looking for a 1000cc replica-racer since about September. I have not seen an unwrecked bike with less than 3000 miles, even current year models. There is an urban legend of a four or five year old GSX-R with 52 or 82 miles on it but it hasn’t surfaced. Around here that type of bike usually has 4000 to 8000 miles before it is parked, if parked at all. Most of them being sold are done so their owner can upgrade to a newer/bigger bike.

        I’m not personally aware of any Hondas or Suzukis that have ever been bought for living room decorations, although I’ve read stories that most NR 750s were. As I said I know where two Harleys are sitting in thirty year olds’ living rooms. One of them is a coworker that can’t understand why I don’t drop everything every month or so it help him rearrange his furniture so “his life doesn’t get dated. Someone like me who has a bike should understand.”

        As for Ducati, I consider many of their riders to be just as faddish and I never said they weren’t. The outrage they showed toward the 999 series before any of them had ridden one convinced me once and for all. I have heard of them also being decorations. While I was in the Navy in the late 1980’s a friend told me there was a Paso in the waiting room of his family’s doctor’s office in Philadelphia. However most Ducati owners do seem to actually ride instead of pushing their bike into the driveway to wax it once a month and then pushing it back into the garage.

    • Doc says:

      And what do you ride?

      • Danny says:

        I prefer Kawasakis. My daily driver is a 2001 ZR-7 (standard not sportbike) with 40,000 miles. Would be more but I had a job that required me to drive my pickup for a little over three years. I also have a 2008 Concours 14, 1980 Honda CM 400 and a frankenstein KX 250. When I began looking for a 1000cc replica-racer a friend of my dad’s insisted I ride his XR 1200 (?) for a week. My ZR-7 is superior in every way except fit and finish. And my Concours is superior in every way, including fit and finish, over my dad’s 2003 Electra Glide. Not to mention the five to six grand in repairs he has paid out of pocket through the years. I made my initial comment with some knowledge of what Harleys are like to live with everyday.

  9. Ozzie says:

    A quick check of what’s happening at the dealerships is a good proof point for Harley’s claim. The local Raleigh HD dealership appears to be thriving. Lots of events, lots of customers, and a showroom full of bikes and riding gear. Meanwhile, the local sportsbike dealerships appear to be struggling.

  10. jim says:

    If this article was about Honda, nobody would question it.

    • Donnie says:

      If they were making a claim about the Honda Fury outselling Harley-Davidson’s entire cruiser lineup, I might. No, the last few Honda articles I’ve read here the readership had all kinds of things to say about the Honda products (myself included), and most of those comments were not comments praising Honda.

      • jim says:

        I never saw one person EVER question Honda sales figures. I never saw one person EVER question Honda’s success as a company. You say you MIGHT question them, but you won’t. Only the Harley haters come out in force with anything positive about them. That is a fact.

        • Donnie says:

          I say I might because I have not seen an article posted here on MD regarding Honda’s product sales, only articles concerning Honda’s current product lineup. And if you actually read my comment you’d see that I’m wondering why the author was focused on pointing out sales of lightweight sportbikes vs. Harleys, which he states are in the heavyweight category.

          It’s like comparing sales of a Harley Sportster to a Ninja 250R, or Harley Softail sales to buyers of a Yamaha TW200, or so on.

          I also said that I have no beef with Harley, and have considered buying one myself. I just simply chose not to.

          No, if there’s any brand I dislike strongly it’s Suzuki because I’ve repeatedly had bad experiences with their motorcycles.

    • Wilson R says:

      I have yet to see an actual Fury on the highway. I did, however, see about 200 Harleys on the way to work.

    • Mark P. says:

      Not true. While Honda doesn’t have a problem with quality or modern technology, Honda has its own problems. They lack of exciting products and face rising prices due to the costs of developing their crotch rockets and a yen rate that has increased their relative cost vs. the U.S. dollar by about 15% in the past year in a down economy.

      • Donnie says:

        Agreed. It’s not just Honda motorcycles losing their flair, Honda’s sports cars have lost their flair as well. Honda is just one odd duck anymore – I mean, look at their bikes now, and in another Honda division there’s talk of the NSX becoming a “high-performance CR-Z”.

  11. takehikes says:

    Been riding since the 60’s, seen, ridden and owned Harley’s and pretty much everything else along the way. Simply, Harley makes a decent bike these days. It’s the pricing that’s just insane! I bought a Yamaha Roadstar for many, many thousands less than the comparable Harley in 05. Did I get something less than their offering? No, the Roadstar is in some ways better, in some ways the same but in no way less except price.
    Since I buy US products as much as possible (I don’t set foot in to China-Mart) it was a wrenching decision for me. However there comes a point you have to be an idiot to spend what they are asking. For me I probably will jump on a Victory next time, their pricing seems to be a bit more in line. Oh and I have a Harley in the garage, 76 Sporty being chopped so I’m not just a hater eh?

  12. Donnie says:

    As pointed out by another poster:

    …So if that’s true, what’s the best-selling brand of streetbikes to 18-34-year-old buyers? Honda, with its CBRs? Kawasaki, with its friendly Ninja 250R and race-winning ZX-6R? Surely, then, it must be Yamaha, because what red-blooded 21-year-old wouldn’t want to blast off down the road on the svelte and sexy YZF-R6?…

    …Is it just a blip, an aberration picked up for one year in an unstable market? Not at all, said Lowney—H-D became number one with young adults in the heavyweight (650cc and bigger, and yes, it includes dual-sports) category in 2006…

    A Ninja 250R is not a heavyweight. A ZX-6R is not a heavyweight. A YZF-R6 is not a heavyweight.

    Where’s the comparison to the Star cruisers, the Kawasaki cruisers, the Suzuki cruisers? A strictly H-D vs. sportbike comparison makes no sense here. A better comparison would be to match the H-D’s up against their counterparts; for example, comparing sales of the Sportster vs. Shadow 750 vs. Boulevard S50 vs. Vulcan 900, etc. etc.

    Harley Davidson makes a good product. I have no beef with Harleys in general; I’ve pondered getting one myself but chose not to.

    No, what I wonder about is the data used for the comparison. I think it’s more of an oversight than anything else but the better sales comparison is not against sportbikes but against metric cruisers, in my humble opinion.

    • Gabe says:

      It’s unclear what you don’t understand–H-D sells more motorcycles to 18-34 year-old buyers than any other brand. It’s not hard to believe, as the average H-D buyer is the same age (49) as the average motorcycle buyer. The data isn’t for heavyweight or lightweight, it’s all street-legal motorcycles, period.

      • Donnie says:

        No sir, you’re misreading my confusion.
        “The data isn’t for heavyweight or lightweight, it’s all street-legal motorcycles, period.”

        The article states, “Not at all, said Lowney—H-D became number one with young adults in the heavyweight (650cc and bigger, and yes, it includes dual-sports) category in 2006”

        Yes, the article does concern heavyweights, and that’s where my question comes from. Why is the author comparing sales of a Ninja 250 an R6 to sales of the Sportster or the Softail?

