If you peruse the financial pages these days, you will see that iconic Harley Davidson is in the midst of a decline in sales and losing market share to it’s lifelong competitor, Indian Motorcycles. This observation is limited to that segment of heavy iron bikes, say 601cc’s and bigger. I am not a market analyst and am hesitant to jump on the bash Trump bandwagon and hold his tariffs responsible for the decline in sales. Rather, I take a more pragmatic approach to the issue of declining motorcycle sales in America. So it is with tongue in cheek that I make the following observations. I also proudly ride a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Baby boomers are the sweet spot in motorcycle sales, and baby boomers are getting too damned tired and out of shape to hold a Harley up at a stoplight, much less back the beasts up a few feet in a parking lot. Did I mention the decline in baby boomer numbers? Next up are the generation X’ers, and they tend to struggle with their identities, lost in the confusion that exists between them and the boomers. Consider the choice between a motorcycle and the latest cell phone offering from Apple, with it’s plan costs that often exceed the payments on a Harley and you can appreciate their dilemma. I should mention that a Harley-Davidson motorcycle will last a hell of a lot longer than an I-Phone.
Enter the millennials. Millennials and heavy iron are just not compatible. When a millennial’s boomer father suddenly departs this world and leaves his big iron to the care of his millennial son, the trouble begins. If the son can pull his pants up far enough to straddle the motorcycle, he is sure to drop the bike in the garage as he struggles to get his cellphone to his ear. Assuming the bike doesn’t break his leg or pin him between the bike and a shelf full of helmets and riding gear, he is pretty well done. The bike will be sold to an aging boomer at a steep discount. Should the millennial survive the first attempt to straddle the Harley, he will immediately notice the absence of a joystick and touchscreen, thoroughly confusing him as to exactly how the thing works. He will instantly come to the realization that his 10 years in college, pursuing a degree in the Humanities, social Studies or Gender studies have not prepared him for actually operating a wheeled conveyance that is also equipped with a, gasp, clutch and manual transmission. The more adventurous millennial, who actually participates in an exercise related activity beyond clinging to a flag pole, shaking uncontrollably, will retrieve a helmet from the shelf and slip it on. This will end his heavy iron adventure immediately, as the helmet will have tugged at his nose and eyebrow rings, and, again, precluded him from answering his ever present cell phone. It is just as well, as the millennial that survives these initial trials and attempts to ride down the street, under power, will most certainly kill himself when he attempts his first selfie at 30 miles per hour.
Harley Davidson has probably not figured these things out and, frankly, I have nothing when it comes to solving their marketing problems. Their strategy is to attract thousands of new riders over the next few years and damn their bad luck in the form of Mr. Trump’s manipulation of the world economy. To this end, they are rolling our their first legitimate electric motorcycle, a “green” machine that will haul butt and appeal, perhaps, to the generations they are losing. It may appeal to the millennials, but has insufficient range for the open road guys that still exist. It may be perfect for the run from the flag pole to the coffee shop or “medical” marijuana dispensary, but has little appeal to the heavy iron guys that I am proud to associate with. The smell of exhaust and the feel of motor oil on our hands while we blast down the highway, destroying what little hearing we have left, is a thrill that will soon be extinct.
Maybe Harley-Davidson should consider a trophy for each millennial, you know, a participation award, to be conveyed at an elaborate ceremony to each millennial who buys a motorcycle, or an ornate bong, lending dignity to the medically necessary doobie…..
….or maybe, just maybe, the millennials are a hell of a lot smarter than we are.