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The 2015 Road Glide

The 2015 Road Glide

Harley-Davidson officially “revealed” the 2015 Road Glide this morning along with an updated web site with some additional details.

The “reveal” is a peculiar twist given that we’re a few weeks away from the typical new model launch window.  Here is the corporate press release announcing the 2015 Road Glide.  I’m sure it’s just the first stage of a lot of hype and media buzz planned for the traditional post-Sturgis announcements.

Or being a bit skeptical of marketing motives… maybe this H-D reveal is simply a tactic to take away some of the headlines from the 2015 PolarisIndian and Victory news?

2015 Road Glide Inner Fairing

2015 Road Glide Inner Fairing

Back to the Road Glide.

There are two models.  The Road Glide and Road Glide Special.  Both models include the same specifications from Project RUSHMORE that is currently available on 2014 touring models.  There is the air-cooled, high output Twin Cam 103™ with integrated oil cooler mated to a 6-speed cruise drive transmission, the new Reflex anti-lock braking system (ABS) with dynamically, electronically linked brakes for optimum braking in all conditions.  Both Road Glide models include the redesigned saddlebags for a sleeker look and added new latches that you can operate with one hand.

The 2015 Road Glide Fairing

The 2015 Road Glide Fairing

The 2015 Road Glide Special is basically an elevated experience of riding that includes the new Boom Box 6.5 infotainment system which features a 6.5″ full color touch screen display and it can be operated by convenient new hand controls or by voice command.  It also includes display color options: Orange (default), Blue, Brown, Green, Gray, Purple, Red.

There’s a new handlebar on the Road Glide motorcycle for 2015 that makes the riding position more comfortable for a wider range of riders and the hand grips are now 5 1/2″ closer to the rider.  There is also new gauges which has a 10% larger speedometer and tachometer with 68% wider numbers; 28% larger fuel and volt gauges with 30% wider numbers.

Most distinctive is the new triple-vented fairing that opens and closes to equalize pressure in front and behind the windscreen.  Lastly there is the new dual Daymaker LED headlamps providing better nighttime riding visibility.

I’ll be interested to experience how easy it is to reach and adjust the infotainment system.  Previously anyone under 6 feet tall could have an issue reaching up to the radio system.

I’m looking forward to seeing the new 2015 Road Glide at the local dealer.

Note:  If you’re tracking or curious how accurate any of the previous blog posts were:  Road Glide spy photos HERE.  Early 2014 Road Glide speculation HERE and HERE.

Photos courtesy of H-D.

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photos_large_5Don’t get your underwear wrapped around the axle with that title.

“Off the reservation” is a common phrase, which many people use without considering the context of its original meaning. Namely, that Native American peoples were restricted to reservations created by the U.S. government, and their freedom was severely limited by the terms of the treaties they were often forced to sign.

I’m using it in its literal sense (to deviate from what is expected) and as you might anticipate it’s a reference to Indian motorcycles rampant sales and intractable competition versus the Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

Harley-Davidson posted flat sales for Q2 2014, yet Indian/Polaris posted higher revenues for the second quarter 2014 at $1.01 billion, reflecting an increase of 20% over last year’s second quarter sales of $844.8 million.  Polaris stated that sales at its motorcycles division soared 107% year-over-year to $103.1M in large part due to strong demand for the new 2014 Indian motorcycles.  Clearly they have deviated from what was expected.  One could debate that given Polaris motorcycle revenue is much smaller than Harley’s, it’s easier for them to hit double digit growth numbers, but that would be down playing the strong demand for the Indian products.

Additionally, Harley-Davidson stated its share of the market for new heavyweight motorcycles with engines of 601 cubic centimeters or greater slipped to about 50% in Q2 2014 from 53% a year earlier.  Another indicator that competition is weighing on the company.

Financial calls with terms like ‘diluted earnings’ and ‘operating efficiencies’, don’t mean much to riders and it’s not like Harley-Davidson is hurting.  But, it’s good to see Indian doing well with North American retail sales up 15% year-over-year in the second quarter.

