Let’s face it: I have a tendency to spout off great declarations at times. This is one of those times.
The only reason to buy a Harley-Davidson instead of a Triumph is if you really like belt drive. Otherwise, Triumph does it all and does it better.
The following is aimed solely at Harley owners that denigrate other bikes with stupid arguments about tradition, heritage, etc. You have bought into marketing bull**** rather than demand an American motorcycle company we can still be proud of on all fronts. This is for Harley jerks: proof that heritage and awesome bikes and product range are not mutually exclusive. Harley fans that are also accepting and appreciative of other motorcycles are 100% exempt from my ire.
Heritage. The long-standing defense of the Harley owner is the rich tradition of their brand, and that it hearkens back to a simpler era, and the freedom of the open road. Here’s a fun fact: Triumph predates Harley-Davidson by almost 20 years. Golly, it’s almost like Triumph has just as rich a legacy, if not maybe more to brag about. Now, inevitably somebody will point out that Triumph today is not the same company as when it started, but honestly I see that as no different than when Harley-Davidson endured the AMF years or people talking about Indian motorcycles being “back”. Different ownership = different company flying the same coat of arms. While I’m not sure how I feel about it, the fact remains you can’t criticize Triumph without the same applying to Harley. You want “heritage” and “legacy”, Triumph has it in spades.
What the cool kids ride. Did you notice something about that last link? Like, say, Marlon Brando and James Dean? Lots of folks regard Steve McQueen to be the coolest American to ever live and he rode Triumphs! (And Husqvarnas.) These were legitimately cool guys who stood out as the individuals Harley owners claim to be. The most famous Harley riders were a couple of drug using hippie losers on crappy handling bikes, and Peter Fonda can’t act his way out of an empty cardboard box. As a matter of fact, Easy Rider typifies everything I hate about the time period it was released in, but that’s a post for another time.
Performance. Once upon a time Harley-Davidson had some bikes that were worth owning. Granted, for their Roadracing World Championships they had to use re-badged Italian bikes, but still, they were involved in motor sports. Sadly, much like their desperate cling to to heritage in their bikes, they clung to a dying race series and today only race against other Harleys, giving up on being competitive in AMA Superbike, killing Buell, and selling MV Augusta after barely a year. Harley guys talk about “ride quality” rather than actual handling, and can only point to low-speed maneuvers performed by professionals to help their case. Meanwhile, the Triumph 675 gets rave reviews by being competitive and still distinctly a Triumph with their signature 3-cylinder engine we know from the Speed Triple. Just goes to show that Harley guys don’t know squat when they claim Buell was diluting the “brand”. But how can Triumph do this?
Product diversity. Harley Davidson claim they make something like 30+ models of motorcycle, but that’s a crock. They make four frames (only 4!) and just dress ‘em slightly differently. Harley strapping bags and a windshield to Dyna frame and calling it a whole new motorcycle would be like Ford calling the Taurus a different car when it has a V6 and leather interior. It’s still the same car, and Harley-Davidson only makes four bikes, all cruisers, in various trim levels. It’s pathetic and shameful, when Triumph makes truly different bikes. Want an off-road adventure bike? Try a Tiger. The retro heritage we spoke of earlier is answered by their Classics line. Want a sport bike but don’t like being a cookie-cutter kid on a Japanese bike with no soul? Try the Daytona! Or better yet, the original factory Streetfighter that everyone else is copying: the Speed and Street Triples. They’ve got heavy cruisers and sports-tourers. Triumph Motorcycles have all the soul and individuality Harley tries to tell you they’re selling, with five times the choice in how you want to ride.
Now, let’s be very honest, Triumph isn’t perfect. There are some downfalls to going with a British bike and some stuff Harley does better. For as opinionated as I am, I do try to always be honest so let’s look at what Harley does better and where Triumph needs to improve.
Marketing. Honestly, this is Triumph’s biggest downfall; they need to market the hell out of themselves. Some of the world’s biggest brands (Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Budweiser) are also the heaviest advertisers. I don’t think anybody would really argue that McDonald’s makes the best burgers or Bud is the beer, would they? Of course not! We’ve been sold on the products just like we’ve been sold on Harleys! Triumph needs a marketing blitz and create more desire for their products. I see Harley ads in print magazines all the time (e.g. Popular Mechanics), but I can’t recall seeing 10% the number of Triumph ads outside dedicated bike magazines. Triumph should buy a spot to run an evocative commercial in the previews of a summer blockbuster.
Dealership network. This is honestly the biggest problem, but can’t really be fixed until the desire for the product is in place. It’s supply and demand at work. Harleys can be found literally anywhere in the United States, while here in Las Vegas (at time of writing) there isn’t a Triumph dealer to be found. The guy I know who has a 675 rides all the way down to L.A. for his major service intervals. Iron Horse Motorcycles in Tucson used to carry Triumphs alongside BMW, but now the only dealer there has some generic name and you’ll only find them if you know about and hunt down Triumphs because they’re so far out of town and sell other toys like ATVs and watercraft. (No offense to Performance Cycle Center intended.) If Triumph would tackle marketing, and could tackle dealer availability I truly believe they would eat Harley’s lunch
Parting shot, or, one last reason Triumph is better than Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson is a company that is quite literally kept afloat by selling merchandise like t-shirts and window stickers for pickup trucks, asking the government to intervene, and marketing an image rather than simply selling a good bike. So do you want to buy a bike from a company that thinks aerodynamics peaked in 1969 with the batwing fairing and whose own clientele say the V-Rod isn’t a “real” Harley? Or would you consider a company with even more heritage, way more honesty, and in a poker match could tell H-D, “I’ll see your rich tradition and raise you performance! What’s that? You fold?”
The Triumph Thunderbird was the 2010 Cruiser of the Year. All the rich history of H-D. Less expensive. WAY more individual. Better performing. Just as retro if you want, but better selection if you desire something different.
Triumph Motorcycles: More heritage than Harley and twice the class.