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Lewis and Clark; The Expedition Returned 2017

I’m a H.O.G. member, but not the type of person who displays an undying passion for the patches and pins or for that matter in attending a lot of H.O.G. events.  Sure, I’ve participated in the occasional H.O.G. rally, got the t-shirt and then headed home. Riding is primarily a solo activity for me and it’s more about riding in the wind, not the rally destination.  
 
Although there was this one time in Hawaii where it was all about the food.  The Aloha State Chapter #44 (Maui H.O.G.) were in the middle of a rally.  I wasn’t riding a motorcycle on the islands, but they were most gracious and let me enjoy some excellent pulled pork at their Luau!  We also had the opportunity to meet Cristine Sommer-Simmons, the book author of ‘Patrick Wants To Ride‘ fame.

But I’ve digressed.

Lewis and Clark Expedition Swag

A riding buddy and I decided to register and took a couple weeks last month to ride along with the H.O.G. Lewis and Clark; The Expedition Returns posse.  There were 182 register bikes for the tour which basically followed most of the same Lewis and Clark routes from Seaside, Oregon to St. Charles, Missouri.  They deviated a bit on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains which only added to the adventure.

 

Before I jump in and provide some insights about the ride, I want to say that H.O.G. is a class act.  Yes, there was a pricey registration fee, but the swag and goody bag we received for the expedition was detailed, high quality and exceeded my expectations.  The hotel registration process via the H.O.G. web site worked well and we had no issues in any location.  Big shout-out to Harley-Davidson, Team MKE, Paul Raap (H.O.G. Regional Mgr), Paul Blotskie (H.O.G. Contractor) and the H.O.G. planners for making it simple and a great experience!

Lewis and Clark Expedition and Routes

 

Now keep in mind this wasn’t a “group ride” where 182 bikes departed simultaneous every day with a ride captain.  We were free to forge our own path (with some solid guidance) and ride with who we wanted and at our own pace.  H.O.G. provided a travelogue with approximate mileage and points of interest along the way for each day’s schedule.  In some cases they included passes for the various parks and/or sight seeing destinations.  This process worked well.

Ride Details:

Day 1, (Tuesday, July 11) — Had us traveling to the Oregon coast to visit the Fort Clatsop National Historic Park  where the Corps of Discovery wintered from 1805 to Spring 1806.  After 18 months of exploring the West, the Corps of Discovery built an encampment near the mouth of the Columbia River. They wintered at Fort Clatsop into 1806 before leaving the Pacific Ocean to return to Missouri and the route we were going to follow.

That evening Mike Durbin and Paradise Harley-Davidson (Tigard, OR) sponsored the gathering for dinner.


Highway 14 looking west at Mt. Hood

Day 2, — We were traveling east and heading to Lewiston, ID.  Along the route we could visit the Rock Fort Campsite which is a natural fortification located on the shore of the Columbia River, and where the Corps of Discovery set up camp on their journey home.  There is the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center, the Sacajawea State Park Interpretive Center, and the Lewis and Clark Trail State Park

That evening we were at Hell’s Canyon Harley-Davidson for dinner. 

 
Unsolicited Comments About Portland Traffic:  It was common practice to ask other H.O.G. members where they came from, how far they rode etc., and when we mentioned being from Portland, people were compelled to tell us about their bad experiences riding around in Portland/metro traffic.  The H.O.G. HQ hotel for this event was the Jantzen Beach Red Lion and folks would drone on about the congestion, freeway crashes and the lengthy delays which were awful in the record Portland heat.  About all I could say was “True that, and apologize for the apocalyptic congestion.”  Then I’d add something about those new spiffy ODOT RealTime signs — you know, the big electronic signs that relay the obvious?!

Day 3, — Took us to Great Falls, MT.  There were multiple stops suggested to riders.  The first was the Nez Perce National Historical Park.  The 
New Perce were critical to the success of the Expedition by providing food and supplies. 

It was hot riding so, we left Lewiston early morning and as a result the park wasn’t open and we toured the exterior.  Lewis and Clark actually split up at what is called today Travelers’ Rest State Park.  Lewis went to the north.  On the north route, you could see the Lewis and Clark Pass, Museum of the Plains Indian, and Camp Disappointment   Clark went to the south, where you could see the Lost Trail PassCamp fortunate Overlook  the three forks of the Missouri River at the Missouri Headwaters State Park, and the Gates of the Mountains.

