A Shot in the Dark - Harley-Davidson XR750 Scrambler

The idea behind this editorial is, as the very title says it, a shot in the dark. If anything, it’s an exercise for the imagination, but it could very well mean scrutinizing the future for a possible move Harley just might make. Polaris took a bold step earlier this year when it bought Brammo’s electric motorcycle business, and this means an instant edge over the MoCo in the field of electric mobility.
It may be that H-D has shown the first electric cruiser prototype, but the road to a production model which packs competitive pricing and solid performance is very long. Polaris got the upper hand as the powertrain and battery pack they got from Brammo are already tested, proven and road-legal. They just need a frame and thus deliver a production-ready Victory e-cruiser in months, stealing the show and the “first electric production cruiser” accolade.

The interest in electric mobility is quite high because of the immense lucrative potential in this segment, and the obvious future-proof character of the technology. Who believes that motorcycling as we know it will endure another century or so is, sorry to say it, a fool. Japan already has more charging stations than gas stations, and this is only the beginning.

Anyway, there is still a lot until gas-powered motorcycles will start to become rare, and I believe that this time should be used by traditional bike manufacturers to get their things straight and prepare for the decline of the actual technology.

Even I feel chills down my spine as I write such words. It’s hard to imagine what could determine me to swap the rumble of a liter-class sport v-twin engine with the whizz of an electric machine, and I hope this change (or need to change) will only come after I no longer am among the living. Still, it will come, and until then, the manufacturers of gas-powered motorcycles should earn as much money as possible, because the change will mean huge expenses.

Becoming even more successful means being able to adapt and come up with solutions to meet the demands of the potential customers. If anything, Harley is a monument of inertia, despite all the sweet-tongued marketing discourse. It has a solid, cult following, but this has nothing to do with the fact that the bar and shield is a very conservative brand. And a conservative customer profile, I might add.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that, in fact it shows that an old recipe can still prove successful these days. The problem is that Harley’s traditional demographic is slowly dwindling. Surely, the Milwaukee manufacturer is enjoying a hefty market share which is around the 50% bar, give or take, and this performance alone is glorious.

If there is one thing Harley should not put their high hopes in, that is continued growth. The sales in the last years are more or less stagnant, and even on a descending trend in certain regions, compensated by the new markets Harley entered. And the introduction of smaller, more affordable bikes especially for the emerging markets with limited buying power.

Harley makes classic bikes which a luxurious, big, heavy and expensive, and their cool factor is almost magic, but the world is a different place today than it was 20 years ago. The financial crisis has also impacted the wealth and purchase habits of hundreds of millions of people, and they’ve become more careful about how they spend their money and on what.

Since 2013 we have been witnessing the advent of smaller-displacement machines and this is happening in all the segments, including sport bikes. Another thing which seems to become once more highly-fashionable is the classic look. Small and middleweight bikes with retro vibe are now surfacing and judging by their increasing number, their popularity will still grow during the following years.

Among all these bikes, scramblers seem to be what café-racers were until several years ago. Triumph never abandoned its range of Modern Classics, while others brought their old design back to life. Above all, Ducati created a huge hype around the new Scrambler and it looks like the bike is enjoying a massive success, even though not all 4 versions have reached the dealerships. When they “invade” the markets, we can expect Ducati to increase sales volumes by very solid margins, simply because these bikes have classic, ageless looks, are fun to ride, can take a beating on rougher roads and are cheaper than others.

Also, custom bike builders around the world have used pretty much any model to “scramblerize“ it, including Harleys. With the Sportsters being the predilect choice, we’ve in fact seen some real bikes with very sweet looks and some concepts which were truly stunning. So now you know what I am thinking…

How about Harley played things nice and brought back the vibe of the ‘70s glory when their XR750 with minor style updates and a neat brutal engine? How about being once more able to ride pretty much anywhere and disregard the quality of the road? How about a bike that’s more about riding than the thickness of its chrome accessories catalog? I can say that some of my buddies, who are nowhere near Harley enthusiasts said they would totally like to see the MoCo delivering a modern scrambler and maybe try to take one home.

The potential of such a move is huge, and this works for both the domestic and the foreign markets. If Harley launched a real scrambler, free from the overweight aura most of their bikes come now, and offer it for a price that’s impossible to refuse, we might see the bar and shield lining up with the manufacturers who understood that there is power in change.

The brand’s presence would consolidate in the new markets and this bike would bring a most welcome breath of fresh air to a line-up which, truth be told, is growing stale. H-D fans should not frown, simply because Milwaukee is not the only manufacturer in this position.

Have Suzuki, for example, with their sport bikes line-up: they are also in a dire need to revamp those machines. Of course, they are cool and fast and whatever, but this can’t shake the old off them.

People are starting to get bored more easily and the “classic tune” seems to sound weaker and weaker to more ears. Reshaping the past glory in modern, contemporary machinery can make a huge difference when done the right way. Even Royal Enfield is planning to step into the modern times, and they are probably one of the most conservative makers in the whole world.

They just understood that classic and stale is not a good recipe…
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