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2018 Softail Lineup – Eight all-new models

When is “new,” “all-new,” “brand new,” “built from the ground up new,” “the newest,” “newer and refreshed,” advertising claims of an existing or previous Harley-Davidson really new?

Is there no objective basis by which to measure when a motorcycle is actually “new?”  What do you think?

It’s been reported that motorcycle enthusiasts are holding on to their old, reliable wheels for longer stretches of time, but Harley-Davidson wants to change that and has rolled-out the “brand new” 2018 #FreedomMachine models. Dealer launch video is HERE.

Send in the millennials and let’s make a deal!

Or in other words,  what the company is hopeful for after the ‘largest ever product development project’ was undertaken.

All-new Softail mono shock rear suspension

They may not look very different, but the 2018 changes to the engine, frame and suspension over shadow any “new” colors, new handle bar position or new seat thread design.  “All-new” is really what we’ve been promised to modernize these traditional bikes and it’s not a rehash of the old.

The quick read is that the Softail and Dyna product lines, as riders have known them previously, are gone.  The Dyna family is discontinued and the Dyna nameplates are now Softails!

Softail Big-Twin cruiser models

That’s the provocative and on the 2018 model revamp, all of the models that used to be in the Dyna’s lineup — the Fat Bob, Low Rider and Street Bob — rolled into the Softail lineup — Softail Slim, Heritage Classic, Deluxe, Fat Boy and Breakout — Harley completely redesigned the Softail chassis.  Not a minor cosmetic change, but a complete overhaul of the entire frame and suspension.  The new under-seat mono shock rear suspension aims to offer improved ride quality, traction, and control while the triangular swingarm maintains the classic lines of a hardtail frame.  The revamp also includes key accommodations for last years release of the Milwaukee-Eight, the first four-valve-per-cylinder heads engine packaged into the classic 45-degree V-twin.

From the styling department, all the new 2018 bikes have a much darker and aggressive paint scheme.  It’s largely a brooding “protester” feel with colors matched and with a “masked” or blacked out engine. There are smaller changes to individual models such a color-coded inner fairings, new wheels (including a 21” one for the Road Glide) and different exhaust finishes.  Oh and don’t forget that riders can now pair Bluetooth headsets with the stereo to remain wirelessly “connected” — on its top-of-the-line touring models.

I’ll address the hype right here: Your motorcycle and your smartphone are starting to have a lot in common, though only one can be used to take a selfie — at least for now.

115th Anniversary Eagle Badge

Lastly, the motor company announced the 115th Anniversary edition motorcycles.  There will be two limited-edition, serialized designs with 115th Anniversary Eagle and special anniversary paints available on nine different models in 2018 to celebrate the birthday.

But, what about that peculiar

In the social media and PR launch extravaganza for the 2018 line up earlier this week, Harley-Davidson quietly discontinued the V-Rod.

Discontinued V-Rod

The 2017 V-Rod Muscle and Night Rod Special are the final iterations of the VRSC (V-Twin Racing Street Custom) line.  You may recall this motorcycle had the Revolution engine that was co-developed with Porsche and based on the VR-1000 Superbike that Harley used in competitive drag racing.  It had a hydro formed tubular frame, a gas tank under the seat with round-topped airbox cover up front posing as a gas tank.

This was often referred to as the Harley for the non-Harley motorcycle rider and was a testimony that engineers and the brand were capable of doing something very different.  It was introduced in 2001 and discontinued 16-years later.

It would seem that Harley-Davidson is no longer “building products that fulfill customers dreams on the drag strip!

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

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Harley-Davidson Press Release

In mid-August, Harley-Davidson rolled out a press release (on the Canadian news wire) to announce the launch of a global campaign that embraces “The Freedom of The Open Road.”

It’s part of a 10-year global strategy to build the next generation of Harley riders and the new brand platform is “All for Freedom, Freedom for All” which comes to life with videos containing user-generated and filmed content that shares moments of the open road by riders past and present.

The ambitious campaign goal is to increase Harley’s brand relevance and inspire those “sleeping license holders”  to experience the same freedom that all current Harley riders feel with the wind in the face and ultimately to purchase a motorcycle.

The Harley-Davidson marketing group is using the #FindYourFreedom hashtag to generate social media awareness.

