I’ve pretty much decided what bike I want for a used 2nd bike. That’s it right over there on the left.
I want the 2009 Buell 1125R, in Arctic White, with the blue screen and wheels. I don’t want the 2010, with ugly “R” on the intake cowlings and the blue stuff blackened.
I want that bike in that color.
I’ve ridden it, and it has fantastic handling. You’d think the steep rake would make it twitchy, but it isn’t.
It’s a vibey, growly twin that weighs 450lbs wet, and, in stock configuration, puts 130 HP and about 75 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheel, according to Sport Rider. It’d be a big change from my FJR, that’s for sure.
It also has really comfy ergos for me–in sportbike terms, at any rate, and would be great little commuter, especially on the winding roads through Bonsall that I ride twice a day.
The only possible problem I can see is that, looking at Cycle Trader today, there is exactly one available. In the entire US. And it’s 3,000 miles away in Florida. So, there is the slight possibility that finding exactly this bike, in decent shape, may have some degree of difficulty attached to it. But I remain stupidly optimistic that this obstacle can be overcome.
At the moment, it’s not really an obstacle at all, since I wouldn’t be able to buy so much as a creme-filled donught until I pay of my income tax bill for this year. But, perhaps in late summer…
By the way, I’ve been perusing Craigslist, Oodle, and Cycle Trader a lot over the past week or so. Here’s an observation for prospective motorcycle sellers. Just because you had a custom paint job consisting of electric blue and gold skulls and half-naked ladies on the fairing, and then chromed the swingarm and all exposed engine parts doesn’t mean that your seven year old CBR1000RR is worth $8,000. Seriously. Trust me on that.
Magpul Industries is best known for firearms like the Magpul Masada ACR, an infantry battle rifle–which is also becoming available in a civilian semi-auto version–firearms accessories, and the like. But apparently, their design team has other interests as well.
At the SHOT Show, in Las vegas today, Magpul unveiled the “Ronin”, their aftermarket treatment of the Buell 1125R. Apparently, Magpul is looking to producing a Ronin kit to convert the plain, vanilla, street version of the 1125R into a Ronin model. So, if you have an 1125R, in the very near future, it looks like you might just be able to turn it into one of these, if the mood strikes you.
By the way, those two gun-barrel looking things poking out front are not integrated Magpul-desgigned submachine guns. They’re just the high-intensity halogen headlights.
Yeah, I know. I was disappointed, too.
Erik Buell Racing has a facebook page with pics of the the new 1190RR being prepped for shipment to a racer in Germany. It’s a nice looking bike.
Erik Buell can’t build streetbikes until February 2011, according to his non-compete clause with Harley-Davidson, so you won’t see one of these screaming up the street any time soon. But, clearly, there are things going on at EBR that might betoken some future streetbike model. And I’m sure that there are a number of people who’d like to speak to Eric Buell about opportunities as soon as they are legally able.
What I find really interesting here is that motorcycle didn’t just materialize out of whole cloth. I mean, all du respect to Eric Buell as a motorcycling genius or whatever, but I find it hard to believe that the 1190RR’s motor just materialized out of thin air between the time Harley dumped Buell and now. It hasn’t even been a year yet. So, it seems to me that this was a concept that had to have been on the drawing board prior to the Buell shutdown.
Jebus Cripes, that decision still doesn’t make much sense to me. Imagine what the response would have been to an American sportbike in the same performance class as a Ducati 1198 or Aprilia RSV4. For a company that became a textbook business school marketing case study for the way they sold the Harley “lifestyle” to the baby boomers, they are slack-jawed morons when it comes to marketing to the younger biking community. I mean, just look at this Harley ad.
That’s your baby-boomer wet-dream right there. Old men getting married to under-18 girls. Great image to put in your advertising, MoCo. Classy.
Not that anybody believes a 17 year-old girl would f*ck that hairy pervert.
But, that’s Harley-Davidson for you. They are so focused in on the baby-boomers that they just don’t seem to have a clue about how to reach out to anyone younger. They can build all then trikes they want, to keep their geriatric customer base riding along for a few more short years, but without learning how to hook up to younger riders, they are going to face trouble in another 10 years or so.
