It’s a cold, rainy night in Manly, and Matthew Levatich, CEO of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, has eschewed the obligatory microphone, preferring to use his “loud American voice” to convey his thoughts to an intimate gathering of motoring journalists and motorcycle enthusiasts. “It is an achievement,” he bellows, in direct reference to what it means to ride a motorcycle.
And reminding people that it is an achievement is a mission of sorts for the company, whose dwindling sales figures show a lack of enthusiasm in the marketplace for what has traditionally been one of the most exciting brands to ever take to tarmac.
Despite their many investments in innovation in their field, including the Livewire electric motorcycle due for release next year, as well as other developments aimed at getting more people on two wheels, the market for big, loud, powerful motorcycles has sadly been diminishing, and there are plenty of factors out there that contribute to this reality.
Whether it’s the resurgence of smaller cafe racer style bikes, rising fuel costs, a younger generation not as keen to take up the art of handling a big beast of a cruiser or the fact that there are so many other, cheaper options on the market, the lustre of the all-American made chrome-coated crotch rocket has slowly faded to a sad lull.
Perhaps, though, for not much longer.
Harley’s reveal of its MY2020 line up shows a youthful, fresh-faced collection of bikes that retain the Harley-Davidson DNA, but shed the “daggy dad” image of their forebears. And one bike that captures all of this is the Lowrider S.
Available in Barracuda Silver and Vivid Black (that’s the one you want–it’s a much better match to the bronze wheels that hark back to the days of old Le Mans 24-hour racecars), this is not the shiny, polished chrome beast we all saw Arnie ride in Terminator. It sits low, ready to pounce, and has a surprisingly comfortable seating position.
Taking it through Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, it proved itself to be far more nimble than one would imagine a 1,870 cc motorbike to be, although the weight of that engine definitely makes you feel firmly planted on the road. This writer is used to more lightweight bikes that will flit a rider from one point in the city to another (usually regrettably trendy cafe to regrettably trendier pub), but doing this on the Lowrider S isn’t unimaginable.
This means a customer wouldn’t have to make a choice between something practical and something fun on weekends if having just one set of wheels in the garage was the priority. Our ride started in the rain, too, meaning we had first-hand experience of how the Lowrider handled in the wet. The balance and slightly sportier angle of the fork makes this a far less problematic notion than most other bikes I’ve ridden on wet tarmac, and, again, the way the bike has been built makes the whole experience … easy.
For many city-dwellers, the thrill of a big bike on an open road will, sadly, never be a reality (albeit due to their own doing, or rather lack thereof), and a Harley-Davidson has always been the epitome of freedom in this sense.
When the brand sourced feedback from the public a few years ago, they made huge changes to their engine which would see lower vibrations through the bike, and a cooler surface to the touch, amongst other things, in response to what people said they wanted. Purists are wont to see this as an affront to everything Harley-Davidson stands for, but it’s just more proof that innovation is key to continued success, and that this is a brand that is hellbent on winning the hearts of young riders, and, more so, getting more people to take up the art of motorcycle riding.
And, here, in Manly, we’re reminded that in a sense, it is an art. The smile one gleans from their first ride on a dirt bike in their formative years is the same as the smile one wears after taking to the highway on a big cruiser years later. And both are the result of a sense of personal achievement.
At AUD$27,995 (the Barracuda Silver option will have you fork out a little extra), the Lowrider S is hardly the most affordable bike on the market. But it shouldn’t be. Harley-Davidson may be forced to charge for the fact that they haven’t outsourced their manufacturing, but in a marketplace absolutely rife with cheap bikes designed to last little longer than their warranties, and shoddily constructed motorcycles made for penniless hipsters who care more about aesthetics than they do safety, you are going to get what you pay for.
Harley-Davidson is a brand that can charge a premium for its name, but doesn’t; you’re paying a premium because it is, simply put, a superior product. And it’s one that, from standstill to high speed, physically proves itself to be superior.
But it’s hitting an open road, tilting into a lazy corner and rolling the throttle on after the apex that makes riding a Harley more than just a physical experience. No point on engine size, practicality, seat position, price or colour matters even slightly when you’re wearing the stupid smile of somebody who just hammered the perfect corner on the back of one of these machines with the huge, iconic 114 engine rumbling below. And no other bike manufacturer has quite managed to replicate that experience.
Levatich is right: feeling confident with that much weight and power at your fingertips is an achievement, and it’s one that should be celebrated.
And, when it comes to riding motorcycles, nothing feels quite as much of an achievement as a Harley-Davidson.