ATK & S&T Deal: Update

ATK CEO Frank White has sent me the following email in regards to the deal that ATK has made to sell American-assembled motorcycles from S&T:

Buon Giorno from EICMA Italy (Motorcycle Show)

One of our Harley Dealers is a regular to your site and suggested I make some comments to the recent posts to set the record straight. I normally avoid BLOG’s however, what the heck, your site seems quite good and your information is factual.

A comment on ATK taking the place of Buell on some BLOGs.

We are NOT working through the H-D Dealer network under the endorsement or support of the Harley Davidson Motor Company in any way. This is stated on the press release.

We are NOT going to be making products in the same market niche/segment that Erik Buell was making. Erik is a Maverick in innovation and development in his part of the industry and we would be fools to try and step in. Obviously with H-D pulling the plug has created a vacuum of opportunity in the network that want American Branded products.

Some of our Dealers sent me the gut wrenching U Tube link with Erik and I feel for the guy. We’ve been in business basically the same amount of time and this is NOT an easy business.

Our focus is going to be attracting an all new and much younger customer into Harley shops with a diverse quality platform of products. (Like Scion is to Toyota) We also want to get more people in the motorcycle world like the industry did so well in the 70’s… This should be interesting

Feel free to post this.

Ciao

Frank White
ATK Motorcycles

In my previous post, I did append the press release, which does say that this is a deal that Harley knows about, but does not endorse.  I also stated:

It’s a bit of a coup for Harley dealerships, and possibly for Harley-Davidson itself–as well.  They will–or at least selected dealers will–have access to new lines of motorcycles to bring in younger customers.  This is especially true if the ATK dirt bikes can also make an appearance on dealer showrooms.

Let me clarify what I meant here.  To the extent that new, younger riders are drawn into Harley dealerships, The MoCo will, if this deal operates successfully, eventually have access to these new dealership customers when they begin looking for large displacement motorcycles.  I did not intend to imply that this was part of any strategy on the part of Harley-Davidson.  This is something at will operate purely at the dealer level with some select dealers, and any advantages that accrue to the Motor Company will be more or less incidental.

And, of course, implying that HD itself was part of this would imply that HD actually had a strategy.  Which, after the MV Agusta deal and the closing down of Buell, is a pretty questionable implication.

Buon Giorno from EICMA Italy (Motorcycle Show)

One of our Harley Dealers is a regular to your site and suggested I make some comments to the recent posts to set the record straight.  I normally avoid BLOG’s however, what the heck, your site seems quite good and your information is factual.

A comment on ATK taking the place of Buell on some BLOGs..

We are NOT working through the H-D Dealer network under the endorsement or support of the Harley Davidson Motor Company in any way. This is stated on the press release.

We are NOT going to be making products in the same market niche/segment that Erik Buell was making.  Erik is a Maverick in innovation and development in his part of the industry and we would be fools to try and step in.   Obviously with H-D pulling the plug has created a vacuum of opportunity in the network that want American Branded products.

Some of our Dealers sent me the gut wrenching U Tube link with Erik and I feel for the guy.   We’ve been in business basically the same amount of time and this is NOT an easy business.

Our focus is going to be attracting an all new and much younger customer into Harley shops with a diverse quality platform of products.  (Like Scion is to Toyota)  We also want to get more people in the motorcycle world like the industry did so well in the 70’s…  This should be interesting.

Feel free to post this.

Ciao

Frank White

ATK Motorcycles

S&T and ATK Get Inside the Harley Dealer Network

Practically no one saw this coming, or were even in the ballpark of predicting it, and I’m interested to see what the motorcycle press will make of it, since I’m sure that some of them, like me, have been aware of this for at least several weeks now, although the news has been embargoed, so no one could report on it.

As of today, the embargo has been lifted, and we are now free to speak about it.

First, the press release from S&T/ATK, makes the bare bones facts available.  S&T motorcycles, the Korean manufacturer of the Hyosung brand motorcycles will be working directly with ATK motorcycles, the US manufacturer of dirt bikes.  Together they will produce a motorcycle that will be largely produced in Korea by Hyosung and  assembled in the USA by ATK.  These ATK-badged motorcycles will be smaller displacement motorcycles that will be sold in selected Harley-Davidson dealerships.

Sources close to the deal tell me that ATK may also begin selling their off-road motorcycles in some Harley dealerships as well.  It is not yet entirely clear which of the ATK-badged Hyosungs will be made available to the Harley Dealers, although the new 700cc Aquila is a likely candidate.

Sources also tell me that it is possible–although exactly how possible is still unclear–for modified versions of the 250cc and 650cc cruisers and sportbikes, with new bodywork created by ATK, are candidates for those dealers who desire them, to help bring in the younger riders that Harley so desperately needs, as their current rider community is aging rapidly.