And they already had a brand in Buell that they could have built into a sportbike–and maybe a racing–powerhouse…and they just threw it away.
As of this afternoon, Harley Davidson announced that Erik Buell has left the MoCo, and is opening a race shop. His new venture, Erik Buell Racing LLC, will specialize in creating race-use only 1125r motorcycles under a lciense from Harley-Davidson.
As such, he will no longer be an employee of Harley-Davidson, and will once again be directly involved in the motorcycle racing world.
The fascinating question is whether or not this is just a stop-gap venture to take up his time until February 2011, when his no-compete contract with H-D expires, and he is free to join up with another motorcycle company to begin building bikes for the rest of us again.
The full press release from Harley-Davidson is below the fold.
For a motorcycle brand with such a relatively small group of owners, Buell Motorcycles evoke fierce loyalty. So, H-D’s decision to kill the brand hasn’t been well received.
As an expression of that displeasure, Hell For Leather Magazine is offering special T-shirts, for both men and women.
That’s the anger. Now comes the sadness. Hell For Leather also has this picture, taken of a dumpster outside Buell’s East Troy factory.
And now, finally, we come to the rumors.
I got a call this evening from a fellow who related a rumor that, just prior to the decision to eliminate Buell Motorcycles, Harley-Davidson had gotten an offer–or, at least, the proposal to make an offer–from Bombardier (the parent company of Victory Motorcycles and Can-Am Spyders) to purchase the Buell Division from H-D.
Now, nobody else I know has mentioned this, but I did find a mention of this rumor, or, rather, a similar one, at Motorcycle Daily:
There are of course rumors about Erik Buell traveling to Canada to meet with Bombardier (makers of the Can-Am Spyder). The font of this rumor, a guy posting on a chopper forum, claims a reliable source, but his credibility is undermined, as he lists his hometown as “Bonertown” in his profile.
So, I can definitely confirm that there is a rumor about Buell and Bombardier, for all the good that does you. Unfortunately, that’s all I can confirm about Bombardier. Unless Chopper-Boy from Bonertown has really good sources, it’s probably just an internet rumor, so you shouldn’t get your hopes up about Erik Buell applying for Landed Immigrant status in Montreal.
I can say this, however: I do know that there are a couple of people outside Milwaukee who are very interested in talking to Erik Buell about…ummm…pursuing new challenges. As soon as his 15-month non-compete agreement with H-D expires, of course.
And, for right now, that’s all I have to say about that.
UPDATE: What was I thinking? Victory’s parent company is Polaris, not Bombardier.
The announcement of Buell’s shut-down by Harley-Davidson is still spreading ripples through the motorcycle world. But, closer to Buell’s home, city and county officials are looking into trying to save the Buell manufacturing facility–and the local jobs it supported–in Walworth County.
If Erik Buell is interested and able to participate in a new venture, the Walworth County group will explore further steps, including trying to talk with Harley and seeking potential investors, Burkhardt said.
“We’ve had very preliminary contact from an investment group out of the Chicago area and also out of the Minneapolis area,” he said.
They only face two hurdles. First, no one at the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance has spoken to Erik Buell, so they have no idea if he’s even interested or available in working out such a deal. Second, harley-Davidson doesn’t seem interested in having these sorts of discussion at all. They just want to kill Buell.
Bob Klein, Harley’s director of corporate communications, reiterated that Harley is “discontinuing the Buell product line rather than selling the business because of how deeply integrated Buell is into our business systems and distribution network.”
That sounds…plausible. But I don’t think it’s the whole truth. Indeed, it’s not even the same story that HD was spinning a few days ago. Then, the decision to close Buell down was based on the very positive tax implications a shut-down would have, vice trying to sell the division.
And, while I certainly don’t want to assign impure motives to anyone at HD, there is a flavor of schadenfreude about the way the MoCo is handling this. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I can’t escape the sense that there’s some secret glee in Milwaukee over getting rid of Buell.
But, whether its the tax code, or sheer viciousness, the Walworth County effort doesn’t look like one that’s destined for success at the moment.
I wish I could say I was surprised this morning to finally see the news made public that Harley-Davidson was going to sell MV Agusta, and shut down Buell’s operations. But, I wasn’t.
