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November 12, 2018 4:37 PM   Subscribe

How Harley Davidson's All-In Bet On Its Past Crippled Its Future, Erik Shilling

“My generation viewed Harleys as American fast, loud, muscle. We liked that stuff,” Gordon said. “[My students] view it as the tired old folks who screwed up America.”
posted by the man of twists and turns (163 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, Harley Davidson. The official vehicle of your dentist taking his second wife a Rolling Stones concert as an ostensible tenth anniversary present that is in fact entirely for him.
posted by sy at 4:48 PM on November 12 [129 favorites]


Interesting article but yeah, there doesn’t seem to be much mystery to me about why Harley isn’t doing so well - they make heavy, low performance motorcycles that are ludicrously expensive. In countries where people want to ride bikes on twisty roads, their geometry and low ground clearance makes that impractical (I got stuck behind some Harley riders in the Alps and their pegs were scraping the ground on every sharp corner). And the entire brand is based on nostalgia for the 50s and 60s, and not whatever the good parts of those decades were.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:54 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


The move from "ride or die" to "physically unable to ride or dying out entirely" seems to be going predictably.
posted by mhoye at 4:57 PM on November 12 [17 favorites]


I mean, even if you stick with the dentist-taking-second-wife-to-the-rolling-stones marques, for the same money you can get a Ducati Multistrada or a BMW GS - either of which will be an objectively much better bike and won’t oblige you to wear a bandana
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:57 PM on November 12 [23 favorites]


fast, loud, muscle
Well, one out of three ain't bad I suppose. And the LiveWire won't even be loud, though I'm still kinda interested to see how it turns out given that Harley're the first major manufacturer to try it. Zero's got a big tech head start, but well, zero brand awareness...
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 4:58 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


Make America Ride Motocycles Again
posted by glonous keming at 5:02 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


Harley needs a Japanese owner to improve the quality and lower the costs. Manufacturing and HQ can still be in the US.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:04 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Ive been mad at Harley Davidson for shoving their repulsive aesthetic in my face for my whole life and this article just makes me more mad. Having to know that they took a useful tool and re-branded it as an ugly toy for the obnoxious AND in doing so wrecked their own business. Ugh good riddance please.
posted by bleep at 5:05 PM on November 12 [48 favorites]


Harley singlehandedly ruined motorcycles for America. It's almost impossible to ride a motorcycle in this country without some large percentage of your fellow motorists just assuming you're an asshole, and Harley is most of the reason why.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:07 PM on November 12 [58 favorites]


81 years old and never yearned for a Harley. In recent years I have downgraded from a Yamaha R1, to an R6 and nowadays a lowly R3. All in deference to my age and wife.
posted by notreally at 5:08 PM on November 12 [50 favorites]


When Harley dies, may it be a harbinger of the end of the Baby Boomers' death grip on the planet.
posted by benzenedream at 5:09 PM on November 12 [46 favorites]


Harley singlehandedly ruined motorcycles for America. It's almost impossible to ride a motorcycle in this country without some large percentage of your fellow motorists just assuming you're an asshole, and Harley is most of the reason why.

It's not entirely on the company, and it's not just Harley owners. Every company sells bikes with functional mufflers, but a lot of people want them loud and pay extra to make them that way.

If the market crashes and used Harleys plummet in value maybe I'd consider looking at one, but right now I am in the demographic that finds them incredibly overpriced and uninteresting.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:14 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


My opinions on Harleys are informed by living and working in Sturgis for a few years and trying to do the same during the Rally and, well, not gonna shed a tear for the death of Harley Davidson.

Also, as someone idly interested in maybe getting a motorcycle in the spring, it's notable that even 30 year old Japanese bikes are a far more attractive option than any Harley for a first time buyer, and how many overpriced Harleys just sit there unsold on the used market. There's just no point of entry to riding Harleys without $$$ so it's no wonder there are few takers in the younger generations.
posted by jason_steakums at 5:16 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]


Sorta sounds like getting rid of Buell—a strong brand that was just beginning to find its feet, and with none of the H-D baggage, with exactly the outside-the-box engineering and they need now—wasn't ultimately a smart move.
posted by Sokka shot first at 5:16 PM on November 12 [14 favorites]


I suppose the more interesting question for me is what we Millennials will rush out to buy once we're financially secure (ahahahahaha), based on what we secretly thought was the epitome of cool in our youth.

So far I've come up with "fixed-gear bicycles" and "glaciers".
posted by chappell, ambrose at 5:16 PM on November 12 [99 favorites]


Harley needs a Japanese owner to improve the quality and lower the costs. Manufacturing and HQ can still be in the US.


So they take the American whiskey route? Well, it's worked out well for Four Roses and Jim Beam so far.
posted by codacorolla at 5:18 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


I suppose the more interesting question for me is what we Millennials will rush out to buy once we're financially secure (ahahahahaha), based on what we secretly thought was the epitome of cool in our youth.

Water and bullets.
posted by codacorolla at 5:19 PM on November 12 [51 favorites]


When I hear "Harley Davidson" it makes me cringe, remember that time a coworker told me she loved the movie "Wild Hogs".
posted by JamesBay at 5:25 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


So they take the American whiskey route?

Beam Suntory has transformed rye whisky in Canada. There are now some quasi-budget brands available that don't taste like butterscotch pudding.
posted by JamesBay at 5:27 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


When I hear "Harley Davidson" it makes me cringe, remember that time a coworker told me she loved the movie "Wild Hogs".

Uh, I also have a co-worker who recently told me she loves that movie.

Do we work together? I can't possibly believe there are TWO people who love Wild Hogs.
posted by phunniemee at 5:30 PM on November 12 [45 favorites]


What's unfortunate is that Harley Davidson actually HAS done a couple of truly novel and unusual things over the years, all of which were commercial failures... Buell was one of the brands that could have potentially done really well over the years if it was cared for, but they also had a couple of really unique and legitimately good new models under the HD brand that I'm convinced failed because they didn't fit the "lifestyle" branding, weren't actively marketed by the company, nor were they actively promoted or sold by the sales staff. They were also typically mocked by the HD base.

While motorcycles are DEFINITELY a niche, it's a niche that has space for an American manufacturer that wanted to do something DIFFERENT. If it was possible to do something like revive the Buell brand, take some of the bolder concepts that I KNOW they have had to that brand, and actually be priced sane - they could do well, as an American manufacturer making anything but "classic cruisers" is pretty much unheard of these days, but I'm pretty sure there is some demand for them. However, there's no future for the HD brand in anything that's actually new or contemporary.
posted by MysticMCJ at 5:30 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


Boomers are getting older, increasingly physically unable to ride or dying out entirely.

Good riddance. I say that as a tail end boomer... “Will you guys just fucking SHUT UUUUUP already?!!!
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:32 PM on November 12 [7 favorites]


All that being said, even with the more bold and contemporary things they HAVE done, they also have a reputation second only to old Triumphs for mechanical reliability, so I'm sure that doesn't help.

What do you call a Harley that doesn't leak oil? Empty.
posted by MysticMCJ at 5:36 PM on November 12 [13 favorites]


I mean, on one hand the late Xers and early Millenials that are just aging into the demographic have all their money tied up in school loans or housing and are running five to ten years behind their predecessors. And on the other hand (late Xer) I grew up idolizing things that were small, efficient, and well engineered from Asia: I'm shopping craigslist for a CRX or a Maxima, not the official vehicle of men who've given up and want to loudly protest that they haven't.
posted by wotsac at 5:43 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


Remember when Harley bought that performance sport bike manufacturer, then insisted that the sport bikes needed to use Harley engines?

Good times.
posted by ryanrs at 5:45 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Harley Davidson and other companies that seem to have once had a product but are now mainly a marketing company are kind of sad. I wonder if 20 years from now we'll be buying Nike dining room sets and Tesla bread.

“Hell, no,” Larry Allen, 66, and a Trump supporter, told me in Milwaukee. “Asking riders to boycott Harley was just foolish. When he opens his mouth I go, ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ sometimes.
See it's not just us who wonders.
posted by Mitheral at 5:45 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


It's almost impossible to ride a motorcycle in this country without some large percentage of your fellow motorists just assuming you're an asshole, and Harley is most of the reason why.

This Harley rider (who is only 54, not 55 as stated in the article, at least not for a few weeks) would like to point out that there are plenty of videos out there of sport bike riders doing all sorts of incredibly foolish things on the road. My personal observations tend to agree with that.

