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, January 28, 2023

120th Anniversary Lineup… my thoughts


Harley-Davidson’s 120th Anniversary lineup… Boom or Bust?

Well MotoReaders… there it is, your “new” bikes for what could arguably be one of the most significant anniversaries in Harley-Davidson’s history. So, the question is, did they knock it out of the park, or did they strike out? If there are any H-D execs reading this (which I hope so, but sorta doubt) this next part is directed to you- if this is all you have in your trick bag, I’ll be honest- I’m sorely disappointed. 

The bikes

The paint is gorgeous, the bikes are boring. Sorry, but they are. You guys had a great opportunity to introduce some really cool machines, but it feels like you just phoned it in. The only “new” model is the Road Glide trike and, as a younger old guy, or an older young guy (depending on how you want to look at it), I’m still young enough to handle a two wheeler, but “established” enough to afford a bigger touring bike, so for me… another trike is just plain boring. I’ll keep my 2017 Road King Special (especially now that I have fixed all the things you guys fell short on with that one). You “brought back” the Breakout? Ugh. The only bike that has even garnered a second look from me is the Nightster Special, but that one isn’t even a new model for ‘23. To make matters worse- the “Special” still sports the 975cc mill for 2023. Why not put the 1250 RevMax engine from the Sportster S in the Nightster Special? What exactly is “special” about the Special, anyway? Black paint and a quarter fairing (that was on the previous year model)? Come on… we, your customers, deserve better.

Jochen, are you listening?

Jochen, buddy… listen to me for a minute, I know you want the best for the MoCo, so do I. That’s why I’m offering this advice for free- bring back a twin shock, big twin powered line- yes, I’m talking about the Dyna, for 2023. Do you want to get some loyal H-D customers back? Give them a ground-pounding, M-8 powered bruiser. Something loud, powerful and highly customizable. Something that is raw, fast, classic and true to the H-D spirit. The Softail line is great, but we all know that the LowRider, the Fat Bob and the Street Bob are supposed to be Dynas. They were born as Dynas and they died as Dynas in 2017. These new Softail versions are best described as "Dyna tribute" bikes, for no reason other that to just keep the names alive and we all know it. 

Do you want me to buy a new bike? Offer me an M-8 powered Wide Glide. A true, twin shock frame with mini-ape handlebars and a tall sissy bar. Build it with an old-school ducktail rear fender, and offer a sick, diamond stitched king and queen seat in the P&A catalog. Bring back the Super Glide and spin some variants off of that like Willie G did back in the day. THAT would be an exciting lineup. While we’re talking about "come back" bikes… let’s talk about the Breakout for a second. When you wanted to bring back a discontinued Softail model, your best idea was to bring back... the Breakout? Not the Deluxe? What? Really? There is so much you could do with the Deluxe in terms of trim and customization. While I’m at it… what idiot said it would be a good idea to kill off the Road King? Has it ever crossed your minds that, not everyone is into the blacked out Specials? Personally, I happen to love my FLHRXS, but I know that not everyone does. There is a significant amount of people in the H-D market that want the classic, chromed out, do-it-all machine that is the Road King. A bike that has Touring DNA mixed with cruiser styling at a, somewhat, reasonable price tag. Enough of that… y’all probably aren’t reading this anyway. If you want to hear more, have your people call my people. 

Am I being too critical?

What do you, my MotoReaders, think? Am I off base here? Am I being too harsh with the Milwaukee Crew? Look, I’m not trying to be an ass… it’s just frustrating to see wasted opportunities. I’m usually the first to admit that I’m no expert. Hell, I’m just some random guy that pays a few bucks a year for a web address so that I can share my thoughts with whoever is out there that might want to read them. I’m not making any money from my blog and I’m not making any money on my YouTube channel. Nobody is compensating me for mentioning their products or creating an occasional video. No, this blog and those videos on my YT channel are a labor of love and it’s from that love where this post is coming from. 

