Harley Davidson is Winning Younger Buyers

Harley Davidson is Winning Younger BuyersEvery armchair critic of Harley Davidson aims his first shot at buyer demographics. The common wisdom says everyone buying a Harley is old and buyers under 35 are getting a sport bike so Harley has no future. It's an easy shot with an element of truth from the not too distant past, but if you've been paying attention, you'll find things are changing.

"Our goal really was to be the No.1 seller of motorcycles to young adults in the United States," Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richer said. "We are now."

Since Wandell took over, the company has increased its share of the heavy-bike market under the age of 35 by more than a third. It now owns 48.6 percent of that market, according to R.L. Polk & Co. registration data, quadruple the share of its closest competitors in the segment.

Iron 883Much of that success is the result of models on the low end of the price spectrum, like the Iron 883, a basic bike that gets a young guy on a Harley because he can afford it, because it looks like a Harley, sounds like a Harley and will most likely retain a lot of trade in or resale value when it's time to move up.

In one ad, equating the bike's operating cost to "about six bucks a day," the company said the 883's daily cost was "cheaper than your smokes, a six-pack, a lap dance, a bar tab, another tattoo, a parking ticket, a gas station burrito, bail, cheap sunglasses (or) more black T-shirts."

I don't think the exodus of young buyers from Harley that did take place in years past was because young riders didn't want one, it was just that they couldn't afford one and the Motor Company wasn't trying very hard to win them over when sales and profits were high with boomers buying all the bikes Harley produced. The economic downturn combined with a real change in demographics finally made the company shift focus or risk a market catastrophe.

If you want to point to Buell and say they had what they needed right there, you might be half right. A Buell was then, and with Erik's current company, still is, a highly capable sport bike, but if it was going to continue as a separate company, riders of that brand might not have transitioned to a big Harley later on, they may have, as easily, moved on to a big BMW or Honda or any brand at all, the next logical step wasn't a Harley bagger. With the economic downturn, Harley had to cut somewhere and Buell was done, with the now well known justification of concentrating on their core market. Buell riders and supporters will never be happy with that, but Erik is back now and they can support him in his new efforts.

If the "Harley faithful" don't like the new push into Sportster variations like the Iron 883, they're being short sighted. These bikes bring a new generation into the fold along with precious dollars. It keeps dealers in business while the company evolves to meet the current and future demands of the market.

Mule XR 1660A great way, at least in my view, to transition these Sportster buyers to a higher end and higher performing Harley would be to build a street tracker variation of those same Sportsers the young are already buying, just like Mule builds with his gorgeous bikes. Trackers would give the higher earning older buyer, looking to move up, an opportunity to buy a Harley before he transitions, if he ever does, to a big tour glide of some sort. As Richard Pollock has so often said, why Harley doesn't build something like his trackers is a mystery and I, too, wonder the same thing. The XR1200 seems like such a halfway measure, with a quirky design and too much weight. I wish Richard much success, but Harley could do very well in this segment if they really wanted to and, perhaps, it's on their radar already. We'll have to wait and see.

The bottom line is Harley is bringing new young buyers into the showroom who are riding out on Sportsters. That is great news for anyone looking for positive signs in the motorcycle market. It's also a sign that Harley is making the crucial and sometimes painful changes to move forward, something that is easy not to do when sales are good, but tough times punish the lazy and Harley seems to be working pretty hard to overcome missteps from the past.

This is another indication that motorcycle companies are coming back, changing their business models to meet the new markets and finding success in the process. Our story last week about Triumph bringing in record profit on growing sales is another. If we keep this up, who knows what might happen. I like it.

Link: Reuters

Comments

  1. B50 Jim says

    I’ve poked my share of fun and criticism at Harley-Davidson in this forum (talk is cheap, so take it for what you paid for it) — but the folks at H-D just might be onto something with entry-level Sportys. If the young buyers graduate to bigger Harleys and not jump to other brands, it’s a viable marketing model that will carry the Motor Company well into its second century as long as it continues upgrading and updating the product and doesn’t do something to alienate its newest customers.

    This, combined with Triumph’s good sales news, also indicates the economy overall is improving despite the drumroll of politically-motivated bad news from the various media. Motorcycle purchases are almost always strictly discretionary spending; almost nobody actually needs a motorcycle. So when buyers start showing up at dealers with cash in hand, ready to ride out with a new bike, it shows that consumers are feeling more confident and the overall economy is picking up. There are other signs as well, but motorcycle purchases are a darn good indicator.

    • Carolynne says

      Could it be that more people are buying motorbikes because it is alot cheaper on gas for the commute? In addition parking is easier to find and at least in these parts you can park your bike free? I am not disputing you at all, but I am wondering if it could be a reaction to the expense of other forms of transportation and and an adjustment to changing times might also be a contributing factor.

  2. Dresden says

    Meh. I have a love hate relationship with Harley. I actually like their designs, and the styling of their bikes. I hate the merchandization of the brand. I hate the fact that every tool you see on a Harley, has matching jackets, boots, shirts, bumper stickers on their cars. I hate how I can buy a bike that’s more affordable, and has more power for a lot less. I have a Vstar 1300 now that cost less than a Sportster 883. New. The fact that 883’s are also labeled as chick bikes by everyone doesn’t help that argument. I’m also too tall for a Sportster. Even with forward controls, I still feel cramped. My Japanese 1300 fits me pretty well, and maybe I’d be more comfortable on a Fat Boy, but anything beyond the Sportster is pretty unreasonably priced for a bike I can only ride 6-8 months out of the year (upstate NY). If they came out with a Sporster 1200, for under 10 grand, that can fit a tall person, I’d probably be down, but at 32 and with a bike I really love, I’m not going to be in the market for anything new in awhile. You missed your chance HD.

