Harley Davidson…, not the fastest, not the lightest, not the nimblest, not the most economical, not the longest lived, and not, perhaps surprisingly to some, the best built…. So what is it then? Humm.. Well, it may be the heaviest, and the most expensive to operate. It could be the hardest to maintain and have the most inflated value. They do have a reputation for being the leakiest and least dependable, so what is it then? I am going to take a stab here. I think it has to do with Americana. A Harley Davidson is a kin to the fin on the back of the old Cadillac, or the 440 under the hood, or the huge neon Texan dude above the streets of Las Vegas, Or Las Vegas - for that matter. It’s like the Tee Pee motels on Rout 66. The giant cement Paul Bunion. And the 72 oz steak in Amarillo. It’s just all big, and American, and unsustainable.
I think of Americana in terms of Rout 66 and the Southwest. Americana isn’t trendy, or progressive, or enhanced, or sophisticated. It’s more rude and arrogant (ala ugly American arrogant), and belligerent. Yet in terms of nostalgia, it’s hauntingly beautiful and romantic. Americana somehow captures a moment in history when the hopes and dreams, and audacity, of America was as wide open as the horizon in the West.
The Harley Davidson, by virtue of its inherently un-necessity, unlike the car, has managed to remain essentially behemoth. This remained true long after the twenty foot long Chevy, art deco architecture, and commercial iconics, all succumbed to forward momentum. Harley Davidson refused, balked, stumbled and faltered. It would not, could not, get with the program. Ironically, this may be the very, and only, element of genius associated the the brand.
The cacophony of blather voiced by aficionados of Harley Davidson touting the superiority of the product is preposterous. Everyone knows this. Even the faithful. Japan, just as in automotives, long ago established superior engineering and has never let up. Then there are German, and Italian, and Russian motorcycles that far out perform, and out last, the Harleys. But what the sophisticated, in terms of engineering and performance, fail to quantify is that Harley Davidson possesses an element no manufacturer can reproduce. A direct and unbroken linage to the essential sprit of Americana. And in that virtue lies the rub. Harley Davidson has its finger on the pulse of a nostalgic Americana, and it refuses to let up.