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Archive for the ‘Vintage’ Category

1970 Harley-Davidson XR-750

I’m talking about the Harley-Davidson XR-750, which last month marked the 50th Anniversary since it’s debut.

From 1953 to 1969,  Harley-Davidson manufactured the KR750, the backbone of American dirt track racing.

The motorcycle engine was an air cooled, side valve 4-stroke 45° V-twin (flathead), 45.125 cu in (739.47 cc) displacement built for racing.  Unique for Harley’s at that time, the KR model shifted on the right, like a British bike, which worked great for dirt track.  It wasn’t until 1975, when DOT specified that all motorcycles sold in the U.S. had to have a standardized, left-side gear shift.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing

Prior to 1969, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the Grand National Championship were structured to favor “sidevalvers” (side-valve engines) rather than overhead-valve (OHV) engines.  The intent was to deliberately favor American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and disadvantage the competition which was mainly from British manufactures i.e., Triumph, BSA, and Norton. The AMA rules allowed side-valve engines of up to 750cc capacity but OHV engines were limited to 500cc. The 50% engine size advantage stacked the odd in the favor of the side-valve bikes.

As you might imagine, the British manufactures complained…about everything—the rules, the manufactures, the officials, the drivers, the races, and the racing itself.

Harley-Davidson XR-750

As a result, in 1969, in prep for the 1970 race season, the AMA approved that all professional Amateur & Expert dirt track and speedway engines could be 750cc, regardless of configuration or valve style. This rule change eliminated the 250cc penalty for OHV engines that had existed since 1933.  Many British manufacturers begin designing and developing OHV 750cc engines for competition. To be approved by the AMA (for Class C competition), a motorcycle must be a standard catalogued production model and at least 200 units of the same model with identical engines and transmissions and must be available for inspection and/or purchase within the United States.

XR-750 Engine – Ported and Polished Heads

Unhappy with the decision, but with a desire to continue the racing legacy, Harley-Davidson set out to create a new overhead-valve racing motorcycle.  The Milwaukee motor company leveraged their OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR.  However, it’s engine had a displacement of 900cc (55 cu. in.) and would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. Harley-Davidson engineers accomplished this by decreasing the engine’s stroke from 3.81″ to 2.983″ and increased the bore from 3.0″ to 3.2″ bringing the engine in just under the 750cc maximum.

The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson “XR”, a 750cc V-twin overhead valve engine, for Class C competition on Feburary 27, 1970. It had been tentatively approved in late-1969 as the “750 Sportster”, but the motor company lacked having 200 units available for inspection at the time. The motorcycle is dubbed the “iron XR“, or “Iron Head,” due to its steel cylinders and heads.

Even Knievel

For the 1972 race season, there were a number of changes.  A vote was taken on November 18, 1971, and the AMA Competition Congress voted to allow qualified women to compete in all forms of AMA Racing.

The Water-Cooling was approved, as long as it is an integral part of a production motorcycle.  Titanium frames were outlawed from all AMA competition. The AMA approved the Harley-Davidson XR-750, an updated version of the XR, for Class C competition on April 12, 1972. The updated engine used aluminum cylinders and heads to address the overheating issues that plagued the XR model. However, due to delays in getting all 200 units completed, it wasn’t approved in time for the Daytona 200, but debuts at the Colorado Springs national on April 30, 1972.

Speaking of aluminum heads, they were made, then shipped to Jerry Branch of Branch Flowmetrics in Long Beach, California to be ported and assembled. The new cylinder head design included larger valves. The cylinder heads were then shipped back to Harley-Davidson’s factory in Milwaukee for fitting to the new engines. This V-twin engine was not quite of the same dimensions as the Iron Head. The bore was increased to 3.1” and the stroke reduced to 3”. Carburetors were 36mm Mikuni, one for each cylinder. The exhaust systems were mounted high on the left side of the motorcycle well away from the carburetors.  Power was 82hp at 7,700rpm giving the bike a top speed of around 115mph.

