Editor’s Note: Below is the second of a two-part series on the differences in opinion between those who endorse the traditions and heritage behind a Harley-Davidson or other American-made motorcycle, and those who embrace the technological and reliability advantages of a modern metric cruiser or sport bike. Today, Scott Holton advances the advantages of HD and its made-in-America brethren.
When it Comes to HD vs. Metric, Tradition Says it All
By Scott Holton
Metric and sport versus Harley-Davidson is the most galvanizing among the many bones of contention that are found within the society of motorcyclists. I’m asked here to provide you with a counterpoint to Anthony Todd’s blog post that ran yesterday regarding the wonderfulness of the metric cruiser. Personally, I believe the wind doesn’t discriminate, why should I? That being said, let’s take a look at today’s motorcycle scene.
The neat thing I see about HD is four young men in a small wooden shed manufactured their first motorcycle. The year is 1903, and the bike this quartet ended up building was driven hard for more than 100,000 miles and five owners. When you think about the origins of the internal combustion engine, Bill Harley and the Davidson brothers were at the forefront of development. It’s goofy, I know, but when I read stuff like this about the early days, I hear a loud deep voice in my head that proclaims,“IN THE BEGINNING…”
The nation’s roadways back then weren’t very good and you had to be pretty damned dedicated to rack up any miles. When American motorcycles were arriving on the scene, there were many, many different brands from which to choose. One by one they fell by the wayside until today Harley is one of the only American cycle companies that is still around and still successful. Indian (HD’s major rival from the beginning) closed its doors in the early ’50s, leaving HD as the American manufacturer for many, many years.
In the early ’60s, Honda eyeballed the American market and quickly noted that there was only one major player that was supplying product. So they decided to import bikes. From that day forward, the argument has raged endlessly and passionately.
The metric guys were making smaller, more technically advanced motorcycles. With the exception of the V-rod, Harley has played upon its heritage and further refinement of the first OHV design. If you look at a knucklehead, and then at today’s twin-cam, you will see that there are many similarities and a certain amount of design reproduction. HD knew it had a winner and has used the familiar configuration since then.
GI’s coming back from WWII were just itching to ride bikes. And most often, it was a Harley. The next generation got exposed to riding and there were a lot of new riders out there. Children saw what those riders represented and they wanted some of that stuff.
The bike of choice, of course, was an HD. Honda used a marketing campaign based on the slogan “You meet the nicest people on a Honda,” which implied Harley riders weren’t nearly as nice. This just added more coals to the fire, heating up the debate.
Often these days, you hear the phrase, “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand” (I actually have this on a T-shirt or two). When it comes down to it, Harley stands for deep tradition and the brand draws a fanatical following of loyalists. I’ve heard “Harley-Davidson” is the most tattooed brand name in history, and I believe that. How many Yamaha tattoos have you seen lately? Harley riders (and loyalists) are rabid in their devotion. As imported motorcycle technology becomes more advanced, Harley clings harder and harder to what it knows works — and what works is the past.