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Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 10.42.54 AMNot long ago Jesse James of West Coast Chopper (WCC) fame left California for the more gun-friendly state of Texas.

On the motorcycle front there’s no denying that he is a master marketer and craftsman.  But, motorcycle craftsman to custom firearms entrepreneur?  Not everyone was thrilled.

Keep in mind that it’s been 16 years since Discovery channel chronicled his every move in Motorcycle Mania.

Meanwhile, some in the firearms community were reluctant to accept his custom line of guns (JJFU — Jesse James Firearms Unlimited) as anything other than being overpriced “customization.”  But, hand-made firearms blended with multiple layers of different metals in Damascus style craftsmanship is an art form and now with months of product backlog after a couple years of forging his own work, those allegations don’t hold true.

Now the National Rifle Association announced a new licensing deal with Jesse James that will venture into Second Amendment-themed apparel with a branded clothing line called NRA Originals.

The Jesse James “outlaw persona” has without a doubt gathered a fan base over the years and one the NRA is looking to tap into.

Photo courtesy of NRA Originals web site.

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Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 2.35.53 PMDo you agree with the adage — “You are what you ride?”

While I don’t claim the axiom is foolproof, there are many observable examples that support the concept — from the successful lawyer driving to the office in a tire-shredding German sedan and then rides a chopped and stripped down Forty Eight on the weekends, to the general contractor who most days is in a tool-ridden F-250, but prefers to ride a CVO Limited, the grand American cruiser for the long road trips.

I fell hard for Harley-Davidson (over 20 years ago now) and it took me more than three models later to acquire the current riding spirit of the Road Glide.

I’ll admit it.  I enjoy the attention that comes with owning motorcycles of the Harley-Davidson caliber — parking lot discussions and drive-by salutations from strangers.  Sure it sounds pretentious, but I’ve spent way too much time behind the handle bars of a Honda and Yamaha to resist metaphorically blowing my own horn.

Right or wrong, many of us place a great deal of importance on what we ride. Critiquing others freely, we are likewise judged by the sheet metal of our ride.  Because, like it or not, motorcycles are a reflection of ourselves — a view into our wind in the face wandering soul.

Think about it.

We often purchase what fits our current character and life status. Everything from the color to the style and model is carefully and deliberately selected.  Much of our riding and our life for that matter, is spent developing this ride persona — and it evolves as we do.  Our environment may change from year to year where a mortgage or a kid in college influences what sits in the garage — as would the line of work, the economy, the community and our circle of friends.  Whether we currently own the motorcycle of our dreams does not mean the statement is any more or less true.

As we know, not everyone can live with a Harley-Davidson status symbol — whether they intended to or not. Just go to any dealer and look at the low-mileage castaways in the used area. Those owners moved on to a more practical ride or abandoned the entire motorcycle “lifestyle.”  An association with a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is an extension of ourselves and a natural consequence of the freedom of the road culture. Like clothing, we dress in leather, steel and rubber, the same as we do with cotton or silk. Color, texture, design and shape — we’re being seen in public with our best “outfits.”

But, there is one great equalizer for all this pomp and circumstance activity — the gas station!  It’s the one place where we gather like creatures in the desert at the waterhole, replenishing empty tanks. The perfect spot to critique both motorcycle and rider while staring through polarized shades at the others from a distance.  I might dismount and swipe a credit card at the pump as fellow bikers draw conclusions based on my re-fueling habits.  I’m not bothered by that — after all, I’m doing precisely the same thing they did just minutes earlier.

Vanity comes in many forms, and even the modest will present their motorcycle with some defiance — like wearing blue jeans to a formal event.  It’s just a different perspective.

You may deceive society by how you look and the way you dress, your manner of speech and education, the neighborhood you live in or the reach of your bank account, but none of this really matters in a material world.  Because in that moment of judgement, you are inevitably what you ride.

Photos courtesy of H-D
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Sturgis Rally 2016 -- 76th

Sturgis Rally 2016 — 76th Year

Life is about choices. What to wear, what to eat, where to ride… And if you pondered each one in advance, trying to get it exactly right, you’d be left far behind and barely make it out of your house.