Harley-Davidson Flat Track Racing Team

Branch wrote engineering books on his engine air flow work and eventually sold Branch Flowmetrics to Mikuni in the late 1990s.  Branch was the only independent company to ever supply Harley-Davidson ported and polished heads!

In 1972, Harley-Davidson was the first-ever “Grand National Manufacturer’s Championship“, which compiles the highest finish of each brand at every Grand National Championship event.  Between 1972 and 2008, the XR-750 won 28 of 37 AMA Grand National Championships. The XR-750 racked up more wins than any other motorcycle in AMA racing history and earned the description of being the “most successful race bike of all time.”  In addition, the XR-750 became a cultural icon with legendary stuntman Evel Knievel at the handlebars. Evel Knievel began jumping an XR-750 at the height of his career from 1970 to 1976.

Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling.

For 2020, the Harley-Davidson Factory Flat Track team will use the updated Harley-Davidson® XG750R flat tracker, powered by the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected and race-tuned 750cc Harley-Davidson® Revolution X™ V-Twin designed for the Street 750 motorcycle.

Full details on the Flat Track team can be found HERE.  Flat Track racing news is HERE.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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President Ronald Reagan With CEO Vaughn Beals

In 2020, April Fools is passé and pranks are out.  The pandemic crisis has changed humor!

The popular metaphor for speech is “Shouting fire in a crowded theater,” which may cause panic.  The seriousness of COVID-19 has the capacity to frighten in a visceral way the public and dedicating a blog post to misleading people just seems like a very bad idea.

Do you remember a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when tariffs were being used to control unfair trade practices (labor, environment and other issues).

Former H-D CEO Matthew Levatich With Recode’s Kara Swisher Discussing Tariff’s

Recall the hysteria of — Tariffs bad, Harley good?

Harley-Davidson execs and investors panicked when the European bloc raised its 6% tariff to 31% on motorcycles. That made each motor company motorcycle about $2,200 more expensive to export, and forced the company into opening another manufacturing plant in Thailand.

Thirty-seven years ago today, President Ronald Reagan took bold steps to protect Harley-Davidson from foreign competitors.  It was April 1, 1983, when Reagan ordered massive tariffs on large Japanese motorcycles to help the last surviving maker of American-made motorcycles.

President Ronald Reagan at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987

I’ve previously written about how during the 1970’s, Japanese motorcycle manufacturers flooded the U.S. motorcycle market decreasing Harley-Davidson’s market share. It had only been a few years 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.

With poor quality and high-maintenance requirements, Harley was skiding toward bankruptcy.  In 1982, Harley-Davidson sought protection from the International Trade Commission (ITC) and requested a tariff on all overseas heavyweight motorcycles. This was the first and only time such a request was made to the ITC. They also lobbied the Reagan administration to raise tariffs on Japanese manufacturers because of “Dumping,” which 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.

President Ronald Reagan and CEO Vaughn Beals at H-D York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987 — Recieving Appreciation Award

It was a different time and President Reagan used tariffs, versus tweets, to change the course of the American motorcycle industry.

On April 1, 1983, April Fools Day, President Reagan signed into law an act that imposed draconian import tariffs for a five-year period on Japanese motorcycles with displacement of greater than 700 cc’s.  This would give the American motorcycle maker some breathing room from intense competition to retool, get its act together and turn profitable. While the act was supposed to last for five years, then CEO Vaughn Beals asked that it be lifted a year early in 1987.

It was as good then and just as good today… Remarking about the celebrated Harley-Davidson turnaround in 1987, President Reagan quipped (recorded in this Podcast), “Never bet against Americans.

