Published on October 31st, 2016 | by Boris
HARLEY DAYS 2016 – BANGS THE ’GONG AND GETS IT ON
Part bike show, part rock concert, part HOG rally and part super-slick brand promotion, the first ever Australian Harley Days event parked its shiny arse beside a beach in Wollongong last weekend, and went off like a firecracker.
No other motorcycle marque could carry off such an affair. That’s because no other motorcycle lends itself to the endless permutations and variations that Harley does. No two are alike, nor will they ever be. No other brand carries at its core such a fanatically loyal and one-eyed legion of customers. For those people, there is no other brand of motorcycle, nor will there ever be. No other brand has been at it longer, and at the end of the day, no other brand is better at giving its existing customer base what it wants in terms of socialisation.
I was one of only four media creatures invited to the event, a singular privilege given the size and scope of the exercise, and I spent three days avidly absorbing what was one of the best-run, and professionally-sculpted motorcycle events I have ever been to.
I have been to a few HOG rallies. They are also beautifully organised, and address perfectly the needs and desires of Harley’s core customer base. But because they are exclusive to members of HOG, they are somewhat of a closed shop. Preaching to the converted, if you will.
Harley Days is aimed at changing that paradigm. And it does have to change if Harley is to maintain its market lead in Australia. After all, the HOG membership is aging, and it would be hard to convince me that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s would be attracted to the organisation. The vibe of 2016 is not the vibe of the 90s when HOG was an all-conquering juggernaut with a booming membership. The times have changed, and while the organisation still boasts a strong membership, it is not…well, perhaps blossoming with the vigour it once did.
So while Friday was set aside just for HOG members, the event was opened up to the public on the Saturday and the Sunday.
Of course, not all of the public. Two one-percenters were asked to remove their colours if they wished to enter, but that is also a sign of the times, and actually an alcohol licencing issue rather than something Harley itself decided.
I did ask Adam Wright, Harley’s Marketing Director, about the one-percenter thing. He explained the police were very concerned about clubs turning up, and Harley had gone to great lengths to assure them that it didn’t view this as any kind of problem. But speaking truth to power and trying to get the cops to see reason is always a zero-sum game.
So what did Harley offer to the 1000s that attended?
Everything it had. And it has a lot.
Test rides were available on most of the models, including the new Milwaukee Eight touring range. Escorted rides were run to Picton and Kangaroo Valley for people who wished to see some of the prettiest and most haunted parts of the NSW south coast – yes, Picton is the most haunted town in Australia. How did you not know that?
There was also the Jumpstart compound, where people who had never ridden a Harley could jump on one that had been bolted to a rolling road and smash through the gears without endangering lives. I have always looked somewhat askance at this, but I can certainly attest to its popularity, and therefore its success in giving non-riding people a slight taste of what riding might be like.
The Custom Shop pantech was on hand, and there was a custom bike show, a bunch of stalls, and all of the Harley dealers had set up their pop-up shops around a big marquee that showcased the 2017-range of H-Ds.
As is usual with any Harley event, the entertainment was top-notch. The Screaming Eagles, IVY, Jam Junkies, The Zombies, the legendary Ross Wilson, the Snowdroppers, Stonefield Hot Dub Time Machine, and the astonishing Ash Grunwald bashed out the tunes, but my hands-down favourite was Ash. Man, that white boy sure does know how to play the blues. He sounded like a 60-year-old black bloke from Mississippi, whose name was Blind Melon Chitluns and whose daddy was a plantation slave. His cover of Smokestack Lightning was epic.
Over to the side of the big compound was a killer BMX stunt display, hosted by multiple wold champ Caroline Buchanan, but I was too busy folding impossibly good barbecued brisket into my expanding guts to watch flying pushbikes too long. Big props to the Get in the Q folks for the barbecued delights they kept hauling out of their truck-mounted smoker and feeding me.
I spent some time drinking beer with Nathan Hindmarsh, one of Harley’s long-time ambassadors, and marvelling at the big bloke’s good nature. No matter how many times the Victorian-based editor of Road Rider, the fabulous Greg ‘Snag’ Leech called him a ‘Rugby’ player, Nathan would just smile politely at him.
“He plays League, Leechy,” I kept saying to him. “Rugby is that other game he doesn’t play. Nor does he play that rubbish you Mexicans skin your nethers over down south.”
“Raggleblaggrlglomgoglerarrgh,” Leechy would reply.
Then he went to dance in front of the stage.
At which point, I felt I had drunk more than enough beer to enjoy his performance, but not near enough to join in.
So I left with my dignity intact that evening.
The Thunder Run on Sunday was a parade of more than 1400 Harleys, and the culmination of what I can only describe as superb success for Harley-Davidson.
It brought all of its chocolates to the ’Gong. It celebrated its unique flavour, it offered its HOG members what they like, provided the public with a great glimpse into what it has to offer, both in terms of motorcycles and lifestyle, and it can rightfully lay claim to the crown it wears.
The times are a-changing, as we all know. The marketing of motorcycles is changing as well.
I look forward with great interest to see how this change will be addressed by the motorcycle industry. The step that Harley took with Harley Days is but the opening salvo in a contest that can only benefit the motorcycle enthusiast.
Check out Ash Grunwald. Turn it up.