Harley plans entry-level Blast replacement, hogs fly

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Harley-Blast-Replacement.jpgPhoto: Harley-Davidson Archives

Harley-Davidson is planning to temporarily put aside its big-displacement bad boy image and produce a learner-friendly, entry-level bike to replace the Buell Blast. Intended to give the company a Harley-branded bike to use in its Riders Edge training program and to give new riders an unintimidating, affordable way to enter the Harley family, the bike sounds like just the sort of thing Michael Uhlarik called for in Motorcycling’s Missing Link.

Harley’s director of corporate communications, Bob Klein, told us,  “While the company generally does not comment on future products, we have indicated to our dealers that the Harley-Davidson is developing a motorcycle for use in the company’s Rider’s Edge rider training program, as a replacement for the Buell Blast. We have not provided specifics about the motorcycle currently in development or the possible timing of its introduction.”

In a communication to its dealers, The Motor Company wrote, “Harley-Davidson has a motorcycle under development for use in the Rider’s Edge program that will be a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that Rider’s Edge graduates and other riders seeking a smaller displacement motorcycle will want to buy.

“Because the decision to discontinue the Buell product line was made in a relatively short period of time, the timing of the launch of this new (Harley-Davidson) motorcycle did not coincide with the discontinuation of the Buell Blast.”

The key phrase in all that, at least to our minds, is, “will want to buy.” While the Blast was a worthy motorcycle, its styling left a lot to be desired. As Uhlarik said in his op-ed, the key to making a successful entry-level product is to make it desirable.

The other interesting implication in all this is that, by making this product, Harley is tacitly acknowledging that it needs to pursue a new, younger audience outside its traditional pot belly pirate demographic and that to do so, it needs a different type of product. As one of the most recognized brands in the world, Harley has the opportunity to utterly own young people’s imaginations with credible, accessible products that depart from the chromed excess its decided to focus exclusively on for the last twenty years or so. Could this be the beginning of a new Harley-Davidson, one that serves people’s needs instead of pursuing their be-chapped fantasies? We sincerely hope Harley is able to recognize the potential it has here.

  • Maymar

    Never mind Harley, will Harley dealers recognize the potential it has?

  • DC

    JEEZUS. Finally. A 500-700cc standard that is bare bones and not marketed to girls would kick ass.

    • http://sportbikeclub.com 2WheelTuner

      There are plenty of naked standards that aren’t marketed to girls in that range. HarleyD will merely compete in a market that is already growing. This is more of a reactive move than a proactive market-stunning epiphany.

      I hope they do it right and give people something interesting enough to warrant decent attention.

  • chris

    forget an entry level blast replacement … this could be a cool thumper cafe racer project bike.

  • Ceolwulf

    Cheapened Sportster, I’d guess.

  • http://oilygauntlet.blogspot.com Hank

    ‘Bout freaking time they came up with a Hummer/Sprint replacement. And I’m pretty sure there was a company that was going to make cafe bikes using engines sourced from blasts. I say bike instead of racer, because come on, it has the name “B-Last” for a reason.

    That aside, I’ll have a much easier time getting my friends on bikes, especially because their parents only trust brands they know.

  • MotoRandom

    Harley spent a ton of money on the motor for the Blast. So much, that they were losing money on every bike sold. I think we can be pretty sure that whatever this new bike is, it will have that motor in it. It’s not like they have a ton of money to build a new one right now. I’m guessing a restyling to make it look like the Sportster. If I remember correctly, Harley charges more for their Riders Edge than the MSF classes you can pick up around your state somewhere. I’m sure this whole thing is motivated by hanging on to that revenue stream now that the Blast is gone. Selling these to the public may be more of an afterthought. I really want to be optimistic about their future but I remain a bit cynical after what they did to Buell. They don’t seem to be investing in clues right now. Hopefully that will change before it’s too late.

  • nataku83

    The Blast was a worthy motorcycle? I thought they were a pretty neat bargain bike until I found out that they pretty much couldn’t make it past 10k miles. An entry level, lightweight Harley would be pretty cool, but it really can’t be a total POS (which unfortunately seems likely).

