Bullshit: Harley’s young-adult market share and other damned lies

Dailies -



Back in July, Harley-Davidson released 2nd Quarter 2010 results that flaunted improved net revenue in an attempt to hide net income figures that were still massively lower year-on-year. In an apparent attempt at misdirection, The Motor Company also dropped a whammy of a claim: “Harley-Davidson is the U.S. market share leader of on-road motorcycles among young adults.” Could that be true? Well, like presidents diddling fat chicks with cigars, it all depends on your definition of “is.”

Samuel Clemens once famously claimed that Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Doubting Harley’s claim, we approached an industry analyst, who prefers to remain anonymous, to help us discover the facts behind the numbers.

Here are Harley’s claims:

“Despite the decline in second-quarter retail motorcycle sales, we believe interest in the Harley-Davidson brand remains strong among riders of all generations. In fact, Harley-Davidson is the U.S. market share leader of on-road motorcycles among young adults.”

“. . . in the U.S., no one is reaching new customers better than Harley-Davidson.”

“Based on recently provided Polk data, we have been the heavyweight motorcycle category market leader in new motorcycle sales to young adult men and women ages 18 to 34 since at least 2006.”

“And when it comes to new motorcycle sales to young adults in ALL sizes of on-road motorcycles, Harley-Davidson has been the U.S. market share leader since 2008.”

Our analyst provides some context: “H-D accounts for over 60% of the on-road market, all displacements.  Even if only 10% of those Hogs are being bought by the under 35′s, that’s about 20,000 bikes, more than any single other manufacturer in the US could claim… on road.  What that statistic says more than anything, is that H-D has US market saturation, making any kind of statistical claim possible, depending on how you chose to categorize the data.”

The key in all this is the “heavyweight” category, an outdated classification from the MIC that dates from the 1970s when a 650cc Bonneville was a big, fast motorcycle. “Heavyweight” motorcycles start at 651cc, which means all 600cc sportsbikes, 650cc twins like the SV650 and Ninja 650 and, critically, popular learner fodder like the Kawasaki Ninja 250 are excluded from that class. That Ninja 250 was the the fifth best-selling bike, of any class, in the US last year.

Our analyst asks, “How can anyone state with a straight face that they are ‘a leader among young buyers’ and conveniently exclude all the beginner bike market, where typically 90% of new, young bikers shop?
“This is statistical-propaganda bullshit. While they are not lying, they are suggesting that they dominate the entire youth motorcycle market because of straight consumer appeal, and the media take the big headline and run with it.”

The analyst goes on to suggest that a more accurate headline would read, “Harley is the market leader in new motorcycle sales to young men and women ages 18-34, in the cruiser market.” Not such a shocking revelation after all. Rather than indicating the success of a marketing effort directed at young people or the degree of a model’s appeal among new riders, the numbers merely indicate that Harley continues to sell more cruisers than any other brand.

According to WebBikeWorld, 520,502 motorcycles of all kinds were sold in the US in 2009, down from a high of nearly 1.1 million in 2005. Harley says it shipped 223,023 motorcycles during 2009, representing about 43 percent of total sales (this total includes off-road). The MIC and individual manufacturers are notoriously cagey about releasing sales figures by model or manufacturer or even class. We’re still trying to get a sales total for sub 651cc bikes. We approached both Harley (for sales of 883cc capacity bikes) and Kawasaki (for sales of the Ninja 250) and both declined requests to release any numbers.

The average age of a Harley buyer has actually increased in the last five years, from 42-years-old in 2004 to 49 in 2009.

“I think you will see that H-D is far from where they want their shareholders to think they are,” says the industry analyst.

“The shareholders are not happy about the vast sums of money lost in the last 3 quarters, not so much Buell and MV Agusta capital losses, but the staggering weight of Harley-Davidson Financial Services  and its horrendous exposure to bad debt.  They refinanced, thanks to Warren Buffet, but at 15% interest. This more than anything is why HD had the fire sale on other brands, and the shareholders are screaming for a recovery plan. Externally, HD says things are fine, but internally, they are not dumb.  They know that, at that at this rate, 75% of their customer base will be too old to ride within 10 years, or at least too old to buy new machines. They really are working very hard on a bunch of young rider appeal bikes, and branding, but in the meantime they have to present salient results, NOW.  This, in my opinion, is why they presented that youth market share poppycock in the last quarterly report. It is truth, as we know, only spun in such a way as to make the common stock holder feel at ease, short term.”

