Harley Davidson Motorcycles are pulling off a stunt only dreamed of by everyone from fading Hollywood starlets to aging professional athletes to average men and women marching through their daily lives.
America's most successful bike manufacturer is getting younger.
In the not too distant past, Harley was locked in as your parents' bike source – as a provider of touring motorcycles for older riders with more disposable income. But, in the last few years, the Milwaukee-based company launched a huge campaign to introduce its entire line of bikes to a wider demographic – while continuing to develop that unique Harley culture and brand.
As part of that effort, Harley sponsored the 2011 Willie Nelson Country Throwdown Tour, featuring the titular country legend in a series of five hour concerts with other major emerging country artists, including Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, Jack Ingram and Lee Brice.
A stop in steamy, seaside Corpus Christi saw the tour arrive at the Concrete Street Amphitheater – an outdoor venue literally carved out of a long dead concrete factory. About 3,000 happy Texans celebrated a warm Friday night as July 4th closed in on the horizon with a night of country music.
More importantly, to Harley Davidson, the Country Throwdown Tour is an opportunity to recruit new riders while cementing (no pun intended, considering the venue) the bike manufacturer's cultural identity.
According to Harley Davidson outreach specialist Amanda Lee, Harley Davidson brass realized the company needed to become more relevant with a larger market share around 2008. Young adults, African Americans, Hispanics and women were specifically targeted for sales, while Harley Davidson made sure to pay continued attention to the veteran male rider – its traditional core buyer.
“We definitely wanted to invite younger riders into the culture,” Lee said. “And we’ve had some success. The Harley Davidson Street Glide is the top selling bike to young adults. We sell more motorcycles to young adults today than we did to boomers when they were the same age.”
The Country Throwdown tour's central meeting point at each stop was the Harley Davidson Golden Horse Saloon, a truck-side tent featuring a mix of Harley Davidson's most popular, mid-range models, including the Dark Custom Blackline, the Forty-Eight and the Fat Bob.
Anyone intrigued by the atmosphere or the sight of the brand new, gleaming bikes could take a shot at the Jumpstart attraction. Jumpstart sets up a 2011 model of a manageable size Harley Davidson on a brace and rollers. With a full tank of gas and a coach on hand, aspiring riders can straddle the bike and learn the controls. Then, once the engine is fired up, they can run through the gears while mastering the clutch and throttle.
More women partake of the Jumpstart opportunity than men as guys seem more embarrassed to admit in public they don't know how to ride. But a few testosterone-fueled rookies overcame their nerves and egos to take the free lesson. Unfortunately, some of them overcompensate, over-revving the engine and slamming through the gears at a rate that – in any street environment – would send them careening into a bus or a brick wall.
Amongst all of the lady riders who tried Jumpstart, Texas-native Emily Schultz wowed the on-hand instructors. The 18-year-old had never been on any motorcycle before as a driver or passenger, but she shifted through the gears with a deft touch and a respect for the throttle. More importantly, she came away with a sudden love of motorcycles.
"It seemed terrifying at first," Schultz said. "But, I still wanted to try it. It was a lot of fun. I want to take lessons now."
Fortunately for young Schulz, Harley Davidson offers the Rider’s Edge program to prep motorcyclist for the road. Unfortunately for Schulz’s worried mother near the Saloon, the course comes at a significant discount for Jumpstart applicants.
Harley Davidson will continue its cross-culture outreach with the seventh annual 2011 Afro-Punk Festival in Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park on August 27 and 28. Celebrating the “Brooklyn Black Bike Scene,” the music festival will also feature skateboarding and BMX bike events.