Bike shops. Ya gotta love ’em.
Every time I walk into one, and especially if it’s old school-flavored, I’m immediately transported to my younger days and the shops I worked at and hung around in as a young rider, racer and college student. For me, there was something magical and fascinating about the motorcycles, the posters on the walls, the glass parts counter and Rocky catalogs, the TVs playing On Any Sunday and the sights and smells of the service department. Dirtbikes, streetbikes, minis, Harleys or Hondas, it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I loved motorcycles and wanted to be around them all the time.
There are nearly 700 Harley-Davidson dealerships in the U.S. and I’m lucky enough to have one right down the street – California Harley-Davidson in beautiful Harbor City, CA. I dropped by the other day midweek and hung around the mostly-empty showroom for 30 or 40 minutes, thinking I’d reacquaint myself a little more with Milwaukee’s most recent offerings. Cal H-D has a decent-sized showroom with lots of bikes lined up in rows, so I took my time with each grouping, sitting and looking and touching. And thinking.
And what I realized there sorta stunned me.
It wasn’t just the bikes that had me excited and interested, though there’s certainly plenty to talk about there. The Motor Company has almost always done well with paint and chrome and styling, and when linked up with those 14 legendary letters on the fuel tank, the combination has more often than not been pretty darn unbeatable.
But a good number of the new bikes are actually quite new, with unique finishes, retro paint schemes (more on that in a minute), blacked-out pieces and parts, and a whole range of new component designs and looks. Some I love and some I can do without, but the fact that there’s so much interesting stuff to see and feel tells me that Milwaukee is appealing to a wider-than-ever range of customers – which is key in this challenging, less-boomer-centric market.
The new Softails, for instance, are wonderfully sculpted, especially the nostalgic Deluxe, funky Street Bob and bagged-and-fairinged Sport Glide. I hear they’re functionally excellent, too, and plan to grab a Softail test bike shortly to see for myself. And the CVO Street Glide and Road Glide had me wanting to do the Bob Seger/Roll Me Away thing within seconds of seeing them. “Stood alone on a mountaintop, starin’ out at the Great Divide…”
Surprisingly, the Sportster lineup affected me the most. I mean, I’ve always been a fan of the XL series’ bare-bones, elemental look, especially the solo-seat versions with that big-ass fender in back. But the new Sportys had me ogling big-time, especially the Forty-Eight and Forty-Eight Special, the Iron 883 and 1200, and even the affordable Superlow.
But the Sporty that had me really drooling was the Roadster, which I’d read about and seen photos of but had never seen in the flesh. I’m an old sportbike rider and roadracer, so you’d expect me to be a fan, but man… Its low handlebar, scooped saddle, inverted fork, dual discs and more balanced riding position really had me going. The one on the floor had a Billiard White tank, and it was stunning. But the paintwork on the Iron 1200 sitting next to it – a ’70s/AMF-spec retro scheme in blue and black – was even cooler, and I found myself thinking I could really easily own a Roadster with such a paint job. (Luckily, Art Director Chad Cochran photoshopped me one, which you can see below.)
So yeah, the new-generation Harleys are pretty different than the ones I’d known and ridden and tested during the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. But I’m different, too, and that’s a pretty big part of my new perspective on Milwaukee-built iron. During my 20s and 30s and 40s, when I was roadracing a lot and enjoying sometimes-scary-fast rides on California’s curvy backroads, Harleys just didn’t fit my M.O. all that well regardless of how bitchin’ they looked.
But I’m not that guy anymore … at least not very often. These days my rides are less frantic, and I’m appreciating the aesthetic of the rides and the people and the motorcycles a bit more, just as I have for the last 20 years from within the vintage-racing and classic-bike community. It’s a fresh perspective. And I’m liking it.
See why I love hanging around bike shops so much?