Beantown Baggers

Harley Paradox – examining the Harley Snob

Every time a metric cruiser graces the pages of our site, we are reminded of a principle we call the Harley Paradox. This is the schism between Harley Riders and everybody else. Normally metric cruisers receive a little love from the general public evenly balanced by a handful of people showing their distain toward our publication for featuring non-US baggers, an insult to their core sensibilities.

Now before anybody thinks this article is “un-American” you should know that as writers and riders, everybody at Beantown Baggers happens to ride Harleys. We do this out of  personal preference driven by a number of factors but many of us did start on metric scooters before we could afford a Milwaukee-born extravagance.

A guy towing his bagger by means of Porsche in Aspen, CO on a beautiful sunny day.

A guy towing his bagger by means of Porsche in Aspen, CO on a beautiful sunny day.

The irony is that as riders we normally have a number of motivations for this hobby including camaraderie, freedom and a creative streak to build or design something original. There is a general disdain for the guy who drops a fortune on a bike and spends more time in his 911 Cabriolet on sunny Saturdays than on an over-chromed CVO. (Worse yet is the photo featured below with the guy towing his Bagger by means of a Porsche on a beautiful sunny day in Aspen, CO.)  So why do we demand that people spring for a Harley to “earn” respect in front of dive-bars across the country?

The inherent challenge is that a Harley will set you back $20,000 or more and not everybody can afford the luxury associated with this brand. Less affluent riders fear hostility from other “road scholars” toward their metric decision and as a result may forgo joining this community choosing to wait until finances can better support American sheet metal.  The fact remains that many bike brands are unquestionably a lower-cost entry into the motorcycle community than a Harley Davidson

So why do people have such strong feelings about Harley versus the rest of the world? Over the past few months we taken inventory of the reasons people often get angry with these non-Harleys on the site.

Harley Davidson is one of the last strong iconic American brands that symbolizes freedom and American industrial expansion. This feeling is supported by a deep history closely associated with the bars and shield (not to mention a multi-million marketing budget reinforcing the view that Harley Davidson owns freedom and the open road). Along with the fact that Harley engineering has been vastly improved over the past twenty years helps explain why many would prefer to part with their house, boat and most any other worldly possession before loosening the grip on their 2004 FLHP. With that said, none of this explains the deep seeded animosity toward metric riders.

One obvious answer can be that Harleys are made in America and we should support our home-made products whenever possible. But if you use this rationale, shouldn’t it expand to all products? This would include your car, phone, stereo and TV. Do you know how many phones or TVs are actually made in the USA? Not many. If you look at your American truck there is a great chance that many parts have been made either oversees or south of the border. Separately, if you have ever shopped at a Walmart your American-centric argument has just been busted.  Have you checked the label on your Harley apparel?

A second catalyst of the Harley Paradox might be fear of Japanese taking over the world industrial economy? This was a palpable fear in the 1980s resulting in pop songs such as “Turning Japanese” by the Vapors. The shift of industrial focus also influenced movie greats such as Gung Ho starring Michael Keaton. Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki all produced less expensive and relatively dependable bikes in the decade of excess but is this fear of Japan bankrupting the US still real? It seems that these days American Exceptionalism is more at risk with China than Japan.

To be clear, Beantown Baggers does not subscribe to this philosophy but the photo illustrates the divide in this riding culture

To be clear, Beantown Baggers does not subscribe to this philosophy but the photo illustrates the divide in this riding culture

Yet another objection is that many non-US bikes are poorly made or lack soul. It’s true that Japanese bikes favor plastic parts in place of steel in some areas but that is no reason to show contempt to the owner of the bike. Do the bikes lack soul? Again, this is a personal judgment call that shouldn’t necessarily lead to abhorrence of the operator.

The question still stands – why do some people detest non-Harley Davidson motorcycles?  Moreover, does that make all of us who wouldn’t consider riding one a Harley Snob? Where is the line between the driver of the Porsche towing a spotless dresser and somebody who requires a $20,000 hobby allocation to be accepted?