    • Carolynne says

      we NEED some chick bikes, there are not enough of them, anything I have found so far that fits me physically has no guts. I am not really into putting along being passed by a fourtwo, that takes all the fun out of it. I have the opposite problem of you these bikes tend to be all to big, and too heavy.

        • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

          Then buy and ride something else. Problem solved. Make what you believe are good choices for yourself and let everyone else do the same. Easy and positive.

        • Carolynne says

          I think my dream bike would be something really cute, lightweight so that I can lift it and dont have to call “Daddy” to come get me if I am stranded, but at the same time has the power so I can keep up with you guys and atttempt to kick your butts. That would be fun! Might be an impossible dream because an engine that kicks out power is going to have to have some bulk. But Dresden, when I find it, you and I and are on!!! :)

      • Bob says

        I think you’ll find the Victory Vegas very easy to handle for a shorter rider and more guts than anything but liter sport bikes.

        • Carolynne says

          Would the victory Vegas be good for day long trips? A friend and I are planning a seaway trip along the st lawernce in the spring. Crazy dude told me I need a least a 700. I have been looking at a honda cbr250

          • todd says

            I’ve been on long rides on everything between 50cc and 1200. All I can say is that as capacity increases, so does comfort. The problem is that is the opposite thing that happens with fun. I can fondly remember all the epic rides I’ve done on 50s and 90s and 250s but the ones on the 900s and 1200s have faded.

            Get whatever bike you like. All current bikes (250 and up…) can easily do sustained high-speed travel, no problem. You’ll likely have more fun on the smaller bikes and use half as much gas.

            -todd

          • Carolynne says

            Good advice thank you Todd. I think this is a case that for the time being a good enough bike is good enough for now. Later I can look for the ultimate

  3. GuitarSlinger says

    Talk about a ‘ Love Hate ‘ relationship with ‘ The Motor Company ‘ well I’d bet Im the poster boy for the cause .

    Up and until Several unfortunate run ins with posteriorhole dealers in the late 90’s , and now being exacerbated by Harley now building ( complete ) motorcycles in India to be bought back to the US there had been a Harley or two in the family … no stop since 1926 .

    Now ? I’ve yet to even darken the Factories door for a tour ( KC,MO ) having no lived here for 5 years , never mind even consider letting one reside in my garage or under my butt

    No in truth I’m all for affordable Sporties , and specially the idea of a factory built Street Tracker , but to bet my money ever again they’ll have to go back to making AMERICAN motorcycles , rather than American motorcycles built in India . as well as start making the big cruisers comfortable for those of us not Wide of Girth and Fat of Butt ( I’m 6’4″ 175 and over 50 so …. ) along with getting a little more competitive , price wise with the rest on offer as well as fix all those damn reliability problems that still infest new Harley’s no matter what the model .

    Having said that though it’ll never happen because Harley has adapted the Gibson Guitars mantra full on that ” … if they’re still buying them in spite of the lack of quality , WTH should we make it better ? ”

    So…… the crap will continue to flow out of the Motor Companies factories , we’ll get an invasion of India built entry level Harley’s to satisfy the ‘ Hipster ‘ crowd demands , and as the saying goes ” A fool and his/her money are ( will continue to be ) soon parted ”

    Sermon over . You’ve been informed ( about H-D and Gibson and FYI Fender is almost as bad … notice all your favorite players use such heavily modified ones as to no longer count as a Fender or a Gibson ) Make your own decisions from this point on

    Rock On

    • HoughMade says

      Could I have a link or a source on the comment that harley is building complete bikes in India to be imported into the U.S.?

      The only thing I have heard about India production is that they will ship CKD (completely knocked down) kits to India for assembly and sale there is avoid tariffs.

      • Paulinator says

        HoughMade, I have a winning PowerBall lottery ticket worth millions. You send me just 15 000 dollars and I’ll mail it to ya :)

        • Tin Man 2 says

          All Harleys sold in the USA are made and assembled in the USA, All Harleys sold outside the USA are also made in the USA, but some are ASSEMBLED in the region where they are sold. Some parts are manufactured out side the USA by vendors then shipped to the USA for assembley.

          • HoughMade says

            I know….that was my subtle point. This was just another anti-Harley rant, light on facts. I recognized this and I’ve never owned a Harley.

          • Paulinator says

            Did you know that the iconic jeep is built in Tehran?

            Harley’s global business strategy seems obvious. The qualified statement “some parts are manufactured outside” will grow into low-cost CKDs back-flushing into our domestic market so that the hipsters will have a chance at possessing at least the badge of a definitive marque from a by-gone era.

  4. loving_big_twins says

    Gotta trust those demographics, just goes to show there are a lot more under 35 divorced dentists out there than I could have imagined.

  5. taxman says

    I’m 35 for another 7 months so I still sort of fall into this category.

    I agree that at least half of the people I know that own a cruiser own a HD. But much less than half the people I know that own a bike own a cruiser. I’m not saying HD is lying; I just think they’re listing a statistic that you may be misrepresenting. I’d like a little more clarification on what the “heavy-bike market” consists of. It could be a pretty specific category that not many bikes fit into.

    • Richard Gozinya says

      By heavy bike, they mean 651cc’s and up. Notice that HD doesn’t even compete in the 650cc and under market.

      • cWj says

        Strangely, that’s exactly where I’d like to see them compete.

        Is it impossible for H-D to build an under-eight grand bike?

        (let alone the $6k where I think they should start)

        • todd says

          right. Harley has economies of scale, being one of the most highly mass-produced motorcycles in production. It makes no sense to me why they charge so much for them.

