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The State of the American Motorcycle

Photo Credit: Me

In recent years the market for Motorcycles has been met with slowing sales, changes in consumer demands, consumer demographics, and sales geography.

Re-entering the fray of modern motorcycles sales is India, Motorcycle. The brand was revitalized by Polaris and in 2014 launched a new wave of bikes with the first original Indian engine since the brand's demise in the 1950's.

I myself jumped onto this bandwagon and abandoned BMW for a 2014 Indian Chief Vintage. The bike offered what I felt was a good mix of desirable traits from it's Art Deco styling, chrome embellishments, and a solid sturdy feel. The power delivered by the Thunderstroke-111 engine didn't hurt either

Photo Credit: Me again

With the launch of the latest generation of Indian motorcycles commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Chief Model there has been a lot of buzz online and within the industry as a whole. The new lineup offers a number of trimmed down, smaller, and lighter options for the Chief platform than many; including myself, welcomed to make the bike more appealing to a larger audience.

Although the new bikes lack a lot of the “meat” or heft of their 2014-2020 predecessors I personally think the more trimmed, fit, and bare bones 2022 machines have a great appeal.

Keeping all this in mind though, the trend for the last decade has been retro-chique, a revitalization of proper “old school” from under-cut hairstyles to chukka boots. Walk into your local stylish bar or coffee shops and you'll see a "Peaker Blinders" homage somewhere in there. This relaunch of the 2022 Chief Line-up is simply following suite.

Photo Credit: Indian Motorcycle; Super Chief Gallery

The motorcycles of 100 years ago were comparatively tiny compared to their current name sakes, and the opulence of the “modern American Cruiser” is in my opinion a hangover of the 1980’s Reaganauts who indulge in the triumph of overkill.

If this wasn’t obvious enough if you look at the sales figures and demographics of your average American Cruiser or large bagger owner, they were probably buying their first bikes during this era and the style has continued with them.

Photo Credit: Indian Motorcycle; 1922 Indian Chief

The simplified frame and more bare bones appeal brings it in at a comfortable price point for those with a more modest budget in search for some new American iron. There is also a wide variety of aftermarket accessories and parts for the bike at launch. A page seemingly taken from Harley-Davidson’s playbook.

On Harley-Davidson

While discussing Harley-Davidson, the brand as we all know has been the “Sick Man of Motorcycles” for the last decade. The pre-Great Recession Sales figures have never recovered. In my humble opinion though this Titan of Industry and Brand Recognition still has plenty to offer to the younger and modern consumer.

Within this brand is the spirit of the American desire to see what lays over the horizon. The initial riders who made this brand a world renown synonym for liberty and launched it into our collective memory were people who wanted to branch out and be independent.

This desire for independence has never waned in America regardless of the age of the consumer...younger riders may simply share more photos than their predecessors. If Harley can, I believe they are capable of, tying the spirit of the early riders to the youth of today they will continue to dominate the American market.

The new Harley-Davidson Pan America is a great chance for Harley-Davidson to enter a growing but highly competitive market. Many riders in this segment are hardcore to their brands such as: BMW, KTM, and Triumph; however Harley can bring their own cohort to this segment.

With the introduction of a smaller, beginner friendly option Harley could position itself into grooming the next generation of riders and bringing them into the fold on their machines.

Photo Credit: Harley-Davidson; Future Bikes

My critique of Harley-Davidson though lies at this intersection. The introductory level motorcycles such as the Sportster 883, Sportster 1200 have yet to satisfy the needs of new riders.

Although the Sportster brings a big name and legacy with it, the model is often criticized for under delivery of power, range, and comfort when compared to its competition. This is largely due to a need for Harley to update the engine to an overhead-cam setup which would allow for modern performance and design which many new riders are after.

With a few engineering tweaks and a new marketing initiative Harley-Davidson can once again become the brand of the outlaw, rebel, and adventurer they used to be.

Harley's current riders became a part of “the establishment” when they got real jobs and a mortgage and as a result, Harley lost their outlaw appeal.

Where we Currently Are

All the current and upcoming changes to the American market are largely thanks to increased competition which isn’t as insulated as it was back in the Post-War era. Competition from imported brands has also spurred on the need for better and cheaper products.

If the manufacturer’s keep pumping out new, innovative, and creative features and designs I believe we will see a great shift into a new world of motorcycles.

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