“My broker put it thus: ‘If the stock market understood the depth of Harley’s product/retail deficiency, there would be a selloff on a colossal scale.’ In my opinion, if HD doesn’t produce a viable (commercially, and industrially profitable) series of new motorcycles and re-cast the brand away from the Boomers within the next 4-5 model years, they will end up like Ducati, MV, Guzzi and many incarnations of Indian: another glorious brand without a hope of sustainable business.”

Just for some perspective and in no relation at all to US youth motorcycle market, Honda says it sold 10,114,000 motorcycle worldwide in 2009.

There are no Harley-branded bikes under 883cc currently in production, although The Motor Company has identified the need for a real learner bike and told us that it’s currently developing such a model.

So is Harley reaching new, young customers better than all other bike makers? Other than trying to please shareholders by paying lip service to doing so with some marketing and spraying a few bikes matte black, it’s not even trying to. Is Harley selling more cruisers to young people than anyone else? It sells more cruisers than anyone, so yes.

Is Harley the only manufacturer fudging numbers to drum up positive coverage from media outlets that can’t be bothered to investigate? Of course not, here’s two more examples:

Earlier this year, BMW announced a 21% year-on-year increase in Q1 sales. Articles following that press release made it sound like BMW was on fire during a deep recession, attributing that increase to huge sales of the then-new S1000RR superbike.

In the release, BMW didn’t make it clear whether that improvement was in the US or globally. In 2009, BMW sold 87,306 bikes globally and 9,168 bikes in the US.

“1,925 bikes [21% of US sales] in three months is not such an impressive improvement considering that the US is BMW’s third most important market,” says our analyst. “Even if we take the global figure, it gets really silly when you realize that BMW accounts for about 1% of the market. So that media frenzy was about 0.21%, one-fifth of one percent of the global motorcycle market. I’m sure Honda wasn’t quaking in their kimonos.”

Did BMW sales increase during Q1 2010? Yes. Did BMW sales increase during Q1 2010 to a degree in proportion to dramatic reporting? Nope.

Another example of statistics without context presenting an unrealistic picture hails from only yesterday and from the Motorcycle Industry Council itself.

The MIC’s press release reads: “Despite the rising number of motorcycle miles traveled, fatalities decreased 16 percent and injuries declined 6.3 percent last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2009 Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Among all types of motorists, motorcyclists had the second-largest reduction in fatalities, behind large-truck occupants, and the largest drop in alcohol-impaired fatalities – also a 16 percent reduction.”

What could be the cause of the first decline in motorcycle fatalities in 11 years? Could training, safety and awareness campaigns finally be paying off?! The reality is much less exciting than the 16 percent number alone.

As the MIC notes in the same release, “The latest MIC Owner Survey found that fewer than 50 percent of riders have taken formal rider education and training such as the Basic RiderCourse offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.” The decrease in fatalities can largely be attributed to the decrease in motorcycle sales that took place during the same time period.

Motorcycles sales by year (courtesy WebBikeWorld).

Motorcycle fatalities by year, note strong correlation with sales.

Back in April we brought you preliminary data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities By State report, which actually cited the recession and a nearly 40% decrease in bike sales year-on-year as the reason for what, at the time, was expected to be at least a 10% drop in fatalities. That report’s chart of fatalities by year, extending back decades, correlates strongly with motorcycle sales, suggesting that the greatest factor in motorcycle fatality rates is the numbers of motorcycles sold and, presumably, the number of new riders on the road.

Did motorcycle fatalities decrease in 2009 by a significant percentage? Yes. Can motorcycle fatalities be shown to have decreased last year for any reason other than a dramatic drop in sales? No.

Looking at the larger picture, the divergence between these marketing claims and reality isn’t so much a story of companies doing anything unexpected, evil or immoral. The purpose of marketing and PR efforts is to present a company and its products in a positive light. Instead, the conclusion that’s invariably drawn here is that motorcycle media outlets fail to investigate facts or question sources, instead simply regurgitating corporate messages to consumers. The roll of media is supposed to be informing the public and serving as a check on corporate manipulation of the masses. Why isn’t that happening here?

