I am a motorcyclist. I ride a Ducati 900SS (used to ride a Honda Hawk -- both are v-twins, just like a Harley), and it's my primary mode of transportation. Raining? Too bad, guess I'll just get wet.

In any case, as much as I don't like it, there's a often a difference between Harley riders and other motorcyclists. There are two main problems with the motorcycles that Harley-Davidson produces that contribute to this.

The Performance Problem:
All current Harley motors are V-twins. There's nothing wrong with this; all Ducati motors are v-twins also, and that hasn't stopped them from winning superbike title after superbike title on their red rockets. Honda's new RC51 is a v-twin Ducati-killer. It's clear that v-twins are capable of high performance.

Yet Harley produces huge (1200cc; that's really big) v-twins that make, I dunno, maybe 65 horsepower. No, probably less than that, more like 40 or 50. You'd have to go out of your way to have that kind of pathetic power/displacement ratio. Which is exactly what Harley does. Their motors are very undersquare, which is to say that for a given displacement, the stroke (the length the piston travels; the height of this imaginary cylinder) is longer than the bore (the diameter of the piston; double the radius of the cylinder). So the piston travels a much longer physical distance than its oversquare counterparts. Not to mention the fact that it's a pushrod engine.

This is bad. It means that Harley motors can't rev very high; it wouldn't be comfortable to rev one of those big v-twins past 4000 RPM or so (because of the vibration -- Harley engines, with that narrow cylinder angle, vibrate horribly), and it wouldn't be safe to go much past 6000, because the pistons are at that point travelling way too many feet per second.

Harley motors use 20-year-old engine technology, and their only excuse is "tradition".

The Price Problem:
Head into a Harley-Davidson dealer sometime and look at the prices. $10,000, $15,000, $18,000. . . let's make something very clear, any motorcycle that costs more than 10 grand better be delivering some serious performance. There is no excuse for these kind of prices.

A Harley-Davidson is a very expensive fashion statement. What you think it says is: "I'm a free spirit who comes and goes with the wind" when in fact the statement is closer to "I paid $15,000 for 50 horsepower and 700 pounds of chrome". Not all motorcyclists agree with me here, but buying a Harley is stupid. The actual motorcycle does not justify the exorbitant price Harley charges for admission to their Rich Urban Biker club.

Ah, wait a minute, you say -- isn't it that you just don't like cruisers, with their chrome and their leather and their goofy fringes? Hardly. There is a cruiser bike on the market today that I would love to own - the Honda Valkyrie. It's big and heavy, but it has an excuse - a tricked out, flat-six motor that is visually striking (looks like an airplane motor or something) and has the the performance to back it up. That's a cruiser I'd like to own.

But a Harley? 20 grand for 20-year-old (or worse) technology? I don't think so.

To be fair, this may be starting to change. Harley just started selling their new V-Rod, which is sort of a cruiser for the future. It features smoothed-over styling and better suspension compontents, as well as a 60-degree liquid-cooled v-twin mill (smoother and better-balanced than Harley's old 45-degree motor) co-designed by Porche. If the reviews are any indication, this bike has muscle to back up its attitude. I think it retails for something like $18,500, which is a lot of money. You can get a Japanese cruiser with as much power for $5000 less. Gotta have the American Spirit? Get a Polaris.

I applaud Harley's concession that their ancient "Evolution" engine design is getting old, but the price they're asking a rider to pay for a bike that looks good and performs well is still inexcusably high.

WHY DO HARLEYS SUCK SO BAD!?!

HD motorcycles suck, period. Anyone who's owned a Ducati, a Triumph or even something as pedestrian as a Honda knows that Harley-Davidson's are a load of garbage. So, why are they so obviously bad? Let's go down the list:

TECHNOLOGY

The antiquated design is basically asking for it, right? I mean, look at these "Facts":

    Harley Davidson V-Twin:
  • Displacement: 2 hogheads.
  • Horsepower: some, allegedly.
  • Torque: Hopefully enough to justify the price tag.
  • Fuel Economy: 2 1/2 Middle-Eastern oil-barons per driveway.

