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Sturgis City Council Release

The Sturgis City Council voted 8-1 last night to host the rally and announced today that the 80th Annual City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will move forward.

However, there will be significant changes designed to reduce the large crowd gatherings in the downtown core with the intent to “safeguard the community and residents.”

That there is a true definition of dichotomy.

The City Council decision, given most all other large outdoor events and indoor concerts around the U.S. have been canceled or rescheduled, is an interesting one. The annual rally will generate millions in revenues for the host city, but no mention of that trivia in the press release.

Buffalo Chip Email Blast

According to Sturgis Rally stats, in 2019 there were 490,000 rally visitors — at least 70 times the estimated 2019 population of Sturgis (6,500), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  In other words, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees in 2019 were the equivalent to half of the state of South Dakota’s estimated 2019 population of 884,659.

Read the full City Council release HERE.

A few items known as of today that will be implemented at the event:

  • Attendees will be asked to practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines.
  • Enhanced safety/sanitization protocols will be carried out in the downtown area.
  • City sponsored events including opening ceremonies, parades, B1 Flyover, and live music at Harley-Davidson Rally Point are cancelled.
  • Photo towers will NOT be installed.
  • Temporary vendors will be required to abide by state and federal protocols and guidelines related to COVID-19.

I’m not trying to “COVID Shame” anyone thinking about or planning to attend the motorcycle rally.  But, remember a long, long time ago when the freedom of riding across the U.S. and attending a rally didn’t bring this type of risk?

Images courtesy of City Council and Buffalo Chip.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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According to an article by @bob_tita in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ – Paywall), Harley-Davidson plans to reopen its factories this week at lower production rates and stated it will be sending dealers an attenuated range of new motorcycles — meaning, time for a COVID-19 course correction.

You may recall that Harley’s U.S. assembly plants and most of its dealers closed in March as part of a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Currently, as many of the company’s 698 U.S. dealers make plans to reopen, Harley’s director of product sales, Beth Truett, stated in a memo, which was viewed by the WSJ, that about 70% of them likely wouldn’t receive any additional new motorcycles in 2020.

The motor company is pivoting from the “More Roads” plan to now focus efforts and energy to appeal to customers of premium-priced brands with limited availability.

Speaking of availability… By definition, excellence is scarce.  Harley-Davidson has leveraged “scarcity” previously. Underproduce motorcycles and limit distribution, which creates long waiting lists that in turn create an exclusivity mystique. Will it work again?

And speaking of premium positioning…

Harley-Davidson Eau de Toilette – Example of brand dilution!

Price alone won’t make a brand premium and few companies can thrive on limited market coverage and low volumes by commanding premium prices in a particular niche.  One thing is sure: motorcycle customers are price-sensitive, even if they are ready to pay a premium price for a … Harley lifestyle.

This means Harley-Davidson has to be able to truly earn the added value.

Data supports what we already know to be true about premium brands: people with lots of money buy nice things. Whether you’re talking apparel (i.e. Phat Farm, Polo, Timberland and Tommy Hilfiger), Tequila, hand bags (i.e. Gucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Prada), restaurants or footwear, it’s easy to recognize the pattern that the nicest, most expensive brands are favored by consumers with the highest household income. What is less obvious, are the fewer instances when wealthy people opt for the less-expensive, or when average-income people make deep trade-offs to purchase really pricey things.  There are a whole lot more average-income people than there are excessively wealthy ones.

Strong brands have a strong identity. Mediocrity doesn’t captivate or win the motorcycle sales race. There is a rule of thumb that says that a company ought to be able to explain its brand identity in seven words, give or take a couple.

The clock is ticking Harley-Davidson!

So, what is it about “premium-ness” brands that are able to inspire consumers to say “no” to some things so they can say “yes” to a brand that’s often or slightly out of financial reach? That’s the Harley-Davidson opportunity.  Finding the nooks and crannies to up-sell consumers on “premium-ness” choices—especially a candy coated brand in the top tier of the motorcycle pack.

The Harley downside risk is the “Porsche Effect“… becoming known as an SUV manufacturer that also produces a few sports car models rather than the premier sports car brand that also makes SUVs.

I’d like to better understand how Harley-Davidson can retain a premium brand identity if combustion engines, once the top tier of American motorcycle engineering, are being replaced by e-motors (LiveWire) that can be built by almost anyone, and if motorcycles feel and act like smartphones that you no longer even have to own?  It’s likely that the V-Twin motors of the future will no longer be a distinguishing brand characteristic.

New competitors are knocking on the Milwaukee door and customers are better informed, have tougher requirements and are able to interactively rate and influence companies and their products.

In the end, what Harley-Davidson claims about it’s premium brand doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not consumers believe it enough to pay more for it.

Photos courtesy of Twitter Bob Tita/WSJ and Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Q1’20 Harley-Davidson Retail Motorcycle Sales + Motorcycles and Related Products Segment Results

Let’s jump right to that impressive Q1’20 financial result:

  • Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG) posted earnings of $69.7 million compared with $127.9 million in the same period a year ago.
  • The dividend was slashed to 2 cents a share from 38 cents.
  • The motor company is in talks with major U.S. banks to secure $1.3 billion in liquidity.
  • Harley’s U.S. retail sales were down 15.5% compared with the same period a year ago.
  • International retail sales were down 20.7% compared with 2019.
  • Harley’s U.S. heavyweight motorcycle market segment share was down 2.2 percentage points, to 48.9%.