By the numbers

I have always been a huge fan of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. Even before I bought my first one in 2009, I always loved them. As a kid, I can remember sitting in the back seat of my parent’s car, looking out the window and seeing them running down the highways. Those loud, raucous machines usually had some bearded, leather clad dudes riding them and I remember thinking how cool the bikes looked, blazing down the asphalt. When I talk about missed opportunities, I’m talking about this company that has such a rich heritage emblazoned on so many of our memories, slowing killing itself off by not staying true to itself. Harley-Davidson was never intended to be a “luxury” brand. It was never intended to be a brand that only the rich could afford. H-D was a brand that anyone could afford. Blue collar guys could go to their local dealership and buy a brand new motorcycle. Jochen and his boys need to return to that ethos. I’m not saying they need to build cheap, junky bikes just to stay competitive in the market, far from it. I’m saying that $20 grand for a basic, cruiser motorcycle is a bit ridiculous. For example, check out these numbers:

120th Anniversary (2023) prices, versus the 110th Anniversary (2013) prices.
  • Nightster- $13,500 (Iron 883- $8,000)
  • Nightster Special- $15,000 (Forty Eight- $10,600)
  • Softail Street Bob- $16,600 (Dyna Street Bob-$13,000)
  • Fat Boy- $20,200 ($17,000)
  • Heritage Classic- $21,200 ($17,600)
  • Street Glide- $22,000 ($19,800)
  • Road King Special- $24,000 ($19,900 for a Road King Classic)
  • Ultra Limited- $29,800 ($24,200)
I won’t even list the obscene prices of the CVOs or the Trikes. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how inflation works and I also recognize that I chose a ten year gap to compare my prices, but let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment- the entry level Harley price increased by over $5,000 in only ten years! Want a more recent comparison? Fine, I can play that game, too. The Iron 883 in 2017 only had a price tag of $8,950 that’s less than a one thousand dollar increase. The 2017 Street Bob (the last year of the Dyna) only saw an increase of a paltry $850 bucks, for a MSRP of $13,850 and the Ultra Limited sat on the showroom floor for $27,000. Those are 2017 price tags and even then, they were astronomical for a lot of blue collar folks, but at least they were somewhat attainable with the right credit score and a bit of financial planning. 

You get what you pay for... or, do you?

Look, I’d probably be a little less critical of the prices if I hadn’t seen, first hand, questionable quality in my own $22k (2017 price) Road King Special. Parts falling off, rust on fasteners and mirror stems and so on. It might have been a different story if my bike was a yard bird (you know, a bike that is parked outside all the time), but it’s been garage kept since I rode it off the showroom floor. Yeah, I’ve ridden in rain on it, but that definitely isn’t a common occurrence and it gets washed and waxed regularly, so there’s really no explanation for those issues other than sub-par finishing or just piss-poor design. Only time will tell if the finishes and designs of the new  bikes hold up better than my 2017 has. For Jochen’s sake, I really hope they do, too because his idea of making Harley-Davidson a “luxury” brand might just be the death blow if they don’t. I’ll tell you something else, too- if the design team doesn’t come up with something fresh, and do it soon, then H-D might just be losing a few more customers to its competitors. The MoCo needs to remember that they are no longer the only kids on the block and they're also just barely, if at all, still the most popular. Now that the family from Springfield has come back and bought the house next door- those kids are starting to get more and more attention. Then there are the kids from the United Kingdom, those other kids from Germany and let’s not forget about the kids from Britain (the ones that moved to India)… and then there are all the kids from Japan that have been there for decades, building high quality, extremely dependable and very affordable machines. The toughest part for H-D here is, they used to have one thing that all the others didn’t- a high quality product that was attainable by the very people that designed, engineered and built them, right here in the good old U S of A. Over the years though, quality has gone down, while prices have gone up. I don't care what business you're in... that combination is always a recipe for disaster.

