Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Harley To Build New Street Bikes In America

Good news Milwaukee faithful, Harley’s new line of 500 and 750 “Street” motorcycles will indeed be built right here in the U.S. of A, Kansas City Mo. as a matter of fact. And you just can’t get anymore ‘Merican than that my friend.
Harley's new Street looks every bit the badass
It looks like production is slated to begin late this year or early 2014 depending on how quickly the Motor Company can get the line up and running. First years production of HD’s new Shadow, er, Street (come on, you were thinking it too!) should be in the neighborhood of 7,000 to 10,000 units world-wide. Harley’s production facility in India will produce the new wet H-D minis for domestic consumption, avoiding the former colonies onerous tariffs on imported motorcycles.

While we’re going to reserve judgment on the newest branches on the H-D family tree until we have an opportunity to throw a leg over the pint-sized pretenders, we at the Asylum are genuinely stoked that the Motor Company honchos decided to build the bikes here.

Too many companies trade on their “origin equity” as though they were so many carbon credits. If you’re playing the “authentic”, “made in America” card as the foundation of the brand, it’s not enough that the headquarters finds itself on U.S. soil, or that the models in your ads hail from fly-over states. What you build, your product, the reason you do business, better have a real deal pedigree too. Harley knows that they need to connect with a youthful demo, while at the same time staying true to the core values of the brand. An Indian built imported H-D would have stretched the Motor Company’s credibility thinner than a pair of Kim Kardashian’s workout pants.  Maybe even too cool for school hipsters have an “authenticity threshold”, Chuck Taylor’s from China OK, Harley’s from India, not so much. At least it appears Harley thinks so.

Could they have sold a foreign built bike? No doubt about it, Harley’s marketing prowess is second to none. But the long-term opportunity cost associated with the perception that H-D had finally “sold out”, might have been a little too much to risk, at least for now. Let’s hope it stays that way for a very long time.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Harley Hits The Street With All New Models

Just when you thought that the Motor Company was going to be content splashing around in the shallow end of the water cooled pool (remember Project Rushmore?), BAM!!, they go and introduce not one, but two, all new fully liquid cooled motorcycles that Harley is calling “Street”. And as if that wasn’t enough of a shock to the faithful, these two new beauties are relative “mini-bikes”, sporting displacements of only 500cc and 750cc respectively. Oh the humanity!! At least Sportster guys will catch a break.
Looking pretty tough, and on a budget too

Sharp eyed Chromies will remember that some time ago we wrote about the fact that Harley-Davidson was going to have to develop a smaller displacement machine in order to continue their Rider’s Edge new rider training program.  Harley had no choice but to replace its fleet of aging and oft maligned Buell Blasts (500cc) for their instructional duties given the fact that it kicked Buell to the curb a couple of years ago. The remaining Blasts were only going to last so long. Enter the “Street”.

And make no mistake, minting new Harley converts is the primary mission of Motor Company’s Street. Both models are designed to appeal to younger riders, as is witnessed by their decidedly “un-Harley like” MSRP’s; $6,700 for the 500, and only $7,500 for the 750. Can you say, “take that” metric cruisers? Both machines will feature Harley’s wildly popular Dark Custom styling treatment, along with low maintenance belt drive and something you probably never thought you’d hear in the same sentence with the words “Harley-Davidson”, and that’s low weight, only 480 pounds.
Beefy backend gives the Street some cred
But wait, there’s more. Both the 500 and 750 Street will feature all new frames which will cradle the aptly named Revolution X liquid chilled, fuel injected motor. This is big stuff people…….if you don’t think so, just look at the size of the freakin’ barn door of a radiator.  Calling the unveiling “a great day in our history,” Matthew S. Levatich, Harley’s president and COO, said the Street series “fills a need for people who want to identify with the brand but want a motorcycle that is less intimidating, and more inviting. This bike is easier to ride and easier to learn how to ride.”

