In my last column I devoted some time to present you with a minority opinion about the “made-in-the-USA” motorcycle, the Harley Davidson. I concluded with the statement that Harley Davidson is not really an American motorcycle, inasmuch as the spirit of American creativity, ingenuity, and innovation are nowhere to be found in motorcycles made by “The Motor Company.”
I referred to the fact that Harley Davidson, in its quest for something slightly different, more modern, more technologically updated, went to Porsche for the development of a water-cooled v-twin, the “V-Rod.” The company was unable – or unwilling – to put forth any effort to improve the substance of its “more-of-the-same” products.
As it turns out, the V-Rod has been a relative sales failure among the Harley faithful, who want the same-old-same-old 60-year-old Milwaukee design.
The Milwaukee boys would really want you to believe that each model year Harley is new and unique; in reality, however, this year's 'new' model has the gas tank from three years ago, the forks from 50 years ago, and wheels from five years ago. The only thing on that bike you just bought that probably is brand new is the price tag and the rubber it rolls on. Everything else came out of parts bins somewhere in Milwaukee. I don't think that we've seen any innovation from Milwaukee for 60 years now.
If Japan, Italy, and Germany did product development the same way that Harley Davidson does, there wouldn't be Honda, Suzuki, Ducati, or BMW motorcycles. There would have been no VCR’s, mini-TVs, or Sony Walkmans. We'd all still be listening to wind up phonographs and watching black and white TV through vacuum tubes.
And we'd be paying thousands of dollars for it; and each one would be named "American Heritage Edition FGXLR TV," or something equally lame.
But they would be nostalgic. Oh, my…
The only reason that I would even consider that a Harley was an American motorcycle is that it is made in Milwaukee, which is a city in the United States.
Honda, however, makes its motorcycles and some of its cars in the United States, at American-built assembly plants, staffed by American workers. Is Honda also an American motorcycle? Honda assembles its cycles and cars over here, on American soil. If you take it down to the barest essentials, a Harley is no more American than a Honda Gold Wing or a Honda Accord. American made? I don‘t think so.
Whom are they fooling? Apparently enough people to stay in business, which is sad. Some people are sheep, and sheep like to be part of flocks, and flocks need a way to identify sheep that belong to them. It is simple brand association at work, much like cattle in the old west.
Hence, the Harley Davidson merchandise and officially licensed products that often have the Harley shield and bar on them, but really don't have much to do with the actual motorcycle experience itself.
Harleys even used Japanese carburetors on their bikes for years. Why is that? Because Japan does it better and has for a long time.
The American automobile industry has had to play catch up with Japan since the mid-70s, and only lately has the market gained against the wave of invasions from the Far East. Milwaukee just hasn't seen the big picture yet. Either that or they just aren't smart enough to do anything about it.
Or maybe Milwaukee has done all it can do, and where it can't compete in technology and production, it chooses to supplement its income by marketing its tired old image as something 'bad,' as 'the American dream,' and ramming it down the throat of ignorant sheep with more money than brains.
Japan has caught America napping (again) and Milwaukee, sadly, is the only game in town if you want a 'home grown' motorcycle. What Milwaukee is offering is not worthy of being called 'American' by any stretch of the definition. It's survival of the fittest. Harley was going the same way as the vacuum tube and the Edsel, soon to be extinct, bypassed by technology.
Then they came up with an angle – convince the U.S. Government to establish a tariff on large imported motorcycles, then sell 'officially licensed' trinkets at top price, while fooling people into thinking that they were buying gold instead of trinkets.
I'm as patriotic as the next guy, but I believe in a different kind of motorcycle for Americans. I believe in a true, high performance, yet economical and fuel-efficient motorcycle that is American designed, built, and ridden.
I believe in American dominance over every other type and brand of motorcycle in the world. That is what the USA is all about – showing the rest of the world how it's done, and letting them play catch up.
That's dominance gained by performance, power, and design – not image, loudness, and the flash of chrome off oiled leather.
Dominance gained through legitimate means instead of smoke and mirrors.
Dominance gained through sheer power, skill and determination.
Dominance gained through technological advantage and design.
I do get tired of people coming up to me and saying "You need to get a real bike. You need to ride a Harley, not some rice burner!"
Most of the people who tell me that don't even own a motorcycle, let alone a Harley! They're just good old boys or girls who have this wrong-headed notion that no motorcycle in the world is better than a Harley, and, since I am an American, I should be ashamed to ride anything that isn't American.
People tell me that – when I bought my Suzuki – I was supporting Japan's economy when I should have been supporting America's economy. I don’t see it that way; I see it as a way of sending a message to Milwaukee – that I can buy a much better built, faster, better handling bike, cheaper than anything “The Motor Company” produces any day of the week.
Am I supporting Japan's economy by owning a Suzuki? Probably. I'm also making a statement: Wake up, Milwaukee! This 24-year-old Suzuki of mine is the bike that works, that performs flawlessly and economically, with power and grace, after all these years, and that cost me $1,800 nine years ago.
You don't even come close to making a motorcycle like that.
You don't stand for youth; you stand for old age and mediocrity. You stand for expensive, slow, and weak when we want economical, efficient, fast, and powerful.
Where do we turn? To those who can make and sell what we want! Hear this, Milwaukee! Am I supporting Japan's economy? Again, probably, but I'm doing my best to correct a 60-year -old mistake.
So, you bought a Harley? Congratulations. That was about the most unpatriotic thing that you could have done. Why? Because you're helping to support a façade.
You aren't doing the USA any good because you're sending Milwaukee a message that what they’re building is just fine. You've been sending that message for a long time now, and Milwaukee is reading it loud and clear: Mediocrity sells.