Going From Dirt to Cruiser

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November 29, 2010 | By: Lowell Anderson

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.

Comments: 36 Comments | Categorized Under: Tech Tips

Comments (36)

If you want a Harley that slides as well as a KTM, you need a 50′s hardtail. My ’56 slides like a dream, although it scares the women.

Common Sense left out several Harley VS. Metric facts.

Build quality, Metrics can’t begin to compare quality to Harleys in chrome, leather, or paint.

Several friends bought metrics within a month or two of me purchasing my 2007 FXDC. You can’t believe the difference between them now. If they run, they have “issues” that need attention. Paint is dull and cloudy, and the “chrome” is pitted and peeling. Mine is a daily driver 5 days a week and when I clean it up, still gets mistaken for a new harley.

Comments on Harleys “marking their spot” are as outdated as the old crappy (in my opinion) AMF Harleys. Personally I wouldn’t own an AMF Harley either.

Look at what Harley is making now, and honestly compare them to any of the cruiser metrics. Then test ride all of them. If what you are looking for is good cruiser most likely you will wind up deciding on the Harley, I did. Glad I picked it now seeing how the other bikes held up.

Gas Mileage:
50 MPG on my Harley 6-Speed vs. 37 MPG on friends 5-speed 1600 Kawasaki Mean Streak.

Almost identical displacement, less gas mileage and still slower.

I’ve been riding since I bought a Jawa 50 in 1969 and stripped it down for dirt. Since that time I’ve had many bikes of all different flavors. Street bikes dirt bikes, dual sports, cruisers. All of them were a good time. Lots of broken parts and broken bones to be sure, but still lots of fun. My brother asked me one day in 2005, what I’d buy to ride if money were no object. Immediately I told him I’d get a Yamaha Roadstar Silverado. I didn’t give it much thought and we went on with our ride. A month or so later that Roadstar was sitting in my driveway. My brother and Mom went together and bought it for me as a birthday surprise. Surprise is an understatement. I have since customized the bike with some off the shelf and some one of a kind parts. It’s incredibly beautiful and gets lots of looks and comments wherever I ride it. It’s never given be a bit of trouble and it’s cmfortable on the long rides as well. At first my Harley friends gave me the teasing that they always give the metric riders. Until they rode it. Now they have a whole new perspective. It’s not what you ride. It’s that you ride. Get in the wind and keep the shiny side up.
Jim Elliott Reno, NV.

Haha, it is funny to me to hear people who ride Metrics bash HD then say something about how HD riders bash their bikes. Sure we make fun of you, but mostly because you never shut up about how your bike is so ahead in technology and was so inexpensive.

Facts:
2008 model being sold as new Honda VTX 1800N $13,699
1795cc liquid cooled VTwin about 100lb ft of torque (Searched web for torque specs)
Shaft driven 5 speed
804 lbs.
KBB value for a 2008 $8500

2011 Super Glide custom
$12,999
1584cc’s air cooler Vtwin 96 lb ft of torque
(Torque specs listed on HD website)
Belt driven 6 Speed
676lbs.
KBB value for a 2008 $12,000

The reason I used a 2008 model is that is all Honda had listed for that model bike so I am assuming they are selling them titled as 2011′s. I used the 1800 because it it a dual rear shock fuel injected model same as the Super Glide custom.
Most of the engine chrome i.e. rocker boxes, side covers, horn covers etc…. are chrome plated plastic on the Honda too. Just so you know.

So your metric bike is liquid cooled but has shaft drive which I believe is more maintenance than a belt and costs $700 more but is worth $3500 less in three years or the day you buy depending on the way you look at it :)

I grew up riding in the dirt, starting with a Yamaha Mini Enduro 60 when I was 9 years old, moving to 3 wheels as a teenager, Kawasaki Tecate 250. Then with age, came a cage and I started racing off-road trucks and buggies where I met friends that that were also riding quads, so the girlfriend and I started with a different aspect of 4 wheels (Yamaha Raptor 700 and Honda 250EX).

Through all of this I met some guys that raced Dakar on bikes and cars. My interest in the big bikes spiked, so I bought a 2007 KTM 640 Adventure and rode the $%!t out of it including several charity poker runs where the majority of bikes were HD. On one of those rides the President of the Boozefighters came over to me with 4 or 5 other guys, my knees were knocking, ready to get an earful about me being a “metric dirt jockey”, but what I got was ” that bike is so bada$$, really nice ride.”