But I do agree that Wild Hogs was a terrible movie, at least the few parts I have seen.
posted by TedW at 5:47 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


I'd love to find something nice to say about guys who love Harleys, but...I got nothin'. They're pretty much the epicenter of everything that's wrong with that generation of white dudes.

I'm sure there's one Harley-riding, bandana-wearing, Steppenwolf-listening guy out there who's, like, woke as fuck. Sorry, woke Harley dude – I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the other 100,000 Harley dudes. Because they fucking suck.

What I'm trying to say is: Harley is dying because they're the official badass-cosplay brand of shitty old white guys, and shitty old white guys are dying off, and I'm not sad about either one.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:55 PM on November 12 [33 favorites]


there are plenty of videos out there of sport bike riders doing all sorts of incredibly foolish things on the road

I drive (a car) on 101 from the South Bay to San Francisco every day. My secret superhero ability is seeing lane-splitting motorcycles when they are still several cars back because I actually use my mirrors.

When I put a tire on the shoulder to give them a little extra room, roughly 75% of sport / naked / adventure riders give a little wave or thumbs up. Maybe 1 in 5 Harley riders do. Which is fine. But they are definitely riding with a different attitude.
posted by ryanrs at 5:58 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]


When I hear "Harley Davidson" it makes me cringe, remember that time a coworker told me she loved the movie "Wild Hogs".

I was on a transatlantic flight where the only entertainment was Wild Hogs. I watched five minutes and chose to spend the next two hours staring into space.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:02 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]


Only an American company would make a motorcycle that's totally unsuited to city life. I could potentially afford one but I don't hate my neighbors enough to want to subject them to the noise of starting one up and accelerating away.
posted by octothorpe at 6:07 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


I used to ride a Ducati (I still have it mothballed in the garage) and my husband and I wanted to ride motorcycles when we went to Hawaii in 2003. The only options for rent were scooters and Harleys. So I got a V Rod and he got a Fat Boy and we were supposed to trade at some point in the day and I kept "forgetting", because even though I was mad at the V Rod was for feeling like a waterbed in the gentle curves of the big island and I was riding faster toward the end of the day trying to get away from the annoying noise that was coming from the thing I was sitting on, I was pretty sure the Fat Boy would be worse.
posted by danielleh at 6:12 PM on November 12 [11 favorites]


Yeah, the end of Buell as an HD brand was pretty disappointing. The bikes were great to ride and they were finally beginning to get the engine right when they dropped the Rotax in some models. I loved my Buell and was really hoping they'd be able to keep it going after the split. Erik Buell just cared too much about making a good motorcycle for a company that wanted to sell t-shirts. I won't miss HD much when they go.
posted by calamari kid at 6:27 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Their very first Harley was pretty attractive! I'd almost consider that one if I wanted one of these newfangled bicycles with motors.
posted by asperity at 6:37 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


When I hear "Harley Davidson" it makes me cringe, remember that time a coworker told me she loved the movie "Wild Hogs".

Uh, I also have a co-worker who recently told me she loves that movie.

Do we work together? I can't possibly believe there are TWO people who love Wild Hogs.


There are at least 3-5 people who love Wild Hogs. One of the best weekends of my life was spent, in part, getting stoned and watching Wild Hogs with a cabin full of friends who suggested watching it semi-ironically. It is HI-LA-RI-OUS. I mean, apart from all the toxic masculinity and homophobia and materialism and etc., it is a truly great candidate for movie nights when everyone has already seen The Room, or Birdemic.
posted by witchen at 6:42 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]


Do we work together? I can't possibly believe there are TWO people who love Wild Hogs.

We all must work together, though my Wild Hog-loving coworker is a he.

Yeah, the end of Buell as an HD brand was pretty disappointing.

They had a couple of bikes that I really liked the look of at the time, though I never had the chance to ride one, and I think the company made a real mistake not keeping Buell going as a boutique side-brand where they could try out weird stuff.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:43 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I can’t be the only one who thinks of this song whenever they hear the words “Harley Davidson.”
posted by corey flood at 6:48 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


It’s always the guys with the “loud pipes save lives!” stickers who aren’t wearing potentially-life-saving helmets, because they’re afraid of messing up hair they haven’t had for decades.

The guys who don’t have the sticker might wear helmets and have hair, but they’re always going ten under the speed limit in the left lane.

I get it, Lyle from Revenue. You want attention. You can get the same noise for a fraction of the cost with a chunk of blue cheese, and I bet it’s more fun.
posted by armeowda at 6:49 PM on November 12 [14 favorites]


BMW R1150R. Harleys are too loud. Can't ride near 'em. Awful noise.
posted by parki at 6:52 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]


If I was Elon Musk I'd buy Harley-Davidson and turn it into an electric bicycle company.

Then I'd make all the electric bikes accelerate faster than a Harley, silently.

They'd also only come in one color: Hot pink.
posted by loquacious at 6:53 PM on November 12 [58 favorites]


Modern Harley is the American Football fan of vehicle aficionados. A little bit greasemonkey, a little bit TCB. I haven't seen Wild Hogs, but I've threatened myself that I might. To me it's a Bill Macy movie and that means I just gotta know how it is.

corey flood: I wasn't, but I knew exactly what that link was going to be!

What's that commercial, is it for Geico? People standing around a cubicle office and one says "I have a motorcycle" and a guy next to him sneers "Good for youuu." It's pretty good.
posted by rhizome at 6:53 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


My dad, never a motorcycle fan, bought a Harley a couple of years ago to fit in with my stepmother. I think he had that bike for about two years before selling it. Not sure she has hers still, either. And as a nurse that worked in transplants I was always a bit surprised she even had one in the first place...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 6:53 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


I would buy that pink electrobike loquacious.
posted by parki at 6:55 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


I can see retro styled electric motorcycles taking off with younger buyers, especially cafe racers, scramblers and classic euro-styled scooters. But not so much the chopper or cruiser style that's Harley's bread and butter, or the sleek futuristic look Harley's going for with the Livewire.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:59 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


SPOILERS –
Motorcycle fatality rate in U.S. by year (1975-2014)* [WP]
Motorcycle Deaths Down, But Still 28 Times More Frequent Than Other Fatal Crashes [Forbes May 3, 2018]. Note also link to following GHSA report.
Motorcyclist Fatalities by State: 2017 Preliminary Data [Governors Highway Safety Association]
*One of the more tragic consequences: “Motorcycle accidents were the leading non-combat cause of death for US service members.” [Claims Journal, December 4, 2013].
posted by cenoxo at 7:04 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]


Harley can be a profitable company at a tenth of it's current size. It can slim down it's product offerings, and focus on it's niche. Trying to be something it is not (electric H-D?!?!) will only dig the hole deeper. This is from someone who has ridden Japanese motorcycles for 20 years and will never, never own a Harley.
posted by gen at 7:12 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


Who wouldn't want to look like these guys?

I don't actually know if those are Harleys but those guys fit the image in my head of the typical rider exactly.
posted by octothorpe at 7:13 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Dip Flash: "It's not entirely on the company, and it's not just Harley owners. Every company sells bikes with functional mufflers, but a lot of people want them loud and pay extra to make them that way. "

Stock Harley mufflers are still like 85db at cruise; high enough I'd be required to wear hearing protection at work. There is no reason for the bikes to come out of manufacturing so loud besides bullshit branding.

TedW: "This Harley rider (who is only 54, not 55 as stated in the article, at least not for a few weeks) would like to point out that there are plenty of videos out there of sport bike riders doing all sorts of incredibly foolish things on the road. My personal observations tend to agree with that. "

While sport bike riders often ride like asshats they rarely do so in an intentionally antisocial manner IME. They are out there driving twisties and lightly loaded straights. There are a few of course who'll get out there and repeatedly race up and down a street but they seem to be in the minority. Whereas practically every Harley rider I see or know has semi or full straight pipes (for "safety" but none of them wear high vis).

asperity: "Their very first Harley was pretty attractive! I'd almost consider that one if I wanted one of these newfangled bicycles with motors."

I've often thought that. It's a shame no one makes a modern bike like it though I suppose there are an assortment of electrics similar.
posted by Mitheral at 7:14 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


Well, you can't talk about Harleys without mentioning The Wild One starring Marlon Brando. Brando, unfortunately was riding a Triumph Thunderbird, but his evil rival, Lee Marvin was on a Harley Ultra Glide.