Useless, right?

Well, let's look at some different facts, without the quotes this time:

What was all that modern-sounding mumbo-jumbo? That was the spec sheet for the "HD Big Twin 110B" engine. That's a spec sheet that isn't out of place on a Japanese bike of the same size.

Air-cooled? Yeah, they are. But no one screams "antique" at a Ducati L-Twin or BMW flat-twin.

PERFORMANCE

"A Harley-Davidson is the most efficient way to convert gasoline into noise, without the side effects of horsepower." -- someone

There is a mantra that goes "Harleys can't rev!" It's not that they can't, it's that they don't. For the same reason a Smallblock Chevy doesn't rev, because it doesn't need to.

They CAN be made to rev, in theory, in the same way Queen Victoria could be made to run. In theory. But Vickie had power without running.

Torque is a big deal. The Harley V-Twin has it. That's not unique, lots of V-Twins have it, but it means that HD is not sitting at the back of the bus. The 2012 HD Big Twin 103ci engine produces 100-ft-lbs of torque. The 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 with the same size engine produces 108-ft-lbs. Yes, the Harley is down a little, but not much, and the Kawasaki does that with 8 valves, the HD does it with 4 (not that you should brag about having fewer valves).

So, HD is no Yamaha R1. But it ain't no Honda Cub either.

PRICE

A fully-kitted HD will set you back the best part of $30K in US Dollars.

That. Is. Ludicrous.

But, but, but! A fully-loaded Honda Goldwing will also cost that much (and more if you add the Airbag). A balls-out Victory Vegas or Big-Dog will also clock in at that point.

They are ALL ludicrously priced. But they are also priced in line with each other.

At the other end we have the lowly Sportster 883, coming in at around a little below $8K. Which is a lot for a ride-on vibrator with no windshield but, again, in line with pricing for a similarly sized bike from another major manufacturer.

IMAGE

"Born Again Biker" is a term. It basically means a middle-aged man in the rabid grip of a midlife crisis who decided his plight will be made well by buying a loud, overpowered and expensive motorcycle.

Born-Again Harley riders are instantly recognizable: Their spotless new Soft-tail looks like it was peeled from the HD catalog, dripping with saddlebags and cup-holders and every manner of automotive pornography. The rider themselves is festooned, head to toe, with leather that bears the embossed "HD" logo. This gear is immaculate because they only take it out of storage once a year to justify owning the bike.

But how is that different from the guy who buys a new Gixxer and cocoons himself in a Suzuki-blue leather romper-suit and matching helmet with a mirrored visor all bearing the name of sponsors that are not actually his? Basically nothing. A lot of motorcycling is living the dream, and two different dreams can look equally stupid.


So then, what is the problem, sparky?

So far it looks like I've been an apologist, cheerleading Harley-Davidson against unfair criticism. And I have. Because the problem Harleys has nothing to do with anything I mentioned above. Don't worry, I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him.

The "problem", if we have to use that term, that that too many HD owners (not all, but many), and the company itself, believe HD is special. It's not just "potato-potato-potato", it's the belief that there is an innate difference that transcends technology.

For some people it's that HD is the oldest motorcycle company in the world. It's not. For others, it's that the bikes are "Made in USA". They are assembled in USA, but that's not the same. Still for others, it's because their childhood idols rode HDs. But James Dean rode a Triumph.

It's all bullshit, really.

Summed up, the problem is: A very visible minority of HD owners are convinced beyond sanity that Harleys are better because they are Harleys. And because of that, you can never enjoy or appreciate your rice-burner, pasta-rocket or Nazi two-wheeler in the same way they appreciate their HD. It may be faster, more reliable, more equipped, but it will never be as good as they think their Harley is.

It's the smug look of self-satisfaction on the face of the Harley rider as he pulls out of the shop on his new, large, monthly payment. The look that says "I don't care what it costs or what people think, I'm getting what I want and screw all of you plebeians who don't like it."

And it sickens me to my core.

Mostly because I want one, too.

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