Harley-Davidson: The Fat Boy of All Bikes

17-hd-softail-slim-s-large.pngThe Harley is not just a bike; it is a lifestyle, my brother said to me a couple of years ago, explaining his switch from a decade of sports bikes, from Kawasaki Ninjas, Yamaha R1s and Gixxers, to a Harley-Davidson Rocker C at the age of thirty-four. “I’m probably one of their younger buyers,” he added, going on to describe the customized chromed details on his beauty (50 per cent more than on regular Rocker Cs) – including the 21-inch wheel in the front, 18-inch wheel in the rear, footpegs, air box, fender tips, bar ends, brake housing – in addition to the special-edition headlights and rearview mirrors with embedded LED lights. “It even has a custom shorty handlebar with full chrome, every button,” he marvelled. “This one is a keeper. Even if I have to move to Nigeria, I will take it with me. Now to buy some Harley gear: mesh jackets, half-chopper helmet and gloves.”

When William S. Harley and his friend Arthur Davidson began work on a motorized bicycle that could conquer the modest hills of Milwaukee, USA, over a hundred years ago, they probably had no idea that their invention would turn into a global phenomenon with a cult following and an owners’ group of 1.3 million members worldwide, more than any other automobile. They probably also never foresaw the huge rock-star image, merchandise, clubs, global events and a museum dedicated to Harley-Davidsons by the final decade of the twentieth century.

One of only two motorbike companies to outride the Great Depression of the thirties, the brand was also part of the US military efforts in both World Wars. Having sailed through various ups, downs and outlaws in its colourful career in US and around the world, Harley-Davidson entered the Indian market as a wholly owned subsidiary in August 2009, and commenced completely-knocked-down-unit (CKD) assembly operations earlier this year. India is only the second country after Brazil in which Harley-Davidson has CKD assembly operations. With a dealership network across five cities – New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chandigarh – the company also offers a wide range of Harley-Davidson’s authentic Motorclothes, merchandise and accessories, which are possibly even more popular than the bike itself.

Now, two years later, the company has offered Indian Harley enthusiasts more reason to rev up: Harley-Davidson India announced this August the addition of the Fat Boy Special model to its portfolio. Introduced at INR 19.7 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi), this model will be imported as a completely built unit and will be available across all Harley-Davidson dealerships in addition to the fourteen models currently available in the 2011 line-up. Prices range from INR 5.5 lakh up to INR 34.95 lakh (ex-showroom Delhi).

“Harley-Davidson offers a range of fifteen models from each of its five families – Sportster, Dyna, Softail, V-Rod and Touring,” explained a Harley-Davidson India representative to ATELIER. “Each of the these motorcycle families boasts of a distinct character. The racetrack-inspired Sportster family resonates with enthusiasts looking for sleek lines and maneuverability. The Dynas are for those looking for classic chrome styling, and are suited both for city traffic and open highway. The Night Rod Special appeals to those with a speed streak in them complemented by the aerodynamic design and matte-black finish. The Softail family, with the legendary Fat Boy and Heritage Softail Classic, allow for a timeless look and touring essentials. And finally, our Touring family offers extraordinary comfort, power and durability for any on-road terrain or climate.”

Darker, with a lower seat positioning than the original icon of fat-custom style, the new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Special in India offers a fresh interpretation of the motorcycle that still defines the segment. “We believe Harley-Davidson is a culture on two wheels and owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a lifetime decision,” says their company representative. Which is why one of the most popular aspects of Harleys is customization: you can choose from a wide range of parts and accessories to suit your needs and personality – much like the additional chromed bits on my brother’s Softail.

The company has also initiated a 360-degree approach that includes conducting riding events, boot camps, strategic advertising, an interactive website, even finance initiatives for easy payment options, and properties such as Harley Rock Riders and the Harley Freedom Film Festival to leverage the brand’s legendary association with rock music and films.

According to industry sources, the market for premium bikes in India – still at a nascent stage – has seen a positive surge, with customers looking for riding experiences coupled with style, comfort and performance. The estimated market size for big bikes (over 800 cc) was about a thousand units a year in 2010, with a growth rate of 20–25 per cent. For Harley-Davidson, this has helped post sales that have surpassed expectations. Anoop Prakash, managing director, Harley-Davidson India, says, “The past year has been memorable with the opening of new dealerships, Harley Owners Group rides, new model introductions and commencement of CKD assembly operations to better serve our customers in India. We are grateful for the tremendous response we have received from our customers and enthusiasts across the country.”

To cater to the growing demand and the growth prospects in India, the company has commenced the process of identifying potential investors to open dealerships in Ahmedabad, Chennai and Kolkata in the near future. According to Prakash, “Our aim is to make Harley-Davidson motorcycles accessible to all those who want to experience the pure thrill of leisure riding.” Bikers will be only too keen to start gunning their engines.

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