Insight: Bare-bones bikes help Harley slay Geezer Glide image

Sun Dec 4, 2011 5:48pm EST
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By John D. Stoll, Kyle Peterson and Nick Zieminski

(Reuters) - For Harley-Davidson, Michael Adams is a godsend.

When the 22-year-old college senior showed up for a $25 rider training class at a community college last year in Michigan, his aspiration was to someday buy his ultimate American icon: a Harley.

But he quickly found he was in enemy territory.

"Everyone my age was talking about buying a 'crotch rocket'" Adams said. "They wanted a Ducati or Yamaha or some other kind of import; but I never heard any other talk about a Harley."

Undeterred, Adams soon abandoned his Honda motorcycle, and paid cash for a brand new $14,000 Harley-Davidson Dark Custom Street Bob, using money he'd earned at a variety of jobs, from operating a forklift to working an internship at a Kentucky newspaper.

For the past decade, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Harley-Davidson Inc had largely been stymied in its attempt to reach a younger audience.

As it poured resources into entirely new lines of bikes, often designed to lure the 20 and 30-something crowd, or used advocates like a Victoria Secret supermodel to encourage younger buyers to feel it's cool to own a bike - Harley's core customer base of well-heeled baby boomers only got older.

But the effort is finally gaining traction under Chief Executive Keith Wandell, who took Harley's helm in 2009. He immediately began modernizing the company, from the assembly line to the dealership floor, even if it meant offending loyalists.   Continued...