          -todd

  6. says

    I think they had to do it or risk collapsing in the down economy. Face it, as you get older your buying habits change and become more conservative. The boomer buyers were spent, so the Motor Company effectively shifted its focus to a crowd they can rely on, the youth market.

    As I’ve said so many times before, the Sportster is a perfect blank canvas to do a million different takes on. Look at the bobbers, cafe bikes, and street trackers.

    In terms of performance, the Sportster isn’t bad for the street, even in 883 form. Are there things that could be improved? You bet, and my vote goes to starting with tightening up the semi-agricultural gear box. But the chassis is OK for the street when you take into consideration that it’s still a twin shock set up.

    I didn’t quite agree with the XR1200 being off target in this piece. I was invited to test one by a local dealer, and the bike was fairly good right out of the box in 2009. The throttle springs were a bit light, the shift was a longer throw than I cared for, and it did carry a lot of the weight up front. But it can still be ridden quite quickly and effectively on the street, and the track, for that matter.

    Harley’s approach to widening the Sportster line was executed at the right time, and the products they are producing are really great in terms of variety and overall finish. I’m not big on cruisers, but the Super Low is one of the nicest out there in my opinion and the price is quite reasonable.

    My only request is for an XR883 model to be developed with a bump in power, clean fairing, low bars, rearsets, and some nice suspension. That would have me in the showroom pretty damn quick.

    • Rob says

      Hell yeah! Work on both ends of Harleys range. A Sportier 883 and take a leaf out of Kawasaki’s book supercharge the VROD engine for more torque and fuel economy, enter Supercruiser…

  7. Jim says

    I ride a roadster and wear Bilt boots (cheap price but seem ok), a Joe Rocket jacket and a full face Summit helmet. I guess that make me a rebel to the Harley crowd but its what works for me

  8. Steve says

    Hotted-Up Sporties have ALWAYS been quite popular with younger riders as long as I can remember… no big news flash, IMO.
    Intentionally marketing them to that segment makes complete sense to this retread!

  9. '37 Indian says

    The Sportster has been around since what, 1957? Sure, they’ve certainly improved it along the way, especially with the Evo motor and belt drive in the ’80’s, and (finally) rubber engine mounts in 2004. It puzzles me that the Twin Cam got balance shafts in ’99, but the Sportster still continues to shake. Pull up next to one at a stop light and watch the front wheel bounce. If they would re-design the motor to bring it up to snuff with their big twins ( and their competition, like the Kawasaki Vulcan), I might just be interested, especially if they’d make forward controls OPTIONAL instead of standard.

  10. Scott says

    I’m having a little trouble believing anything Wandell did brought in young riders. They may be getting some younger riders for one reason or another, but I have to believe it’s in spite of as opposed to because of Wendell.

    There has been talk about a Blast replacement and something like that might bring more younger riders in, but until they have that they should just enjoy their luck and not start bragging about it. As someone reasonably knowledgable regarding motorcycles, I’m having a hard time looking at anything Wandell and saying “Aha! THAT certainly will bring in younger riders.

    Perhaps their riders are getting younger because they couldn’t possibly get any older. ;)

  11. akaaccount says

    I guess mechanically illiterate hipsters are a growing and significant demographic, I just prefer not to work for or patronize a company that focuses on them.

    (26 years old, owner of an SV650, RD350, KZ650, and XJ600S)

    In all fairness, my friends and I are not indicative of all of the world’s 20-35 year old population. I hope there’s a future for Harley, as I would love to ride an American bike one day. You guys older than 35 have to put yourselves in the shoes of young people who have only known Harleys as the slowest thing around and have only been adults since the economy went in the crapper. Unless Harley can offer more for less money, I’ve got my doubts whether they’ll make any headway with my generation. Lunch break over, back to work.

  12. mark says

    Unfortunately I don’t remember now where I read this, but I remember reading an article in which someone analyzed HD’s claims of being #1 among younger buyers and found the statistics to be severely cooked.

    Personally, I know a lot of motorcyclists under 35, and exactly zero of them have any interest in Harleys, or cruisers in general for that matter. They’re interested in sportbikes, sport-tourers, ADV bikes, and dual-sports, but none of them could care less about cruisers. I’m sure that’s partially due to the part of the country I live in, but nevertheless, I find it very hard to believe that Harley is really attracting nearly half of all motorcycle buyers under 35. I expect their numbers only account for new bike sales; but in reality, most buyers under 35 are buying used bikes. These purchases make far more sense for a young buyer, since a good bike can be had for less than half the price of a basic Sportster, ridden for a few years, then resold with little depreciation.

    • Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

      “I expect their numbers only account for new bike sales”
      Well, of course, that’s what a factory sells and what sales numbers refer to.

      Numbers are in the heavyweight segment, 651cc+.

      There is much more relevant info in this earlier article on The Kneeslider.

      • Scott says

        But think about that for a second. If 90% of younger buyers are buying smaller bikes and they’re selling more of their large bikes to younger riders than they have in the past, that doesn’t really mean they’re attracting the kind of broad-base of younger riders they should be shooting for.

        And to use a cliche’ from our grade school days when the teacher caught someone cheating: “They’re only cheating themselves.” If they’re looking at some very specific statistics that don’t truly show what’s happening, aren’t they fooling themselves into thinking they’re doing okay when they really should be developing a 400 cc starter bike?

        I’d think the 250 Ninja and new 250 Honda are doing great among young riders and probably bringing a lot of riders to Kawasaki and Honda, but that’s not even on Harley’s radar because they’re only looking at large bike sales.

        • mark says

          Also important to remember is that a large number of younger riders, even more experienced ones buying new bikes, are buying 600-class sportbikes, SV650- and Ninja 650-style twin-cylinder sport-standards, <650cc dual-sports and supermotards, and so on — none of which compete in Harley's segment. So Harley's claims are rather misleading.