Final thoughts

It's still only the beginning of the year and Jochen has already teased that more new models are on the way for this 120th anniversary year. I'm hopeful that there will actually be something new, cool and fresh that I can get excited about because, honestly, I haven't stepped foot in an H-D dealership in quite a long time. That is a far cry from just a few years ago when I was able to come up with some reason or another to go see what was new on the showroom floor at least a few times a year. Hell, my local dealership knew me so well that they were trying to recruit me for their team because not only did I give them a lot of my business, I also brought them a lot of business through my referrals. While I'm disappointed on the 120th Anniversary's launch, I'm still hopeful that the MoCo can pull a few rabbits out of their hats and make me want to come in and take a test ride. After all, one really fun part of being a motorcycle enthusiast is the process of buying a new bike, and I still have enough room in my garage for one or two more. I'm not saying that I'm in the market for another new motorcycle, but if a real, twin shock, big twin Wide Glide was to make a come back, I might be inclined to run over to the dealership on my way to the bank. 

Ride safe and make good choices, MotoReaders! 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

New 2023 Harley-Davidson Lineup

New 2023 Harley-Davidson Lineup

What will the MoCo's 120th Anniversary year bring us, and what will it take away?

It's that time again, folks... Harley-Davidson has reached another year in business and, under the latest management team, it looks like we are in for some new models being added, and some classic favorites being taken away.

I'm not going to waste time by speculating on what may be introduced on January 18th, nor am I going to speculate on what we may gain or lose throughout this year. I will, however, look at what we currently know and I'll offer my thoughts on that. Let's get right to it...

The death of the Sportster

Now, I know that H-D has continued the Sportster lineage with the new water-cooled RevMax powered models, but we all know these new bikes are Sportys only in name- they share nothing with their predecessors. The Sportster as we know it, is dead for 2023. The EPA has finally won another round in their fight against the air-cooled machines that we love so dearly. While I don't hate the new water-cooled Nightster (will it make a comeback for 2023?), I personally think the new Sportster S is hideous. I'm sure it's fast and agile, but it looks like some hybrid compilation of German, Japanese and British designs, all mashed up in a single bike. The only thing "Harley-Davidson" about that bike is the name. The Nightster, on the other hand... while it shares the same DNA, at least looks like a Harley. The fake gas tank/air box is a turn off for me, though. Interestingly enough... in perusing the H-D website this morning, I didn't see it on the lineup. Did the MoCo nix the new Nightster already, or are they simply going to put some lipstick on the little pig and re-introduce it as a new model for '23 (with a higher price tag, no doubt)? I suppose we'll see in a week or so.

The Softail Lineup

It appears, from all I've read (which admittedly, isn't much) that the Softail lineup remains mostly the same. I wish they'd bring back the Deluxe, but at this point, it feels like H-D is going away from their tried and true classic designs in favor of the "power cruiser" designs that I thought we had finally started moving away from a few years ago. Bikes like the Honda VTX1800F, the Suzuki M109, the H-D V-Rod and the Kawasaki MeanStreak (just to name a few) were all terrible designs, in my opinion. With drag-style bars, forward controls, and high output engines cradled in cruiser-based frames...they were/are uncomfortable to ride and their engine performance was limited by their screwy frame geometry. While not a "power cruiser" by design, the venerable Wide Glide was put to pasture in 2017 when H-D foolishly killed off the Dyna line and, the closest thing they offered to the styling, was the... ugh... the Softail Breakout. What an awful bike it was. With a ridiculous riding position and a rear tire that made the bike look as if the designers were stuck in the early 2000's chopper trend, the bike was simply horrendous. Well, much to my dismay, it looks like H-D is going to be bringing that one back in '23. We're getting the new Softail that nobody wants... brilliant. Geesh!

The Touring Lineup

What can I say so far... it looks like the execs at H-D have finally lost their ever-lovin' minds. From what I've seen... they have removed their number one, absolute best, Touring bike from their 2023 lineup. The Road King is currently (as of this morning) no longer listed on the website and all the rumblings I've heard (again, admittedly... that's not much) is that the Road King has been discontinued. What the actual f**k!?! 

Has Harley-Davidson's executives inadvertently hired a corporate assassin with CEO Jochen Zeitz?? Who in Milwaukee has lost their fool minds? The Road King is the quintessential big twin Harley-Davidson! 

So let me re-cap so far... the Evo Sportster, the Sportster inspired RevMax Nightster and the Road King are all absent on the '23 lineup.  