Congrats!

Full Disclosure:  I’ve got a riding buddy who traded his H-D Street Glide in on a new 2014 Indian back in January and loves it.  There is no dealer in Oregon yet and he went to the extra effort of buying it from a Seattle dealer.

Photo courtesy of Indian/Polaris.

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CR-MotorcyclesThat is, according to Consumer Reports.

You know, the independent, consumer-oriented not-for-profit organization, replete with consumer activists.

Recognized as an automotive quality and value authority, Consumer Reports branched out and started reviewing motorcycles last year.  They published the first-ever report on the most reliable motorcycles from five of the biggest brands — Harley, BMW, Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha.  For some odd reason, Polaris’ Victory and Indian brands didn’t make enough of an impact in the market to attract Consumer Reports attention by the time of the survey.

percentage-of-bikes-with-problems_largeFrom its research Consumer Reports discovered that quality varies “significantly” among brands — and the best brand, Yamaha, is about six times more reliable than the worst, BMW.

Only about one Yamaha motorcycle in 10 has experienced a major problem or required a serious repair over the past four years, according to the 4,424 motorcycle owners surveyed by Consumer Reports. In contrast, about one BMW motorcycle in three has suffered from such a complaint — and one Harley in four.

Consumer Reports found that major, big-ticket repairs were few and far between in its research. Regardless of bike and regardless of brand, only about 3% of all problems reported to Consumer Reports involved a motorcycle’s engine, only 3% a transmission, and only 7% a clutch. More common were issues with a vehicle’s brakes or electrical or fuel system, and with the accessories.

Overall, Consumer Reports noted that about 75% of the repairs reported to it were performed for $200 or less.

Photo courtesy of Consumer Reports.

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Brake Line Failure on the 2013 CVO Road King

Brake Line Failure on the 2013 CVO Road King

Over dinner the previous night in Gillette one of the guys (JR) in the group was discussing how the rear brake wasn’t working correctly on his bike and that he hadn’t noticed it before, but the ABS light was always on.  After settling the tab (and much ribbing about pushing the correct pedal), we set off to look over the bike.

It’s a new, bone-stock 2013 CVO Road King that was purchased about 9 months ago.  The bike had about 3000 miles on the odometer.  And sure enough, the brake fluid line and the ABS electrical line had been incorrectly routed, were rubbing up against the rear tire and had completely worn through.   When pushing on the rear brake pedal the brake fluid would discharged onto the ground.  We re-routed the lines and taped up the wires thinking a front brake was good enough to get to the H-D dealer.

South Dakota view looking back

South Dakota view looking backward.

The next morning we stopped at the Black Hills H-D dealer in Rapid City, S.D.  They didn’t have the rear brake line parts and would need to order them from Milwaukee.  Since we were going that direction we elected to wait until we arrived and then get it repaired.  It turned out that no dealer in the Milwaukee area had the parts either and they would need to order it from the factory.  Just in time inventory really doesn’t work when you’re on the road.  Nice quality control H-D!

There’s no question about it… It’s extremely flat and a long ways across South Dakota!

Billboards are everywhere, lining the Interstate trying to distract drivers for hundreds of miles.  In fact, Wall Drug who spends over $300K annually on billboards must have the Guinness record because you can see their advertisements for more than two hundred miles.

South Dakota view looking forward.

South Dakota view looking forward.

On Interstate 90 between Wyoming and Minnesota the expansive view is mostly sunflowers with the occasional corn field thrown in to mix it up.  It was a 410 mile ride on silky smooth Interstate that was peppered with billboard adverts, across a hot and humid prairie with large juicy bugs!  Quite the pilgrimage across that state and when a rest stop did arrive you really do need to pull off, wet down your t-shirt and head band because the long hot road does get long and did I say hot?!

