I have just come back to my hotel room after a day full of riding in the Spanish hills. My body is tired, my mind is racing, but my heart is happy, in fact very very happy!!
You see, I’m among a set of a lucky few who have had the privilege of riding some of the bikes from the new 2018 Softail range of Harley Davidson. We have been hosted very graciously by HD at a beautiful resort in a place called Seva near Barcelona. Over two and a half days, we have the privilege of meeting the folks at HD who are behind the new Softail range and the opportunity to ride four of their new bikes from this family – The Street Bob, The Fat Bob, The Heritage Softail and The Breakout. I will write separately about each of the four but in this blog, I want to talk about what HD is trying to do here.
Let me put things simply. HD has many families of motorcycles. Two such storied families are the Dynas (e.g., Super Glide Custom, Street Bob and Fat Bob) and the Softails (e.g., Heritage Classic, Fat Boy and Breakout). Now historically these have been very distinct families with a set of unique traits defining each of them. HD has made a bold move to combine these two families into one new family that will retain the Softail name. In all there are eight new motorcycles in this new softail family.
Why has HD done this ?
HD is an iconic company with an iconic brand. It has been in existence for over 100 years. Very few organizations have that kind of legacy. One of their core success factors has been an intimate connection with their consumer – knowing who they are, sensing what they want and translating that into a variety of bikes has been their simple success mantra. But often when a company is as successful as HD, it can become a victim of its own success. It can forget the basic reason why it was successful and start to take it’s consumer for granted. It has happened to many marquee companies who were once leaders of their industries only to fall by the wayside (e.g., Nokia, Kodak etc).
My suspicion is that HD was on the same path for a few years. I have owned a few Harleys in the past (48, Nightrod, Fat Boy, Road King and Ultra Glide CVO). So I have some perspective of what I am saying. There was a time when me (and many of my biker friends) were smitten by Harleys. We used to do several long trips, covering nearly 15k KMs a year. But then competition started to come in – first there was Triumph, then Kawasaki and then Ducati. Each of them offered a wide variety of bikes. And while none of them truly competed with Harley’s full model line up, they had some credible alternatives. Their bikes were more powerful, had a lot of modern technology and were more reliable. Hence slowly but surely a lot of consumers (including me) drifted away from HD.
Now HD could have continued to bask in its glory as they were always getting new consumers (albeit on the smaller new bikes such as the Street 750). But they did not. They went back to their core…their consumers and once again like so many times in their history, listened to what the consumers wanted. The consumers wanted a balance of style and performance. They wanted the classic design and engine character of Harley. But they also wanted more power delivered smoothly. They wanted better dynamics and handling. They wanted the bikes to be more nimble and agile. They wanted the bikes to have modern elements of form. Yes they wanted all of this!! Many companies would have folded under such extreme demands being made by their consumers. But HD being the company it is, has risen to the challenge and taken the bull by the horns.
The first such manifestation is this completely redesigned Softail range. Let me summarize the changes –
* Power is now provided by the new Milwaukee 8 engine that is available in either 107 or 114 cubic inches. It has 8 valves, 2 spark plugs per cylinder and dual counter balancers….to the layman it’s a freaking powerful and smooth motor
* Chassis is now 35% stiffer across the range with a completely new frame and the engine being rigidly mounted (acting as a stressed member of the chassis). To the layman this means the new bikes should have significantly better handling
* Suspension has been massively upgraded. The front now has the dual bending valve technology from the touring models (barring the Fat Bob) and the rear is an adjustable monoshock (yes a freaking monoshock on a Harley!)
* Aluminium has been generously used in place of steel as a result of which there is a significant weight reduction (upto 15 kgs) across the range
* Styling has been thoroughly updated keeping the classic Harley design but integrating modern elements such as some beautiful surface finishes and signature LED headlights across the board
And there are many more changes. In fact the new bikes have ZERO parts common with the old bikes. I’ve rarely seen such a comprehensive grounds up redesign by a modern day auto manufacturer. Such is the magnitude of change that Harley claims the new range is better than each of the older ranges. Well in my books Harley deserves a serious applause for listening to it’s consumers and responding so aggressively. That is how a market leader should behave and I’m glad to see Harley do it.
I’ve ridden three of the new bikes today and I can tell you first hand that they don’t feel anything like the older bikes. They are powerful, lean and mean machines. They combine the design and styling genius of Harley with a modern state of the art power plant and a sporty chassis to create perhaps the next generation of motorcycles from this iconic company. From what I have sampled today, the motor company is back and back big time!!!
Stay tuned for individual model stories.
(The information and views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of xBhp)