What’s not to love right? Maybe, but here’s the deal, it looks like, although we’ve not seen it confirmed, that these latest badass mini’s from the Motor Company will be IMPORTED from, gasp!, India!! We’ve already reported on HD’s plant in India, used news. What is new is that what once was merely a production strategy to dodge the onerous tariffs imposed by the worlds largest democracy, may now be an export play to bring entry level Harley’s to the US. Will the faithful revolt? I mean, water cooled AND foreign made……blasphemy!
Just me and my Shadow, come on you were thinking it
Our guess is, should the Indian Harley’s (dwell on that for moment!) US debut become reality (remember these little beggars could be cobbled together here) HD will sell as many of them as the former British colony can pump out. The folks these bikes are being built for; young, new to motorcycling, urban and hip simply won’t care. Think about it, their iconic Levi’s are made in Mexico. Those classic Chuck Taylors? China my friend. Authentic Harley Davidson leathers? Ditto. It’s all about image baby.

Sadly, even though the country of a brands origin is foundational to its very core, once established, the marketers and bean counters have learned to leverage every ounce of “authenticity” regardless of where that product is built. Could a Ducati have come from anywhere but Italy? Obviously not. But once established as an “Italian” brand in the minds of the consumer, where the next generation of Duc is assembled becomes an unimportant detail, or at least so it seems.

No doubt about it, 2013 has been a big year for the boys in Milwaukee with the Rushmore project being just the tip of the iceberg……..who knew that below the waterline would lurk Harley’s reimagining of the Honda Shadow!? Seriously, we have to credit HD with playing the cards they were dealt; an aging customer base, the need to lure younger folks to Harley with inexpensive and fun motorcycles, all the while staying true to brand. Looks like they may have knocked it out of the park, time and unit sales will tell.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Baggers Get Wet, FLH Harleys Liquid Cooled

A wise man once said, “…..predictions are hard, especially about the future”. That little truism is ringing painfully true through the moss covered halls here at the Asylum. Not only did we go “0 for” in our prognostications as to the Motor Company’s 2014 line-up, we said that without question, Harley would NOT introduce liquid cooling on any platform for the upcoming year. Oopsie. Yeah, Milwaukee pulled a fast one and jumped into the water-cooled pool, albeit at the shallow end.

New for 2014 is the Twin Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103 to be found for the time being in the Ultra Limited, CVO Limited and Tr-Glide Ultra models. The motors in these three models employ essentially a combination of air and liquid cooling, meaning for the first time in 110 years of Harley history (sorry V-Rod, don’t count) an HD v-twin will not be utterly dependent on the atmosphere to keep its cool. And trust us fellow Chromies, this is huge, especially for the tradition bound folks in Milwaukee. No wonder they code named this “Project Rushmore”, there are truly historic ramifications in this long anticipated first step.

Liquid Cooling And Fresh Batwing Fairing
The system is well disguised into the fairing lowers on either side of the machine. This is key, because had HD adopted the styling/design cues found on the V-Rod’s radiator (about as subtle as a small billboard) there would have been pitchforks and torches marching on Juneau Ave. No way it would have been accepted by the faithful, which would in turn have negatively impacted the Motor Company’s ability to reach out to new customers with these wet willies. The bikes would have started out as damaged goods. Not cool.

Radiators Are Hardly Noticed
With two radiators (heat exchangers) , one in each lower, accompanied by individual cooling fans liquid coolant is funneled through the cylinder heads, around the exhaust valves and into the radiators. The fans are thermostatically controlled with an electric pump moving the coolant along its way. If you look at the photos it seems that the airflow drawn through the radiators will exit on the outside edge of the lowers, which makes total sense as having them blow directly through would only serve to toast the rider’s shins. All in all, this new system should provide a more stable operating temperature range for the 103’s, which in turn could boast performance levels.

