Being a member of the Harley Davidson forums, I see a lot of people in the various HD forums making a lot of complaints about their bikes. Now, some complaints are good ones. “I just got a new bike, and the farble shaft was incorrectly aligned,” or “I was just riding down the road, and my transverse shim bearing snapped,” or “I just noticed spots of hydraulic fluid on the floor of my garage.” Those are good complaints because they relate to the quality of the machine. As consumers, we have the right to demand that Harley manufactures a quality product. To make those complaints, are to judge the Harley on its own merits.
But I’ve noticed several complaints about the various Harleys in relation to other bikes. “My Aprilia was so much faster.” “My BMW steers much better.” “My Gold Wing was so much smoother.” “My Vulcan had way more torque.” That, I think, is a different kind of complaint.
Because if those are your complaints, I have to wonder why you would buy a Harley in the first place. Maybe it just isn’t the bike for you.
Harley attempts to do one thing and do it well. They make cruising motorcycles and touring motorcycles. That’s it. They don’t have the biggest engines, the highest speed, or the most torque. They aren’t designed to be high-performance speedsters, and they aren’t mean to be smooth or tame or ultra-quiet. They are intended to be–and are–the personification of motorcycle cruising.
That’s a different style of riding. It’s not about aggressive maneuvering, or fantastic speeds. It’s about the freedom of hitting the open road, feeling the sun on your back and the wind in your face. Hearing the basso profundo throbbing of the pipes, and feeling the throb of that V-twin between your knees. You don’t have to scrape the pegs at every corner, of blast through every sweeper with a hard turn of the thottle. Oh, sure, you can do those things–and often do–but it isn’t esssential to the ride. Because for a cruiser, the ride’s the thing. It’s the journey itself that matters.
Second, the Harley is simply beautiful. There’s a reason why the Boulevard, and the Stars, and the Vulcans look the way they do. It’s because they take their styling cues from Harley-Davidson. The Harley is the standard for the cruiser look. When Squarejohn Citizen thinks about motorcycles, he thinks of Harley-Davidson. The Harley is a work of art, visually. It retains a classic look that speaks to you in a way that the copies don’t. You can stick a batwing fairing on a Midnight Venture but it just doesn’t look the same.
Finally, when you buy a Harley, you are buying something more than just a mototrcycle. You are buying into a mystique; a tradition. You are buying into a style of motorcycle–and motorcycling–that is different. The Harley speaks to a life-style of independence, freedom, and yes, rebellion, that others may try to copy, but can never quite duplicate. To own a Harley-Davidson is to participate in a particluar life-style and culture, even if only at the periphery. It carries an aura of danger-whether that’s individually true or not of the rider–that other bikes don’t. No one’s clutching his wife a little closer, or getting that nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach when group of BMW riders pull into the parking lot.
If you want the quiet, smooth, “I can hardly tell it’s running” feeling, then get a Gold Wing. If you need to just tear up the streets at all times, get a Speed Triple. There’s nothing wrong with a Boulevard or V-Star. They’re great bikes. Lots of people love them. And if that’s what you want, you should get it. There’s nothing wrong with getting what you want. No one should put you down for it, or disdain riding with you.
But if you get a Harley, judge it on its own terms, not in terms of its relation to a bike that’s meant to be something else. By all means, complain about poor quality or shoddy workmanship. Anyone who asks for several grand of your hard-earned money owes that to you, and they need to hear it when they aren’t getting the job done.
But if it isn’t the kind of bike that you want…well, that’s not the bikes fault.