Another quarter, another poor performance from Harley-Davidson, though the market seemed to buy into the promise that this time it will be able to turn things around.

Déjà vu…

Management promising to fix things again by “crafting strategy accelerants” to deliver improved sales and better returns.  However, it admitted that its efforts thus far haven’t worked and also said it was “refining” the plans it had already devised, but it wouldn’t reveal how it was going to achieve them until this summer. Granted the financial problems Harley-Davidson encountered this quarter aren’t necessarily all of its own making, though it hasn’t helped itself along the way.

It’s important to note that the Harley-Davidson trends in the U.S. have been weak for years despite the economy being strong for so long. That is a major problem and the acting Harley-Davidson CEO, Jochen Zeitz, remains vague on what the motorcycle company is going to do to change that dynamic.

The “ReWire” Board

The fact that management chose the term “ReWire”, emphasizing the electric future to describe their refining plans reads like a satirical article in The Onion.  It’s as if CEO, Jochen Zeitz said, “I’ve heard some concerns going around, and I want to impress upon each and every one of you that I’m taking every possible step to ensure that we tap into a market that has traditionally been neglected by motorcycle manufacturers, Harley-Davidson is announcing a new line of motorcycles designed specifically for men.”

The “ReWire” plan consists of five main points:

  • Enhance core strengths and better balance expansion into new spaces.
  • Prioritize markets that matter.
  • Reset product launches and product line-up for simplicity and maximum impact.
  • Build the Parts & Accessories and General Merchandise businesses to their full potential.
  • Adjust and align the organisational structure, cost structure and operating model to reduce complexity and drive efficiency, to set Harley-Davidson up for stability and success.

The ReWire playbook abandons some of the previously ratified “More Roads” plan, but there is so much “CEO Speak” — “designed to address top priority opportunities, drive consistent execution and reset the company’s operating model in order to reduce complexity, sharpen focus and increase the speed of decision making.” — in that investor call its difficult to know what exactly remains “committed” to or what will stop.

Little is certain these days, but there’s one sure thing: in a situation where 30+ million people were laid off or furloughed in the past 6-weeks, people are definitely thinking about their wallets.  And living with ever-present, crushing uncertainty and the knowledge that people all around us are dying isn’t the stimulus to rush out and purchase a new motorcycle.

Let us face facts.  It’s going to be a different world for a while. After all, temperature checks, touch-less payments, masks, wipes, take-out and distancing were not part of the Harley experience before the March closures.

If Harley-Davidson is about anything, it’s about bringing people together. Lots of them. And really, really close — with motorcycle rallies, music festivals, HOG events and all the cross country rides.  Looking at you Sturgis!

The whirlwind of 400,000+ motorcycle enthusiasts half-hearted adherence to CDC guidelines, while gathering all week in a number of local bars, and eating VEGAN-burgers could be viewed as a controlled experiment to determine the virus’s true incubation rate.

I have some gray in my hair and beard, something you will see in a majority of Harley enthusiasts.  I find the idea of a Harley specifically aimed at men deeply patronizing.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Remember that outsider who kept Harley-Davidson on the road?

Keith E. Wandell (retired H-D CEO) grabbed the handlebars at the company in the heart of the economic crisis in 2009. Harley lost $55 million that year, as buying a motorcycle stopped being an option for many consumers.

Wandell made some big statements. “Don’t let Harley-Davidson become General Motors!” Look in a mirror, he told staff – Harley was already so far down that same path [as GM] “it wasn’t even funny.”

Wandell took bold action and made quick decisions to focused the company on doing what many say it does best: Making big, powerful, premium-priced cruisers.

Keith Wandell

Keep in mind, this was when the great recession and credit crisis sent shockwaves through Harley-Davidson. In less than one year, bike shipments dropped about 25 percent.

Wendell cut the workforce – at least 2,700 hourly workers and 840 administrative employees. The economy was in the tank, the motor company had a big union labor force and old manufacturing processes.  People were just churning and everything was upside down at the company.

Imagine…

I’m not talking about celebrities’ filming themselves singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, from their multi-acre estates and whining about their COVID-19 pandemic isolation.  Never has disproportionate privilege been so apparent and I for one am really fed up with their self-serving need to be in the public spotlight with style-over-substance videos.

But, I digress…

Mark-Hans Richer

It is equally important to recall Wandell’s right-hand “stunt man” — you may remember him as that over-the-top marketing genius who had women screaming, grown men crying and Oprah jumping up and down, chanting: “Everybody gets a car!

I’m talking about Mark-Hans Richer, who was Sr. VP, Chief Marketing Officer at Harley-Davidson, prior to his 2015 departure. Granted, Richer is currently employed at Fortune Brands, but with the mass exodus at Harley-Davidson and salary decreases across the executive staff it’s plausible to pull him back into the H-D team.

Richer, generated the most bankable kind of publicity: controversy.  He made the difference between a motorcycle brand being a rock star versus more employees working in the rental lot.

He’s the charismatic dude that dropped a Dyna Super Glide on Pope Francis at the Vatican.  Then turned around at a press briefing and said, I would be really upset if you felt our strategy was about “meeting the nicest people on a Harley” because I can tell you that ain’t the strategy.  Later he pontificated that a Harley costs less than “another tattoo, a parking ticket, a gas station burrito, and a lip ring” in an appeal to what makes millennials tick.  In 2002, he helped the company get named Company of the Year by Forbes magazine.

