Harley-Davidson are celebrating a real milestone this year: they sold their five-millionth motorcycle. The news was announced in a tweet, which states the bike in question – a Heritage Classic – rolled off the production line at their company’s York, Pennsylvania factory in the USA.
The lucky buyer was Walter Bartlett, who purchased the bike from Bull Falls Harley-Davidson in Wausau, Wisconsin.
Bucket List: Harley-Davidson - ride an American Icon
MCN reader pressed into trying something a little different...
If you own one, you don’t ride a motorcycle, you ride a Harley-Davidson. The American brand with its iconic bar and shield logo has transcended the line between motorcycle manufacturer and cultural icon. But with this success comes its own set of problems and many motorcyclists tend to look down their noses at, or even actively avoid, the brand due to preconceived images of what being a Harley owner entails. The truth is that modern Harley-Davidsons, and their riders, are a far cry from the Easy Rider and Hells Angels days of old. Nor are most of them mid-life crisis accountants. So isn’t it time you forgot the stereotypes and gave a Harley a go?
"To me Harleys have the image of loud noise, tattoos, long hair and biker gangs," admits Steve Coward, who answered MCN’s call for someone who had never ridden a Harley before to give one a shot. "As a clean-cut teacher, that never really appealed. Before today I’d never even been into a Harley dealership, but I have to say I’m really impressed and surprised, it’s so smart and modern."
This is something Sycamore Harley-Davidson salesman Stuart Hubbard, whose demonstrator Steve will be riding today, is more than used to hearing.
"There are so many sides to the Harley brand," he explains. "Yes there is HOG and its Chapters, which is what everyone sees, but we have young, old, male, female riders who use the bike all year around, those who just ride in summer… The brand is all-encompassing and there really is no typical ‘Harley rider’ any more." And the bikes themselves also surprise Steve.
As Stuart talks Steve around the Softail Sport Glide, some of the technology comes as a surprise. "I honestly wasn’t expecting it to have such modern tech as a ride-by-wire throttle, ABS, LED lights and a keyless ignition," he says. "I considered them to be old-fashioned due to their look. I hope it still feels a bit rough and ready and raw to ride." Looking more than a little out of place dressed in his adventure bike suit and peaked crash helmet, Steve takes to the roads around Rutland to find out.
"I absolutely love the sound of it," Steve says when he jumps off. "It sounds exactly as I imagined it would but the engine is such a surprise. It thuds along but there is only the slightest of vibrations and it has so much torque. I’ve never been so lazy on the gearbox before, it’s fantastic! But after a lifetime of adventure bikes, the feet-forward riding position is a bit odd."
Harley are very clever when it comes to balancing tradition and modern tech, and while the new Milwaukee-Eight motor looks old-school thanks to its huge cooling fins, it’s packed with the latest tech.
"The throttle response is probably the best of any bike I’ve ridden, so smooth and easy," he says after a few more miles. "In the smaller villages, U-turns were effortless and I’m surprised just how agile the bike is. It feels heavy when you are stationary, but the weight just vanishes when you are moving and it feels like it carries it very low down, like a GS with its Boxer motor. My old Africa Twin was top-heavy, but the Harley is very balanced and as a result feels solid in the bends. But the torque... I glanced down at the rev counter and it was showing just 1600rpm but the engine was perfectly happy with no stutter at all. That’s incredible, so impressive; I actually thought it was misreading."
So, having completed half a day riding around the roads of Rutland on a Harley-Davidson, is Steve now a convert to the American brand?
"Today has certainly dispelled a few of my preconceptions," he admits over a coffee. "The bikes are anything but old-fashioned and the dealership certainly not intimidating. I thought the bike would be rougher, but it is so refined and smooth while still delivering what I expected in terms of the sound and feel. I loved it." But did he love it enough to turn his back on the adventure bike world?
"I totally ‘get’ the Harley thing now, exploring the sunny roads today on the Sport Glide was wonderful, but I’m an adventure rider and a huge part of my love of motorcycles is down to the Trail Riders Fellowship," says Steve. "Through the TRF I’ve made loads of friends. We go on off-road holidays, ride together at the weekends and just meet up for an evening out – it’s a social thing as much as a motorcycle one. I can see HOG becoming just as important a part of a Harley rider’s life as the TRF is to mine, but at the moment I’ll stick with knobbly tyres. But, one thing is certain: after today’s experience I could see myself owning a Harley one day."
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