Best Brando line from the movie:

Mildrid: What are you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddaya got?

Let's see -- yikes, that was 66 years ago!
posted by JackFlash at 7:17 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


While sport bike riders often ride like asshats they rarely do so in an intentionally antisocial manner IME. They are out there driving twisties and lightly loaded straights.

Well, except when they're doing this....
posted by notsnot at 7:22 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Whenever I'm tempted to sneer at 50-somethings trying to recapture some imagined glory days by putting a chunk of cash down for what is essentially second-rate hardware with a cool logo, I pick up my Fender® Telecaster®, crank up my Marshall® amp and and strum gently while pondering the whole people in glass houses deal.
posted by signal at 7:25 PM on November 12 [34 favorites]


...they make heavy, low performance motorcycles that are ludicrously expensive.

For a historic perspective, I will point out that that statement has accurate since at least as far back as the 1970s, when I worked in motorcycle repair, and when several foreign brands were faster, better handling, more reliable , and much, much cheaper.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:26 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


I would buy that pink electrobike loquacious.

Right? So would I. That's what makes it a genius chaotic evil idea. I could move a few hundred thousand of them just in ironic hipster sales alone, and then when all the old Harley fans figure out it'll do 0-60 in like 4 seconds without a drop of oil or a single braaaap a significant number of them will have stress induced myocardial infarctions caused by yelling at the TV.
posted by loquacious at 7:29 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]


Those are grim statistics. One of the things that I've read is that one reason for the rise in motorcycle fatalities in the mid-aughts is precisely that pattern of middle-aged baby boomers buying bikes that are way too powerful for them to control. Many of them apparently had a cheap, low-CC bike back in the day, and gave it up because of family and work responsibilities. Decades later, their kids went off to college and empty nest syndrome combined with a higher income and more time on their hands, and now they could afford the bike that they wanted when they had better reflexes and less brittle bones.

The thing is, I get the attraction. I wandered into a Harley dealership in Fargo in the early aughts, right around the time my marriage was coming apart, and I was awestruck not only by the bikes but also by the staggering array of accessories for the lifestyle. There was leather and more leather and leather accessories for the leather. You could put together a whole leather utility belt and be like a capeless Batman. And Fargo is a great place to contemplate just jumping on a bike and zooming away; North Dakota really is that flat. Then, luckily, I remembered that I was me, and that any late-thirties experiment with two-wheeled vehicles at highway speeds probably wouldn't end well. (Plus, of course, if I really wanted the leather stuff, there were places for that that didn't involve riding... motorcycles, that is.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:29 PM on November 12 [19 favorites]


I pick up my Fender® Telecaster®, crank up my Marshall® amp and and strum gently while pondering the whole people in glass houses deal.

What, are you too good for a Carvin? Man, you buy a new Fender and you kind of deserve to live in a glass house.

BTW, if you throw glass rocks at glasses houses, or glass houses at glass houses, where are we at on the metaphoric Cartesian co-ordinates or have we moved on to vectors or what?
posted by loquacious at 7:33 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I pick up my Fender® Telecaster®, crank up my Marshall® amp and and strum gently while pondering the whole people in glass houses deal

Sure, there's something to be said for those who are finally able to afford their dream gear (I like a Fender Twin Reverb myself), but it's this identity BS culture. Or maybe it's simply Americana which has been commodified as a whole, and that's why it seems like it's all BBQ Dads. It's a transverse cut across culture at, I don't know...a particular income level? Major league sports, backyard get togethers, beer, going out on the bike for 3 hours every other Sunday, having a favorite contest show and Police Investigation show. Motorcycles helped build all that. Evel Knievel dominated the Yuppies' college years, after all.
posted by rhizome at 7:34 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


(Plus, of course, if I really wanted the leather stuff, there were places for that that didn't involve riding... motorcycles, that is.)

Years and years ago, the long gone leather-worker over by the gay bar remarked that he did a LOT of work for police duty belts and other leather accessories for them. I miss you Ken...
posted by mikelieman at 7:38 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


How about some overpriced chrome ape hangers so you can’t even control it?
posted by Burhanistan at 7:46 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


I haven't ridden in 5 years, although I do have 45,000 miles of experience. I never wanted a Harley. I came to dislike them more and more because when I got started riding, back in 2003, I was looking at bikes, trying to find something small and sensible to start out on. But Harley had infected even the Japanese manufacturers. Go into a Honda dealership, and it's a sea of VTX1800s everywhere. Oh, need a starter bike? Hey, we have the VTX1300! Yamaha dealer was another sea of massive cruisers. Suzuki as well. I eventually found myself a Nighthawk 250 and while it wasn't the most powerful or comfortable thing, it was reliable as hell and got fantastic mileage. I rode the hell out of that thing, including 3 out of state four day trips. Then came the recession, and it reset the entire motorcycle market. People couldn't afford the huge expensive bikes anymore. Banks were stingy and homes suddenly had no equity. Nowadays, there's some really good looking options at several manufacturers (oh, I could see myself getting a Honda CBX500...) Used bikes are more reasonable than I've seen them since I started riding. Even Harley has smaller bikes now. But the days of $30,000 bikes rolling off the dealership lots in big numbers are gone.
posted by azpenguin at 7:49 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


I mean, on one hand the late Xers and early Millenials that are just aging into the demographic have all their money tied up in school loans or housing and are running five to ten years behind their predecessors

Being born in 1971, I think bicycles and lycra are what men my age buy, anyway. Or running shoes.
posted by JamesBay at 7:51 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


My gosh, a future where there's electric bicycles everywhere and Harley's are depassé.

You can never predict the future.
posted by alex_skazat at 7:56 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Seems like they’re two or three steps from being the first company the wholly transform themselves into a gigantic metaphor.
posted by Artw at 7:59 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


Hey, you know, an electric Harley might be kind of cool. You sure could pack a lot of batteries into that kind of a bike chassis and weight class, then you could just mount a subwoofer and oil can under the frame to make it go braaap and leak oil and the riding experience would be nearly identical.
posted by loquacious at 8:00 PM on November 12 [16 favorites]


Being born in 1971, I think bicycles and lycra are what men my age buy, anyway. Or running shoes.

That's the Gen X version of Dentist hobbies.
posted by rhizome at 8:05 PM on November 12 [8 favorites]


From the Jalopnik article, beating up the Boomers:
Harley’s longtime bread and butter has been Baby Boomers, those who grew up enamored with the outlaw image to the point that they were willing to spend $20,000 or more on the bikes and leather to live out that image. But the Boomers are getting older, increasingly physically unable to ride or dying out entirely. And Harley’s response—an electric bike called the LiveWire set to debut next year—isn’t so much of a Hail Mary as it is a capitulation. It also won’t be nearly enough.

“I think they have to completely reinvent the brand, and I don’t know if they can do it,” Erik Gordon, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, said. “The jokes are true. When I go down the freeway, I always look to see if this cliche about Harley riders is true. And the crazy thing is that it is true. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone under 55.

“My generation viewed Harleys as American fast, loud, muscle. We liked that stuff,” Gordon said. “[My students] view it as the tired old folks who screwed up America.”
That’s a visible cliche in the Rocky Mountain states I’ve lived in. Unfortunately, the temptation to speed down the ‘open road’ combined with wet/freezing weather, narrow two-lane rural highways, blind uphill/downhill curves, tree-lined soft shoulders, and wild animals throughout every mile only increase the likelihood of fatal motorcycle (and automobile) accidents for all.

By one cause or another, most Baby Boomers will die off in the next 10-15 years (along with unwarranted criticism of them). Unless their adult children and grandkids inherit their old bikes, Harley Davidson better remake their models and marketing for the younger, yet-unblemished generation of recreational bikers. Perhaps with less thrill, more chill safety, less noise, and less gas?
posted by cenoxo at 8:05 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


I suppose the more interesting question for me is what we Millennials will rush out to buy once we're financially secure (ahahahahaha), based on what we secretly thought was the epitome of cool in our youth.