Pano of Clear Lake

Pano of Clear Lake, MN

As I rode along for hours on the flat concrete surface my mind had a tendency to wander.  I found myself thinking about the lack of radio stations or irrigation in S.D.  Over the entire day I never saw any irrigation being applied to a corn, wheat or sunflower field.  Coming from the Northwest where the farmers in the valley or in Eastern Oregon are always using water to irrigate their fields this seemed rather odd to me.

Crossing the Mississippi River

Crossing the Mississippi River

It had been a hot and high humidity riding day!  After what seemed like just shy of forever we finally arrived near the end of the state and overnighted at a Best Western in Sioux Falls.  Air conditioning never felt so nice.

The next morning one of the riders in our group peeled off to see family in Iowa as the rest of the group rolled quickly through Minnesota on I-90 hoping that the scenery would change.  However, the major change was how poor the road quality seemed to get with the cracks and ruts.  Did you know we sent a man to the moon?  Yes, we did!  They even shipped a little car with him and they drove it around on the planet.  You’d think we’d know how to fix a concrete Interstate!

At the Best Western in La Crosse, WI.

At the Best Western in La Crosse, WI.

It was a shorter riding day as we crossed the bridge over the Mississippi River and stayed at a Best Western Plus Riverfront Hotel in La Crosse, WI.  Unknown at the time, was we were staying on the Black River and this Best Western had a nice riverside resort feel with beach accommodations.  The hotel had a terrific acoustic band on the riverside deck where we had a casual dinner while enjoying the refreshments and entertainment.

Dinner at Jack's

Dinner at Jack’s – La Crosse, WI

Over the previous couple of days we were shadowed by a large group of riders from Brazil.  They flew into and rented motorcycles in Las Vegas and were riding to the 110th celebration.  For a couple nights in a row we happen to overnight at the same hotels.  The group of approximately 20 riders had rented a U-Haul truck to carry all their luggage and it was quite the chaotic scene at check-in/out!  We got to know a couple of them.  A nice group.

In La Crosse, there was a noticeable increase in the number of motorcycles traveling east.  Many more on the Interstate and by the time we arrived in Madison there was a constant flow of bikes.

Arrival at Brookfield Inn

Arrival at Brookfield Inn

We arrived in Milwaukee around 1pm and unloaded the bikes and checked in to the Brookfield Suites Hotel and Convention Center.  Another member of our group actually rode out several days early to MN to visit family and then met us at the Brookfield.

In 2008 for the 105th celebration, we stayed at the Hampton Inn Express in Delafield which was 20+ miles from downtown Milwaukee.  The Brookfield Suites Hotel was a much nicer place and about 7 miles to downtown.  We were within walking distance to Hal’s Harley-Davidson.  We liked this location much better and the hotel staff was awesome!

Arrived at the 110th Anniversary Celebration

Arrived at the 110th Anniversary Celebration

We had arrived on Thursday (August 29), the start of the celebrations and later that day we headed down to Summerfest/Maier Festival Park to take in the 30th Anniversary celebration of H.O.G.  We all wanted to get the unique pin for this event so we put on our 110th and H.O.G. identification and arrived in time to get a pin and watch Lynyrd Skynyrd headline the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse stage.

At the HOG 30th Anniversary Celebration

At the HOG 30th Anniversary Celebration

In what seemed like a bit of irony, there was Rickey Medlocke on guitar… he was rocking out and being displayed on the large jumbo-tron monitors which included his trademark “Indian” tat and custom guitar with inlaid “Indian” spelled out on the fret board.  It had nothing to do with Indian Motorcycles, but it would have made for an interesting photo given they were playing on the H-D main stage with bar and shield brand logos everywhere.

After several days of being on the road with just the motorcycle, the festival was a bit of a sensory overload.  There was a lot going on at Summerfest and it took awhile to absorb and sync up with all the Harley “noisemakers.”  Riders and enthusiasts literally travelled from all over the globe to attend the festivities and over the next few days of the birthday celebration there would be more than 66-band performances.

I was starting to wondered if that rumbling coming down the road might be the roar of music vs. a V-twin!