In an earlier article we highlighted questions we feel are the most important when choosing riding buddies:

  • Can you keep up?
  • Are you out to ride and experience the world or just show off your bike in front of a coffee shop?
  • Is your riding an extension of you or is your bike an extension of your wallet?
  • Will you try and help me when I’m stuck roadside?
  • Are you the type of person with whom I can have a drink after a great day of riding?

Have we missed any?

It seems like none of these questions require exorbitant budgets but rather a mentality of somebody who wants to experience the world freely, openly and perched above two wheels.

'Merica!

‘Merica!

Flag-Bagger Flag-Bagger-Fairing

Let us know your thoughts and send your letters to beantownbaggers@gmail.com

30 comments

  1. Scot

    I spent so much wasted time saving for a Harley and not riding. I came to the conclusion that the ride is more important than what you’re riding on. I believe strongly in supporting American workers (I refuse to go to Walmart). But I do ride a Jap bike and I ride it every chance I get. I asked an old biker guy I know “am I going to hell for riding a Jap bike?” He said “at least you won’t break down on the way!” I’ll make it to an American made bike someday, Harley, Indian, Victory, who knows, but it will always be about the ride and not the status symbol.

    • For your information about 40% of Harley parts are american made. The front ends areade in Japan as well as all electric components. Heads are made on Australia. Etc etc. They are only assembled here. I’m also curious about Walmart. Do you think that every employee in the store commutes from Japan ? Walmart is in the selling business they sell what they can get. Its not their fault that most american manufacturers outsource their product .

      • Road Captain

        Thank you for the correction. We were under the impression that all walmart workers commute daily from Japan. Your point makes sense as that travel schedule seems like a logistical nightmare.

        I think we may have been unclear on the point of the article. We are well aware that many of Harley’s parts are manufactured overseas. Much of their Apparel is made in china. The comment about Walmart is simply pointing out that few people are consistent about their devotion to “American made” products.

        After considering these arguments, we still love Harley’s and support metric cruisers if that’s your preference.

        Thanks for reading Beantown Baggers and we hope this clarification helps.

      • cjmmjc

        Actually it is Walmarts fault (well mostly), because Wal-mart in its enormity sets the wholesale prices of the products they sell. THEY demand the product at X price, and the only way for the manufacturer can meet the price is to go overseas to make it. Can a Mfg say no… sure but name a Manufacturer that can afford NOT to be in Walmart… NONE, so they have to acquiesce. This power swing in merchandising swung to the end retailer about 20 years ago. Right about the time Walmart ended its “made in america Campaign. remember that.

  2. Mike Tanacea

    Have had many bikes over the years.
    Harley’s , Brit and Jap. Enjoyed them all but still partial to my Harley’s . Now I won’t own anything but.
    Don’t discriminate although most times when riding with others , the non Harley riders are always to the rear. Nuff said!

    • Mike

      I’ve been riding 35+ years and had 22 Harley’s and several BMW’s. I currently ride a BMW R1200RT. The only time I ride behind any Harley is when I feel like going that slow. That being said, I often lead rides of almost all Harley’s and usually only fill up every other time they do. I had two brand new ElectraGlides in a row that were junk, and HD Motor Co would NOT stand behind their product. Cam chain tensioners/Twin Cam….need I say more ???

  3. I love bikes period. Yes I own a harley now but I have owned at least 5 hondas and a few yamahas and a kawi. I never drank the koolaid when it came to the whole ” real bikers” only ride harleys crap. The truth is harley makes a great bike and I love mine but it doesn’t make me more of a biker riding one. There are a lot of harley haters out there as well. I think people just need to chill out and love what you ride and respect one another

  4. Jimmy Glingo

    When I couldn’t afford a harley I rode metric. Since owning a Harley I’ll never go back. If you have to ask you’ll never understand. Period. Ps. I also have a BMW. So bite me.

  5. daniel

    I’ve ridden all types of motorcycles,american, brit, japaense, cruisers and sports bikes alike. I do prefer cruisers but its the road glide that I love, the style and the big sharkfin front to hold a massive stereo is what I want now in life. I love going distances and haveing a comfy seat, saddle bags and a bad ass stereo helps me go the distance and makes it fun!