There’s something unique about touring by motorcycle whether it be spontaneous or calculated.  Some riders want a state-by-state listing of the best motorcycle roads with in-depth descriptions of each highway and ratings for the road’s scenery, surface quality, and a description of the best greasy food stops.  They obtain motorcycle maps, get motorcycle trip tips, reviews, suggestions, and more.  Others are just fine to point the front wheel in a direction with back roads, freeways and cornfields without ever looking at a map.

I’m having some personal restlessness and feeling a bit starved for rides this year. I was aiming for Laughlin, Sharkweek/Sturgis and Reno, but circumstances eliminated the first two.  I don’t need to worry about Reno, yet. Although, when I last looked, I see all the local hotels have already raised their rates for those dates.  Then I remind myself that the best rides I take are never the trips to any of the big rallies anyway.

And speaking of the heightened motorcycle adventure called Sturgis (August 6-13th) — prep is in full swing for the 76th Rally celebration which starts in a couple weeks.

Last year Harley-Davidson announced that the motor company is now the “official motorcycle” of the annual Black Hills Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota (through the year 2090!). And until November 2015, nobody had ever successfully trademarked the name of a city, but Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc. is the official sponsor of the Sturgis Rally and it has trademarked “Sturgis,” “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,” “Sturgis Rally & Races,” “Take The Ride To Sturgis” and “Sturgis Bike Week.” The corporation has also trademarked the official Sturgis rally logotype or picture mark. The oldest of these trademarks dates to 1997 and the most recent was registered in 2011, just before their suit was filed.  The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Inc., won that trademark infringement case against Walmart.

But, I’ve moved off topic where every American should try at least once the Legendary Steak Tip Dinner at the Loud American Roadhouse (no colors policy strictly enforced).

Harley-Davidson dropped a press release to outline all their plans at the 76th Sturgis Rally (HERE).  A quick re-cap is:
  • The Harley-Davidson Rally Point is a their permanent year-round space in Sturgis that will feature events and live music daily from the stage.
  • Kick-off Party for the 76th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Friday, Aug. 5, at 3 p.m.
  • Rides:
    • Mayor’s Ride featuring Grand Marshal Ben Bostrom, Monday, Aug. 8.
    • Harley-Davidson Editor’s Choice Bike Show, Tuesday, Aug. 9- Registration 8 a.m./Awards 4 p.m.
    • First Ever Angel’s Ride, Friday, Aug. 12 – The number of women riders is on the rise.
    • Free Motorcycle Demo Rides on the 2016 line-up.  Staging for demo rides takes place in the parking lot behind the Community Center
  • The Project RUSHMORE Experience is a behind-the-scenes and hands-on look at H-D’s latest touring motorcycle technology
  • H-D Fit Shop and Genuine Motor Parts & Accessories area is new this year will have a “Quick Install” area for 30-minute or less installations of selected accessories for your motorcycle.
  • Better than a selfie stick!  Pro Bike photos taken of you/your bike to post on social media and an option to purchase the photo as a keepsake.
  • Hollywood Harley Bikes from the movies Captain America and Avengers will be on display including Steve Rogers and the hero bike from FX’s Sons of Anarchy TV show will be located on a red carpet area

In addition, there are many, many other “not-to-be-missed” activities around town, in the camp grounds and at various music venues.

Whether you are spontaneously twisting throttles to South Dakota or making a road trip that is highly calculated — Enjoy!

@HarleyDavidson social media is providing wall-to-wall coverage at #LiveYourLegend.  The official H-D Sturgis App, is at:  www.h-d.com/sturgis.

Photo courtesy of H-D.
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A Marketing Staff Meeting at H-D?

Reflection of a Marketing staff meeting at H-D?

I don’t know who the people in “People” are and candidly I don’t care.  I use to have some casual interest, but as I’ve aged, I realized that promoting faux stars is how an industry makes itself feel good about itself.