          • rohorn says

            Misleading? Or do the “armchair critics” (Kneeslider’s words, not mine) such as yourself have a great deal of difficulty with basic literacy and analytical skills?

            WTF is the relevance of ANY sales of under 651cc new bikes and all used bikes in Harley’s claims? NONE.

            Oh yes – ask a real live person actually IN this business that’s in a postion to give you a straight answer how 600cc sportbike sales have been going for the last couple of years up to the present.

          • Mike77 says

            I think what he’s saying, rohorn, is that if 90% of younger riders are buying bikes < 651cc, then Harley's market share of younger riders is actually closer to 5%.

            Instead of attacking people for alleged lack of literacy or analytical skills, you might try actually building an argument for yourself. I know real live people IN the business as you say, and they can't keep the small sports in the showroom.

            When I walk into Boston Harley and buy a new bike this spring, if Harley-Davidson wants to issue a press release saying they have 100% market share in the 'guys named Mike who bought a bike in Boston at 1:30PM today', that is up to them. I'll still buy the bike and I'll also be honest about what my eyes see and not blindly defend Harley for no other reason than I ride one.

          • rohorn says

            There is no argument to build, just strawmen to flame. That the short attention span set is too dimwitted to get past the headline and RTFA before responding (AKA the Asphalt and Rubber effect)isn’t something I feel any need to be polite about. But, mercifully, The Kneeslider is polite – go argue with him: http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2011/12/05/harley-davidson-is-winning-younger-buyers/#comment-378793

            What nobody is willing to point out is that the entire young buyer/heavy (new) bike market is tiny. And that the entire young buyer/smaller (new) bike is, at present, an unprofitable joke.

          • says

            ^00cc Sportbikes sales are way off, yes. Does that mean that no buyers want under 651cc bikes? Or does it possibly mean that there just aren’t enough buyers out there that want a 120HP, sportbike riding position, $10K under 651cc bike?

            Bikes of all brands are so specialized that you are required to comit yourself to a team as opposed to just playing ball.

            This goes for Harley’s designs more than any others. Harley doesn’t reach out to the motorcycle buyers, they instead demand that the customer WILL buy what HD has considered what’s needed or they can hit the frickin’ road.

            Also, why does a smaller displacement bike have to be a “Starter” bike?? I seem to remember the days when an RD350, RD400, RZ350, H1 Kawasaki, the GT Suzukis, and an assortment of 500cc singles from all over the world were the begining and end of all that was needed for motorcycling, be it street or racing.

  13. B*A*M*F says

    I love the XR1200. One with a Bonneville like standard seat would be on my list of brand new dream bikes, along with the afore mentioned Bonnie, as well as the Guzzi V7 classic. However, the XR is several thousand more than either the Bonnie or Guzzi. Performance is close enough that I think someone could cross shop them as being sufficiently similar bikes. On the other side of it, the XR1200 is the only Harley I’d actually consider owning at present, the rest not being my taste.

    I’m in their target demographic, but it’s a moot point for me. Like most of the people I know under 35, money isn’t being raked in hand over fist. I can’t actually entertain the idea of purchasing a new bike. I’d like Harley Davidson to continue on and be successful.

  14. Kawistar says

    As for any product line in any company, what gets marketing focus, gets sold. OK, it is obvious that Harley is giving much overdue attention to the entry level consumer in the motorcycle market by hyping the sportster and pricing it right, yet, I believe that motorcycle companies are still missing the big boat, especially Harley. They are still fighting for the discretionary dollars of people who want toys, I mean, motorcycles as their secondary means of transportation. When is everyone going to wake up and realize that cars are just too expensive, waste too much gas, and are just plain boring? Americans still believe that everyone is going to be rich and drive an eight cylinder and live in a 1/2 million dollar home. Wake up to reality! You are not going to be richer than your parents, gas prices will only get higher, and cars will become prohibitively expensive. When motorcycle companies start taking themselves seriously, especially HD, Sportsters will be the next Mustangs and Chargers…. AMERICAN MUSCLE!
    Let’s face it, the days of two wheeled commuter mass transit are upon us! It is already happening in the rest of the world.

  15. B50 Jim says

    I can’t agree that 2-wheel transportation is the wave of the future in the United States. Looking around the world, you’ll see that most commuter bikes are small-displacement motorcycles or step-throughs best suited for city streets or unpaved back roads, ridden by folks with few resources. Those machines represent a significant percentage of their owners’ yearly salary, and I guarantee those riders would move to automobiles in a minute if and when they get the cash to buy a car. Furthermore, the places where 2-wheelers are popular for commuting generally enjoy a warm year-round climate, whereas much of the United States is temperate and has several months of cool and cold weather a year. Try riding a bike on a 20-degree, snowy night and you’ll be ready to get into a nice, warm car. With very few exceptions, motorcycles in the United States are and will continue to be optional vehicles, ridden because we love to ride, not because we have to. I’m sure nearly every rider has a car or truck in the garage for those inclement days when riding would be uncomfortable and dangerous. I once rode year-round (XS650 with sidecar) out of necessity, and believe me, if I’d had a car I would have driven it.

    Buying a new bike to save fuel costs is false economy — an inexpensive machine with capable power and 50 mpg will cost $5,000, and even at today’s prices, that will buy a lot of gasoline for your 40-mpg small car. The 10-mpg difference will take a long time to make up. We ride bikes for fun, and economy is only a side benefit.

    Harley shouldn’t even bother trying to sell bikes on the basis of riding economy. Sell ‘em as always, as fun machines that generate excitement and put a big grin on your face.