110th Anniversary Celebration

In a university commencement speech, he stated: “Everything I ever learned from business, I learned from Willie the Wildcat stuffed animal,” a business he started right out of college.  Richer secured the first major worldwide sports sponsorship for Harley-Davidson at UFC and was instrumental in X-Games marketing.

No, I don’t have a man crush.

Richer was a key contributor of the “Ride Home” anniversary events.  Do you remember when returning to the mecca of motorcycling in Milwaukee was truly an EVENT i.e. the 110th Anniversary festivities featured 60 bands, including Aerosmith, Kid Rock and ZZ Top.  Remember that 3 ½-hour set by Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band at the 105th Anniversary?   How about when Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl, committed a major sin on stage by cracking open a Coors in Miller Town?

100th Anniversary Celebration

There was the surprise headliner (Elton John) and outright disaster for the centennial anniversary. Musical highlights included Billy Idol, Kid Rock, Joan Jett, Poison, REO Speedwagon, the Doobie Brothers and Tim McGraw for the 100th anniversary so, people booing and walking out might have been overstated in the media.

Then came 2018 and time to celebrate 115 years of the open road.  Harley-Davidson CMO, Heather Malenshek tells the media the event is all about returning to its roots with a focus on the motorcycle, not the entertainment.  Huh?!  It was an unmitigated flop for entertainment.  She very quietly departs the company in October 2019.  Coincidence?

Indian is challenging Harley’s cash cow, the Road Glide.  BMW has market segment share in the ADV or “adventure motorcycle” sector and recently introduced the new R 18 touring, cruiser configuration to compete head-on with Harley-Davidson and Indian.  Rumors started circulating recently that Honda is introducing a new 1100 Rebel to compete directly with Harley-Davidson.

Pan American

Harley needs more than anything a fast start for a new model to become a breakout hit.  Is that the Pan American, ADV?

The ADV segment is crowded and entrenched with BMW, Honda, KTM, and newcomer Ducati, among others with decades, of dirt-tested refinement.  Harley doesn’t have the luxury of burning up stacks of cash on a another “vanity project.”

The Milwaukee motor company has a very narrow window to establish that hit. Gone are the days when a slow seller can be nurtured into a hit.  Here’s looking at you LiveWire and the “Field of Dreams” marketing of distressed or stigmatized merchandise!  I truly wonder if acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz or Harley-Davidson management really understand why the LiveWire product is failing?

It’s logically time to recall Mr. Wandell and “CMO head-honcho,” Richer back from spending their days taking lunch at the Polo Lounge and crank up the H-D buzz machine.

What the media’s hourly drumbeat of “panic porn” on the COVID-19 trauma has shown us, cannot be unseen.  A motorcycle-less Los Angeles.  Coyotes wandering on the empty Golden Gate Bridge.  A quiet New York, where you can hear the birds chirp in the middle of Madison Avenue.

We’re in it. Stores are closed. Restaurants are empty. Streets and multi-lane freeways are barren.  Body bags in tractor trailers.  The Oregon beach is an eerie ghost town.  The economy has collapsed and a devastated 22+ million Americans have lost their jobs in four weeks.  It’s a dark feeling of rust, rot and ruin.

Illegitimi non carborundum.” The Latin phrase loosely translates to, “Don’t let the [COVID] bastard get you down.”

Motorcycle enthusiasts are the ones who understand why dogs stick their heads out the window.  In the famous words of a previous H-D CEO, Jeffrey Bleustein, “We (Harley) have to pretend ten fiery demons are chasing us at all times,” and “make the right bikes, at the right time, and get them to the right place!

Let’s all take a deep breath and get ready for a potential Harley-Davidson tsunami. What is about to be unleashed will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.  Every brand will come to our rescue, dear consumer, to help take away that darkness and get life back to the way it was before the crisis.

The great American return to normal is coming and you won’t be able to ignore that deafening motorcycle exhaust noise.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Wikipedia.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Is Harley-Davidson committed to lending a hand?

It’s not obvious that Harley-Davidson execs realized their normal marketing plans will no longer cut it as COVID-19 overtakes nearly every facet of American life!

I’m not talking about an empty kumbaya ‘Let’s Ride’ sentiment.  Clearly, the typical messaging in the motorcycle marketplace isn’t going to work the same way as prior to the WW coronavirus pandemic.

Stating the obvious, one would think that Harley-Davidson would play into the motor company’s more than 116-year history and remind consumers how the company has responded during world wars and during previous disasters in America.  While buying or servicing your motorcycle may not be top-of-mind at the moment, offering up some type of payment relief program to consumers affected by this disaster would not only provide some peace of mind to customers, it would reaffirm that the motor company is really focusing on the consumer health situation vs. self-serving attention in suspending U.S. production to disinfect manufacturing equipment and pulling financial guidance for wall street.

Digital Advert — ‘Breathe’ by Droga5

The last significant digital advert (‘Breathe‘ — February 10, 2020), by Droga5, was a message of the outdoors and the experience of riding in a world that is humdrum.

In case you missed it, the world is no longer humdrum…  Droga5 should waive client fees for ‘pivoting’ H-D creative and media to be more reflective of the current situation.

Where is Harley-Davidson marketing?  Not only to pivot the current creative, but how about immediately trying to get a little bit of free publicity via “specially curated images” for video conference backdrops. Spitballing here… It’s important to be reassuring right now and not try to say to people ‘Rush into your Harley dealership for a sales event.