Straight Forward and Simple, HD's New Cooling System
The issue with this system is that it has limited applications across the HD product range. For instance, say you wanted a bagger sans the lowers, bam, there go your radiators. Same goes for Softail and Dyna platforms, no way the current system will work. Clearly this first hurtle, while huge, is not the only one HD has to clear as the Motor Company rolls out liquid cooling throughout the line. There are some real challenges ahead. That said, we think they’ve managed to accomplish a significant goal (and a sadly necessary one given increasingly harsh EPA/CARB regulations) while mitigating negative blowback from the Harley community. They handled that whole form verses function thing pretty well, at least in round one.

Project Rushmore was even more comprehensive in its scope than the addition of liquid cooling on select models, it also included the following; a redesign of the iconic “batwing” fairing (and we have to say in the opinion of the crew at the Asylum, they nailed it) which includes adjustable air ducting for reduced helmet buffeting and increased rider comfort. Touring models were outfitted with a new high-output fuel injected Twin Cam 103 motors, a linked braking system  (we’re not thrilled about this one, let us determine which brakes we’re gonna use and when thank you very much, you had us at ABS), and LED “Daymaker” headlights, the former of which I have on my Road Glide and they are truly amazing, worth every ducket.

Sensory Overload? Up To You
In an effort to at least keep some of the more sophisticated touring rigs from the “other guys” in sight from a technological point of view, Harley upgraded the audio systems which is augmented by Bluetooth connectivity and voice-recognition software with text to speech (awesome….right?!). Step up to the Boom! Box option on the Street Glide and the Electra Glide Ultra Classic and a high resolution, glove friendly 4.3in touch screen can be yours. Other wiz-bang electric crap include Terrain Modeling, Point of Interest Library, Sirius/XM satellite radio……..the list goes on and on, as they say. Who needs this stuff??

All told there are eight Project Rushmore bikes comprised of the following models; Road King, Street Glide, Street Glide Special, Electra Glide Ultra Classic, Ultra Limited, Tri Glide Ultra, CVO Ultra Limited and CVO Road King.

Clearly Harley-Davidson feels 2014 represents major change for the Motor Company, and they’re right. How can you get much bigger than liquid cooling on a bagger platform? Simple answer, you can’t. They are clearly edging in a new direction, not there yet, but on the path. That said, we can’t help but say, “… that it?” Seriously, we have no completely new models, CVO lumps stay at 110ci, and there’s still nothing on the “sport touring” front. While we applaud most of the technological innovations (except for that damn linked braking system) we just felt they could have gone even further. Then again maybe we’re just still bitter that we goose egged our predictions……yeah, that’s probably it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 Road Glide Custom, Rockin the War Wagon on the Road to Sturgis

2013 Road Glide Custom, aka War Wagon
A new 2013 Road Glide Custom, some friends, eight days to burn, the Sturgis Rally, and a little Rocky Mountain detour, what’s not to love? Not much, I can tell you that. For those of you that have been keeping up on current events here at the Asylum, you know that my beloved Paint Shaker (aka 2006 FLHRCI, Road King Classic) and sick CVO Springer (2007 FLXTSSE) are no more, traded in to make way for a shiny, well not so much, as it’s black denim, new 2013 Road Glide Custom. Always wanted one of the shark nosed beasts, and given that the Motor Company had deemed it time to put the vaunted Glide on ice for a couple of years, I figured now was as good a time to score one.

Blacker than a Banker's Heart
The War Wagon is fairly trick; complete black-out treatment, Progressive Suspension front and rear (Monotube fork springs and 944’s out back), Klockwerks windscreen, Agitator wheels in black ice, braided brake lines, fully floating rotors up front, HD’s “DayMaker” LED lights with Custom Dynamics LED running/brake/turn lights, Vance and Hines True Dual headers with four inch round mufflers out back, and Screamin’ Eagle air cleaner and tuner. Le Pera seat is coming, and we’ll wait until the warranty is done before we start really working over the stock 103. All in all, it’s a pretty tidy rig. 
Lunch at Orlando's in Taos, yummy!

