HD and the Retarded Rider
Page 1 of 4 1 2 3 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 57

Thread: HD and the Retarded Rider

  1. #1
    Registered User Array Steve G.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Down here
    Bike
    ummm

    HD and the Retarded Rider

    A great trinket here:

    Thursday, 2 October 2014
    Are American motorcyclists retarded because of Harley-Davidson?
    Man, if that headline isn't link bait I don't know what is. But let me explain: I love Harley-Davidson bikes, but I have a theory that motorcycling in the United States has suffered retardation, i.e., stunted development, as a result of Harley-Davidson's dominance over the past 30-odd years.


    When I use the word "retard" I mean it in the technical sense 末 not as a schoolyard taunt or politically incorrect description of someone who is mentally disabled. To retard is to "slow down the development or progress of something," according to Merriam-Webster. And that's what I'm asking: Has Harley-Davidson's overwhelming success in the U.S. market slowed down the development or progress of motorcycling in that country?


    But, you know, obviously I could have chosen other words when asking that. "Impede" would work just as well, or "hinder," and so on. The word "retard" comes with a negative-value meta-narrative and its use implies a bias in the person asking the question. Guilty as charged, mis amigos. As someone who carries a latent pro-America stance I can't help but feel a little annoyed when I am forced to admit that my native land is not The Best at a given thing.


    And the painful truth is that Americans are not the best when it comes to making unique and different motorcycles. Not at the moment, at least. I think there is potential within the American landscape for rapid and dramatic change, but right now we are decades behind the curve. And I feel that much of the blame for that falls on the shoulders of Harley-Davidson. Well, no. Not Harley-Davidson, but the fact that there has for so long been no one but Harley-Davidson for a patriotic rider.


    In the United States, Harley-Davidson dramatically outsells all other brands. In 2013, Milwaukee's most-famous company was responsible for more than 51 percent of the street motorcycles sold in the country. And of the street bikes sold last year that were not Harley-Davidsons, quite a large percentage had been designed to look and ride like them. Los americanos les gustan las Harleys.


    That's not terribly surprising. People everywhere tend to cheer for the home team. Triumphs sell better than all else in Britain, BMWs sell better in Germany, and so on. However, Harley-Davidson's situation is unique because its sales dominance is so much greater compared to the successes of other manufacturers on their home turf. For example, BMW carves out just 17 percent of its local market.


    My theory is that Harley-Davidson performs so much better at home because the United States was one of the few countries not to suffer an existential crisis after World War II. In other motorcycle-producing nations like Germany, Japan, Italy and even England the post war years forced serious re-evaluations of national identity. After all, it was nationalism and its ugly sides of xenophobia and racism that had fuelled the war. As such, patriotism isn't always an effective selling tool.


    Whereas in the United States, the simple fact of a product being American is often reason in itself for people to choose it. Yes, I realise this is less true now than it used to be, but trust me, flag waving still delivers infinitely more marketing success in the United States than here in Europe.


    Through wit, hard work and good ol' fashioned dumb luck, Harley-Davidson found itself pretty much the onlyAmerican motorcycle brand as it began its resurrection in 1981. Through the 1970s it had bumbled almost to the point of bankruptcy, unable to focus and therefore unable to compete against cheaper, superior foreign brands. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this rough patch had come during the Vietnam War and its aftermath, when the American psyche was suffering the closest it would ever come to existential crisis. It was a time when a product's simply being American wasn't enough.


    But then, you know, "Morning in America" and all that stuff, and suddenly my grandfather was teaching me to check the labels of my T-shirts to see where they were made. And at the same time, Harley-Davidson lasered its focus to the types of model that had performed well in the past: "traditional" motorcycles. Bikes like those ridden by the modern cowboys who had captured popular imagination in the decades before.

    And, of course, the American experience is always one of amalgamation. It is the melting pot. So, the society-degrading outcasts of one generation became the iconic symbols of American spirit for the next. Harley-Davidson brilliantly tapped into this and soon established itself in Americans' minds as not only as being the quintessence of America but the quintessence of motorcycling.

    Growing up in the U.S. Central Time Zone 末 in Texas and Minnesota 末 there was only one kind of motorcycle. Well, maybe two: Harley-Davidsons (or foreign copies), and bikes for people who wore neon socks. Within my cultural understanding, it was Harley or nothing else. If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know that, after getting my motorcycle license at age 18, I spent almost two decades choosing the "nothing else" option.

    I know that the mindset of my younger self is not unique. Take a look at motorcycle blogs, websites and forums and you will see it everywhere, every day. Take a look at the motorcycles on American roads. Lots and lots of Americans struggle to comprehend a world beyond the Harley bubble.

    Again, I'm not complaining about an American company being successful, nor am I complaining about the kind of bikes that Harley-Davidson chooses to make (hell, I want one myself). What irks me is that Harley's tremendous success seems to have resulted in so many people being blind to everything else. And as a result, motorcycling in the United States has not moved forward at the same pace as the rest of the world.