Let’s address the MV Agusta deal first. I never really understood exactly what the MoCo thought it was getting when it purchased MV and Cagiva. Turns out I’m not alone in that, since apparently nobody at Harley-Davidson did either. Cagiva was a financial basket case, and MV–though it had a glorious racing past and venerable reputation–had been reduced to a boutique maker of a small number of motorcycles.
And once HD had finished crowing about buying it, they proceeded to do…nothing. No press releases. No earth-shattering changes. They just let it sort of sit there. They owned it, but once they did, they didn’t seem to know what to do with it. So now, they’re selling it at what is probably going to be a deeper discount than they purchased it for, so it seems like it was just a multi-million-dollar bath for Milwaukee.
Oh, well, it’ll make a nice write-off against tax, I’m sure.
As for Buell, I’ve already gotten into some detail in the post linked above as to why the MoCo had completely bungled the management of Buell.
A brief tour of BadWeb, the Buell biker forum, today shows that the Buellers are no more receptive to hearing bad news about the company–nor any more prone to think about it realistically–than they were last month when I wrote that my sources indicated to me that Buell was probably going to be shut down.
It’s full of fantasies about some sort of demonstration to make HD reverse its decision. There also seem to be a number of analysts who write that this is an insane decision for the MoCo, because losing Buell will destroy Harley.
That’s just fantasy. Quite apart from the fact that Harley is doing a fine job of destroying itself by confining itself to an aging customer base, the fact is that Harley killed Buell a long time ago through their mismanagement of the brand. Killing Buell is a symptom of HD’s problem, not the cause of it.
The company says they are doing this to concentrate on their brand, by which I assume they mean continuing to market even more aggresively to their shrinking, aging customer base. As one industry wag put it to to me today, “How many more 52 year-olds looking for their first bike can they find?”
As far as Buell contributing much to harley financially, well, that’s just absurd.
In 2008, HD’s annual report states that they sold $313.8m in general merch, making up 5.6% of corporate revenues. Buell Motorcycles, on the other hand, made $123.2m in revenues, or 2.2% of corporate revenues. According to the company 10k statement for 2008, Buell accounted for 4,000 of HD’s 222,200 motorcycle registrations. Of the 686 HD dealerships in 2008, more than half of them don’t even sell Buells.
In other words, Buell accounted for 0.2% of HD motorcycle sales, and the MoCo made twice as much money selling orange dog scarves and rhinestone belts for girls than from the sale of Buell motorcycles.
So, the idea that keeping Buell motorcycles will make up for…well…anything at Harley Davidson is so at variance with the actual facts as to qualify as sheer fantasy. Let’s not pretend that Buell has either the user base or financial performance to rank as a serious part of Harley Davidson.
I guess it does show, though, that some people personalize their motorcycle brand very deeply.
I guess my take-away for those people is that sometimes, when people write negative things about your favorite motorcycle brand, it’s not because they hate it. Sometimes, they write it because it’s true.
Just something to think about.
Last month, I wrote an article claiming that Buell’s future was uncertain, as a signifigant number of Harley-Davidson execs were leading a charge to eliminate the brand from the MoCo’s line-up.
Writing that story made me very unpopular in the Buell world for a few days.
Today, it became public knowledge that Buell is, indeed, on the chopping block. Harley Davidson is discontinuing the brand and shutting down Buell’s operations.
It’s a sad day, I think, to see a company that had so much promise destroyed by the squandering of the opportunities it presented.
Just before I left for vacation, I reported that an informed source had told me that the board members and top executives at Harley-Davidson were considering whether or not to keep Buell Motorcycles as part of the Harley-Davidson corporation. Naturally, I became the most hated man in Buell World for a day or two. Court Canfield even dropped in to tell me what an ass I am.
Now, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with my source since I got back from Alaska, but I did notice this story in Friday’s Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. And when I did, I also noticed this line near the bottom of the story:
Erik Buell said he didn’t renew his employment contract with Harley-Davidson, although he isn’t planning on retiring.
Probably means nothing. No doubt there are any number of sound reasons why Erik Buell didn’t renew his employment contract with the MoCo. I am curious, though, as to what they might be.