Highway 12 heading toward Lolo Pass

We were on Highway 12 headed over Lolo Pass for much of the morning. You’ve undoubtedly seen the photos of the sign that says “Curves next 99 miles…”  Yeah, that one and it’s named one of the best motorcycle roads in the country with lots of sweeping curves and several tight ones.  The elevation at the top is 5,233 feet in the northern Rocky Mountains and the temperatures were quite nice.  Road conditions in some areas were a bit dicey and unfortunately a female member of the H.O.G. group veered up against the guardrail and crashed.  She survived with a number of broken bones, but as I understand it, spent multiple days in the hospital. As we rode by the crash, her motorcycle freakishly went 75 yards up highway 12 and across both lanes of traffic and was sitting upright on the left side of the road, as if someone just parked it there on the kick stand.  Very strange.

That evening the group all got together for dinner at Big Sky Harley-Davidson.


Day 4, — (Friday, July 14,) — Took us to Billings, MT where we spent a couple of days.  There were a couple of stops planned.  The first was t
he Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center in Great Falls.  We also made sure to take time to see the Great Falls of the Missouri including Rainbow Falls before leaving the area.  

Great Falls, MT is actually situated on the northern Lewis return route, and Billings, MT is on Clark’s southern route.

Rainbow Falls

We took the more scenic route on Highway 89 south through the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest and then picked up Highway 12 east to Highway 3 south into Billings, MT.

That evening we had dinner at Beartooth Harley-Davidson, but to be candid we were getting a bit tired of the pork sliders or burgers and salad.


Day 5, — Was a “down day” from our ride schedule to allow riding in the Billings, MT., area.  Some jumped back on for full 400+ mile experience and rode to Livingston, MT., on I-90 then headed south on Highway 89 into Yellowstone National Park to see ‘Old Faithful.’  

Twin Lakes, along the Beartooth Highway

We decided to half that mileage and rode up Highway 212 to Red Lodge Montana and then over Beartooth Pass into Wyoming.  In Red Lodge, the annual Beartooth Rally was in full swing with a few thousand motorcyclists enjoying the area so, going over Beartooth Pass was slow riding, but we did enjoy the switchback curves.

It’s a great ride with some incredible vistas, but not for the faint of heart.

That evening we enjoyed a nice steak and ignored the gathering at Beartooth Harley-Davidson!


Day 6, — Had us traveling to Bismarck, ND., and it began early to avoid the sweltering heat. 

Across the NoDak Plains

We’d been riding in heat advisory’s across Montana for a few days and now the humidity was increasing!  One stop as we departed Billings was to tour Pompeys Pillar National Monument.  Pompeys Pillar was named by Clark and he and other members of the Corps of Discovery chiseled their names into the rock itself.  I believe this is the ONLY physical evidence that the Lewis and Clark Trail actually existed and took place. 

We rode on to Bismarck, ND.  There were additional stops along the way that included the Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center and Fort Mandan.  I lived in Bismarck back in the day so, we ignored the extra miles and the point where Sacajawea and Toussaint Charbonneau joined the Corps. 

We enjoyed dinner at a local pub/restaurant while listening to some old Peter Frampton music on the jukebox! 


Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

Day 7, — (Monday, July 17,) — The H.O.G. group headed west across the Missouri River from Bismarck and then we all rode south down Highway 1806 to Pierre, SD.  About 15 miles south of Bismarck we stopped at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park & On-A-Slant Village and toured the area which provided a great example of Native American encampments Lewis and Clark would have encountered on their journey.

Missouri River riding south on Highway 1806

We rode along Highway 1806 south down the Missouri River pretty much to the North Dakota – South Dakota border while watching out for farm equipment on the roads.

From there, we had a couple of routes to follow into Pierre, SD., though most of the Missouri River between Bismarck and Pierre is covered by the Lake Oahe Reservoir and the road follows the east side of the lake all the way into Pierre.

