Who am I and why the hell should you care about reading my blog?

Avid motorcyclist & freelance writer, specializing in motorcycles & motorcycle related topics, with a healthy dose of good humor, good vibes & general advice on simply being a good person.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Brand Loyalty- how far is too far?

Brand loyalty... how far is too far?

OK, I'll admit... I may not be the "best" brand ambassador for Harley-Davidson. But in my defense, I'm honest, hardworking and I don't make a lot of dough, so I need to actually get what I'm paying for. I would consider myself to be more of a spokesman of the working class for Harley-Davidson. I love my Harley-Davidson motorcycles but I'm not a blind follower of them, or of any brand for that matter. If they do something right, I'll sing their praises to everyone I meet, if they shit the bed on something, I'll do my best to try to point it out so they can improve. Think of it like getting constructive criticism from your best friend. 

Take my boots

A year ago, I picked up a pair of TCX riding boots from Union Garage in Brooklyn, NY. I paid $199 and got free shipping... so I got a sweet pair of boots and still had enough left over for a Snicker bar. I bought them without ever even trying them on. Why? Because I read a ton of honest reviews from fellow riders who, like me, refuse to blindly follow a brand name. I believe in the tried and true method of evaluation and review from people who understand that sometimes companies get it right, and sometimes they don't. I did a six month review of my boots back in May (and I'll be doing a one year review soon) so that anyone on a budget that is looking for a new pair of riding boots can read it and, hopefully, get a little insight on them. I got some good feedback on my review and even had some guy claiming to be a rep of the company reach out to me and ask if it was okay if he posted it to the company website (I told him yes, but I don't know if it ever got added). I look at it this way- there might be somebody out there who, like me, has just enough extra scratch at the end of the month to be able to ride motorcycles. Chances are, they probably don't have thousands of dollars a year that they can spend to experiment with gear, so just like reading Yelp reviews on the local greasy spoons- we can get a better idea of where to, or not to, spend our hard-earned money. I don't believe in being a rude, over-critical ass; I just believe in the effectiveness of constructive criticism. 

Die-hard loyalists

I get a kick out of these die-hard loyalists who take the brand loyalty thing way too far. I have a friend, who will remain nameless, that is that guy. His bike is the best- it is the fastest, makes the most horsepower, the most torque, has the best paint, the highest quality finishes and is the most nimble, as well as the most comfortable, motorcycle that has ever been built in the United States and abroad. Of course, that is strictly his, not-at-all humble, opinion. I also get a kick out of these Indian riders who claim that Harley-Davidson is now suddenly going to file for bankruptcy because Polaris has recently breathed life back into the long-dead Indian name. I seem to remember all those same comments being made by the Victory Motorcycle guys a few years back and we can all see how that turned out.

You might be saying, "now hold on just a dag-gummed minute Mr. MotoWriter... you can't compare Victory to Indian!" No? Why not? Because Indian has been around "Since 1901" or because it was "America's FIRST motorcycle company"? Well... I wrote a little nugget about that, too. You can read the brief history of Indian Motorcycles here if you'd like. Look, I like Indians and I think that they have a LOT of potential and if the executives over at Polaris want to give me a loaner bike for a year, and some of that sweet Indian swag to go with it, I'll do a fair, honest long-term review and evaluation of their bike and products. Hell, if I like their products enough, I might even buy 'em. 

Harley guys aren't the worst, but they're close

Harley-Davidson is an iconic brand. It has somehow survived over a century, through good and prosperous times and through countless recessions; not to mention, surviving the Great Depression which befell the country a mere 26 years after the company first rolled out their first production motorcycle. They've managed to keep a consistent customer base over the decades, have seen years of profits and years of losses, but yet they remain. The guys and gals that stand behind the Motor Company are, no doubt, a big part of the reason that the Milwaukee based company is still churning out new bikes after all these years. With that said, they can be a bit ridiculous. I've heard people say things like "I'd rather push my Harley than ride a Honda." Really? I'll call bullshit on that one. "Harley's don't leak oil, they mark their territory." Yep- bullshit. If I buy a brand new motorcycle (or any vehicle for that matter) and it leaks oil- somebody's gonna hear about it. I think that one of the reasons Harleys catch such a bad rap from other brand enthusiasts is because of those die-hard loyalists who defend the company even when it's failed or failing it's customers. 