It’s common knowledge that when using a hashtag, you are categorizing your post and is viewed as a valuable tool when marketing your brand.  The objective of course would be to find a hashtag that has never been used previously and one that would really set the campaign apart from all the other social media noise.  However, there is another large company with an equally large brand that is already using the #FindYourFreedom hashtag with an associated marketing campaign.

They spell it:  J E E P  — you know, the company with an adventurous lifestyle that requires an adventurous vehicle!

While you can’t legally own a hashtag, the marketing 101 manual suggests that you chose one that people will associate with your brand, by leveraging a distinctive phrase or word associated with your company and messaging that marketing execs would, at best, like to see go viral or, at worst, contribute to the marketing campaign in a very positive way.

Think about it.  Harley-Davidson just launched a multi-year campaign and is encouraging motorcycle fans to join the social media conversation of a larger Jeep fan base!

The marketing folks may have actually “muddied” the Harley-Davidson brand or made it vulnerable by this hashtag gone wrong.

Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson and Jeep.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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It’s official.  The Great American Solar Eclipse and the potential for catastrophic disaster has produced the first ever Oregon Motorcycle Solar Eclipse Advisory: AVOID RIDING MOTORCYCLES, August 18 — 22, 2017 is the stated recommendation.

Plan to have a good time watching the 2-minute daylight-to-twilight event (around 10:15 am), but just don’t travel anywhere by motorcycle for 5-days!

Huh?  How did we get to this place?

The “once-in-a-lifetime” excitement and buzz surrounding the eclipse is now at Defcon 1 with less than seven days before the interstellar event.  For months people have been on an obsessive pursuit of the perfect photo location.  Get outside advertisements and turn your Oregon journey into a legacy have been everywhere,  Eclipse 101 brochures, guide pamphlets, and preparedness articles are in overdrive across all forms of media.

Advisory: Avoid Motorcycle Riding August 18 – 22, 2017

But, there is this bazaar pre-cog of an impending apocalyptic doom that is permeating the eclipse narrative given that hundreds of thousand of people and their vehicles — perhaps millions — will converge on the already severely overcrowded highways.

Can you spell Oregon anxiety and fear?

Media ratings often drive the “never miss an opportunity to drum up catastrophic hysteria:”  Did you set up a generator ‘war room’ in your basement in case of a state-wide breakdown of electricity and communication?  Did you rent a satellite phone to update your social media channels from Steens Mountain?  Does your family have an evacuation route and disaster preparedness plan?  Did you stock up on SPAM and water?  Do you have a full tank of gas?  Did you buy extra coolant and oil for the engine?  Do you have jumper cables?  Did you purchase a spare tire for your spare tire in case it goes flat?  Did you drain your checking account and now walking around with thousands of dollars in your wallet?  Do you have paper maps in case the cell phone grid goes down?  Did you take a first aid course?  Do you have a roll of duct tape?  Did you buy a package of souvenir: “The Path Of Totality” toilet paper?

Seems silly, but maybe the media should ask us if we remembered to breath?

Is the sky truly falling or is the daily drum beat of “chicken little” prudent preparedness?

I don’t think we want the celestial spectacle any darker and will know soon enough.  Though we might make fun of them a little, looking back, we may also sympathize, but after a long season of eclipse anxiety and survival doomsaying, condensed with all the scientific history, phony viewing glasses and hype — we should all be so lucky as to have yet another boring Monday on August 21st.

TIME photo modified by author with original courtesy of TIME.  TEAM Oregon photo courtesy of web site.

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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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242)

The Old McKenzie Pass Highway (OR 242) will officially open to all traffic on Monday, June 19, 2017.

The narrow, twisting roadway and high elevation (5,325 feet) make the highway too difficult to maintain and keep clear during the winter months.

Many of us look forward to the annual opening and to traverse lava fields, snowcapped peaks and cruise along rushing rivers which highlight this scenic highway to central Oregon’s Cascade Mountain passes.

Heading east-bound, OR 242 travels through Lane, Linn, and Deschutes counties, beginning at the junction with OR 126 near McKenzie Bridge and ending at the junction with US Highway 20 and OR 126 at the City of Sisters.  From Sisters, Oregon heading west, the route travels past hay meadows and ascends 2,000 feet through ponderosa pine forests.  The road follows an old wagon route, emerging from the forest at Windy Point and provides a dramatic view of Mt. Washington and a 2,000-year-old lava flow.  The 25 mile, 4,000 foot descent snakes down switchbacks to the dense Cascadian forests and ends near the McKenzie River.

