Opinion: Harley and Ducati – A Match Made in Heaven
Harley and Ducati go together like beer and pizza. Really good pizza.
Hi, motorcycle enthusiasts of the Internet. I’m here to talk to you today about a very sensitive subject: Harley-Davidson’s impending purchase of Ducati, and why that’s a good thing. Before you grab your torches and pitchforks to take to the comments section, just give me a few moments to explain to you why this is great news for both brands.
First, let me a take a time out to do some community outreach to the Ducati fans out there. Look, I get it. I’m just like you. I’m young and hip. I send 30 Rock reaction GIFs in group messages with my friends. I know a really good place for Sunday brunch, all organic. I’ve seen The Mountain Goats live. And, horror of all horrors, I ride a Harley-Davidson.
Harley riders are about the softest, easiest targets for abuse there are. I’ve heard all the jokes, seen all of the memes, read all of the comparison tests and editorials about why they’re awful bikes. Compared to other bikes on paper, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, except the fish are loud, slow, and heavy.
One of the main criticisms I’ve seen of Harley-Davidson is that they are less a motorcycle brand and are more in the business of selling an image to their style-conscious customers. Marketing geeks would call them a “lifestyle brand.”
Resplendent in chrome and branded black leather, Harley riders have an easily-parodied uniform. Even when they’re not riding their bikes, their borderline-evangelical fanbase is often seen clad head-to-toe in branded gear, eager to share their thoughts on the best motorcycle brand there is.
For their part, Harley-Davidson has done a great job supporting and encouraging this community. Often maligned for being style over substance, Harley fans are more or less open and okay with that. Long memory-holed out of existence, the Harley-Davidson marketing department has begun to embrace the aesthetic of the ’70s AMF era and the culture that surrounded it. Choppers, bobbers, scramblers, trackers, Evel Knievel XR750 tributes — to a younger generation of Harley fans like myself, this represents the image we want far more than an 800-pound touring bike.
Lately, Ducati has been doing the same, drawing in younger riders with the Scrambler lineup. I’ve ridden them, they’re fantastic. If my tastes were less Milwaukee’s Best ICE and more Microbrew IPA With a Long, Pretentious Name and a Colorful Label, I’d have one in the garage next to my Sportster.
What I’m trying to get at here is that today’s Harley-Davidson and Ducati riders are cut from the same cloth. Harley owners may value style over substance, but hang around with Ducati owners and all you hear is performance talk. Performance figures they’ll never use or fully explore the limits of. The high performance of Ducati bikes is the aesthetic the owners value, to the point that the substance of the bike becomes the style. Owning a better bike doesn’t make you a better rider, but careful saying that around some members of the Ducati faithful.
Of course these are vast generalizations, but whether your overpriced fitted tee-shirt has a red, white, and blue #1 or the red, white, and green of the Italian flag, you are basically the same sort of motorcycle enthusiast. Go to a Ducati dealership (if you can find one) and you’ll see expensive branded merchandise taking up a fair amount of floor space. Like it or not, Ducati is now a Premium Lifestyle Brand™ that happens to make some kickass motorcycles.
Here’s the thing: Harley-Davidson practically invented the motorcycle as a lifestyle accessory. They have done a great job of leveraging their resources and doing what they know how to do best — and selling a ton of branded bikes and tee-shirts in the process. And if that gets more people out on two wheels, who are we to judge?
So, what should fearful Ducati owners expect? Harley-Davidson is not going to destroy Ducati, but their generous infusion of capital and corporate know-how is going to make the bikes even better.
Harley-Davidson practically invented the motorcycle as a lifestyle accessory.
And if that gets more people out on two wheels, who are we to judge?
Say what you want about their performance, but new Harleys are among the best-built bikes available now (and for the price, they should be). Expect initial build quality of Ducatis to improve, with fewer warranty claims, better warranty service when issues pop up, and an expanded and improved dealer network.
Harley has nothing to gain and everything to lose from destroying Ducati, so it’s likely that the engineering side of things will be a hands-off affair. They understand that rabid Ducati owners want an all-Ducati bike and will accept no imitators. Harley-Davidson fans are the same way. They get it. You’re fine.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a batch of small, corner-carving Harleys in the near future – anyone remember the Italian-built Aermacchi Harleys from the ’60s and ’70s? The only real loss for Ducati guys is that they might not be able to make fun of us anymore. Welcome to the family, and feel free to grab a beer from the fridge. I hope you’re cool with Milwaukee’s Best.