Open Letter From Bruce Arnold To Bill Davidson

harleydavidsonridersThis open letter is about corporate social responsibility of Harley-Davidson to fallen riders. It was written by Bruce Arnold (LDR Long Distance Rider) to Bill Davidson, Vice President Of Core Customer Marketing of Harley-Davidson Motor Company.

“Dear Bill,  A kind assessment of your response to my letter of June 6 entitled “Why Should Motorcyclists Support the MDA?”would be that what we have here is a failure to communicate. I am no enemy of Harley-Davidson, Bill.  I have been a biker at heart since I watched my first episode of “Then Came Bronson” as a boy, and a motorcyclist in fact since my father helped me buy my first ride in 1969.  I bought into living “the dream” promoted by the Motor Company hook, line and sinker, and perhaps in some small way have contributed to “the legend” by completing over 40 IBA-certified distance and endurance rides on my ’99 FXDS.

That is not to say, however, that you should expect me or any circumspect member of your core market to continue to give carte blanche approval to H-D’s corporate direction by mindlessly marching to the Piper’s tune, and overlooking if not embracing every misstep along the way.  Yes, Bill, it goes without saying that the Motor Company has profited greatly from the blind allegiance of its baby-boomer base for many years.  But as Bob Dylan sings, “the times they are a-changing”…

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (more aptly now the Black Hills Trailer Classic) celebrated its 69th year. And while touring Main and Lazelle, I observed more than a few attendees of comparable longevity. As you know, Bill, the median age of Harley riders is pushing 50. That means that even before making actuarial adjustments for those we will lose to the right-of-way violations of cellphone/texting/nail-painting/otherwise distracted cagers who’ll likely go unpunished for their crimes…you can expect about half of your current customer base to expire within 28 years.  So even if you prolong your sales and service revenue stream by convincing us aging graybeards to trade in our born-to-be-wild two-wheelers for the “threedom freedom” of Lehman-built Tri Glides, you’ll still be selling into a shrinking market.

Unless Harley-Davidson connects with a new generation, Bill, it will die along with the old. That means not only offering products that appeal to a more youthful demographic, but marketing them to more discriminating minds. The younger riders of the Internet era are web-wired and world-aware. That makes them less likely to need or even accept “reasons to ride” spoon-fed to them by H-D corporate’s entertainment marketing, and more likely to respond to initiatives evidencing corporate social responsibility (“CSR”).

A key component of CSR is proactive consideration of the welfare of those who purchase your products and services. In your case, that means motorcycle riders. And every year, in the U.S. alone more than 108,000 biker households suffer loss of income, limb or life in motorcycle accidents.  These accidents are not caused by Harley-Davidson, of course, and often not the fault of the rider……but there can be no debate that the losses suffered are directly attributable to motorcycling. Yet every year, millions of hard-earned biker dollars that H-D could be channeling to the aid of fallen riders and their families are instead diverted out of our community to fill the bloated coffers of the wastefully inefficient Muscular Dystrophy Association and other “charities” from which motorcyclists derive little if any benefit.

From a social responsibility standpoint, Bill, this is not only a marketing mistake but a moral outrage.  And until the error is corrected in Milwaukee, its impact will be reflected in your market share. Your Loyal and Long-Standing Customer”. Bruce Arnold., Author and Publisher,, Co-Moderator, Bruce-n-RC’s Biker Forum, Mile Eater Gold Member, Iron Butt Association (IBA), Sustaining Member, Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF), 2009 Chairman’s Circle, American Motorcyclist Association (AMA)

“The battle for bikers’ rights is not about patches, parties or poker runs. We fight to protect the freedom and promote the interests of American motorcyclists … to defend our right to choose our own modes of transportation, attire and lifestyle … to deter and defy discrimination against us … and to vanquish those who violate our rights or right-of-way.”–Bruce Arnold


11 Responses to “Open Letter From Bruce Arnold To Bill Davidson”

  1. 1 Brian Aug 27th, 2009 at 7:20 am

    Interesting and well said.

  2. 2 FUJI Aug 27th, 2009 at 7:56 am


  3. 3 Jim C Aug 27th, 2009 at 8:19 am

    A well thought out response to HD’s way of advertising. If HD wants to connect to a younger crowd (and they should),they might want to look at what different companies (such as Red Bull) are doing to promote their image to a younger buyer.

  4. 4 steveb Aug 27th, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Hey Bruce – I am not sure that there is a failure to communicate with HD
    Your rant mashed up a few disparate issues, you made a bunch of assumptions based on your own POV….in the end making it confusing as to what you want, or are looking for…

    try summing it up in one sentence

  5. 5 hoyt Aug 27th, 2009 at 10:59 am

    There may not be disparate issues based on the original exchange.

  6. 6 just my opinion Aug 27th, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Don’t know about the rest of you, but I believe HD has the right to do with their monies whatever they want, how they want, for any reason they want. They don’t owe any of us “anything”. We ride as a choice. If you fall off and get hurt, its on you. HD does not need to give to any charity they don’t want to. If long distance rider wants a fund for fallen riders maybe he should start one, with his money. Now I am no fan of the big HD but to tell Bill Davidson that HD needs to donate here or there in place of their chosen charity is not only arogant, but is down right wrong. Then to basically tell him he is going out of business if he does not do this, for the young rider to want to ride HD’s, that is crazy. Young people don’t give a damn who you donate money too. Those young rider are on the Honda’s and yamaha’s because they are fast and cheap period. But just as the average customer for HD is older so will the young rider get older as well. And as they do some of them will trade in their crotchrocket for a Roadking or Roadglide just as many of us did. I would not let anyone tell me where or how to spend my money and doubt HD will either. Bill Davidson probably never saw the letter. It was probably read by a secretary then she filed that letter in the round file next to the publishers clearing house winning numbers. Can’t blame a man for trying but as grandpa used to say ” son you can catch more bee’s with sugar than vinagar.”