Based on my old-millennials-with-tech-money cohort, it's pedal-assist electric bicycles, niche hobby gear that gets crowdfunded, synthesizers, DIY supplies, and gender affirming surgery. That last one probably doesn't generalize to other social circles, but one can dream...
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:18 PM on November 12 [12 favorites]


Several years ago, I was in a street market in Jakarta, where all variety of 'unlicensed' products were on sale: labels that read Gucci, Polo, Louis Vuitton, what have you, that probably had nothing to do with the trademark owners.

Some of the knockoffs were better-executed than others. I remember a large belt buckle with the familiar-looking motorcycle logo that read HARVEY DANIELSON.
posted by gimonca at 8:24 PM on November 12 [30 favorites]


I think I got my "Rulex" watch in that same market.
posted by aramaic at 8:28 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


I suppose the more interesting question for me is what we Millennials will rush out to buy once we're financially secure

- food
- shelter
- health insurance
posted by poffin boffin at 8:33 PM on November 12 [42 favorites]


I can’t be the only one who thinks of this song whenever they hear the words “Harley Davidson.”

What? I had no idea there was a cover. It was never one of Serge's best. Probably because by the time Serge Gainsbourg wrote it, Harleys were already a cliche.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:40 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


There has got to be serious overlap of the Venn diagrams for people who identify with the Road Runner over Wile E Cayote and Harley customers.
posted by St. Oops at 8:43 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


the end of the Baby Boomers' death grip on the planet

Once again, we aren't all alike nor are we universally awful (e.g., Bernie Sanders is one of us)—you might even miss some of us when we're gone.

Anyway, concerning this particular thread, my people favored the "Limey" bikes.
posted by she's not there at 8:55 PM on November 12 [7 favorites]


So will somebody explain to me the loping idle of the Harley? Is it a deliberately mistuned engine?
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:56 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


There has got to be serious overlap of the Venn diagrams for people who identify with the Road Runner over Wile E Cayote and Harley customers.

Baby Boomers identify with the Road Runner, Generation Xers identify with the Coyote. (Millennials weren't yet in college when this article was published in the Washington Post.)
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:00 PM on November 12 [6 favorites]


when all the old Harley fans figure out it'll do 0-60 in like 4 seconds without a drop of oil

4 secs? I thought you were going to make it faster than a Harley, heh.

A good 0-60 time for a fast not-Harley motorcycle is probably under 2.8. The fastest normal, stock sport bikes are around 2.6. Hitting 2.5 or lower requires significant geometry changes, notably a longer swing arm, which makes the bike slower to turn. You end up with something like a Hayabusa, which is great on the highway, but less good on the twisties or the track.

Electricity is not going to improve bike 0-60 times like Tesla did with their cars. Most riders don't even judge a bike's "speed" by that metric. It's just not a very relevant stat for a fast bike.
posted by ryanrs at 9:00 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


I remember being annoyed when the Veyron was released because my 600cc commuter bike was no longer "faster than any production car in 0-60."
posted by ryanrs at 9:05 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


At 44, I am finally at a financial point where I could probably afford a Harley, if I forgot about things like possibly somehow buying a house or blowing off that whole "retirement" notion. I haven't had a bike in 16 years.

The only takeaway I have from all this is how I really miss the Honda Shadow I owned when I lived in LA, but now I live in Seattle and this place seems terrible for owning a bike. Somehow going for a Harley never even occurs to me anymore.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:20 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


pedal-assist electric bicycles, niche hobby gear that gets crowdfunded, synthesizers, DIY supplies

I feel extremely seen.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 9:27 PM on November 12 [9 favorites]


At 44, I am finally at a financial point where I could probably afford a Harley, if I forgot about things like possibly somehow buying a house or blowing off that whole "retirement" notion. I haven't had a bike in 16 years.

This is 51 years old calling from the future. You're not thinking about them now, but don't forget your knees. Enjoy them while they last.
posted by mikelieman at 9:33 PM on November 12 [10 favorites]




There's a Harley shop near me that pipes MOR 60's and 70's rock onto the footpath outside 24 hours a day. Walking past and looking in reminds me of nothing more than unhealthy, over-masculine, man-children whose answer to not getting on with their wives was to blow a heap of money on a shit motorbike. (Know them, worked with them, bought the t-shirt. It's a cliche for a reason.) The music means I can't even successfully ignore the place. They can't go broke fast enough.
posted by deadwax at 10:15 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


I always think about that middle-aged dude pulling out of a gas station on I80 in WY, with a camo doo-rag instead of a helmet, open-carrying a brand-new polished Colt pistol with a walnut grip, blasting Pantera, with Texas plates on a great big motorcycle. I'll leave it to the reader to guess the make of said vehicle.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:33 PM on November 12 [10 favorites]


Some years ago I was out hiking in a redwood forest. As I neared the top of the mountain it was so quiet all I could hear was the slight breeze moving through the trees, the sound of my footsteps, distant birds singing... And then in, so far off I couldn't even see him (probably a him), some asshole's Harley roaring down the road.

I never liked Harleys. They seemed overpriced, under performing, huge symbols of "look at me!"

Later on I had a friend who loved riding Harleys with his friends. It was his main hobby. He was a good guy. I confess that the image of the bikes made me prejudiced against their riders until my friend made me reconsider. He just really loved riding the things.

One night he died in his sleep unexpectedly. A couple of years later I got a chance to go on an organized Harley ride with a rented bike and gear. I did the ride, somewhat in my friend's memory and somewhat just for the experience in general. Who was I to judge Harleys when I'd never ridden one?

It'd been more than a couple of decades since I'd been on a motorcycle, and the Harley's engine was about twice what I was used to. The shifting was awkward, and the foot brake position was even more so (I developed a giant blister on my heel). The bike was huge and ungainly, it didn't handle, the seating position was uncomfortable, the thing stalled and refused to start (couldn't get it back in neutral for some reason), and I could complain about it endlessly.

But everyone else on the ride seemed to love the things and had a great time.

Will the electric Harley save the company? Maybe. From the article it sounds like they need to get it featured in a popular Hollywood movie.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:36 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


When I hear "Harley Davidson" it makes me cringe, remember that time a coworker told me she loved the movie "Wild Hogs".

When I registered my motorcycle in Oregon I had to go to the DMV so they could verify my VIN. The guy who helped me recommended "Wild Hogs" to me. I now know enough about it to not watch it.
posted by bendy at 10:46 PM on November 12 [3 favorites]


The repeated mentions in this thread piqued my interest, and the 14/100 rating on rotten tomatoes sealed the deal. I'm downloading it now.
posted by ryanrs at 10:54 PM on November 12 [19 favorites]


I'm downloading it now.

Please report back..
posted by bendy at 10:56 PM on November 12 [4 favorites]


This Harley rider (who is only 54, not 55 as stated in the article, at least not for a few weeks) would like to point out that there are plenty of videos out there of sport bike riders doing all sorts of incredibly foolish things on the road. My personal observations tend to agree with that. 

Sport biker riders are just doing stupid things mostly dangerous to them. Harley riders have this image of being scary gang members.

Especially since I read about Bikers Against Bullies I can't stereotype them.
posted by bendy at 11:04 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]


HD's home page touts their slogan "FREE[ER] TO DISCOVER, ALL FOR FREEDOM. FREEDOM FOR ALL.®". At their prices ($6,899 to $43,889), this brings to mind a Cold War joke: "In Soviet Russia, everything is free, but nothing is permitted. In America, everything is permitted, but nothing is free."
posted by cenoxo at 11:33 PM on November 12 [5 favorites]


The meat of their market is probably $10-20k bikes, same as BMW. That price range is fine (setting aside the fact that the bikes are crap, heh).
posted by ryanrs at 11:46 PM on November 12 [1 favorite]




Sure, there's something to be said for those who are finally able to afford their dream gear


At this point, my dream gear is finally completing the rest of the set of Oneida Michelangelo flatware I inherited from my Mom. Those damn spoons are expensive!

As for motorcycles, every year I get the notion to downgrade my primary mode of transportation to a motorcycle. It’s cheaper on gas! It’s more maneuverable! If only it had three wheels for more stability...hey, I’ll get a trike! Oh, and it really needs a canopy to keep off the rain. And the canopy should probably be enclosed for climate control in the winter and summer. And a bigger cargo space for shopping. And...and...and soon I’m back to basically deciding what I really want is my old Jeep Cherokee Sport back.

As for Harleys, my next door neighbor has one. He bought it used for about 4K from a guy that didn’t want it anymore and couldn’t find a buyer to give him any more for it. He rides it about two days out of seven, and works on it on his patio for another day out of seven.