Since Kieth Wandell took over from Jim Ziemer as the CEO of Harley-Davidson, analyst expectections have been that Wandell, an outsider bought in as CEO from Milwaukee-based automotive supplier Johnson Controls, would be a strong, take-charge leader who is well-suited to address the MoCo’s current challenges. One of those challenges may be Erik Buell, and Buell Motorcycles division. A confidential source with high-level contacts inside Harley-Davidson informs me that a number of H-D executives will be pushing to have the company divest itself of Buell Motorcycles, and that a decision to sell or shut down Buell may come in the near future.
The word is that both Buell and Harley-Davidson have found the relationship unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, including the company’s refusal to allow Buell to outsource anything but Evolution V-Twins for several years, and Erik Buell’s strained personal relations with a number of MoCo executives. With a company outsider who has no particular vested interest taking over the helm as CEO, and devastatingly bad sales results due to the current recession, some Harley executives believe that this would be the perfect time to kill the Buell division. If so, it would be a sad close to an overall sad chapter at Harley-Davidson.
In my view, Harley’s stewardship of Buell Motorcycles has been a classic case of a missed opportunity. The acquisition of Buell was a great opportunity for the MoCo to develop a line of race-bred sportbikes that could have made Harley a serious contender in that market. But, Harley-Davidson blew it.
The company’s refusal to allow Buell to use any engine but the air-cooled, V-Twin, Sportster-derived Evolution engine effectively throttled Buell from the very beginning. Whatever advantages may have accrued from implementing the Buell “trilogy of tech” in a sporting motorcycle were largely negated by the use of the underpowered Evolution powerplant. Harley seems not to have understood that creating a technically sophisticated sportbike that would get its lunch eaten by any 600cc sportbike produced by the Big Four was nothing but a recipe for failure.
Ironically, elements of the Buell “trilogy of tech”, especially mass centralization and low unsprung weight have shown up in competing sportbikes. For instance, the 2010 BMW S1000RR utilizes an under-body muffler arrangement very similar to Buell’s. So, clearly, the problem isn’t Buell’s technology, but rather the use to which it was put, prior to the release of the 1125R in 2008.
Harley also alienated its dealers by forcing them to accept consignments of Buell motorcycles that they didn’t want to sell, and, in many cases, knew they couldn’t sell. Not only were they being required to sell a sportbike that almost no one wanted–as Buell’s 2% market share of sportbike sales indicates–the MoCo never adequately invested in dealer training, in either the sales or service departments.
This is not to say that Erik Buell has been blameless either. He is reputed to be abrasive and difficult to work with by many H-D executives. This has resulted in bad feelings among executives that has made them less likely to give Mr. Buell’s opinions about the direction of Buell Motorcycles any serious consideration.
Moreover, Buell’s marketing and public relations have been marked by avoidable mistakes. For instance, the press reveal of the 2008 1125R–the only bike with Buell makes with a non-Sportster powerplant–was a disaster. Buell used pre-production bikes with faulty fuel management and suspension issues for the demonstrations given to the international motorcycling press. As a result, the general impression given by the media was of a mediocre bike with poor fueling, wallowy suspension, and quality control issues. Rather than waiting until the company had ironed out those issues satisfactorily, Buell went ahead with the reveal, which resulted in doing more harm than good to the bike’s image. Most recently, Buell’s callous dismissal of the Blast model for the 2010 model year, replete with disparaging comments about the bike, alienated many observers–not only in the press, but among Buell’s customer base as well.
If the anti-Buell Harley execs get their way, this long litany of failure will come to an end by pushing Buell out the door.
Motorcycle USA has their comparison of 2009 streetfighter motorcycles online. In this comparo, they put the Ducati Streetfighter, Buell 1125CR, and the Aprilia Tuono 1000R head to head, both on the track, and on the street.
You’d probably think that the Ducati Streetfighter would be a shoo-in to win this comparo, but surprisingly, they though it was too track-oriented to be a good daily ride. They liked the Tuono, but thought it was just a tad too light in the torque/acceleration department. The Buell, on the other hand, had a significant horsepower deficit. When all the pluses and minuses were added up, Motorcycle USA concluded:
Never in a million years did I think the 1125CR could best the Ducati. But it did. And it isn’t because it’s the fastest or prettiest – because it’s not. Not even close. It’s top dog because it delivers the most important intangible sensation when riding: Fun. It handles so perfectly that you feel like the bike is an extension of one’s being. Its ergonomics are well thought out and while its engine isn’t the fastest, it still has character and delivers all the right sensations, albeit at a tad slower speed. In fact, our only real complaints are some very minor styling and fit-and-finish issues. So, if it’s the best handling, most fun, easiest-to-use Streetfighter that you’re looking for, look no further. Say hello to the 2009 Buell 1125CR.