        Why not make the comparison to the R1 or the Vulcan 900?

        My comment is more that the comparison does not look like an apples to apples comparison is all.

        If the heavyweight category is 651cc+, then you can’t reasonably compare that category to the middleweight or lightweight category.

  13. kpaul says:

    A big advantage that Harley could exploit to gain market share in the under 30 crowd is the devaluation of the dollar since the year 2001. The dollar will continue to decline because of our massive debt that begun after 2001 and continues today. The price of all imports from oil to Honda motorcycles and cars will continue rise. However, the price of Harley’s has increased suggesting that Harley will maximize profit versus gaining market share. In order to get Harley’s average age of rider to lower Harley would have to sell a large number of bikes to the under 30 crowd. I don’t see that happening. Especially on the West Coast

    • Steve says:

      so how many business do you own kpaul that gives you the right to critique Harley’s business model???

      I thought so….

      Why do you waste everyone’s time here! All you have to do, instead of writing all your “superior knowledge BS” is simply type : HARLEY & ITS RIDERS SUCK” & then just copy n paste that into all your posts! That’s what you’re sayin anyway & we all know it.

      • kpaul says:

        Actually Steve I manage a business inside of a larger company. In addition I have degrees in Electrical Engineering and Business so I think I have the “right” to comment on technology and business models on this forum. Please don’t get personal. When you get personal it really takes away from the quality of this forum and reduces your credibility tremendously. The great motorcycle journalist John Burns said “When you get personal in an argument it means you have lost the argument”

  14. Doc says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how many smart people there are in the world. Can you really compare one of today’s sportbikes to a Harley anything? Let’s compare a Cessna 172 to an F15. Which one do you think will win that comparison??? Compare apples to apples. Let’s take a VTX, or a Vulcan, or a Star and compare. Then we’ll see. If I ride my Roadking Classic like a sportbike and expect GSXR performance, I will surely be dissapointed. Ride it the way it was intended, great joy. I love all forms of motorcycles, have owned 30 bikes(only 5 have been Harleys), can’t get enough roadracing and would love to take 2 weeks and go to the Isle Of Man. But, I ride a Harley. Contradiction in terms? Hardly. Keep an open mind. To be totally right with the world, I would have a CBR, a CB1100F(please Honda), maybe a Supermoto, an adventure bike, and a couple of CT70’s(More grins per mile than anything else out there). Oh, and a W650 Kawasaki. Oops! I have one of those. I won’t even begin to tell how much fun that is.

    • Kjazz says:

      … your taste in bikes!!! CT90s for me, got a GB500 too (W650 would be great tho!)

    • Wormjello says:

      So you’re the person who bought a W650 ;). I was a salesman at a kawasaki dealer when It came out and fell in love with it but bought a ZR7 instead. More bang for less buck, which brings meo to my point; most private pilots are happier with a C-172 than they would be with an F15. I put 20k on a Fatboy in one year and sold it for what I paid for it, then did the same with an FLHRSI. I bought an XL883R the year after and am now on a Buell Ulysses. The Harleys just felt good where my BMWs never really felt anything. At all. It’s nice to see someone out there as a motorcycle ambassador instead of just hating.

      • Kjazz says:

        tail draggers rule.

      • Wilson R says:

        BMW’s do seem to lack excitement. Their exhaust not is very dull (sort of like muffled farting) and you never really feel connected to a BMW. Never desired to own a beemer.

        • Kjazz says:

          Wilson R, I had that SAME exact feeling for years. THen I started riding an R1200GS, and it all changed. But I’m glad I finally heard someone else echo the feelings I had for them originally. They always seemed lifeless (as if a motorcycle could be anything but ALIVE!), totally vanilla without a personality at all. But that GS,,,, really gets me

  15. Bicep says:

    I’m actually in the 18-34 age group and have been riding for 14 years. Sold my Fireblade and ZX-9R for a XVS1100 10 years ago and never looked back. Get teased by my sportsbike riding friends for riding ‘an old man bike’ but I put on more km on the V-Star than all 5 sport bikes I owned previously combined. I now own a Vulcan 1700 (only since the Star Raider S isn’t sold here – otherwise it would have been that). Never ridden a Harley, just can’t afford one. I live in Australia where H-D is $10K more than its equivalent metric rival. Even Victory has at least tried to be somewhat competitive with the Japanese cruisers. Considering the AU$ is currently worth more than the US$, why are we, the Australian consumer expected to pay AU$28K for a base model blackline?

  16. paul246 says:

    It isn’t the brand, its the cruiser rider. See them everyday, same thing all over again. All in costume. All trying to look bad-ass. All wearing the Schwarzneger “smile”. Most have loud pipes. Most will keeping twisting the throttle at the stoplight. All hoping to be seen. Most pathetic after a while.

    My confession. I rode a cruiser. I saw the light, finally and moved on to better things motorcycle-wise.

  17. Tom R says:

    Perhaps before publishing another article about who and how many people buy/ride whatever brand/style/segment of motorcycle, MD should also print the definition of “anecdotal evidence”.

    Readers would then be asked to place their throttle hand onto a stack of bike magazines and swear that they have read and understand this definition before posting a response to the article.

  18. longride says:

    The comments by some people here are really hilarious. I have to say that I have known Gabe for a long time from his MO days and even did a motorcycle comparo test with him, and he tells it like it is, and doesn’t make things to create his own ‘truth’. Anyone that is questioning him, or the story, obviously can’t take the fact that Harley is not only doing well, but doing well among the younger crowd. As for my good buddy KPaul, he has been spouting the same nonsense about Harley for about 10 years now. He doesn’t even own a motorcycle, so you can take from that what you will. I do like how some people bring up how Harley was ‘saved’ by the government. Like Honda never got any government help or subsidies in this lifetime. Some people need to live in the real world. Sorry folks, Harley is doing well.

    • kpaul says:

      longride I thought you lost your moderator job at MO, your wife, dog, house, etc. and started living under a CTA overpass. Yes I have a motorcycle :)I even have a picture of me riding at a track day it on face-book. Just remember you can’t ban someone who disagrees with you here. 🙂 I love it cause the truth comes out here.. Good to hear that you still have opinions 🙂 Just remember I am not questioning Gabe just the data that Harley is giving him.

  19. Steve says:

    So let me ask everyone this…..

    Let’s say in the next year or 2, it becomes common knowledge that the Sportbike, regardless of brand, is the #1 selling bike in the US & Harley, the company, downsizes accordingly to continue to make bikes to support fewer sales…

    That would mean “YOU WIN/YOU R RIGHT”, 183 mph sportbikes are the best, right? “YOU” meaning all of you here bashing Harley (the company) & all of us that ride them…. all of us stupid, idiotic neanderthals…. old farts, etc…. right?