    • Poppa Derf

      After 80k miles it was time to turn in the FLHR. Picked up the Road Glide Ultra.(a.k.a. my Geezer Glide). All about the comfort now days.

  6. Greg

    Do you have any idea what the song “Turning Japanese” is about? You may be surprised…. I’m guess you’ll want to edit that out of this article after you find out!

    • Road Captain

      Greg,
      Great catch on the rumored premise of the song though it is clearly not applicable here.

      The song has been used over the years in documentaries about fears of the US losing the innovation economy in the late 70s and early 80s – this is the context in which we use the reference. Songwriter David Fenton has said “Turning Japanese is all the clichés about angst and youth and turning into something you didn’t expect to.”

      We do however understand that the song could take on a separate meaning that has nothing to do with motorcycles – at least not in a context we ever plan to write. Our goal is to motivate conversation about motorcycles, bike-related interests and the community. We endeavor not to offend though are aware many songs and cultural references can take on different meanings to different people.

      Thanks for reading Beantown Baggers

  7. I had bikes when I was younger, gave them up when my daughter was born. I rode a Norton 850 for a few years (no license), and tooled around town on a Kawa 250 dirt bike when I was about 16 (no helmet, wearing shorts, and sneakers). When my daughter turned 21 I started looking. I did my homework and talked to guys who actually had the bikes I was interested in. I settled on a 2007 FLHP and started spending to make it my own. I wanted a comfortable cruising bike that I was both myself and my friends were familiar with when I wanted to change stuff or do my own repairs.The mystique had nothing to do with it, it just seemed like a good fit at the time. The price was right and so was the mileage. Will Harley be my next bike, or even my last bike? Who knows, it depends on what I plan on doing with it.

  8. Mike

    I started riding in ’73 on a Yamaha. I got my first Harley in 04, an Electra Glide Classic . It was good and I enjoyed the comfort. The service and repairs costs were extremely expensive. But what I found when I looked closely, parts for my Harley were not made in the USA. The wheels were marked, inside on the bottom of the wheel, made in China. This was factory equipment on my American Made Harley. Headlight bulb was German. I never downed other motorcycles. After 86k miles traded for a Vulcan Voyager. Will I buy another Harley…don’t know. A friend of mine only owned several Hondas and cut down Harley riders, including myself. His son sold him his Road King and now he cuts down the metrics. Who woulda thunk it! A lot of parts are made outside of the USA for just about any brand of motorcycle so don’t fuss. Another friend of mine was on a tour of a Harley plant and through an open door (the “cop” in him took him where he was not supposed to be) saw palets containing boxes with some form of Asian type of writing on them. Harley guide said they were shipped by accident to them. My point is the real deal is NOT what you ride but being ABLE to ride. I am now sixty-six and have been learning since 1973. With the help from above to keep me vigilant and able, I will ride till I am at least ninety-five on that machine with two wheels called… a motorcycle.

  9. Just a view from a guy who has had both types of bikes. I started off with a Kawasaki zl600 eliminator in 1998 it was a cool sort cruiser and all I could afford. I loved that bike and live in Laconia in the summer. I would get chants of “Get a real Fu&king bike” in traffic sometimes and it shocked me at first. Could you see someone knocking on your door and saying “get a real fuc&ing house!?” I didn’t get offended by these donkeys, I laughed at them. I went on to buy an ’88 fxrp & I now have a 2013 road glide. None of that bashing had anything to do with my decision. I love my new bike as well, and I’ll talk to anyone on a motorcycle, ask them about their stories, rides and experiences. That’s what riding is all about to me. Too some, they think buying a harley automatically get them in the cool club. I say, screw the snobs and just ride.

  10. Jon

    I have no shame when it comes to riding motorcycles. I own a Harley and several Yamaha’s. I would love love love to see a Harley keep up with my 1100 midnight special..

