Once upon a time Harley Davidson use to be the mega force in the motorcycle industry. It was always at the top of the list for any respecting biker to want to own. To be in most motorcycle clubs one had to have a Harley. A biker without a Harley wasn’t considered to be a biker but just some wannabee. All that has now changed. The once mighty symbol of freedom and image has started to crumble. The company that used to be the king of the road is just a shadow of itself. The company has no one to blame but itself for its fall from grace.
Harley got to be where it was from those hard working blue collar workers, workers that went to work every day and busted ass just to be able to ride and raise hell on the weekends. Since the early 90s when the lifestyle started to change and different people usually not apart of Harley’s core customers came flocking to the lifestyle,Harley took advantage of this new influx and started to raise prices. This was a serious mistake on Harleys part.Harley started to price out it’s core customer base and relied on a customer base that wouldn’t stick by the company for long.
In the early 2000’s shows like Biker Build Off, Orange County Choppers kept Harley riding high. Shows like those brought customers who never considered riding before into the mix. The Chopper craze was in full swing and if you couldn’t afford one of those a Harley was the next best thing. Harley started it’s decline at this point I believe. Harley started to focus not only on raising prices even more, they started pushing clothing and accessories as a bigger part of the company instead of staying focused on a better bike.
In 2006 most of the reality shows started to go off air and the recession was starting to loom. Those customers Harley relied upon started to get out of the lifestyle. Started selling off those bikes. The used market became saturated with all kinds of makes and models. That saturation continues till today. What happens when the used market becomes saturated with bikes? No one really wants to spend the 25,000 to get a brand new bagger. Shit no one wants to spend 10,000 on a sportster. When people don’t buy then production starts to be cut and people at the company get laid off.
Harley was lucky in it’s marketing. It had a loyal base from the Vietnam era that pushed an idea. If you were not riding a Harley then you were not a REAL biker. Some of that thinking still exists today but not like it use to be. Problem with that thinking is people started saying “If your on two wheels, who gives a shit what your riding”. I agree fully with that saying by the way. I got to that point when Harley started closing up factories here in the states and gave work to Mexico and India. When they started shipping production overseas the product suffered. Just look at all the recalls that have started just last year. Quality might as well be made if China.
Since the Old Scooter tramps are now moving onto other things in life a new generation has started to come up. That new generation has gravitated towards Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Indian and Victory. Why? Well it comes down too those companies make a better product then Harley. Most have a better design and most important are way more reliable. No one likes being on the side of the road on a long haul because the ride they are on has design flaws.
I sometimes found it funny when old timers would say “Yea they might make Hondas in Ohio but the money still goes to Japan”. I would just shake my head and tell them “Well at least some of that money is going into a hard working blue collar American who is taking pride building that bike”. Yea that usually shut them up lol. It was even funnier when that same old timer called me a couple weeks later asking for a tow because he and his Harley were on the side of the road. “You were saying about Harley again?”
Don’t think I’m here picking on Harley. I own a 03 Soft tail. I also own a Midnight Star. I usually ride the soft tail around town and the Star on long hauls. My personally preference is the Star rides a lot smoother then the Soft tail and my old ass needs all the comfort I can get.
What does this mean for Harley when companies like Honda,Yamaha, Victory start putting out better bikes then them? Simple the market share becomes smaller and smaller for Harley. (See Here). Harley is starting to literally fall apart according to their financials. The only bright spot for Harley has been its 550 and 750 models that mainly sell overseas. While Harley was raising prices and putting out some bad bikes over these past couple years the competition came in and swooped up that blue collar base that Harley turned it’s back on.
Do I think Harley will ever get back to it’s original core customers? If they don’t I think they will be in the same spot they were in the 70’s. They will be facing bankruptcy and this time won’t have a loyal base to bail them out. Harley miscalculated who would stick by them in the 90s and 00s. They also miscalculated that everyone in the lifestyle just needed to have that Harley to live up to the image. The new Image isn’t about owing a Harley to be a true Biker. The new image is “Just ride” and who gives a crap what you are riding.