The Game

Thoughts on Harley-Davidson’s 2015 line up

2015 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Lo

Randy Newman was clearly wrong. Short people do have somebody to love. Or, at least, it appears they have somebody who loves them: namely, America’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. Harley-Davidson’s recently announced 2015 model year line up is so littered with “low” models you’d be inclined to think we are suffering some sort of worldwide shift in people’s stature.

Well, actually, we are. Over the past several decades — thanks to improved health and better diet — the average person’s height has increased, with the typical American male now being roughly 5 feet 10 inches tall (a). When Harley-Davidson first went into business more than a century ago, the average dude was a good 4 inches shorter.
I suppose some might argue Harley-Davidson has decided to just ignore this data and chase after the dwindling number of short fellas with a Napoleon complex: offering large, loud, shiny things for tiny men seeking to compensate for something. But, of course, the truth is that H-D is clearly chasing after a different demographic, the average American variant of which is 5 feet 4 inches tall: women.

For all the criticisms people may have about Harley-Davidson, it is hard to fault the company for its efforts to attract females to riding. I’ve seen no other manufacturer even make an attempt. While many other motorcycle companies still treat women as slutty accoutrements Harley-Davidson is hosting Garage Parties and teaching them how to ride.

So, huzzah to Harley-Davidson. Huzzah to it for working to make motorcycling better (because more people and more kinds of people make just about anything better). But if you’re a 6-foot-1 chap such as myself, all these shorty options can leave you feeling a little, well… low. Or, at least, unimpressed. There’s not anything that’s really new in the 2015 line up.

Harley-Davidson Freewheeler

Well, perhaps that’s not true. The Freewheeler trike is brand new, but, again, I’m well out of its intended demographic. Or, I’m pretty sure I am. In truth, I’m not certain about trikes because… uh… ehr…

OK, I’m going to have to stop right here and admit that what comes next is a major violation of this blog’s standard code of not doing a tinkle on anyone’s parade. Generally, I try very hard not to be judgemental of what a person rides (though I will occasionally be critical of how a person rides). If you like it, ride it.

But trikes, man. Ugh (b).

Actually, no. Not ugh.

See, I can get with the idea of something like a Can-Am Spyder. No, it’s not exactly my sort of thing but I can sort of kind of see its appeal. If I stare at it long enough I can almost make myself like it (until I look at the price tag). And, indeed, I can foresee a time — maybe 30 or 40 years from now — when I might not trust my spindly old-man legs to adequately balance the weight of a two-wheeled vehicle, but I would still want to enjoy a motorcycle-like experience.

In that scenario, the Can-Am’s charms grow on me considerably. I can picture myself wearing a modular helmet (replete with fuzzy microphone headset) and a neutral-coloured textile jacket or full Aerostitch, trundling across the great North American landscape — from one Good Sam Club campsite to another — on a luxuriant Spyder RT, and feeling perfectly OK about it. In part because I would know that the vehicle I was on, though offering a motorcycle-like experience, was not trying to be a motorcycle.

There is a massive difference between the three-wheeled
Can-Am Spyder and the three-wheeled Harley-Davidson Freewheeler: only one of those things is trying to be something it’s not.

To give you a sense of what I’m talking about, take a look at the two pictures on the left. Both pictures are of buses that are short. But there’s a big difference, isn’t there? Not just in look but in character. One of the short buses takes “special” kids to school, and the other one takes corporate executives to the airport.

Therein you have the difference between the Freewheler and the Spyder. Sure, both vehicles have three wheels but the former looks as if it was made for people who have trouble figuring out how to tie their shoelaces.

That’s a brutal and cruel thing to say, I know. And perhaps one day when I’m 80 years old and riddled with gout, I will have a change of heart. Perhaps I will take to calling Jenn “the old lady.” I’ll wear a bandanna. And on the Freewheeler’s waterproof trunk (in which we store our Depends) we’ll have a bumper sticker that says: “We’re spending our kids’ inheritance.”

But for now: no. As far as I’m concerned, that thing is just a great big bunch of no.

Speaking of things that are aesthetically displeasing, for 2015 Harley-Davidson has also brought back its Road Glide model. On this one, though, I am happy to accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some people may love it. To me, the fairing makes the Road Glide look like Bender from “Futurama“. But all the press I’ve read about the bike suggests it’s a quality machine. And I suppose you don’t really see how a bike looks when you’re riding it. So, like having sex with an obese person in the dark, the newly returned Road Glide is probably enjoyable if you don’t ponder the aesthetics.

Sadly, a model that Harley-Davidson has not brought back is the Nightster, something that I think could (temporarily) compete with the new Indian Scout if adequately loaded with H-D bells and whistles like keyless start and anti-lock brakes. And everywhere else in the 2015 model year line up it’s just a case of aesthetic changes and CVO models.

2015 Harley Davidson CVO Road Glide Ultra

I refuse to take CVO offerings seriously. If you’ve got that much money I suggest moving to Detroit, where the asking price of a CVO Road Glide Ultra (c) will instead get you a three-bedroom house. Once you move in, I suspect one or two of your new neighbours will be able to get you a slightly used Harley-Davidson at an incredible “discount.”

Overall, although it is still easily more impressive than Victory’s 2015 line up, I have to say I feel disappointed by what Harley-Davidson plans to offer in the next year. Or, at least, deflated. I guess I had hoped that with the resurrection of Indian there would be a constant flow of ever-more awesome things.

However, maybe I’m looking at it too narrowly. I mean, the Street models are also part of the 2015 line up, and to that end, it’s not as if all the models of a model year are announced at once. For example, the 2014 Lowrider didn’t get added to the line up until Daytona Bike Week.

(a) Bafflingly, statistics show the same average height for British men. I find that interesting because I feel much taller here than I do when at home. Perhaps this is because “home” for me is Minnesota, where so many people are of Scandinavian stock. There, despite the fact I am 6-foot-1, I tend to think of myself as a smaller guy.

(b) Needless to say, all my criticism of trikes is automatically rescinded for any individual who rides one because of disability. If I were missing a foot or suffered spells of vertigo or some other such thing that affected my balance and dexterity you can bet your prosthetic tushy that I’d happily be seen on a trike.

(c) Again, Harley-Davidson insists upon giving its bikes names that sound like condoms or dildos.