Where is the Harley-Davidson Foundation, the philanthropic organization of Harley-Davidson Inc.?  Where is Harley-Davidson Credit?  How about offering a program giving new motorcycle buyers very low-to-zero percent financing and the option to delay their first payment for 90 days?  Where is Harley-Davidson Service?  Maybe provide free service or reduced costs for people who only have a motorcycle for transportation?  And lastly, where is the “We’re With You Every Step” inspirational statement from the United Steelworkers and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’?

The COVID-19 pandemic is producing economic and social disruptions not seen before, and major industries have already felt the impact. People aren’t buying as much stuff. People are getting laid off. Despite government reassurances, the anxiety of closed businesses and lost employment and wages weigh heavy on people.

But, lets bring it back to the local situation in the northwest.

As of this morning, March 30th, the Coronavirus situation is:
Oregon: 13 deaths, 548 cases — Oregon numbers
Washington: 195 deaths, 4,896 cases — Washington numbers
United States: 2,600 deaths, 143,532 cases — U.S. numbers

While not essential for health, sustenance, shelter, and hygiene—it’s time for Harley-Davidson to step up and find a way to exist, operate, and communicate in ways that offer one of some combination of help, hope, and entertainment.

To Be Fair:  It is important to note that Harley-Davidson, it’s dealership network and the Harley-Davidson Foundation have made significant charitable contributions over the years.  From donating motorcycles to the Haitian Earthquake to funding Red Cross for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and to natural disasters in the U.S. like hurricane Florence.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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Highway 50, just outside of Great Basin National Park

You might not know, but there are 59 national parks and 4,092,729 miles of roads in the United States.

All the roads in Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and France combined would not equal the length of America’s roadways.

Believe it or not, there was a time in our not-so-distant past when there were no paved roads bridging the gap between civilization and the North American wilderness.  The earliest Harley-Davidson motorcycles had the same suspensions as bicycles of the time: none at all. The roads were a hodgepodge of dirt, stone, and other materials. Bumps were everywhere!  Harley-Davidson’s weren’t necessarily the fastest bikes on the market, but they were built with reliability in mind and were among the first truly heavy duty motorcycles in the world that could be relied on for safe running over the atrocious roads of the day.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Valve Side

The transformational American road-trip essentially became touring wide-open spaces from the saddle of a motorcycle.

In last months posts, I touched on a collection of classic motorcycles in the northwest and provided tribute to an inspirational man (Bob) with a genuine love of wrenching motorcycles.  I also illuminated his first restoration in the collection — a 1937 Harley-Davidson Model U-Series Flathead.

In this post, I’m plunging head first into another motorcycle in the collection, a Harley-Davidson 1913 Model 9-B Single.  It was already Harley-Davidson’s 10th anniversary when this bike originally rolled onto the showroom floor. From their humble beginning and that first bike built in their 10′ x 15′ shed, they had overcome the competition to produce over 1,000 motorcycles in 1909 to almost 17,000 bikes in 1913.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

According to an advert for the 1913 Chicago Motorcycle Show, Harley-Davidson states (page 10) that they sold out their entire manufacturing output in 12.5 weeks!  Clearly, the Milwaukee motor company had grown past the “motorized bicycle for fishing trips” into planning  motorcycles for large volume production.

Postured affectionately in the corner of the vintage collection showroom, you’ll want to gaze at this motorcycle for hours, and each time notice something new. A small hand-turned screw on a throttle linkage, a one-off brass cam on the carburetor body, a perfectly machined castellated nut on the rear hub that firmly holds the pedal sprocket – a few indicators of its origins as a commercial motorcycle. All of these details amaze and remind me of just what this bike was built to do – both by its original designers and by its inherited restorer.

1913 Model 9-B Single — Valve Side Close-up

It was interesting to learn that Bob’s motorcycles were never chosen for specific “provenance” or heritage — the range of manufactures in the collection represent personal tastes as well as unique expressions — beauty, performance, functionality and style that resonated with him through the years.

This 1913 Model 9-B single originally sold for $250.00 at the factory in Milwaukee and it took Bob more than 15 years to fully restore.  It’s the oldest motorcycle in the collection, and was one of Bob’s top-three favorites, but not the rarest or most collectible in the world.

Restoring a Milwaukee icon is no easy task, but with Bob’s guiding hands this motorcycle showcases exceptional restoration craftsmanship, pristine attention to detail, and along with some unique history it might well mean that it is destined to be in a museum some day.

1913 Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side Close-up

The condition of this single-cylinder, four-cycle, air-cooled model is truly immaculate and a bill-board poster of simplicity.  It’s also the foundation of what generated the Milwaukee motor company mystique.  The motorcycle features a 35 cu in (565cc) motor with a nominal 5 HP, an overall weight of 235 pounds, a 2-gallon fuel tank, a 3.5 quart oil tank, and a Bosch magneto placed behind the motor to keep out road grit.

For the 1913 model year, the Harley single was updated with the mechanically operated inlet valve (replacing the ‘atmospheric’ type), which was developed first for the twin cylinder models, and at the same time boasted a balanced bottom-end, alloy piston and improved carburetor.  The stroke was increased to 4 inches as compared to 3.5 inches of the former model.  The wheel-base on the singles were 1 inch shorter than the twins.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Front Fort Close-up

Harley-Davidson also made a small change to the form of the clutch lever operating the “free wheel” in 1913.  On the flat belt models a guard was mounted.  These motorcycles were popularly known as the ‘5-35’ (5 horsepower, 35 ci displacement).  The 9-B single was available in belt and chain-driven versions while ease of use was considerably enhanced by the adoption of the rear hub clutch first seen on the twin cylinder.  As the twin’s popularity grew, the single declined, accounting for only 4% of sales in 1917 and production of the Harley-Davidson ‘5-35’ ceased in 1918.