Our shakedown cruise began in the steaming cauldron of the Fort Worth Metroplex, when you think Texas in the summertime, think oven on self-clean mode and you get the idea. The sooner we could get to the high desert of New Mexico, the better. The three of us, Dan (my boss), Joaquin (e-com guru) and myself droned along the interstate just as quickly as John Law would allow. Staying overnight in Amarillo, we got a late start from work, have to pay the bills, right? Our goal at the end of the second day was Durango Colorado where we would meet up with renown bike builder/designer Jesse Rooke and a couple of his buddies. From there it was on through the Rockies for some great two lane tango.

The Wolfpack on the Great Divide
I’ve gotta say the Glide is such the better bike than the old Paint Shaker, and it really pains me to admit it, but truth is truth. Obviously being a post ’09 FLH model, it benefits greatly from the new frame and swing arm. For the most part the hinge in the middle of the frame is gone. Sure at really high speeds in long sweepers, if you hit a bump you’ll experience a little shimmy-shake, but nothing too dramatic. And if you have the good sense to install Progressive bits on both ends, you’ll be amazed at how well the beast will handle. The brakes are outstanding, to the degree that I doubt I’ll throw on aftermarket calipers, they are that strong. I gotta say I love the frame mounted fairing, not just for the sinister profile, but the wind protection is outstanding, as is the stability. Having grown up riding sportbikes, I prefer the frame affixed units to anything mounted on handlebars.

Hank and Doug on the Open Road
From Durango to Sturgis was a blur, Jesse and Doug set a blistering pace over one mountain pass to another, whether  it a goat trail or a four lane road, we were hauling the mail. And trust me, the weather never cooperated with our “optimistic” route schedule. But that’s the adventure of the open road, right?

DI5H Crew Sonny, Z, HD, and Flash (starting third from left)
 One turn it’s a  herd of mountain goats, the next it’s a black and white, or maybe Jesse’s Street Glide saying, I’m not gonna start at during a thunderstorm at over 12,000 feet. Its always something, and that’s what’s so great. Over Loveland Pass, through Trail Ridge Park and the wilds of Wyoming our little wolfpack was never passed by a single vehicle of any type; car, truck, motorcycle…..nothing. That includes sportbikes of every stripe. We were making some pace, and having a blast.
The Biker's Choice Big Rig on Lasalle

Rockstar Girls Rocking in Sturgis
Jesse Rooke hams it up in Deadwood
Once in Sturgis, it was the usual scene; Main St., Black Hills HD, the drags, flat track, Deadwood. We took it all in, while dodging (mostly unsuccessfully) some of the worst weather I’ve ever ridden in. As a matter of fact, it rained some part of the day for six of the eight days we were on the road……that’s a lot for this Cali transplant!! But as they say, there’s no bad weather, only bad gear. I’m not sure I fully buy into that, but my Firstgear rain gear did keep me dry, and the Road Glide was steady as a stone as we punched through some pretty gnarly precep.

Rooke's Super Sick Street Glide, Fast!
For three days we met with industry folks, looked at bikes, ate food, lots of food, and were more or less chill. We didn’t do a lot of local riding, but we did cut through Rushmore (how appropriate given the new 2014 HD’s huh?) and Custer Park on our way back to Tejas. Given time constraints we pretty much took a straight shot south, two lane when we could, interstate the rest of the way. And oh, yes, the rain continued to the last day, with the worst of it as a matter of fact in Kansas. By that time we were all done with the wet stuff.

Why We Ride
All in all, I’ve got to say I’m loving me the War Wagon, it’s smooth, reasonably quick (we’ll work on that later) and stops better than any Harley I’ve ever owned. But I have to say, without a doubt, it’s the badass stance of the machine that puts it over the top. It’s got class and style in spades……..ace of spades, as in blacker than a bankers heart. This is the start of something good…….

Vince and Paul Sturgis Bound