There is something about the mystique of Harley-Davidson that makes it larger than life. Perhaps it is the look of the bikes – the superb designs that make them works of art as well as machines. Perhaps it is the growl of the engine when you rev it up. It is a deep-throated, guttural roar that evokes feelings of raw power. Perhaps it is the exhilarating feeling of freedom that comes about when you are riding on a Harley… just you, the open road and a world of adventure ahead. Perhaps it is just one, or all three, or more… there is no real answer as to why a Harley-Davidson is so coveted or why we turn our heads to stare when a Harley passes us by. All we know is it is an instinctive act. It is a reflex action that reflects our natural desire to look at and admire perfection. Welcome to the epitome of high living.
Harley-Davidson in Malaysia
Today, Harley-Davidson stands as one of the most respected marques in the world – the pioneer, so to speak, of a great American biking tradition that has lasted for more than 100 years. From being manufactured by three young men in a crude wooden shed who wanted to put an engine on a bicycle 106 years ago, the Harley-Davidson brand has expanded across to world to encompass 1,400 Harley-Davidson dealerships in more than 100 countries. And one of these countries is Malaysia where Harley-Davidson of Petaling Jaya acts as the brand’s sole dealer in the country. Prior to 2017, the sole dealer for Harley-Davidson in Malaysia was Harley Davidson of Kuala Lumpur.
After all, when it comes to motorbikes, no other name is more lauded than that of Harley- Davidson. True, there are quite a number of brands that have attempted to imitate the Harley, but the fact is that these are merely pretenders to the throne that is rightfully occupied by Harley-Davidson.
A wonderland of lifestyle offerings
Those who believe that Harley-Davidson only means bikes are in for a pleasant surprise when they walk into the Harley showroom. Of course, while the bikes are the main attraction of the Harley-Davidson brand and are synonymous with it, Harley offers more than just bikes. It offers an entire lifestyle. And thus behind those glass doors is a world of not just the latest Harley hogs in the country, but also clothes such as shirts, t-shirts, and jackets, and accessories such as watches, pens, cups, cuff links to give but some examples.
However, as impressive as the collection at the Harley-Davidson showroom in Malaysia might be, it pales in comparison to the entire range of products affiliated or branded with the Harley-Davidson name. Sharing with PASSIONS his experience at a Harley-Davidson dealers’ meeting in Denver, Colorado; Harley-Davidson of Kuala Lumpur’s then General Manager, Chris Chin told us that the size and scope of the exhibition would require taking two to three days in order to fully go through all the sections there.
And one of the most interesting parts of the exhibition, he told us, was the section on collectibles – those Harley-Davidson branded products which have transformed Harley- Davidson from being just a well-respected manufacturer of motorbikes to a veritable lifestyle brand. For many in Malaysia who may think that Harley-Davidson branding just covers clothes and some paraphernalia such as lighters and belts; the truth will be a real eye-opener.
According to Mariam – Harley-Davidson of Kuala Lumpur’s then General Merchandise Manager – one can find Harley-Davidson watches, pocket knives, pocket watches, and hunting knives. If you like games, you might like to play some Harley-Davidson Scrabble, Harley-Davidson Monopoly, or for the more cerebral – Harley-Davidson chess. You can also shoot some pool using a Harley-Davidson branded pool table with a Harley-Davidson pool cue. You can have your bed sheets and pillow covers with Harley-Davidson motifs on them, your bathroom rug and your shower curtains can bear the famous bar and shield logo. And, in perhaps the most eye-opening revelation, there are even Harley-Davidson pet products for those who wish to give their furry friends a taste of the Harley lifestyle.
Simply put, Harley-Davidson has created a total lifestyle experience, which has enabled its adherents to have an entire household full of Harley branded products and not be in want of anything. And in that, we can see just how deep Harley culture has permeated into everyday life.
A premium name and a premium brand
While Harley-Davidson motorcycles had existed in Malaysia before the establishment of Harley-Davidson of Kuala Lumpur, the company was the first dedicated Harley-Davidson dealership in Malaysia to showcase the full range of the Harley culture to people here. After all, Harley-Davidson is more than just about motorcycle manufacturing – although that is and will always be the most important part of its existence. Since the 1990s though, Harley- Davidson realised that a Harley was more than just a bike. It is about riding, about living free, and about life.
At the same time, a number of Harley-Davidson riding groups had developed of their own accord around the world – particularly in the United States. It was very much an organic growth – one that reflected the camaraderie and common bond that bikers share. And with the development of this riding culture, came the demand for quality riding gear. A demand which was fulfilled by Harley-Davidson.
And with the expansion of its core riding products, came the demand for more lifestyle products with the Harley-Davidson brand. And this works out as a win-win situation for both Harley and other manufacturers because being branded a Harley-Davidson product is perhaps one of the great honours any merchandise can hope for. After all, it is a sign that your manufacturing quality meets the highest standards of quality that is demanded by the brand. In fact an entire department – staffed by hundreds of people – exists within Harley- Davidson to access the products.
Of course, being one of the most premium brands in the world, Harley has suffered from the scourge of counterfeiters – some of them creating very good imitations as well. But while they may be able to copy the appearance, it is near impossible to replicate the consistency and quality that makes a Harley-Davidson-branded product what it is. As Mariam explained, the premium quality of a Harley-Davidson product does not just come from the quality of the materials used, but in the finish and the consistency.