It really is interesting how often the Buell 1125R comes out on top in these comparison tests.
The ambient air temperature read 87° as I pressed the starter switch on the blue-on-white Buell 1125R, and prepared myself for the slight possibility of fun.
I say “slight possibility”, because the restrictions that Biggs Harley-Davidson in San Marcos, CA had set on the test ride were stacked against any serious test of the motorcycle’s capability. First, I was restricted to riding a pre-defined route that would prevent any serious test of the bike’s handling. Second, I was required to ride behind an accompanying Biggs employee, who would be riding a…wait for it…Street Glide. Now the Street Glide is a beautiful motorcycle, but any casual listing of it’s outstanding characteristics would not include “Sharp, high-speed handling”.
I was told, however, that I was lucky to be allowed to take a test ride at all, because “the insurance company classifies them as ‘superbikes’, we we were lucky to allow anyone to take a test ride.”
And you can believe as much of that as you please.
Starting up the 1125R rewards you with a decidedly un-Harley-like, yet recognizably V-Twin rumble. It’s a fairly unique sound, and after thinking about it for a while, I decided that it sounds sort of like a WWII aircraft engine.
The first few minutes I spent in the parking lot, doing a couple of figure-8s, and playing with the low-speed handling of the bike. For someone like me, who rides at low speed using the techniques from the “Ride Like a Pro” series of DVDs, the 1125R is resistant to the trail-braking techniques. That’s because the rear brake is essentially useless. There is no feel whatever, and even a hard stomp on the brake pedal rewards you with…nothing.
This was a recurring feature of the ride, since I tend to use my rear brake a fair amount, and I had to adapt my riding style to essentially ignoring the rear brake and concentrate on two-finger front-braking. I use my rear brake and engine braking to scrub off speed when approaching corners, and the 1125R doesn’t reward that technique at all, though the engine-braking is quite acceptable.
Conversely, the front brakes worked very well. They were grabby, and had plenty of feel. And the bike didn’t stand up straight under light front-braking.
Getting onto the street, another adjustment I had to make was the use of the clutch. It takes hardly any squeeze at all on the clutch lever for it to fully engage, and the engagement and disengagement is fairly abrupt, due to the small amount of required travel. By the end of the ride, I had adapted to it, but it took a bit for me to figure out how to shift smoothly, and not apply to much RPM before the clutch engaged.
Ergonomics are described by Buell as “athletic”. I’d describe them as fairly comfortable in sportbike terms. They’re certainly more relaxed than I expected, and you can ride the 1125r without leaning on your wrists, and laying on the tank. You are crouched forward, and pegs are high, but not so far forward, and not so high that it becomes quickly uncomfortable. It may be a racing bike, but it is a bike you can ride.
Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over.On the street, the broad torque curve is forgiving, and the engine responds promptly in any gear. Unlike the long-stroke V-Twins on most cruisers, the high-revving short-stroke Rotax engine rewards throttle inputs with prompt obedience, the power is linear, and willing to surge higher at the flick of a wrist. While lofting the front wheel on the 1125R could be done with ridiculous ease, the power is easily tameable. It doesn’t get out of control, and doesn’t surprise you. It merely does what you ask, when you ask.
I’ve read several reviews of this bike, and many of them have mentioned buzzing and vibration at certain RPMs. As far as I could tell, it had typical V-Twin character, with buzzing and vibrations everywhere. I expected that, and I don’t really understand why anyone would complain about it. You can drop in as many counter-balancers as you want, but no V-Twin with ever be electric-smooth. That’s just not the character of the engine type. As far as I could tell, the Rotax engine really showed off a lot of the character that makes the V-Twin engine so lovable.