The gray color paint on the restored motorcycle includes a bold striping scheme, which complements the original manufacturing process of taking great care during the enameling procedure with three hand rubbed coats of paint followed by a protective varnish.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

Manufacturing the Model 9-B single made up the majority of the company’s production in the early years.  By 1912, all Harley-Davidson’s had gained mechanical inlet valves and all-chain drive, but this restored model, included the belt option, which was offered for several years.  Both singles and V-twins had single-speed transmissions with a robust rear hub clutch operated by a tank-side lever, and their new mechanical inlet valve meant more power and higher revs were possible. The valve side has a pedal-and-chain drive. With the rear wheel raised up by the stand and with the clutch engaged, the pedals are used to crank the motor. The brake is engaged by a slight backward pressure on the pedals.

The rider sits on a leather brown saddle, mounted with a central, sprung pillar sliding with the frame’s vertical saddle tube, which was positively located by an articulated lever pivoting from the top frame, just ahead of the saddle nose.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Top Looking Down at Valve Side

Harley-Davidson called this the “Full-Floteing” seat—a riders comfort not-with-standing accurate spelling—as the system should be quite familiar to any Duo-Glide owner.  The oil tank hid with the tool box. While the engine’s drip oil feed was “automatic,” any hard riding owner could give a visible shot of fresh lubricant from a tank-top hand pump.

The 1913 motorcycle frame was reportedly stronger than the previous year models and provided better handling, while the new vertical fins atop the cylinder head allowed the engine to run cooler.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

As mentioned earlier, the Bosch magneto was placed behind the motor to prevent collection of road grim, and proved to be a reliable instrument, making the machine easy to start via its bicycle pedals on the stand or off the stand using the valve lifer to take off.  The motorcycle has 28 X 2.5 tires with an Eclipse Knockout front hub that allows the tire removal by taking only one nut off.  The brakes are “coaster type” on the rear wheel like today’s simple pedal bikes.

In the late summer of 1913,  a new board track was opened in Milwaukee, right in Harley’s back yard.  The company’s professional race abstinence came to an end as Harley-Davidson change its corporate mind and the Racing Department was formed, with William Ottaway as its first Assistant Engineer to racing engineer William S. Harley.

1913 Harley-Davidson Advert — Courtesy of Motorcycle Illustrated and Google Books

The Harley twins pulled ahead of Indians and would dominate motorcycle racing in 1914.  The Racing Department was referred to informally as the “Wrecking Crew.”  However, one of the racers acquired a pet piglet, which was quickly adopted as the team’s mascot, and helped popularize the nickname ‘the Harley Hogs’ due to the race team carrying the team’s mascot around on the motorcycle fuel tank during victory laps.

The 9-B single is truly a peppy machine and can be ridden all day long at 40-45 MPH, as proven in the Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run, where a 1914 single-cylinder Harley-Davidson won the 2018 event with a steady, thumping pace.

This 1913 Model 9-B was a frame-off full restoration which Bob completed in the 1980’s.  Parts were sourced as needed from various swap meets, nickel ads, flea markets, yard sales, and scanning newspapers to find an elusive part!  There was no Dubya, Dubya, Dubya (i.e. Internet) in those days.  Most of us will never know the feeling of satisfaction derived from unearthing the perfect part at a swap meet and haggling its price down to a bargain.

1913 Harley-Davidson Model 9-B Single — Transmission Side

During the course of multiple interviews, I ask if anyone knew why Bob was so fervent about recruiting parts from swap meets. It turns out that Bob and his wife loved to travel. And, in the course of seeing America from a motorcycle, he recruited ever more vintage enthusiasts to help him find and locate parts for motorcycles he had in the restoration queue.

Those early days began the tradition of keeping motorcycles running and riding as much as possible.  It was called “self-assemble.”  Buying a complete front end may wipe-out your budget, but if one guy has a set of tubes for $40, and you remember seeing a triple tree on that table over by the Port-A-Potty, and you manage to negotiate a wheel and axle for $35… well, you are most of the way to having a front end cheaper than buying a complete unit — if it existed!  The rides and swap meet experiences were some of the best and fun times for Bob and his wife.

This is one of the finest restorations of an early Harley-Davidson model anywhere!

Previous posts on this vintage collection:
Vintage Restorations Uncovered In The Northwest
A Northwest Collection Gem – The 1937 Flathead

Photos taken by author. The black & white Motorcycle Illustrated advert courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Google Books.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Harley-Davidson’s Entrepreneur and New Mastermind

Jochen Zeitz — Harley-Davidson interim President and CEO

The ultimate maverick has been hired to preserve and renew the freedom to ride.

I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz — the entrepreneur and new mastermind in charge of Harley-Davidson until he is offered the position permanently or a recruitment committee finds a replacement CEO.

So, what do we know and who is this man?

Jochen Zeitz at Segera Retreat Lodge

As a slacker who would debate a good life is better than a good job, paint me truly inspired for that list of accomplishments!

Talk about an extreme producer with a missionary zeal!  And, I haven’t mentioned the best part… a profile of his “day job” achievements.

Mr. Zeitz represents qualities too good to be true and the idea of him shilling for some corporation to hawk motorcycles deflates the “HERO” excitement.  It’s clear, Mr. Zeitz won’t be satisfied until he has done everything to promote his vision of a new, better world.