    Do you see what I'm getting at? Perhaps it would help to take it out of a motorcycling context. Imagine if Chili's were the only place you ever ate. Ever. I'm a big fan of Chili's, personally. Free refills on ice tea, good burgers, decent wings, awesome chili-cheese nacho dip, and the Southwestern eggrolls are the bomb. That molten chocolate cake, too, yo. When I was in college I got a job as a waiter at Chili's solely because it meant getting a discount at Chili's. I could and can stand to eat at Chili's a lot. But if it was the only restaurant I ever went to? After a few decades of that I would be suffering from culinary retardation. I wouldn't really know what food could be.

    In that scenario, should Chili's change what it's doing? Nope. Not necessarily. Should people begrudge its success? Definitely not. But that doesn't make me any less stunted in my understanding and philosophy of food.

    I feel Harley-Davidson's success has retarded American motorcycling both technologically and philosophically. It is not just that American motorcyclists don't care about things like liquid-cooling or traction control, etc., but that they can't see why they should care. Because to them (a) motorcycles are toys. Hobbies. Trinkets that 末 like an NFL jersey or Tom Petty box set 末 are reflections of the personality/character a person wants to portray outwardly, but which are ultimately not terribly relevant nor deserving of analysis and progression.

    The end result of that is three American brands that lack any model diversity and an American motorcycling landscape where filtering is allowed in only one state and very few people ever ride unless it's hot and sunny. A motorcycling landscape where too many riders settle for an inferior situation and too many potential riders choose nothing.

    UPDATE: On the same day I published this post, Wes Siler published this article on Jalopnik, which captures the same frustrated sentiment you see in my post but more detail. It's a good piece (I wish I had written it) and will get you feeling upset at the state of motorcycling in America.

  2. #2
    Registered User Array
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Vancouver
    Bike
    2012 street triple
    At the risk of poking the bear, i think some of this comes down to almost complete lack of critical thought on the part of a large cross section of americans, and some degree, people in general. Americans don't take a moment to think about why they support something, like something, or do something. They like, support and do the things their friends do, the media promotes, and that they have done in the past. For whatever reason. In the case of HD, they make bikes that in relation to all other marks are underpowered, with lower build quality and less advancement of systems and tech. I agree with the article that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. Lots of people like old vintage bikes with these attributes, of all different brands, and thats totally fine. However, HD riders don't take a moment to think WHY they like HD's. They wear their tassles , do-rags, studded leather etc. and don their straight pipes without a second thought. So yes, i agree that motorcycling in America is retarded, in the technical sense, but i think thats true in a lot of senses in that country. Critical thought is sorely lacking down there, and without, change and advancement is unlikely to follow.

  3. #3
    Registered User Array
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Williams Lake B.C.
    Bike
    1984 V65 Magna, 2006 FJR 1300
    The Indian motorcycle company put 100% of its production to the wwii war effort, HD reserved 50% for domestic sales.

    Indian never recovered.
    There are old riders and there are bold riders. There aren't any old, bold riders.

    Ride safe folks.

  4. #4
    Registered User Array BugMagnet's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Delta BC
    Bike
    2014 Suzuki DL1000A
    You can't argue with success though, HD has the lions share of the market so why should they change?

    It is a dangerous thing to change a working system to make it "better" only to find it crashes your market.

    Harley's are built to look cool and sound cool. Their whole image is cool, and it is working as intended. They do a lot of things right IMO and they will continue to milk that cow as long as possible.

  5. #5
    From N00bie to Wannabe Array FASTn50's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    North Vancouver
    Bike
    2005 VFR 800A (Red!) 2006 CFR 450X (Red!) 2012 Ninja 250R (Red!) 2012 BMW F800GS (Blue/White)
    Quote Originally Posted by Pea Souper View Post
    The Indian motorcycle company put 100% of its production to the wwii war effort, HD reserved 50% for domestic sales.

    Indian never recovered.
    So did VW!
    All my Mistresses have two round, sticky black feet and are Made in Japan or Germany!
    If I die on Phillip Island, so what! I'm already in Heaven! WOOHOOO!!!

  6. #6
    Registered User Array ニon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Vancouver
    Bike
    '04 DRZ400e
    The way I explain Harleys to people who aren't into motorcycling is this:
    For every product, a certain amount of their cost is based on image. So for, say a Suzuki cruiser, maybe 2-5% of the cost is associated with image. Because nobody gives a shit if you ride a Boulevard. But for a Harley cruiser, maybe 20-30% of the cost is based on image. So if you don't care about image, and you want to buy a cruiser for $12,000, buying the former will probably get you more value in terms of performance, and all that other stuff that actually matters. Obviously this isn't a precise science, but it's something to keep in mind.

    The important part is realize that "image", "brand prestige" and "heritage" all translate to "what people who don't know shit about motorcycles think about the brand". Thousands of dollars of a bike's value are based on what people who don't ride think of your bike. For most of the demographic of riders, this basically means girls who will be impressed for having a sweet bike and guys being jealous of said sweet bike. In the minds of the buyer, at any rate...