  • HammSammich

    I think the idea of a modest displacement Harley Davidson with standard controls, good balance and handling would do nothing but good for growing the brand. Ultimately, it could even lead to more exciting Up-Market products from HD in the future, as buyers who purchase these mature and start to purchase second and third bikes – if they’ve gotten a taste for twisty roads, HD’s not going to keep them with any of their current offerings. But unfortunately, this may all be moot, because even if Harley Davidson doesn’t plan to backhandedly market this as a “Lady’s bike” in typical patronizingly derisive fashion, it will ultimately be stigmatized as such by the brand loyalists and many of the dealers alike. I’ll just say I’m hoping for the best, while expecting the worst.

  • http://muthalovin.com the_doctor

    Get em hooked young and you got em for life.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    No doubt it will be thumper, as its the only way to efficiently get the weight/size down enough to make the bike a good learner. I see a Blast engine stuffed into a Sportster-like frame. They’d be smart to make the styling more Cafe than Cruiser; while a small cruiser-style might work for middle-aged guys trying to get their wives on a bike, no young person would want to be seen on a halved-sportster. I hope they use the Mac Motorcycles for ideas.

    • http://sportbikeclub.com 2WheelTuner

      Absolutely agree on the cafe over cruiser idea…However, they’re going to have to price it accordingly as Triumph has modern cafe bikes on the market that are under the $10k barrier. I hope HD plays it smart.

      • HammSammich

        Well, if the Blast this is intended to replace is any indication, pricing will be much more “entry-level” than than Triumph’s Modern Classics range.

      • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

        The watchword for HD should be “unique”. It can’t look like a baby Sportster. Since the Blast was priced at $4,800 new, ~$5k is reasonable (much cheaper than a new Bonnie) If its cool enough, they can make up for the low per-bike margin by simple numbers. How many people would spring the extra $1,000 to have their first bike be a bitching HD standard or Cafe, rather than a Ninja 250? I suspect a lot. Add in low-maintenance belt drive…if HD fails, it won’t be for lack of interesting opportunity, it will be for their inability to think outside the box.

      • HootieWho

        Well of course it would be less than 10k. Sportsters start at $7K. I would guess $5k, like the Blast.

  • Noone1569

    LOL @ “Because the decision to discontinue the Buell product line was made in a relatively short period of time, the timing of the launch of this new (Harley-Davidson) motorcycle did not coincide with the discontinuation of the Buell Blast.”

    Jee . . .

  • Swagger

    I see a deluge of electroplated plastic, vinyl handlebar tassels and a solo seat from Schwinn.

    Yeah…….this’ll tank.

  • Jackie

    Think Honda 250 Rebel and you’ll have a good image of the final product.

    Why make a “cafe” bike when they only have one bike in that layout to move people up to? Maaaaaybe 2 if you want to count the Sporters.

  • Bill W

    I think you guys are giving H-D way too much credit. The sole intent of this bike will be to provide a stepping-stone to Big Twin ownership. It’ll be styled like a cruiser, probably more so than the Blast was, to better tie in with the existing H-D lineup. It’ll have lots of optional chrome.

    That’s my prognostication.

  • Chris Y.

    If they use the Buell engine, forget it. That engine was a complete POS.

  • Sean Smith

    I don’t have high hopes for anything harley. The XR1200X could have been a pretty sweet bike if it weren’t for the fact that it’s 100lbs over-weight, 30 or so hp down from it’s competition, and over-priced and under-marketed. That was supposed to be a serious bike too. Whatever they come up with to sell as a beginner bike is probably going to be god-awful. Then again, I’m about as biased and skeptical as you can get.

  • cds

    Well, the Sportster folks will have a bike to look down on, now. I can’t imagine the new bike would be anything but a thumperized Sportster-ish sort of thing.
    Something like this would be pretty cool, though:
    http://i601.photobucket.com/albums/tt94/Gutman77/Belast/blast9.jpg

    • SameOldHFL

      Hey CDs that IS a “Thunperized Sportsterish” kind of thing.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    A cafe-racer style b-last based bike could be cool. Mac showed us that. But as someone already pointed out, what’s the next step up when the rider wants to get into a bigger bike? HD doesn’t have one. So why would they make a cafe racer? They’ll make a cruiser instead, which will distinguish itself from the other cruisers by being even slower and more underpowered. Is that a market niche that needs filling?