Pierre, SD., City Park

We had dinner at Peterson Motors Harley-Davidson in Pierre, but actually moved over to a city park on the river and tried Bison Burgers for the first time!


Day 8, — (Tuesday, July 18,) — Due to other commitments we departed the Lewis and Clark H.O.G. group on this day and started our return trip back to Oregon.  We intended to spend a couple of days in Boise, ID., to take in the Pacific Northwest H.O.G. rally and meet up with some other riders there.  The next couple of days were about laying down some miles and we avoided the wandering of site seeing.  We rode from 
Pierre, SD to Rapid City, SD on I-90, and skirted the Black Hills National Forest.

We traveled along Highway 18 and then took a wrong turn at Lingle, SD and ended up a few miles from the  Nebraska border before having to backtrack, riding through Fort Laramie on Highway 26 and then on to I-25 and Casper, WY., where we overnighted.


Day 9, — Had us traveling to Idaho Falls, ID., and we departed early to avoid the afternoon heat.  We were riding toward the Grand Teton National Park and Jackson when about 30 miles west of Dubois, WY, we encountered a fatal head-on car accident. 

The Road Glide and Grand Teton’s

We arrived at the scene at 12:30pm and the road had been closed since 9:30am.  We had to endure a 3+ hour wait which put us behind and more importantly it put us riding in the hottest part of the day. 

The 50 miles from Jackson, WY to the border town of Alpine, WY was like walking a marathon with all the backed up traffic. 

We finally made it to Idaho Falls, ID on US26 by early evening.  

Day 10, — We continued our travel west to Boise, ID on the two-lane US 20/26.

There are views of high desert, Atomic labs and of course Craters of the Moon Monument with it’s vast ocean of lava flows and scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush.We stopped for some site seeing, but didn’t explore any trails.

We arrived in Boise, ID before 3pm and met up with some other riders who arrived from Portland.

Day 13, — (Sunday, July 23,) — After a couple days of enjoying the local rides and taking in the city life along with parts of the Pacific Northwest H.O.G. Rally (While at the rally in Meridian, ID., I had a chance to test ride a new 2017 CVO Street Glide with the new M-8 engine. I will do a post on that experience soon) we returned to Portland, OR via the most direct route on I-84.

We finally arrived back in Portland that evening after touring over 3,500 miles with a number of new stories from the adventure in retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  In addition, we got to hang with a number of great H.O.G. members!

We could relate to Meriwether Lewis who wrote in September 1806:

Today Captain Clark will pen a letter to Governor Harrison and I shall pen one to President Jefferson informing them officially of our safe return and providing the details of our expedition. My hope, and that of Captain Clark, is that our work over the last two and a half years will accomplish this administration’s goals to expand the Republic westward and inspire future generations into even further exploration and adventure. — Meriwether Lewis 

Updated August 15, 2017:  Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left from St. Louis, Missouri with the Corps of Discovery and headed west in an effort to explore and document the new lands bought by the Louisiana Purchase.  To read more about Lewis and Clark, visit the National Geographic site dedicated to their journey or read their report of the expedition, originally published in 1814.  There are a number of period correct maps HERE.

Photos taken by author.

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It could be the title of Harley-Davidson CEO, Matt Levatich’s memoir on his failed 2017 year while in charge of the Motor Company.

I happen to be riding with the HOG Lewis and Clark Expedition last week when Harley-Davidson announced their disappointing Q2’17 financial results and late to weigh in:

* Harley-Davidson net income dropped 7.7%. Sales in the U.S. were down 9.3% and 6.7% worldwide.

* Harley-Davidson now expects to ship 241,000 to 246,000 motorcycles to dealers worldwide in 2017, which is down approximately 6% to 8% from 2016.

* Harley-Davidson expects to ship 39,000 to 44,000 motorcycles in Q3’17, which is down approximately 10% to 20% from 2016.

* Approx 180 U.S. based manufacturing jobs will be cut in Menomonee Falls and Kansas City.  This in addition to the 118 workers who were axed back in April this year at the York plant as some positions were being shifted to Kansas City.

For those keeping track, this is a continuation of a three-year slide by the motor company.  However, during the call Mr. Levatich described what can only be called an “alternative reality” in hopes (I assume?) to reassure the financial markets and stated “we are going to build bikers first, add 2 million new Harley-Davidson riders and launch 100 brand new models during the next 10 years while growing the international business by 50%.

