MY SON-IN-LAW BUYS A HARLEY
It’s hard to justify buying a Harley; from any rational logical point anyway. Imagine you’re a bloke trying to justify the purchase to your wife (just as an example; I know a few women who ride Harleys, and who probably had to try to justify the purchase to their husbands!). Your best bet is probably the low rate of depreciation. “If I keep the bike for, say 10 years, it’d be worth at least four times what an equivalent Japanese bike would be worth. So I’ll get heaps more money for it when I sell it!” (Don’t tell her that an “equivalent” Japanese bike would cost about half what you’re going to pay for the Harley!). But beyond the low rate of depreciation, from any logical, rational, show-me-on-a-spreadsheet view-point you’ve got nothing! No, owning a Harley is all about image; it’s about the culture, the lifestyle, and the heritage (no pun intended!) of the name-plate. It’s also about tradition – a Harley is a Harley, and has been for over 100 years! Some would say that traditionally, Harleys have been the ultimate in form-over-function, and I would tend to agree; but when we’re looking at current bikes, today’s Harleys, particularly the big tourers, are I believe (I’ve never ridden one of the big tourers), actually very good bikes in the way they ride and even handle. All this was brought into focus in my old mind recently when my son-in-law, Damien, bought a Harley. Damien has had a very checkered history with bikes. He began riding dirt-bikes at a young age, then in his 20s decided he’d get his license and ride on the road. What followed was a periodic swap from road bikes to dirt bikes. You can read about one of his dirt-bikes (and my attempts to ride it around his back-yard!) here. His last road bike was an early model Yamaha R1. But that went the way of all previous bikes (sold to buy something else of interest, a car I think) a couple of years ago. But with the history of the bikes he has had (motocross off-road, and sports style on-road culminating in the R1), and the fact that he is a bit of a power freak (he currently owns a turbo-charged Nissan Skyline), when he first started talking about buying a Harley I was a bit surprised! Ah, but he has mates who own Harleys. (The culture and lifestyle thing again!). So he kept an eye on the for-sales sites and came across one that particularly caught his eye. It was a 1999 Softail. It’d been fastidiously cared for and serviced, and looked immaculate, especially for its age. That's a photo of it, taken from the ad, at the top of this. But it had over 160,000km on the clock. Although the up-side of that was that it brought the asking price down a few grand less than similar models with fewer numbers on the odo. Anyway, he bought it. And that’s when all this issue of, let’s call it “rational logic”, came into focus. As I said above, you can’t justify buying a Harley on a spreadsheet. Just how true that is was highlighted when I compared it to my own bike. I looked up the specs on the Harley. The engine is about 100cc bigger than mine, but has not much more than half the power. And it weighs about 60kg more than my bike. So mine would obviously go a lot better, handle better, and ride better. And if you threw in maybe an extra couple of grand, you could buy one brand-new! Or, staying with similar capacity bikes, for the same money he paid for this he could almost get a brand new Suzuki Bandit – again, arguably a much better performing motorcycle than the 17-year old Harley. Okay, stop shouting; I know, I know! A Suzuki Bandit is not a cruiser: and neither is my bike. If cruisers are your thing, then you wouldn’t buy my bike and you wouldn’t buy a Suzuki Bandit, so the comparison is silly. I know! It’s valid only with pure specifications, as they might be laid out on a spreadsheet. In the real world it’s comparing apples with oranges. And I’m just comparing basic specifications. As is often said, you can’t objectively compare Harleys to other bikes; it’s just not like that – and especially if they aren’t even the same type of bike! But if cruisers are your thing you could, for example, buy a very late model Suzuki CT90, or Yamaha XVS1300, for the same price as this 17-year-old high kilometre Harley. Convince the bank manager (or the wife!) to give you, say an extra four grand, and you’d be riding a brand new one of these babies out of the showroom. But again, as is often said, you can’t even compare Harleys to other cruisers, because it just doesn’t work like that! Rationalism and spreadsheet-based logic aren’t factors in buying any motorcycle, but least of all a Harley! So, what was it like, this “new toy” my son-in-law bought? Well, as I've already mentioned, that's a photo of it at the top of this article: and below is another photo of it that I took. I think it looks great! It's very impressive – especially for its age. You wouldn’t find too many bikes of this age that are in as good a condition as this one! As you can see from the photos, there is heaps of chrome. And of course, it’s genuine chrome on genuine steel – not that fake plastic stuff that adorns a lot of Japanese bikes. (Yes, including mine!). And all the chrome looks brand new! In fact the whole bike looks pretty much “as new” – or as close to being “as new” as a bike of this age could get. The paint hasn’t faded, and even on the speedo there is no fading of the face or numbers. Obviously its previous owner cared for it very well. The only tell-tale signs of its age are a few small stone-chips in the tank; and you’ve got to look closely to see those. The engine is the last of the Evo motors, and sounds good, with no audible knocks or rattles, and no smoke from the exhaust. The exhaust is an after-market one (I forget the brand), and is typically loud. Damien says it’s loud out on the road, especially at highway speed. The seat is an after-market gunfighter style, and I found it to be very hard and uncomfortable. It also has an exaggerated scooped-out shape which adds to the discomfort. I wouldn’t last long sitting on that! But the standard seat was included with the bike and feels much softer and better padded. Damien said he was okay with the after-market one; and says it looks better. The ape-hanger bars don’t feel as extreme as they look. They place your hands at about shoulder height, which on this style of bike, actually feels fairly natural. Although for me, it tended to place me in a slightly leaning-backwards position. The Softail tries to mimic the look of the old solid rear ends, with the swing-arm cleverly designed to look like an extension of the frame. There is no suspension visible. It is there, of course, but it’s hiding: there are twin shocks lying side-by-side horizontally underneath the bike. It has to be said that there is a feeling of quality in the fittings and fixtures. I’ve already mentioned the real chrome on real steel, and it’s the same throughout the bike – as it is with pretty much all Harleys: there’s no flimsy plastic, or light-grade steel; this is all made out of solid quality materials. The accessories are similar – like the back-rest that is all chrome on heavy-weight steel, with quality plastic latches. Yes, the quality of construction and reliability of Harleys are often the butt of jokes, especially from owners (like me) of ultra-reliable Japanese brands, but that's actually being a bit unfair. And the service records that came with this bike, and its present condition, bear testimony to some long-term toughness and quality. I haven’t had a chance to ride it yet, but I'm not sure I want to: the weight, the horrendous vibration (at idle anyway), the hard seat, the awkward (for me) riding-position and the typical thump-up-the-spine ride would see me in pain after about, oh I don’t know, maybe a couple of kilometres at best! But he likes it, and that’s the important thing. As Harleys go, this is a good bike, and it's in amazing condition considering its age and distance covered. I'm looking forward to going riding with him again! (Although now it might be me slowing down to let him catch up!).
Written September 2016.
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