    OK then… you win! I’m fine with that because I don’t care what you ride or what company is #1 in sales. I ride whatever bike I want to & will continue to do that. Most Harley riders don’t care at all what motorcycle mfger is selling the most bikes but you sportbikers seem to get all freaked out when you hear anything about H-D.

    for all of the analysis going on here, I have yet to hear one of you figure out why it is that you all seem to despise both Harleys & the people that ride them. The hate goes far beyond that you don’t like the suspensions on Harleys or the riding ergo’s, or someone fails to wave back at you. Why is that?

    Prejudice & bias comes from within. Any of you take a look inside to see why? If your “reasoning” were “valid”, wouldn’t the reverse hold true as well?.. that since I ride a Harley I would hate all you Sportbikers & your bikes? Then how come I don’t? How come I DVR every AMA Superbike, World Superbike & MOTO Gp race! How come I cheer for Danny Eslick on his GSXR 600 every Summer @ Thunderbolt Raceway in Millville NJ. How come me & 100’s of H-D riders show up @ Van Sant Airport & similar places every Sunday in the summer & admire the high performance/rare sportbikes that show up at these places. How come we aren’t ignoring the riders instead of introducing ourselves to each other & asking all about what they are riding?….

    there are a**holes throughout society & I would bet they are distributed evenly just like everything else in nature…. so one can expect that 1/2 the people you meet (in general), you will like & get along with & 1/2 you won’t. same goes for bikes & riders….

    The level of disdain expressed here towards H-D & the people that ride them is sad when you realize that we are all motorcyclists that ride because we SHARE the love of the sport. I for one do not care how many bikes any company sells or who is buying them. My only concern is that motorcycling continues in all the different shapes & sizes we all love.

    • MarkyMark says:

      I never got the prejudice either. I’ve never owned or ridden a Harley, but that’s not out of any dislike to the bikes; they just don’t meet my needs or budget. Having said that, I like and admire their bikes. In my mind, if it has two wheels and you’re riding it, it’s all good…

      • Kjazz says:

        I wouldn’t own one….ever. But I hope they keep making them….because some of us seem to like em (understatement). That’s cool. More motorcycles is more motorcycles. Plus I do get a good chuckle watching them sometimes. It’s like a fashion show on wheels. Hey whatever, it takes all types of people. If they wanna ride because it gives them a sense of belonging, I guess it beats hanging out at the “lodge” drinking all day to be around their crowd. Or if they need a motorcycle, so they know what type of clothes to wear, that’s cool. I wish them happiness.

        I feel differently about the company; however. I think they could be doing more, opening new products that I might like to own or that contributes meaningfully to the industry at large. Their single-mindedness is appalling to me. Talk about all your eggs in one basket!

        My father owned war surplus HD 45 after he got out of the Navy in 1945. So he has never understood my lack of interest in Harleys. But in 1945, the HD 45 was a lean mean choppable machine capable of tranferring mind and matter in a very true motorcyclist manner. It wasn’t a lead sled that gained the owner’s admittance to the “low wave” crowd.

        I love Harleys and Harley riders….’cause sometimes, I need a good laugh.

        • Kjazz says:

          sorry, “…we WOULDN’T have….” LOL

        • Steve says:


          it sounds like you ride a Triumph Street Triple… very nice bike in my opinion… not that my opinion matters, because it doesn’t.

          You can’t seem to let go of your obsessive need to mock Harley’s & their riders. Why is that? Why can’t you just be content to ride your Triumph without your chronic whining about such small things as you don’t like how some people wave (“low wave crowd”). Why not just wave back however you like & be done with it?
          There’s definitely something missing in the area of contentment & self esteem there….
          You mention your father doesn’t understand your obvious, over the top disdain for all things Harley…. if he can’t understand you, why would you think anyone else would….
          You vain attempt at justifying that it was sort of ok for your Dad to ride a Harley back in the 40’s or 50’s doesn’t cut it. Your bias & prejudice shines through.

          • Kjazz says:

            and your point is………? You pretty much got my message correct Steve. The HD party chaps my ass, bunch of fruit cakes on motorcycles (not all of them)…. I hope they continue though. Like I said, it gives me laughs.

            As far my “vain attempt”, you apparently missed the whole point, it was a very different world then, when motorcycling was a very narrow field and fashion had little to do with it.

            But dont get me wrong, I’m not apologizing. You were right, Harley crowds (not all Harley folks), but you know who I’m talking about, seem pathetic to me. And I dont mind saying so.

            And yes, I do like my Triumph, but I’ll pretty much ride any motorcycle, I’d even ride a Harley if they’d make a decent “motorcycle”.

  20. navek says:

    Harley are marketing heavy weights and I am deeply suspicious of anything that they say or do. I remember the arrogance of the dealers a few years ago (better economic times )when there were no new machines to be had. As to reliability, how short peoples memories are. Harleys denial of any widespread problems with oil supply to the head should have had them in court. Their, “We’ll fix it when it breaks” attitude should have had smart buyers running. I had reason to visit a HD showroom recently (work related ) and I was amazed at the number of bikes they had. Discounting, once a dirty word at these places, while not openly advertised was obviously going on. I enquired about the dirt tracker 1200 replica which would be the only thing they make that I would consider buying and was told by a salesman that the left over model I was looking at could be had for less than the list price. Welcome to the real world Harley. If it was up to me they would have sunk into oblivion before I would have given them a penny of my money!

  21. Wilson R says:

    Nearly all the Sportster based bikes are being bought by the younger generation. The
    Electraglides and Heritage type bikes are scooped up by the old f@rts because they value comfort over agility and speed. Harley would sell a heck of a lot more bikes if they made them more affordable. Last time I looked there were plenty of young folks on Sportsters. Actually cheaper than the aforementioned CBR1000R and much less $$$ for insurance, not to mention risking your driver’s licenses being handed over to a judge for those 160 mph speeding tickets. I think that that a HD is a better choice for the younger gerneration than a 200hp missile.

    • Scott in the UK says:

      An even better choice is a fine handling and capable twin like an SV650, ER6F, or four like a 600 Diversion! And if they are less on the practicalities a Street Triple. Anyone who values agility and speed won’t buy any kind of Harley – that was the Buell boat but Harley opened the sea cocks on that one and scuttled it! Sadly. If I was to go for a more sporty bike than the Breva750 that has served me well these last 7 years, a Firebolt would have been one of the top choices…….

  22. Jerry says:

    At 67 years old I bought my first Harley, Also, the last bike I had was a Benelli in 1978. But To the point. I looked at plenty of bikes before buying a 2010 Dyna Super-glide. Why the HD and not a UJM? No plastic! HD builds bikes that are tough and can take the occasional problem. Also, at least in my home town, HD resale prices easily make up for the higher original price. Why is a Harley desirable? Ask the person who owns one. HD will be around for a long time to come.