Sources: BMW, Harley-Davidson, WebBikeWorld, The Kneeslider, Knol, MIC, The Governor’s Highway Safety Association Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities By State, 2009 Preliminary Data, NYTimes

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

    As usual, spot on analysis. I’m prepping for the LSATs, and one of the major questions focus on finding the logical inconsistencies in arguments. In my mind, when I saw the qualifier “heavy-weight motorcycles” in the Harley info, I highlighted it and wrote “bullshit” above it.

    And I’m sure Harley isn’t helping lower motorcycle fatalities by showing of fits cool “youth-oriented” bikes by having a hipster in cotton jeans, a 3/4 helmet, short gloves, and and $5 Wayfarer glasses riding it. That’s like advertising the new Corvette with the driver not wearing a seatbelt and sipping a high-ball.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Wayfarers are essential safety gear.

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

        Dude, skin grafts are sooooo in right now.

    • shawn.bassplayer

      Seriously? Maybe they should show someone racing around on a canyon road on a 180hp race bike. That’s responsible advertising. :)

  • Owenth

    Keep up the good work guys. Reporting like this is why I love coming here.
    On a semi-related note about new riders and training. It would be interesting (for me) to read about how the writers and readers got started riding, first bikes, courses taken. I just took the Basic ridercourse and would like to hear where people have gone from there.

    • jp182

      I went to long scenic rides and commuting to work. Then trackdays and now back to scenic rides.

  • seanslides

    So corporate marketing types are a bunch of lying bastards?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The surprise is people listen to them.

      • seanslides

        It’s true, I’m continually surprised by the sheer stupidity of the american public. It’s way bad.

  • s0crates82

    old, rebuilt harleys are all the rage in the under-30 set here in socal. but, we’re talking about craigslist fodder. cyclezombies style with hwzn bross rust.

  • Bryce

    I’m not seeing the misdirection here…didn’t they say that they were the “heavy weight” leader? The fact that an R6 isn’t a heavy weight doesn’t really matter, does it?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      The mis-direction is that they claim to be leaders in reaching new, young riders, without being leaders in the class of motorcycles new, young riders buy and while having no focus on serving that market.

      By shear weight of numbers, they end up being the single manufacturer with the largest number of under 35s, but that demographic represents only a tiny portion of Harley buyers.

      In other words, this number may be significant to other manufacturers, but it’s not significant to Harley.

      • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn


        Please name the last year H-D was a leader or even a significant contender in the “new, young riders” class.

        Since when is “sheer weight of numbers” irrelevant? The younger generation’s numbers will always be smaller since – oh guess what – that generation is smaller in numbers! Isn’t self inflicted generational genocide wonderful?

        Would H-D be any better off if it simply refused to sell bikes to anyone over 30?

        PS – I BOUGHT an XR1000 back when they were new – was 20 years at the time. They were old guy’s bikes back then as well.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          I’m sorry, I fail to see your issue here?

          Harley’s average buyer age increased at a time when their overall sales decreased, creating the logical conclusion that they’re selling less bikes to younger people. No judgement there, just rational analysis.

          Another piece of rational analysis: with Harley’s current target demographic (boomers) aging out of riding within the next decade or so, they need to find a new audience if they hope to continue selling motorcycles in large numbers.

          Seriously, I’m not being snarky, explain your question.

          • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

            Have to step back a moment and explain a few things about my perspective – I have had absolutely no love at all for HD’s management or much of anything else about that company for a quite a while now. We could eliminate a very large pizza over why that is – but there are things that HD does rather well. That said, I’m not enthused by anything that comes out of Wandell’s mouth or his propaganda machine. But:

            Without a useful breakdown of sales/age, there is no logical conclusion at all. And without similar breakdowns from previous years and other manufacturers, then guessing which way it is trending is just that – guessing. Whether or not they are selling bikes to even older guys does not change the number of bikes they are selling to young guys. What I would like to know is where the big holes are in their recent sales demographics – yes, I’m guessing – but I’ll bet that’s what is skewing the average age.