    • Carolynne says

      I did a quick little google search on saving money by communting by Motorcycle. The result was, yes… but it depends on many factors. But one thing that was said I found amusing from a motorcyclist was “yes absolutely you save money, riding a motorcycle is beneficial to your emotional health so we don’t have to pay a therapist” There is an argument you can use to buy that new machine.

    • todd says

      California and Texas together make up 3/4 of the total number of riders in the United States. These are places you can ride 365 days a year if you have thick gloves. I think it has more to do with laziness; you need to suit up and shift to ride whereas you can jump in an automatic and check your smart phone (below the line of sight) and sip your Starbucks in your car…

      -todd

      • Klaus says

        2 states make up 3/4 of the US riders?
        That would mean 48 states make up only 25%?
        I’d be very surprised if that’s true!
        Also that HD now owns almost half of the “heavy-bike market” under the age of 35, quadruple the share of its closest competitor, is hard to believe.
        Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki offer morel models of different sizes, and HD wants me to believe that for any Japanese cruiser sold they sell one of their products to young people under 35?
        I’d be happy for HD to be amazingly successful – I just don’t believe it!

        • Klaus says

          A quick google showed that in December 2007 the number of registered bikes (private and commercial, not publicly owned) was 709,947 in California, in Texas 352,302; US total was 6,634,506. CA and TX are the two states with the most registered bikes but make up only about 16% of the total, which makes more sense.
          ( http://knol.google.com/k/the-u-s-motorcycle-market# )

          • todd says

            oops, messed that one up. I think that it was that California has at least twice as many registered bikes than any other state, Texas being the closest. Thanks for the clarification.

            -todd

          • Klaus says

            I was surprised to see the market shares on the same website:
            Harley-Davidson 28%
            Honda 25%
            Yamaha 17%
            Suzuki 13%
            Kawasaki 11%
            and KTM 2% over BMW 1% – only 1%?!
            Not sure for which year, probably 2006 or 2007.
            The Big Four make up 66%, still 2/3 of the market!

        • Richard Gozinya says

          It’s really not surprising. If a new rider’s looking at cruisers, particularly something in the Sportster size, why would anybody want anything else? The price difference isn’t really there, and what the other companies offer in that category frankly sucks. Add to that the fact that they’re all Harley clones anyways, so why buy an imitation?

          There’s also the people in that demographic buying Ducatis, and various other larger displacement sport/naked/dual sport bikes, which get counted in that weird 651cc+ category.

    • Marvin says

      Never owned a mv agusta a doubt I ever will, I do though wish both companies well. I’m still pining after a MZ1000 SF, the demise of MZ teaches us an important point. Making well rounded well finished and well equipped mid size bikes for a reasonable price does not make a company much money. To make money you need to attract the kind of people who won’t think to themselves “wow a cheap second hand one of those would be great” but do think “oh yeah I must have one of those brand new and now it has a console plug for my ipad” Making the ideal bike for the second hand buyer is a sure way to bankruptcy.

  16. Yeti2bikes says

    Here in Arizona where riding weather is year round there are many who rely on motorcycles as the only means of transportation. I personally own a car, but put less than 1,000 miles a year on it. I split my riding time between a Fatboy and a Buell Lightning depending on if I want to be comfortable or turn corners. But I’d easily say that half the bikes on the road around here are Harleys or Harley/S&S powered customs.

  17. B50 Jim says

    Yeti2bikes —

    I lived and rode in Arizona for three years, and I rarely drove my car. It’s a wonderful state for riding, even in the summer when heat from the pavement feels like your engine is overheating. There was nothing like carving corners on the ride to Canyon Lake, or rolling arrow-straight across the desert, or slipping away on Carefree Highway. If I could have figured a way to earn a decent living, I’d still be there. As it is I’m in Illinois where the bike has to be put to bed by November, and doesn’t come out until May.

  18. ZREXER says

    I guess I dont know where I fit in with buyer demographics. I own several performance sport bikes including Ducati and Kawaski. This summer I decided it was time to add to the stable and I test rode several including the Triumph triples, and BMW sport bikes.
    The last stop was a local Harley Davidson dealer where I rode a XR1200X, I have never been interested in any Motor Company bikes before but the XR1200X was the one that went home with me. At 65 years of age perhaps my riding styles have changed, and although I have the luxury of switching between bikes on any given day that XR is getting a lot of use!

  19. steve w says

    On the kneeslider i don’t expect this news to have many people that like this news. I have been aware of the you ng riders for a long time and there are plenty more waiting for the day they can buy a Harley. When you go to a high school or church and see young people wearing HD clothing it has to speak to you. You might not like it but you don’t see that with other brands. I don’t like what they have done to many of the models but then I am not buying a new bike either ( I build my own). I do wish they would do 2 things though. Build a bigger (chassis) Sportster and increase the displacement in one model to put some sport back in Sportster. For anyone that has ridden a 100″ Sprortster, you know what I mean. They are fun. They don’t even have to go that big to get it done. I can build it but most can’t and I would like to see them offer a bigger bore Sportster in the showroom for those that can’t.

    • JerseyMayhem says

      It would be nice to get a larger sportster, but then you do have the dyna to choose from. I think just a more performance oriented sportster, besides the xr1200, i just dont like the factory tracker look.
      I have a 84 Ironhead, i just picked up :), and it seems as though not a lot has changed in the past 27 years, judging by the sporty critique going on. Its super shaky, and its got a sh*t tranny, but its a great base for a nice custom job, and at only $4 grand it was a deal.
      New sportys seem to be more popular among the “mechanically illiterate hipsters” as per akaaccount, and continually bashed by the same group, deeming a sporty a “girls” bike is just wrong, sportys were the original choppers.
      With the new 883 and the 48, i think the Motor Company is on the right track to bring in the next generation of customizers.

