Motorcycle Monday: Harley Torques Up The Nostalgia

·4 min read

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Only, there’s a different twist to it this time…

If you’ve been paying even casual attention to American motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, you know the company is in a tight spot. Some have predicted the slow death of the brand as its bad-boy image, lack of meaningful innovation, and government protections converge in a perfect storm scenario. Others just take issue with the design of Harley-Davidson bikes, including reliability problems. Then there’s the problem of declining motorcycle ridership in North America. To combat all this and more, Harley-Davidson has a brilliant plan, something it’s never tried before which will completely blow your mind: nostalgia.

Harley-Davidson is also pushing into the e-bike market. Learn more here.

Never before has Harley leveraged the storied icons from its past to hawk new motorcycles: at least that’s what you’re almost led to believe in the company’s latest marketing push. Of course, that isn’t even close to the truth. the brand has produced some great nostalgia-infused models like the Cross Bones back in 2009. However, the new Harley-Davidson Icons Collection is different from what we’ve seen from the brand in the past, but of course it’s not the nostalgia factor which sets this apart from other efforts.

With a slimmer, trimmer lineup for 2021, Harley-Davidson has freed up resources to put out a fair number of special edition motorcycles. That’s what the Icons Collection is all about. Before you knock it, there’s a possibility this could really help transform the brand into what I’ve argued it should really be all about: prestige.

photo credit: Harley-Davidson
photo credit: Harley-Davidson

Last fall, the news dropped that Harley-Davidson was pulling out of India, the largest motorcycle market in the world. Immediately, a number of publications declared loudly it was the beginning of the end for the American motorcycle manufacturer. After all, if you don’t sell motorcycles in the biggest market, are you even selling motorcycles?

The logic was infallible, of course, because “everyone knows” Harley-Davidson is doomed to fail no matter what at this point. However, I thought it could signal that management was finally understanding the brand’s true power: it can command high prices by producing premium products.

If you look at the automotive market, just about every premium brand has learned Ferrari’s trick of building prestige and excitement by releasing a few limited-run, special edition models every year. Many of these cars lean heavily on nostalgic design, names, and so on. That’s precisely what it looks like Harley is doing now.

In the official company press release, the Harley-Davidson Icons Collection motorcycles are described as “very limited edition.” Just how limited? Well, the first model announced is the Electra Glide Revival, which draws off the 1969 Electra Glide for much of its aesthetics. Harley will only make 1,500 of these, so not everyone and their grandma’s dog is going to be cruising around on one.

Each Icons Collection motorcycle is supposed to be a love letter to some of the most iconic production bikes Harley-Davidson has made. For the Electra Glide Revival, a two-tone look with Hi-Fi Blue and Black Denim on the fuel tank with a Birch White stripe separating them, plus Hi-Fi Blue fenders combined with Birch White saddlebags act as a blast from the past. Perhaps the most distinct feature is the Birch White Bat Wing fairing, something which helped put the 1969 Electra Glide on the map and led to competitor’s imitations. The Electra Glide script on the front fender and throwback tank medallion, plus other details like an adjustable coil spring and shock absorber for the solo saddle also set this special edition apart from other Electra Glides sold today.

photo credit: Harley-Davidson
photo credit: Harley-Davidson

Of course, the Icons Collection models still come with all the modern bells and whistles like the suite of Harley-Davidson RDRS Safety Enhancements, voice commands for the infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, etc.

Even more interesting, Harley says for now it will only release one or two Icons Collection models a year. Each one will be serialized and a certificate of authenticity will be included. The company no doubt testing the market to see what kind of appetite everyone has for these limited-edition bikes. I expect they’ll sell quite well and could easily be good investments, especially in the long run.

While it’s too early to tell, this could be where Harley-Davidson turns things around. I hope subsequent Icons Collections models get a little more daring, but this isn’t too bad for a first try. And sure, there are still plenty of pitfalls the company could fall into, but it might prove all the critics wrong while dancing around them or climbing its way out of one or two. Hopefully this new plan does work, if not simply for the fact life is more interesting having at least one independent, major American motorcycle manufacturer still in the game.

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