            The boomers are, indeed, getting older & out of riding and of life. That still leaves the Gen X’ers (50-30 years old – hey, I’m in there). There aren’t as many Gen Y’ers – of course boomers and half the X’ers are going to skew the average higher. That isn’t going to mean that they aren’t still selling lots of bikes (compared to everyone else in the USA) to the afterboomers. The fact remains that the boomers are still in the market – why shouldn’t they capitalize on them? I sometimes think that you are of the opinion that any bike bought by boomers is another bike taken away from your/our/? generation. OK – there’s a subject worthy of another pizza.

            Look at Harley’s average age every 5 years going back 25+ years – and how many bikes they sold at the time. Remember the huge deal it was when they went past the 100,000 bikes/year mark? It was both a Big Deal and not all that long ago (product development wise, that is). Now, the idea of them dropping to 100,000 bikes a year makes people think that they are failing badly. I think that’s where they are headed no matter what they sell and what age group buys them.

            As you pointed out, HD’s sales have decreased. As have darn near everyone else’s. Again, without breakdowns, we don’t know what is accurate overall market leadership (in the USA – what goes on in the rest of the world doesn’t concern me a whole lot on this topic) and what is corporate propaganda. If my giving HD a benefit of the doubt there reflexively gags anyone, hey, forgive me.

            Did I explain my question(s) well enough? OK – Probably not.

            As far as why HD’s future is bleak and what they could do to change it, well, hey, there goes more pizza. A lot of people I respect say the same thing, but they have no numbers to back it up. And while HD might well be full of beans, it has been my experience that HD’s critics are usually full of beans more often than not.

            Besides, my Kawasaki knows nothing about the bikes I used to ride…

          • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

            On phone, so brief reply: numbers like that aren’t made public, but are sold to industry types in reports. Analyst has them, but can’t publish them due to legal shit. Very annoying. Spent lots of time on phone and email trying to get some additional figures for article, maybe on Monday. As it stands we can publish conclusions drawn from the numbers, but not data itself.

          • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

            Alright, back on a computer so let’s attempt a full answer to what I THINK your question is. In the future, please try and make your point a bit clearer and do so without resorting to insults.

            The US market is saturated by Harley, they can claim essentially any statistic they want, even if it doesn’t reflect on-the-ground reality.

            We’re not challenging their claim that they happen to sell more bikes to under 35s than any other single manufacturer. As the analyst notes, even 10 percent of their sales would eclipse the efforts of any single other manufacturer.

            We are challenging their claims that they’re increasing sales in this market, that “no one is reaching new customers better than Harley-Davidson,” that they’re in any way fully serving this market, sell products that cater to it or that they’re doing anything more than selling large numbers of cruisers to an existing client base. Why? They claim they’re creating new riders, yet they don’t have a single offering that caters to new riders. Their smallest capacity bike, the 883, is likely outsold by the Ninja 250 (although no one will release said numbers). Under 35s likely make up a tiny drop in the Harley buyer bucket, as suggested by an average buyer age increasing at a rate exceeding aging while overall sales numbers shrink. Logic: If Harley’s average buyer age is increasing, then a higher proportion of their sales are going to older people. If Harley’s sales numbers are decreasing while they’re selling a higher percentage of those bikes to older people, then they’re selling fewer bikes to younger people. If Harley is selling fewer bikes to younger people then claiming growth in that area is a lie.

            We’d love to be in a position to publish comprehensive numbers on the entire market, sadly the organization that collects those numbers and the manufacturers themselves refuse to release them. But this isn’t about statistics, it’s about reality.

      • pauljones

        I think the entire article can be summed up just as you did here.

        It’s true that they have a large number of under 35s, but that’s only due to sheer volume, not a specific attempt to appeal to them.

        They are, however, starting to realize that they can appeal to younger buyers without having to sacrifice their appeal to the baby boomers; the SuperLow is proof of that. I was skeptical about it being any different than the 883 Low, but I tried it and was surprised. They did make an effort. It may only be a baby step, but I still give them credit for it.

        I’m hopeful for that little thumper that’s rumored.

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          Agreed, products like the 883 low are a significant, is small step in the direction of expanding the appeal of HD’s model range and serving the needs if a new audience.

