If it’s true that Willie G. is the creative and spiritual push behind The Motor Company, and that made-in-Milwaukee products, in turn, influence the drawings of many others, then the case could be made that Harley-Davidson’s Chief Styling Officer is the inspiration for the cruiser industry as a whole.
With that premise, Bertrand Gahel discusses Harley’s 2010 new model offerings.
William G. Davidson is one fascinating character. Addressing the press at the 2010 Harley-Davidson lineup launch, held this year in Denver, Colorado, he spoke fervently, straight, and unrehearsed about cruiser design for nearly an hour. While his lifelong passion and devotion for the brand were, of course, part of the discourse, it didn’t take long before he turned his attention to the four bikes parked between himself and the completely silent media. This is when things got interesting.
The Fat Boy Lo, Electra Glide Ultra Limited, Road Glide Custom and Dyna Wide Glide are The Motor Company’s biggest news for 2010. While Harley-Davidson considers these motorcycles to be new products, all are actually relatively minor variations of existing models, at least technically speaking. What could possibly be so interesting, then, about such announcements? Quite a bit, actually.
Describing each model and how it came to be, the man everyone calls Willie G. essentially gave a rare insider’s account of the way things get done over at Harley-Davidson. In a nutshell, he confirmed what is commonly believed, but very seldom openly admitted by the company itself: style does indeed come first at Harley-Davidson, and function does follow form. More on that later.
Although this is basically the polar opposite of how most of the industry operates, it’s a business model that evidently works wonders for the Milwaukee brand: Harley-Davidson’s immense market share in the cruiser segment stands as indisputable proof of this unusual formula’s success.
It wasn’t specifically mentioned who makes the final decision as to which model makes it to production or not, and one would think, as in any business, that “the board’s” opinion would account for that final decision. But Harley-Davidson isn’t just any business, and listening to Willie G. speak that evening in Denver, it almost seemed the guy could very well be running the place all by himself. Of course, technically, he doesn’t, but spiritually, there’s support for this assumption: if most “new” Harley-Davidsons are before anything else stylistic variations of existing products, and if William G. Davidson is the Chief Styling Officer of the company, then, Willie G. is the chief. Stretch that logic just a bit, and factor in that the cruiser industry as a whole takes a lot of inspiration from motorcycles Made in Milwaukee, then it could be argued that Willie G. is also the spiritual chief of the whole cruiser industry. Opinions within The Motor Company naturally tend to substantiate this premise. Though there’s an extensive and very talented design team at Harley-Davidson, this same team is led and educated by Willie G., who has long claimed that he’s an artist before anything else. His canvas just happens to be Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
THE ALL-TOO PREVALENT BELIEF IS that Harley-Davidsons are built according to a “function follows form” philosophy, and for that reason function is completely left out of the equation. The bikes Harley builds are nice enough, it’s just that they don’t work very well, so this line of thinking goes. Certainly there are instances in the lineup where form definitely does supersede function—suspension lowered too far in order to achieve a certain look, for example—but the vast majority of Harleys work just fine by cruiser standards. You’ll even find some that easily surpass the class average in terms of functionality. The new Fat Boy Lo is a good example as you simply won’t find a heavyweight cruiser that’s easier to ride.
The original Fat Boy is already one of the lowest and lightest handling big-inch cruisers out there, but the new Lo version is even more so. The Lo obviously stands for Lower, as in seat height, which goes from 27.5 to 26.35 inches as a result of a 1.15-inch drop at the back. Harley-Davidson says that at 24.25 inches laden (with a 180-pound rider in the saddle), the Fat Boy Lo’s seat height is the lowest of any Harley sold today. And you feel it. With your feet flat on the ground and your knees deeply bent, as though you were on a short stool, the bike’s 730 pounds seem almost like a misprint. Once underway, whether in town, at highway speeds, or in the middle of a twisty mountain road, this feeling of lightness and agility never goes away. Like many manufacturers today, Harley-Davidson wants to attract younger riders and women to their brand. The Fat Boy Lo, especially in its “Dark Custom” finish, which is apparently quite successful with younger buyers, just might become one of the most desirable items for that particular customer demographic.