  7. #7
    Fastronaut Array Danke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Danger Zone!
    Bike
    RC
    Erik Buell, Michael Czysz and Rob Tuluie tried to push back. They got told to pack their bags.

    The crazy thing is how happy they are with the lack of real world performance. Buy American is a much of a cult as Scientology.
    Fill the house with bees.

  8. #8
    Registered User Array Squint's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    East Van
    Bike
    2015 Ninja 300 ABS
    Quote Originally Posted by Danke View Post
    Erik Buell, Michael Czysz and Rob Tuluie tried to push back. They got told to pack their bags.

    The crazy thing is how happy they are with the lack of real world performance. Buy American is a much of a cult as Scientology.
    Does anyone buy a cruiser for real world performance? IIRC from my buddy's V-star 1100, the japanese cruisers don't haul ass either.

    The whole cruiser market is driven by image IMHO. If you're looking for comfort, or performance, or any other capability, there's always a better choice than a cruiser.

    But I wouldn't blame Harley for America's lack of motorcycle engineering, historically cars and trucks from the US haven't been remarkable either. And when one of the (former) big three have made something interesting, it's been in partnership with a foreign car maker.

  9. #9
    Registered Luser Array
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    White Rock
    Bike
    2008 fat kaw
    and if you absolutely must have an American cruiser, get a Victory.
    one only has to poke at a switch, or adjust a mirror, or feel the play in a throttle tube to know he is dealing with a better engineered and assembled machine.

  10. #10
    Fastronaut Array Danke's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Location
    Danger Zone!
    Bike
    RC
    Quote Originally Posted by Squint View Post
    Does anyone buy a cruiser for real world performance? IIRC from my buddy's V-star 1100, the japanese cruisers don't haul ass either.
    We're not talking about whupping a R1. We're talking about brake failure on a modern motorcycle.

    http://www.motorradonline.de/verglei...651222?seite=2

    Mr Stefan Glck detailed the parallel failure of street 750 brake system during the test. The first measurement was tricky due to very high hand forces, doughy pressure point and lack ABS, experienced testers paws brought about average delay but very respectable 9.6 m/s 2. When the second measurement (after reversing, as well as renewed acceleration and thus some cooling) showed significant fading. In the third attempt then the brake failed the Harley-Davidson Street 750 fully.
    Fill the house with bees.

  11. #11
    Registered User Array
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Williams Lake B.C.
    Bike
    1984 V65 Magna, 2006 FJR 1300
    Quote Originally Posted by FASTn50 View Post
    So did VW!
    Allied dollars never did much for their own companies who were in trouble.

    For German and Japanese companies they did.

    Amusing (or perhaps not for the Indian shareholders) that the more patriotic of the two mc companies in the USA is the one that went out of business, while the survivor uses patriotism to boost sales.
    There are old riders and there are bold riders. There aren't any old, bold riders.

    Ride safe folks.

  12. #12
    Registered User Array
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Vancouver
    Bike
    2013 CB1100
    The allies were offered VW basically a war prize/restitution after WW II, but turned it down because they couldn't really see their business or cars (basically at that point the Beetle) taking off. Love to be the guy who turned that one down.

  13. #13
    Registered User Array
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Williams Lake B.C.
    Bike
    1984 V65 Magna, 2006 FJR 1300
    Quote Originally Posted by BugMagnet View Post
    You can't argue with success though, HD has the lions share of the market so why should they change?

    It is a dangerous thing to change a working system to make it "better" only to find it crashes your market.

    Harley's are built to look cool and sound cool. Their whole image is cool, and it is working as intended. They do a lot of things right IMO and they will continue to milk that cow as long as possible.
    For a long time that was their motto.(they were selling every bike they made before the next year came out) HD went through a lot of changes, they were losing their market share to more reliable less leaky bikes in the seventies and early eighties. If they had stayed the same leaky unreliable bike they were, they would not exist.

    A HD no longer leaks like a stuck pig (hog) for half an hour after a long ride. Their braking system is as good as any cruiser.
    There are old riders and there are bold riders. There aren't any old, bold riders.

    Ride safe folks.

  14. #14
    Moderator Array CHIA's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    New West
    Bike
    FJarrrrrrr!
    HD are not great manufacturers, hell, they build inferior product, they are by most definitions, a poor manufacturer.

    But what they are, great marketers. They sell an image, and a dream, the bike is the component that takes/gets you there.

    Same ole shit, everyone knows this.......except many of the buyers, they are ARRRRRRRing there way to the dealer, daring to be different.
    Quote Originally Posted by G Hats View Post
    A sore ass is better than a shredded back!
    .

    ** BIKE NIGHTS 2013 **


  15. #15
    Registered User Array Squint's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2004
    Location
    East Van
    Bike
    2015 Ninja 300 ABS
    Staggering array of customizing options is also one of their clever sales tactics. Seat, bars, floorboards, windshields, it goes on and on. I was really surprised the first time I stepped into Trev Deeley. Easy to add another $10k to your bill.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts