Are re-badged Hyosungs a realistic new rider alternative for Harley dealers?

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ATK is a tiny, Utah-based dirt bike company trying to facilitate a huge shift in American motorcycling. It’s doing that by putting realistic learner and entry-level motorcycles into Harley dealers, something The Motor Company itself is spending $60 million on. But where that single baby Harley won’t arrive in dealers for at least three years, a whole range of ATKs are available right now. ATK is hoping its bikes will provide a lifeline for Harley dealers who suddenly need new customers, but don’t have the right bikes to sell to them.

Photos: Grant Ray

We’ve written about ATK previously, so here’s a short summary of what they’re doing: in the short term, they purchased a bunch of unsold Hyosungs which are being re-badged as ATKs and being sold to some of the biggest Harley dealers in the country. Starting next year, ATK plans to buy components from S&T Motors (formerly Hyosung) in Korea, then assemble its own bikes in Utah. Assembled in America, priced like an import. All that’s being done without approval from Harley, but is giving some Harley dealers the kind of bikes they can sell to new riders.

With a range of bikes starting with a 250cc cruiser retailing for just under $4,000 and going up to the ATK 700 Cruiser you see above ($6,995) and the ATK GT650R sportbike, ATK is hitting segments and price points that don’t conflict with Harley’s products while offering significantly more suitable bikes for new riders. That 250 cruiser weighs just 388lbs, making it 175lbs, 633cc and $4,000 less than the base Harley Sportster 883 SuperLow, itself meant to be a new-rider or female-friendly model. As a first bike or as learner fodder, I’m sure you can see the advantage of the ATK.

While we were in LA last month we met Frank White, ATK’s CEO and took two of his bikes out for a ride in Orange County — that 700 Cruiser and the ATK GT250R sportbike. The big question here is: do these re-badged Hyosungs really have something to offer new new riders? Do they really have appeal parked next to 883cc of throbbing American iron?

This will probably amaze those of you who regularly suffer through my much-voiced hatred of all things cruiser, but I really enjoyed riding the ATK 700 Cruiser. Since it’s a Hyosung Aquila, GV650, whatever they call it and that’s essentially a raked-out SV650 clone, maybe it shouldn’t be such a surprise.

Look at the numbers next to those of that 883 Sportster. The ATK makes 72bhp, the Harley 52bhp. The ATK makes 42lb/ft of torque, they Harley 50lb/ft. The ATK weighs 512lbs (wet), the Harley 563lbs (wet). The ATK’s seat height is 27.5 inches, the SuperLow’s is 25.5.

But it’s more about what the ATK doesn’t do than what the Harley does. It doesn’t make a huge amount of noise just sitting still at a traffic light. It doesn’t feel heavy pushing it around or performing 1mph maneuvers. It isn’t at all intimidating or hard to ride or recalcitrant in any way. It doesn’t in any way interfere with the normal function of a motorcycle. In fact, despite the 34-degree rake, the forward controls, the 67-inch wheelbase and swept-back handlebars it doesn’t ride unlike a standard-style motorcycle.

The cruiser configuration only rears its ugly head above 95mph (it’ll do 124mph) — where the riding position starts to become a pain, crucifying you to the oncoming wind — and in very tight corners where you achieve a surprising amount of lean, but will eventually grind the pegs. But even with a peg on the ground, the ATK remains stable, predictable and easy. It’s just a solid, fun, good motorcycle that’s easy to ride.

I’d give the ATK the edge over anything in the Sportster range in a straight line and over anything Harley currently makes around a corner.

We can’t really say the same thing about the GT250R. While its soft suspension is surprisingly capable and its weak 27bhp engine capable of around 95mph if you work the reluctant gearbox, it just isn’t a convincing product in the same way the Cruiser is. The clutch is surprisingly heavy, the engine surprisingly reluctant, the switchgear, components and overall look is surprisingly cheap. It’s a competent motorcycle, but at the same price point the new Honda CBR250R and even the ancient Kawasaki Ninja 250 are just way more convincing products what won’t make riders feel like they’re riding a 25-year old used bike.