Few realize that the McKenzie Pass is also known as the Craig’s McKenzie Salt Springs/Deschutes Wagon Road.

The backstory — in 1862, John Craig was was one of 50 men hired by Captain Felix Scott to build a trail from Eugene over the Cascades. By then the rush of westward-bound Oregon Trail pioneers had slowed, but the discovery of gold in Eastern Oregon prompted a flood of people heading eastward. Scott’s plan was to sell Willamette cattle to the hungry miners east of the Cascades.

As Scott’s road-building crew neared the lowest route across the mountains they encountered miles of snow and jagged lava fields at McKenzie Pass. Craig favored chipping out a road through the lava fields, but Scott decided to skirt the lava fields in favor of a notch at Scott’s Pass on the shoulder of North Sister that was 1000 foot higher, steeper and crossed more snow. Scott’s route was later abandoned and is known today as the Scott Trail in the Three Sisters Wilderness.

After working for Scott, Craig spent the next 15 years working for himself while championing his vision of a lower crossing through McKenzie Pass. In 1871 he formed the McKenzie, Salt Springs and Deschutes Wagon Road Company and began to build his toll road. He cut trees, chipped and chiseled a roadbed out of the jagged lava fields just north of North Sister to form a McKenzie Pass crossing lower than what was available at the time.  By the Fall of 1872 his road open and began collecting tolls of $2 for a wagon, $1 for a horseback rider, 10¢ for cattle and 5¢ for sheep. After its completion he won a federal contract to deliver mail from the Willamette Valley to Camp Polk in Central Oregon over the road. In summer, the mail was carried on horseback. In winter it was carried on John Craig’s back. To accommodate the mail carrier, a small cabin was built about half way across, in which he could spend the night.

For many years John Craig carried mail from the Willamette Valley to Eastern Oregon, by horseback in the summer and on his own back in the winter.  After attempting to ski Christmas mail over McKenzie Pass in the winter of 1877, he was found frozen beside his mail pouch in his shack atop McKenzie Pass.  Mystery still shrouds the details of his death.

The U.S. Forest Service decided in 1920 to make the highway a tourist-friendly route over the mountains, so engineers took care to align it for sightseeing, with spectacular views of volcanic peaks, including the Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, Broken Top and even the more distant Mount Jefferson to the north.  The road became a seasonal scenic highway in 1962 with the completion of the Clear Lake-Belknap Springs section of OR 126.

The highway is a local favorite and should be on everyone’s Oregon highway bucket list.

References:

The John Craig Story
McKenzie Pass
John Craig – A Pioneer Mail Carrier, by Ruth E. Richardson – 1963

OR 242 map/photo courtesy of Google.

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Oregon State Capitol in the Spring

Did you know that in 2013, Portland was ranked as the 10th most traffic-congested metropolitan area in the United States?

Jump ahead two years later, and Portland is now ranked (2015) as the 8th most traffic-congested metropolitan area on a Friday in the United States.

I’m an advocate for motorcycle safety and the passage of laws that improve motorcycle safety with a result of increased motorcycle awareness and driver accountability.  Like many of you, I’ve been riding for a good long while and my perspective comes from years of riding motorcycles across the United States (including in California).

Given the fact that Oregon continues to struggle with funding issues associated with overhauling an aging transportation infrastructure at the same time in which it is coming under increasing strain from population growth you’d think aspects of improving stop-and-go traffic situations would be relatively straightforward.  It’s not!  There is a lot of discussion and hand-wringing in Salem about riding motorcycles, incentivizing motorcycle use in dense urban areas and using less fuel-efficient automobiles, but few actionable plans seem to materialize or get put into motion to address increased traffic congestion.

One could debate if the “let it melt” strategy for ice storms, is being applied to traffic congestion, but instead it would be “watch it get worse.”  I’m still looking for a report out or the glowing “success” memo from ODOT in regards to the near Real-Time Reader Signs on Highway 217 that seldom seem to be accurate.