A culture of its own
According to the team at Harley-Davidson of Kuala Lumpur, there is still a great misunderstanding amongst a number of people in Malaysia as to what Harley- Davidson stands for. And one of the main misconceptions is the association with Harley-Davidson with a counter-culture that consists of bike gangs involved in violence, drugs and other vices. He explained that this is a misconception that was brought about by Hollywood and people’s lack of understanding of the west. This is because during the advent of the biker gang films during the 1960s, the only bikes of note in the United States were Harleys, and so naturally, these bikes became the “stars” of these movies.
The fact of the matter is that Harley-Davidson has a more respectable reputation than we might have been exposed to. The US Army for instance have used Harleys especially when involved in the First and Second World Wars – and in the latter conflict, the friendly GI riding to a liberated town on a Harley was a popular sight. Similarly, the police in America also use Harleys.
A list of Harley owners would also show some of the most respected and acclaimed people in their respective professions. One of the most famous of course is the King of Rock and Roll himself – Elvis Presley. But there are other dedicated Harley riders too such as TV talk show host Jay Leno, action-star turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and even multi-billionaire publisher Malcolm Forbes. And for those who think that a Harley-Davidson and biking is solely a man’s hobby, they might like to think again because some of the most beautiful women in the world have owned Harleys such as Bridgette Bardot and Elizabeth Taylor.
Similarly, Chris revealed that in Malaysia, he has customers that number among top professionals and well-respected members of society. And this is because owning a Harley is quite a different kettle of fish from owning a car or another bike. Once you are bitten by the Harley bug, it is hard – if not impossible – to let go of it.
There is after all, as we mentioned above, something unique about a Harley- Davidson which makes it such an attention grabber, and so close to the hearts of its owner. For instance, many people buy cars and in the course of doing so sell their old ones. But the phenomenon of people selling their old Harleys to pay for their new ones is quite a rare occurrence. As such, instead of selling their old Harleys, they keep them with the new ones. There is no other way to describe it than to say that selling a Harley is like selling your child.
And this is because a Harley-Davidson is perhaps the only vehicle in the world that has an individual sense of identity. A Harley on the other hand serves as a statement. One can customise one’s own Harley to such a degree that it will look like the only one of its kind in the world, and there is no better statement on individuality than that.
It also, incidentally, makes stealing a Harley- Davidson quite an improbable feat – not only because the bike is usually too heavy to move but also because the Harley community is such a close-knit one that an individual’s bike stands out as a person’s calling card. In other words, even if the thief manages to steal a bike, he would be caught or the bike tracked down eventually.
A case in point would be an incident that was shared with us where a customer of his found his Harley which was stolen some years back at a recent bike show because he was able to recognise several subtle yet distinguishing marks on it. And that is even after the bike had been given a new paint job.
A true lifestyle product
Ultimately, one should bear in mind that a car and a motorcycle is for getting from point A to point B – these are vehicles for everyday use. While one can use a Harley for everyday use, it can also be for leisure as well. And it is in this aspect that Harley-Davidson shines brightest as a lifestyle product.
You can take a Harley for a ride across town or cruise down on the highway with the knowledge that at anytime – should you need to – you can always turn back and head back to your house or your office. You do not need to plan for a ride weeks or months in advance, and more often than not, the decision would usually be a spur of the moment thing. And that is why a Harley-Davidson is a lifestyle product because it allows people to incorporate it into their daily life without needing to disrupt.
Living the Harley lifestyle
As mentioned above, biking is not an expensive hobby to take up. It is only expensive if it does not offer value for money, and a Harley-Davidson definitely does offer that.
While some riders might be content with having a normal production model, there are those who seek out something more in terms of exclusivity and uniqueness.
However, what is important to note is that owning and riding a Harley-Davidson is like being in a family. Therefore, whether you are on a bike that is going for RM72,000 or on one that went for RM350,000; whether you are on the latest Harley or one that is 10 years old, as long as you ride a Harley, you will be a brother or a sister. And that is the camaraderie and the community that Harley- Davidson engenders.
So how much does a Harley-Davidson really cost? During the time of this interview back in 2009, Mohan – the then Aftersales Manager of Harley-Davidson of Kuala Lumpur laid out a comprehensive breakdown of the costs that one might incur from owning a Harley. The bike itself might cost around RM145,000 – a premium price for a bike. However, such is the quality of the bike that you can be guaranteed many years of use. In fact, there are some bikes on the road that are more than two decades old and are still running in perfect condition – a feat that one is hard-pressed to achieve with a car.
Ultimately, the thrill of a Harley is that it can be enjoyed and indulged in by anyone – man or woman, young or old, super-rich or just middle-class. You can be one that has a whole range of Harley products, or you can just be someone with a bike and riding gear. You can be an experienced rider or you can be a rookie on his first ride. No matter what your status might be, when you are on a Harley, you are part of a family. You are part of a band of brothers and sisters who have embraced the Harley culture, who are dedicated to living free, to living the lifestyle of Harley-Davidson. And you look damn sexy, sophisticated and chic while at it!