THE NEW ELECTRA GLIDE ULTRA LIMITED is aimed at the completely opposite end of Harley-Davidson’s clientele spectrum. Its goal is to convince buyers of the popular and expensive Electra Glides to spend even more money on Milwaukee’s top-of-the-line touring model. The logic behind the new Limited is as follows: the Electra Glide being the manufacturer’s best selling model, the probability is high that a certain portion of buyers will be willing to pay more for an “exclusive” version. To persuade them to spend $4,500 over the retail price of an Ultra Classic Electra Glide, the Limited has some interesting arguments. To list only a few, there’s exclusive two-tone paint and various upgrades such as black and chromed (rather than polished) wheels, ABS and standard heated grips. Certain to be the tipping point for most potential buyers, a Twin Cam 103 delivering a claimed 10 per cent more torque than the standard TC96 is also part of the Limited package. While the difference in power between the standard Ultra and the new Limited isn’t as clearcut as it is between the standard model and the TC110-equipped CVO version it is, nevertheless, much appreciated. Anyone familiar with these heavy and relatively slow bikes knows every little bit helps, and the extra oomph brought by the former CVO engine that is the TC103 definitely helps.
THERE FRANKLY ISN’T A WHOLE LOT to say about the returning Wide Glide. Harley-Davidson’s literature describes it as an old-school chopper style custom that’s low and stretched-out with forward foot controls that give its rider a fists-in-the wind profile. The 2010 model’s renewed look is obviously due to its trademark wide fork raked out to a generous 34 degrees, and to a number of details such as an available flame paint scheme, a short sissy bar, Tommy Gun exhaust and a chopped rear fender kept clean by a stop/turn/tail LED combo. The “extreme” riding position really isn’t that extreme once on the road. It does, however, place the rider in the appropriate stance to match the model’s somewhat rebellious theme. What remains untouched from the previous Wide Glide is the absolutely unique and exquisite way the TC96 shakes and trembles inside the Dyna frame.
THE LAST SIGNIFICANTLY CHANGED model in Harley-Davidson’s 2010 bikes is a replacement for the Road Glide, the Road Glide Custom. Often criticized for its awkward proportions, but endorsed by its owners for its good weather protection and frame mounted fairing, the Road Glide never was one of Harley-Davidson’s most successful models. According to Willie G., the idea for this variation came from a trend he noticed on the street. After seeing more and more slammed baggers, he thought Harley-Davidson should offer something of the sort. It was never said that the Road Glide was chosen because it offered the most potential for visual improvement, but that’s exactly what the new-for-2010 Custom treatment has accomplished.
“I just started chopping and removing stuff from the standard Road Glide,” is how the Chief Styling Officer describes the transformation. The double silencer exhaust is now a 2-into-1 design that’s also the exact piece now found on the popular Street Glide for 2010. Actually, because both the Road Glide and the Street Glide receive identical modifications for 2010, they can now be considered to be the same motorcycle offered with the choice of a fork- or frame-mounted fairing.
HARLEY-DAVIDSON FULLY EXPECTS business to be tough for a while, and the manufacturer is taking steps to face the present and future problems brought by the ongoing economic crisis. According to Core Customer Marketing Vice-President Bill Davidson, who also spoke at length about the short- and long-term goals of the brand during this launch, these tough times along with changing demographics are bringing challenges Harley-Davidson fully plans to address head-on. “Every Customer a Custom,” was his way of explaining how the future will see models more intimately matched than ever with customers’ tastes and desires, and how we’ll see the Motor Company try harder than ever to amplify the bond many owners feel with the brand.
by Bertrand Gahel, Canadian Biker #256