Having said that, it’s not a smooth bike. The vibrations do make the rear-view mirrors essentially useless at speed. But, if a glass-smooth engine and perfectly clear rear-view mirrors are your deal, then a V-Twin bike probably isn’t for you.
Doesn’t make you a bad person.
As we entered the I-15 from Escondido, I could see my minder from Biggs drop his elbow as he twisted the throttle for all his Street Glide was worth. With a very slight twist of the throttle, the 1125R stayed right in formation with him. I did, however, find the mild acceleration amusing.
The 1125R is not only very stable at highway speeds, the way the fairing directs the airflow was perfect for my 5″10″ frame. There was no buffeting at all, just a nice stream of clean air at the top of my chest and shoulders. Dropping into a slight tuck made even that go away. The fairing design on the Buell is quite effective, which would make highway trips far less fatiguing.
While the route we traveled contained no twisties, while we came back on the Old Highway 395, I did do a little playing with the bike’s response to body position. Putting weight on a footpeg, leaning your upper body, even looking and shifting a butt cheek puts the 1125R in the mood to lean. there were a couple of turns on our route, and when going through them, the 1125R was composed, and tracked like it was on rails. It effortlessly took a line inside that of the Biggs minder and his Street Glide, and stayed on that line like it was on rails. I had wondered whether the relatively steep rake and short trail would make the Buell twitchy in corners, and as far as I can tell from my limited experience, it doesn’t.
The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes.In fact, it’s very stable at all speeds, and in all conditions–admittedly limited ones–I subjected it to. Even at very low speeds, the exceptional balance of the 1125R never gives you the feeling that you’re about to fall over. You can crawl this bike along in city traffic at walking speeds, and never take your feet off the pegs. You don’t usually think of sportbikes as particularly forgiving or confidence inspiring, but the Buell 1125R is exactly that. That, combined with the more forgiving ergonomics, make it a joy to ride.
Heat management on the Buell 1125R can be described with one word: Nonexistent. That bothers some people. Meh. I live in the desert. Everything’s hot. So, the 1125R has no lower fairing to generate the nasty heat away from you. Man up and deal with it.
The only major drawback to the 1125R was the leaden ineffectiveness of the rear brakes. I didn’t like that at all. As far as other negatives goes, I did notice that the gear shift selector read “Gear: –” for the entire ride. And, while the analog Tachometer dominates the dashboard display, you tend to have to hunt for the digital speedometer. On a bike that can cause you to travel at license-losing speeds at the drop of the hat, a more prominent speedometer might be helpful. Finally, the switchgear on the handlebars look amateurish and clunky, and sport annoyingly bright colors. They look out of place on an otherwise well-crafted bike.
On the plus side, this is a genuinely fun and–in sportbike terms–comfortable bike to ride. It’s definitely not a beginner’s bike by any stretch of the imagination, but for an experienced rider, the Buell 1125R is versatile enough to use as a daily commuter at nice, sedate speeds, and a weekend hooligan bike for more…ahem…energetic riding.
I like it a lot.
Harley-Davidson, whatever the company’s faults may be, have gotten one thing consistently right: Marketing. They are a marketing powerhouse. When you buy a Harley-Davidson, you don’t just buy a motorcycle. You buy a ticket to the “Harley Lifestyle”. The company’s marketing is ubiquitous and effective. But not perfect…
H-D’s CEO, Keith Wandell, admitted in an interview with The Business Journal that the company flubbed their forecasts of the recession’s impact on their customers’ buying choices.
[T]he company mistakenly thought the recession would push consumers toward Harley’s Sportster and other less expensive motorcycles.
The company increased production of those types of bikes, but retail sales “didn’t materialize,” he said.
Harley dealers currently have a glut of the mid-priced V-Rod models.
Instead, many consumers who have been buying Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been buying more expensive custom and touring bikes, Wandell said.
“It left us with a bigger imbalance,” he said. “We have a lot of inventory.”
As a result, Harley-Davidson will shut down final assembly operations of the Sportster and V-Rod motorcycles and V-Rod motorcycle powertrain production in Kansas City, and production of Sportster motorcycle powertrains in Wauwatosa, for 14 weeks this year, including all of the fourth quarter.
Let me put on my MBA hat here. (And yes, I do have one. An MBA, I mean. I don’t actually have the hat. But, I’m thinking of getting one made.)
