How good are Harleys?

My step-dad is a pretty big auto type guy. He’s interested in pretty much anything that has an engine. He’s real gung ho about good car maintainence, keeping the car washed, getting the oil checked and changed.

My dad is more of a business man. He doesn’t seem to be concerned with his car’s “health.” If something goes wrong, he just takes it to the mechanic.

My step-dad says that Harley Davidson’s have really declined in quality and there are plenty of motorcycles out there that are better designed. He says that brand loyalty is why Harley is able to keep selling as many motorcycles as they do.

My dad says that this isn’t true. Harley Davidson wouldn’t be able to sell so many units if they weren’t quality.

I don’t know anyone that owns a Harley (or even a motorcycle), so I’d like to see what people’s opinions are here. Both of them are stubborn so no matter how much evidence supports the other story, they wouldn’t believe it, but I want to know which one is right. Thanks.

Right, I’ll take a swing at this.

I guess we’re talking about different definitions of quality, here.

Definition 1: Quality in a motorcycle means build quality, reliability, longevity etc. In this respect, HD did have serious problems some years back, but just about everyone agrees that they’ve improved and are now completely up to what might be expected. They’ll start, they’ll run, they won’t give up in the middle of nowhere, they don’t need the amount of fiddling they used to. So if this is your take on quality, no problems with HD anymore.
Definition 2: Quality in a motorcycle means a good power-to-weight ratio, acceleration, handling, braking, comfort etc. etc. This is where a lot of people have started to think that the HD leaves something to be desired. After all, the stock HD is heavier than a lot of motorcycles, yet the engine isn’t all that strong. Acceleration, handling, braking etc. isn’t really up to the standard set by the competition. And HD prices are high, too. Even if you stay in the specific segment HD has carved out for itself, cruisers, there are competitors out there that does it better.

Or would, if it wasn’t for:

Definition 3: Quality in a motorcycle means Harley Davidson. This one can’t be argued, really. HD has managed to surround itself with a mystique like no other brand, and has become an icon in itself. To some riders, this is of paramount importance.

So I’d say both are right (I know, I’m a great help):

Your step-dad certainly has a point that many, if not most, modern motorcycles have more advanced designs than HD. I wouldn’t agree that HD has declined in quality, if he’s thinking “build quality”. But they’ve been overtaken by the competition if we’re talking advanced design or price/performance.

Your dad, OTOH, is right that HD delivers a well-built product. It fits perfectly in its niche and it lives up to the customers’ expectations.
Personally, I like to compare HD to the old MG sports cars: Stylish, charming, cool - sure. But I wouldn’t expect anyone to keep building them - or buying them. Especially not if they were carrying a Porsche pricetag.

And now I’m waiting to be ripped limb from limb by HD enthusiasts. (Please be gentle - we all ride, OK ?)

S. Norman

I’ve owned a Kawasaki and a Harley. The Kawa had one minor electrical fault, the Harley never broke down. I pretty much agree with Spiny’s analysis, quality means different things to different folks. Back when H-D was owned by AMF, the build quality was crap. I’ve heard stories that they had to put cardboard under brand new bikes on the showroom floor because they leaked oil! In the mid 80’s there was a management buy-out and they started to turn the company around.

The Evolution engine came out about then and was a huge success. I’ve thrown away my copy of the Enthusiast magazine, but there was a report that somebody had done something like 450,000 miles on an early Evo engine with only standard servicing. The company gave him a brand new touring bike in exchange for his old one so they could take it apart and see what they got right. The final drive belts are also good for 100,000 miles.

The new V-Rod engine is a fairly radical change for Harley, being it’s very first overhead cam water cooled engine. Time will tell if it is an engineering success, and more importantly, a marketing success.

I’d disagree with step-dad, Harley build quality has improved dramatically since the early 80’s.

Harley gives their customers what they want and keep coming back for, and these bikes hold their value better than just about any other on the road.

Sure they have relatively poor performance in handling, braking and outright power compared to any of the major manufacturers but what they are designed to do they excel at, which is cruising, being noticed, being part of a fellowship.

No other marque gets close to the Harley charisma.

I recognise this and I don’t even like them.

When Harley was owned by AMF their bikes were terrible! The ran bad, broke down alot, and leaked oil. The oil leak became a trade mark for Harley for almost 2 decades. Then Willie G. and the Employees (sounds like the name of a groovy band;)) bought the company from AMF and made some terrific changes. I’ve owned several bikes, including Harley. Their just fine. Very dependable, and getting better every day!

Um, why are people posting questions about motorcycles when we are under attack from forces unknown? Just wondering.

Well looking at how well the HArley’s ran in the 01 Iron Butt Rally none broke down even going to Alaska, though there were a few BMWs that did break.

Plus Sen. Zein had 500,000 miles on his Harley before it died on him. He was offered a new Harley but turned it down because he loved his so much.

I’d say that the newer Harley’s have litle problems and most agree that they only start having problems when people try to make them better, ie new carbs, boring the engine etc and people who leave them stock have no problems.