LiveWire — Jochen Zeitz — Milwaukee, WI

With his multi-millions in fortune, Jochen Zeitz is likely the richest person in history to run Harley-Davidson as interim president and CEO.

So, again, who is the 57-year old sandy-haired, 6’1’’ athletic build of a man?

Mr. Zeitz was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1963, to a gynecologist father and dentist mother.  He grew up in a time when the Green Party and the anti-nuclear movement were enjoying strong support in Germany.  Along with the time he spent at the family’s lodge in the Odenwald forest, the outdoor exposure planted seeds of interest in environmentalism.  He was educated at Karl-Friedrich Gymnasium, Mannheim, south-west Germany, and then international marketing and finance at the European Business School of Oestrich-Winkel near Wiesbaden.

Jochen Zeitz and wife Kate Garwood

Mr. Zeitz began his professional career with Colgate-Palmolive in Hamburg in 1986. He then moved to Herzogenaurach in the Franconian countryside to work for sporting goods manufacturer Puma (Bio) in 1988. From there, he rose rapidly though the ranks to become head of marketing in 1991 and vice president — international and head of the global marketing and sales department.  In 1993, at the age of 30, he became chairman of the board of Puma, making him the youngest CEO of German firms with commercially traded stock. He dramatically reduced staff numbers, took production to Asia, made English the corporate language, started sponsoring African football teams and was credited with turning around the near-bankrupt business into one of the world’s top three sports brands.

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) — Cape Town

In 2003, he insightfully signed 16-year-old future Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt to Puma.  In 2007, he was appointed to the Board of Harley-Davidson.

Puma was acquired by luxury goods conglomerate Kering in 2007, and a few years later Mr. Zeitz served as Kering’s Chief Sustainability Officer.  In 2011, he set up a sustainability committee for Harley-Davidson, which he also chaired.

Also in 2011, he wanted to step back and focus on his environmental work and resigned as CEO of Puma.  He became a director of parent company Kering and chairman of the group’s sustainability committee.  He co-founded ‘The B Team’ with Sir Richard Branson in 2013.  That same year he launched the Kenyan Segera Retreat with a focus on his foundation’s 4C philosophy for sustainable tourism.

In 2020, he was hungry for something much more and became Harley-Davidson’s interim president and CEO.

Jochen Zeitz — 1929 Gypsy Moth Airplane Photo credit: Eric M Rojas

On a personal level — he divorced his first wife Birgit Jöris in 2012 following an 18-year marriage.  He is currently married to LA-based producer Kate Garwood‚ 41‚ producer of the 2016 movie “Race”‚ about U.S. track star Jesse Owens.  They have two children; 4-year old Jesse born September 2017 and a three year old. He keeps homes in Switzerland, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, a 50,000-acre ranch in Kenya and has property in west London.

When researching material for this blog post, I was blown-away on the amount of information published about Mr. Zeitz.

In a 2013 interview with the International Bar Association, he stated no plans to marry again, although at the time he was in a long term relationship with Kate Garwood. He was adamant about no intention of having children. ‘No, definitely not,’ he stated emphatically. ‘Never say never, but it’s very unlikely. It’s not something that fits with my daily life and I’ve never believed that having children without a father around is a good idea. It’s not really something I would get excited about.’  Just a short four years later both occur.

Jochen Zeitz at Segera, his 50,000-acre ranch. Photo credit: David Crookes

In recent press interviews, he’s stated the joy of his decision to have children late in life, because now he can see them grow up versus having such a busy schedule in running a company and traveling for 10 months in a year.  An interesting side bar: Speculation swirled that Jesse, their first child, was named after the 1930s athlete and fueled by the fact that Jessie Owens was provided with shoes for the 1936 Olympics by the Dassler brothers‚ who went on to found Adidas and Puma. 

But, I’ve digressed and want to return to connecting the Harley-Davidson dots… Mr. Zeitz’s experience at Kering was a critical influence and the driving force behind Matt Levatich’s (the recently fired Harley-Davidson CEO) pivot to sustainability that led him to think much more about environmental profit and loss at Harley-Davidson.  Mr. Zeitz had devised an environmental profit-and-loss account method at Kering which, put a figure on what a company’s air pollution, land use, water use and carbon consumption cost the planet.

Jochen Zeitz’s Favorite Thing — A Scottish Bailey — Photo credit: Charlotte Haden

While Mr. Zeitz — wealthy, world-view philosophy, competitive, over-achiever and relatively young — has the luxury of carving out grandiose, acronym-fueled sustainable ‘visions’, that struggling businesses like Harley-Davidson, desperate to increase motorcycle sales, might find distracting or even an irritant.

We’ll have to read the biography when ex-CEO Levatich publishes the book, but as an outside observer, one distraction example is: it took eight years, millions of dollars and the work of over a thousand engineers to fully realize a product that few want — the Harley-Davidson LiveWire — the Milwaukee company’s first premium electric motorcycle to go on sale in September 2019.  As a long-serving Harley-Davidson board member, Mr. Zeitz convinced executive management to focus not just on the moral justification for electric engines, but on the needs of Harley-Davidson customers to have healthy natural landscapes in which to ride. The logic behind this claim, was that “what every rider loves about the ride – it’s the environment they’re riding in, isn’t it?”  Soon afterward, the marketing and brand alignment teams marched in unison to support sustainability as a major part of the brand.