Huh?

I’m being a bit snarky here, but his statement appears either woefully naïve to the point of negligence or a continuance of marketing spin.  Proclaiming an unprecedented future result of this magnitude smells like stunningly wishful thinking at best or at worst plain lying.  For reasons I can’t explain, why would Mr. Levatich climb up on a high-wire without a net given such an overly-optimistic prediction?  Even with nearly 8-million Americans that are “sleeping license holders,” — those who have motorcycle riding credentials, but don’t own a bike — it doesn’t pencil and seems unobtainable.

I don’t know if the boardroom folks in Milwaukee read the NW Harley Blog on a regular basis and/or  hang on its every word.  But, we know the motor company has been continuously producing motorcycles for more than a century,  yet seemingly everyone on the internet with a keyboard thinks they can do it better.

And it’s a well-established fact that internet bloggers and commenters are geniuses. They definitely know how to run a business better than a company that has been constantly producing motorcycles through two world wars, the Great Depression, and roughly 20 U.S. recessions.

Sure the motor company needs our help and I’ve got some feedback and plenty of comments.  But, until the motor company calls me asking for it, I’ll look for Mr. Levatich’s memoir, which will certainly be “a deeply intimate account and a cautionary tale on the world’s most iconic motorcycle brand.

Slightly modified book cover courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

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Harley-Davidson CEO Meets POTUS

Earlier this year, the President met with Harley-Davidson exec’s and put a spotlight on the company in his address to Congress, yet there was no “Trump Bump” as the motor company reported earnings which included sharp declines in revenue and profit for the first quarter of the year.

Some of the key Q1’17 stats:
— $186.4 million in net income, or $1.05 per share, for the period ended March 26, down more than 25% from $250.5 million, or $1.36 a share, in the same period a year ago.
— Revenue was $1.5 billion, down from $1.75 billion in the first quarter of 2016.
— Motorcycle sales in the U.S. were down 5.7% in the quarter compared with a year ago and International sales fell 1.8%
— Reported motorcycle shipments fell 14.7% to 70,831 in Q1
— Market share in the 601cc-plus segment was up to 51.3%.  Execs stated that the Victory liquidation helped market share.

Nothing screams Americana more than deep vehicle discounts and Harley-Davidson jumped head first into that pool by offering its dealers financial incentives to clear out the leftover 2016 motorcycles.  And in an unusual move the company has purposely constrained the supply of its 2017 hottest-selling new models, including bikes with the new Milwaukee Eight engine, leaving some customers waiting to conquer the open road.  All of this is happening with only 4-months until the 2018 model-year launch.

If you listened to the earnings call this week there was a lot of “feel good” expressions from management about the way the company is performing yet, there are tepid sales, a downbeat outlook, and consumer confidence numbers that don’t reflect spending behavior.  Clearly households worldwide are slow to embrace new motorcycles as a way to enjoy life.

According to Harley-Davidson this is the 9th year in a row (based on IHS Market New Registrations) for motorcycles with 601+cc where they were the number one seller of new on-road motorcycles in the U.S. on both their “outreach” and “core” customers.  “Outreach” is defined as four segments — young adults ages 18-34, women, African Americans and Hispanics.  “Core” is defined as Caucasian men aged 35-plus.

Harley-Davidson reported that more people than ever before are discovering motorcycles and claimed that they are dominating the motorcycle market as well as being recognized as the leader in addressing key demographics — women, younger riders, African Americans and Hispanics, however, the patterns of growth remain elusive.

So whats going on?