Warning- this next part might offend you.

We may not all agree on this- but defending a company when it produces a crappy product is akin to giving out participation trophies. You're doing them a disservice. You're telling them that putting in a half-assed effort is good enough and that losing is still winning. By blindly defending Harley-Davidson, you are basically telling the MoCo that it's okay that they made a crappy product. In my long term review of my 2017 Road King Special, I beat the MoCo up a little. I wouldn't say that I picked the bike apart, but I did point out some deficiencies in the quality. Maybe, if we are all lucky enough, somebody over at H-D HQ will watch that video and say "damn, we need to correct those issues." If you go to a restaurant and the food is awful, are you going to tell your friends how great it was? I would certainly hope not.

Let's help them survive

Look, I don't know about you, but I want ALL of these companies to improve and survive and the best way to do that, is to hold them each accountable when they screw something up and not be so blindly loyal that we refuse to offer them any sort of criticism, or even recognize what their deficiencies are. I'm not saying let's boycott Harley-Davidson because they put a shitty finish on a few parts and I'm not suggesting that we force Polaris to kill off Indian because they have had some electrical issues. I am, however, suggesting that we, the customers, give them good, honest and constructive criticism so that they can improve their products for us. After all, we will all benefit from those improvements- we (the customers) will get a better product and the companies will make more money in return sales and be able to stay afloat going into the future. 

I truly love the diversity in the motorcycle market. I don't just love Harley-Davidson motorcycles- I love ALL motorcycles. I want Polaris-Indian to put pressure on Harley-Davidson and I want Harley-Davidson to continue making motorcycles that set the standard for overall style, comfort and performance (some people will roll their eyes at this, but history proves this statement to be true). I really hated to see Polaris shut the doors on Victory and it was such a disappointment to see Yamaha dump the Star line of cruisers. Honda is still going strong, introducing an all new Rebel 1100 for 2021 and Suzuki's Boulevard line and Kawasaki's Vulcan line both seem strong. BMW's new R-18 is an exciting addition to the cruiser world and Triumph's line of "Modern Classics" offer even more styles for us to choose from. To be completely honest, I'd love to see the resurrection and success of some of the old motorcycle companies that have fallen to the wayside. Can you imagine if BSA, Brough Superior, Vincent, Victory, Excelsior-Henderson, Pierce-Arrow, Ace, Crocker or Acme were still pushing out new products? Think of the innovation and the options that we might have! I get giddy just thinking about it! 

Competition is a good thing 

Competition drives advancement and each one of these companies should be in a head to head competition with each other, not to destroy the other guys, but to earn our money instead. If we do our part as the end-user and tell them what we want, what we don't want, what we like and yes, even what we don't like, we can give them a clear path to the future to build products for us that we can enjoy for years to come. They might even earn the business of our kids and grandkids and if things work out- maybe every motorcycle company can eventually brag about being in business for over a hundred years.

As for me- I'll just be down here in South Mississippi riding my Harley-Davidson along our beautiful coastline, and writing a few things to entertain you good folks, while I'm waiting patiently for one of these companies to reach out to me to do a long-term review of their products. 

Stay tuned for more reviews coming up, and in the meantime, ride safe and make good choices!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

An Open Letter To Harley-Davidson Executives

An Open Letter To Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz And The Rest Of The Milwaukee, USA Executives

As a blue collar, working class customer that has spent well over $100,000 on your motorcycles and products... I humbly request your attention for a moment.

Dearest CEO Zeitz and all of your fellow purveyors of Milwaukee's finest Steel Horses,

I hope this letter finds you well- happy, healthy, stress and COVID free. I am writing this "open letter" to you on my blog because, well... simply put, I'm sure that you get more mail and letters than you can possibly keep up with and I have no doubt that you likely don't have enough time in your busy days to read any of them. I also have a few readers of this blog and I'd like to think that I can speak for them, when I say that we need to talk. I'm writing this letter "openly" so that I can share it with my readers, as well. 