    • Scott in the UK says:

      Why is any bike desirable Jerry? I ride a Guzzi – there is nothing like it, but I would NEVER tell anyone “if I had to explain it you wouldn’t understand..” Guzzi too will be around for a long time, founded by 2 fighter pilots and an engineer in 1921, they are still going….

  23. Mike says:

    So supposedly I am “gen Y” whatever the heck that means. I test drive the HD new bikes every year in NH. I game yet to find one that is better than my Suzuki M109R. The VROD comes close but has a smaller engine and a bigger price tag. Not to mention it was cheaper for me to BUY a used suzuki then to RENT. a HD for 10 days.

  24. Tom says:

    I think this could well be the truth. Sort of a self-serving truth in a contrived manner, but still technically true.
    An analogy: Fox News gets to say they are the No. 1 watched “news” show on TV, because all of the viewers who like that kind of “news” will watch Fox news hosts and nobody else. All the other viewers of “news,” which may be 80% of the viewers, are spread out over countless other non-Fox Channels, and may even watch several different channels.

    Same with Harley. Lets say 20% of the young adults want to ride a Harley-type bike. They get a Harley, new or used. That leaves 80% of the riders choosing between Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Triumph, Yamaha, Victory, Ducati, KTM….none of which alone can quite reach that 20% of the riders. Not only that, but non-Harley riders will switch between Honda, BME, Kawasaki, Triumph in a sort of unpredictable way. So there. Harley is therefore No. 1. It means Harley has a plurality of the young riders, not a majority of the riders.

    Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • kpaul says:

      Excellent point Tom 🙂

    • Steve says:

      I think you’re analogy is flawed Tom….

      In the news analogy…. if FOX NEWS gets 20% & all of the other news shows get less than 20%, that means FOX is #1. Your point seems to be that FOX NEWS is different from all of the others (meaning all the others are the same) so that “really”, since all the other news shows are the same, they received 80% & therefore that “type” of news show beats FOX.

      It is the same with your motorcycle analogy… you are not comparing discrete Motorcycle Manufacturer to Motorcycle Manufacturer, you are comparing H-D to all other brands & drawing the incorrect conclusion that while H-D sells a lot of bikes, if you add up all the “other” brands out there, they “total” more. & yes, they do. But taken separately, the way total sales are compared, H-D with 20% still beats the rest based on the numbers in your example.

      • Tom says:

        That’s the point precisely. I couldn’t say it quite so succinctly, but HD gets 20%, Honda 18%, Yamaha 15%, Kawasaki 12%, Triumph 9%, Ducati 3%, Suzuki, etc.

        Yes, this means HD is No. 1! With only 20% of the riders. And yes, Fox News is No. 1! With only 20% of the viewers.

  25. Mark Pearson says:

    Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Show me where I can access the raw data and I’ll draw my own conclusions.

    • Steve says:

      just go riding on a warm Sunday afternoon & count the bikes you see…..

      Have you EVER seen a couple of hundred CBR1000’s or lets expand that to CBR 600/1000, R6/R1, GSXR600/750/1000 & all the Z bikes…. riding 100 miles or so for lunch?

      maybe in Seattle, but no where else!

      • MarkyMark says:

        Steve’s right; when you go out and about, at least here in PA, it seems like 1/2-2/3 of the bikes have ‘H-D’ on the tank. In New Hope, at least 2/3 of the bikes are Harleys. As the article writer said, riding an H-D motorcycle is a unique experience that cannot be duplicated on any other bike or brand…

        • Mark Pearson says:

          Blah, blah, blah. Without unbiased, raw data there’s no basis for a meaningful analysis, much less debate. What’s presented here is a marketing department‘s sales pitch.

          Sorry, I’m not that gullible.

          • kpaul says:

            I agree Mark the independent statistic I stated was from the NY Times that the average age of a Harley rider has continued to climb between the years 2004-2009 to 49 from 42. If we extrapolate, arguably this would indicate the that for every 5 years the average Harley rider age will increase by 7 years. Not good news for Harley. By the year 2019 the average age of a Harley rider would be 63. What is worse is the fact to bring that average age down would take a miracle like a major explosion in sales of Harleys to riders under 30. Don’t see that happening especially since they dropped Buell.

          • Mark Pearson says:

            Using those numbers, kpaul, 49-year olds in the 2004-09 period would have been born in the 1955-60. It will be interesting to see what happens when we get to generations who think of Triumphs, UJM’s and dirt bikes as the classic templates.

      • MGNorge says:

        Hey, what’s Seattle got to do with it?

        Yes, you do see many, many Harleys out there. But I don’t believe it’s the uniquely Harley experience that puts them there. I believe it’s a social thing brought on by years of marketing hype that knows its target. When I see those throngs of Harley proceeding enmasse down the road it doesn’t draw me in at all. In fact, I rather turn and go the other way. I roll my own and have no need to look, sound, behave, dress and/or talk the talk like throngs of others. I believe it’s a good part of the human trait to want to belong to something bigger than themselves.

        But I do not believe the bikes hold anything special over any number of other fine bikes. That’s all in the head (helmet?)!

    • Gabe says:

      Mark, I get your point, and I wish I could access the raw data too. Unfortunately, the MIC will not make sales data by brand/model/market segment public.

      However, H-D does have the information public in its quarterly reports. Here are H-D production numbers 2006-2010:

      Feel free to compare that to USA streetbike sales overall.

  26. Kjazz says:

    Regardless of age, I’m seeing (with my very own eyes!) fewer HDs on the road today than I did during the late 1990s up until a couple of years ago. I think the housing debacle, the great recession, and maybe demographics have conspired to cool the demand; or maybe they are buying them and parking them…. dunno. Maybe that whole thing is just simply over. Which would be sad to me….even though I’ll never own one.

    I do know that it is easy to use statistics to prove up anything. How? Because that’s what I do for a living. That may sound goofy, but really given a few statistics and some time to sit around and contemplate the desired message, you can prove anything.

    Economically, I’m not convinced the next gen (Y) will have the money for this activity. Plus it goes against what we riders have witnessed for decades now in terms of trends.

    I dont want to see HD fail, I have no vested interest in their demise, they are an important part of the economy, but they’ve made huge blunders before, why would you (any of us) expect them to be more in tune and make better decisions today?

    And the history mentioned previously is correct: they were bailed out. Totally unfair market advantage to save them. They didn’t earn it. They bought MV, big mistake,… they’ve dropped Buell, big mistake. THat’s just the top incidents that come to mind.

    • Kjazz says:

      A couple more comments regarding the last line of the article….”How can that be bad?”

      As an American, I DO NOT wish to see Americans out of work. But as an American, I’m a capitalist. As a motorcyclist, I’m a …. well, a motorcyclist; meaning the machine and it’s performance is paramount.

      People who share these attributes, first want to see the best products get developed. Meaning the best attributes, power, brakes, handling etc. get rewarded by sales, growth, more investment, more sales, etc. We desire capitalistic “justice.” Good things get rewarded for the “right” reasons.