But maybe that’s missing the point and maybe that missed point is illustrative of ATK’s unique selling point. While the GT250R doesn’t stack up against the CBR250R, that CBR isn’t going to be sold in Harley dealers. In a Harley dealer on a rural road in the middle of Missouri where it’s the only motorcycle dealer for hundreds of miles, that GT250R is going to stand out. So’s that 700 Cruiser that’s cheaper, more powerful, lighter and just plain better than any Sportster. And that’s the point. ATK is giving dealers something they can sell to women, teenagers and people who have never ridden a motorcycle before. With its lightest, smallest, cheapest model coming in at 563lbs, 883cc and $8,000 that’s a market that Harley’s simply abandoned. With its riders aging at a rate faster than that of the general population, its core demographic aging out of riding and its traditional customer no longer equipped to finance an expensive luxury good they don’t need, new customers aren’t just something a huge manufacturer with plenty of money needs, they’re something the brand’s smaller, less financially-stable dealers need worse. That’s why ATK is selling them these bikes.

Frank is open about his plans for ATK’s future. He’d like to turn ATK into the Scion to Harley’s Toyota, creating a youth-oriented brand that will get new riders into the dealers and into motorcycling for the long-term. In the short term that gives dealers a product to sell, in the long term that gives them repeat customers. Eventually, he hopes to become an acquisition target for Harley, which could already use a more agile, less expensive, more approachable sub-brand.

ATK’s path to a possible future acquisition is going to be difficult though. Currently, Harley’s management sees the company as a threat — potential competition both for sales in dealers and for the future learner Harley — and is doing everything it can to interfere with ATK’s success. The Motor Company is refusing to certify ATKs for use in its Riders Edge training program, even at the risk of leaving that program with less-than-suitable bikes. Harley has continued limited production of the old Buell Blast (no longer with any Buell badges of course) specifically to serve that training program. But wouldn’t a little semi-automatic 250 be a better choice? Frank also has to be careful that every single one of his communications includes the phrase, “The Harley- Davidson Motor Company does not endorse or support this joint venture in any way” so that he doesn’t get sued.

With a stated goal of “getting new and younger riders to go into the Harley-Davidson dealerships,” interfering with ATK simply seems asinine. Frank is hoping stronger leadership will eventually take charge at Harley, smoothing the path not only for his little venture, but for dealers and, ultimately, The Motor Company itself too.

In the meantime, we hope to see ATK take advantage of the opportunity it currently has to reach new riders at a time when most other manufacturers are ignoring them. They’re on the right track, getting the products into dealers, but we hope next year’s transition to American assembly will also be seen an opportunity to retain the fundamentally solid mechanicals of the Hyosung range, applying some more appropriate styling and common sense modifications like mid-mount controls and reasonable ergonomics to transform worthy bikes into appealing ones.

  • Peter

    Are they crap? That’s the real question.

    • RWerksman

      +1. Also – how many Harley dealers have taken them up / do they want to wholesale to?

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        They’re targeting the top 20% of Harley dealers in terms of sales volume.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I think I answered that didn’t I? The Cruiser is a genuinely good motorcycle.

      • Peter

        It’s cool that it’s a good ride. I’m just interested in the build quality. Will the motor and electronics hold up? I know they started as a Suzuki builder. Is the quality still up to Japanese levels?

        • Jason

          With a couple generally easy to fix issues most reviews I have read have been positive for Hyosung’s motorcycles. Surprisingly so as I was definitely on the Naysayer bandwagon when my buddy purchased a 250R for his first bike

          It’s for most purposes a Suzuki with some cheaper parts in regards to stuff like suspension or switchgear etc. All of the mechanicals seem to be just as reliable as the jap bikes

  • http://worldof2.com/ jpenney

    Can they do something about the serious case of ugly?

    While their intent seems good, I don’t think this swinging off Harley’s nuts is going to ever be a nice symbiotic relationship.

    WTF hasn’t Harley taken the Blast motor and made a baby Sportster?

  • Ceolwulf

    So ATK are actually attempting to get into a similar position to Buell? Are they quite sure that’s wise?

  • shaun

    ancient Kawasaki Ninja 250???

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Sure, it got a terrible facelift, but it started life in 1986 if I’m not mistaken. Rides like it too.

      • Glenngineer

        I started life in 86, the Ninja was born in 83. I don’t understand the hate…it’s a damn nice bike. I really like riding my wife’s. Slow is the first thing that comes to mind, but it’s fun to have the thing screaming at speeds that don’t equate to jail time.

        • aristurtle

          The ’83 model was a completely different bike. The pre-88 bikes have no commonality with the later ones. Kawasaki fumbled around until ’88 when they got the formula right and then the bike was essentially unchanged until 2008, where the new model still has significant parts in common with the old.

