My Grudging Admission of Harley’s Marketing Brilliance

To paraphrase Wes Siler, it’s no secret that I loathe cruisers because forward controls and ape-hangers are the antithesis of control, and chrome is gaudy. This is where I would normally launch into a rant about how “Harley sucks” because they’re the easiest target. But I have to give credit where credit is due, and their marketing machine knew exactly what they were doing when they introduced the Sportster Seventy-Two.


Everything awful about cruisers, now available direct from the factory.

I liked the Forty-Eight from a design perspective and as a rider I came this close to buying an XR1200X, but I was appalled when the Seventy-Two was released. First, because the only good things to come out of the 1970s are Jaws and Star Wars. (If you believe otherwise, I assure you it’s just nostalgia talking. There’s a reason hipsters choose this decade to honor ironically.) But also because Harley-Davidson was finally starting to make some smarter-looking bikes, and in the case of the XR1200X a bike with decent handling and ergonomics. This abomination was an homage to the ugliest possible decade and a huge step backward in handling. The slight warming of my heart to the Motor Company was instantly quenched.

But Harley-Davidson is a company that sells lifestyle and image more than motorcycles, and they understand this very well. So well, in fact, that they saw a youth market where I never would have imagined one as a rider. Harley-Davidson is calling all hipsters. I’m more than a little embarrassed I didn’t realize this until now, because it makes all the sense in the world. The only problem Harley has is that they’re too mainstream. Otherwise, their faux cultures of nonconformity and being trapped in the past (ironically or not) are a perfect fit for each other. In fact, the only way in which Harley may have misstepped is to make this ad just a little too blatant.

Now, as I’ve said before and continue to maintain, a Triumph is a better choice than a Harley in every way and this goes doubly so for hipster appeal. [For the record, I ride a BMW R1200R.] The Bonnevilles have retro appeal, are better bikes, and from a less mainstream brand. But hats off to Milwaukee for seeing the niche. They deserve to profit wildly from the foresight and execution. The only question is if hipsters will spend $11,000 on a new motorcycle when “Thrift Shop” was one of the biggest radio hits of the last year.

9 thoughts on “My Grudging Admission of Harley’s Marketing Brilliance

    • same as this commercial for the 883. ” happy days ” meets Starbucks. That seems to be the more youthful target market here. Wit! Didn’t the Fonze ride a Triumph?

      • Ah, the 883… I’ve heard it’s actually a better motor for hopping up than the 1200 because you can get higher compression and better figures. Sadly, the Iron is the only one they still make, and it has NO suspension. Anybody with a brain skips this and gets a Bonneville.

      • yes, I agree, the Bonnie is better, but look at the market they are after in the ad. Youth wearing converse shoes, the young at the party scene, the young lady obviously not a biker moll, even the mechanic was wearing a pork pie or trilby hat similar to the English mods. Appropriate music for the age, not blues for the older market. ” Not a gang not a club ” they say. So still after the individual at a younger age

        Goes back to what you stated about the marketing. Now though, they are are after the youth

  1. It’s easy to sell a piece of crap. You appeal to history and culture, real or perceived, or invented, the commercial with the film look. HD do have great marketers. Some people still think it’s an American made bike

    Here is a case in point for the 883

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