      As a motorcyclist, I was originally drawn to a motorcycle because it was lithe, quick, cool, sounded nice, versatile, efficient, ……and cheap relative to anything in it’s class performance-wise. Those are fundemental characteristics of motorcycles. Characteristics that are not fully embraced by most HD models. I for one, see them as platforms to play out some alter ego while not being dangerous enough to get even a rookie into much trouble. So these things are anathema to me for violating basic principles. I wish Harley would expand their view. They could be very successful building American toys for Americans and the rest of the world while creating exciting models that lead us to the future rather than constantly pointing backwards to what was….

  27. nome says:

    ” These sales don’t help the MoCo directly (unless they use H-D financing)”

    Anybody know how that’s going? It was the financial arm that almost pulled the whole “MoCo” under two years ago and needed federal money to save themselves. I haven’t followed it since, I guess they pulled through?

    • Steve says:

      last I read about H-D stock a few days ago, the financing arm that is doing the well. I know they had a lot of issues a few years ago…. that’s what I read….

  28. Uncle Homey says:

    I have noticed a lot of younger people on Nightster’s lately.
    I think it appeals to the punk/outlaw, James Dean image that a lot of young folks are embracing these days. Triumph offers the same experience with their Bonneville line.
    After 40+ years of riding, I’m going back to my roots. Older UJM’s. Lot’s of nice examples out there for not much money.

  29. GP says:

    I am 50 years old, and have been riding motorcycles since I was 8. I should be right smack square in the middle of HD’s target demographic, but somehow I am not. I like their bikes, but I do not love them. Sure, every once in a while I just want to putt around, but most of the time I want something that will wheelie on command and excite my senses. HD just does not offer something that will do both. Some of you might suggest a used Buell, but the last Buell I rode, well, I was expecting CR-500, and I got XR-250.
    So, as I consider buying a new bike, I will be looking at ZRX’s, Bandit 1250’s, Ninja 1000’s, and even the new Triumph Speed and Street triples. Until HD comes out with something that fits well in that category, I will just “admire” from afar.
    Somehow, I get the feeling that the numbers presented here do not actually represent the whole truth.

    • Kjazz says:

      Dont test a Speed Triple…..w/o money in your pocket. ‘Cause you gonna want to take it home!!!!!

  30. Goose says:

    This really gets tiresome, again people only seem interested in the same fact free statements. “Harley riders are getting old and that will kill Harley”. I’m sorry but the facts don’t support that position. Motorcyclists are getting older, not just Harley riders.

    According to JD Powers* the average new motorcycle buyer is now 49 years old. If Harley goes out of business because its riders are getting old Honda will follow within five-six years. I’m really sorry if it gets your panties in a bunch. The fact is motorcycling is going to change tremendously in the next ten years. Boomers are getting old and not enough young people are into motorcycling to keep it where has been since the Boomers started turning 16 and met the nicest people on their Hondas.

    The facts are that, of the young people buying bikes, more are buying Harleys than are buying Kpaul’s precious sport bikes. Live with it. If you want to change it figure out a way to get a lot more twenty somethings interested in motorcycles.



  31. jimbo says:

    My most humble apology for missing this: “…(H-D)added all street models to its trophy case starting in 2008…”

    Motorcycle sales fell off a cliff starting 2008. Also, the rich are getting richer in spite of the general trend of the overall economy. So I’m guessing that over time, the ratio of wealthy bike buyers increases while less-well heeled buyer ratios decrease. The wealthier the buyer the more likely they’ll purchase H-D, among the most costly.

    Also, there’s still the fact that H-D would have already closed its doors without US taxpayer loan via TARP funds, specifically targeted in the law for purposes other than multi-million dollar publicly traded motorcycle companies (motorcycling is about 90% leisure/amusement purchase) like H-D. This contradicts the rosy presentation of the article. Plus, as reported elsewhere, H-D’s average age demographic goes only upward, again, apparently contradicting H-D’s presentation. Riders ride less miles as they age, and dead owners ride very little if at all.

  32. kpaul says:

    I am not buying it. The big question is what is the average age of a Harley rider? I think every year it has gone up. According to the NY Times in 2009 the average age of a Harley rider was 49 up from 42 in 2004. So show me the proof Harley. Here in Seattle I see no proof that Harleys are selling well in the Gen Y market. Today I saw 7 bikes on my commute. 6 sportbikes and 1 Harley. On my weekend rides I see older Harley riders and more and more young sportbike riders. Remember a sportbike is the safest bike on the planet with great breaks, agility and performance to get you out of a jam.

    • kpaul says:

      brakes not breaks 🙂

    • jimbo says:

      Again: MD needs to step up and correct what appears to be outright “puffery” (a more friendly term of art in advertising for misleading ad content). MD should publish the answer to the question they posed, “…what’s the best-selling brand of street-bikes to 18-34-year-old buyers?…” The text within the question includes all street bikes including those under 651cc, but yet the reply excludes such for the apparent sum total purpose of puffing up H-D sales.

      I dislike puffery in general more than I like the free info posted at this site.

      It’s a reasonable bet many readers guessed the wrong reply (I guessed wrong, and I have good general motorcycle knowledge). It’s also a reasonable bet that if the question limited the reply to bikes 651cc and larger, virtually everyone would have guessed it (I’m quite sure I would have).

      Barring the above requested info, readers might rightfully view future sales-related articles for the puffery they are, and simply ignore them.

      • Dirck Edge says:

        Since Jimbo is directly questioning Gabe’s integrity, as well as MDs, I feel compelled to respond. I have seen it plenty of times on other sites, but it has thankfully been relatively rare that a reader has implied that we are shills for a motorcycle manufacturer, whether Harley or anyone else. In general, I find our readers more mature in this respect, and they don’t make personal attacks on our integrity, or other readers.

        Gabe wrote a good article. He made it clear that (1) the numbers came from Harley, and (2) we have not been able to independently verify those numbers. Other manufacturers (particularly, the Japanese) could easily contact me and tell me that the numbers are wrong, because they all pay a hefty sum to receive MIC data. We would post that information, as well. I consider it telling that no other manufacturer has contacted me to disagree with Harley’s numbers.

        While on the subject of Jimbo, elsewhere he offers an opinion regarding Harley’s receipt of TARP funds, even though Harley never received TARP funds. Opinions are fine, stating false information is not. Harley received a loan under a program referred to as TALF, and has since repaid that loan in full. This might not change Jimbo’s opinion, but he should be more careful about stating something as a fact when it is not a fact.

        I don’t mind criticism. We certainly are not perfect here. But I’m not going to sit by and let somebody imply that we are dishonest, and writing “misleading ad content” to help any particular manufacturer.

        • mpolans says:

          TALF was another bailout program funded bt TARP. Sorry, but if you get a below market rate loan from the Fed with a guarantee that they’ll absorb your losses, that’s a bailout. For more info on the shady TALF program . If you’re a U.S. taxpayer, prepare to be pissed when reading about it.