Other friends have cruisers and the KTM just didn’t cut it on the long touring rides, I’d be almost pinned for 100 – 150 miles and my hands, arms, and a$$ would be numb, while everyone else was fresh. I rented both HD and Yamaha cruisers to see how each of them stacked up and decided to go with the HD, 2010 Street Glide, and couldn’t be happier.

I just went out and bought another KTM (450 EXC) so I could go on more trail rides and save the 640 for longer dual sport rides.

I continue to ride each of my rides on a regular basis, the quad, the KTM’s and the HD get plenty of use.

I love riding, no matter what the ride is.

I love Larry’s comments above. I feel about the same way. I’d have one of every flavor if I could afford it. There are so many great bikes out there – and so little time……

I love Larry’s comments above. I feel about the same way. I’d have one of every flavor if I could afford it. There are so many great bikes out there – and so little time…

Hi everyone, I discovered motorcycling when I was 25 or so, about 1970. When I was a kid the only bikes I noticed were HDs. When I found out about dirt riding I bought a cheap ride to see what it was about. A used Suzuki X-6 Hustler, a narrow handlebarred 250cc 6-speed 2 stroke street bike with a semi-knobby rear tire. Then a new 1971 Yamaha 175 enduro and had the most fun ever. Then a new 1972 Yamaha 350 street bike, a sweet good handling bike. I went from 750 to 850 to 450cc bikes to a 6 cyl Gold Wing in 1998. I had tried luggage recks, saddle bags, windshields, a fairing, and always wanted more ways to carry stuff. The Wing had that, but was not that much fun to ride, too BIG. I am still trying to find a pretty, cool, reliable, cheap, fun, bike and am looking long and hard at the Ural w/sidecar. I think I have as much fun looking and daydreaming as I do riding. I am 69 now, and it has been a really fun life, riding well over 100K in rain, cold, hot sun, perfect weather, motocross, enduros and any other ride I could find locally. Love all bikes!!

I have owned 5 motorcycles in my life and they all were mostly Hondas. What is it about a Harley that we are willing to spend so much money on a motorcycle when there are so many great bikes that are superior to the quality of a Harley and half the price. I wanted to find out so…

I just sold my 2002 Honda Sabre 1100 and decided to go over to the “dark” side and I purchased a used 2008 Harley FLSTC to find out what the hype is all about.

Am I disappointed? No, not at all. The Harley certainly is a different breed but I also see myself as a different rider and I can’t explain why. Is it just the fact that it’s a Harley?

Whatever the reason, I will ride this bike until I am too old to continue. And hopefully continue to enjoy the Harley.

I ride a 2007 Harley dyna lowrider just got back from a 2700 mile trip and it ran perfect with out one single problum.or oil leak yes Harleys cost more i dont put any other brand down but i like steel and support the american factorys when ever i can the rider group Harley has is like no other in the world if all you can aford is from japan so be it i rode a honda when that all i could aford but think when we can we should suport are owen economy and not other countries. and the indian company keeps folding up and coming back who knows if they will be here tomarrow bet Harley will be . any bike will be junk if not taken care of and that includes checking the bolts and air in the tires on my trip i stopped to help a goldwing rider reinstall his taillight shit happen to anything mechancal their is good and bad in all so as my shirt says shut up and ride!!!!

I have been riding Hondas for many years; the last one a Honda Sabre 1100. It was a great bike. Never a problem. But as several of my friends that rode Jap bikes began to get the itch for a Harley they acted on that itch and bought one. Never disappointed with the Harley.

So, I too, got the itch and sold the Honda and bought a Harley. Can’t explain why but I just did it; my thinking was, before I get too old, better do it now before it’s too late. I am very happy with the Harley and I agree that it doesn’t matter what you ride. Get on it and enjoy it no matter what brand. We are all “Brothers” out on the road.

I was a high schooler in the mid sixties and never got to own a bike until after DEROSing from the Army in ’69. But in high school I had friends who were allowed by their parents to own a motorcycle. THE bike to have in those days was the Honda 305 Scrambler. Trading my car for my friends “305″ on many a Friday night gave me “motorcycle fever”. So, “cut my teeth” on Jap bikes, and I owned a few through the years.

After taking a twenty year hiatus from riding to raise a family, I decided to go back to my roots and restore a ’67 305 Honda Scrambler. The fever came back. My wife saw it and bought us an ’09 Road King which we enjoy thoroughly in So. Ca.

