Thousands of Harley riders are thundering out of town and I am resting up. The Harley Davidson's 105th Anniversary celebration was a huge success topped off by a 3 1/2 hour concert by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band. The festivities have been nonstop for the last week, and I, like many fellow Milwaukeeans, joined in the fun.
My kids set up a lemonade stand on our corner and sold gallons of lemonade to thirsty, friendly riders of all ages. Their sign said:
- Cars $1
- Harley Riders $ .75
- Hondas $5
Several riders took pictures of themselves with the kids and the sign. We went down to the festival grounds and listened to ZZ Top, Foo Fighters and the Black Crowes. Rows and rows of motorcycles lined every street in the Third Ward and the people watching was unbelievable. We saw one man who had a braided beard down to his ankles. It started out brown and got grayer as it moved up to his face. Now you just don't see this everyday.
I have a lifetime of fascination with Harley, though I have never owned one. My father worked for Milsco Manufacturing for 43 years and they made the seats for the Harley's. As a little girl, we would visit Harley and sit on the cycles. It has been a local brand since 1903 and its customers love it.
There are Harley clubs, Harley events, Harley clothes, and a Harley culture. While its customer base has grayed, as the average age of a Harley rider has risen from 38-46 in the past decade, they remain loyal to the brand. What Harley-Davidson has reinvented is the motorcycle world. Harley today has more to do with fraternity than with machinery.
When you buy a Harley, you join a culture and a ready made family. While its competitors sold motorcycles, Harley sold a lifestyle. Even though it sells a niche product, Harley ranks among the ten best-known American brands. Not bad for a product that most mothers pray their children won't buy. Like one rider explained, "You know you have a great brand when people taytoo your logo on their arms."