          Frankly, that’s part of the appeal: a used Ninja is cheap as hell, quite reliable, and very easy to fix and maintain, partly due to extremely wide parts availability (the thing lasted twenty years without a change; most sportbikes last three) and partly due to a simple design (have you seen how much of a PITA it is to adjust the valves for a Honda V-tec engine?).

          I don’t know who’s buying the new ones, though.

      • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

        Must be why every review of the Ninja 250 that I’ve read said it was a bad motorcycle and the worst small bike on the market.

        I’m sorry, I meant to say the opposite.

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

          Preach it, brother.

          Of course, I haven’t seen/ridden a CBR250r yet…

  • Dan

    ATK made class dirt bikes, hope harley doesn’t drag them down. harley needs to get out of the cave and into sunlight.Putting new heads on a ’38 knuckle is not leading the way.Turn the V-Rod into something you can ride out of town.

    • jason

      I was gonna say the same thing. Harley, try actually making something new. Look back before that moron in a beret Willie G chopperized the company and you find a company that was in many ways our Honda. They made rides for everyone, even if some were rebadged bikes from overseas.

      • Dumptruckfoxtrot

        Willie G also made the XLCR Cafe Racer, not all of his styling cues are chopper based.

  • Beale

    I’m glad to hear that the cruiser rides well but it looks like it’s been dipped in awkward.

    I wonder what one would look like without all the plastichrome and the aircraft carrier-sized rear fender. I think it’d look better if the tank didn’t sit on top of the frame or had side skirts over the frame tubes, giving it the appearance of a single backbone frame.

    • robotribe

      “…but it looks like it’s been dipped in awkward.”

      THIS^^^

      Seems like they’ve got the get-up-and-go part down. Now they just need a designer who isn’t infected by massive amounts of Anime. I’d also recommend a manufacturer name that doesn’t sound like an spark plug brand or abbreviation for a disease.

      “Terrible news. He’s been diagnosed with chronic ATK.”

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

    If Harley doesn’t wise up, riders will be more likely to move from an ATK to a Triumph.

    Once you get used to suspension with more that 2″ of travel at the rear, its hard to give it up. Experience with modern bikes will only make a Harley’s shortcomings more glaring.

    I remember checking out the Hyosung 250s when I shopping for my first bike. They are BIG bikes, about the size of a supersport, with a similar seat height. That was a big turn off for my friend and I. I suppose though, that the cruiser is relatively much smaller, compared to an 883.

  • moby grape

    As ugly as that cruiser is, the chrome “EFI” badge is really cool. I’m gonna get one for the Monster.

  • Ben

    Honestly, this seems like a similar approach to Cleveland Cyclewerks (cheap overseas components, local assembly) but without the attractive design.

    If I were a Harley dealer, I’d sooner see something like the CCW Heist or Ace on my floor than that overchromed monster.

    • Michael

      Exactly. And CCW should get their bikes into the riding schools, too.

    • Ricardo

      It’s supposed that CCW is going to play this role, affordable bikes with an excellent design at great
      This will bring new customers to a entry level bike in each cathegory.
      If you compare CCW Tha Heist with this atk it looks years ahead in therms of design and reliability.

    • http://www.smartcycleshopper.com/author/doug-dalsing/ DougD

      Nope. If H-D had its way, every single one of its dealers would be exclusive.

  • http://plugbike.com/ skadamo

    I rode a GV 650 too and had a blast…not the Buell…I had a lot of fun. I not a cruiser guy either but sitting that low the bike feels fast and makes you smile. It’s kinda like bungie jumping. Your not supposed to be in that position going so fast.

    I own a GT250R. The one thing you forgot to mention the turning radius sucks because your hands hit the plastic when you turn. It’ has it quirks but when you are sick of the “Big Four” and the way they ignore most markets Hyosung (now ATK) gives you decent options.

    Go Frank! I hope ATK gets Hyosung to finally build that dirtbike they have been teasing for 5 years.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Yeah, the GT250 was kind of a pain in the ass at low speed. Total opposite to the Cruiser.

  • Dumptruckfoxtrot

    The ATK Cruiser reminds me of a 4th gen Magna or some of the other performance cruisers that used to come out in the 90′s. It also suffers from some unfortunate styling choices just like the Magna and a few of the other cruisers did. I suppose it ain’t nothing some matte black couldn’t fix.

