Harley-Davidson Futurism. Not Harley Future.

Tomorrow’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle? If you ask Harley owners what they want, most reply that they just want what they have now. An answer in the style of “10 % faster, 20% percent cheaper with 15 percent more features.” They can only use the present as a reference to describe the future. These answers come from the current Harley riders demographics.

And if you ask what to do to attract young people, a lot will suggest that Harley use more high tech designs. After all, they are the laser etched computer/smart phones generation. Illustration of such a family of thoughts? This futuristic series of designs by Jonathan Russell are pleasant to look at, can easily make you think they represent tomorrow because they look out of space…

I disagree because a “high tech repackaging” of what is already in existence is not a new idea or concept. If futurism would always describe the future, how come the last 10 years saw a resurgence of the retro motorcycle design with the youngest current Harley riders having a special affinity for them?

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. And to invent it I am convinced that you must forget all what you know, all motorcycle parts in existence, forbid yourself to act like a grown up, but RESPECT the brand heritage. For Harley I believe more in evolution than revolution. In my Blog I have featured a lot of new one-off motorcycles that made many readers smile or whine because these concepts were “immature”, imagined out of the box and often without taking in account real technology constraints. Some of these new ideas are expressed via show bikes that you can see in major competitions like the AMD World Championship Of Bike Building.

If you look attentively at these custom motorcycles, visually apparent or buried deep inside, you can find the small improvements that will be used on the next decade mass produced motorcycles. Even when the technology is still approximate, he doesn’t worry me because I am convinced that technology, one way or the other, can always be adapted to design, but that a design just conceived to dress up and fit technology always ends up in producing a very unattractive motorcycle.

Coming back to how Harley-Davidson models could and should look in 10 years to have mass appeal to those not yet riders, I don’t know for sure. I am just convinced that they will not look futuristic as in these drawings. Harley-Davidson niche is the heritage market segment. How to re-actualize models without denying the past to attract new young riders is the greatest design challenge Harley-Davidson has ever faced. I think it’s time for Harley-Davidson to integrate  a new design team of outsiders made of people knowing enough about the V-twin industry but not prisoners of the Harley culture because of too many years spent debating in  board meetings. Of course, the executive management, including Willie G. Davidson, would have to be receptive to these new brains, to what they would suggest and design…For sure the most difficult part. Your thoughts?

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24 Responses to “Harley-Davidson Futurism. Not Harley Future.”


  1. 1 Todd8080 Jun 2nd, 2010 at 7:51 am

    He shows different versions of the motor but none look like they could run based on their proportions.

    What’s pushing the pushrods? Shouldn’t there be a transmission? What’s holding the front rotor & caliper on? Mufflers won’t be required ten years from now? There’s a kickstand on both sides of the bike? It’s obviously air-cooled yet all air flow to the cylinders is completely blocked. And those taillights & turn signals would be illegal in every state.

    I get the impression the artist is a young kid who’s infatuated with oriental bikes but knows nothing about Harleys. It reminds me of sketches I used to make while daydreaming in grade school; at a glance it resembles something but the closer you look the less sense it makes.

  2. 2 Dave Blevins Jun 2nd, 2010 at 8:22 am

    OK, here I go…
    The reason retro is popular in auto as well as motorcycle, is because we have had 100 plus years to see pretty much every imaginable incarnation for something with wheels, and it is simply the most appealing look for most buyers. Some lines are just timeless, like the curves of the feminine form… simple and smooth, downright erotic. Add an Art Deco style of step-and-repeat to those lines and you have achieved what will likely have lasting appeal.
    With advances in mechanical methods and what not, you may find a substitute for an older way of putting things together, but people hate it because it is just ugly, like shaft drive or hub steering. Perhaps mechanically better, but does not sell well.
    Less is usually more in terms of design, and I dont think the immediate future will bring electric powered or hub steered bikes… not gonna see any big differences in fork technology either. It’s been 60 years without a major breakthrough in forks because the look and versatility have not been surpassed, because you can’t very well improve the design within the size and functionality constraints and stay on budget.
    Look for improvements in braking, heat management, lubricants, fuels, metal alloys, paint finishes, electronics, etc., but as for style… you have seen what sells already. And just like fashion design has shown, it all comes back around every 20-30 years. We are simply mixing genres now, Ness is a very good example of that. So is Cyril.
    After 110 years cars still have 4 wheels, bikes still have 2 wheels, cars don’t fly, we still eat food not protein tablets, and our clothes aren’t made of foil. In 20 years a Harley will still look like a Harley with very few changes.

