The Harley Davidson Motor Company has always had a problem attracting young riders to its product. Especially lately, the demographic of the typical Harley rider has been...well...me (a 55 y/o boomer). This is a problem. If you don't have young riders coming in the front door, the old riders will eventually die off.
Part of Harley's bigger problem lies in the fact that the company really hasn't made bikes that young people want. Young guys want to go fast. They want sportbikes, like those loud, annoying, psuedo-racers you see terrorizing the highways and byways. With few exceptions, these are mainly from Japanese manufacturers, who have dominated that market segment since the 1980s.
Typically, young people don't go for slow, American "cruisers," which have always been considered "old man bikes." They think sportbikes (so-called "crotch-rockets") are more fun. But there are many reasons we ride motorcycles. "Going fast" is part of the fun, yes, but only a part. It's also about what we do with our bikes.
Harleys have always had a certain undeniable charisma and attraction, and H-D has always had the lion's share of the "cruiser" market, which has been their main source of revenue. In numerous attempts to compete head-to-head with Harley, the Japanese manufacturers have produced many blatant copies of the Harley design, with varying degrees of success. Today there are models from Star-Yamaha and Kawasaki that can even fool me at first glance - they are that much of a ripoff of certain unique Harley design cues (for instance, the two-cylinder V-twin engine with the air filter and exhaust system both on the right side of the bike, the big, flared fenders, etc.).
In 1995, Honda even went so far as to produce a Harley-clone (ironically called the "American Classic Edition" or A.C.E.) in which they actually designed-in some "extra" vibration because they felt the bike was "too smooth," a Honda trademark. But see, many bikers prefer to know they're on a piece of machinery and not a sewing machine or electric motor.
Nevertheless, "cruiser" bikes (e.g. Harleys) never really found wide appeal with the younger generation. It is true that the majority of Harleys are the big touring (e.g. "Electra Glide") and cruiser models, but they also have the smaller Sportster, which is what I own, which is more what we used to think of as just a regular ol' motorcycle. I've always felt that Harley was missing the boat by not marketing the Sportster to young people as a fun, all-around, general purpose streetbike.
It took Harley a long time to figure this out, but they finally did. More than that, they decided to do something about it. When I first saw the following commercial on television, I was blown away. I stared at the screen thinking, "This is HARLEY advertising??"
Apparently young, cool, good-looking people ride Sportsters now! Apparently these young, cool, good-looking people hot-rod their bikes around in the dirt. And have lots of other young, cool, good-looking friends. And apparently hot chicks who ride Sportsters often spontaneously go skinny-dipping! What the...?! What are you, kidding me? Harley?! I want to hang out with these people! I want to be like them! I mean, I'm not...and I already ride a Sportster! (Notice that there is not a beer-gut in sight in that spot, and the only gray beard belongs to the jealous-looking cop.)
Don't get me wrong, it's great! It's just such a different direction for what has always been such a staid, conservative, laid-back company. Talk about aggressive marketing! NOBODY is doing this anymore: showing how much fun motorcycles can be. Which they are, of course.
Harley is in trouble, as are all motorcycle manufacturers. Motorcycles are pretty much thought of as a hobby. They are bought with discretionary funds that as we all know are pretty scarce these days. Instead of just sitting back and waiting for bankruptcy, Harley Davidson has decided to do something pro-active and go after a market they have traditionally been ignoring. (By the way, I *love* how Harley brought back the classic red, white and blue "#1" logo they originally used in the 1970's. Nice touch.)
I say bravo! I hope it works.