        • Kjazz says:

          Dirck, I really like this website a LOT!!!! I hope it remains successful. I think each of your individual integrity factors are stellar and this article does not put anyone’s specific integrity to question. BUT…… why even write an article such as this? It’s admittedly based upon stats supplied by the party likely to benefit from it, even if that benefit is just a better light or shade upon HD. I mean really…..what’s the point? If I were you, I’d just make HD pay for their advertisement on your site like everyone else does. These guys should be made to operate on a level playing field, no more bailouts or free cool-aid.

    • Goose says:


      Funny how you jump from being fact based when talking about petrochemicals Vs. electric power but start sounding like the Fox news crowd on this subject. Gee, there must be plenty of oil, I saw 6 big tanker trucks when I was riding today. What you personally see represents all the facts, right?

      Check with the MIC, this isn’t news. Harley has been gaining with the 18 to 34 crowd for years.

      As for sport bikes being safe, that also conflicts with reality. Check the insurance rate on a GSXR Vs. a much more expensive Harley. Insurance rate are set by facts and statistics, not your opinions.


      • kpaul says:

        Sport bikes, if driven within the traffic laws, are indeed the safest motorcycles. The reason that insurance rates are higher on sportbikes include: more expensive repairs, folks breaking the laws, etc.

        • Goose says:

          Wow, I’m sure both people who bought super sport bikes and are riding them without breaking the law will be thrilled by this. The thought of guys (and girls) riding their 160 HP super sports at the speed limit is pretty funny.

          Gosh, I’m riding a bike with a torture rack riding position on tires that are so sticky they will be junk in 1500 miles mounted on a bike that only exists to push the limit of how fast a bike can be ridden and I could lean another 20 degrees but that sign said the speed limit was 25 MPH and I never break the law!

          Parts for a $10K Honda costing more then a $23K Harley is another nice fantasy. Sport bikes have higher insurance because they crash more often. Statistics show that and common sense ought to make that obvious.


          • kpaul says:

            Remembrance the old BMW adds about avoiding an accident. Well a modern 600 sport-bike is like a BMW and a Harley is like a 53 Buick Road Master in it;s ability to avoid accidents. Also when a sport-bike does go down the plastic fairing can be expensive to replace compared to the Harley’s loud tail pipe 🙂
            Give me agility, speed, and braking power any day or a heavy slow awkward HOG

          • Steve says:

            Goose…. why bring facts into it…. 🙂

            here’s a few relavant quotes…

            “Denying the facts do not make them cease to exist.”
            Aldous Huxley

            “You are not entitled to an opinion. An opinion is what you have when you don’t have any facts. When you have the facts, you don’t need an opinion.” Solomon Short

          • kpaul says:

            The statistic I stated was from the NY Times that the average age of a Harley rider has continued to climb between the years 2004-2009 to 49. It wasn’t an opinion Steve

    • Steve says:

      Let me give you my response using a complex mathematical equation….

      seattle = rain

      rain = no fun

      Avg H-D age 49+

      Age rider knows riding in rain sucks = 49+

      Therefore Kpaul…. you will rarely see H-D riders in Seattle because it rains a lot there & every 49+ rider knows riding in t he rain sucks.

      • MGNorge says:

        Gee, then why do so many of us live here? We have loads of gray skies and at times it seems like more rain than what we need but it certainly doesn’t rain all the time. Those I do see riding regularly in the rain aren’t necessarily younger riders. I know older riders who take great pride in the fact that they ride year round.

        • kpaul says:

          Steve is so funny and wrong 🙂 MGNorge is right. It doesn’t rain all the time in Seattle and when it does its a misty sort most of the time. There are lots of riders in the beautiful Pacific NW who ride year around given our miles and miles of picturesque twisty mountain tree lined roads. I ride year around. The statistic I stated was from the NY Times that the average age of a Harley rider has continued to climb between the years 2004-2009 to 49.

  33. Scotty-Hugh says:

    It’s all about the persona. A broad swathe of the 18-34 yr olds are doing the retro thing – look at the guy in the picture. They won’t buy big faired barges, but they’ll be retro inspired, blacked out scows with all the Dita Von Teese styling queues. Harley can serve that quite adequately. Don’t start muddling things up with notions of value and utility. That isn’t what it’s about here. Very few people regard a motorcycle as transportation – it’s a venue to another self, albeit an imagined or aspired self. Pick your alter ego – Vale, Bboz, pipeholstered Beemer ironbutt man, badass biker, mod, rocker, whatever you want, the bike is your means to realize the person you never were and probably shouldn’t be, but it’s sure fun to take a walk on the wild side every now and then. Ah, those 1 piece leathers are so slimming when I’m on the gamma, and I just love how those extra tall linesman’s boots caress my calf as I profile on the old Beezer, leering at women and smoking indolently whilst lounging on the bike outside of a pub.

    • Tom R says:

      Mmmmm. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am getting a little turned on here…

  34. mongrel says:

    My problem with Harley is the same problem I have with all the other brands, price. I don’t want to pay the price for the Harley, nor do I want to pay the price the big metric bikes are commanding. My theory is pay less for the bikes, which allows me to buy different kinds of bikes. I currently have a 2003 Yamaha V-Star 1100 cruiser, 2003 Kawasaki KLR 250, and a 2006 Triumph Sprint ST. I paid a total of $15,800 for all three. I love having the variety of styles to choose from.

  35. Craig says:

    I am 25 years old and none of my friends that ride, yes none, own a Hardly Dangerous. Some own the motorcycle formally known as Buell, Honda, Yamaha and I own a BMW and a KTM and recently sold my Honda. Around Charleston, SC I see sport bike after sport bike with young squid on it and occasionally the two or three guys on custom choppers that think they are cool. I’m from Ohio and have lived in NYC and Philly…still no young Harley riders.
    So if Harley has found they are #1, what market is it in?

  36. ABQ says:

    The friend that taught me about motorcycles told me NEVER buy a motorcycle to fit in, Always buy a motorcycle that fits you. This maxim was code for don’t buy a cruiser, esspecially a H-D. To tell you the truth, H-Ds look nice, but they just don’t fit me. Not my body or the way I ride. ALONE! As a true individualist, on my BMW R1150GS.

    • jimbo says:

      Owned about 70 bikes. #1 favorite was an ’83 Yamaha XZ550 Vision (equally shared riding time with fairing and without), close #2 (more reliable) was the ’00 BMW R1150GS. Interesting they’re both splayed twins like H-D, one 62-degrees, the other flat/180-degrees.

    • Burt says:

      I thought I was just weird!
      I can occasionally ride slow and relaxed, so that aspect
      doesn’t bother me as much.
      But I sat on all the cool new bare-bones H-Ds
      at the IMS show and they all felt very awkward.
      I WANTED to like them. Really.
      Perhaps there is some magical transformation
      once underway, or maybe I am just one of several

  37. JD says:

    If you are talking about 18 – 34 year old riders you’ve got to look at he armed services factor. Of my friends who are riders in that demographic, probably 75% are members of the armed forces and they almost all ride Harleys. Many also have used sport bikes as well, but their first bikes – the ones they bought brand new – were Harleys.