Now, from the limited research I've done, it looks like H-D is going to offer a "new" bike in the Icons collection... with the model designation of "FLHFB"... which is the old designation for the Electra Glide Highway King of the golden, olden, days (think, mid 1960's) before the Road King (FLHR) was actually introduced. Now, for those MotoReaders that are unfamiliar with the Road King's history... let me give you a quick recap: 

The FLH line originated a long time ago in H-D history, and the "Glide" names were added with each new addition of a particular upgrade. For example, the first FLH had a hardtail frame, a springer front suspension and kick start. When H-D added hydraulic front suspension, the FLH earned the name, "Hydra Glide." The addition of a rear swingarm and rear suspension earned it the title, "Duo Glide." Once the engineers perfected the electric start, the FLH earned the name that we all know now, the "Electra Glide." The Electra Glide didn't actually get that iconic batwing fairing until 1969. Back then, the batwing fairing was, basically, just an outer fairing mounted to the forks. As these things tend to do, the batwing that we all know (and most people love) evolved over the next few decades until it became what it is today. Most of you may know all this already, but what you may not know, is that in 1989, H-D introduced the Electra Glide Sport... an FLH Electra Glide without a fairing (again). The bike was popular enough that it was offered for a few years before H-D's marketing team decided to rename it, you guessed it- The Road King, for the 1994 model year. 

The Road King has been an extremely popular machine since it's "official" birth in 1994 and has become a favorite of guys like me, who want a bike big enough to handle any road trip that we can throw at it, while still maintaining that cruiser DNA for riding down the Main Street on a Friday night. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best Harley-Davidson motorcycles ever made. So, you may be asking why, if it's so great, is H-D apparently pulling it from the lineup? Easy... this is nothing more than a marketing scheme. Smoke and mirrors. Increase demand by decreasing availability. For '23, if someone wants a brand new "Road King"... they'll have to either get a Road King Special (the FLHRXS with a price tag of +/- $24k) or get the "new" ElectraGlide Highway King (the FLHFB) which, as an "Icon Collection" bike, will probably be a "limited edition" and have an MSRP of close to, or over, $30k. I happen to love my 2017 Road King Special, but I will be the first to admit that, compared to my other Road Kings (both of which were Classics-FLHRC), the machine is way overpriced. It's gorgeous, but corners were cut in the quality (see my long term review video here) and, in order for me to be able to ride it comfortably, I had to replace the poorly designed stock "mini-ape" handlebars. I finally have my bike all dialed in for my needs, so I won't be shopping for a new Road King anytime soon, but for someone looking to upgrade their current ride to all the glory that is the Road King... 2023 may not be their year to do it.

A new bike for the Riding Academy?

One more new bike being offered by H-D will be the Chinese-built X350RA. A small displacement, parallel twin motorcycle, that is being targeted for the overseas markets (and of course, the H-D Riding Academy). While many H-D purists may find this to be one of the most offensive things I've written on my little corner of the interweb, I will politely stay neutral about it... at least for now.

We all saw the shit-show that was the "Street" bikes that were built in India under the H-D moniker. The XG500 and XG750 were pure garbage. If you own one... let  me say that, I'm sorry. I'm not sorry if I've offended you, I'm sorry that you bought one. It's a Harley by name only. In the beginning, I heard some great things about the engines and I actually wrote a few slideshows for H-D Forums about folks modifying the bikes into some really cool customs, but as of recently, I've heard nothing but bad stories about them. Problems like, the brake systems having catastrophic failures and the transmissions randomly slipping between gears. I'm sure that these problems, along with the painfully dismal sales of these bikes, were the driving forces that ultimately led H-D to dump them (a smart move on H-D's part, to be sure). The Streets were (sort of) intended to be a stepping stone bike for new riders. Here in the U.S. of A., they were initially introduced as Riding Academy bikes. H-D recognized that their smallest bikes at the time, the 883 Sportsters, were still a bit too powerful, loud, heavy and torquey for a brand new rider, so they needed an underpowered, small and inexpensive bike to train new riders on. Enter the Street 500. A perfect-ish bike for the job. Too bad it was a piece of crap in terms of quality. So, here we are in 2023... the XG's are gone, but H-D is still running their Riding Academy classes and, as such, they still need a small displacement bike that won't be too intimidating for the faint of heart. 