    It might lead people to actually buy V-Rods, I’m not sure if thats a good or bad thing though. All in all its nice to see that there is still an affordable cruiser being made that isn’t an overpriced pile of drek.

  • HammSammich

    I’m loving that they gave their cruiser the HD black/orange paint scheme…kind of a subtle raise of their middle finger, no?

  • BATMAN

    Walk the other way HD. The cruiser version here looks like a BAD example of a 70′s vintage cruiser. I have a hard time believing Harley would do something so stupid. WAIT, they GAVE Buell away, I guess I CAN see thim doing something like this…

    • Dan

      A year ago H-D had Buell and MV, check out the rags ,they all buzz about the inovation and advanced technology of these bikes. Harley is all about the way it was,everyone else is about the way it will be.All the youngsters that I know ride the rockets,they laugh at H-D. Hell, I’m old and ride the rockets. H-D, turn around look forward not back.

  • Myles

    I still don’t understand how anyone can honestly say they prefer forward controls with a straight face.

    Having said that, nothing that Harley does/could do surprises me – they aren’t dealing with rational people.

    • Dumptruckfoxtrot

      Motorcyclists aren’t generally rational people when it comes to their vehicle choice. Some people find it to be a comfortable position.

      I don’t really get it either, standard controls are comfortable to me and I like standing on pegs every now and then but I don’t know if there is a wrong answer when it comes to personal preference.

  • aristurtle

    It may be either good or bad for Harley (I know that’s a company that can fuck up anything) but I’ll tell you who this is terrible for: Hyosung. How the hell are they supposed to establish themselves as a credible motorcycle manufacturer if they keep letting other companies rebadge their product as a generic motorcycle? This isn’t the first time this happened, after all.

    • Myles

      Can be great for some companies. For example, let’s look at another Korean manufacturer – HTC. Now, they don’t build bikes (they build cell phones) – but look at where they came from, and look at where they are now.

      Less than a decade ago they built generic windows mobile devices that US cell providers branded and sold as their own. There was no HTC branding anywhere. Now they’re at the top of the smartphone game, with an extremely valuable brand. Solely speaking of smartphones, they have a stronger brand than either Nokia or Samsung. In my opinion the “brand” is built on the back of great products, if Hyosung makes reliable bikes the brand will grow regardless of branding.

      • BMW11GS

        I for one would be interested in research on how the fields of personal computing (“technology”) influence the world of durable good (e.g. motorcycles) manufacturing. Where HTC was able to become innovative and take advantage the fact that technology changes so frequently, unless your company (Microsoft v.s. Mac, if you will) is able to introduce revolutionary products every 12 months, you’re toast! Motorcycles and other durable goods don’t quite have as rapid obsolescence and therefore it is harder to compete with the big players. While economy of scale is important for both industries, it is a lot easier/cheaper to contract say, a transistor maker in Taiwan, than tool up a factory in Wisconsin for motorcycle production. Thus the barrier of market entry is far lower for the former, than it is for the latter.

        • Ryan

          They are much more similar then you would think.

          With technology, lots of stuff is repackaged. As much as they would love for you to believe there is a revolution every 12 months, there isn’t. The paint may be new, but the guts are probably pretty familiar.

          It’s really about the perception of new. A tweak here a tweak there produces more horsepower or a faster chip, and voila new! Nevermind that all they did was optimize some stuff.

          Chips don’t change that much. It’s really expensive to design a chip and have it produced. It’s analogous to engines. It normally takes 3-5 years, depending on the complexity of chip, to get on to shelves. Intel and AMD release stuff every couple of months, but they’ve been planning those releases for years. Even then most releases are upgrades to existing designs not new designs.

          Chips look instant because lots of people sell them. It’s like buying a motor from S&S versus building one yourself.

          The chassis and suspension could be compared to software. You can change it quicker then the engine and change the styling of it. It can also be a mish-mash of third party components and in-house stuff.

          I could go on, but I’ll stop.

      • Dan

        You know,that’s not a bad way to go, while in development and learning how to build your product use someone else’s name( you know how your name changes to you buddy’s when you are on the road)then when it works put your tag on it and then trash them.

  • Mike

    If HD dealers treated Buell, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the MoCo, like the redheaded stepchild, how will this Korean adoptee go down?

    This won’t end well.

  • Ken D

    Banking on these things as stepping stones to a Harley is a mistake. Young persons develop their own inclinations independent of the generation before them, and what you guys call metric cruisers offer their own thing with their own style. As you point out, the Hyosung Aquila (ATK to you guys) is its own bag of tricks, and after owning this I’d be far more inclined to step up to something like a Suzuki Boulevard than my uncle’s try-hard FlabBoy.