 
I grew up in a different time.  Yes, I’m getting older, put me down for it, as some readers do, but unlike some of you I’m wise and experienced. And when I grew up, hard work, a bit of skill and insight would not only get you a house in a reasonable neighborhood, but the ability to support your family and go on vacation. Now, most people can’t even pay their bills.

When you think of “aging boomers,” what comes to mind?  Accelerating retirements, workforce skill shortages, stagnant incomes, or runaway health care spending?  It’s unlikely you think about aging as an economic drag on Harley-Davidson, right?
H-D History

H-D History

Down the road from my place, in the rolling farmlands north of Sunset Highway (U.S. 26), is a greasy burger joint called Helvetia Tavern … a place I’ve been known to frequent a little more often than my doctor might recommend, but the burgers are oh so good!  If you stop there on any given summer weekend, you might see a dozen or more bikers parked in the lot, who are talking bikes and showing off their blacked-out or chrome-laden Harleys.  And nearly all of them are over the age of 45. Many are over 50.

This isn’t a coincidence.  Harley-Davidson is a brand whose sales depend disproportionately — almost exclusively, in fact — on middle-aged males. There have been business case studies written and stock investment analysis looking at the H-D demographics while espousing doom and gloom for the company.  The fact is that motor company has been working hard to try and capture a younger, more diverse set of riders, including women and are trying to appeal to the less experienced and younger riders who want cheaper alternatives.

Blackline Appeal

Blackline Appeal

I would submit that riders younger than 30 generally lack the time, interest or the bankroll to buy a Harley for touring. And by the time they get into their 50s or older, riding with the wind in the face loses it’s allure.  It’s the noise, it’s the traffic, it’s the increased dangers, it’s the joint pain of long rides, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s raining, it’s… always something.

I know that many of you are riding into your late 60s, but my observation is you’re doing it less frequently and you’re not buying a new bike as often as you might have in your 40’s.  That means Harley has a growth problem with the boomer demographic that will not go away.  Even with a robust economy which we are not experiencing.

But, this is all well documented and debatably old news (“Living High on the Hog” (WSJ: February 5, 2007).

Looking at the challenges...

Looking at the H-D boomer challenges…

The challenge for Harley-Davidson, in my view, is how they will continue to tap into the enormous resource that older Americans can provide?  Boomers are generally healthier and more educated than prior generations.  They are the largest group starting new businesses both in Oregon and nationally.  And many economic projections about aging are misguided because they are based on outdated notions about retirement and what it means to grow older.

I can speak with some authority on this aging topic and it’s debatable whether Harley-Davidson can grow if boomers decide to quit riding in mass.  I wanted to offer up some observations:

  • Boomers are bombarded by media.  In an attention overload society it’s very hard for the message to get noticed because it’s noisy out there and hype is more prevalent than ever.
  • Boomers believe everything they’re into should last forever, but it doesn’t, just like them.
  • Have all the latest gadgets but barely know how to use them.
  • Boomers know the lyrics of “Hotel California.”
  • The boomers can’t square looking good with feeling bad. All the hogwash about 50 being the new 30 and 60 being the new 40 has convinced them that they’re breaking the laws of science, but the truth is people break down, everybody does.
  • Want to be anti TV, but talk about doing Netflix marathons.
  • Were into the Great Society, but now don’t want to pay taxes, especially if the benefits don’t flow to them.
  • Believed boil-able vegetable bags by the Green Giant were the future only to find out fresh and local was truly “in.”
  • Thought college was where you grew up and learned something as opposed to overpaying for an entry ticket to a job.
  • Still believe in government, and that their voice and vote counts.
  • Know that you work ever harder for less money.
  • Remember when companies were loyal.
  • Remember when you fixed stuff, now you just throw it out and buy a new one.
  • Want manufacturing to come back to the U.S., but still want very cheap electronics.
  • Boomers talk about their health. The pills they take, the conditions they have, it comes up in conversation, and it doesn’t bug them, it’s akin to discussing bands when they were younger.
  • Realize opportunity has slipped through their fingers. But are still dreamers nonetheless.
  • Baseball, motorcycles and big block automobiles are so twentieth century.  Baby boomers don’t stop talking about them, but their kids shrug their shoulders and lust for the latest mobile device.

