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#301 Return of the Low Rider

Harley-Davidson‘s marketing tactics nearly always work, because they go straight to the heart.

Watching the reader feedback to Doug Jackson’s letter from two issues ago has been interesting. Doug sent us a photo from the old days back on the family farm where a hired hand arrived one summer by motorcycle. Kids being kids, Doug and his brothers clambered all over the bike, and someone took a picture that still exists in the Jackson archives. Doug asked the CB readership for help establishing the identity of the motorcycle, and we were immediately flooded with opinions, many straight from the heart, the latest of which is Cyril May’s letter this issue.
The object lesson here is that few brands stir an emotional response quite like Harley-Davidson. Pick an era from The Motor Company’s long history (any era at all) and someone you know will have a fond memory to share from their long-ago past. This is the power and continuing marketing strength of Harley-Davidson: its sheer ability to evoke brand loyalty and to tug on the old heartstrings. This month it was my turn, as Harley reintroduced an old model name, the Low Rider, which pays tribute to the original 1977 Low Rider with its two-tone livery.
I owned one of the Low Riders from the original years, though all that remains of it now in my possession is the battered photo you see here on this page (taken, as my friend Phil and I prep for a run to the Rockies).
The bike had quite the history, or at least it was the source of an endless array of checkered “incidents” ranging from its theft by members of a local but now defunct motorcycle club in Winnipeg (no need to name names) to a police roadblock in Calgary that was set up on my behalf because I had been mistaken for a notorious drug dealer with the same name and many identical physical features, who had a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest.
The Calgary police finally sorted it out, and went away crest-fallen that they had not busted a big-time bad guy but just another run-of-the-mill John Campbell. (Sorry about that, guys.) They still managed to issue $600 worth of fines to me—as compensation for their disappointment I suppose. By then, I had made heavy modifications to the Low Rider, and the cops definitely did not like that. Ticket time.
As for that outlaw club that made off with my bike while I was enjoying a drink with the boys in a Winnipeg tavern during the summer of 1980, well—long, long story, short—they eventually returned my Low Rider more or less intact minus the ignition module but, hey, no hard feelings here.
The only regret I have about the Low Rider was swapping the stock front end for a set of wide-Glide style forks fixed with a Bates headlamp and a spoke rim carrying Avon rubber. I knew that the OEM front end was special at the time because it offered dual disc brakes, but I wanted the wider, beefier look for my bike, which by then was already re-painted jet black from its original silver and black with red piping. Of course I had also jettisoned the original pipes for staggered duals, the OEM bars for a set of buckhorns, the controls, the seat and the mirrors too (which I replaced with a dentist’s mirror).
In hindsight, I probably should have kept all the stock components, paint, and styling bits. They might be worth something to someone by now. But how was I supposed to know that, 36 years later, the Low Rider was going to make yet another comeback?
Well, that’s Harley-Davidson for you, always messing with a man’s mind.

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