The entire motorcycle industry has been abuzz over the last year or so about attracting new riders. While it’s true that pretty much every industry is tripping over itself to get into millennials’ wallets, the motorcycle business is no different.
Harley-Davidson has a bit of a unique problem on its hands when it comes to this very topic. The Milwaukee brand has been struggling to attract young riders as its current set of core brand enthusiasts ages. While H-D still has some of the most loyal and passionate fans of any brand in any industry, it can’t afford to rest on its laurels and only appeal to its existing pool of riders.
With a bit of a rough earnings report for 2017 and the recent announcement of a plant sfut-down, it’s important for Harley to make a splash with youngsters and do it quickly. I had the chance to speak with Harley-Davidson product portfolio manager Jeff Strunk at the IMS Chicago motorcycle show where I asked what the brand’s strategy is to get young blood interested in the iconic brand and how it plans on achieving its ambitious goal of gaining 2 million new riders in the next 10 years.
“One of the first things is enabling rider training . Learning how to ride, getting instruction from skilled instructors in line with a great curriculum,” said Strunk. “We have that through Harley-Davidson’s [Riding Academy], which is available at dealerships all over the country. The great thing about that course is you not only learn how to ride, but you learn on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. In most states, when you’re complete, you’re cleared for your license.”
By attracting riders of all ages who are new to motorcycling to the H-D training course, it associates those new riders with the brand in a big way. If a new rider learns on a Harley-Davidson and is taught by Harley-Davidson instructors, which brand do you think will be their first choice when it’s time to buy their first bike?
“Another big thing is our range of products,” Strunk said. For example, the Street 500 starts at less than $7,000. “Those are great points of entry. Some people start on a Street Glide as well,” said Strunk. “We’ve got the full range and that’s another big part of our strategy. Those are pretty critical pieces to enabling people to ride. Knowledge is power, so the ability to go on our website or visit a dealer and learn more to fuel the inspiration is a big piece of it.”
Strunk went on to talk about the Street lineup which consists of light- and middle-weight bikes that are great for new riders. “The Street 500 has been around for several years now,” said Strunk. “It’s a nice, neutral riding position, we use that for our riding academy courses. It’s a bike you can learn on and you can also sit on one on the showroom floor and put one in your garage.”
One of the most prominent parts of Harley’s sprawling display was the JumpStart Motorcycle Experience. It’s like a dyno where someone who has never ridden a motorcycle before can get on a real motorcycle (in this case a Street 500) and simulate a riding experience.
“This is a way that someone who’s never ridden before can get on and ride. Anyone who comes out to the show can twist the throttle, shift the gears, and feel the rumble underneath them,” said Strunk. These things aren’t just for shows and expos, most Harley-Davidson dealers have a JumpStart that anyone can try.
“If somebody comes in and they’re curious and they want to see what it’s like they can realize it’s not as complex as they might think,” said Strunk. “It’s one of those ways of breaking down barriers and going from ‘I’m interested in motorcycling but I don’t know how to get from here to there.’ This is one of those steps.”
So, taking an active role in instructing new riders and offering approachable bikes for riders of all shapes, sizes, and skill levels is Harley-Davidson’s plan to attract new riders. That sounds like a good way to keep the purists happy while getting the next generation of Harley enthusiasts on the saddle.