This is a coup for both ATK and S&T.  ATK now has a chance to substantially increase their penetration into the Harley-Davidson dealer network.  S&T has a chance to get deeper into the US Market–which has regarded their products with some suspicion due to confusing Hyosung with a Chinese, rather than South Korean company–by having their bikes branded with an American manufacturer’s badge.

It’s a bit of a coup for Harley dealerships, and possibly for Harley-Davidson itself–as well.  They will–or at least selected dealers will–have access to new lines of motorcycles to bring in younger customers.  This is especially true if the ATK dirt bikes can also make an appearance on dealer showrooms.

The hope is that everyone can win by making the dealerships places where a number of different product lines can be found, in order to bring in a wider, and one hopes, younger, group of riders through the door.

The full text of the press release is below the fold.

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Continue reading “S&T and ATK Get Inside the Harley Dealer Network”

Grasping at Straws?

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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.

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.

Harley Davidson Kills Buell, To Sell MV Agusta

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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.

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.

So, the idea that 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.

Buell’s Future No Longer Uncertain

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.

Reading Between the Lines

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.

Buell’s Future Uncertain?

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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.

It’s Official: Harley’s Going to India

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There’s been lot’s of buzz about this, but Harley-Davidson has made it official:  The Motor Compnay will expand into india in 2010.  Clearly, they’re hoping to recoup some of their losses from the disastrous decline of sales in the the US Motorcycle market.  According to HD’s press release:

“India is important to our long-term vision of being a truly global company,” said Harley-Davidson Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Keith Wandell. “We are committed to India for the long term, and we are focused right now on establishing a strong foundation.”

India is the second-largest motorcycle market in the world, with sales dominated by small, inexpensive bikes used as basic transportation. However, India’s rapidly growing economy, rising middle class and significant investment in construction of new highways have opened the door to leisure motorcycle riding.

Whether it will have opened the door wide enough for Harley to make some sales there is still an open question, since the move is not without risk.

First, despite its recent economic growth, India is a desperately poor country.  To the extent that more people can afford to ride motorcycles there, they are riding inexpensive, sub 650cc bikes, not large, expensive Harley-Davidsons.  As I’ve mentioned before, Harley simply doesn’t have a motorcycle that can fit the bill for a developing country, namely a small, inexpensive motorcycle.

On top of that, India is a severely protectionist country, with a 105% import duty on motorcycles.  That means a $10,000 Sportster becomes a $20,000 Sportster in India.  I’m not sure how many units they’re going to sell in a country where the annual average income is $1,100.

Third, India, being a desperately poor country, has an infrastructure to match, i.e., roads in horrifically bad repair, which are not the best placed to be ploughing along on a 600-pound+ motorcycle.

Harley’s main competitor there will also be homegrown firms like India’s Royal Enfield motorcycles, who make little 125cc and 250cc thumpers.  Royal Enfield has, in fact, done very well, and has seen huge sales growth in India.

But, then again, they aren’t asking people to give them 20 years worth of income for a motorcycle.

One also notes that Suzuki and honda are already in India.  The difference being that they are both manufacturing motorcycles there, and thus avoiding import duties.  They are also concentrating on entry level (sub 125cc) motorcycles, and standard 125cc-250cc motorcycles.  Suzuki recently announced that their entry-level motorcycle operations are expected to break even this year.

Touring Comparo: Electra Glide vs. Voyager

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Motorcyclist Online has the results of their big-tourer comparison between the Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager.  I’ve long wanted to see a head-to-head match-up between the king tourer from Harley and Kawi’s new flagship tourer, and here it is.

Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Harley Davidson Electra Glide Classic and Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager

The Electra Glide sports Harley’s now touring frame, which is supposed to noticeably increase stability and handling, while the Voyager is a brand new version of the Vulcan, with a brand new frame, too.

The Harley costs significantly more than the Voyager, and reading the write up, that extra money pays off in a better, more refined handling, greater rider and pillion comfort, and better brakes and luggage.  The Kawasaki, on the other hand, seems to have the Harley beat in wind protection, engine power (slightly), and lighting (a lot).

Overall, the Harley has better fit and finish–which is unsurprising to me, since I’ve always thought Kawasakis are a little rough around the edges.  They aren’t bad bikes, but, I’ve just never been a big Kawasaki fan.  But, it’s nice to see that it’s not just an unreasoning opinion on my part, and others seem to think Kawi could use a little improvement in the finishing touches.

Still, for $3,000 less, the Voyager’s no doubt put together adequately.