  3. 3 Darin Maltsberger- Instructor@MTI Jun 2nd, 2010 at 8:42 am

    Cyril,
    I have to say that Dave is right about this one. Form always follows function, if it looks cool, but isn’t functional, it isn’t going to sell well. I also agree that everything comes back around in the style world. Style is what drives owners to do their own “bolt-on” customizations. Everyone has a different idea of what they like for “style”, so you’ll always see a miriad of bike styles. My students, most of them born in the 90’s, are obsessed with the metric bikes of the late 1960s and early 70s. I believe the retro thing depends on what era each of us believes was the “glory days”. Personally, I love the retro 40s-50s look…….but then I’m an old guy. As for technology, I believe it will continue to drive our industry. Look at where the tech developments of the last twenty years have taken us. Fuel, injection, electronic ignition, linked braking systems,ABS, LED lighting……..and the list could go on and on.
    Thanks for the great topic.
    -Darin

  4. 4 john Jun 2nd, 2010 at 9:41 am

    Now we know why victory vision is so hated but loved. Its to new for our brain cause our brain is warped around old harley styling. Heck harley comes out with a trick and its just an old survive car with a modern motor.

  5. 5 ian Jun 2nd, 2010 at 11:09 am

    Looks like Harley have been admiring that Victory Core – at least they went and built one rather than a few sketches.

  6. 6 hoyt Jun 2nd, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Interesting discussion.

    Cyril: “How to re-actualize models without denying the past to attract new young riders is the greatest design challenge Harley-Davidson has ever faced. I think it’s time for Harley-Davidson to integrate a new design team of outsiders made of people knowing enough about the V-twin industry …”

    The above post (and many “future HD” conversations) seems constrained to a v-twin packaged into a similar chassis we have today. Why can’t a conversation about future HDs include adding new models, while prolonging models like the Road King? HD hasn’t always produced 100% cruisers using a v-twin.

    Adding new models is not forgetting the heritage of the brand as long as the Road King, Sportster, etc are continued.

    It can be argued that without new models, you might only see Road Kings being sold in the limited numbers (and price) of the current Indians.

  7. 7 hoyt Jun 2nd, 2010 at 11:18 am

    …forgot to add:

    By adding completely new models, HD can leave the Road Kings exactly the way they are, which is fine by me. There would be no reason to change them or have design studies. A RK is not supposed to evolve or change aesthetically.

  8. 8 Cyril Huze Jun 2nd, 2010 at 11:35 am

    Hoyt. I should have written “re-actualize the line up”. I meant evolving the existing models and creating new ones, but all inheriting from the same motorcycle family genes

  9. 9 Lyle Jun 2nd, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Harley quit thinking about the future when they dropped Buell.

  10. 10 Manhattan Choppers Jun 2nd, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    “10 % faster, 20% percent cheaper with 15 percent more features.” sounds like a vtx 1800

  11. 11 fuji Jun 2nd, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    I remember someone making this statement some time ago , somewhere.

    As long as motorcycles are primarily ” fashion statements and tribal totems”, there will never be mass produced innovation.

    It will always be the individualists who build the new stuff.

    As George Carlin stated, The importance of ‘Stuff’ in our lives.

  12. 12 fuji Jun 2nd, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Manhattan Choppers

    So many don’t realize how true / spot on your statement is.
    Honda , Harley Davidson. Innovation ? But egos prevailed.

  13. 13 hoyt Jun 2nd, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    Look at BMW. They are in the process of adding many new buyers without alienating the old buyers. They are doing this with new models that have various engines.

    Singles, twins (in various configurations), multis. HD would do well with BMW’s ambition.

  14. 14 Who Cares? Jun 2nd, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Who cares what Harley does. Harley is so far behind the curve that it would take years and millions of dollars to catch up with everybody else. Best thing for Harley to do is keep making there out of date motorcycles and improve there line of Belt Buckles and Do-Rags. I quit riding a Harley years ago but I still have my pirate outfit just in case.

  15. 15 just my opinion Jun 2nd, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    I have stated many times that HD should get into building a real crotchrocket type bike. Not a Buell
    but a real 200 mile per hour crotchrocket. The problem HD faces thou is that many of their loyal followers would frown on them straying from the old school designs ” v-twins” that have done so well for so many years. But at some point HD must step out of the shadow of their old stylings and build a modern style bike. If they do not go modern soon they will surely fade into history as a great motorcycle builder of years past. There is NO reason HD could not build both the old school style
    v-twin bikes they currently build and we all love as well as a few new models that would attract younger riders. Instead of wasting resources building several sportster models drop some of those models and drop the v-rod and rocker models and build two or three crotchrockets. Look at Honda they build cruzer’s as well as crotchrockets Some v-twin motors but many more non v-twin They also build Quad’s and dirt bikes and jet ski’s and lawn mowers. If Honda can build all that surely HD could expand into crotchrockets. This is not brain surgery all they need to do is copy the Japanese bikes. The styling has already been proven and the engineering has already been done, the only thing HD has too do is build a simular design to the designs that have proven to work. The Japanese have already built the path just follow it.