  • VeeArrrSix

    Great analysis Wes. I do see a lot more hipsters riding Sportsters these days…

  • MTGR

    “Why isn’t that happening here?”
    IMO: 90% of the moto magazines are owned by a handful of big corporations with obvious bias who are more interested in spreading propaganda than reporting news.
    And: 90% of internet sites are run by people so unaware of what journalism and news are supposed to be they could not even get jobs at the previously mentioned propaganda hustlers.

    Thank God for the few standouts like Hell For Leather. Keep up the good work (and shame on anyone who actually believed HDs crap in the first place, even without research it is obvious this was BS – just look around you; how many young people you actually see on a new Harley? Try trusting your eyes and instincts rather than corporate bilge)

    RE; Bryce – good misdirection always includes a couple of actual facts – as the article already noted – it is the implied performance elsewhere that is total BS. A lie by intentional misdirection or omission is still a lie.

  • Mitch

    I have seen a new contingent of scumsters on Sportsters (and only Sportsters) here in Socal. 3/4 helmet, cheesy mustache, 140lb give or take. It’s ironic I guess?

    The fatality data is interesting. Only in America would we consider mandatory, complicated and costly ABS systems for bikes rather than a graduated or at least tougher testing for new riders. We Americans *love* doing shit the hardest way possible.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      Actually, we love doing crap the most mindless way possible. The more we can cater to mediocrity, especially through technology, the better. Look at cars. Ain’t the future EXCITING?!

    • HammSammich

      I know it’s a bit off topic (sorry Wes and Grant) but I completely agree that tougher testing and training is the best option. Unfortunately, the federal government is coming up against the same conundrum they faced with the Auto industry decades ago. Since driver licensing, including testing standards, is a reserved power of the states, the Feds have limited if any influence. Just as in the auto industry, the Federal Government has little recourse to respond to a growing public outcry over the safety of motorcycles, other than to mandate ABS and other safety equipment for the rider. As enthusiasts, I think most of us understand that experience and training are key to preventing accidents, which should always be preferable to merely increasing the survivability of accidents. Sadly, most states seem to actually be moving away from stricter training requirements, and at the state level (where many states still don’t have mandatory helmet laws – or have even moved away from those previously in place) any push for increased training standards is not likely to receive much support. With motorcycles, I can only hope that the spartan nature of the conveyance prevents much meddling, but if the attitude of the typical non-riding American is any indication, I have to expect much worse.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

    I thought you might like that fatality data. “Clearly, our educational campaigns are working!” I love data without context used to make a claim.

    “Your bike sucks. Mine is older and has the same peak horsepower.”

    It’s a wonderful world. Nice write up.

  • DoctorNine

    When motorcycle manufacturers are more interested in spinning promo for investors than they are in exploring new markets, then they are in decline. It’s really that simple. The strategy of moving product based on speculative lending continues, and they aren’t even going to admit to themselves what a stupid idea it was. Total sales mean nothing if the people you give those bikes to, don’t give you money back, after you give them the keys to the bike. The whole system is as bad a sham as subprime house loans were.

    Excellent analysis, as others have pointed out.

  • mtldude

    I’ll Offer one dollar for Harley Davidson then show them how to run the company and get market share . I was shopping for a new bike and visited three Harely dealers . ended up buying a Kawasaki Vulcan. I”m 42 25 years of sales and service expirience . (and I have sold alot of stuff, high and low end ) Harely just doesn’t get it . Bullshit can only take you so far !

  • MTGR

    Don’t sweat it Wes – Bryce is clearly hooked on the HD koolaid. He refutes your logic by stating agreement with the exact fact in question?

    ‘Please name the last year H-D was a leader or even a significant contender in the “new, young riders” class.’

    Exactly Bryce, HD claimed they were, and they are not – that is the point.

    • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

      Probably a confusion of definitions on my part – I interpret “New, young” as “entry level – quite distinct “Experienced, young”.

      As such, of course HD hasn’t been in the entry level market (except for the Blast in an off hand way) in ages. But when it comes to the “Experienced, young” demographic, well, hey, I hope Wes can follow up on this. The truth is always good to know.