The 110th Anniversary Homecoming – Part 3 (HERE) or Part 1 (HERE)

Photos taken by author

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Chief-2014Traditional product launches often act as a big corporate “Lighting Bolt.”

Meaning the company plans a big event, creates loads of new sales tools and collateral and places those important ad campaigns in the trade rags.  All the while keeping everything in hush, hush secrecy ‘til they near the big day. Then comes the big ‘Ta Da’. The press release hits the wire, they hold some big chest-thumping events and then start selling, having trained the sales force in the weeks prior.

Spirit of Munro -- Named in honor of Burt Munro’s “Munro Special,”

Spirit of Munro — Named in honor of Burt Munro’s “Munro Special,”

The Indian Motorcycle (Polaris Industries) launch plan is different.

Their launch process is a more gradual, momentum-building approach that is often called “Rolling Thunder.”  Not to be confused with the Rolling Thunder® Inc., and POW/MIA topic, the rolling product launch approach dribbles out information, builds credibility over time, creating anticipation, and leverages social media to feed the various channels and momentum.

Case in point is the dribbling out of key information from Indian Motorcycle. First up at Daytona Bike Week was the reveal — a release of information about the new 111 cubic inch engine, called Thunder Stroke 111™ made in Osceola, WI and assembled at the Polaris plant in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Next up was the back story of the custom-built streamliner named “Spirit of Munro” and then last weeks announcement of their intent to unveil the new 2014 Indian Chief motorcycle at the 73rd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally followed with a sneak-peek video and the subtle announcement (HERE at 0:43) of the $18,999 price. The previous Indian Chief sold in the $26-$37K range and the previous owners may stare at that in slacked-jaw envy!

Thunder Stroke 111™

Thunder Stroke 111™

Clearly the supply-chain scale and negotiation mojo that Polaris brings to the Indian table brought better component pricing and improved labor rates.

The Indian brand dates back to the early 1900s.  Polaris acquired it in 2011 and 27 months later will release a new classic motorcycle line.  Polaris continues forward with their Victory 15-year old brand of motorcycles.  They each draw on different customers.

I’m not sure how many more “dribbles” they have planned, but the press buzz and excitement of the launch in social media circles is clearly throttling up.

Photo’s courtesy of Indian Motorcycles.

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The 2012 Progressive International Motorcycle show will soon hit the northwest on December 16-18th at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.

Attendees can check-out new bikes from Aprilia, Beta, BMW, Brammo, BRP, Darwin, Ducati, Erik Buell Racing, Gas Gas, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Husqvarna, Indian, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, MV Agusta, Norton, Star, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha.  There will also be the latest aftermarket parts and accessories.

Not only will there be new bikes, but the show is jammed pack with other events and activities.

There is the Learning Curve – an interactive stage with industry experts presenting a variety of motorcycling topics for both new and experienced riders including adventure riding, motorcycle maintenance, increasing bike performance, seminars for women riders and more.   There will be Demo Rides for licensed motorcyclists.  There is the Custom Bike Show – where motorcycle builders will showcase elite-level custom motorcycles competing for a piece of a $90,000 cash purse prize and a chance to compete in the U.S. Championship, at the Daytona Beach Motorcycle Show, in March.

The Smage Bros will have a motorcycle trials stunt riding show and attendees will also get a chance to create their own motorcycle design at the Kawasaki Design-A-Bike kiosk, featuring a brand new digital spray-painting technology available only at these shows.

See you there!

Photo courtesy of Progressive.

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2012 Paint Palette

Have you been reading the headlines? There was a big earthquake in Haiti. Some men were rescued from a mine in Chile. Oh, and apparently there was a gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

What’s that you say? This all sounds like last year’s news?

Well, don’t tell that to Harley-Davidson. The motor company recently introduced 15 new models, which it considered innovative and groundbreaking  products:  a “tubeless” laced wheel option, and six new colors or color combinations on the touring models!   Then in a déjà vu lapse they announced the retention of last year’s integrated branding firm Graj + Gustavsen Inc. to continue advising the company on strategic branding initiatives related to apparel and apparel-related accessories.