Both bikes, of course, are massively underpowered from my point of view.  But then, I’m riding an FJR with 200 pounds less weight, and twice the horsepower, so take that into consideration.

I will tell you where I would throw my lot in with the kawi on this one, though, and that’s the fixed fairing.  I’ve never liked the batwing fairing on the Harley’s.  They look great, but having 40 or 50 pounds of plastic hanging off the front fork never appealed to me.  And I’ve ridden the Electra Glide, and confirmed that opinion.

That’s why my next Harley will be a Road Glide.

Harley Davidson’s Marketing Failure: Round 2

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Several days ago, I wrote a post on Harley-Davidson’s ongoing strategic marketing failure.  That post has garnered quite a lot of attention in certain quarters.  Today I had an email exchange about it with motorcycle industry analyst and guru Don Brown.

My previous post addressed how the MoCo was failing in its marketing, but not why.  Mr. Brown provided me with some historical context that may illuminate the roots of this problem.

The trouble with Harley, in my opinion, is that they can’t shake loose from their memory of the terrible reaction of many of their customer base – mainly the older baby boomers who hated anything that smacked of being of modern technology.

Since their near-death experience and the resistance of their core customers to technological innovation in the 80s, it seems like the company’s version of “protecting the brand” has become never to do anything different, or innovative.Well, that does bring back some memories, such as the Nova 800 project, a concept for a water-cooled V-4 bike.  It went nowhere, of course, although the company spent a pile of money on it, and actually produced three of them.

But it puts the company’s current fear of tarnishing the brand in historical perspective.  They are rabid about doing whatever is necessary to protect the brand, as they see it.   A few weeks ago, I was reading one of the industry media web sites–unfortunately, I forget which one–and they asked a HD representative about a rumor concerning the possibility of a water-cooled V-4 powerplant.  The rep said bluntly, “Harley-Davidson makes V-Twin motorcycles”.

Since their near-death experience and the resistance of their core customers to technological innovation in the 80s, it seems like the company’s version of “protecting the brand” has become never to do anything different, or innovative.  They play to the same customer base. They refuse to change their styling beyond shifting what bit of chrome goes where from year to year. And then they do make a change, it consists of occasionally adding non-threating bits of technology like vibration absorbing engine-mounts, incrementally larger engines, or hidden changes to the frame or suspension.

And, of course, to cut motorcycle production any time it appears an inventory may build up, in order to keep supply artificially low, and the prices high.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of conservatism in the short run.  At times–and the 80s seem to have been one of those times for HD–it may even be necessary.  But the danger of doing that sort of thing, if it goes on too long, is that it begins to fix itself in the corporate culture.  Once an excessive conservatism embeds itself in a firm’s culture, the brand ceases to be an powerful asset to be used in leveraging innovative new products.  Instead, it turns into a treasure to be hoarded.

Once an excessive conservatism embeds itself in a firm’s culture, the brand ceases to be an powerful asset to be used in leveraging innovative new products.  Instead, it turns into a treasure to be hoarded.But that is never a long-term strategy for success for any brand.  Markets change.  Customers change. Tastes change. Competitive landscapes change.

Eventually, the brand suffers, because as the market changes, the brand gradually becomes associated with old, outmoded tastes.  The brand loses its power to attract new customers, because they think, “That was the stuff my dad liked, back in the day.”  That almost automatically means, “I like different stuff,” to the newer customers in the market.

This is precisely what has happened to Harley-Davidson.  A corporate mania for brand conservatism has led to a situation in which amazing technologies are available for nearly every motorcycle…except Harley-Davidson.  Most GenX or GenY customers won’t even look at a Harley-Davidson.  They see the brand they same way they see their parents: old and slow.

That’s true literally as well as figuratively.  The Harley-Davidson Sportster, about as light and as fast a motorcycle as Harley makes in stock form, runs a 13-second quarter mile.  A 900 pound Gold Wing does it in 12 seconds. A Shadow Spirit 750 does it even faster.

The end result is a brand whose products cost more and perform worse than the competition’s.

A Harley Davidson customer transplanted from 1970 could walk into a Harley-Davidson dealer today, and literally see nothing that would frighten or confuse him.It’s not just the consumer market that’s changed either.  The competitive landscape is radically different, too.  Harley-Davidson today makes essentially the same motorcycles it’s been making for 50 years.  Except for, perhaps, the V-Rod, a Harley Davidson customer transplanted from 1970 could walk into a Harley-Davidson dealer today, and literally see nothing different that would frighten or confuse him.