  11. Don Desilets

    I was going to leave a long reply, but after reading Terry’s he said exactly what I had planned. I started riding in 1969. Enjoyed many a Honda’s and Kawasaki’s especially my first Z1 900 ! I’ve never gone without a motorcycle since I started. I road a 750 Honda (used) for 9 years while my son was growing up. All I cared was I had a motorcycle to ride when I had the chance. I’ve probably owned 30 or 40 motorcycles . In 2004 I bought my first Harley because I wanted to see what all the hype was about and my finances had changed. I still have that bike along with two other Harley’s in the garage. I just happen to love Harley’s but would never snub another biker for his choice of two wheels. I will say if the time came and my finances changed I wouldn’t hesitate to ride an older metric cruiser and could care less who made fun of me for doing so because I know what riding is all about.
    Don

  12. Jordan

    Love this article. The Harley-snob mindset drives me crazy. It’s about the ride, not about the bike. I bought my first and current bike in 2011… A 750 Honda Shadow Phantom. I looked at Harley’s, but nothing in my price range turned me on like the Honda. Next year I plan on upgrading to a Harley Softail Slim. I am choosing that bike because it looks so much like my current ride, but will more balls. There are no larger metric cruisers that excite me as much as the Slim. I should point out that when I do upgrade, there’s no way in hell I’ll be trading in my Honda. She’ll always be in my collection.

  13. I have a ’98 Honda Shadow 750. I’ve had it 16 years and put 160,000 miles on it. The motor has never been opened up for nothing! It’s always sat outside in the weather without a cover. It’s been thru two floods! I collected the full coverage on it once and bought it back for 600 bucks. And I can start it now with the push of a button. I’m the V.P. of a nation wide motorcycle club (The V Twin Cruisers Tidewater Chapter) and there ain’t no shame in my game!

    Say what you will about a Honda but the proff’s in the pudding!

  14. Pete

    Thanks for giving props to us metric cruiser riders….i think.
    I would match my 2011 stratoliner deluxe to any harley cruiser in comfort, reliability, looks and speed. I could afford a harley but the yahama was more bang for my buck.

  15. Pete

    I am starting to believe the “too much chrome ” in regard to my 2003 CVO Deuce and am on a mission to breathe new life into my tired but worthy Shovel…

  16. Tony

    I ride Victory… American made. I ride with guys who prefer Harley’s. The base price on my Victory Judge is what allowed me to start riding again after 25 years. My Victory is comparable to any Harley in its class. So far. I haven’t had any issues with Harley guys at bike nights and coffee shops. Most of them are saying things like “I’ve been considering getting one. These are great bikes.” Peace!!

  17. Michael "Beau" Beaudoin

    I have this debate often with my Harley riding buddies, I call them all “lemmings” cause they hafta have a Harley for $20k, me I’m a little more frugal and have a Yamaha V-Star 1100 and a Kawi Drifter (a poor man’s Indian) all for $7k total. I’ve had a bike on & off since 1977, Kawi’s-Honda-Yamaha (and a H-D on loan from a buddy in the midst of a divorce). In the end I’m just happy riding, wouldn’t matter to me if it said “Playschool” on the tank. I am old enough to remember the AMF Harley’s with disdain, so perhaps thats why I’ve no interest. I have friends who had never had a bike buying Road Kings as starter bikes, I think thats a foolish ego driven decision, all so they can say “I have a Harley”…….

  18. dave coates

    Started out riding s little 80 cc yamaha made scooter in Germany back in the 80s. Owned a new kawasaki Ltd 550 which was a fantastic bike. A few used metrics and a new yamaha virago which was a pile of trash. Other than the under powered Virago all my metric bikes were great. Rode the Ltd from Aberdeen Maryland to Charleston sc with my son on the back. I would buy a bigger version of the Ltd if they still made them. I loved my 08 anniversary ultra classic and love my 12 ultra classic limited and a Harley bagger will always be my main bike. I like the Goldwing as a machine but can’t stand the look.

  19. You all are incorrect. Turning Japanese is a euphemism for male masturbation, Just squint your eyes and you’ll understand. Listen to the song, he is staring at a girls picture and going on about how beautiful she is. That comes courtesy of the band themselves via VH1 80’s Where Are They Now.
    I own the most American bike of them all, a homebuilt hardtail. Bitches.

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