When I was asked to write a blog post about my impressions of going from the dirt bike world to that shared by the Harley and cruiser market, I was pretty hesitant. I mean, look around. There are a lot of rather large and aggressive Harley riders out there who take the brand side of things very seriously. So believe me when I say I’m putting down my experiences for all to see with an arm twisted behind my back.
For the last dozen years, I’ve been immersed in the world of dirt bikes. I was a senior manager for KTM for 10 years and during that time I was involved in all aspects of the company. I spent a ton of time in Europe working with my Austrian colleagues developing and sourcing products. Stateside I spent time with high-performance aftermarket companies developing products for our bikes. Our primary focus at KTM was to develop high-performance motorcycles. Our slogan was Ready to Race, and that was the goal. No journey, just a destination. The idea was to be able to pull a bike out of a crate, go race it against the top factory bikes — and win. I personally watched Shane Watts do this more than once, and the bikes have always had the most box stock horsepower ratings over the Japanese brands.
The battle between HD and the metric brands was the one thing I could relate to when I started working in the cruiser market. We fought the same battle, but I was working for a European brand then. I’ve always been aware of Harley and the fantastic job of marketing they do. They know their customers better than most companies out there and they do a fine job. But coming from a performance background, I was lost when I started digging into the cruiser market — especially when it came to Harley-Davidson.
My thinking tells me it just doesn’t make sense to add weight to a bike unless it has function. I spent the last 12 years of my life trying to make motorcycles lighter and faster. But in the cruiser market, the whole idea is to make the bike look better and be more comfortable. At least that’s my take on it.
When I had someone explain the drive train on the HD, I was dumbfounded. Why would you separate the transmission from the engine? Why do you have to add a huge and heavy belt drive to get the power to the ground after you just modified the motor to make more power? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose? Why isn’t the motor balanced? The bike wobbles in the turns? Why? I was totally confused!
Now that I’ve spent some time in the cruiser world, I’ve had a few enlightened moments that have given me more insight into things. I guess it does make sense to have a bike that is really comfortable when you’re heading off on those long rides. There’s definitely a lot of heritage behind the Harley-Davison brand, and that should be appreciated and held in high regard.
Plus the fact that most of the folks who ride Harleys are just great people. There is a lifestyle that can be obtained by purchasing a Harley, and that’s something you’re just not going to get with another brand. I love motorcycling, and to be honest, it’s absolutely none of my business what type of bike you ride. To me it’s only important that you are riding. The rest is just marketing and personal preference.
I can’t say that I’ve been persuaded to change my thinking about the performance side of things, but I do have a better understanding. To be sure, it doesn’t make sense from a performance and handling perspective, but I have come to the realization that just isn’t always the point.