    • Greg says

      Me too. I have an XB9R I bought used. I installed the larger engine sprocket and longer primary chain from a Buell XB12/HD 1200 Sportster. It was getting up to 61 MPG this past summer, and it still goes fast enough to get more than a speeding ticket.
      I’m glad Eric Buell is back in business, and I wish him all the best. I really liked the air-cooled XB’s. They weren’t the fastest, but they were innovative without being overly complicated, and they sounded like I think a motorcycle should.

  20. Bigshankhank says

    I am an unabashed Sportster lover, having had many in my life including my first bike.
    I don’t buy this report, but hey its not for me to accept or not, although I have noticed a lot more advertising for the 4-cam machines and I can get behind that.
    Now as for a wish list bike, go back to the original and significantly lighter rigid engine mount chassis, strip unecessary bits and bobs like the huge gas tank and all that silly plastic and put a Buell-based 100+hp engine in it. Nothing says “Muscle Bike” like a stripped down-ready for the stoplight dragstrip-Sportster with the balls to back up the looks.
    Ah, I just passed the 35 year old mark and am aimed squarely at 40 so I guess this I don’t count for this demographic anyway.

  21. FREEMAN says

    I bought a new Blast just for commuting. The gas mileage is great and the bike could almost not be simpler. I also love that it’s a single and air-cooled. The only other bike I’ve owned was a Yamaha XS650 Special. Bought it cheap, used and abused just to learn how to ride on the street and dirt without worry about dumping or wrecking it. The only thing I wish my new bike had was a kickstarter. I’d buy a Blast replacement. I’m only 26.

  22. todd says

    It’s key to get a new rider hooked on the Harley brand before he or she has had a chance to ride anything else. Lucky for me, I was able to ride some Hondas, Yamahas, and Nortons before I ever threw my leg over a Sportster. Nothing is more capable (or boring) than a UJM but once you’ve experienced one the bar gets raised quite a bit and Sportsters just don’t seem very enticing thereafter. As long as we have people that will label you un-patriotic for not riding a Harley, Harley has a fighting chance.

    I also question the claims made – the only people I see riding or talking about a Harley are old (60 ish) white guys with goatees and black T-shirts suspiciously lacking sleeves – but I live in California where popular notions do not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the country.

    Harleys do have their place much like Barbie dolls, CocaCola signs, and other quaint relics of a bygone era. Luckily, for those of us who ride for the benefits of riding and not for posing, we have more than one brand or style to choose from.

    Either that or there just happens to be more short young riders these days.

    -todd

    • Klaus says

      “Harleys do have their place much like Barbie dolls, CocaCola signs, and other quaint relics of a bygone era. Luckily, for those of us who ride for the benefits of riding and not for posing, we have more than one brand or style to choose from.”
      Right! I never owned or collected Barbie dolls, Coca Cola signs or Harleys.
      And I’d choose a Moto Guzzi V7 Classic, a Triumph Scrambler, a Kawasaki W 800 or even a Suzuki V-Strom 650 over a Sportster any day, no matter how many young people buy it!

    • says

      Never heard Barbie Dolls mentioned in a motorcycle article or conversation before?
      Maybe your into something we don’t know about. How bout a free Doll with every new Harley? ..Z

  23. says

    Lots of younger guys (and gals) here in England riding Sportsters – mainly for the image and customising plus they can go round corners!! – you can bore the motors out to 88 ci – anyone done that? I’d love to know…

    • Bluegrass says

      I’m in the process of doing a 90 inch conversion to mine, with is about the limit on bore using the stock cases. Depending on what you want to spend, your mechanical aptitude, and how often you want to tear into your bike, 100 whp to 150ish can be built. Anymore than that is really just about race only, and after 140 hp or so, longevity of the engine starts to get real short.

  24. KC says

    The only motorcycles H-D makes that interest me were the Buell and the XR. I don’t want cruiser/foot-foward, hyper low seat, peg scraping, minimal suspension, retro customs. The list of “I don’t want” is very long. Other than that, they make great motorcycles – but all based on the same “theme”. Top on my list is I don’t want to be part of “the look”. Easy Rider came out in 1969. Let it go. That’s now a parody of the “American motorcycle” and that’s sad. We’re more than that.

    I want a naked/standard with a bit of a pulse and a minimum of frills, silliness and gimmicks. Overall, I like retro, but to a limit. I’d get a Bonneville/Thruxton, a V7, even a Royal Enfield if the dealers were closer.

  25. Sledgecrowbar says

    “Heavy-bike market” is right. Ba dum psh. Yes, I’m aware that that concerns engine displacement, but it IS fitting.

    I definitely remember reading (print) articles in the past concerning Harley and the younger demographic, and the sound bytes not always matching up with reality because they only look at numbers that fit what they want to convey, the subject being a sore one for their ‘investor relations’. Half of the under-35 market seems like an awful lot of people, considering that’s almost the entire base for sportbikes. Anyone else think that doesn’t make sense?

  26. says

    Believe it or not, there is a segment of the younger demographic which is gravitating toward retro machinery and old tech and nostalgia “cool”.
    I see it in the Royal Enfield market that I am involved in, and I’m sure that it is also part of the Harley Davidson equation.

    There is some rejection of the latest plastic fantastic cookie-cutter consumerism, and they want something with real character. They don’t care if it is slower, or not technologically up-to-the-minute. In fact, they prefer it if it’s not.

    So, I definitely see that there is some room in the younger riders for bikes that have a unique or classy appeal, and don’t necessarily conform to what is expected.
    A significant portion of the riders that come to me for Royal Enfield work are young riders in their 20s. And the Harley Davidson models also exude an appearance which hearkens back to an earlier time when things were different than today. This appeal is by no means limited to baby boomers who are retiring. This is a trend with young people.