If you are in need of some reading humor, check out these previous April Fools posts:
Harley-Davidson Boom Box Infotainment Virus
I Quit
Harley-Davidson Launches Blackline L-Edition
Keith Wandell Retirement Revs Up Harley
Wagoner Tapped As Harley CEO

Bonus:  President Reagan’s Remarks (Video) to Harley-Davidson Company Employees in York, Pennsylvania on May 6, 1987.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson, Recode and Ronald Regan Foundation

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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SS Thistlegorm Bow

I like fish.

When SCUBA diving, as you descend through the water, just at that point where the reef or wreck features become clear, fish of all kinds will often swim right up to you and nibble anything they can, in order to get a better idea of just what you are.

It’s common practice to tuck away longer hair and keep your fingers balled up to avoid having them nicked by pesky fish passing-by.  In some parts of the diving world, the nibbles seem to take this habit to another level.

SS Thistlegorm Stern

I’ve dived in some of the same pristine blue waters as the “Father” of SCUBA diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his legendary dive team, but I’ve never descended through water in the Egyptian Red Sea where these were first ‘discovered.’

I’m talking about the SS Thistlegorm.

It’s a 4,900 ton British armed freighter that was launched in April 1940 during World War II.  In 1952, Jacques Cousteau ‘re-discovered’ the SS Thistlegorm Wreck after following fishermen’s information and in 1956, the National Geographic with Cousteau made the first documentary on this war grave.  The local folklore is that Cousteau chopped down the mast so others would not as easily find the wreck.

Cousteau on SS Thistlegorm.  Article in the February, 1956 National Geographic Magazine.  Photo by Luis Marden

After the SS Thistlegorm three successful voyages to collect war related resources from the United States, Agentina, and the West Indies, she set sail on her fourth voyage from Glasgow in June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt.

The vessel’s cargo included trucks, armored cars, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, guns, ammunition, radio equipment , aircraft parts, railway wagons, and two steam locomotives, which were carried on deck. The cargo was to resupply allied forces in Egypt, which would become part of the famed British Eighth Army in September 1941.

The Albyn line named all of their ships after the thistle, the national flower of Scotland. Gorm is Gaelic for blue.  Between 1901 and 1960 the Albyn Line owned 18 ‘thistle’ ships, from the first Thistledhu, the black thistle, to the last, Thistleroy, or red thistle, the second of her name.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

Notably, there were more than 100 motorcycles aboard the SS Thistlegorm. The Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) produced the famous motorcycles found on the wreck, which are located in Hold #1.  The Norton 16H’s are in the lower level of Hold #2 and many are loaded onto Fordson War Office Transport (WOT) trucks.

Norton was the primary motorcycle supplier to the British Military during WWII, almost 100,000 of the Norton 16H Model were built for service. Due to the relatively high ground clearance and solid reliability the Norton, it was favored for despatch work, it was also used for training, reconnaissance, convoy control and escort duties.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

The Norton 16H had an extraordinarily long lifespan, they were originally introduced in 1911, then built through to 1954. The 16H was fitted with a 490cc side-valve engine and had a bore/stroke of 79/100mm. The “H” in the name simply means “Home”, the Nortons that were built for service overseas with the Australian, New Zealand, Indian and the Canadian Armies were denoted with a “C” for “colonies”.

The SS Thistlegorm was part of a convoy of 16 ships heading to Alexandria resupplying the British 8th Army at Tobruk.  The convoy was halted at Sha’ab Ali (Safe Anchorage F) because a tanker had run into a German mine at the entrance to the Suez canal, and the convoy had to wait until the wreckage was cleared.  The Thistlegorm was sunk during a surprise attack by a pair of Heinkel He-111 bombers dispatched from Kampfgeschwader (flight squadron) KG26 in Crete.  The German bombers were originally ordered to search for, and sink, the RMS Queen Mary.

After failing to find the RMS Queen Mary, they were heading back to base in Crete due to being low on fuel when they came across the ship convoy by accident.

SS Thistlegorm Prop

Four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew died in the bombing (Wreck Location Map: 27° 49′ 03″ N, 33° 55′ 14″E) as ammunition stored in Hold #4 exploded and ripped open the hull.