  • Your_Mom

    Having worked in the car industry for years, this sort of statistical manipulation is much more common than people think. Especially inside a company. Regional managers have their ass in a sling and will spin whatever data they can to make themselves look better than they are. Monthly reports are an exercise in “don’t tell the truth unless the numbers make you look like a hero.”

    And everytime I would see that HD claim of biggest market penetration of “young adults” – it just didn’t ring true. Thanks for letting us peek behind the curtain.

  • RandyS

    I don’t think that it would be hard to turn around Harley overnight, and to appeal to a much younger demographic.

    Harley already has a next-generation engine: the Helicon Engine. All that they have to do is wrap a simple yet modern frame around it and give it attractive styling. (Buell’s frame and styling were very functional, and advanced, but few would call them attractive.)

    Harley could create a bunch of models doing this, much as Ducati and KTM have. Following this formula, Harley could use one engine to appeal to various demographic groups.

    Heck, I personally would love a motorcycle based on the Helicon engine that had classic styling that evoked images of the Vincent.

  • Core

    Normally I wouldn’t read an article like this. But is was a very good article.

  • http://twowheelsplus.blogspot.com/ andehans

    Good read. HD might fool people with numbers and statistics but they can’t disguise the products. Young guys are buying expensive shirts, shoes and bags proudly made in the US, but wouldn’t be seen dead on a modern HD. There’s a great potential waiting to be unlocked.

  • paulo

    Great read, great research. Here in New Zealand Harley’s had always been a popular marquee alongside Triumph. The quintessential tough guy bike to have in the 70′ and 80′s. Back then Harley riders were most often associated with gangs covered in Maori tattoos or were at least kinda counter culture types. Today the typical Harley rider is in his mid to late 50′s. I seriously have only met 2 Harley riders younger than forty. It’s all full dressers and silver hair hidden under 3/4 helmets and scary skull face masks, Bad ass dentists and plumbers out on a Sunday ride.
    Most of my friends (who are in the youth demographic ) consider cruisers granddad bikes and are more into pimped Japanese cars or the ones that are into bike would rather ride an old Norton or cafe a CB.

  • davenport01011

    A very well written article that should raise peoples awareness beyond the scope of motorcycles. The manipulation of “Statistics” by PR people to make sensational headlines and misdirect their investors and the general public is a common practice among all businesses and politicians. Traditionally it has been the news outlets responsibility to investigate beyond the latest Press Release to find the truth behind the claims, but, it seems that the “News” outlets are more interested in being “Media” outlets looking for the next big headline. Thank You for the well written and investigated article.

  • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

    Wes @ reply#41987

    I don’t have that entire report in front of me, but if your quotes from it in your article are anything to go by, the words “New Riders” is nowhere to be found. You are making assumtions and calling it “logic” and calling the conclusion “bullshit”. They said exactly what segment of the market they are talking about and you bring up other markets that have nothing to do with it. Where is HD claiming to make “New riders” anyway? Where did they say they are leading in the entire motorcycle business at that the “under 35″ demographic at ALL displacements? All they care about is “New to HD riders.

    Market leadership will remain, even with falling numbers – when your competitors’ numbers are falling even faster.

    The “under 35″ market IS a drop in the bucket for the entire industry. The average age of buyers of new motorcycles is getting way up there for the entire industry. Those numbers ARE out there – nothing can stop you from publishing them.

    My apologies. I appreciate the fact that you responded rather than deleting my reply. In the mean time, I hope you are reporting facts and not pandering to the wishful thinking of the majority of your readers. That market is also saturated.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      There’s an acronym that’s appropriate here. You need to RTFA before jumping to assumptions and spouting off accusations, all concerns you’ve raised in any of your questions are addressed there at length.

      • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

        RTFA’ed several times previously – and again – if I had to rewrite any of the above again, it would have been far longer and not changed anything. At that, I’ll just back away in disagreement over this.

        That said, Wayfarers are, indeed, essential safety gear.

