Wrong: Hogs

The accused

The accused

So I’m something of a Car Guy, but let it be said that I like motorcycles as much as the next man. They look nice, they’re fun and they’re fast. My, they’re fast. Driving a car quickly is a fairly cerebral experience, whereas riding a motorcycle at pace is more like a test of virility.

There are fast bikes made all over the place. The best ones mostly come from Japan, but some of the greats come from Italy, Germany – even the United Kingdom, who appear to be less shit at making bikes than they were at making cars. The best way to see a bunch of fast bikes is to turn up at the Nürburgring on a Saturday afternoon and hunt around the car park. Ah, the smell of mineral oil and the rattle of those Ducati dry clutches. This is the life.

There is, however, one motorbike that you’re not going to see at the Nürburgring on a Saturday afternoon. That motorbike is the two-wheeled abortion known as the Harley Davidson.

There are two things wrong with Harley Davidsons. The first thing is technical. I’ve not ridden one, so I don’t know how they drive. Instead, I’m going to guess how they drive by comparing some vital statistics of the 2009 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low (which appears to be one of their sportier models) with the 2009 Yamaha YZF-R6, one of the Japanese efforts. Perhaps the best way to represent this is in a table. Please excuse the American units of measure – it was all Harley had and I couldn’t be bothered converting them.

Yamaya YRF-R6 Harley Davidson Sportster
Engine size 599 cc 1200 cc
Power 126 bhp 80 bhp
Weight 414 lbs 581 lbs
0-60mph 3.6 secs 5 secs
Top speed 165 mph 110 mph
Price $9,990 $9,799

Based unfairly on these numbers and my own preconceptions, I’m going to guess that a Harley Davidson drives like a Dodge Durango. I bet I’m right. Anyway, either way it’s clear from this that the Harley Davidson Sportster wasn’t designed with sport in mind. But cars are more comfortable, drier, more practical overall – what was it designed for? Which brings me nicely to the second thing that is wrong with Harley Davidsons.

The second thing that is wrong with Harley Davidsons is that they are one of the greatest triumphs of marketing ever to exist. This is done in part by the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club. The Hell’s Angels is a group of unemployed misfits and small-time cat burgulars who are scattered around the world. Every so often they hit the headlines when one of them punches a woman outside a nightclub, or strangles his dog, or chokes to death on his own vomit. One thing they have in common is that that all happen to own Harley Davidson motorcycles. You have to have a Harley to get into the club.

Harley Davidson, of course, don’t officially have any relationship with the Hell’s Angels. Officially, they’re pretty angry with them. That’s the way it has to work. Harley Davidson knows that scattered all over America are bored dentists, middle-aged stockbrokers and lonely realtors who are sitting in front of the television watching their lives ebbing away. They have money in the bank, but they’ve already bought a house in the suburbs, a brown dog and a silver BMW 525. They can’t think of anything else to spend it on. More importantly, their wives are complaining about their rapidly receding hairlines and increasing levels of impotency. But wait! Breaking news on the television! Some Hell’s Angels have broken a window in a bar downtown! There they are on television, with their tatoos, and all that leather gear and their Harleys. I bet they’re not impotent! I bet their wives don’t talk back to them! And all I need to do to join that club is ten grand!

So the morticians and the lawyers run out and buy Harleys. They don’t join the Hell’s Angels. It would be too difficult to explain in church. They do buy leather jackets, and patches with skulls and crossbones on them. They do buy helmets with “ride or die” and such on them. They do meet up with other similarly-minded individuals, where they stand on street corners in their leathers and talk about the Dow Jones, or about  interest rates, or about how difficult Thomas is finding it settling in at Yale. One or two of them will sometimes smoke, and now and again someone will turn up with a beer. Passers-by cross the street to avoid these meetings, which gives the dentists a strange, inexplicably heart-warming sensation. They’re radicals. They’re on the fringes of society. They’re alive. Before they go home, they collect their litter.

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14 Responses to Wrong: Hogs

  1. Big Blob says:

    Next you’ll be saying you don’t like ford Mustangs. You live in a country where the roads don’t have bends.

  2. Cathy says:

    Chris, you’ve opened up a can of worms here! The purpose of Harleys is not to be fast necessarily – no, as a resident of Daytona Beach, Bike Week mecca, I can firmly state that Harleys are meant to be NOISY. Apparently, the louder the bike, the more manly the rider. When they amass here in their thousands, the sound is deafening. I much prefer a quiet, quick bike to the painful roar of thousands of Harleys. Call me crazy….

  3. Lasiuke says:

    Sounds like a rant in one gate by someone who’s jealous he can’t afford HD in my opinion :)))) LOL! Harleys are DEFINITELY not made for sports, you’re right about that, but nothing would make me exchange a ride on a cruiser on a sunny day to a car drive. I like how HD sounds, how it looks, how it feels and I’m not talking about HD alone, any other good cruiser has the same effect as well and Hell’s Angels have nothing to do with it. But that’s just our different opinions I guess ;)

  4. Midwest Mom says:

    Careful Chris – Don’t go insulting the Hell’s Angels; they’ll come looking for you. Although on second thought, what’s the likelihood that they would read your blog? Or be able to read?