It would seem that even Harley-Davidson understands that the touring models have so few innovations that their only hope of differentiating itself from the other players is through paint palettes…. So, the only buying question you’ll have to ask yourself, then, is: Does H-D make a convincing enough “color case” that you should invest about $20K in a “new” touring model?

Here’s the crux of H-D’s argument.  First of all, the new colors or color combinations are beautiful. The mostly unchanged motorcycles from 2011 are even more beautiful in 2012.  The unchanged frame is beautiful, too. It’s graphically coherent, elegant, fluid and satisfying. That, apparently, is the payoff when a single company designs and builds both the engine and frame housing?  The ‘advanced’ Harmon/Kardon radio retains its 1970’s BMW inspired ‘red’ glow and that glossy Vivid black paint — continues to be a magnet for fingerprints, boot scuffs, and unfortunately looks wicked great only in the dealer showroom. I think the words in the H-D press release were “The Legend Lives On.”  The band, Talking Heads, said it best… in the song “Once In A Lifetime.”  The “same as it ever was, same as it ever was” lyrics… really resonates for the 2012 touring models.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good, proper, Harley-Davidson rant. Part of that has been the adventures of this year; I think it’s softened me and given me more patience, made me a little more graceful. Another part of it, probably closer to the heart of the matter is that I’ve been busy doing other things and a good rant takes time to incubate.

Well a rant has been building and I finally snapped as I read an article in last week’s “Wall Street Journal” (subscription required) where there was a front page story on Hyundai. How it went from a laughingstock to a runaway success in the car market. Now that they’ve solved the quality problem, now that they’ve caught up with Toyota and Honda, the company is confronted with a huge issue going forward, creativity. How do you lead when you’ve spent your entire manufacturing life following? Read WSJ article HERE.

The new Elantra is so far ahead of the market that Corolla sales have stalled and the new Civic has been blasted by critics as it fails to fly from the showroom. Instead of focusing on the econo box look, Hyundai imitated BMW and Mercedes-Benz. And the model was redesigned in four years instead of five, trumping its competitors in the marketplace.  The success of the Elantra is testimony to the change in culture at Hyundai. To one now focused on leading, on creativity.

This leads me to the question of is there a culture of innovation at Harley-Davidson?  When talking about innovation we often define the term too narrowly. In fact, innovation can – and does – occur in every industry of our economy, from consumer electronics to health care.  Yet, when I re-review the 2012 touring models, instilling creative thinking must be a work in progress.

For comparison, a few times a week, video screens around Hyundai’s headquarters in Seoul show a one-minute clip that has become a favorite. It shows an open office where workers wearing the same shirt and haircut are “beavering” away (that’s Oregon slang). Then a new person arrives with a different hair cut. Each time he voices an idea, the others shout him down. Eventually he gets the same haircut and everybody likes him. Then a question appears: ‘Aren’t we stuck in conventional thinking?’

I don’t know if a video loop like that would necessarily fly in a Milwaukee plant with the union workers, but that’s not the point of this post.

It’s about how most every American business is in a mad dash to innovate except for H-D.  The only answer can be the titans at the top are traffic cops sans creativity?  Don’t blame the public or the economy, blame the fat cat executives who are denying they’re the problem like the honchos at Goldman Sachs. What makes the rich believe they’re invulnerable, always right and entitled?   Somehow in the “dash-for-cash”, it’s all about shooting low, to the sweet spot, where most people live so the purveyors can make money.  Good enough just doesn’t cut it and of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking we’re in a low point for H-D touring motorcycles.

It’s a new game. No one gets to rest on his laurels. Making it today is no insurance you’ll thrive tomorrow, look at the carcasses strewn along the highway… OCC, Indian, or Big Dog.

We’ve got endless hype and yet sales are anemic.  Mediocrity thrives at Harley-Davidson because it’s all about the money.  About playing it safe… with new paint palettes!

Photo courtesy of  Hyundai and H-D.

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