  • CG

    The key question is does Harley Davidson management believe what their pr department’s “analysis” is of the current situation. If they truly believe their current lineup represents what young people are buying new, yikes! I have to believe their internal research is not as optimistic as their public statements indicate. But then I wasn’t part of a management that thought loaning people money based on whether they had a heartbeat or not was a sound economic policy. Just because they had lots of company (whatever happened to GMAC or Fannie Mae anyway?) only partly excuses it. This is a very tough situation for mc manufacturers, some, like Suzuki, have virtually given up on the US, and Honda, um, um, deserves a long, long post of their own. I do note that few of my daughter’s myriad of boyfriends over the years have evinced any interest in motorcycles, but other than their admiration for her 3 series, few have been that interested in cars either. It is very possible that car/bike enthusiasm is now a even smaller portion of the public then it used to be.

    In the US, the famous statement is that “No one really needs a bike”, and trying to convince a twenty something with $50k in student loans that they should buy a bike may be fairly tricky. Still, dumping Buell remains a really strange corporate decision if you were really interested in getting your average age buyer down.

  • slowtire

    Wow, I can see the next headline here being:

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      This game is fun, I want to play!

      “Harley the cause of Swine Flu.”
      “Gulf Oil spill revealed to be parking lot at HOG rally.”
      “Harley. Holocaust. Both start with H. Coincidence?”
      “Jesus crucified; Harley involved.”

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Is Harley A Muslim? Secret Korean Birth Certificate Says Yes!

    • slowtire

      Or….George Bush found to be top stock holder in HD, architect of Buell demise.

  • nicktp

    Great article. I’m 23 with a Buell, so I’m in the local Harley shop from time to time. Never seen a single person in there less than twice my age. Just lots of people with grey hair talking about how much chrome is enough for “turnin’ some heads”. Mostly nice people, just no self-esteem.

    I’ve never liked their anti-progressive design and lack of “handling” or “performance”. Never had the privilege of riding something like a v-rod or a soft-glide-tail-whatever, but I have been behind the wheel of my friend’s Four Winns, and I imagine it’s about the same. I do like the direction they are going with the XR1200, and I hope it continues. It proves they can build something with a small amount of performance and young person appeal without ruining their thousand year old brand.

    They talk about developing something new that will attract younger buyers, but I hope it isn’t just a little Blast replacement for noobs. Not everyone under 30 is a noob.

  • dbqfan

    I am in my 30′s and I would never consider riding or buying a Harley. First of all I do not want to have to dress up like a pirate to be seen on a Harley and I hate loud exhaust. It seems to me that 95% of Harley riders only have the bike because they like the sound of the bike with no muffler. If there was a nation wide ban on loud exhaust Harley would be out of business in 90 days. Harley Davidson sells the same bikes every year with a new color. Never new technology. The boomer generation seems to like the heavy and over priced Harley’s. I will not pay 2010 prices for 1960 technology and styling. The brakes are terrible and it is like riding a paint shaker. It seem to me that just when Buell was dumping the old outdated Harley motor in favor of the much better Rotax motor then HD dumps the Buell line. I would have been very interested in a Buell with the Rotax motor. I will not go into a Harley shop and put up with all the BS. Every Harley rider has to have a Harley belt buckle, tee shirt, do-rag, vest with 50lbs of decals and pins and fingerless nose picker gloves. I would be embarrassed to be seen on a Harley. Maybe when I am in my 60′s I will consider one if they are still in business.

    • slowtire

      This must be a broken record.
      My first motorcycle was a new Sportster when I was 20 (that’s young). My second Harley was a new Sportster when I was 22 (that’s still young). My third Harley was a new Fatboy when I was 49( I guess that’s old in your book). In between I had several other brands for different purposes.
      I don’t own a Harley beltbuckle, nor do I dress up like a pirate except during “buccaneer sex” with the girlfriend. My bike has mufflers. Sorry, but I do like chrome on certain vehicles. My gloves have full fingers, but I admit that I sometime pick my nose as well as my ass. Never been to Sturgis, Daytona or any other rally for that matter. I ride what I ride because i like what I’m riding. Period. I’ve been in several “Harley Shops” and have experienced nothing but nice people from several walks of life, who own several makes of cycles, beside HD’s. Maybe that’s just my luck. You obviously know a lot less than you think about Harley Davidson and their customers. You simply pigeon hole an entire customer base because some people buy into the tradtional, American, hard ass biker look. So what if some do? Does it really bother you for some reason?

      • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

        Power Rangers and Pirates are eternal foes. This cannot be undone.

        • slowtire

          That is a fact BI. I just don’t get some of these people who brand bash for rediculous reasons. Every manufacturer has had problems,with product, market share, finances etc. HD will end up being fine, as will others when we get out of this money mes. In the meantime, those people who like riding two wheelers should just ride! It’s a great sport! Stop worrying about what other people are riding, wearing or doing. Life is to dang short for that bs.

          • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

            I don’t think the world can operate without some kind of “Us/Them” dichotomy. Just laugh it off, it’s not personal. You dirty pirate.

          • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

            By the way, as a tie-in to the Xaus article, you can look up dirty pirate on Urban Dictionary. Just for entertainment value.

        • slowtire

          I hear you! Arrrrrgggggghhhhh.

          • ernie

            power rangers…….i like that. ole power ranger pete seems to have all his preconceived notions down pat. don’t own a belt buckle or harley t-shirt, bubba, nor do i own a skull mask. i do own a harley shovel that i built myself, and there’s lots of young guys out there doing the same with old harleys, brits and rice grinders. and it’s good to see because they lack the yuppie latte crowd’s myopic arrogance, regardless of brand. beast incarnate, you are truly wise and farseeing, and i salute you. now i have to get this damn wooden leg over my bike so i can go rape and pillage. and ps … f**k marketshares. if you’re buying a bike for that reason, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason.

  • DougD

    I want the anonymous analyst named; I’m not reading the NY Times right now. Beyond crying bullshit of OEM marketing claims, he didn’t say anything too controversial. What’s more, this is a matter of consumer buying, not national security or anything like that.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Ha, but what if Harley is one of the analyst’s clients? I’m sure you can understand the need for anonymity when earnings are potentially at stake.

      • DougD

        Just thought I’d attempt to twist your arm.

    • http://www.codyk.net codyk

      This is the question I was about to post. Are there so few motorcycle-industry analysts that it’s impossible to find one that isn’t paid by HD? In my opinion, anonymous sources should only be used in the most extreme circumstances, where there is absolutely no other option. But then again, I’m not an editor of this site. Keep up the good work, guys.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Sources need to be anonymous when they need to be anonymous. We’ve got a whole group of industry types that we call on regularly for information, perspective and just to talk shit out. Doesn’t mean they’ll be quoted in an article or even referenced, it’s just how journalism works. They give us information or point us in the right direction, we check that info out, voila, article.

  • Cheese302

    i must say this article is spot on. I am a 27 year old rider thats rolling around on a 1985 yamaha Maxim, i have been in the market to buy a new bike for the better part of a year trying to decide what i want to buy. My father rides a 2003 Harley Duece, and i like riding it, heavier, has some good passing power, and handles well enough though nothing to write home about. I have a hard time justifying purchasing the harley brand. I love the look and feel of the forty eight and the xr1200x, but i’ll be dropping 11-12k into a bike thats slower and cant handle near as well as bikes that can be had new for a little more than half the price. There isn’t even a place to toss your documents and a poncho on the bikes. Harley is in deep trouble, they are shooting themselves in the foot if they think shorter harder shocks, junk tires and a springer front end here or there will make people want their bikes more. the numbers are right there, less bikes sold, dealers shutting down left and right, increasing buyer age. my guess is that the company will be bought or go down in history as “the motorcycle company that made a name and didnt bother trying to make anything else except poor financial decisions in it’s first 106 years.”

    that said i am still seriously considering the xr1200, purely because of the upgraded suspension and matte white paint.

    next question, does anyone that works for harley read sites such as hellforleather? maybe they could pick up a tip or two from the actual motorcycling community.

  • keithh

    Great article, thanks.

  • sburns2421

    There were layers of BS in the past two quaterly statements of PR spin from Harley. Take a look at the historical ratio of bike sale revenue to accessories/clothing revenue. Then calculate the amount of expected profit from high-margin accessories and clothing (20% gross margin?), it becomes obvious that Harley is losing its ass on actual motorcycles. It is only the relatively high-margin chrome trinkets and sleeveless button-up workshop shirts that allow them to post any profit at all.

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