It is a hella obnoxious bike to have living nearby. But I’m friends with my neighbors. Plus, I’m counting on their support in the coming apocalypse, when the gas shortages will mean the Harley won’t be an issue anymore.
posted by darkstar at 12:42 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


It is a hella obnoxious bike to have living nearby

There's some guy with one who drives past where I live at all hours... really appreciate him waking me up.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 1:33 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


In 25 years we'll be having this same conversation, replacing the brand "Harley Davidson" with the brand "Apple Computer".
posted by chavenet at 1:42 AM on November 13 [13 favorites]


From above - There has got to be serious overlap of the Venn diagrams for people who identify with the Road Runner over Wile E Coyote and Harley customers.

Baby Boomers identify with the Road Runner, Generation Xers identify with the Coyote. (Millennials weren't yet in college when this article was published in the Washington Post.)


Never occurred to me that anyone identified with Wile E Coyote. I just assumed he's the universal "other". I truly hope the Gen Xers in the WaPo weren't typical. I worry about what become of young folks who identify with that coyote.

Not sure exactly how this relates to Harleys. If it doesn't, I expect to be flagged and deleted. That's OK - it's all good.
posted by she's not there at 3:23 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


Every company sells bikes with functional mufflers, but a lot of people want them loud and pay extra to make them that way.

This lines up with something I heard, maybe someone can confirm it, that Harleys come off the line relatively quiet, just like other bikes, but that folks pay good money to make them freakishly loud, because Harleys, that's why.

I would think that the gentle hum of an electronic bike would be heaven compared to that.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 3:43 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Harleys are a distillation of white privilege. The quintessential experience: a loud, obnoxious, wasteful, underperforming pile of overpriced garbage taking up too much space and making the world around it worse for its very existence. And it’s a fun thing to do with your buddies.

The bikes suck, but that said, not all hog riders are assholes — like not all old white dudes are assholes — but there’s a huge overlap in the Venn diagram.

Nevertheless we are all on the road together against the omnipresent threat of the caged idiots who thoughtlessly murder us then shrug with a “smidsy.” So I salute to every rider, traffic permitting, because we look out for our own, no matter how misguided.

(I ride a NC750D and a SH150, which are tidy, efficient, quiet machines.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:44 AM on November 13 [7 favorites]


So will somebody explain to me the loping idle of the Harley? Is it a deliberately mistuned engine?

The engines are 4-stroke V-twins, with cylinders canted at 45 degrees to each other. There's no way to get a smooth idle out of that configuration. The sound is often described as "potato-potato-potato." Pretty sexy, huh?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:50 AM on November 13 [7 favorites]


Baby Boomers identify with the Road Runner, Generation Xers identify with the Coyote.

Late gen-xer/early millennial here, and I loathe the roadrunner. Smartass taunting piece of shit. All the coyote wants is a decent meal. It’s a coyote ffs, it needs to eat the roadrunner if it’s gonna live! The poor thing has been chasing that roadrunner for decades now, it must be absolutely starving.

Also on my shit list : Tweety Bird. Oh man how I hate me some tweety bird. Another smartass taunting piece of shit. You just want to see Sylvester take a big old bite out of its bulbous, apple-shaped head. Make the damn thing shut up at the very least.
posted by panama joe at 3:50 AM on November 13 [44 favorites]


As for motorcycles? Don’t get ‘em. So far as I can see, they’re the official vehicle of Traumatic Brain Injury And Having Other People Take Care Of You For The Rest Of Your Life. It seems like most people who’ve ridden motorcycles ultimately stopped riding them, oftentimes because they were in some sort of accident that could have been a lot worse.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, if other people wanna ride them, that’s fine. I just don’t get the motivation.

No hate for Harleys or their riders, really. I mean, the loudness is a thing. Much hate for anyone who rides those things around the city where the sound echoes off the buildings. But suburban dads wanna have fun on the weekends? Who fucking cares. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim...
posted by panama joe at 3:57 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


The oldest millennial here, and holy shit I can’t imagine identifying with the fucking road runner? Like everything always just works out for you with your unearned invulnerability while you barely notice the coyote careening down the cliff or whatever?

Panamajoe is right about Tweety Bird, too. Taunts you while getting the authorities to fuck you up while pretending to be vulnerable and scared? Just the worst.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:58 AM on November 13 [26 favorites]


There is something inherently self-defeating in trying to market a product as being for outlaw countercultural rebels and then pricing it at upper-middle-class-and-up.
posted by Xiphias Gladius at 4:29 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


I don't know shit about motorcycles, but I live in a city, on a hill above one of the few straight, wide stretches of road in town and FUCK OFF WITH THAT ANTISOCIAL LOUD ASS DEATH MACHINE. Holy shit why is anyone allowed to drive these things around where people, like, live?

A few years ago I was at Target, where the parking lot is semi-enclosed underneath the store. I was walking to the car with my three-year-old son when in roars 3 Harleys, purposefully revving their engines as high as possible in an enclosed concrete space filled with children. They parked IN THE ACCESSIBLE PARKING and sat there revving for another minute just to be good and sure that everyone knew that some colossal dicks had arrived, children are screaming and crying, parents are panicking trying to cover their kids' ears and that's when I knew that Unimaginable Assholes are a large enough constituency that Trump had a shot of winning. (I left a yelly note on their bikes when they went into the store, which I know probably just made them laugh and pat each other on the back for a job well done, but it made me feel better.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:46 AM on November 13 [12 favorites]


There is something inherently self-defeating in trying to market a product as being for outlaw countercultural rebels and then pricing it at upper-middle-class-and-up.

It markets itself, though. The company is just milking it; everything else is focus groups and creative proposals.
posted by rhizome at 5:08 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


pedal-assist electric bicycles, niche hobby gear that gets crowdfunded, synthesizers, DIY supplies

... and protein from the sea!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:18 AM on November 13 [13 favorites]


I also do not know shit about motorcycles, but I have a friend who works in medicine who once told me they're often referred to as "widowmakers" in those circles. The same guy had one of his own (not a Harley, something flashy and red) when he was in his early to mid-'20s, and got rid of it after a couple of close calls disabused him of the notion that he was immortal.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:42 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Will the electric Harley save the company? Maybe. From the article it sounds like they need to get it featured in a popular Hollywood movie.

Oh they're on that tactic already. The prototypes were built to be ScarJo's bike in one of the Avengers movies.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:49 AM on November 13


> Harleys are a distillation of white privilege.

There are a couple black motorcycle gang clubhouses in my town. We shared the highway with a dozen riders from one of them recently up in northern Virginia. Which is not to disabuse the majority stereotype of Harley riders, but I’d be cautious of how you’re swinging that paint brush.
posted by ardgedee at 5:57 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


This lines up with something I heard, maybe someone can confirm it, that Harleys come off the line relatively quiet, just like other bikes, but that folks pay good money to make them freakishly loud, because Harleys, that's why.

The company builds them to comply with federal noise limits (so, louder than a car, but not obscene). People want them loud (for whatever reason -- they believe the myth that less muffling means more power, they get off on being an asshole, they want to relive their favorite movie scenes...) so either the dealer puts on an aftermarket exhaust system as part of the sales package, or the person does it themselves as an "upgrade." It's generally illegal to modify an exhaust system to make it noisier, but obviously that is completely unenforced.

The company is aware that the public dislikes overly-loud bikes, and has made at least minor efforts to reduce the problem:
So strong is the outcry that the President and COO of Harley-Davidson, Jim McCaslin, posted a message on the company’s website in 2009 imploring bikers to not modify their bikes to make them louder. While loud, powerful sounding engines on Harleys in the past have been something of a selling point, McCaslin noted the backlash over the noise today is beginning to cause problems. He further implied that unless bikers piped down, regulations and laws would continue to be put in place until Harley-Davidson could no longer sell its loud motorcycles and the bikes already on the road might ultimately be banned completely.

McCaslin also directly addressed the custom of modifying the exhaust to get more power:

Testing has proven that straight pipes do not necessary outperform pipes with lower noise levels. Pick the wrong pipes and you can severely reduce your horsepower and/or your torque. And while you’re doing it, you’ll awaken the sleeping giant of social concern that lives next door to all of us.