  7. 7 36 Special @ Open Road Biker Aug 27th, 2009 at 7:39 pm

    Here is my take on the subject and the point I think Bruce is trying to get at (if anyone cares). Harley Davidson does have some responsibility to it’s customers in some way or form other than services and selling merchandise. This would or should be in the form of rider education, driver education (educating cagers about 2 wheelers), support for different MRF’s (to help with bikers rights), and maybe, possibly some type of non profit funds for those who are injured while in a motorcycle accident. The first three that I mentioned would probably be considered social responsibilities and would also make financial sense for a corporation that builds motorcycles. The last would be more of a moral responsibility and of course would be more subject to interpretation on how it was carried out. I guess the words ” the right thing to do” would sum up my reasons as a customer and motorcycle rider as to why they should do those things.

    Understand I know I can not tell or presume to think that the corp would even listen to me the consumer. Heck when it comes down to it, I guess we should be thankful they give to any organization. It is not the nature of any business to give money away unless it benefits them in some way.

  8. 8 Newtonian Aug 28th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    So old-age amongst HD riders equals addled brain, right ?

    You want them to fork up for when you crash, and fund your family, right ?

    It’s called insurance, you’ll find that it’s on sale out there without expecting someone at HD to include a wipe-my-arse clause with every new bike they sell.

    It’s not because you write it well that it’s not a load of bollocks.

    Moral outrage ? Get a life mate, and spare the flowery vocabulary for something more worthy.

  9. 9 bigalyts Aug 28th, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Giving money away is something that Nobody with any kind of Business mind does. Money is a Tool and therfore it is used by Business as a means to make more. By Donating Funds to a Perticular cause is and has been a well thought out and Calculated decision. Very simply put, the exposure of Harley Davidson donating money to a cause like MD will be a Profitable scenario, either now or down the Road. It will most definetly benfir the HD Corp. long before we will convert the “Rice Rocke Crew” into trading their Bikes for HD’s ! Their taste in those Bikes go way beyond being “Cheap and fast” . Look at their Choice of Riding as a whole INDUSTRY in itself. Maybe one day they will “see the light” and you will see them in Sturgis or Daytona with a Kawasaki or Suzuki Chopper. If you do, it will be a 10 sec. 1/4 mile Bike !

  10. 10 Bruce Arnold Sep 1st, 2009 at 7:05 pm


    “try summing it up in one sentence”


    I have. More than once. Here it is again, in one sentence:

    Who is more deserving of biker charity than our own?



    “I believe HD has the right to do with their monies whatever they want, how they want, for any reason they want.”


    I agree. What you are missing here is that the vast majority of the millions being (mis)channeled to MDA instead of fallen riders comes out of OUR pockets and NOT those of Harley-Davidson. The real issue here is about blind trust in Uncle Harley’s guidance resulting in a (mis)direction of OUR OWN MONEY more so than them wasting theirs (which if you think about it, came from us anyway).



    “Bill Davidson probably never saw the letter.”


    Bill Davidson sees my letters…



    “You want them to fork up for when you crash, and fund your family, right? It’s called insurance…”


    I both carry and recommend substantial amounts of life and accident insurance coverage. But anyone who believes “insurance” will pay all the bills or compensate a family for all the lost income associated with a serious illness, injury or death has never suffered through one.



    “Moral outrage? Get a life mate, and spare the flowery vocabulary for something more worthy.”


    I can think of no higher purpose for which to leverage my lexicon than drawing attention to the needs of fallen riders and their families.



    “Giving money away is something that Nobody with any kind of Business mind does.”


    Giving money away is something EVERY business does in one form or another, like it or not. But that’s not the point of my letters to Bill Davidson. If you think it is, please reread the letters and incorporated links:


  11. 11 just my opinion Sep 4th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Bruce; Lets be totally realistic, even IF harley was to fund a fallen riders fund how much money do you think there would be to help anyone? Lets say they give 5 million. Which is probably high since the market is so far down that they are laying people off. First some one must be paid to manage the accounts, someone else must distribute the money, there would have to be intervues to figure out who is deserving and who is not. And even then there are so many riders getting hurt or killed each year that the 5 million that has been managed and distributed down to 3.5 or 4 million would not be enough to help but very few anyway. The average cost for a serious injury would eat that money up so fast that maybe ten people would get help paying their bills or you could spread it out amungst all riders hurt and they would each get maybe enough to cover part of their bills but not all, most of those people would still have to file bankruptsy so why pay any of the cost when all could be absorbed under the bankruptsy? And after all that how do they decide who is riding a real Harley so many have been modified, are the modified bikes still Harley? do they have a responsibilty to help those riding Thunder mountain customs, they are made out off HD parts but they are not titled HD? As I said before to tell HD what they should do with their money is arrogant at best. Once that money has changed hands and it is in HD’s banking accounts it’s theirs. Just because you bought a bike from them does not give you some kind of special privilage to tell them how to spend it. Be glad that they are helping any charity. They could say the hell with all charity and keep every dime, and that would be their right as well after all, IT IS THEIR MONEY

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