But what’s even worse, from a competitive point of view, is that he would also see no bike that a young, beginning rider would feel comfortable purchasing.  The Sportster has an engine of the same displacement that and FLH had in 1970.  It weighs nearly 600 pounds.  Even if the average 20 year-old could afford it, it is still an intimidating beast to young new–or female–rider. My wife can’t even pick up any Harley except the Nighster. And she finds it frighteningly heavy even then.  She almost can’t even touch the floor with her toes on any other model. That’s not a good thing, when 14% of motorcyclists are now women.

That’s emphatically not true, however, if you walk into any dealer of Big Four motorcycles. A first time rider has an amazing range of choices there, from a sporty Ninja 250, to a Boulevard S40.  Yamaha dealers will happily sit a young rider on a V-Star 250, and, for less than $4,000, send him off riding happily into motorcycling world on an easy to ride, light, little cruiser.

And when they do so, they have an excellent chance of sitting him on a V-Star 650 a couple of years later.  Or if he or she decides that a need for speed has to be satisfied, why, there’s a pretty little R6, sitting right over there.  The Big Four grab beginning riders right out of the box, putting the youngsters astride a little Rebel, and they keep them right up until they take that last ride into the sunset on their Gold Wing.

Harley-Davidson, on the other hand, still acts as if it’s 1968, and, once you’ve exhausted the possibilities available on a BSA 500 or Triumph Bonneville, you have to buy a Harley if you want a big bike, because no one else makes one.  But in 2009, you can get the full motorcycling experience–commuting, touring, naked street-fighters, or race bred literbikes–without ever having to change brand loyalty even once.

The Big Four grab beginning riders right out of the box, putting the youngsters astride a little Rebel, and they keep them right up until they take that last ride into the sunset on their Gold Wing.Harley-Davidson has no entry-level motorcycles, so they can’t grab the young 20 year-old looking for a good first bike.  Instead, their task is to try and convince a seasoned rider, who has a pre-existing brand loyalty, to change that loyalty to Harley-Davidson.  And that rider not only has experience with his preferred brand, but knows that his preferred brand makes similar motorcycles, at a lower cost.

That’s a tall order.  Based on HD’s aging demographic, it doesn’t seem like the MoCo is capable of fulfilling it at present. They’ve abandoned the young rider demographic, and in so doing, they’ve let their competitors grab the younger riders and begin building brand loyalty from the very start of their customers’ riding careers.

Unless Harley-Davidson is willing to expand its horizons, it  is in danger of becoming a much smaller maker of what are essentially high-priced boutique bikes…much like the brand they recently acquired, MV Agusta.  I would hate to see that happen, but absent some serious changes in their corporate mindset, that appears to be the road on which they are traveling.

Don’t Screw With Bears

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If you live in bear country, you probably already know not to keep food in a car, because bears will tear a car apart to get at a box of donuts, or whatever.  Now, it appears that even transporting food may be a problem.  Especially in a motorcycle.

Wells and his wife had taken his 2004 Harley-Davidson motorcycle out to get a pizza for dinner. They put the leftovers in the tour pack on the back of the motorcycle for the ride home.

“We got home around six, took the pizza out of it right away and put it in the refrigerator,” said Wells.

Three hours later they heard something outside, near where his motorcycle was parked. Wells went outside to investigate.

“I came around and shined the flashlight and my bike was on its side and a bear cub was on top and another bear cub was behind it and the momma was right there too,” remembers Wells.

The bears ripped the tour pack apart trying to get to where the pizza at one time had been. In the process they did around $3,000 damage to the bike.

So, three hours later, just the 3 hour-old smell of pizza in this guy’s tour trunk was enough to get it seriously molested.

And you thought deer were a problem…

Motorcycle.Com’s Best of 2009

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The annual march of media bike choices continues, with Motorcycle.com weighing in with thir top picks of the year.  Their choices are interesting, and a bit different than I would have expected.

Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.
Triumph Street Triple R: Motorcycle.Com's Bike of the year for 2009.

For the overall bike of the year, they picked the Triumph Street Triple R.

Best Sportbike honors go to the Kawasaki ZX-6R, with the runner-up being the Honda CBR1000RR.

The Ducati Monster 1100 gets the nod for best standard motorcycle, with second place going to the Harley-Davidson XR1200.

The best cruiser pick is the all new Triumph Thunderbird 1600, with the Suzuki Boulevard M90 taking an honorable mention.

The award for best touring bike goes to the BMW R1200RT, closely followed by the Honda Gold Wing.

BMW also take both first and second place spots for sport-touring, with the K1300GT winning, and the F800ST getting the honorable mention.

BMW stays in the winner’s circle for best off-road bike, with the top honors going to the F800GS, and the second spot going to the Aprilia SXV/RXV 5.5.

They also have picks for best eccentrics, scooters, technology, and more, so why not go there and read them?