Sure some of these observations are broad generalities and I’m painting a large group with a wide brush here, but I’m sure something resonated, right?   Once upon a time the baby boomers were the younger generation, champing at the bit to replace our parents. But now we’re fading off into the sunset, just like Letterman.  So long the era of the baby boomers. They were the largest segment of the population, who pushed and pulled and help change the world.

But, let’s face it, aging isn’t so much about the fact that we are getting older.  It’s about how the motor company is always going after the young buyer and often denigrates or discounts the older demographic.  They make an assumption that today’s Americans will behave in much the same way as prior cohorts did.  I don’t know about you, but boomers in general have reshaped every element of society as they’ve aged.  And, I would submit that Harley-Davidson is placing a disproportionate amount of focus and customer feedback on the youth lifestyle.  Sean Cummings, H-D senior vice president of global demand reinforced this by stating:  “We’re targeting the 55 million Generation X’ers to get them back out and riding.”  In doing so, it makes it harder for Harley to keep a finger on the pulse of the aging motorcyclist.

It might be someone else’s time (looking at you Millennials and GenX), but what is not fixed is how affluent boomers respond to Harley-Davidson motorcycle changes.  You have to give boomers motorcycles/features they can get excited about and you can’t be too catering to old age.  No one likes to admit they’re getting older and at the other end of the spectrum you’ll alienate the entire boomer group if you cater to youth.

Power, sex and youth have long been used to sell motorcycles, so anything that suggests older buyers might not be as virile and agile as they were could backfire and only serve to fulfill the “Silver Tsunami.”

Photos courtesy of marketoonist.com and H-D.
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Curves Ahead

Curves Ahead

We’ve all done this a number of times.  Riding into a curve, adjusting your speed and noticing that you’re going 5 to 10 miles per hour above the posted speed on those yellow curve advisory speed signs.

Rarely do they seem accurate.

This is all about to change, but I feel compelled to go over this once again since it happens so often. The most common cause of single-vehicle, motorcycle crashes is where riders are seriously injured and/or die each year when they “drift” and/or fail to negotiate turns or curves, and they either end up in the opposing lane of traffic, or they lose control and crash.

One could debate that the worst riders are sometimes the people with the most experience because they think they are the great riders so they sometimes do not exercise the caution that they should.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 11.26.09 AMThe circumstances of drifting and the failure to negotiate a curve have resulted in multiple motorcycle deaths in Oregon just over the last 2 months!  Excessive speed is most often the main reason these “accidents” occur yet it’s one of the most preventable motorcycle crashes.  What typically happens is the rider gets into a turn and suddenly believes they are going too fast to make it around the curve. Maybe the rider hears the pegs start to scrape. Since they are not familiar with that sound, they panic, straighten up the bike, then look at the yellow line in the road, the guard rail, or even the oncoming vehicle and a crash occurs.  In many situations the motorcycle was very capable of making the turn at the speed the rider was going, but the rider was not.

They teach you in motorcycle safety courses that before you enter a curve you should direct your motorcycle to the farthest part of the lane away from the turn so that you can theoretically see around the turn more.  For example, when rounding a curve to the left, position your bike to the right side of the lane and focus on the end of the turn and no where else. Never look at the yellow line, the guard rail, or the oncoming car. If the road curves to the right, position your bike to the left side of the lane as you enter the curve.  However, you might find that sometimes it is not safe to go to the farthest part of the lane away from a curve because of oncoming cars or debris on the shoulder.  In the end the safest thing to remember when going around curves is to keep a safe speed period.

Changes...

Updating curve ‘advisory speed’ signs…

Now about those changes…

Updated federal procedures require consistency of curve advisory speeds on all public roads and the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is updating curve ‘advisory speed’ signs around the state. This means that some 50-75 percent of all curve speed advisory signs will change over the next three to four years, most will see an increase in the advisory speed of 5 to 10 mph.  Yes, you read that correct.  An INCREASE in speed!

