Is Harley Ownership Really on the Decline?

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Forget about what non-riding journalists think. H-D Forums members sound off on what is really behind Harley’s reported troubles.

By now, you’ve read endless articles and listened to countless talking heads discuss the many reasons behind the decline in Harley ownership/ridership. But in reality, these are analysts. Folks who typically don’t ride, or in some cases have never even thrown a leg over any bike. So if you want to really get to the bottom of Harley’s problem, you need to go to the source. To a place filled with actual Harley owners/riders, like HD Forums. So that’s exactly what OddJack did in this wildly popular thread.

“According to the data, motorcycle riding is on the rise. There were more motorcycle registrations last year than in years past (surprisingly, more women). But not Harleys. Why is that the case? The answer may be obvious, but I’m interested to hear your views.”

As you might imagine, that simple question elicited hundreds of responses in no time. And quite a few folks cited value as the biggest problem.

“They’re too expensive for the age group they’re marketing too. Not the best bang for your buck either,” said Dynaglide92.

And if you’re a young person just looking for a fun toy or cheap transport, that’s a problem, as Jay Guild notes.

“I think motorcycles are being used for cheap transportation for younger people who can’t afford Harleys. As well as those in their 20s and 30s who see them as recreational vehicles. There is plenty of competition for recreation vehicles though when you want a motorcycle, a boat, an RV, etc. A lot of my friends just buy dirt bikes and don’t want to buy an expensive street bike. Just to have it sit for 5 months in the winter when they can have plenty of fun on a dirt bike at 1/4 of the cost and still be able to get a four wheeler, a boat, and a camper.”


Then again, jamesroadking thinks that Harley has an image problem, among others.

“1. Harley’s got the reputation of not being reliable compared to Japanese bikes. 
2. Very expensive.
3. Being an old guy’s bike.
4. Heavy.
5. Slow. 
6. A lot of people don’t like or want to be associated with Harley bikers with the Harley look with the vest and patches, etc. ‘You meet nicer people on a Honda.'”

It’s an interesting notion, and one that TinCupChalice expands on eloquently.

“I’ve believed one of the factors that leads riders to other brands is the image. HD has spent years cultivating that ‘bad boy’ image which doesn’t resonate with younger riders and those who are more pure motorcyclists – pseudo-1%er, wannabe, pirate, we’ve all heard it when it comes to those riding HD.

HD sold its soul to that marketing image, and for quite some time it worked. But as those who went in for the HD ‘lifestyle’ age and leave motorcycling, they’re not being replaced as rapidly. That image has become a weight around HD’s neck and HD is viewed like a caricature of a motorcycle. It’s not taken seriously. How can you actually be a ‘bad ***’ on a heavy, under-powered V-twin when there are state of the art, high horsepower technological marvels out there ready to roll off the showroom floor. Nothing extra needed, just add rider?

The perception many hold of what an HD is will take time to die, hopefully before HD itself does.”

Brett Foote is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts.

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