Harley’s real problem, however, is not the occasional tactical marketing error, but a more fundamental strategic error that the company keeps compounding.I’m kind of stunned that the MoCo would make such a mistake about the buying habits of their customers. Sportsters certainly have their fans, but general, people buy a Sportster because they want a Sportster. I can see how someone wanting a Softtail might settle for a Dyna, but not a Sportie. At least with the Dyna they still get the Big Twin engine. Surely the company must know that the Sportster is called the “baby Harley” and “girls bike”. They must have some inkling that salesmen at dealerships constantly advise prospective Sportster buyers that they’ll quickly outgrow the bike, and want a Dyna in a year or so, so why not buy a Dyna that you won’t outgrow instead?
People who want a Big Twin–and often they already have a Metric big twin they’re looking to trade off–aren’t interested in scaling down to a smaller motorcycle. They want one of the big dogs.
And as for the V-Rod…well, I don’t know what they were thinking when they thought they’d see an increase in sales there. It’s a nice bike but it certainly isn’t the company’s most popular product line. Not by a long shot.
It’s strange to see the company make such an unusual tactical error, and now the employees are gonna pay for it, as the MoCo cuts production to align inventory with customer demand.
Harley’s real problem, however, is not the occasional tactical marketing error, but a more fundamental strategic error that the company keeps compounding.
The brand is an absolute icon for the baby boomers. Among the Gen-X set and younger riders…well, not so much. The MoCo has a serious strategic problem when it comes to marketing, in that younger riders just aren’t attracted by the Harley brand. Harley obviously knows that their customers are aging, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve started producing factory trikes, so that their customers can keep riding long after the ability to hold up a 750 lb. hunk of steel fades away.
But Harley’s challenge isn’t to figure out how to keep an aging band of retirees buying their products, but rather how to entice younger riders to the brand. It’s clear that, looking at the advancing average age of H-D customers, they haven’t figured it out. Or rather, if they have, they’ve declined to implement the obvious solution.
To properly understand the problem, we need to look back at a bit of history.
If you were born in, say, 1980, Harley-Davidson has never been the Big Dog motorcycle.I was born in 1964, so that makes me the very last of the baby boomers. When we were growing up a “superbike”–the term didn’t really exist back then–was a Norton Commando 800. A Harley-Davidson was a massive motorcycle with an ungodly large 1200cc engine. You started riding motorcycles with a Montgomery-Wards 125cc thumper, maybe graduated to a BSA 500cc, then you finally got the money to get one of the Big Dogs, a Harley.
In the 70s, that all started to change. The Japanese began producing game-changing bikes like the Honda 750Four, and the Kawasaki Z-1. Performance increased dramatically. By 1984, when Yamaha introduced the frighteningly powerful (for the time) V-Max, real superbikes were available. The mid-80s explosion of Sportbikes, like the Kawasaki Ninja, raised the bar forever in terms of new motorcycle riders’ perceptions about what a powerful motorcycle was.
Harley’s response was, and continues to be, incremental increases in engine displacement from 1200cc air cooled twins to 1600cc air-cooled twins, along with incremental improvements to frames, suspension, and, thus handling. But the styling and riding characteristics of the company’s products remained mainly stuck in the 1950s-1960s.
Don’t believe me? OK. Compare and contrast the two bikes shown here.
Can you think of any other product where so little styling has changed in the past 44 years?
So, if you were born in, say, 1980, Harley-Davidson has never been the Big Dog motorcycle. It’s been a manufacturer of heavy, slow, low-performance cruisers. You’ve grown up in a world of 150+HP superbikes–a world that did not exist when the boomers were young. Younger riders have an entirely different mental impression of how the motorcycling world is put together.
To thrive as a company Harley needs a product that is connected to the modern era, as well as the past. That doesn’t mean that Harley should jettison its classic styling completely. There’ll always be a market for that, because it has a definite appeal to some riders. But to grab younger riders Harley-Davidson–as a company, not a specific brand–has to have something else. It has to have a line of motorcycles that appeals to those younger people who want more sport than cruiser.
And, interestingly enough, Harley already has that with Buell motorcycles. And does almost nothing with them.