Most of the cargo remained on board following a long period of disinterest.  Until Dr. Adel Taher, the founder of Sharm’s Hyperbaric Medical Centre, ‘rediscovered’ the wreck in the early 1990s with three friends and dived it in secret for a few years.

Then growth of sport diving took off in the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh became a popular scuba diving destination.  The depth of the wreck is around 100 feet and makes it ideal for diving without the need for specialized equipment and training, but dive operators didn’t practice social distancing and word spread as the location became the most popular scuba diving and tourist destination in Egypt and the Red Sea.  Now there are severe issues with preserving artifacts and the history of the ship wreck.

1940’s Norton-Model-16H-Military

It would be tempting, even with unexploded ordinance, to retrieve a Norton or two, but the ship wreck is a war grave and not to be disturbed.

Bonus: A 1942 training film prepared for the British Army during World War II on maintenance of the Norton 16H via YouTube HERE.

References: Wikipedia, Dive Magazine UK, Dive Zone, Red Sea Wreak Project, The Thistlegorm Project 

NOTE: Trademarks, copyrights and other names or brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Photos courtesy of Denis Zorzin, National Geographic, Luis Marden, Dive Magazine UK, Super Jolly

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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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 1937 Model UL — Flathead

In a previous post, I briefly touched on a remarkable collection of classics in the northwest and how I was most fortunate to interview the family and learn more about an inspirational man with a genuine love of wrenching on vintage motorcycles.

In this post, I’m taking a deeper dive on the first (frame-up) restoration in that collection — a 1937 Harley-Davidson Model U-Series Flathead.

According to Harley-Davidson, the UL production in 1937 was 2,861 units and the motorcycle sold for $395 or the equivalent purchasing power of about $7,100 in 2020.

Harley-Davidson 1937 Model UL — Teak Red

There is nothing more alarming than a motorcycle that has been built, modified or customized by someone of dubious talent and knowledge. All it takes is a quick spin around Craigslist, searching for the terms “project,” “bobber,” “custom” or “café racer” to turn up any number of bikes that will have you saying WTF.

Many times these projects are started with the best of intentions, but the absolute worst are the ones that are started in an attempt to make a quick buck, or resurrect a wadded up bike.

However, this ’37 wasn’t someone else’s project.  It would need help bringing her back to life, but it had all the original sheet metal, flathead engine, transmission, speedometer, leather saddle bags, solo seat and more.

Instruction Manual

Bob spent several years on the identification, collection of manuals and parts search for this exceptionally high caliber restoration.  He completed the motorcycle restoration in 1975 and was often seen riding it at various antique club events through-out the years. The motorcycle has lots of crowd-pleasing brightwork, is an excellent runner with showy pieces of Art Deco styling and old school looks.

A fascinating backstory is the original restoration color on this ’37 was Olive Green with Black striping. Bob loved spending time with his grandkids who were all very involved in taking things apart including motorcycles.  It started with bicycles then mini-bikes and later on with motorcycles and automobiles.  In his workshop, he’d show them how to take apart things and repair them — the correct way — with the correct tools!  Several years after completing this restoration, he decided to work on a project with his grandkids and taught them how to disassemble the ’37 inorder to repaint the sheet metal Teak Red.  Those kids meant the world to him and passing down his tradesman skills might be his legacy.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The ’37 is an excellent example of the — Flathead Engine — a charming, honest, beautiful bike that doesn’t rely on diaper-shined chrome or flawless paint to impress.  Named for its flat-topped, vented cylinder heads, the side valve-equipped (using tappets) 74 cubic inch V model Big Twin actually came out in 1930, but in 1937 the U-series motors were of dry-sump oil design.