  27. Tin Man 2 says

    Most Harley riders started out on cheaper used Jap bikes and moved up to Harleys when they could afford it. Its the natural order of things,always has been. The same people who said HD would be out of bussiness last year are now desputing the valid research presented here. Haters just keep on hating. I,M still waiting for an ADV bike from HD to round out my fleet.

    • Generic1776 says

      Would a Buell Ulysses meet your ADV requirement?

      Harley isn’t going anywhere soon, no matter how bad their numbers are for the year. They just need an elegant way to scale back production so that demand exceeds manufacturing again.

      The benefit of a Sportster is the low power delivery. Young riders tend to get overzealous with their right hand and they live longer when the bike is less capable.

      I always loved the look of Buells, but I’m too big for both them and Harleys. Both bikes “look” best with a rider under 6′ tall and with short legs.

  28. Matt says

    Wow, I’ve been seeing this pop up online quite a bit lately. Sure HD may have made some inroads into the younger market with the stripped down Sportys as far as new sales are concerned, but the real market for the younger buyer is used. Discretionary income is still down, and even more so among young buyers, so most of these younger guys and girls are going to be shopping used bikes, and I doubt HD is so strong there. Residual resale remains too high. And we all know that brand loyalty starts early, be it a new or used product.

    Kudos to HD for recognizing that they need products that can be sold to younger riders, I just hope it isn’t too little too late. Let it be known that HD only has one bike that I would even sort of consider as a 33yo rider, and that is the XR1200. And this would be to ride, not to purchase, it just doesn’t offer enough to me to make me want to part with my money. I cut my teeth on bikes that flat GO, STOP and HANDLE, and do so flawlessly. Not the usual characteristics of the typical HD product, at least not to the standards that have come to expect from a motorcycle that I ride.

    However all this good press is not indicative of the greater picture, or even more importantly the greater issue at hand regarding motorcycle sales: The other activities that are drawing the younger customers away from riding altogether.

    Pin ponting what has drawn younger customers, and more importantly their time, away from Powersports is the issue that we as professionals in this industry really need to be addressing. To not do so is pure folly.

  29. Carolynne says

    I am not sure what the problem is with being “old” especially if being old means something over 40, why is this a negative? We can only wish we are all going to be really old one day. Youth means a lot of really dumb mistakes you do your best to forget and hope you never will run into again. What the “young” select does not necessary mean its the best. (I am cringing at the memory of my own choices at the moment) Whats wrong with an older demographic, they are buying, and I have seen many young men grow older and turn into Harley riders.

    • Richard Gozinya says

      Which is weird, in a lot of ways. When my grandfather and I talk motorcycles, he talks of things like the time he rode his Harley on the Wall of Death, as a very young man. How back when he rode, it was either Indian or Harley, and the Indians sucked (Terrible handling, vibey as hell) While the Harleys were the performers. Of course, back then a motorcycle was actually cheap and fun transportation. Not an expensive toy.

      I think the desire for that, for what motorcycles used to be, is what’s helping Harley more than anything else. The Sportster range fills that niche, to a degree. But more importantly, reminds people of that time.

      While I know Harley is of course painting their numbers in the best possible light, I also know there’s at least some truth to it.

  30. coxster says

    How do we know the younger riders didn’t come in because of the Buell sign still out front and got the old ‘ bait-and-switch ‘ ; )

    • sundrop says

      I’ve been tempted to go in and ask if they have any left over. Who knows, maybe they have a XB12 still crated up that they’d love to get rid of.

      Yeah right. But, at least I could laugh in their faces if they did try to pull the old bait and switch.

      My first captcha had greek letters and subscripts…

  31. Nicolas says

    It is entirely possible and factual that HD gains traction with “young” riders buying new “heavy” bikes.
    The catch may reside in the proportion of the overal “young” riders that are actually buying new bikes vs used bikes, and the proportion of the young riders that are buying “heavy” bikes. As it was mentioned several times above, there may not be too many riders under 35 that are buying 650cc bikes brand new off the showroom, and with this economy probably less than what it used to be.
    (I’m no reference at all, but jsut as real life example, I’m 37, I’ve had 17 bikes, none of them was bought new, only 2 of them were > 650 cc. I’d certainly consider to have a HD, but can’t afford a new one anyways).
    At the end of the day, it doesn’t mean anything else than what it say : it says that in that very specific considered area of the market they do better than their competition.
    It doesn’t mean that HD is selling bikes to young people more than it used to do, or that more young people are buying HDs, or that there is more HDs on the road ridden by younger people than any other manufacturer.
    But who cares, at the end of the day it’s a positive news, it’s better to get news on market share progression than news on plant closure/relocation or company bailout.

  32. JerseyMayhem says

    I have a feeling the numbers HD are putting out, include the used market as well as the new market….

    Everyone seems to be focusing on the new bikes and how expensive they are, well guess what……a lot of people are buying used. You can get a used 883 for cheap now, and for those looking to go into the HD world, that couldn’t afford it before, they can pick up a used sporty for about $5-$8 grand, at this price a used HD is cheaper than a new sport bike or a new HD.

    Some people may even have 2 bikes, one sport bike and a HD, sport bikes urge you to ride dangerous and fast, some people like to do that but want to take long cruises and be comfortable as well, I know I do. People also see the value in owning a HD, especially a vintage one, when people are selling 27 year old bikes for $4 grand obviously they hold their value, and are typically in good condition. (Sport bikes are usually beat down, and require rebuilds, not all, but the majority)

  33. Paul Crowe - "The Kneeslider" says

    The numbers cited above come from R. L. Polk, not Harley Davidson. R. L. Polk collects data for the automotive and insurance industries and their data is well respected and referenced by all of the manufacturers and is the data most often reported when sales figures are cited. Harley didn’t generate their own numbers.