    • mpolans says:

      This is only because Harley is the only motorcycle company participating in the military sales program, where military and DoD civilians overseas get discounts on new bikes. I think only American brands are allowed to participate.

  38. Brad says:

    I don’t buy it either. I live in a major HD town, and I’ve never seen anyone under 40 on one. The Y’ers are still on the Japanese sport bikes here in Phx.

    The best lead HD had into this segment was an edgy, sporty, improving Buell and they not only burned that bridge, but stomped and spat on its ashes.

    Maybe if HD came out with a new line of cheaper, edgier, lighter, faster bikes — something like an American Monster or Speed/Street Triple — they’d have a chance. But this management team? I’m not going to hold my breath.

  39. Rich says:

    H-D accounts for the majority of road-bike sales in the US overall. This alone skews the statistics. Secondly, they claimed the same thing last year: they are the sales leader of (and this is the *critical* part) of *heavyweight* bikes. Heavyweight bikes do not include 650s (as the article implies) but are those of 651cc displacement and higher. So, this excludes all 650 and smaller bikes. These include all the sport 600s, and 250s, etc. In other words, these H-D press releases are intended to build investor confidence and keep the share price up. As Benjamin Disraeli was alleged to have said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

    • jimbo says:

      Gabe’s writing just gets better, as does his “salesmanship”. Anyone that takes on face value anything said by a salesperson suffering no penalty for misrepresenting (no banksters/CPA’s imprisoned proves the “Justice” Dept’s impotence) is naive or worse. The H-D representative eats and pays his rent by selling the gospel according to H-D.

      BTW, it’s widely believed by many legal and business authorities that all TARP funds used for purposes such as saving H-D from certain death in 2009 (it would not exist today if not for TARP funds paid by you and me), were strictly and absolutely illegal. Saving GM and Chrysler also come under this heading.

      Pertinent quotes:
      “…what’s the best-selling brand of streetbikes to 18-34-year-old buyers? Honda, with its CBRs? Kawasaki, with its friendly Ninja 250R and race-winning ZX-6R? Surely, then, it must be Yamaha, because what red-blooded 21-year-old wouldn’t want to blast off down the road on the svelte and sexy YZF-R6?

      Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The correct answer is actually Harley-Davidson….”

      The author asks one question. Potential replies are suggested, followed by the misleading reply to a question unasked. The reply excludes the very bikes listed as potential answers. It also turns out that even H-D’s skewed, twisted reply is not corroborated by any outside independent source.

      Ask a parent, “Isn’t my child cuter/smarter than yours?”

      Bad form.

      Maybe the author could redeem himself by posting the actual answer to the question he posted, not a reply that excludes unknown thousands of bikes from the list.

      PS: I rode the XR1200X; about +20hp would make it almost irresistible. It’s a stellar ride.

  40. Vrooom says:

    Personally I don’t buy their claim that they are the top selling brand to Gen Y kids. First of all there’s the cost issue, even used everything except for the sportster line seems ridiculously over priced. Secondly I don’t know a lot of younger riders who consider Harley’s cool. No doubt some exist, but of the dozen or so younger riders I know, none are on cruisers, might just be because that’s not my crowd though. Dual sports, standards (speed triple particularly) and semi-sport bikes (ala SV650/1000, bandit, etc.) seem to be the main choice.

  41. blackcayman says:

    Some people buy Harley Davidsons because you are instanly “in the club” – HD riders will all wave to you as you pass them on the street – even if you’re a squid rider. Some/most of the organized rides are at slower paces – (good for new riders). I have friends who ride HDs and even my wife bought a Sportster 1200 to put around on. I love motorcycles and think they’re all cooler than cars. There “is” a certain pleasure to firing up the twin and hearing / feeling the pulse of the bike with straight pipes. I just “prefer” the feeling of a bike with modern technology, lighter weight, handling prowess and performance. One of my friends has the new XR1200 with serious mods. It is by far the funnest HD to ride – but I still prefer my SV1000 N at half the price. I ride in a local “Meetup” group and there are all kinds of bikes in attandance. I am way more concerned with the “pace” we ride, than what people are riding. So I wish HD well and hope every manufacturer can increase the MC population – more of us enjoying the sport is just good for all of us. Koombayah!

  42. Fuj says:

    I’ve had a bunch of Japanese standards and now have a Harley Nightster. The Nightster and other Sportsters I have ridden and even a FatBoy, have nice motors, but the chassis and suspension are rubbish. I added 800 dollar aftermarket Ohlins shocks to my Nightster and it still is not right. For the money I would spend fixing the front end too I could buy a Honda CB1000R which is a standard and ride circles around the Nightster. The Nighster also likes certain RPMs and does not like others. The Honda will eat any RPM you throw at it and does not have to go 100 mph all the time. The Nightster is cool and everyone likes to stare at it when it is parked. It also gets looks when you ride by. But the vibration and crappy suspension tire you out quickly. I’ve ridden the tourers and they are HEAVY! See a pothole ahead AND cars are coming the other way? BOOM! You just hit it because there is no space to move that 900 pounds in one lane. Better on the highway though and touring.

  43. Lwatcdr says:

    Funny but Triumph’s sales are going up. IMHO the cool bike of tomorrow will not be a Cruiser but a Standard. I am in my 40s and in my eyes the cool bikes are not the Harley’s but the CB750, KZ900, SX650, GS1000, Bonnevilles, and Commandos. They are such a great compromise. I mean people would take a CB750 down a fire road, across the country two up, or into the twisties. The seats where big and you could bring your girl with you and they didn’t cause back problems. I think that the current success of Adventure touring bikes show that people want that kind of flexibility in a motorcycle.
    That and I think we need more twins. They are cheaper to make then fours, more than powerful enough, light, narrow, and should even get better fuel mileage.

  44. Jim says:

    A couple of years ago on our annual family multiday ride I traded my CBR1000RR for my much younger nephew’s Harley Soft Tail Springer for an hour or so. I was ready to trade back after about 15 minutes because I really didn’t feel safe with the extra bulk, weak brakes & lack of ground clearance in the curves. When we traded back all he said that my bike was “silly fast”. The Harley suits him & the Honda suits me. I’ve quit trying to “get it”. There are definitely two camps in motorcycling & I don’t think age has much to do with which one you end up in. I think with Harley’s marketing expertise that they will be able to bring in quite a few youngsters.

  45. Dave says:

    My neighbor had a H-D 883 Custom. It was a very nice looking bike but he only rode it to bars. I tour in State so I have a BMW F800ST, oh and by the way, I am one of the engineers referred to above by the Moto Guzzi rider.

    • Scott in the UK says:

      Fair comment Dave! I didn’t mean ONLY Guzzi folk were that way inclined, just being a member of the UK Guzzi Club I noticed the professions of the people in the club….