At first flatheads seemed out-of-step or backwards compared to higher-horsepower overhead-valve designs. But, out in the real world, the “flatty’s” broad spread of torque, less clattery operation and cheaper buy-in continued to win over riders.  The 74 cubic inch “F” motor has a 4-speed tank-shift transmission and a Linkert M51 mechanical butterfly carburetor.

The teardrop-shaped fuel tank is adorned with an instrument panel (dubbed the “Cat’s Eye”) that bundled all the gauges into one graceful package. It even has the rare dash panel with the oil and amperage indicators.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL — aka “Cat Eye”

The Big Twin model was built in part to compete with the 74 cubic inch Indian Chief.  The U and UL models featured 74 cubic inch power plants, and the UH and the ULH models were outfitted with 80 cubic inch engines. The 80 cubic inch models were produced until 1941, and the 74 cubic inch U and UL models were in production until 1948. The three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Servi-Cars made from the early 1930s through 1975, were powered by flathead engines during their entire run of production.

One of the most notable improvements found on the ’37 U-series, was the new design, which recirculates the oil from the oil tank, through the engine and back to the oil tank. Up until 1936, all Harley-Davidson motorcycles used “total loss” systems, which essentially ran the oil from the oil tank, through the engine and ultimately onto the ground.  Thus the nickname: “road oilers.”

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The valves are actuated by four gear-driven camshafts (one per valve) and used adjustable tappets to maintain precise spacing between the cam lobs and the valve stems. Although the cylinder heads don’t contain any moving parts, they do play an important role in cooling the engine. Initially Harley-Davidson outfitted the U-series motors with cast iron cylinder heads, but soon switched to forged aluminum alloy heads with deeper cooling fins for improved cooling. The engine has brass spark plug inserts added to address the former engines’ problems of stripping threads. This motorcycle doesn’t have them, but at the time customers could opt for optional silicon aluminum heads.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

Fuel and air are fed into the motor using a single Linkert carburetor, which is positioned on the left side of the motorcycle. Harley reversed this arrangement for its overhead motors, which all have right side carburetors. Exhaust was routed and expelled via a single fishtail muffler on the right side.

The primary chain, located on the left-side,  transmits power from the engine to the 4-speed transmission. The transmission is hand shifted via a lever mounted on the left side of the fuel tank and the clutch is controlled with a foot pedal. A secondary chain transmits power from the transmission to the rear wheel using a brake drum mounted sprocket.

The front and rear drum brakes are engaged manually with no hydraulic assistance. The front uses a cable to connect a right side mounted hand lever to the left side mounted drum. The rear uses a series of adjustable rods to engage the motion of the right side brake pedal through the frame and out to the left side mounted rear drum.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

The ’37 Model UL rides on a “hardtail” frame.  Basically, there is no rear suspension. The sprung solo seat helps offset the lack of any rear suspension, and the “Springer” front end is the main suspension on the Model UL.  It’s a two piece element that uses six external springs on the top and moveable rocker arms on the bottom. The springs absorb impacts while the rocker arms permit vertical movement of the front axle.

The left hand grip operates the engine timing, allowing a rider to retard the timing for easy starting and advance the timing for normal running. The horn button and the high/low beam switch for the headlight are located on the left side handlebar as well.

1937 Harley-Davidson Model UL

Shifting the 4-speed transmission is accomplished using a hand lever that is attached to the left side of the fuel tank. A shift gate helps the rider find the gears without skipping gears when shifting. The foot operated clutch, known as a “rocker clutch” is used to engage and disengage the clutch. All Harley’s use the “toe to go” set up where pressing the clutch pedal forward with the toe engages the clutch and pushing the pedal back with your heel disengages the clutch. A friction disc is used to keep the clutch pedal in the heel back position, so that the rider does not have to keep their foot on the pedal when the motorcycle is stopped.

It’s challenging to explain the ’37 Harley-Davidson Model UL mystique.  There is both excitement and apprehension in managing the technique of a rocker clutch and tank mounted shifter.  Adding to the rider challenge is counteracting the heavy Springer front-end during a corner. Stability, if there is such a thing on this model, is a complicated matter and the manufacture of motorcycles in the 1930’s were very reluctant to talk about it.