Let’s drill down:
— Press and media continue to push negative motorcycle narratives (motorcycle crashes, distracted driving, club violence (last years Waco example) etc.).
— Increased pricing on new motorcycles have pushed out the average length of ownership.  For example new autos reached 6.5 years in Q1 2015.
— In the northwest along with parts of California the wet weather has limited the number of days to ride in 2017.
— Increasing Insurance rates  — on auto, home and health care biting into the discretionary funding of a motorcycle hobby.
— Income growth has declined.
— Interest rates have increased (in past years people pulled $$ from their house to buy a “toy” and now there is no where else to pull $$).
— Fewer “Outreach” customers (aged 18-34) own vehicles or don’t drive as much, they UBER.
— Apathy of the motorcycle hobby/life style as a form of entertainment

All or some elements of this could be weighing down new motorcycle purchases.  But I’m an optimist, and Harley-Davidson has a 10-year strategy to train 2 million new U.S. riders, grow international business to 50% of sales (currently about 32%) and launch 100 new “high-impact” motorcycles.

As it turns out and according to this report, about 22% of all new motorcycle purchases come from first-time buyers. This figure has remained relatively stable since 2001.  It’s very likely some of those 2M new riders will buy a new “high-impact” Harley.

Photos courtesy of CNBC and Harley-Davidson

Full Disclosure:  I don’t currently hold or intend to hold any $HOG shares.

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2017 Indian Chieftain Elite

The marketing guru’s claim that Indian is authentic, was born with a dedication for pure performance and now are adding even more capability.

First a bit of history — the first Indian Motorcycle was sold to a retail customer back in 1902, but I’ll spare you a 100+ year recap of the motorcycle.  In modern day history, the Indian Motorcycle brand has been part of Polaris Industries since 2011, and began selling new motorcycles in 2014. The motorcycles are American made and built in Spirit Lake, Iowa.  The are distributed via 200 dealers across North America and nearly 450 dealers globally.  You might recall that the Victory Motorcycle brand, was recently shuttered by Polaris and ceased production.  To the dismay of many, many satisfied customers, it is now winding down operations after 15 years on the market leaving Indian as the only mass-produced American motorcycle brand other than Harley-Davidson.

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited

Jump ahead to April 2017 and we learn that Indian has announced expansion of its Chieftain model lineup with the addition of the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite.  If you’re keeping track this brings the total number of 2017 Indian models to twelve.

It should be noted that the Chieftain was one of the first three bikes that Indian released in 2014, along with the Chief Classic and Chief Vintage.  Although model details differ, the bikes share a common platform — engine, transmission and chassis.

All three motorcycles come with Indian’s proprietary Thunder Stroke 111 V-Twin engine, cast aluminum frame with integrated airbox, air-adjustable single rear shock and many other shared mechanical features.  As it turns out, the Chieftain was the modern-looking of the three, showcasing a unique fork-mounted hard fairing which housed its gauges and electronics, while the Chief motorcycles came with accessory windscreens.

2017 Indian Chieftain Dash

The newly announced Chieftain Limited imitates some details from the custom bagger scene.  It has a skinny 19-inch front wheel replacing the 16-inch front. The “old-school” valanced front fender has been chopped to follow the design line of the wheel and exposes the mag wheel and oversized dual front brake rotors. There is a sleeker seat design, and the headlight bezel is painted, not chromed, to match the Thunder Black paint scheme.  The remaining elements of the Chieftain Limited match the Chieftain feature-for-feature, including the 7-inch touchscreen-operated Ride Command Infotainment/Navigation system and hard saddlebags.

For the well-heeled enthusiasts familiar with and looking at a Harley-Davidson CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) motorcycle, you’ll appreciate the new Chieftain Elite. Let’s start with the 12-layer paint treatment which is built on a foundation of gold paint. Black accents are added with marble textures, and the bodywork is coated with layers of Fireglow Red Candy clear.  Yeah, it’s a looker with a stunning paintjob, thanks in part to that brilliant red candy color.  Some of you would drop a lot of money with a custom painter to achieve this look, but this one comes direct from the factory.  In addition, the Chieftain Elite gets billet floorboards, a flip windscreen, Pathfinder LED headlights and a 100-watt saddlebag audio system.

At first blush the Chieftain Elite is a factory custom that will hold its own against Harley-Davidson CVO’s.  As to price?  The new Chieftain Elite (starting at $31,499) and Chieftain Limited (starting at $24,499).  Both motorcycles are feature rich, available now and aggressively priced compared to Harley-Davidson.

With warmer weather and longer days on the way, the new Indian Chieftain’s might be the spark of inspiration you’ll need to explore a wide-open two-lane world.