  16. 16 Doc Robinson Jun 3rd, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Harley-Davidson motorcycles are a passion that can’t be explained fully. For many of us it started with the sight and sound of a big ol’ Harley ridden by an Uncle, a neighbour or a bad boy down the block. Many model Harley-Davidsons still look like real motorcycles, close enough to what first stirred our blood. I’ve ridden most things on two wheels but nothing feels as right as a big old v-twin motor pulsing underneath me. Will do ’till the day I die. Yeah, I’ve had other bikes and the ‘other’ Harley, the V-Rod, but they just don’t do it for me like the 45 degree pushrod v-twin does. As for Japanese attempts to mimic Harleys, well they are beyond contempt. The Japs build what are arguably the best hi-tech motorcycles in the world with their race replica bikes. But when they try and dumb down their engineering and build Harley look-a-likes they become pathetic wannabees.

  17. 17 hoyt Jun 3rd, 2010 at 10:35 am

    There’s no need to copy anyway (rival ambition would be nice).

    Triumph didn’t copy the Japanese performance model. Their triple is a very capable performance bike on/off the track.

    Aprilia didn’t copy anyone. Their v4 is about to win the World Superbike race series this year in only its 2nd year. (ground-up, completely from scratch motor).

    A performance bike would be nice, but Buell will be off doing that soon, successfully.

    Cyril – “…but all inheriting from the same motorcycle family genes”. Why do we have to look at the future of Harley this way? They have so many models with the “family genes” that they could cutout some of them and still have a herd of the same.

  18. 18 The Producer Jun 3rd, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Why change what already works?

    Most of us go through a series of growth spurts which eventually leads us to a similar place. It goes something like this: Young pre teen-teen likes rap music, then moves onto punk, then alt then onto new metal then onto classic metal (Ozzy) then onto rock (Alice in Chains) then onto classic Rock ZZTop.

    The same goes with cycling: Trail bike, sport bike/adventure bike, cruiser: Gold wing/H-D/Star. As we get older we can appreciate all the styles we grew up with and grow into.

    Cruisers represent many things for many people but the bottom line they are a comfort ride and they are a status ride. H-D fits this niche.

    The classic lines of the H-D, 69 camero or new mustang (68 fast back) all have one thing in common – they stand apart from everyone else and that’s what makes them attractive. They are classic.

    So my suggestion is to build the best bike they can keeping the same classic stylings – Oh and offer cruise control on all models not just the top enders. This will make them more attractive.

    Steve The Producer Johann

  19. 19 Lyle Jun 3rd, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    The modern Triumph triple had some ex Kawasaki designers help design it. It’s based off the kawi 4 cylinder with one cylinder missing and a reversed engine. Having said that, it’s a great engine. But the real point is Triumph has their traditionally designed bikes as well as modern sport bikes and they haven’t lost any following. I don’t see why HD can’t do the same.

  20. 20 gravey158 Jun 3rd, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    i agree with Doc Robinson. iride and enjoy my harley. its to bad harley davidson keeps looking to chanage things. we, that keep buying and riding when they sold out to AMF and even after they bought it back. we are still here and we never wanted our ride to look like a Jap rocket. we want it to look like and be a Harley. isn’t that why all those wannabe bought a harley after they got their house paid for.they reminber watch those who rode and di not give up their ride cause they got married and had kids. riding was the life to have.

  21. 21 maroco Jun 5th, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Very impactant bike if turns to reality.

  22. 22 Richard Jun 5th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I think Harley ought to continue doing what they do best. Road Kings, Electra Glides, Wide glides, softails and yes, even Sportsters. I’ve ridden many brands and once I bought my first HD, I was sold. They are just soooo cool! My current ride (Road King) has fly by wire, fuel injection, abs, cruise and a six gallon tank. I can ride all day without “numb butt” and get 45/50 mpg. It’s seat is so much better than any metric I’ve ever been on including gold wing. I have owned four new HD’s and have not encountered any major problems.
    On the other hand, the V-Rod is an attempt to “branch out” and is now beginning to meet with some success. No harm done, I believe there will be a v-rod following that will someday be as ardent as any other marque.
    I think Harley is smart to remember “what got them there”. It’s the heritage, and passion their bikes seem to engender. I firmly believe that a person or a company can not be “everything to everybody”. One must stay with what they understand and do well. Constant evolution of the species is the future…better ride, handling, comfort, greater reliability and “reasonable” cost.

  23. 23 fuji Jun 5th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Peer pressure, psychological mind set, acceptance.

    Placebo effects are common when one believes that they have an image or are part of a group that gives acceptance when someone else thinks or is inclined to be part of their group and look or act in accordance with their life style. {One of the reasons some own a certain style of motorcycle}

    A wannabe?
    Are people assuming that because someone takes the opportunity to put their leg over a motorcycle, at whatever age, that they are emulating those who are the self ordained establishment?

    Here is the view point of my neighbor as couple Harley riders that pulled up along side of us at a light today and he being an bean counter / attorney by trade speaks his mind, regardless if I ride or not for he knows my riding style and viewpoint.

    While reving their engines and looking around for attention my friend quips. I will bet that those guys posses an I Q of 180 total. Why don’t they have mufflers.?

    Point ! When you think that you are impressing someone.
    You Are!

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