In the fast moving world we live in today, it’s difficult to wrap your head around the bicycle-like origins starting in the Davidson family’s backyard more than 116-years ago.  If we had the luxury of going back in time, we could ask the young inventors, but I’d anticipate the founding group would be exceptionally proud of Bob’s restoration treasure and the enduring craftsmanship on “their” 1937 Model UL.

UPDATED: March 8, 2020 — The third post on this vintage motorcycle collection is: Every Restored Motorcycle Has A Story — The 1913 Single

Author Comments:  Although my name appears on the post, it takes a “village” to pull together this type of information.  I’m not only delighted to be working with Bob’s family, I also get the honor of thanking them here.

Photos taken by author and courtesy of Harley-Davidson.  

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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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Harley-Davidson Two-Cycle Engine

When you think about Harley-Davidson motorcycles, it’s most often about the V-Twin engines, the retro-styling and the inescapable sound.

Many forget that the motor company manufactured a lightweight two-stroke engine and runabout motorcycle for 15-years.

In 1947 as a 1948 model, if you purchased an entry level runabout motorcycle it came with a two-stroke 125 cc single piston motor.  There were two motorcycles engines built — the Model 125 or S-125 (eventually called the ST-125).  The Model 165 or ST-165 replaced the ST-125 in 1953 when the engine size was increased to 165 cc. The ST models were the motor companies idea of how America motorcycle riding should be accomplished after WWII.

The Hummer

So how did Harley-Davidson develop or get the 2-stroke design?

The name “DKW” comes from a two-stroke engine built in 1919 by the Danish engineer Jørgen Skafte Rasmussen, in Saxony, Germany. It was a small engine, which Rasmussen called Das Kliene Wunder (the little marvel) that gave DWK its start in the motorcycle industry.

As WWII drew to a close in 1945, DKW’s factories had either been damaged or occupied by the Red Army. The Soviets took DKW plans, tools, and personnel back to Moscow where copies of the 125 were soon produced. The Soviet version of the 125 was first released in 1946 as the Moskva M1A and later as the K-125.

AMF Merger – 1969

As part of Germany’s war reparations, Harley-Davidson acquired the rights to the German DKW three-speed, two-stroke 125 cc Single.  Harley product shipments began in 1948 and thousands were manufactured in various incarnation until production ceased in 1966.

An updated model called the Hummer was added to Harley’s lineup in 1955, and subsequently all Harley single-cylinder two-strokes built between 1948 and 1966 incorrectly have come to be known as Hummers. The Hummer was named after Dean Hummer, a Harley-Davidson dealer in Omaha, Nebraska who led national Harley two-stroke sales.  The Hummer was very basic — it had magneto ignition and was sold without battery, electric horn, turn signals, or a brake light.

The Topper Scooter

In 1960, Harley-Davidson consolidated the Model 165 and Hummer lines into the Super-10, introduced the Topper scooter, and bought fifty percent of Aermacchi’s motorcycle division. Importation of Aermacchi’s 250 cc horizontal single began in 1961. The motorcycle had Harley-Davidson badges and was marketed as the Harley-Davidson Sprint. The engine of the Sprint was increased to 350 cc in 1969 and would remain that size until 1974, when the four-stroke Sprint was discontinued.

In 1962, Harley-Davidson built the Ranger, an off-road motorcycle without lights, made only for a year.  It had an extra-low final-drive ratio of 7.0:1 (12-tooth countershaft gear and 84-tooth rear sprocket) had neither a lighting system or front fender. Speculation was this motorcycle was built to consume the motor company supply of 165 cc engines, which would not be needed for any other models.