Harley-Davidson has also taken steps to eliminate the modifications by no longer shipping racing exhaust systems that can work on street models to dealers.
(source)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:20 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Generation Xers identify with the Coyote

It's the tornado pills.
posted by gimonca at 6:23 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


That fucking 115th anniversary festival. A full week of anxiety amped up to a million because of loud noise startling me 100 times a day, and it was like everywhere in the city and suburbs. I literally hid inside my apartment every minute that I wasn't working. Good riddance to a bunch of loud old assholes.
posted by augustimagination at 6:43 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


They want them loud so the homicidal fuckers in the cars can hear them.

Also: does the Acme Corporation not sell food? The Coyote has enough money or credit to afford homing missiles but not MREs? No, both he and the Road Runner are suspect, as is anyone choosing to run at top speed or assemble giant magnets in the desert.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:59 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


“widowmakers"

I’ve heard “organ banks”
posted by schadenfrau at 7:01 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


There's some guy with one who drives past where I live at all hours... really appreciate him waking me up.

god for one fucking endless horrible year there was a guy living next door who would sit on his bike for a full 30 minutes every time he was going for a ride, just sit there revving the engine as loud as humanly possible. why? to "warm up the engine"? it's 104 degrees in july. do not tell me these lies. idk why he didn't just buy a vibrator and scream aloud while using it since obvsly his goal was noisy genital excitement but he either moved or died and the results are the same: silence. dog bless.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:04 AM on November 13 [7 favorites]


In any age, Wile E. Coyote should have been in product development/quality control. He attracts technical problems like a magnet.
posted by cenoxo at 7:06 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


I’ve heard “organ banks”

"donor cycle"

I gotta say, most of the obnoxious bikers in my neighborhood ride sport bikes that are like 85dB at 8,000 rpm down the 30-40mph roads. I watched a dude do a block-long wheelie down the center line in rush hour traffic once. The sport bike guys, around here, are 100% worse than the Harley riders, who are mostly just rumbling around on their way to the urologist or whatever.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:08 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


"Loud pipes save lives" is nonsense from an actuarial perspective, and actively makes the hobby less acceptable to everyone else on and off the road. There's no insurance benefit accrued to bikes that are louder v those that are quieter. The only safe(r) way to ride your bike is to stay as far away from larger vehicles as possible. I see so many riders scooting around the highway like they're in their daily-driver SUV and they're one distracted driver's heartbeat away from squid-dom. (Squid, because that's what your guts look like smeared across the highway.)

If you want to be not dead, keep at least a bus worth of space around yourself at all times, and if you can't because traffic is too dense, or the drivers are too shitty, take a break, get a coffee, just wait it out or find another route. Riding is so much more enjoyable than driving, but we are only on the road at the inconvenience of the cagers and it ain't worth your life.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:12 AM on November 13 [8 favorites]


They want them loud so the homicidal fuckers in the cars can hear them.

On my 25mph residential street? No. Look, I live near downtown Milwaukee and across the street from a middle school - there are sirens and city noises and kids yelling pretty much at all times around my apartment. I can deal with those - motorcycle noise is on a completely different level and is totally unnecessary and entirely about showing off. If it were actually about safety, I'd expect to actually see riders like... I don't know, wearing helmets? Driving even remotely near the speed limit? Not engaging with my (small, being driving by a woman) car on the highway as if we're playing some sort of playground intimidation game? Sorry, I don't buy it.
posted by augustimagination at 7:13 AM on November 13 [14 favorites]


god for one fucking endless horrible year there was a guy living next door who would sit on his bike for a full 30 minutes every time he was going for a ride, just sit there revving the engine as loud as humanly possible.


When my son was an infant, we lived two doors down from a dude who liked to do this. Not for 30 minutes, but even 10 minutes of this is "well, I guess my child isn't going to nap today after all" territory.

I gotta say, most of the obnoxious bikers in my neighborhood ride sport bikes that are like 85dB at 8,000 rpm down the 30-40mph roads.

Yes, fuck these people too. Though I see this a whole lot less than I see... er, hear the Harleys and the douches in cars modded to be just as loud. We're trying to have a society here.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:16 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


lol no. there is literally no possible legitimate purpose to having a bike so loud that the sound of it passing sets off car alarms like a fucking earthquake does and anyone arguing that there is in fact a legitimate purpose is as ridiculous as the loud riders themselves.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:17 AM on November 13 [11 favorites]


Stephen Fry did a riff about a doctor who looked out at a rainy sky and assured his patient that some new donor material would be in shortly.

(sorry, top gear, I know)

From my childhood, I mostly remember my mother being extremely irritated with the loud Trail of Tears Harley riders. What's this, you say? A Trail of Tears commemoration in AL? Yeah, it's...complicated. In my experience, the riders seem to be more interested in it as a modern event than a historical one. But I guess you could argue that any acknowledgment of wrongs against marginalized peoples in AL is something good? I remember it was very noisy.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:18 AM on November 13


Harley Dads/dudes remind me of the Jimmy Buffett Parrotheads - it's all the same sad middle-age noise.
posted by bwvol at 7:26 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


"Loud pipes save lives" is nonsense from an actuarial perspective

Here's my real world experience. My second bike (Shadow 750) was extremely loud when I bought it, because the previous owner decided that they were going to remove the baffles from the aftermarket exhaust. I got new baffles ordered but they took a while to come in, and I needed the bike for transportation, so I rode it a while. My first bike (Nighthawk 250) was extremely quiet. The loud pipes? Not one bit safer. In fact, I ended up having to dodge more errant drivers on the Shadow. Visibility is where it's at. I couldn't ride the bike long distances because the noise was too much; when the baffles arrived, I put them in right away, and the bike was so much quieter. I was riding around grinning like an idiot after that.
posted by azpenguin at 7:44 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


They want them loud so the homicidal fuckers in the cars can hear them.

The Doppler effect disagrees.
posted by panama joe at 7:45 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


I own a Harley.


I have ridden for over 35 years, logged more than... hell, I have no idea. My last bike had 78,000 on it before I traded it in. I would say I average around what a normal driver does, as I do not own a car. Maybe close to 750,000 miles, total? Anyway, all of that except for the shitty miles on my Harley were experienced on Yamahas an Hondas. No loud pipes. No extra things except for saddlebags. I need those.

Yamaha makes a damn good bike these days, and the days of "You can't beat a Honda" are gone - they still make good bikes, though. Consumer Reports placed Yamaha WAY at the top, and Harley? At the bottom. Below every single Japanese competitor. And I knew this - I never liked Harleys, never wanted one because of the "I own a harley, I'm a fuckin 1%er, dude" attitude. But my last bike was a Raider SCL ( 1900cc, huge engine that is the second largest engine mass produced for a motorcycle in the world) and only 500 are made each, year, and the chrome on that fucker took hours to polish - and I am a daily rider. I have no time for that shit. I only bought that Yamaha because it was last year's model, and no one had bought it - and it was #187 off of the line out of 500 made... which is California code for Murder/Death/Kill or something, and I found that to be hilarious.

So I visited different dealers, looked around, asked for the bike with the lowest amount of bling that I could take to a car wash and say fuck it, and the Harley dealership offered me the lowest interest rate, lowest price comparatively ( $11,500 out the door, last year's model that never sold) and so I hated myself.... but I bought it. Harley riders have claimed that their reliability is the same or superior to Japanese bikes for decades... and I know it isn't true.. but still. I bought it. A Street Bob.

a year and a half later... three batteries, Three thorough and exhaustive searches for a mystery electrical drain, a fucking oil leak , three headlight replacements, four attempts to straighten the back wheel so that the belt doesn't whine like a coyote being strangled at highway speeds or try to figure out just what the hell is causing the belt to rub in the first place, and here I sit...

At work, staring out the window at a borrowed Mazda sedan, wondering why that piece of shit in my driveway at home would not crank at 32 degrees. Two mornings in a row. At all. No turnover. Sure, it's fucking cold, but I have ridden in a lot colder weather for years on Yamaha and Honda motorcycles. Not ONCE did I ever experience a bike that would not crank, even at temps in the single digits. And I kick myself for even wondering why, since last year it did the same thing at 40 degrees. The dealership replaced the battery again and said "that's what the plug is for that hangs below your seat. A trickle charger. You should be plugging it up every night, regardless of the weather."

I got off the phone with the dealer yesterday and they told me "Bring it in, we can get you a new battery. No problem. Don't forget to use your trickle charger though! It's cold!"

