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April 29, 2008

Hardly Ablesons

Nick Diaz

I’m an ardent admirer of the United States of America, my adopted country, which welcomed me to these shores a half century ago. This great country has provided me with opportunities I wouldn’t have faced, had I remained in Communist Cuba.


American exceptionalism and ingenuity, pride in advancing the freedom of man, determination to succeed in solving problems, foreign and domestic – there is nothing in this world, no problem no tragedy, no foe so insurmountable that the USA cannot surmount and conquer. We take second best to no one – it’s our national point of pride.


So, then, I’m afraid to inform you that, in at least one regard, we are willing to settle for second best or, even worse, last place. The USA has become complacent in the world; we are content to sit around and watch others whiz past at breakneck speed – and yet we do nothing.


We’re being left in the dust because we can’t or won’t, keep up. Why? Because we are stuck in a misunderstood and ill-conceived mental rut.


I’m talking about motorcycles – American-made and -built motorcycles. Harley Davidsons, to be exact.


Since coming on board as a contributor to, five of my columns have been on the passion of my lifetime – motorcycles. My three most recent pieces have dealt with math education; however, in light of the improvement in weather in recent days, my thoughts have drifted away from such trivial subjects as education and more toward those infernal two-wheeled motorized contraptions our mothers used to warn us against.


So, back to motorcycles I gravitate this time to my least favorite brand of bike, the Hardly Ableson, a.k.a. Harley Davidson.


You seen them everywhere, and you know the kind of rider that is usually aboard one of those HD bikes – leather chaps, leather jacket, combat boots, American flag do-rag, the very epitome of a “bad biker.”


All that is just a wishful image, however. All that stuff came out of a corporate catalog. One Harley rider looks like another, pretty much; yet they all claim they’re “individuals.” Seeing a group of Harleys go past is like watching a deleted scene from The Stepford Wives. They’re all identical; they look alike; and they all ride the same thing – junk.


Very few Harleys are truly fast or powerful. Most are just loud rattletraps, overpriced dealer wannabes, or pieced together, “hope-it-works-tomorrow” wonders. They are paper tigers, all show and no go. One can get a hundred pounds of chrome on one of these motorcycles straight from the factory.


Matching leather everything as well, even down to the little official HD logo, which is oh-so important to this flock-behavior mindset. Studded, braided, polished, painted, chrome, but it’s all flash. It’s all custom parts and paint, all jury-rigged and low tech. In anything else but a Harley, the extremes that most HD owners go to would be considered tacky and tasteless, and probably laughable.


The roar of a Harley is really just the growling of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, and the bleating of the image-driven lemmings that ride them.


Harleys, of course, can be made to perform, but one has to rebuild them from the ground up. By the time decent performance is extracted out of a Harley, one could have bought two or three Japanese bikes for cash. Harley’s fastest motorcycle, the Sportster, isn’t anywhere near deserving of its name. There is no sport to the Sportster, with an 883cc engine pushing out a meager 47 horsepower.


When Harley Davidson decided a few years ago to re-design its engine for power and performance, to whom did the company go? Not to American engineers and designers, but to Porsche. Yes, the same German manufacturer. This powerful, water-cooled Porsche engine, wedged into a mediocre HD chassis, is frowned upon by the Harley faithful.


What about price and cost of upkeep? A top-of-the-line HD costs many thousands more than a comparable import motorcycle, is less dependable, does not enjoy the quality of workmanship, and won’t even perform as well – not even close.


So, why do so many people flock to HD dealerships, (which are essentially boutiques incidentally surrounded by a two-wheeler here and there), and wait in line for months to buy a Harley at full retail-plus price?


Because they are sheep.


Why does a Harley hold its resale value so reputedly well, when all the cards are stacked against it?


Because of that elusive thing called “image.” An underlying factor is also stupidity.


Harley Davidson’s stupidity, you may ask?  Goodness, no. HD is probably the smartest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The stupidity can be traced right back to the unwitting public which buys what Milwaukee is selling.


And what does Milwaukee sell? Only one thing: “Image.”


Image, symbolism, with no substance – image at a price. Anyone can buy a Harley; it just takes lots of money and very little brainpower. How else can one explain paying so much and receiving so little in return?




Image is a powerful thing. We, as Americans, want to project a strong image to the rest of the world; in doing so, however, we have become lazy. We are now willing to pay large amounts of money to buy an image, rather than go out and earn one for ourselves.


We are lazy. It is easier to walk into a motorcycle dealer, buy a new Harley Davidson, and then tell ourselves: "I own a Harley, therefore I am bad and cool, because a Harley is bad and cool. That movie I watched last night proved that!"


It’s much easier to do that than it is to go out and actually prove that one is bad and cool. It doesn't matter that one is plain and ordinary. Hey, one can become bad and cool just because there‘s a Harley on the driveway. It doesn't matter if the bike is made up of parts from six or 10 other Harleys, the Harley owner is, ipso facto, bad and cool. All because one owns a certain brand of motorcycle?


I love my adopted country, but I hate the motorcycles that my country manufactures. I don't think that they come anywhere near being able to be compared to what the U.S. of A. is all about, or what makes this land great. Harley Davidson is a wart on the face of America.


 I dislike Harleys and don't even consider a Harley to be an American motorcycle. It is a sad, pale product that captures very little of the American experience and doesn't come anywhere near what a real American motorcycle should be.


The USA stands for technology, ingenuity, performance and innovation. Harley stands for none of that. Milwaukee churns out the same tired old designs every year, a piece of this model, a piece of that model, change the tank, paint it black, add 40 pounds of chrome and five grand to the price and give it a name like American Historical Limited Edition Super Extra Easy Wide Glide FGXLHR, or something equally incoherent and, lo and behold…


…you have a brand new Harley for this model year.


Tune in next time when the “Made in the USA” title is debunked.


Meanwhile, ride safe, y’all.


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