      I tried one of those STs out and quite liked it – different to my bike (Breva750) but better for high speed motorway work.

      I knew a couple back home in Australia that had circled the country 3 times on an 883, it was heavily modified for touring and suited them perfectly. And I would have a Harley as a 2nd bike without hesitation, maybe the Nightster 1200 set up for touring, something like that. I do like a V twin, but my preference is for lateral thinking! 🙂

      I may have missed something – but Harley best seller in the 650cc + category? Fair enough but I bet a lot of those 18-35s are riding Supersports 600s, which are frankly increadible machines now.



  46. mark says:

    Unfortunately I can’t remember now where it was, but I read an excellent article a few months ago completely debunking Harley’s claim that they were the market leader in the 18-34 age group. The gist was that Harley worked the numbers to their advantage, in large part because so few people in that age group buy brand-new bikes to begin with.

    Any time a company trumpets their own success without backup from industry trade organizations, it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I know a lot of riders in the 18-34 age group, and almost none of them ride Harleys (or any other type of cruiser). The vast majority of them ride sportbikes of some sort (including nakeds, like SV650s, Triumph Speed Triples, and yes, Buells) or dual-sports. Those who prefer the vintage style tend to be more into cafe racers or classic UJMs, not cruisers.

  47. Scott in the UK says:

    Riding a Guzzi is a unique experience that cannot be duplicated, or even got close to, on any other brand. But they don’t have the sals figures, and its easy to see why – Harley folks of ten just like riding bikes, much like Guzzi folks. But a significant proportion of Harley sales are to people who at least in part want to project a certain image. Guzzi don’t have that – they are machine for engineers, enthusiasts, hams, etc etc…. But there is NO pose value in a Guzzi.

    I know, I ride one, and I could not have been a hapier rider these last 7 years.

    BTW I do like Harleys, and if Guzzis were not around, they might be where I ended up. Cest la vie, or should I say….Ciao baby!!!


  48. Dean says:

    It all comes down to two questions. What kind of riding do you enjoy, and do you care what you look like to others (all about “Image”).

    For those who are G-Force junkies like myself, I will always choose a machine that gives higher performance, usually with less weight. If you don’t enjoy risking life and limb for performance, and just like to lay back, cruise and take in the sights, then Heavy, “underpowered” cruisers will work just fine. They may not perform as well as most other bikes on the road, but they do deliver a certain riding experience that some people gravitate towards.

    I’m surprised that so many younger people are into that style. After all, they don’t have any X-box games where you just cruise from Bar to Bar, and send your bike to the dealer to sleep for the winter. Like Grand Theft Auto without the cars, prositutes, or speed thrill… Maybe it’s all the Sims fans out there?

    I’ll take a Turbo Speed Triple, please!

  49. Tom R says:

    Even if true, the claim that H-D is the top choice for 18-34 year olds is somewhat misleading in the same way that the Ford F150 is the American public’s top selling vehicle. There are only a handful of trucks brands to choose from, while there are many dozens of car and SUV choices. The truck “pie” has only about six slices from which to choose, while the other has many times that. It is numerically much easier to be “No. 1 overall” under these circumstances. The far greater number of car/SUV choices dilutes the “We’re number one!” claim. Is the most popular overall selection for a mainstream vehicle that can carry at least some passengers a truck? Nope.

    So, when a younger buyer wants the motorcycling equivelent of a truck…there is not much else but Harley-Davidson to choose from.

  50. MikeD says:

    “That’s easy to answer if you’ve actually ridden an H-D. Riding a Harley is a unique experience that can’t be precisely duplicated on another brand. Whether that experience is a better one is, of course, much more subjective, and that will be debated endlessly.”

    I have ridden a recent Harley. It was an experience. It sucked. The debate can go on, but as far as I’m concerned, there are many bikes on the market that cost less and are better at what they do. H-D is a fashion statement, nothing more.

  51. Goose says:


    OK, what gives? An actual intelligent, open analysis of Harleys on a mainstream site? This has to be a mistake. “Everyone” knows Harleys are just over priced butt jewelry. No one actually owns them to ride, right?

    I’ll threw out the one thing I think you missed. Maybe people aren’t buying the “400-pound, 170-horse machine” because they don’t want one? Modern sport bikes are so limited and demanding you can’t just go for a ride. Lighting quick steering, earth spinning horsepower and brick wall brakes are great when you want them but maybe not so great when you just want to relax and enjoy the feeling of motion and the unlimited view that is part of motorcycling.

    It took me 37 years of riding to figure out Harleys were worth owning. This after a couple of dozen Hondas, BMWs, Yamahas, Ducatis, Kawasakis and even a Moto Guzzi. I have an FLT for mellow rides and an XR1200 when I want to get a little more aggressive. I’ve sold my other bikes. BTW, I often ride with a much younger couple (twenty somethings) and both own Harleys. Neither is inseam limited, They ride the Harleys because that is what they wanted. He owns other bikes but seems to ride the one of the Harleys maybe 8 out of 10 rides.


    • Stinky says:

      I can really relate to your opinions. I’ve ridden a lot of Harleys and most friends have them as their only bikes. From my observations and experiences, most join the Harley crowd so they don’t have to ride alone. If you’re on anything but a cruiser, riding with cruisers you have to ride ahead to make the ride interesting, missing scenery and companionship. Harley riders are mostly about the group, the belonging to a group. The younger generation is all about the group, fitting in, following the crowd,being with you posse. It usually takes many years and miles to be comfortable with the hazards of bike trips, then maybe by then you’re tired of riding alone. With a Harley you’re never alone, with HOG, ABATE, Vietnam Vets, I don’t know what the younger groups clubs are but they’re gonna spring up, if they haven’t already.

      • Goose says:

        Actually, I generally ride alone or with a small group of friends. I’ve tried the HOG stuff and was bored silly. Nice people off the bikes but not much fun to ride with. The only group of Harley riders I’ve really enjoyed riding with in the XR1200 Owners Group.

        OTOH, it is really nice to stop pretty much anywhere and run into other Harley riders. I travel by myself by choice but I’ve had a few fun dinners with strangers on the road. It is also nice to see Harley shops, both franchised and independent, pretty much everywhere. I’ve never needed them on any bike but with the Harley it is nice to know you can get a part or a tire quickly, if you need it.


        • Stinky says:

          I’m probably one of Harleys biggest salesman for the reasons you mentioned.After all the years of breaking down oil leaking shaking parts off. It’s funny now that the person who is least mechanically inclined and motorcycle savvy is who should be on a Harley. There is a dealer on every corner and if the bikes are maintained by the dealer they run for a long time with no issues. I only test rode the XR1200, didn’t look @ owners group, very nice bike. We’ve had similar experiences it seems. Harley guys are usually great folks, kinda boring to ride with unless you’re on a slower bike than they’re on, and those frankly are pretty hard to find.

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