Now, I don't honestly expect my simple little blog, being written down here in South Mississippi, to be read by any of the powerful executives in the ivory towers of the Motor Company of Milwaukee, but as I've said before- nothing will happen if nothing is done, or in this case- if nothing is said, so I have to at least try.

First of all, let me begin by saying that this is NOT a letter of dispute or animosity, but rather, an honest, working class evaluation of your products, marketing and business practices. 

Motorcycles are a major part of our lives. We ride them, some of us race them, many of us wrench on them and some of us even customize and build them. Some of us can afford to buy new ones, others can only afford to buy used ones, but we all find our own ways to get out on two wheels. For many of us, our ultimate goal in motorcycle ownership is becoming the proud owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. 

A little over ten years ago, I bought my first Harley-Davidson motorcycle- a brand new 2009 Road King Classic. I traded in my 2006 Yamaha Stratoliner "Midnight" in January of '09 and rode home on what seemed like one of the coldest nights of the year. The Stratoliner was the first brand-new motorcycle that I had ever bought- the Road King was the second. As the years went by, I began to have some minor electrical gremlins in my Road King- the speedometer and cruise control would sometimes stop working and the "check engine" light would randomly come on. I brought it to the dealer a couple of times, but they could never seem to find the issue. It didn't matter, not really. I racked up around 35k miles on it in over the next few years until I happened to walk into the dealership one day in 2013 and found myself ogling the new bikes. You can probably imagine where the story goes from there. I ended up trading in one bike for another over the next 4 years, starting with a brand new, 2013 Road Glide Custom. I moved on to a 2012 Wide Glide, then finally settled in on a 2011 Road King Classic. I truly believed that I would keep the '11 Road King until the wheels fell off. Unfortunately, I got on my trusty Road King one morning and noticed that the rear brake pedal was locked in place. As it turns out, the ABS system was failing, apparently due to moisture in the system. The year was 2017 and the month was July. I had already seen the new Milwaukee 8 and test ridden a new Road King Special, so when I got the brake diagnosis... it was a pretty easy decision to make- trade in the '11 and ride home on the '17. 

Needless to say, I've spent quite a lot of money on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as well as parts, accessories, clothing and other products, in the past 11-ish years. Even though I've dealt with some mechanical issues, I've stayed loyal to the brand. Not because I have some unhealthy or unreasonable obsession, but because I like your motorcycles and I want to support an American company that has been able to stay afloat since the early 1900's. That being said, I think it's extremely important for you all to remember that, much like many of your customers, I am a blue collar, working class American. I don't make a lot of money, so I prioritize my spending on the things that I enjoy the most- one of those being riding my motorcycles.  

An honest review

When I bought my 2017 Road King Special, I had come to terms with my motorcycle addiction and settled in on the, very real, possibility that I could end up trading it in on another bike within a year or three. I came close a couple of times, but the sheer beauty of the bike (and power from the 107 M-8) has kept it safely parked in my garage for the past three years. If any of you are actually reading this, then I would encourage you to click here and check out the video review that I did on my beloved 2017 FLHRXS. I wont get into all the details in this post, but I will just tell you that I have some complaints about some of the quality and craftsmanship issues with this bike.

Make no mistake about it, I'm not about to run down to the Indian Dealership to trade it in (although those Dark Horse Springfields do look pretty badass and that new Challenger is quite intriguing), but I paid a premium price for, what I thought was supposed to be, a premium product and that's where you guys failed me. Harley-Davidson motorcycles have long been known for their quality fits and finishes (at least since the buyback) and every one that I've had before this one hasn't let me down. In my relatively short time riding this gorgeous scooter, I've seen trim parts fall off, painted parts rust through the finish and other parts oxidizing or rusting. I know what you're thinking- I keep it outside, right? Wrong. This bike (along with all of my other ones) rests safely in an enclosed garage every night. While I'm not a fair weather rider, I do try my best to avoid riding in the rain and I do a better than average job of keeping it clean. The bottom line is, somewhere along the way, someone in the MoCo started authorizing corners being cut and the people that suffer the consequences are blue-collar working folks like me. 