Now, I know what riding is really all about! LOVE OUR HARLEY DAVIDSON!

My 14 year old Harley Road King has never leaked any oil. I bought it new when there was a 18 month waiting list. It’s the best value for dollar I’ve gotten in 58 years. The only problem I’ve ever had with it is that it doesn’t handle well in the Michigan snow! 43,000 miles without a problem other that routine maintenance. I also ride a ’98 Valkyrie with 39,000 miles on that and it’s also a gas. (The last of the made in USA Hondas!) They serve the same purpose, have the same reliability but do the job with a different style. So I split my riding time between these great bikes. The great thing about America is you can ride what you want.p

I too came from the the other side. I started working at Norm Reeves Honda in 1966 as a 15 yr old setting up new bikes. I work my way up through the ranks and was finally servicee manager at one of the stores. the whole time I race either desert, enduros or tt in southern California. i had aa chance to go to work for american honda on there motocross race team and I took. What a great time in my life traveling all over the US and Canada. So my roots really tied to the Honda brand. I left Honda and took my interest elsewhere. Later in life iI decided to get involved with motorcycles again. i did alot of research on the big cruiser bikes. Japanesse such appeared to be so much better, but the harleys seem to have something special. The people who ride them seem to have a common bond and I like that. So i bought a big old Hog HD ULTRA CLASSIC knowing that my wife would be comfortable on it as well. we havee made so many new friends and had many great days riding. So many that my wife bought her own 2010 Street Glide.

I bought a brand new 07 Yamaha FZ6 (my first street bike) and everyone I rode with had/has a HD…I have never regretted that decision. I think I am a much better rider today because of that Jap bike and it probably saved my life in Aug…A lady looking back at her kid ran into me. She stuck the front end of her Saturn between my back wheel and seat…the bike stayed up but I didn’t. If I had been on my (purchased earlier in the year) 02 Dyna Low Rider instead of the Yamaha I would be either dead or paralyzed now. I can deal with broken ribs…

I LOVED my Yamahammer – rode it to the Artic Circle and through out a great portion of the United States. I sold it to buy a 2010 Softtail Deluxe so I would have a riding support group. I embrace the HD community but not the high priced product that they continually throw at you. At less than 200 miles the left floor board of the Softtail fell off and made me lay over the bike. Broke the brake lever, trashed the grip and dinged the heat shield. HD made me sign a “You will not talk about it” agreement before they would fix the bike at no charge. Research has shown that this is a known problem with this bike! A HUGE safety issue. They refuse to do a safety recall! Really? Really? Acknowledge a problem but not make it right seems to be the new American product way. I am sick that I bought this bike and long for my Yamaha which was as reliable as the day is long.
Let’s all just grow up and ride – no matter what we ride.

Ride what you enjoy and can afford. I’ve ridden lots of bikes and they all have their good points and bad. I’ve been riding a Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 for the last couple of years and it’s a great cruiser. Cant say I dont love the look and sound of most Harleys. BMW’s are mechanically wonders. Ya cant beat a Goldwing for the long haul. Enjoy the ride and be safe..

Silly Harley owners… my last Harley did not leak any oil. Just buy the shop manual and maintain it. What’s missing in this story is riding dirtbikes is good training for cruisers. I’ve probably crashed a dirtbike 4,000 times. You don’t want to crash your cruiser. In maybe 200,000 miles of riding, I’ve ridden 10,000 in snow. Harleys aren’t very good in deep snow. The point is, I can get a bike completely sideways and regain control. I accidently locked up both wheels on a Sportster and brought it to a stop without crashing. And if I have a choice between T-boning a minivan or going off the road, my cruiser is headed for the woods. I have no fear of leaving the pavement.

But hey, I love my cruiser. I just keep a dual-purpose dirtbike around to ride in the winter.