Aermacchi-built Harley-Davidson — The  Sprint

After the Pacer and Scat models were discontinued at the end of 1965, the Bobcat became the last of Harley-Davidson’s American-made two-stroke motorcycles. The Bobcat was the last of the 125-based Harley’s and manufactured only in the 1966 model year.  It was also the only 125-based Harley with a standard dual seat.

In 1969, American Machine and Foundry (AMF) bought Harley-Davidson, streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. The tactic resulted in a labor strike and lower-quality bikes.  Sales and quality declined, and the company nearly went bankrupt.

Harley-Davidson replaced their American-made lightweight two-stroke motorcycles with the Aermacchi-built two-stroke powered M-65, M-65S, and Rapido. The M-65 had a semi-step-through frame and tank. The M-65S was a M-65 with a larger tank that eliminated the step-through feature. The Rapido was a larger bike with a 125 cc engine. The Aermacchi-built Harley-Davidsons became entirely two-stroke powered when the 250 cc two-stroke SS-250 replaced the four-stroke 350 cc Sprint in 1974.

Harley-Davidson purchased full control of Aermacchi’s motorcycle production in 1974 and continued making two-stroke motorcycles there until 1978, when they sold the facility to Cagiva and ending it’s run of two-stroke engines.

Photos courtesy of and taken at Harley-Davidson Museum

For additional Harley-Davidson V-Twin Engine History see this page.

Sources:
Craig Hammitt LinkedIN Article
Wikipedia
Cycle World Article (1993) Article

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This is interesting timing because April is Alcohol Responsibility Month and the partnership announcement stated nothing about responsible drinking and riding!

Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum

The multi-year marketing partnership was announced this month and the two companies will honor the father of American old school tattooing, Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins and unveil a series of twenty-two customized Harley-Davidson motorcycles designed by high profile artists and visionaries from around the U.S.

If you are unfamiliar with Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins story, after serving in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he dedicated his life honing the art of tattooing out of his shop on Hotel Street in Honolulu. His shop became the must-stop destination for sailors on their shore-leave.

In the 50’s and 60’s, Americans getting tattoos included the most aggressive elements of counterculture.  And it was a time of another level of commitment to inscribe your body with an image that permanently stated your beliefs, affiliation or anti-establishment attitude.  In the 70’s and early 80’s, getting aggressively tattooed and pierced became a mark of punk culture’s disdain for conformity and social mobility.  Today the range of things that people express with tattoos continues to widen.

Oregon Has 2nd Highest Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities From 2014-2015

But, I’m intrigued about this motorcycle and spiced rum marketing partnership which has some historical IRONY.  First, as previously mentioned the two companies chose April to kick-off the marketing partnership which  officially celebrates Alcohol Responsibility Month.  On the surface, that seems a bit tone deaf considering the increasing number of automobile and motorcycle accidents/deaths related to impaired driving.  In addition, is the fact that Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins was out riding his Harley-Davidson in 1973 when he had the heart attack that took his life (after collapsing in a cold sweat, he got back on his bike and rode home).  So, when Scott Beck, Harley-Davidson director of marketing stated: “We are struck by the natural ties Sailor Jerry has to the motorcycle culture” it raises some awkwardness in my view and wonder how the two companies ever got mixed up in all this in the first place.

But I’ll stop reflecting and focus on the announcement.

According to the Milwaukee Biz Times — the two companies said the partnership would “come to life in bars, restaurants, Harley-Davidson dealerships and joint celebrations around the country” and consumers should expect a number of shared events leading up to Harley’s 115th anniversary in 2018.  “Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and Harley-Davidson are all about freedom of expression and customization, whether that is expressed by a Norman Collins tattoo or a bike,” said Scott Beck, Harley-Davidson director of marketing.

The first event will be the unveiling of 22 customized motorcycles at the Harley-Davidson Museum on May 2. Harley’s Forty-Eight, Iron 833 and Roadster models were used for the project.

