Harley-Davidson's Dark Custom Lineup was an Edgy Styling Exercise
The Blacked-out Harley-Davidson motorcycles and accessories were pitched as an HD-branded lifestyle package.
Dark Custom earns a special distinction. Now relegated to a sub-menu on the Harley-Davidson Parts & Accessories page, it was once a part of a unique campaign that arguably produced some of the slickest murdered-out machines this side of Milwaukee. Front and center of the Dark Custom campaign was the famous #1 logo with a “sinister twist,” surrounded by black satin and machined aluminum surfaces.
That 'twist' was Willie G. Davidson's take on the iconic red, white and blue Harley-Davidson #1 logo. An overnight success and a favorite to this day, Willie G's version, initially developed for the 2000 Daytona Bike Week, was a black and white #1 topped with a leering jaw-less skull. Along with the popular logo, Dark Custom was promoted with grainy fast-paced videos that blended urban grit and party-chic fun.
The Dark Custom campaign was something of a first for Harley-Davidson. Andy Benka, then Director of Market Outreach explained in a 2008 The New York Times interview that the “blacked-out retro-looking models were intended to appeal to younger riders and to evoke the company’s earlier days, when the association of motorcycles and rebelliousness was much closer.”
The Dark Custom line was rolled-out in a variety of interesting ways. Appropriate for their all-in-black attire, one of the early launches took place in a huge New York City, Chelsea-area gallery. As an experiential marketing tool, and looking for a way to connect with a younger demographic, Harley-Davidson provided Dark Custom machines to pro-skateboarders on the national Emerica Wild Ride tour.
Photo courtesy of Vice
It might seem a little far-fetched in terms of advertising to give skateboarders new motorcycles. However, in 2008, Harley-Davidson sold more motorcycles to both men and women aged 18-34 in the United States than any other manufacturer, and they have expanded that lead every year since. As Benka stated, “Wild Ride was an authentic way to connect with the next generation of riders.”
Photo courtesy of Vice
One of the selling points of Dark Custom was that an entry-level Harley-Davidson could be had for just under $12,000. These machines included the Street 750/500, and a bevy of Sportsters: the Nightster, the Iron 883, and later the Forty-Eight and the Roadster. Breaking from the monochromatic black, Harley-Davidson soon pushed the nostalgia feel of the Dark Custom line with dazzling shades of their patented 'Hard Candy Custom' paint.
Stepping up the price ladder, the Dark Custom treatment was applied to the Street Bob, the Fat Bob, and eventually, the Low Rider S. The V-Rod got a taste of the black-out treatment with the elegant and muscled-up Night Rod Special. The new, retro-styled Crossbones got the full Dark Custom treatment, and the appropriately named Blackline replaced the much vaunted Night Train in 2011.
Dark Custom might be a footnote in Harley-Davidson's design history but the style has endured. Perhaps more important was the ethos of the Dark Custom design — one that continues today. As Benka explained, the line was meant to be gritty and raw — it was all about riding.“This generation of bikers isn't interested in a bike they have to polish every day.”
For help with routine maintenance and repairs, visit the HD Forums How-To section.