I love bikes! Period! I started riding anything motorized with 2 wheels when I was 14. Mini bikes, then dirt bikes. My first was a brand new, in the crate,1972 MX 250 Yamaha. Broke my wrist first time out at the races. Racing moto-cross was my love then. But as I got older, even owning a 2006 YZ250, this in my 50′s, time was not my buddie. Five knee operations later, realizations of my fun on 2 wheels was limited. Always had a bike of some kind in the garage, so my focus was to look into a different world of riding. Bought a ’07 Yamaha Road Star, and my world has blossomed. With aftermarket accessories, my Yammy sounds like it can compete with anything. Don’t take this wrong please, as I love Harleys, their history, and their unique sound. I will someday own one! But as the economy dictates, you afford what you can to get by. I’ve ridden my Star to Reno 3 years in a row, to Elko . Nevada once, and covered the Pacific Northwest with many great memories. Love what my wife and I are doing on 2 wheels now! Bottom line, it alled stared in the dirt for me!

i too have enjoyed riding japanese, british and american bikes.. currently i own a ’08 fatbob and a ’83 shovelhead.. it’s all about fun and not patriotic duty.. if you get off on riding mopeds, more power to you.. i don’t care what my friends ride as long as they are having fun too.. a person has to be really insecure to bash someone else for the kind of machine they ride.. it’s like bashing folks for riding thoroughbreds when you like to ride a quarter horse.. come on guys, grow up!

When I started reading this article, I thought that it would be about how the dirt riding experience might help a street bike rider.

Then I read the comments… and that got me thinking. It seems that everyone is pissed that they have to defend themselves against the other brand. Who cares what everyone else thinks about your bike, are you trying to impress them? Are you that insecure?

The only effect on longevity of a bike is how you take care of it, not where it was built. Yes, some bikes are faster, more comfortable, or handle better. Pick the one you want and ride it.

We are all riders here and we ought to look out for each other. If I see a bike broke down beside the road, I don’t care whether it’s an American or an import, cruiser or sportbike, I’ll stop to help if I can.

I don’t care what you ride, only that you ride. So, pull-up your big girl panties, and quit your crying, and ride.

You are all missing the point. Enjoy a ride often and safely! Dirt, crusin, metric… it doesn’t matter. So take a ride and deliver a toy this weekend!

Harley riders, like BMW riders, are the only ones on the road when conditions are not perfect….and many of them are in the remote corners of the country, solo, so at least a portion of HD riders must be considered hard core. I just wish that when they school on curvy roads they’d pull over and let me by on my Piaggio 250.

Your all wasting time bloging and not riding! I think the point is to enjoy the ride safely and often! And now’s the time to take a ride and deliver a toy! So have at it!

Probably have 750,000 miles on yamaha,triumph,norton & Harleys…current softail has 105 K plus…current dresser (17K)just replaced ’04 dresser with 106 K..i ride what i do because its my choice….Life is much to short for all the complaining..I choose to let my odometers speak for themselves… tank to tank to tank !!!!

I started with a 1970 Honda 750 and customized it and rode it for 250k+ till it needed a rebuild but it could not be rebuilt only exchanged. I had put an 850 kit and Poweroll cam that made it scream and beat most anything but it did not get the women to me. I sold the custom 750 with an AMen savior frame and custom chrome stock front end for $1000 then used it and a rifle to buy my first Harley a rat bike 1964 Panhead the shook and leaked but boy then the women came by the dozens………. it was a chick magnet. I customize it and rode it for 10+ years selling it for $3500 to buy my next project a wrecked 1976 Shovelhead that I went all the way to S&S 88cui it lasted several rebuilds and tear aparts but it was my chick magnet till I got a 2007 FLHX and that is the sweetest bike I ever rode…… I got my wife now and don’t need it as a chick magnet but I don’t need it for anything but the Pride of owning a Harley. Don’t know if it is the best bike but there is nothing like the Pride of riding a Harley. So much electrics to go wrong which is not Harley’s strong suit but there are cell phones now and road service so all is well in Harleyville…….

I have a KAW 80 LTD 1000. Too many times have I passed a group of Harleys on the side of the road in the middle of nowwhere working on one. As my thirty year old bike will smoke the tires anytime I choose, you have to love it. When I purchased a Yamaha 1700 Warrior a family member made us a good deal on a Sportster for my wife. It must weight 40% more than my 1700 and looks like it was assembled with parts from ACE HARDWARE. We have been trying to get rid of that piece of —- for months. I can only thank god that there was a jap bike to ride on the dirt because Harley, well you know what Harley put out.

Way to go Tim Kellogg, well put! I do have a couple of additions. I have a friend that has a Victory and I have to admit, that they put out a pretty good product. The Hammer definetly puts its 100 horses to the road. I have tested one. What you have said about HD and their riders is true. Most of them think that if you don’t ride one, you aint s–t. I have a brother-in-law that bad mouths my 1100 vstar classic, but only when I am not in earshot. Some day I am going to catch him, and that will be the moment when I challenge him to pinks. My easily modified vstar and his heritage classic. I will then, have him watch me trade it in for a down payment on a venture. He says that he bought HD as a investment. Something that will be worth some money in 25 years. I bought mine for reliability and the fact that it will probably still be running strong in 25 years. I sold my last Yamaha of 17 years still running.