Segera Retreat — Laikipia, Kenya

The result?  A new mission, twisting the brand’s historic celebration of freedom into a desire “to preserve and renew the freedom to ride” and TWELVE quarters of sales decline.  Along with a $2,152,500 million severance payment to Matt Levatich.

Mr. Zeitz believes and is on record, stating there is more to corporate life than the relentless pursuit of profit. Wait, what?!  Isn’t profit what got Matt Levatich fired?

I’ve watched “An Inconvenient Truth” and the sequel. The oceans are heating and the poles melting, but color me skeptical of environmental groups with sustainable-for profit-business interests.  We’re all too aware of what the world needs: another multi-millionaire telling others how to behave better once they have made their own fortune while flying private and choppering into a rich man’s playground.

Jochen Zeitz GQ Article — in German

The motor-head scholars, bankers, real estate agents, lawyers and fashion designers who gather not to drink cheap brew, but to sip $15 “born to be wild” martinis and straddle $40,000 motorcycles might pontificate on the value of sustainability, but I just don’t see grizzled leather-clad loyalists describing Harley-Davidson as the world’s most sustainable manufacture over a beer at the Sturgis rally.

But, sometimes there’s a man. I won’t say a hero – ’cause what’s a hero? – but sometimes there’s a man – and I’m talking about Jochen Zeitz here – sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for the time and place.

A man who will improve the brand that is unique, exciting and one that gives value to it’s riding customers.

But wait, there’s more… An incentive if he kicks a field goal… according to the company 8-K regulatory filing, the interim Harley-Davidson, CEO Jochen Zeitz, is eligible and will receive a $3 million bonus (in the form of restricted stock units (RSU’s)) that would vest one year after the grant date and become payable if his employment continues to the date of the installation of a new CEO.  That $3 million would come on top of the annual base salary of $2.5 million he is receiving now after taking over for Matt Levatich. I don’t think this will be too difficult since Mr. Zeitz has served on Harley-Davidson’s board since 2007.

UPDATED: April 17, 2020 — Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and sales impact, Harley-Davidson announced that its acting president and CEO Jochen Zeitz and the company’s board of directors would forgo any salary or cash compensations. As mentioned above, Zeitz currently has an annual base salary of $2.5 million.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Jochen Zeitz, Twitter, Eric M Rojas, David Crookes, and Charlotte Haden

Information Source & References: IBA, Independent,Wired,Business Daily Africa, Milwaukee Business Journal, Adventure Rider, Infosys, Telegraph, Financial Times, Angama Blog

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Matthew S. Levatich — Ex Harley-Davidson President and CEO

Harley-Davidson, Inc. announced yesterday that Matthew Levatich has stepped down as President and CEO and as a member of the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors appointed current Board member Jochen Zeitz as interim President and CEO following the abrupt resignation of Levatich.  A search committee is being formed, and the Company will utilize an external search firm to undertake the process to find a new CEO. The press release also stated that Levatich would assist with the transition through the end of March.

Levatich had a 26-year career at Harley-Davidson with the last five years as President and CEO. The abrupt departure marks 5-years of sliding sales and the value of the Milwaukee motor company has been cut in half.  It was not a cheerful week at Harley-Davidson!

The board and the CEO share responsibility for corporate performance, so it stands to reason that when a CEO fails, the board has failed as well.  I would speculate the company board is reacting to pressure from shareholders and seeks to appease investors in the short term by handing them the CEO’s head on a platter.  The investment community will want a replacement CEO who’s both promising and reassuring—and they’ll want him fast.

Jochen Zeitz — Harley-Davidson interim President and CEO

If we were to step into a time-machine and journey back to the future… from the V-Rod to the Buell Blast. Who can forget the MV Agusta dumpster fire and in the parlance of our time, there is now a green machine— LiveWire—a motorcycle short on juice, and one that few people want or can afford to buy.  Harley’s attempts to branch out has with out a doubt shown mixed results, at best.  In fact, some observers wonder if the company is “asleep at the switch.”

It would seem that “seeing the problem is easier than fixing it!”  Levatich’s mantra that Harley-Davidson doesn’t build motorcycles, it builds riders, always seemed a bit odd.  That’s like saying, “It’s not about horsepower, but more ideas per horsepower.”  Or “we don’t build motorcycles, we’re a lifestyle merchant company.” It’s that line of reasoning which is nice for marketing collateral, but when you actually dissect its meaning, it’s a  “wait, huh?” moment.

Harley-Davidson Five-Year Sales Slump

Levatich was promoted when Harley announced in February 2015 that he would succeed Keith E. Wandell as President and CEO of Harley-Davidson, Inc. upon Wandell’s retirement on May 1st.

You might even recall that back in August 2008, Matt Levatich, who at that time was vice president and general manager of parts and accessories and custom vehicle operations (CVO), was named managing director of its newly acquired premium Italian motorcycle company MV Agusta Group.  I blogged about this $108 million acquisition being a train wreck (Go Italian) back in 2008.  That deal was heavily promoted as a major part of Harley’s bid to increase its presence in Europe, where it had seen sales grow in the double digits the previous three years, offsetting weaker performance in the US.  The $108 million included $69 million paid to erase MV’s debts and included the Cagiva brand.

Just 14 months later, the Milwaukee “jetsetters” revealed during the Q3’09 financial results, the motor company would divest from the Italian national symbol of motorcycling and the real gut punch was—they would discontinue the Buell® product line.  I don’t recall seeing a lot of MV Agusta T-shirts, coffee and dog collars so, I guess it wasn’t a good fit.  Unfortunately, Levatich will go down in the motorcycle history books as the man that shut down Buell.  Granted the previous CEO, Keith E. Wandell, started unwinding the process caught up in the axel, but Levatich concluded the 16-years of collaboration.  It never added up as a smart business decision and every time I go back and research the articles and press releases it sounds more like someone had a vendetta they wanted to settle.