Seize the opportunity to improve

You have a unique opportunity at your feet right now. With the global pandemic threatening the very way Americans (as well as bikers from across the world) ride our motorcycles, you have a chance to set things right. Want to know what riders want? Just ask us, I promise we'll tell you and we won't hold back. Fly me to Wisconsin for a week and I'll give you some ideas that will increase sales, reach more customers and improve customer satisfaction... and I'll even let you take all the credit for them... more or less. 

One thing we'd like to see- better quality and more attainable bikes. I know what you're thinking- "we can offer 84 month financing to make the $25k motorcycle more attainable", but I'll stop you right there. You're not going to be able to sell too many people on the idea of financing a toy for the same amount of time it takes for their kid to go from kindergarten to junior high- it's just not reasonable. Why does a Road Glide Special cost nearly $30,000? Why does an 883 Sportster need to cost almost 10 grand? I know why... because somewhere along the line, somebody heard the term "diversify" and went nuts, making tons of T-shirts, jackets, pants, belts, wallets, watches, hats, etc, etc, etc... and that's just the apparel side of the house. The diversification of the company's products extended into motorcycles and motorcycle parts, too. I mean seriously... how much sense does it make to kill off the entire Dyna line, a line of bikes that had (and still has) a cult following, to save money... just to replace it with a whole new line of bikes that were an absolute failure (I'm looking squarely at the Street line of bikes). I would love to see a Milwaukee 8 powered Wide Glide or Super Glide, but no... someone in a corner office in Milwaukee made the failed assumption that H-D fans are too stupid to realize that the new Softail Standard and the Softail Street Bob are the same bike.

Let's look at this reasonably- Harley-Davidson motorcycles has the largest aftermarket of any brand... do you really need to have your hands in the pockets of the aftermarket companies? You sell the bikes, those companies make them better. If I want to replace the shitty stock grips on my Road King (and I do), I can spend around $60 for a nice set of premium Avon grips, or I can spend $150 for a set of similar grips that say "Harley-Davidson" on them. You guys spend more money trying to flood the market with your own parts, just trying to steal a few extra bucks away from companies like Kuryakyn, Avon, K&N, Vance & Hines, etc, when you could have spent that money maintaining the quality of your bikes, or even lowering the price a bit, instead. 

Instead of screen printing a half a million T-shirts every year that you are just going to stuff in your dealerships with $30 price tags, or re-branding $180 HJC helmets with the H-D logo and trying to sell them for $350 (yeah, we know you guys don't make your own helmets), why not save that dough, reinvest it back into the company and drop the prices on these bikes by a few thousand bucks, instead? I may be a simple nobody from South Mississippi here, but I can tell you that it makes a helluva lot more sense to sell 100 motorcycles for $20k each, than it does to sell 50 at $25k each. Not only would you make more money, but you'd also get your product out there to more people, thereby increasing (and improving) your brand recognition which would increase customer demand for your bikes. More bikes on the road means an increase in maintenance services and more sales of maintenance parts. Hell, you'd probably even sell significantly more motorcycles when folks realize that they can more easily justify the cost of them. If you think that keeping prices extra high to promote the "premium brand idea" is the wisest choice to make- let me remind you of how that worked out for the Stellican Ltd. Indians. They were beautiful, expensive failures because only the uber rich could afford to buy them. 

Look, I could go on and on, but then we might not have much to talk about in the Harley-Davidson Headquarters' board room after we negotiate the terms of my consulting fee (I'm more affordable than you might think). The bottom line is that I, along with millions of other avid motorcyclists, love the Milwaukee Motor Company and we love our bikes. We just want to see future generations be able to buy and ride them, too. 

It would be a damned shame to see the legacy of William Harley and Arthur, Walter and William Davidson, wither and die because of a few too many bad decisions made by those men and women who were entrusted to keep the company alive. 

I'll be waiting to hear back from you on when to expect my flight and hotel reservations to come through, but in the meantime- be safe, make good choices and enjoy the holidays.

J.D. aka, the MotoWriter