Photos courtesy of Polaris/Indian Motorcycles.

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Does it matter?  You bet!

Pendleton, Oregon and the “wild west” stands for — freedom, independence, self-expression and the rebel spirit.

That could be a marketing campaign for Harley-Davidson and likely why the motor company will grace Oregon’s Pendleton Bike Week (July 19 – 23rd).

This is major news, especially in biker circles.  It’s a lot of work and a big deal in the consumer goods and services sector to obtain a title sponsor on any type of event, let alone when the backbone of American culture, the flagship of American brands elects to throw its considerable weight behind an event and partner with an up-and-coming independent motorcycle rally in the Northwest.

Big shout out and congrats to Eric Folkestad and the Pendleton team for securing the sponsorship!

You may recall that the Pendleton Bike Week (PBW) is not a local or national sponsored HOG event so, this is really the first-of-its-kind partnership with Harley-Davidson and will help legitimize this event for motorcycle enthusiasts.  What makes this even more interesting is the fact that the Pacific Northwest HOG Rally (July 20 – 23rd) held in Meridian/Boise, ID will occur on the same set of dates as PBW.  Pendleton and Meridian, ID are about 3 hours apart on I-84 and I would anticipate some riders are working on a plan to attend both.

PBW is in it’s third year and it’s estimated there will be upwards of 20,000 bikers over the four days visiting the area this year.  I attended the first event in 2015 (read about HERE) where there was about 6,000 attendees and last year’s attendance spiked to about 16,000 across the four days.

Harley-Davidson will have factory reps on hand to chat with and two factory demo trucks onsite so riders can experience the performance of the company’s new line of motorcycles, including the new Milwaukee-Eight engine.  Pendleton is at the base of the scenic Blue Mountains, which has become well-known as a hub for motorcycle touring eastern Oregon.

The city of Pendleton is an appealing venue and the rally is a nice ‘back to the basics’ ride in the “wild west.”  See you there.

Photo courtesy of PBW

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screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-11-15-09-amPolaris, the MN-based maker of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles announced today that it’s winding down the Victory brand effective immediately to concentrate on its better-performing Indian Motorcycles business.

Polaris said it will assist dealerships in liquidating inventory and will supply parts for another 10 years and honor warranties in place.  Victory motorcycles are primarily manufactured in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

The first Victory motorcycles rolled out in 1998, yet never took much market share from Harley-Davidson Inc., in the cruiser-bike category. Indian Motorcycles, which Polaris relaunched after a 2011 acquisition, has performed better, however Harley’s market share remains at 48 percent to Indian’s 3 percent.

Polaris Industries Chairman and CEO Scott Wine stated, “This decision will improve the profitability of Polaris and our global motorcycle business, and will materially improve our competitive stance in the industry. Our focus is on profitable growth, and in an environment of finite resources, this move allows us to optimize and align our resources behind both our premium, high performing Indian Motorcycle brand and our innovative Slingshot brand, enhancing our focus on accelerating the success of those brands. Ultimately this decision will propel the industry-leading product innovation that is core to our strategy while fostering long-term growth and increased shareholder value.”

Photo courtesy of Victory/Polaris.

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Brace

News about Harley-Davidson during the month of August has been a bit of a wild ride.

There was the consent decree and $15M settlement with the EPA. Then the announcement that Harley expanded the list of bikes on recall that may have been built with defective hydraulic clutch systems.  Then the biggest engine-product launch for the company since 1988, when the Twin Cam made its debut.

And now today, the day before the Milwaukee Rally kicks off, Harley-Davidson announced that approximately 200 employees will face layoffs starting in October as the company adjusts motorcycle production due to slower sales.

According to various news reports including Rick Barrett, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the union stated many of the layoffs will take place at Harley’s assembly plant in York, Pa., and some will occur at the engine plant in Menomonee Falls, where the company employs approximately 1,000 people, as well as in Tomahawk.

Given that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendance was down roughly 40% from a year ago (some of which was expected), suggest that some riders are busy doing other things than throttling down rural America’s roads to a rally which makes the launch of its Milwaukee-Eight engine motorcycles key to amp up any new motorcycle sales.

Photo courtesy of Sturgill Simpson Video.

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