The artists will incorporate the flash art style of “Sailor Jerry” into their motorcycle design.  And members of the Harley-Davison styling team will also work on the motorcycles to inspire their designs.  The custom motorcycles will be on display at events at liquor retailers, Sailor Jerry’s Fleet Week New York celebrations, the Harley-Davidson Museum and more. The motorcycles will also be available to win in a sweepstakes that starts May 15.

Clearly the reckless spirit of motorcycle riding and alcohol don’t mix.  However, the collaboration with Harley-Davidson and Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum does have a natural feel about it and I’ll be curious to see some of the artwork and craftsmanship that comes from the partnership.

Photos courtesy of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum and Responsibility Org.

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2017 Indian Chieftain Elite

The marketing guru’s claim that Indian is authentic, was born with a dedication for pure performance and now are adding even more capability.

First a bit of history — the first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer back in 1902, but I’ll spare you a 100+ year recap of the motorcycle.  In modern day history, the Indian Motorcycle brand has been part of Polaris Industries since 2011, and began selling new motorcycles in 2014. The motorcycles are American made and built in Spirit Lake, Iowa.  The are distributed via 200 dealers across North America and nearly 450 dealers globally.  You might recall that the Victory Motorcycle brand, was recently shuttered by Polaris and ceased production.  To the dismay of many, many satisfied customers, it is now winding down operations after 15 years on the market leaving Indian as the only mass-produced American motorcycle brand other than Harley-Davidson.

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited

Jump ahead to April 2017 and we learn that Indian has announced expansion of its Chieftain model lineup with the addition of the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite.  If you’re keeping track this brings the total number of 2017 Indian models to twelve.

It should be noted that the Chieftain was one of the first three bikes that Indian released in 2014, along with the Chief Classic and Chief Vintage.  Although model details differ, the bikes share a common platform — engine, transmission and chassis.

All three motorcycles come with Indian’s proprietary Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin engine, cast aluminum frame with integrated airbox, air-adjustable single rear shock and many other shared mechanical features.  As it turns out, the Chieftain was the modern-looking of the three, showcasing a unique fork-mounted hard fairing which housed its gauges and electronics, while the Chief motorcycles came with accessory windscreens.

2017 Indian Chieftain Dash

The newly announced Chieftain Limited imitates some details from the custom bagger scene.  It has a skinny 19-inch front wheel replacing the 16-inch front. The “old-school” valanced front fender has been chopped to follow the design line of the wheel and exposes the mag wheel and oversized dual front brake rotors. There is a sleeker seat design, and the headlight bezel is painted, not chromed, to match the Thunder Black paint scheme.  The remaining elements of the Chieftain Limited match the Chieftain feature-for-feature, including the 7-inch touchscreen-operated Ride Command Infotainment/Navigation system and hard saddlebags.

For the well-heeled enthusiasts familiar with and looking at a Harley-Davidson CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) motorcycle, you’ll appreciate the new Chieftain Elite. Let’s start with the 12-layer paint treatment which is built on a foundation of gold paint. Black accents are added with marble textures, and the bodywork is coated with layers of Fireglow Red Candy clear.  Yeah, it’s a looker with a stunning paintjob, thanks in part to that brilliant red candy color.  Some of you would drop a lot of money with a custom painter to achieve this look, but this one comes direct from the factory.  In addition, the Chieftain Elite gets billet floorboards, a flip windscreen, Pathfinder LED headlights and a 100-watt saddlebag audio system.

At first blush the Chieftain Elite is a factory custom that will hold its own against Harley-Davidson CVO’s.  As to price?  The new Chieftain Elite (starting at $31,499) and Chieftain Limited (starting at $24,499).  Both motorcycles are feature rich, available now and aggressively priced compared to Harley-Davidson.

With warmer weather and longer days on the way, the new Indian Chieftain’s might be the spark of inspiration you’ll need to explore a wide-open two-lane world.

Photos courtesy of Polaris/Indian Motorcycles.

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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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