    Why is it so hard to make an inexpensive, cool motorcycle? The new riders I talk to about don’t care so much about how fast it goes as long as it handles and is fun and doesn’t look like a cruiser. I tell them to get a used SV650. And it’s still pretty fast.

    • SameOldHFL

      There is not a cafe in the lineup this is true; however, there is the XR1200X so rather than a “cafe” it could be molded in the Dirt Tracker style of the XR750.

      http://home.tiscali.nl/jahstof/racing/xrtt/xr750.jpg

      Add a larger tank, EFI, and some other needed mods and you have a start. It could also just be a standard to serve as platform for modification.

  • eric

    I think this is a smart move by HD, and one that’s long overdue. They’ve needed an entry-level machine for years, especially since the ’04 move to rubber mounting that added 50 pounds to the sportster.

    Now their decision not to supply MAC motorcycles with engines makes a lot more sense; you wouldn’t want someone else building the same kind of bike as you’re targeting. Don’t get your hopes up too high, folks; my prediction is for a bike that shares as many parts as possible with the sportsters, to keep the cost down. Expect a bike very much like the 883 Iron, with a rubber-mounted blast engine using mounts similar to those on the sportster. It’ll have a seat height in the 27.5″ range, just like the Iron, hopefully with a bit more suspension travel. Expect ergonomics to be similar to the ‘mid-mount’ pegs and flat bar on the Iron, too. If it’s not too heavy (over 450 lbs), it could be an interesting machine. Don’t look for XR styling, unless their extensive parts/accessories catalog offers an optional seat/tail assembly, something they used to offer for the sportster. They’re more likely to have lots of chrome and other ‘decorative’ accessories, and optional forward pegs, but don’t look for rearsets & cafe bars, at least not from HD.

    I could definitely see some aftermarket companies doing some interesting stuff with this machine.

    I’m hopeful, but realistic.

  • Nomad

    Give me a big thumper.
    Give me a super clean cradle-frame.
    Give me skinny tyres and tight handling.
    Make it less than 400lbs.

    Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    Damn, just bring back Yamaha SR500.

  • http://www.h0ffm4n.net Sean

    The cafe-racerish bikes using the Blast Single were http://mac-motorcycles.com/ and I still want one. They got official word that the engines would not be sourced to them ion February by HD. The Blast had poxy power-to-weight but it was the perfect leaner learner. I prefer the power delivery of twins and singles to a four-banger, and I’d love the Blast 500 in a lighter bike. We’ll see. It’ll still be too expensive, because it’ll have a Harley logo on it.

    • HootieWho

      It cant be too expensive because it HAS to be less expensive than the Sportster line and those start at $7K. It as to be substantially less for anyone to consider it over the Sporties. It also has to be inexpensive enough for fleet level purchases for MSF courses. I expect $5k.

  • NoBody

    Which country will it be made in?

  • Mike

    How about a bike with the front cylinder of a V Rod and styled by someone other than Willie G? It could be about 50hp.

    550-600cc DOHC, liquid cooled, built in the same factory as the V Rod to keep costs down, a Cafe model, standard Streetster model, Hillclimber model, Tour Pack model, etc. This would bring the iPhone generation in to have a look.

    Might even be worth a damn.

  • Stephen

    Personally, I like the bike in the archival photograph. Update it with disc brakes and the Blast engine and I think Harley would have a winner.

  • fazer6

    Sadly, I think ‘honda rebel’ is about right on the money; Only it won’t be reliable, and it’ll cost a grand or two more.

    HD is not terribly stupid. They want a bike that will make owners “buy up” to a big twin. Not a bike that will satisfy buyers or be fun to own and ride. They will buy it to have a “harley” that will tide them over until they can afford a “real bike”.