    Some of you, based on what you see your friends and neighbors riding or what you feel must be true, have declared these numbers suspect. I have a hunch, if the numbers agreed with some preconceived notion you have about who is buying what, then you would cite them as incontrovertible evidence.

    Further, Harley competes in a specific market segment (651cc+), and this article and the quoted statements refer to sales of new bikes in that category. Critics here attempt to rebut the statistics by referring to some anecdotal evidence about smaller displacement used sport bikes or some other equally arbitrary market segment having absolutely nothing to do with this discussion.

    Whether your feelings toward Harley Davidson are positive, negative or completely ambivalent, these numbers are what they are and indicate Harley Davidson is making big strides with younger buyers (under 35) in their segment (651cc+). If any of you have data from a respected source equivalent to R. L. Polk, that calls this conclusion into question, we would be happy to review it and publish it.

    • OMMAG says

      The Polk data are of course accurate. But only selectively quoted I’d bet. Since I cannot find the detailed report by Polk it is impossible to tell the extent of data that is being ignored in this Reuter’s article. Another source of comparable data should put some light on the situation:
      MIC data 2011 .

      The overall market data show that after 2008,2009 where cumulative sales losses were nearly 50% the market began a recovery in 2010. This does matter to the HD story.
      The overall gains leave the industry still in negative territory since the 2008 crash. Further’ the loss of sales in the specific niche that HD occupies has seen nothing but losses for the Japanese 4 with no recovery to date. What this means is that HD’s position is in part because of the failure of the competition.
      Thus the HD marketing guy crowing about their “achievement” of winning near half of their own niche total sales in a specific demographic is just that … marketing overstatement of the situation.

      I do give HD full credit for their initiative in working to bring new riders into the fold …. I do not agree with their self congratulation based on a narrow view of the facts.

      In my opinion and as I have stated numerous times past … the cruiser fad is doomed to expire and the last one in the game will be the one that was first in the game…. guess who … Harely keeps their position by default.

      So … Harley is in the odd situation of simultaineously benefitting from the same situation that limits them. HD’s problem remains that they are a niche player and their only solution seems to be a marketing plan designed to make the most of it.
      I am much more impressed with Triumph gaining market share and pleased that BMW is thriving…. for whatever reason.

      • Ken says

        I think the problem with the statistics in this report is that the data catagories are to wide. If they reclassified market segments to really dig into the data, we could then really see the complete picture. Calling a 651 cc bike as a heavyweight is misleading as no 651 cc bike would ever be marketed as a large bike. The classifications should be like more like:
        50cc to 149cc “Flyweight”
        150cc to 500cc “Lightweight”
        501cc to 900cc “Middleweight”
        901cc to 1200cc “Light Heavyweight”
        1200cc + “Heavyweight”
        This would follow more along the lines of the way bikes are now built. Then you would have to break things down by style:
        Cruiser
        Standard (Street biased enduro/ADV bikes woud fall here)
        Sport
        Dirt (Must be 51% dirt biased)

        You don’t want it to complicated but I would like the report to be more comprehensive. Also, classifying a 20 yr old with a 35yr old makes no sense as my spending ability was twice that when I was 27 than it is now at 37. I was single and had no one to support but myself. Now I have kids and daycare. I bought my truck and bike with cash back then. Now I have to pray I have enough left in the budget for a monthly payment.

  34. CJ says

    If you use the right technique even a tiny woman can pick up a fallen 750 pound bike. The Harley dealerships have Garage Parties for ladies and teach you how to pick up a fallen bike. Luckily I had a friend with me when I had to set mine down…… but now I know what to do if I ever have to lift a bike again, be it my own or someone else’s. Hopefully it doesn’t happen again, but it’s always good to be prepared.

  35. Angelo says

    Ok guys hears the problem and I hope someones listening. Ive been riding sport bikes since I was 18 Im 25 now and was finally able to get myself into a fat boy a used 2007 that I feel I over paid for but I love. The reason I got a sport bike was because at 18 I couldn’t finance anything so It was a cash deal. The sportsters are small and underpowered so I wasnt about to wast 4 grand on a used 883 that couldn’t get out of its own way. I spent 3000 on a ninja 600 and got myself on 2 wheels even though my old man who still has his 79 FLH shovel wanted to kill me. If Harley wants to get us younger guys on bored lower your prices on a decent bike never mind this garbarge 883 iron. Make a softail under 10 grand cause honestly my next bike is gana be a Victory Vegas just becuase its a lot of bike New for what I paid used for my Fat boy. Smarten up harley go back to your roots were you diddnt have a be a doctor or lawer to afford a bike or as my old man calls them RUBS Cause in 20 years no ones going to want on and Ill be 40 on my Victory when I should be on a street glide.

  36. Nicolas says

    The articles related to HD are the ones who generate the most comments, and likely attract the most reader on this site. Paul should have a special higher pricing for advertisers when he posts something about HD … ;-)
    Now, what would settle the issue, is to publish the complete up-to-date stats about the market shares of motorcycles of all sorts and all riders in the US. Then no more endless/useless discussion.

  37. Michael Faires says

    As a 29 yr old who has been riding since I was 12, I do not like Harley. I often ask myself why anyone would buy a machine that is tuned wrong on purpose to sound a certain way, and is using out-dated technology Honda quit using in the fifties. I mean really, push rods? Let alone your paying 3 times more for a bike thats not nearly as reliable, or powerful… I don’t want one of those damn things marking its territory all over my garage either. I love the way they look, but thats as far as it goes. If they ever come out with something I could ride 20k+ mi. a year maintenance free (excluding preventative) I might considder it, but I would want to see mono shock instead of dual, and performance come before sound.