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    Hyosung just needs some good regional design talent. The underpinnings are there, but that cruiser is not styled for North America.

    • http://www.smartcycleshopper.com/author/doug-dalsing/ DougD

      Unfortunately, I believe it is styled for the U.S.: It’s chrom-y, gaudy, and looks like it weighs a million pounds.

  • Daniel

    This is the most sold custom bike in Spain, year 2010:

    http://www.daelim.es/5doc/1/daystar_gal-155-0.png

    http://www.daelim.es/5doc/1/blackplus-259-0.png

    It sold 976 units last year…the next custom is HD XL883 Iron, 825 units.

    Daelim is corean, same as hyosung, the Daystar 125 looks quite good, and it costs 1900eur. That HD XL883 Iron costs 7900eur.

    So, can a cheap corean bike be sold as an option for HD bikes to new bikers? I guess it can :)

    If ATK messed a bit with design, and quality of components, they would have both an option with more quality than standard hyosung, and better looking and appealing to potential HD buyers (and quite cheaper of course).

    Remember that their potential clients have to buy a hyonsung instead of a HD. Make that hyosung look less cheap, and they’ll sell well :)

  • Brook

    It sounds like Harley has too much floor space. They need to figure out a way to better utilize that space since they aren’t selling Harleys. They’re becoming the Wal Mart of the motorcycle world.

    • http://www.smartcycleshopper.com/author/doug-dalsing/ DougD

      I think that’s apparent whenever you set foot in an H-D dealership. The building footprints are just enormous!

  • Ben

    H-D still has the hipster market nailed! They should just rein them selves in a bit.

    I can think of at least a half dozen rich art school kids I’ve met who have a hard tailed 80s H-D for their first bike! Choppers are the new fixed gear!

    This could be the future for H-D. They should start mass producing pan head engines again. Under cut S&S and that shit would sell like hot cakes.

  • jason

    I think it is high time for H-D to go the way of Hummer. All dinosaurs have to die eventually and make room for more evolved species. They are the two wheel Buick/Oldsmobie of bikes. Ever se anyone UNDER 50 riding one?

    • Ryan

      Have you seen the new Buicks? They’re pretty nice.

      Funny thing about Hummer, they had a really good reputation outside of the US because they were very capable off-vehicles.

      H-D just needs to get back to being a general motorcycle company. If they would release a dirt bike/dual purpose or get serious about sportbikes, they could turn it around. For instance, the XR1200 is an interesting bike, compromised as it is.

      • Dan

        The key word here is “New” Buick, totally up to date with all the high tech farkles, if H-D set the trends Buick would still have a stovebolt 6 and a powerslide tranny.

  • Max Headroom

    Why would anyone go to a Harley dealer to buy an imported cruiser? Customers for Harleys want the Made In America, Screamin’ Eagle,BAD ASS, it-came-with-a-free-belt-buckle, real meal deal. If you want to buy an imported cruiser, buy a V-Star, Shadow or Vulcan – which are much better bikes for your basic cruiser buyer than a tarted up ‘ATK’. This has to be the dumbest idea I’ve come across in a long time.

  • Mattro

    the design of that cruiser is atrocious. it fits no genre well and utterly fails at defining its own. as a me-too cruiser, the bike looks awkward, cheap, and desperate. as a value product, it looks ostentatious and self-compensatory.

    in other words, if you’re looking to rip off a product, make yours identifiable with the object it emulates. if you’re trying to undercut a competitor (even on their own showroom floor) and appeal to bargain shoppers, make it look like you spent your budget on making a solid, well-designed product, not a hodgepodge of every frivolous, superfluous design element you could find.

  • http://www.ClevelandCycleWerks.com scottydigital

    HD is out of touch, and 2000cc motorcycles are going the way of Hummer. Excess is out. Economy is in. Look at what guys like Lowbrow Customs, Limpnickie Lot, Ryca, Moto-Matic Mopeds, my company CCW and many other’s our age are doing. These old men are out of touch. 3 Wheelers and Bagger………Really HD that is NOT the future of motorcycling. We started our own shit because these geezers do not understand what our generation of rider wants or needs. We have to do it ourselves. Sorry HD, missed the mark again.

    • LS650

      Here it is two years later, and Harley is selling just as many bikes.