Historically advisory speeds were very conservative or inconsistent and now with new technology to determine advisory speeds for curves they will be closer to what riders should be traveling at through a curve. If you are accustom to going faster than the posted advisory speed it may not end well!

Read more on the comprehensive assessment of the ODOT Curve Advisory Speeds Program (PDF file), performed by Oregon State University researchers.

Photos courtesy of ODOT.
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Project RUSHMORE on the prototype table.

Project RUSHMORE on the prototype table.

Pop quiz time.

What does Project RUSHMORE mean?  Can you explain the concept in the amount of time that it takes to pour your favorite refreshment?

Insert  — 30 second timer with Jeopardy “Thinking” music…

Give up?  Well according to Harley-Davidson’s U.S. Media Relations Manager, Jen Hoyer: “The term Project RUSHMORE has a dual meaning. First, it’s rooted in the image of Mount Rushmore and its significance to many motorcycle riders around the world as the iconic destination of a dream ride – along with the relationship to Sturgis and the South Dakota’s Black Hills. It’s that kind of motorcycle journey that brings Harley-Davidson products to life.

Early drawing of Project RUSHMORE

Early concept drawing of Project RUSHMORE

“Second, RUSHMORE is also about the combined ideas of ‘rush’ and ‘more,’ representing the performance and features Harley-Davidson has designed into new motorcycles. Working with our customers, we’ve created motorcycles that allow us all to see more, feel more, hear more and of course rush more. We wanted this era of Touring bikes to be distinguishable in terms of all the changes that we made.”

From my vantage Project RUSHMORE was simple.  The factory talked to thousand of riders, asking what kind of improvements, gadgets and updates they would like to see. Then, they took the unusual step of actually engineering and incorporating the best of these ideas into production bikes.  Imagine that.  A business culture where you ask the customer what they want and then provide it!

Initially eight models were retooled and enhanced under Project RUSHMORE, making it the largest new model launch in Harley’s history.  Innovative marketing mixed with a proactive approach to customer satisfaction.

Photo taken by author at the H-D Museum.
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Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 3.41.17 PMI’ve never been ask this question, but I was curious how you know if you’re under Federal investigation?

In Harley-Davidson’s case it might have been a knock on the door of the Milwaukee HQ.

As it turns out, the U.S. government is investigating complaints from Harley-Davidson owners who say their motorcycle brakes failed without warning.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states the investigation covers 430,000 motorcycles with model years from 2008 through 2011 and the investigation stems from motorcycles with an anti-lock braking system.

A common motorcycle maintenance task is to replace the hydraulic fluid in the brake system.  Check your service manual, but for many Harley-Davidson models it’s recommended to change the D.O.T. 4 fluid and flush the brake system every two years.

Did you know brake fluid can collect condensation over time from the outside air?  Brake fluid collects water in a similar fashion as your McDonald’s soda cup has water droplets on the outside. Hydraulic fluid will over time absorb water which causes the fluid to boil when the brakes are applied and will reduce effectiveness of the system.  A spongy brake feel might be a combination of contaminated brake fluid or air in the system. Either way, changing the brake fluid is often recommended.

41300152_obBut, I’ve digressed.  Motorcyclists have reported that the brakes on the hand lever and foot pedal did not work, causing one driver to crash into a garage door.

Government regulators said they’ve received 43 complaints, three reports of crashes and two reports of injuries.  The NHTSA said it is possible that some riders who experienced brake failure did not change the motorcycle’s brake fluid every two years as recommended by Harley-Davidson Inc.  The old fluid may corrode valves in the anti-lock braking system, but even if riders did not change the fluid, the sudden brake failure “is a concern.”This is not a motorcycle product safety recall as of yet.

Harley-Davidson stated it was aware of the Federal investigation and that it was cooperating with regulators.

Photos courtesy of H-D.

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