March 2008

Let's Take a Ride

Author: Miranda Spencer

Harley-Davidson Clebrates 105 years in Hog Heaven

What seems like something of a dream became a reality over a century ago for two young men tinkering with engines in an old 10×15-ft. wooden shed. What came about in that old Milwaukeean wooden shed in 1901 was pure destiny—even to those who don’t believe in fate. William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, both barely old enough to buy alcohol in current times, created a contraption that would almost literally rock our worlds, and change the face of American branding as we know it. After Harley devised his first blueprint of an engine that was to be loaded on a bike, it’s rather stupefying to think that these two inventors could even imagine the multi-billion dollar industry and a world-wide, cult-like following that would come out of this single blueprint idea. It was going to be a long road ahead, with tire tracks of clear roads and business potholes, but they made it…

The Year of the Harley
The old saying rings true, “The first time can be a doozy.” In Harley and Davidson’s case, it rang through the Milwaukee hills like the sound of a putter from a bicycle with a one-cylinder doohickey attached to it. However, in 1904, the second bike brought the sound that brings chills to every Harley lover out there, and is considered the first “real” Harley Davidson motorcycle. According to various reports, once they realized that they were really onto something, Harley and the three Davidson brothers Arthur, Walter, and William, worked day in and day out to get their business running.

“We worked every day, Sunday included, until at least ten o’clock at night,” recalled Walter Davidson in an earlier interview. “I remember it was an event when we quit work on Christmas night at eight o’clock to attend a family reunion!”

Four years later, Walter Davidson, who later became the first president of the company, competed in the 7th Annual Federation of American Motorcyclists Endurance and Reliability Contest; the bike scored a perfect 1,000 points.

With improvements and sales increasing over the next few years, it was only in their right mind to keep going. In a Harley-Davidson history nutshell, the boys constructed a larger factory (now the landmark destination in Milwaukee), built the first V-Twin power motorcycle, created a logo (the famed bar and shield) and were selling half of their bikes to the military for WWI. By 1920, they were the largest motorcycle manufacturing company in the world. They had become so popular that they were selling approximately 30,000 bikes internationally with 2,000 dealerships in over 67 countries. And after the signing of the Armistice, Corporal Roy Haltz of Chippewa Falls, WI was the first American to enter Germany…. He was riding a Harley-Davidson. They were even one of two American companies, besides Indian Motorcycles, to survive the Great Depression.

Years down the road after Harley’s and Davidson’s deaths in the 1940s and 1950s, the company began to plummet and bankruptcy was knocking on their door. But since no one answered that horrific knock, the company regained its strength, roared its thunderous engines, and once again became the leading motorcycle brand in the world, bringing a new meaning to brand loyalty.

“Potato… Potato… Potato…Potato…”
It’s a following that began in 1916 when the company put out their first magazine issue for the motorcycle devotee, The Enthusiast. Since then, The Enthusiast has been the longest running motorcycle magazine in the world, and has conjured up millions more Harley-Davidson admirers. So much that in 1983, H.O.G. (standing for Harley Owners Group) was conceived, and has since become the world’s largest factory-sponsored club of motorcycle enthusiasts, boasting half a million members.

Jennifer Hoover, the marketing coordinator for Savannah Harley-Davidson said, “You have this conception of ‘owning the road,’ when you own a Harley. It’s not really a necessity, it’s a hobby, then it becomes a passion, and then a way of life.”

Kim Flenard who has been with Savannah Harley-Davidson for 12 years and is now the assistant general manager, agrees. “It’s now one of the most sought after brands in the entire world,” she said. “You see the bar and shield everywhere you look. How many people do you see get ‘Honda’ tattooed on their arm?”

But it’s not just the infamous bar and shield that brands their loyalty. The unique sound of a Harley-Davidson can be picked up well before it’s even seen; and for people like Flenard, it literally gives chills just hearing it. This signature soundtrack has been described from some as a “throaty pounding.” But most people describe it as a “potato, potato” resonance.

“If you pull up next to a Honda or a different kind of bike, and they look like a Harley,” said Flenard, “just sit there and listen for that ‘potato, potato’ sound. Then listen to a Harley and you’ll hear a distinct difference. There have been people who have even tried to copy the sound but they just can’t.”

The motor company admits they did this on purpose, and it’s mostly for the added pleasure of a Harley-Davidson riding experience. That’s why when places like Savannah, Daytona, Myrtle Beach, and Milwaukee hear a swarm of potato-potatoes coming, they know it may be time for Bike Week, a Hog Rally, or the Big Ride to Milwaukee. This year is the 105th Anniversary Big Ride to Milwaukee, and it is said to be the largest Harley-Davidson ride ever. Having 25 routes and 105 starting points from all over the United States, it’s imperative for any Harley-lover, or even someone who’s just minutely interested, to find a spot to catch the action.

Get On Your Bikes and Ride!
In an incredibly competitive world of look-alikes and wannabe’s, Harley-Davidson retailers have been astoundingly successful. Only 20 years ago the mom and pop shops were the leading Harley-Davidson retailers, but today’s revenues have hit in the billions, and they’ve gained well over 9,000 employees worldwide. Every state in the entire U.S., including Alaska, has anywhere from three to 57 dealerships. One of the seven in Georgia is Savannah Harley-Davidson.

So ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, baby-boomers and generation X & Ys, start your engines. It’s Harley Davidson’s 105th year anniversary, and the celebration is oh-so-close to your driveway. Savannah Harley-Davidson is your spot—and not just for the fun, but also for Harley rentals, bike demo’s, merchandise, and exceptional knowledge and customer service.

Savannah Harley-Davidson, located on Gateway Blvd right off of I-95, is where the parties are at. They have everything from chili cook-offs, Octoberfests, their recent “Get Down to Daytona” contest, to the upcoming 105th Anniversary Big Ride to Milwaukee bash.

Their “Get Down to Daytona” event, happening on March 1, is Harley-Davidson’s marketing attempt to hone in on getting more female riders. And since the number of women riders is increasing every year (from two percent to the current 14 percent), there’s no mistake that this contest came along at the right time.

“Harley-Davidson held a contest in which women from all over the U.S. submitted a 90-second video on why she thought she should be awarded this trip of a lifetime to Daytona during Bike Week,” explained Hoover.

Harley-Davidson’s initial plan was to have three winners, but the response was so large, they decided to award the trip to the final six candidates and their mentors—the person who introduced them to riding. “Wherever they are in the United States,” said Hoover, “the lady, her mentor, and both of their bikes will be shipped to Atlanta where the starting point for Bike Week will be held. Karen Davidson herself will be with them, then they’ll ride their bikes here on March first.

The largest bash, the 105th Anniversary Big Ride to Milwaukee, is happening in August, and from what Hoover says, “It’s going to be huge, huge, huge.”

Savannah was actually one out of the 25 cities in the U.S. handpicked to be a destination city to ride through to Milwaukee.

“So folks who are going to leave from our location are going to be here on Friday, August 22, and we’ll have our big 105th celebration here on Saturday the 23rd,” explained Hoover. “There will be concerts, a bike giveaway, you name it.”

On August 24, the riders will leave to go to the next destination, then the next, until they finally arrive in Milwaukee for the big bash.

“The majority of the folks will be coming in from the south of us, and a bit from the west,” said Hoover. “Places like Atlanta, Nashville, and other feeder cities will be overnight places for people to sleep. But since we’re one of the 25 ‘destination’ cities, that’s why we’re having the big party with Miller and with Hooters who are right next door.”

The annual bike give-away will be held on this day as well, and since many of our troops will be coming home from overseas the celebration includes them. “We’ll also be advertising all over country music stations to reach out to a different market,” said Hoover.

This will be a chance for anyone who has ever even had the smallest notion to ride or check out a Harley-Davidson, to come and demo one, or even rent one for the day or week. Savannah Harley-Davidson is expecting a huge turnout for this event and they’re hoping to bring in Generations X and Y—the offspring of their largest market, the baby boomers.

“Harley-Davidson’s campaigning has gone through an overhaul to please the X and Y generations by becoming the sponsor for the UFC Fights,” said Hoover. “We’ll even have live broadcasting. We’ll also be sponsoring things such as roller derbies, snowboarders, and graffiti artists.”

They even include art students from SCAD to create illustrations for sidewalk art and haunted houses for Halloween. They recently attended a dealership show in San Antonio that was almost completely clad in merchandise and motorcycles for the Xs and Ys.

“We have the V-Rod, which is a 5-speed, and is more for the sport bike rider,” explained Flenard. “We also have the new Crossbones, built specifically for Generation X and Y.”

So apparently there has been a huge change in marketing, and it’s because Harley-Davidson has noticed a different demand in styles such as the “blacked out” models of bikes rather than the “chrome” versions.

“The X and Ys want the look to be more vintage,” said Flenard. “They’re going for the original look, and I think it’s because people are being influenced by the custom bike builder shows on Discovery and other channels.” And we all have to admit, times are changing and flashy things aren’t as popular as they used to be—when it involves bikes.

“Some people view chrome as flashy or like the ‘bling’ of a motorcycle,” said Flenard. “The more chrome you have, the more money you appear to have, and I think that people are trying to get away from that. Plus,” she continued with a laugh, perhaps from experience, “who wants to clean chrome all day?”

According to Flenard, a large segment of the market is custom motorcycles and sport bikes, but Harley-Davidson realizes that people still like choppers. So they continue to keep up with the Baby Boomer generation, and even the veteran devotees from WWII who still love their Harleys. This could stem from childhood, as with Al Silver, the Service Manager of Savannah Harley-Davidson. “Some people—their dad or granddad owned a Harley. Some people’s earliest memories of motorcycles are of huge Harley-Davidsons. It’s our whole history,” he said.

“There are so many people’s lives that Harley-Davidson impacted,” said Flenard. “And you always hear stories of people who met their husbands and wives with Harley-Davidson. It really, truly brings people together.”

Whatever year you were born, whoever you know that rides a Harley, or even if you’ve never imagined yourself on one, it’s definitely worth your while to see Savannah Harley-Davidson for yourself. Demo a bike, rent a bike, hang with the bikers, or just try on the infamous leather jackets. Release the biker within… and have fun!

pcoming Events at Savannah Harley-Davidson
March 1: Get Down to Daytona Contest Party
August 23: 105th Anniversary Big Ride Party and Bike Giveaway
September 11-12th: Georgia State Hog Rally at Tybee Island
October 31-November 1: Haunted Coast Rally

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