  • 1200N

    I am sick to death of Sportsters being called “Half a Harley” for years… I remember when a 74″Shovel Head FL was called a “Big Inch” engine, but if I do my math correctly 1200CC is pretty damn close to 74″. So if you wanted to call any bike a “Half a Harley”, it would have to be the Blast, with it’s single jug.

    If the Motor Company wants to bring back the Spring, Hummer, Topper, and even the damned snowmobile, let them. Sportster riders won’t look down on them like the 110″ riders look down on us.

  • DoctorNine

    Well. This may be very good news, or it may just be more bad product. It depends how they approach it. In my opinion, HD needs to look very carefully at Royal Enfield. There is a reason that they are so successful.

    Pay attention, Harley.

    • Really?

      Really? Royal Enfield in successful in the US?

      Those bikes are cool and all but they are not exactly Honda.

      They are successful in India because they are dirt cheap and an Indian brand.

  • 4Cammer

    HD has a growing interest in India, no? Suppose the bike will be sourced from there?

    • Really?

      That makes a lot of sense but I doubt if it would be true. India has a VERY stiff import tax (I think 50%) so building there to sell there makes prices much more appealing for the Indian consumer. I dont know how a 500cc mini HD made in India, would go over in the US. It sure would give the HFL crowd lots of fodder for poking fun.

      More than likely it will come from KC where the XL and XR Sportsters and VRSC lines are all made.

      I would expect lots of parts bin stuff so dont expect anything much different than the current fleet (like an Enduro or Sportbike), rather it will be something like a modernized Sprint or Hummer.

  • Penguinius

    I would laugh my ass off if H-D just released their MT350e.

    (Yeah like that will ever happen, tassles and Olive Drab clash awfully…)

    • MT350

      Maybe they will source the little Rotax motor?

  • jfred

    This is a picture of a Harley 1966 Bobcat, you have been punked.

    • Corky

      Ha Ha Ha, you are such a douche. It is a reference photo, not a speculative photo. It even says “archives” under the picture. I wondered how long it would take for some dolt to the think the vintage HD in the picture was the prototype for the Blast replacement.

      Did you go to public school?

  • http://worldof2.com jpenney

    I agree that this will be like a Rebel and use the Blast motor. As little cash is going to be laid out on this as possible.

    Despite Harley’s insistence that they are trying to attract younger buyers, they are doing everything but shooting themselves in the foot in pursuit of this. Taking that into consideration I expect shrunken styling of a Softail. Nothing sporty or standard.

    • HootieWho

      Your comment does not make much sense.

      If they are in fact going to spend as little as possible why would they pursue a mini Softail look and by softtail, which one? The fatboy/heritage look with the fat tires or more of the Nighttrain/Standard look with the 21″ skinny front wheel? How is that in any why like a Rebel? You contradict yourself in your kneee jerk reaction to mock.

      The 883 Iron has been a very good seller for HD and has attracted a younger audience. The HD die hards are not buying it, it is mostly new riders or riders new to HD.

      I expect any new entry level model will build on this success and not go towards a mini fat-boy. The 833 Iron is more a standard (mid mount pegs, neutral riding position) than it is a true cruiser. If it had a normal suspension (rather than the slammed rear) it would look very much the part of a standard. I fully expect the smaller version to be more of the same, hopefully with standard suspension travel.

      How are they shooting themselves in the foot by pursuing of this? No product has been displayed, hinted, or teased? What are you basing you critique, a photo from 1966? If this is done well it will be a great move. It cant be worse than the beginner level, small displacement product the currently offer – which is none.

      • http://worldof2.com jpenney

        As a past and future Harley owner (I love Sportsters) I’m not mocking.

        My opinion is that the newbie bike will look like a shrunken version of some their larger bikes. Similar to how the Rebel looks like a shrunken large cruiser. As to which exact model … I dunno I’ll leave that for them to decide. Which Sportster model would it look like? They all look pretty different.

        In my observations the young Nightster/Iron buyers are my age … just over 30. That’s not young. Of the sub-30s I see sport bikes and cafe’d UJMs. The “Harley” events are almost all guys in my Dad’s peer group. The Sportbike events trend much younger.