Enter the new X350RA. A lot of folks are probably cringing at the mere thought of it being made in... gasp... China, but I'd venture to bet that most of you fine folks are reading this on your Chinese made computer or smart phone. I may be a little biased (or would it be... unbiased?) these days, since I've recently added a small-bore motorcycle to my garage with the purchase of an American made Janus Halcyon (read more about that here) which is powered by a Chinese built CG250 engine. Say what you will about the Chinese, but many of their products are top-quality. Sure, not everything is worth the materials they're made with, but many of their products are and the Janus' little single cylinder, 229cc powerplant starts up every time and it runs smoother than a sewing machine. The bike is an absolute delight to ride, too... but that's a story for a different day. Today, I'm talking about the partnership between Harley-Davidson and the Qianjiang Motorcycle Company. With H-D bringing these little bikes to their Riding Academy, you can bet that they will be on showroom floors before the end of the year. After all, new riders are, naturally, going to want to buy what they learned how to ride on. Before you get too offended by the MoCo's latest partnership with a foreign company, let me point out that H-D has been doing this for decades. Does the Italian company Aermacchi ring a bell? If you know any of your H-D history, you know that H-D bought approximately half of Aermacchi's stock in the 1960's and that Aermacchi produced several of their single cylinder (and a few two-cylinder), small-bore, motorcycles with Harley-Davidson badges, all the way through the 1970's before H-D was purchased by AMF (again, that's a story for another day).

I actually have high hopes for the Chinese built H-D X350s. Apparently, Qianjiang is a formidable company in the Asian motorcycle market, building a variety of high-quality, small bore motorcycles for their customer base. I suppose that only time will tell, though. Hopefully, the partnership with QJ won't find the Chinese company building the entire lineup of H-D bikes, though because that would be a sad day for American workers. I also suspect that H-D's marketing team will probably suggest a retail price of the X350 on par with Jochen's "premium brand" business model for H-D, and it will most likely be way overpriced. Just to give you an idea, QJ's website shows most of their bikes coming in around the $2,500- $3,000 range and I seriously doubt that the execs at H-D aer going to allow any bike with the famous Bar and Shield logo to be sold with such a humble price tag. After all, Jochen's plan for the MoCo is to, apparently, make H-D motorcycles unattainable for the working class people that have been riding them since 1903. 

My final thoughts

To wrap this up today, I'll just leave you with these thoughts to ponder. If H-D does offer something new and fresh for 2023, I really hope that they make some attempt to make it reliable and affordable. If the latter (affordability) doesn't fit into the current CEO's business model, I at least hope that the damn things are built with higher quality materials and workmanship than they have been for the past several years. I also hope that the MoCo starts thinking about their future existence in the current global motorcycle market, because some of the decisions coming out of Milwaukee these past few years have been questionable, at best. I get that Federal emissions standards are constricting much of what we have always known in the motorcycling world, but damn, there's no Federal guidelines that are making them build ugly, watered down versions, or worse- overpriced versions, of their previous machines. The decision to kill off the Dyna line may have been driven by emissions, or even by financial, restrictions... but the decision to re-use the Dyna names on Softails was just lazy marketing. Seriously... no one could have come up with a new name for the Softail Street Bob or the Low Rider? You also can't tell me that designing a new twin-shock frame for the Milwaukee 8 engine was such a crazy idea... not after they designed these new RevMax powered bikes (the Nightster, Sportster S and Pan America). 

Whatever we see come out of Milwaukee in the coming weeks and months, I really hope that it is good, because my most recent desire to buy a new bike has been satisfied by my most recent purchase out of Goshen, Indiana. Between my new Janus, my Road King Special and, of course, my Dyna Street Bob, I don't see myself going to the local H-D dealer for any reason other than to visit my son.

With that- Happy New Year everyone! May 2023 bring you new opportunities for happiness, prosperity and good health!

Ride safe and make good choices, MotoReaders!