First, until last year, the entire Buell line–except for the now-defunct Blast–was limited to cast-off Sportster Evolution engines. Erik Buell’s division tweaked them as well as they could be tweaked, but the XB series of bikes has never–and can never, from a technical point of view–compete with 600cc sportbikes like the Yamaha R6. And I simply can’t believe that an old privateer racer like Erik Buell is satisfied with the performance of the products he’s been allowed to put out by his masters in Milwaukee.
And, to make matters worse, Buell doesn’t even have its own dealership network. Instead, Buells are relegated to the dark corner of Harley-Davidson dealerships, and the sales staffs often know little about the brand…and care even less. I’ve personally had sales people intentionally steer me away from Buells, to point me in the direction of a Softtail or Road King.
H-D needs to move beyond the cruiser world if it wants to compete in the future. And that means letting Buell have some more leeway to operate beyond the Harley-Davidson cruiser world.
Companies survive by making products the public wishes to purchase. They don’t survive on tradition. They don’t survive on selling lifestyles.They need to break into the younger markets by producing bikes that can compete with the Gixxers and Ninjas. That means giving Buell the go-ahead to dump the Thunderstorm engine in favor of water-cooled twins and V-4 or I-4 engines. Buell has some fascinating design ideas for sportbikes, but one of the reasons they’ve never been accepted is that, performance-wise, Buells suck compared to the Japanese brands. Buell needs a powerplant to mate with their technical innovations. The 1125 is a good start. Now, they need to make the next step.
They need to liberate Buell from the H-D dealership network, and open up dealerships where Buell enthusiasts work. It doesn’t matter how good the bikes are if their sales network doesn’t want to sell them. Making the customers force the dealer to sell them a Buell is silly, and it needs to stop.
Harley also has MV Agusta, the venerable maker of Italian sportbikes, including the F4 312RR, the most powerful production motorcycle in the world, as well as its parent company, Cagiva. Maybe figuring out how to get those Italian brands over here would be helpful as well.
Companies survive by making products the public wishes to purchase. They don’t survive on tradition. They don’t survive on selling lifestyles. The reason the MoCo’s customer base is aging and shrinking is because they aren’t making products the younger generation wants to buy.
But Harley owns the brands, and has the capability to make the bikes that will attract the younger generation of buyers. It only remains to be seen if Harley will continue to rest on the laurels of the brand’s prestige, or if it will become determined to compete in the new markets that the Japanese currently own.
With the money from my insurance settlement coming, I really am trying to figure out what to do. I know I’ll pay off my FJR, but beyond that, I’m not sure which direction to go.
I rode the R1200RT, and absolutely loved it. But I’d have to trade in my FJR to buy it outright. I’m also really interested in a Buell 1125r, and I can get an ’09 white/blue one for a pretty good deal. Good enough so that I can keep the FJR, and buy an 1125r outright. I have a test ride scheduled for next Saturday on the 1125r.
Assuming I like the power and handling of the 1125r, I’m really in a quandary about which way to jump. The Buell is the only sportbike that has ergos comfy enough for me to ride regularly, but, on the other hand, the BMW has all those cool amenities like cruise control, ASC, ESA, etc. that I miss on the FJR.
This may be my only chance to get a new bike with someone else’s money, and it’s a very hard decision to make.
I went back to Biggs Harley today. I scheduled a test ride on the Buell 1125r for next Saturday. They did have a sales guy there who is familiar with Buells (he rides a Uly), so I was able to ask him some questions about the bike.
Just sitting on the bike, though, I really do dig the ergos on the 1125r. They are about the best sportbike ergos I’ve encountered. When you sit on an R6, for example, you really are stretched out over the tank, your legs are tucked up into your guts, and you are putting a lot of weight on your wrists. Not comfy at all for anything other than the trackm or for any extended riding.
On the 1125r, the riding position is still relatively aggressive, but while you are leaned forward, it’s not enough to put any weight on your wrists, so you can keep your elbows bent, and your arms loose. And your shoulders aren’t hunched up. The footpegs are also slightly lower so that’s more relaxed as well. It seems like a sportbike that you can actually use as a commuter without discomfort.
Next week, I’ll see how the bike is for things other than sitting.