Harley-Davidson used to be a brand synonymous with the one-percenters, the segment of society that lived and breathed the biker code, a salty breed of fringe players living on the edge.
A lot has changed over the years. Truth be told, Harley has done a great job of transforming the savage biker stereotype into one tied to freedom in the form of a machine, accessible to any true-blooded motorcycle aficionado with a streak of Americana running through him or her.
Shit’s crazy these days, and motorcycling has caught on as a cheap way to release the day-to-day stress and grab a handful of thrill with the twist of a throttle. Motorcycling is stronger than ever, and for good reason. It's fun as hell, and you're getting 100 miles to the gallon. But not every manufacturer has faired well. Many are still struggling, and the days of chopper madness are long gone. It's a tough market, which few have had the chance to crack.
Motorcycling has caught on as a cheap way to release the day-to-day stress and grab a handful of thrill with the twist of a throttle.
Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, has bucked this trend and has enjoyed a run of success over the past 10 years. Leading the charge behind the scenes has been the design team at H-D, speared by Willie G., spinning out factory custom brands that continue to corner the market. A bigger, better, more down-to-earth H-D has emerged as the people's motorcycle. Long gone are the days of Detroit's factory lines dictating tastes, evident with the rise and fall of so many automobile companies in recent history. They missed their mark. Harley listened and watched in the alleyways and dimly lit garages of real Americans, attending grassroots biker rally's and homegrown events where American culture is born and constantly being re-written.
Harley has cracked the code and gotten it right, while the others have spent years pissing into the wind. H-D has been creating bikes that real motorcycle enthusiasts have always wanted to build and ride on their own but were too broke to create themselves.
I had the extreme pleasure of hopping down to Miami and Daytona a few weeks back to meet with the extended Harley Team and test out H-D’s latest wares. The first trip was a three-day whirlwind tour of the Keys, testing out the new 72 Sportster and SOFTAIL Slim models. This culminated in a 12-hour ride down to the tip of the Continental U.S.