Buell must be spinning in its grave.

Not Eric Buell, mind you. He’s alive and well, although he probably spent the day cursing this morning’s announcement from Harley-Davidson.

But the collective corpses of Eric’s former companies? Thrashing and spinning at the higher RPMs befitting Buell motorcycles’ sportier intents, purposes seemingly shared with some of the models H-D dropped on a very unsuspecting public in its “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” plan.

Matt Levatich, H-D’s CEO, said: “The bold actions we are announcing today leverage Harley-Davidson’s vast capabilities and competitive firepower—our excellence in product development and manufacturing, the global appeal of the brand and of course, our great dealer network. Alongside our existing loyal riders, we will lead the next revolution of two-wheeled freedom to inspire future riders who have yet to even think about the thrill of riding.”

The plan contains three specific roads to H-D:

  • New Products, aka motorcycles, to “keep current riders engaged and inspire new riders by extending heavyweight leadership and unlocking new markets and segments.”
  • Broader Access: more Harley, more places, physical and virtual, to “meet customers where they are and how they want to engage with a multi-channel retail experience.”
  • Stronger Dealers to “improve dealer financial strength and the Harley-Davidson customer experience.”

If you’ve read anything we’ve published about H-D in recent months, you know that Fish hates every Harley that is not his FXR, and that I’ve been telling him that The Motor Company is not building bikes for him anymore. The new engines, and even more so, the chassis designs, are very friendly to both beginners and people who can’t ride like Fish—in other words, 98% of the current and would-be motorcyclist world. But up until this morning’s announcement, styling has been kept pretty “authentic,” so as not to alienate the capital-B Bikers contingent.

New Bikes

ADV Grande bikes are all the rage, and H-D unveiled a motorcycle they’re calling the Pan America 1250. The mockup (rendering?) shows a vaguely Ténérésque exhaust, presumably tubeless wheels borrowed from a GS, a skidplate off a Jeep, and a front fairing that looks like the impossible, bull shark-faced lovechild of Geordi La Forge and a Road Glide.

It’s kind of like a bulbous Buell Ulysses, hence Buell Motorcycles’s subterranean revolutions.

The Pan(head) America is just one of the bikes based on H-D’s coming-soon, modular 500 to 1250cc middleweight platform. Also in this series: a 1250cc “custom” which looks a bit like a modernized, slightly fatter take on the XR1200 (Ducati Diavel also comes to mind) and a 975 “streetfighter” that resembles a modernized Buell Cyclone in the prototype—minus all the alternative engineering. In theory, the modular concept means there could be larger or smaller versions of any of the above bikes. Personally, I’d love to see a 1250cc streetfighter and a 500cc ADV machine, the latter with a little less Jaws to the front end.

The other thing kids these days seem to love is batteries, so The (Electric) Motor Company will finally be bringing the Livewire available to the people. No, not the same “Project Livewire” prototypes they paraded around the country starting in 2014, but rather the product of all the feedback given during the guided tours H-D hosted.

Ok, maybe most of the feedback. Or at least some of it…

Not sure if they kept in the “we made it louder than we had to because Harleys are about sound” feature intact, but in theory, this is the first in a series of battery operated bikes (BOBs for short). Harley shared some sketches showing machines ranging from cafe racer to trials bike to scooter, but I for one am hoping they come out with a BOB-Bobber simply because it is fun to say.

What about the capital-B Bikers? Don’t fret: further advances are coming to the heavyweight lineup as well. Specifics are light, but Harley-Davidson says they are going to keep developing touring machines and cruisers designed to “keep current customers riding longer.”

Also announced: a “more accessible, small-displacement (250cc to 500cc) motorcycle” built in Asia, by Asians for Asians, because why would an American company want to provide the American market with jobs building inexpensive, easy to ride motorcycles?

Well, this stupid trade war, for one.

Anyway, back to what we are going to see…

Broader Access, Stronger Dealers

Gaining new, different customers is the main focus (suck it, Fish, I was right!) and H-D is not stopping at just new models. Prepare yourself for a new and improved Harley-Davidson website and “strategic alliances with global leading e-commerce providers to extend access to Harley-Davidson to a pool of millions of potential new customers.” I read this as being able to get a 975 Streetfighter for a great price on Amazon Prime Day, 2020—but your guess is as good as mine.

There are also plans for urban storefronts worldwide, presumably stocked with the full catalog of apparel, to “expose the brand to urban populations and drive sales of the expanded Harley-Davidson product portfolio and expand international apparel distribution.” The existing dealer network has not escaped the corporate radar either, with a new “performance framework” being implemented.

In other words, the salespeople that balked at selling Buells better get their shit together. The new boss may be same as the old boss, but he’s got new bikes, and you sons-of-bitches better sell them, and sell them well.

Note: Harley didn’t actually say that in their press release. Just so we’re clear.

If you’re Fish, you’re probably thinking about how these moves are going to piss of all of the capital-B Bikers and the FXR faithful, but H-D has a different “capital B” in mind: the billion dollars it’ll cost to build these new roads to the Harley-Davidson brand and lifestyle.

“The accelerated strategy will require significant investment to change the trajectory of the business globally, and the company plans to fund it entirely through comprehensive cost reduction and reallocation of previously planned investment and resources including operating investment through 2022 of $450 to $550 million and capital investment through 2022 of $225 to $275 million. In total, the company plans More Roads to Harley-Davidson to generate more than $1 billion of incremental annual revenue in 2022 as compared to 2017.”

That’s a hell of a bet, one a lot of people have been waiting not-so-patiently for Mother Motor to make.

One Response

  1. Randall

    If that 975 was at the dealers today, I would have to go down there and get to know it in a very real and personal way. That machine looks to be so far behind HD’s enemy lines I will give it a beret, fake ID and let it live in my house.

    Reply

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