What I want: Harley-Davidson Iron 883
Let's be honest: you would, wouldn't you? No, stop lying. You totally would. Yes, yes you would. Look, it's just you and I in this conversation and no one else will ever know. So you can be honest. Deep down inside, you totally would. If the opportunity presented itself, you would ride a Harley and you would love it.
It's quite popular to engage in Harley hate (especially in the UK, where that hate generally extends to all cruisers), and I'll admit that I've been guilty of following the herd once or twice over the years. There's no doubt that H-D sells an image as much as it does a product and there is something ingratiating about the sort of person who is clearly putting all his/her money into the former over the latter.
We want to believe that we are better than that person. But, in truth, that superficial element exists in almost any non-essential purchase we make. The same is true of cars and bicycles and clothing and on and on; somewhere at the heart of almost everything a man does is the desire to look sexy or threatening. The Harley-Davidson Iron 883 is a little bit of both.
The complaints against Harley-Davidsons are myriad and more often than not deeply emotional. Not possessing a great deal of mechanical knowledge myself I can't truly speak to the veracity of such claims, but it seems the most legitimate criticism is that a Harley needs more mechanical attention than other bikes of equal size and type. This is what other people tell me. Steve Johnson, a former Harley owner, has confirmed this on his blog –– his H-D was comfortable and cool to be seen on, but required more love than the Honda with which he is now touring the United States.
That little truth probably won't stop me from ever owning own a Harley. Hell, perhaps that's part of the appeal. Many moons ago, when Jaguars were still British cars, my dad used to dream of owning one. I pointed out to him that they were notoriously finicky things, prone to frequent visits to the mechanic.
"That's kind of the point," he said. "I'd not just like to be able to drive a Jaguar, but be able to afford to keep a Jaguar."
But, no, I think the appeal of a Harley is greater than that. If I were to be given an Iron 883 I would cherish it. They just look cool. They sound cool. I would feel cool riding one around. Harley-Davidson does sell an image, an intangible that can be frustrating to people who like to see themselves as above such a thing. But the image is what you make of it, and primarily just a thing of self-confidence.
And you can't help but respect the fact that Harley-Davidson has gone to great lengths recently to widen its appeal. With its Stereotypical Harley campaign, H-D has become the best-selling motorcycle among women, blacks and Hispanics. That can only be a good thing for motorcycles in general. The only other company that seems to be really trying to broaden its (and motorcycling's) appeal is Honda.
In fairness, Honda has done this by offering new products (e.g., bikes with automatic transmissions) rather than a new package. But, hey, when you have a product as iconic as a Harley, perhaps there's no need to change.