God damn Harley and their god damn bikes and their god damn fans and their god damn god damns in their god damn damns.
posted by bradth27 at 7:46 AM on November 13 [23 favorites]


I'm an old tail end boomer, I ride 2 wheeled thunder. I like the nostalgia connected with my machine. Mostly, though other people look at me and laugh, my motorized ride of choice is a 2007 Vespa. I love my vespa, like harley they're happy to sell lifestyle nostalgia, though they'll also happily sell any flavor of scooter you like. Also, like harley, I've heard bad stories about constant maintenance, though mine seems pretty low maintenance to me. The 2 things I most love about it, plenty of room to haul my groceries, and lots of wide metal spaces to personalize. I'm currently running a tentacle theme.
posted by evilDoug at 8:16 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


Gen-Xers identify with the Coyote since he was just trying to do his job and was endlessly thwarted/demolished by a giant, faceless corporation. A window into what was to come.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:30 AM on November 13 [20 favorites]


I'm a car person. I don't know bikes, so I can't say what type of bike my neighbour has, except it's really, really ugly. (I'm not the type of person to believe all bikes are ugly. Some can be quite attractive.) I doubt it's a Harley. It doesn't have quite the right aesthetic that I have in my head that matches with Harley. Plus, this guy tends to cycle through German cars with a disturbing frequency, so it's probably a BMW (plus it's white and black). Given all that, I probably shouldn't complain about him in this thread, but that's not going to stop me.

Yesterday, the guy acquired one of those restaurant patio space heaters. You know those big, tall propane-powered (I think) obelisks. He put it on the corner of his driveway, near the garage. Normally, this should be none of my business, but the problem is, this guy (who lives across the street from me and one house down) likes to pretend that he's some macho biker dude.

He sits in his driveway revving his stupid bike up (often while blaring music). His bike is so loud that it rattles my windows and there are times you can feel the floor vibrate. He'll eventually (after 15 minutes or so) take off, run his errand or go out for a ride, but they're never long trips and within 30 to 45 minutes he's back again. You can hear him coming from two streets over. And once he's back home, he sits there revving his stupid bike again for another ten minutes or so, all while his music is blaring again. This isn't a once a day thing either. It's a three or four times a day occurrence. (I work from home, so it's not that I'm keeping tabs on him.) He also has enough friends or buddies stopping by that he often entertains them in his driveway, showing off his bike by just having it running and revving it up for them.

So even with all that heat from the engine, apparently this poor, sensitive delicate dude is still too cold to sit outside in the natural elements long enough to do whatever it is he has to do while his bike is warming up or cooling down or being shown off. He has do do his little routine in a warm heated space. Maybe he's trying to extend the cycling season into the winter. I have no idea, but I'm not happy about his latest acquisition.
posted by sardonyx at 8:32 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


I worry about what become of young folks who identify with that coyote.

Supposedly it was part of Chuck Jones and co.'s internal guidelines for the shorts that "audience sympathy must remain with the Coyote."
posted by atoxyl at 8:38 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


This isn't a once a day thing either. It's a three or four times a day occurrence.

I think under common law you’re allowed to take the bike and chuck it off a cliff
posted by schadenfrau at 8:59 AM on November 13 [9 favorites]


But then the WB crew bear as much responsibility as anyone for muddying the waters, because they cast the Coyote as a supercilious antagonist to Bugs Bunny. So if you think of him primarily as "Wile E. Coyote, Supah Genius" I can't tell you you're wrong.
posted by atoxyl at 9:07 AM on November 13


Harvey Kilobit: "There has got to be serious overlap of the Venn diagrams for people who identify with the Road Runner over Wile E Cayote and Harley customers.

Baby Boomers identify with the Road Runner, Generation Xers identify with the Coyote. (Millennials weren't yet in college when this article was published in the Washington Post.)
"

Meeplennials
posted by chavenet at 9:30 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


This thread got me, a Rush fan, nervous. So I had to check. Neil Peart prefers the BMW GS. Whew.

Also, I am a baby boomer and I always identified with the Coyote.
posted by Ber at 9:34 AM on November 13 [3 favorites]


I identified with the Acme Corporation.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:44 AM on November 13 [13 favorites]


I really wish that "loud pipes are safer" idea would die very quietly. It's bullshit, and it's the aural equivalent of rolling coal. Roar bikes are even worse than boom cars, and easier to create.

If anyone anywhere has any objective evidence that loud bikes are safer, I haven't seen it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:47 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


I'm honestly a bit surprised by the idea that loud pipes don't help.

I've never touched a motorcycle, and in that sense don't have a dog in this fight. But as a car driver who doesn't want to hurt people, I'm often grateful for loud bikes — pretty often I find myself thinking "Oh, thank goodness I heard you, because I definitely did not see you." And as a bicyclist who doesn't want to get hurt, I'm grateful for any way to make myself more noticeable to the car drivers around me, who are usually dealing with a bunch of distractions. If there was such a thing as "loud pipes" for a bicycle, I'd get them in a heartbeat.

If the evidence really shows that they're not helpful, I'll listen to the evidence — I'll just be surprised by it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:36 AM on November 13


Also: does the Acme Corporation not sell food? The Coyote has enough money or credit to afford homing missiles but not MREs?

He’s part of an ecosystem, dude.
posted by Artw at 10:43 AM on November 13 [4 favorites]


she's not there: "
Never occurred to me that anyone identified with Wile E Coyote. I just assumed he's the universal "other". I truly hope the Gen Xers in the WaPo weren't typical.
"

We've discussed this article many times here; the article genXers aren't atypical.
posted by Mitheral at 10:49 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


"Oh, thank goodness I heard you, because I definitely did not see you."
The sound mostly goes behind the bike, so you'll mostly have this thought as you see them pass you. I've ridden loud bikes (once had to ride home with the exhaust can hanging off) and quiet bikes (my old V-Strom 650 was surprisingly quiet, and I even test rode a couple of Zeros; the FXS is a crazy wheelie monster if anyone's interested). No noticeable difference in driver behaviour. They get the same surprised look on their face as you pass them whether you make a noise or not. Did have a couple of pedestrians step out in front of me on the Suzuki though.

I have a Street Triple in the garage now (a medium size, medium loud bike), but I barely ride any more.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 10:51 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


The sound mostly goes behind the bike, so you'll mostly have this thought as you see them pass you.

Mostly. But there's one specific counter-example I hear all the time on my commute: bikers lane-splitting through stop-and-go freeway traffic using RRRM-RRRM revving noises as a "hey, bike coming through" warning.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:05 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


Because they took off the horn for better performance?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:16 AM on November 13 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly a bit surprised by the idea that loud pipes don't help.

The pipes are pointed the wrong way for that. "It's safer!" is just a lie to deflect complaints.
posted by ryanrs at 11:45 AM on November 13 [6 favorites]


I know it's extremely petty of me but every time I see a "loud pipes save lives" sticker, I can't help but think "well, if it's a matter of life and death, might I recommend instead a unibody frame, side impact pillars, and crumple zones?"
posted by mhum at 1:05 PM on November 13 [13 favorites]


I love my BMW R1100S (my second BMW), they're priced similarly to Harleys but BMW engineers seem to spend more time actually engineering. Quirky as hell, of course, in that "we know what's right and you don't" way, but reliable and comfortable on long rides.
posted by tommasz at 1:43 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


People with hearing impairments can drive. People with vision impairments can’t. An ambulance has a loud siren so that drivers know one is in the area. It is brightly colored and is covered with flashing lights so that drivers know specifically where it is, what direction it’s going, and how fast.

Visibility is more important than audibility on the road.
posted by ardgedee at 1:49 PM on November 13 [2 favorites]


If making a godawful racket is a safety feature, then why don't we see it on literally any other class of vehicle?

A loud-ass speaker would be one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make, say, bicycles and Smart cars safer. And yet, this does not exist.