In fairness, there have been enhancements to various roadways to “ease” some traffic congestion and construction is now happening on Highway 26 to widen the road.  In addition, there is a major enhancement planned to improve traffic conditions and highway operations on I-5 from Highway 99W to I-205.  Part of the Corridor Bottleneck Operations Study, the I-5 project isn’t going to start until early 2018 and hopefully be completed by the fall of 2019.

Below is a quick summary of some key 2017 motorcycle legislation and the current status:

Senate Bill 385Lane Sharing (Highways Only) — Bill would have made lane splitting legal, but has died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) discussed, debated and identified merits and problems with this legislation, and decided at its February 16, 2017 meeting to oppose SB 385 by a 5-2 vote in the name of motorcyclist and motorist safety.  ODOT opposed passage of SB 385 citing that Oregonians don’t support this motorcycle riding practice and that the safety of motorcyclists across the state of Oregon will be compromised.  The AAA and the Oregon Trucking Association also testified against the bill.

The next legislative session opportunity is now in 2019.

You might recall that there was an identical bill which failed two years ago — SB 694.  Interestingly this bill received initial support from the GAC-MS.  The group provided written and verbal testimony in support of the bill which made it out of committee (unanimously) and passed the full Senate with a 2/3 bipartisan majority before failing in the House.  The GAC-MS changed its position after SB 694 passed the Senate and then opposed the bill at the House Committee on Transportation and Economic Development.  It’s unclear why the Committee’s position switched or the mixed messages on the riding practice.

What is the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety (GAC-MS) you ask?

It’s an influential group comprised of eight volunteer citizens who advise the Governor and the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative on motorcycle safety issues and legislation. The GAC-MS reviews legislation that could or might affect motorcycle safety in Oregon.  The Committee consider’s input from Oregon Confederation of Clubs, Abate of Oregon, BIKEPAC of Oregon, Law Enforcement, ODOT, AAA, Trucking Association to name a few and from motorcyclists and organizations in support of motorcycle legislation.

House Bill 2665Lane Sharing (Lanes and Shoulders) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel on the shoulder of highway during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety Committee voted to oppose 7-0.

Senate Bill 680Lane Sharing (All Roads) — Allows operators of motorcycles and mopeds to travel between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles during traffic jams or slowdowns.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 7-0 in a previous meeting.

House Bill 2598Vehicular Assault of Motorcycle Riders (Enhanced Penalties) or often called the “Driver Responsibility Bill” — Expands offense of vehicular assault to include contact with motorcycle, motorcycle operator or motorcycle passenger.  Specifically adds motorcyclists (and/or their passengers) to a current Oregon law that provides those who operate another vehicle recklessly resulting in contact with and injury to a motorcyclist and/or their passenger to be possibly charged with the crime of “vehicular assault” and its associated penalties.  There is no specific provisions to protect motorcyclists from reckless drivers and there is no specific accountability for drivers that injure a motorcyclist as opposed to a pedestrian or a bicyclist, and motorcyclists are not on the vulnerable users list.

The bill has moved thru the House committee with a “pass” recommendation and is headed for House Floor vote.  The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose 4-3 the bill and is determining how best to communicate the Committee’s position to the legislation.

House Bill 2599Helmet Choice — Requires only persons under 21 years of age to wear motorcycle helmet while riding on or operating motorcycle or moped.  This is an emergency bill and would take immediate effect upon passage. Topics discussed included: individual choice, what happens when a rider doesn’t have health insurance and needs long-term care, the efficacy of the age requirement, the inability to see or hear as well when wearing a helmet.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to oppose the bill.

Senate Bill 36Three Wheel Motorcycle Skills TestingWaiver — This bill eliminates the requirement that DMV conduct a skills test prior to issuance of a restricted three-wheel motorcycle endorsement. Individuals applying for the three-wheel motorcycle endorsement would still take the motorcycle knowledge test.  There are approximately 45 tests offered per year at five DMV field offices for the restrictive three-wheel motorcycle user.  The DMV is not currently granting waivers to three-wheel cycle users and that users who want a three-wheel motorcycle only endorsement still have to take knowledge and skills tests and receive a unique endorsement.

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Motorcycle Safety voted to support the bill.

I’ll continue to update this blog post as I learn about any bill updates during the 2017 legislative session.

Photo courtesy of State of Oregon

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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.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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