I ride a Star!!

Why?

I’d rather ride than wrench.

When I visited Milwaukee for a week one day no one bowed and the beer sucked.

When I visited Nagasaki Japan people bowed to me and it wasn’t the beer that sucked.

I operated out of Pearl Harbor. It is better than ever so no hard feelings.

Oh I forgot the price of my 1900cc Raider allows me to spend the difference in cost on gas which translates into riding my butt off for free.

Tim – nicely said.

The HD/Metric rivalry gets old, but hats off to HD. They are masters at making the buyers believe that poor engineering (i.e. an oil leak) should be worn as a “badge of honor”. So, if you fall for the marketing hype and pay for the brand – good for you! It’s your choice and money….and I personally never judge. As long as you ride…but why we constantly have to be at odds is just childish.

Lowell,

Wow, talk about a tap dance!

I was drawn to read your article when saw the title “From Dirt to Cruiser” as that was the evolution of motorcycle riding I traveled. My thought was to get an opinion from a distinguished individual of the off road world on the direction to travel within the on road world.
I’ll give you an A+ on your politically correctness, but give us another pass with your opinion.

Thanks, Tony

Interesting and telling that this should be the very first comment I see below this article:
“You metric dirt jockeys need to stick to your plastic parts and knobby tires…”

Ya know, once upon a time Harley Davidson was trying to compete in racing, on- and off-road. When they began to show themselves unable to compete in any sort of fair contest, this nonsense began. So, since your beloved brand sucks at racing or performance or whatever, then you just decide that racing and performance are stupid and you will just name-call and throw-in not-only brand-prejudice, but racial prejudice (tell me why else, on-average, the Harley folks are so much more “ok” with, say, a piece-of-crap ’70s British bike vs. any of the excellent Japanese bikes of the same era?) This mindset works for Harley as a company, and I can’t blame them for exploiting it for profit, since it is much easier to pile-on expensive chrome parts than to actually attempt to design a bike that could compete in any unbiased contest, but I, for one, would LOVE to root for an American brand of motorcycle, but, especially since HD dumped Buell, there is not an American brand even attempting to build a bike that is BETTER, as-opposed to just building more and more overpriced, overweight junk attempting to look like the designs of 70 years ago. American know-how and innovation is the envy of the world, but you’d never know it by looking at the motorcycle industry, because so many idiots are conditioned to believe that if Harley can’t do it, it’s “un-American”. Screw that. My ’75 Kawasaki Z1 was designed by an American (Japanese descent doesn’t make him not-American, unless you are racist), for the American market, specifically, and is STILL a better bike than any of the bloated, overpriced, overdecorated crap that is HD’s bread-and-butter. And it is way cheaper and easier to modify and hotrod those old bikes for even-more-superior performance than any Harleys, and hotrodding your bike is about as American as a biker can get.
So, go-ahead and wave your flag and try to insult those of us who ride other brands, and we’ll sit back and laugh as, in a few years when Harley’s inability to meet noise and emissions standards without dramatically changing everything they do, you try to decide if you should decide that modern motorcycles in-general are “un-American” since Harley can no-longer build and sell the same crap they have built and sold for decades.

The Harleys with there made in america line has been a great scam. The only made in America bike is the Indian.

I ride a 2009 1100 Yamaha Custom and consider myself a cruising rider, although I do not go too far from home ( I live in Puerto Rico which is a 100×35 miles island). I went to war for America (1967-69) and I will defend her from any foe. To be a real American is to show what are you willing to do for her at any time, any moment, during any situation. What sits between your legs is not as important than what you have done – or are willing to do – when she is in trouble. America is a concept, not a tool. I can not afford a Harley, not even a used one. I am happy with my metric, thank you. And -I am American!

In fact those oil leaks can be viewed as a badge of honor. We love our Harleys and we love our heritage! My grandfather was an Indian rider and my dad was a rider; do you think I’m going to ride Jap scrap?

You metric dirt jockeys need to stick to your plastic parts and knobby tires. When me and the OL are haulin down Hwy 1 I want a scoot that can handle whatever gets dished out, chrome and all. And if it’s got five oil leaks when I get home, well that’s my problem!

Ride what you like, buy American!

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