Funny, that.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:16 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]


(Also: Tweety being the worst is seconded/thirded/nth'd by me. I always preferred the Coyote, but at least the Roadrunner was trying not to get eaten. So was Tweety, but unlike the Roadrunner, that obnoxious fucker DESERVED to be eaten. Immediately. And painfully.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:46 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]


Working at Harley-Davidson - "Harley-Davidson is one of most iconic “American” companies in America. What does work on its shop floor look like?"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:53 PM on November 13


MetaFilter: I expect to be flagged and deleted
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:58 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


I used to have a moped. Otherwise, everything I know about motorcycles I learned at the Guggenheim exhibit "Art of the Motorcycle". That was one of the best museum shows I ever saw. It included a Harley-Davidson: the Dennis Hopper bike.
posted by acrasis at 4:22 PM on November 13


Mostly. But there's one specific counter-example I hear all the time on my commute: bikers lane-splitting through stop-and-go freeway traffic using RRRM-RRRM revving noises as a "hey, bike coming through" warning.

Because they took off the horn for better performance?


While you can buy aftermarket horns that are very, very loud, lots of horns (even on big, powerful bikes) let out a humorous toy-car-style hoot that is almost inaudible. I know that’s the case with my Multistrada. If someone has cut you up in traffic - which, let’s remember, is potentially life threatening for a motorcyclist - and you’d like to do the equivalent of leaning on the horn to express your displeasure at nearly being killed, one option I’ve seen (once the bike has abruptly stopped) is to put the clutch in and rev the engine.

Also, if they’re splitting the lane, it might be that they’re using the clutch as well as their throttle to control their speed, and accidentally overrevving when the clutch is too far in. Or they’ve changed gear into a false neutral and are super embarrassed as they sit there revving away with nothing happening.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:25 PM on November 13 [3 favorites]


In this part of the world, they're called "Two wheeled tractors".
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:43 PM on November 13


relevant to your interests

That doggy needs a sidecar.
posted by bendy at 7:12 PM on November 13 [1 favorite]


I like it when cyclists have really loud airhorns. Not megaphones though.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:58 AM on November 14


I used to work in the Collection Development department of a regional library system. We were having yet another meeting to try and figure out a metric for purchasing DVDs - do we go with demand? What about when demand runs out? Do we use the same standards as we use for books? - etc.

We had maybe 10 copies of Wild Hogs. We had over ONE THOUSAND HOLDS for those ten copies. I am not joking or exaggerating. It was, by far, the most holds on any single movie in the system. For the Coll Dev director, this was the ur-example of why we should not purchase DVDs based on demand alone. "I don't care WHAT the people are asking for! I am NOT going to spend 5% of the DVD budget on WILD HOGS!!!!" I remember her shouting, her face turning beet red.

So I don't know what it is about that stupid movie, but damn if it didn't hit a chord amongst library users in central Minnesota. But we let them all down because we didn't buy any extra copies of it.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:21 AM on November 14 [14 favorites]


When I took up motorcycling after a long happy life as a Vespatician, largely in response to peer pressure from my riding buddy who was tired of our long rides at 47 MPH with my bike going flat-out and his R100S idling the whole way, my goal in life was to be the opposite of this disemboweling Lovecraftian suburban musical horror. I've got a pair of bikes—a wretched lump of British garbage inherited from my father that is primarily ridden by my boyfriend, because it seems to like him better, and a nice responsible '98 BMW F650 Strada, which is a mostly-Italian bike that seems well-suited to detailed-oriented folks with no gender issues to overcompensate.

That said, my Vespa is still roughly one billion times more fun than a heavy cruiser motorcycle (and one million times more fun than a light touring motorcycle), and encourages me to play my favorite motorbiking game.

I call it "caboosing," and the gist is that I find a flotilla of leaden overchromed parade floats spluttering to the next bar, buzz up to the end of the parade with my Scootypuff Jr., and then just hang there, at the tail end of all the Harleys, keeping pace and waving at everyone we pass like a giddy little Pippi Longstocking impersonator. The bikers will eventually notice that I'm back there, with an angry series of head turns to confirm that the crazy thing that's happening (aka some weirdo on a scooter is pretending to be in their gang and is undermining the potent masculinity of their leather party with my gleeful waving) is really happening, and they'll try to loose me with a rumbling group acceleration...but I catch up at the next curve. It's desperately annoying, but it's fun as fuck from my vantage.

My scooter is joyous. My motorcycles? Eh, not as much. One day I'll get a Grom.

A Harley? Never. Ew.
posted by sonascope at 9:27 AM on November 14 [11 favorites]


I always used to think the William Gibson character with the physical allergy to the Michelin Man was farfetched, but this thread makes me feel like I have something similar with the Harley logo. I know that causes and effects in human lives are tough things to tease out, but I can say for certain that the day in the early 90s that my father bought a fairly expensive Harley coincides with a *sharp* inflection point on his journey from "guy with some quirks" to "toxic asshole who destroys everything around him."
posted by the phlegmatic king at 9:49 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


Video: Vladimir Putin rides a Harley Davidson with a biker gang in Russia [The Telegraph, 8/30/2011]. The Russian Prime Minister rides with members of the "Night Wolves" biker gang on board a three-wheeled Harley Davidson motorcycle:
Vladimir Putin rode through the Black Sea port city of Novorossiysk as part of the bikers annual festival on Monday.

Clad in black and riding a three-wheeler made by iconic American motorbike manafacturers Harley Davidson, the former president appeared at ease amongst the bikers.

His appearance at the festival in Novorossiysk, which helps to commemorate the city's resistance to German invaders during the Second World War, came as current Russian president Dmitriy Medvedev called parliamentary elections in the country for December. The vote will precede a Presidential poll in March 2012.

The motorcycle festival is the latest in a series of macho appearances that have earned Mr Putin the nickname "alpha-dog" in US diplomatic cables, only last week he was filmed stripping to the waist for a medical check-up on a shoulder he reportedly injured whilst working out.
Additional News Hour India YT video of the same ride: PUTIN RIDES MASSIVE HARLEY DAVIDSON.
posted by cenoxo at 12:01 AM on November 15


So will somebody explain to me the loping idle of the Harley? Is it a deliberately mistuned engine?

The engines are 4-stroke V-twins, with cylinders canted at 45 degrees to each other. There's no way to get a smooth idle out of that configuration. The sound is often described as "potato-potato-potato." Pretty sexy, huh?


Indeed, it is the 4-stroke V-twin configuration that makes them sound like that. They have two big cylinders set at a 45 degree angle. The original HD engines had both cylinders connected to a single crank shaft. If you were conducting this engine as a piece of music so that the intake, compression, detonation, and exhaust strokes ran "1, 2, 3, 4", and you put the emphasis on the detonation stroke, it would sound like "and 1 and 2 AND 3 and 4." That's largely why they sound the way they do. This video shows that the timing sequence on their more recent engines is more balanced. The engines used to vibrate up-and-down, fore-and-aft, and left-and-right, although I understand HD has added more vibration-damping features in recent years.

By contrast, my favourite motorcycle engine, the BMW flat twin, has two cylinders that are horizontally opposed. All the vibration from one cylinder travelling in one direction gets cancelled out by all the vibration of the other cylinder travelling in the opposite direction. This video compares different motorcycle configurations.

Fun fact: it is legal to lane split - to ride a motorcycle between the lanes of car traffic - in California because the Los Angeles Police Department rode Harley Davidson motorcycles for a long time. HD engines are air-cooled, so if you don't keep them moving, they overheat.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:19 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]


Lane splitting freaked me out the first time I was driving in California, it's not something you see on the east coast.
posted by octothorpe at 6:30 AM on November 18


Personally I think lane splitting is super dumb and dangerous. In Texas, motorcycles are allowed to ride on the shoulders in traffic, which seems much safer to me.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:57 AM on November 19


It freaks me out a bit, too, but I do keep an eye out for them when I'm driving. Having ridden my bicycle in big city traffic for years now I can empathize that it's probably easier than it looks when you're doing it. In the vast majority of cases cars are just slow and predictable (and most of the unpredictable times it's just them freezing for various reasons), so if you see a gap in traffic you can be pretty much assured of zipping through it if you want. Only "the vast majority," though, so you still have to be sharp.
posted by rhizome at 2:09 AM on November 19


LizBoBiz: "In Texas, motorcycles are allowed to ride on the shoulders in traffic, which seems much safer to me."

It has the serious disadvantage of being where every single piece of trash from tiny pieces of glass up through road gators and bits of body work ends up. The smaller, sharper stuff is hard on tires and of course the larger stuff is an immediate hazard.
posted by Mitheral at 12:40 PM on November 19 [4 favorites]


Ryan Zinke rides a Harley. Of course he does.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:56 PM on November 20


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