The Decline of Harley-Davidson

If you have read the news in the motorcycling world lately you will have seen the headlines about the declining state of Harley-Davidson. Articles have been popping up everywhere for months about the company's poor financial outlook. There is a measure of angst going around as some people are using this as a measure of the health of motorcycling in the United States. It may be true that HD is the largest US seller of motorcycles, but their declining sales may not be a measure of motorcycling as it once used to me. 

The HD condition, as I will call it, it largely a product of their own making. I would not call myself a fan of HD, but I am not a hater either. I can respect the sort of "mechanical" nature of their motorcycles. I personally am not a huge fan of bikes with tons of gadgets on them, electronics, and all that. With the exception of their top of the line bikes, HD has remained true to that image. However, their image overall is precisely what I think their largest problem is. They have spent decades cultivating a cultural identity and biker image. Up until recently that has largely been a boon for them, creating a "fraternity" of sorts for motorcyclists to rally behind. With that fraternity though has also been the creation of a mentality that "you're one of us or you aren't". 

One of HD's (and motorcycling in the US') biggest problems is the age demographics of riders. HD riders are old, as are the riders across the country in general. Those individuals tend to be able to buy a $15000+ motorcycle, but in order for the industry to stay healthy you need to get younger riders into the market. 

The new batch of millennials coming into the market don't appear to embrace the current image that HD has cultivated. Many are turning to sports bikes or adventure touring bikes. Another large sector seeing a resurgence is the café racer, "hipster", city rider. Brands like Roland Sands, Icon, and others are tapping into a new style for younger riders. Just about every manufacturer from Kawasaki, to Yamaha, are now releasing "vintage" styled bikes that appeal to a younger crowd. 

Coupled with increased pressure from a "new" US brand in Indian Motorcycles, it makes you have to wonder how HD is going to respond and if HD can respond. The market now has more options and more sub-groupings of biking identity then it ever had before. No longer are biking communities split largely between sports bike riders and cruisers and with that growing division comes a smaller slice of the pie for HD.

They have spent such a long time cultivating the image that they have, I am not entirely sure they can attract a different audience with women, younger riders and a different demographic without alienating those individuals who have been with them for decades and spent tens of thousands of dollars with them. HD may finally find itself in a position where it has to cede its dominate market presence over the coming decade.

  

2018 International Motorcycle Show

This weekend was the IMS in Chicago. I go to this show almost every single year. This year I was terribly sick with a head cold, and I probably should not have gone, but I was looking forward to attending for weeks, so I had to go despite the sickness. Sorry, I was so out of it that I didn't get any photos of the show, but I'll try and post what I liked below. 


Royal Enfield Himalayan 

This was by far my most anticipated bike to see at the show. I have had a fascination with Royal Enfield long before I got my motorcycle license. The look of their bikes invokes something "classic" and despite the issues with the build quality, something about their "old fashioned", mechanical nature is appealing from a motorcycling perspective. Single engine, carb'd bikes on steel frames. 

The Himalayan has been discussed for a couple of years now. The Himalayan is a 400cc single cylinder adventure bike. Not quite a a dual sport and not quite a full on adventure bike. The ADV touring segment is huge at the moment and BMW arguably dominates this world. Their bikes also cost >$20,000 most of the time. The Himalayan comes in at $4500 list. 

What immediately made me think this could be a great bike is a memory from watching the "Long Way Round" documentary a few years ago. In that show Ewean McGregor and Charley Boorman took BMW's across Russia (and the world). At one point in their adventure their camera operator's bike broke down and he ended up getting a small motorcycle to use across the countryside. While the two BMW's got slogged down in the mud, this small, light and simple little bike took to the terrain effortlessly. 

A quote from Cycleworld summed up what I thought was perfect. 

"Where are the bikes that are perfect for once-a-week adventures, not once-in-a-lifetime ones?"

Sitting on it at the show immediately caught me. It felt great, and at $4500, almost comes in at an impulse buy (at least as far as motorcycles go).

Honda Goldwing

First off, I am not a Goldwing rider. Heck, I am not even a touring bike type of rider, but the new Goldwing has been getting rave reviews from every news outlet out there. It even has Apple CarPlay and airbags. Did it look good at the show? Sure, especially that brown color. You know who I saw standing around it though? A bunch of old guys. 

Not the type of bike for me. 


Kawasaki H2 SX Touring

Another bike I have heard a lot of good things about. The H2 SX looks to be an insane engine, packed into a sport tourer. The primary requirements for a my type of motorcycling is I want a machine that I can "load up" with luggage for touring and then also "strip down" for one day rides on twisty roads. I don't want to see luggage permanently grafted onto the bike, or tons of "stuff" that adds all sorts of weight. The HS SX would fit my criteria almost exactly, except for all of the plastic fairings. But, as you can see from the photo. It looks great "stripped down". 

When sitting on it, I liked how it felt, but I did feel like I was leaning forward a bit for 10+ hours of riding straight. I suppose I would like to actually test ride this one in the real world though. It is a sharp looking bike, but also comes in at about $23,000. Yikes. 


Other Things at the Show

I was in the market for some new boots, but I unfortunately didn't see much at the show this year. I'm not sure if the vendors didn't seem as prevalent or if it was because I was very sick, but I didn't see much boots for sale at all. Just patches and "Harley" leather.