        Killing Buell was bad. They had just made a bike that was gaining traction with sportbike riders.

        Not having a Sportster with more than 2″ of suspension travel is bad. While fun for bar-hopping, it’s pretty tiring for longer riders.

  • PeteP

    Or, it could be the long-rumored AT/Hyosung/HD collaboration:

    http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2009/11/atk-hyosung-to-collaborate-on.html

  • PeteP

    Oops. That’s ATK, not AT.

  • Jay Allen

    I expect a rotax powered Rebel. Why WOULDN’T they want people to move up to a larger V-twin in the future?? BTW this H-D owner wears T-shirts and tennis shoes, no pirate clothing ; )

  • Jackie

    I guess the only real things most people will agree upon is that (none of these things are inherently wrong for a beginner bike):

    1) It will be heavier than any competitor’s small displacement bike.

    2) It will make less power.

    3) It’ll be built down to a price point that it’ll feel and look cheap, OR rely so heavily on decades old tech that it’ll be out of date before it rolls off the assembly line floor.

    4) It’ll only appeal to those who truly favor form over function and just have a “thing” for HD.

    and

    5) It will have something in its name denoting, screaming, exploding or some other loud noise.

    HD isn’t known for making very progressive design decisions, nor are they an innovative company known for their varied product line or modern fabrication methods. In fact they seem to make an active effort to actually cut away and remove any creative thinkers and products from their corporation.

  • HootieWho

    Is should just be a HD version of the Tu250 with the Blast Thumper.

    That is the nicest beginners bike on the market and is priced perfectly.

    If HD had that in the showrooms it would sell. They could also fill the Parts and Accessories catalog with custom parts to make it into a Cafe (bars, mirrors, fairings)or a light tourer, messenger bags, windshield, etc.

    I know that the Suzuki TU250 has been a very slow seller, but I bet with a little more something it could be a big hit.

    • Jackie's VD Doctor

      I agree, it HAS to be less “Yamaha Vstar 250″ and more “Suzuki TU250″. The little cruisers are always UBER GAY, as they look like toy knockoffs. A little standard just works and fits with a small displacement engine. Small displacement cruiser is an oxymoron. HD has to know this and will not make a little cruiser, it would dilute the brand image and not sell (think Cadillac Cimmeron). Nothing would fail quicker than that.

      The hard part is to make it uniquely HD and not a Triumph Bonneville knockoff. That is the difficulty for the designer, it will be interesting to see if they can pull it off.

  • http://worldof2.com/ Justin Penney

    My ideal starter bike from HD would be an XL500R; essentially, the old XL883R but with the Blast motor (with fuel injection).

  • Richard Gozinya

    Great idea. Still always depressing when talking about HD though. Given that they’ve still got that Nova project shelved. That thing was more modern than most cruisers made today, and with a pretty cool concept.

  • me

    who cares – it’ll be a piece of junk that they could give away as long as they hook some junkie into buying a life-time supply of do-rags

  • Sledgecrowbar

    I see a few problems. One, it’s mud in the eye of every Buell lover, whether the Blast was a good bike or not. Hell, Buell canceled it, whether that was from pressure by Harley doesn’t really matter now.

    Two, Honda already has this covered. If you learned from a course, you learned on a Rebel or a Shadow. Anyone ever hear the phrase “Harley Reliability”?

    Third, it’s going to be an overpriced, overweight thumper. All the ideas to turn it into a cafe bike start with ponying up more scratch than it takes to get into a used late-model liter bike. Would you rather build a slow, cool bike or ride a fast, cool bike?

    I don’t see Harley beating Honda at their own game when Honda’s been the only player for decades, and they haven’t made many changes to their sole contender in all that time.

  • Tinman

    It doesnt really matter what Harley brings to market, The Asians will copy it in 2 Yrs anyway. A simple 500cc thumper with basic styling will be just fine and serve its purpase very well. There is no money to be made in entry level bikes, they are all just a way to win over future customers for more expensive bikes. Do any of you think a 883 is 2K cheaper to build than a 1200 Sportster?

  • http://jeremytanner.com Jeremy Tanner

    What came of this?

    Jeremy