It’s my view that the blame for Harley-Davidson’s poor results lies squarely with the board of directors!

Poor performing companies don’t get that way because of any single decision or for that matter any single leader. Patterns of historical decisions, strategic neglect, and misallocation of resources all contribute to the deterioration in performance; some contributing factors may even lie outside the company’s control—looking at you tariffs!

Typically a CEO is dismissed not because the board has thoughtfully and deliberately concluded that it’s time for a change at the top, but because investors, concerned about poor performance, demand a change.

Let’s hope Mr. Zeitz and the board of directors have a blueprint for success.

UPDATED: March 1, 2020 — added sales chart and text on length of Levatich career.

UPDATED: March 4, 2020 — According to the company’s 8-K regulatory filing on Monday, March 2nd, Levatich will receive a severance in line with the company executive severance plan.  The company’s 2019 proxy statement states; top company officers will receive a cash severance of 24 months of base salary and 18 months continuation of certain employee benefits, such as life insurance, medical, dental, vision, as well as outplacement and financial planning benefits, if employment is terminated for reasons other than for cause.  The Milwaukee motor company had 12 previous quarters of sales decline, and Levatich’s severance payment will be $2,152,500.  Assuming a 2018 base salary of $1,076,250.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  Sales chart courtesy of Bloomberg news.

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1984 Honda Magna (VF700C or V42)

It’s a play on George Orwell’s dystopian 1949 novel 1984 — where the world in 1984 is under control of Big Brother and the Thought Police who enforced the rules against individuality and original thinking — essentially praising society’s achievement on the “Unification of Thoughts.

Taking a page from Apple’s Super Bowl ad, my “1984 wasn’t like 1984,” — thumbing my nose at the roots of America, I purchased a little slice of freedom and original thinking in the form of a Honda VF700C or V42 Magna.

That shiny jet black Honda Magna (V42) had a liquid-cooled, double-overhead cam 90° V4 engine (displacement is 699cc or 42.7 ci) with four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 10.5:1.  Honda claimed it’s output was 82 crankshaft HP at 9,500 RPM.  The motorcycle had a smooth shifting 6-speed transmission, a wet multi-plate clutch that was hydraulically activated and shaft final drive with helical gearing in the rear-drive unit.  The motorcycle featured twin horns, coil rear springs, hydraulic clutch, air preload front fork with anti-dive valving, and an engine temperature gauge.

1984 Honda Magna (VF700C)Specs

Braking was delivered via a hydraulic activated double twin-piston disc brakes up front and a traditional non-ABS mechanical internal expanding drum brake in the rear. Great for leaving skid marks, but not so much for stopping!

The instrumentation was housed in chrome and included an analog speedometer, tachometer and engine coolant temperature gauge, along with lights for oil pressure, neutral, turn signals, tail light burn-out and a light that illuminated “OD” which let the rider know the transmission was in 6th gear.

As I reminisce on riding the Magna, I recall it having good power and a broad torque band.  Given its light weight and low center of gravity, the motorcycle was easy to ride in the city or a twisty two-lane country road. The Magna’s features were truly pushing the state-of-the-art for a production cruiser in its day.

From a historical viewpoint, only a few years had past since Harley-Davidson executed the epic buy back from AMF.  Their sales hadn’t reached the levels they envisioned, in part, because the AMF era was famous for shoddy quality, bikes requiring a lot of maintenance and the Milwaukee motor company was getting knocked down publicly and in need of some sunshine.

The poor quality and hi-maintenance requirements on Harley motorcycles was a key factor in my decision to purchase Honda.  In fact, a member of our posse also purchased a Honda, a V65 Magna (VF1100C) the same year.  Man, those V65 Magna’s (1,098 cc) were fast.  It was Honda’s initial entry in the “1/4 mile wars” between all the Japan manufacturers during the ’80s.

As Harley skidded toward bankruptcy, you might recall they petitioned and lobbied the Reagan administration in 1982 to raise tariffs on Japanese manufacturers because of “Dumping.”

“Dumping” in this context refers to exporting a product at a lower price than is charged in the home market, or selling at a price that is lower than the cost to produce it.  In April 1983, President Reagan signed into law an act that imposed draconian import tariffs for a five-year period on Japanese motorcycles with a displacement of greater than 700 cc.  This would give the sole American motorcycle maker some breathing room from intense competition to retool, get its act together and turn profitable.

However, Honda quickly responded to the retaliatory import duties and retooled the engines (what had been the 750cc class, VF750C V45 Magna) to displace just under 700cc; making them immune to the financial impact of the tariff.  One of the bikes that debuted as a “tariff buster” in 1984 was the V42 Magna.  Ironically and in a show of engineering superiority, it had three additional horsepower compared to the 750cc!

Harley was eventually able to turn a corner and the motor company ultimately requested that the tariff protection end early — essentially stating, they were now strong enough to take on the best competition in the world!

While the act was supposed to last for five years, then CEO Vaughn Beals asked that it be lifted a year early in 1987.  The 5-year tariff officially expired in 1988. That same year the Honda Magna reverted back to its original size of 748 cc.

Photos courtesy of Honda and Harley-Davidson Museum.

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