    Also watch out for those Harley lovers out there. I may not like them/understand their attraction, but I wouldn’t go admitting that to folks around here…

  5. wc says:

    I can’t stop laughing at those last 2 paragraphs! You hit the target dead center on that one. But there’s a lot of people in between. I don’t ride Harleys anymore but they’re made to be cruisers, not racers. They used to be called “the bikers bike” because you had to be part mechanic to keep them running. It’s just one of those things. They came out with a sport bike this year which I hear is selling pretty well.

  6. texas rider says:

    I think you’re an idiot. Only a fool starts making comparisons and conclusions on the worth of something they have never owned or ridden. Grow up.

  7. Authoress says:

    Laughs at *texas rider*

    I bet you own a Harley, right?

    Anyway Chris, kudos for speaking your mind. I too find Harley’s to be utter obnoxious and the whole idea of people wanting a large, inefficient motorcycle hysterical. I guess it’s like SUVs. Wonder what the Harley owners are compensating for? Small brains?

    *Ducks beer cans thrown at her*

    And they can’t take a joke either. Though, I don’t know how many Harley Davidson owners read your blog.

  8. KTLA says:

    “…I don’t know how many Harley Davidson owners read your blog.”

    At least two. :-)

    In the wise words of Homer Simpson…”It’s funny because it’s true.” You can argue back and forth on whether it’s an even remotely well designed machine, but your last two paragraphs were hilarious and stunningly accurate!

  9. Chris: very funny, and very true. Though, like Cathy says, the point isn’t speed, it’s noise! That, and the fact that they are, by God, American!

    (redneck mode on)

    What’s a matter wit chew, boy! You wantin’ to buy a furren motocycle? That means you’re either a furriner or a sissy or both. If Jesus were alive today, He’d drive a Harley, and do you know why? Because he’s an American! (Hush now, Linda Sue, don’t go confusing me with facts, I’m on a roll.)

    (end rednect mode)

  10. Nicky says:

    Chris, I am a Brit resident in the US these past six years and was online this morning trying to figure out what Americans called a clothes rail – one of those temporary clothes storage devices that are often used in stores. Well, no dice I’m afraid but I had the pleasure of stumbling across your septic’s companion dictionary and then your blog and you kept me laughing out loud for a good hour.

    You are a classic example of one of the things I have learned in these six years – Americans are quite as capable of laughing at themselves as anyone else is and with the assistance of neanderthals like “texas rider” who appears, shockingly, to be from Texas, can make asses of your selves and subsequently use this as an excuse for entertainment just as well as any so called intellectual (aka “toilet”) British humour. Keep it up and thank you!

    When driving in the UK, one would usually see motorcyclists appear (briefly) in one’s rear-view mirror before howling past at an obscene rate of progress and disappearing over the horizon. In the US, I am in the habit of uttering a silent curse when I draw up behind one of your accurately described male menopausal bad boys as they, along with buicks and mini-vans, appear to exist solely to clog the roads. I guess that business of “handling” being as prevalent in the design process of a Harley as “rear-view mirror” is in the repertoire of the average driver who passed their test driving round a strip mall parking lot has something to do with it.

  11. Nicky says:

    Ooops

    It seems you’re Scottish not American. Well, my bad. None the less, your observations stand, I feel, and while I apologise to those Americans who are offended by my veneration of an alien as a classic example of an American, I also claim that this is what the USA is all about to me; cultural diversity. That’s why I make my home here.

  12. Brian Woods says:

    I think Harleys are popular mostly because of the film Easy Rider. That said, if you head to New Mexico, you will see some people that you would definitely not want to mess with on Harleys. They aren’t dentists, but will do some dental work on you if you piss them off. I had one follow me 60 miles out of his way because I missed seeing him in the blind spot of the rather large truck I was driving.

  13. Neil says:

    Chris you have missed the point of HDs entirely. Riding them is not the point having them sit in the driveway proclaiming to the world that the resident is capable of owning one is the point.
    Oh and not to put too fine a point on it the sit up and beg riding position is more accommodating to the the ummmm American physique than the crouched over the tank position of racer inspired bikes.
    Looking at the table you used I am once again befuddled by the way US engineers manage to get so little power out of such big engines (a point eloquently made more than once on Top Gear)?

    Here’s something I’ve noticed too WTF is it about USians and Honda Goldwings? The only MC able to hide the average US rider amongst the fairing, Parker lounger seat and load boxes. Who thought making a bike that could tow a trailer was a good idea? Somebody bright clearly coz you see bings of them round here (NC).

    Being another Scots transplant to the US I see a lot of the oddities you mention and I’m sure there’s a deep socio-cultural philosophical root to it all. Can’t be arsed working it out tho’.

  14. Bikeless in Illinois says:

    Either you like them for their worth or you don’t. I like them and see value other than as some he man toy. My take comes after much research and many test. I have ridden Gold Wings (very nice), Stars (also nice), sport bikes, sport touring, and many others. I still prefer the Harley touring bikes. Comfort and performance is there for the duties I would put it through. So I guess this may be as like a Jeep thing, you just wouldn’t understand.

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