Could A Harley-Davidson MX Attract New Young Customers?

On the topic of what Harley-Davidson should do to attract young customers, Mike Hanlon from MeanStreet Products reminded me that in 1978 the company tested the market with a motocross model built by Aermacchi. It was called the MX250 and featured an Italian 250 cc 2 stroke engine. It was built for the race track and offered to the public only during year 1978. Is this type of bike, but with an American made motor, ONE of the ways Harley-Davidson could build brand loyalty with the youth, ?

The has a very interesting article about this Harley MX250. Read it then tell me if you think that it could be a great idea that the Milwaukee management should re-evaluate. (pictures courtesy AMA)

29 Responses to “Could A Harley-Davidson MX Attract New Young Customers?”

  1. 1 Scott Sep 28th, 2010 at 7:00 am

    Only if they made it with those stupid looking skulls and called it dark custom

  2. 2 Uruz Sep 28th, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Wow! Someone is finally trying to attract the next generation of motorcyclists. What the hell took so long? I guess the industry thinks that we will all always be 35-50 years old. I haven’t found that pill yet.
    I think H-D should go for it.

  3. 3 McScooter Sep 28th, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I like it. I think it may do well. A llittle market research and some homework from the head gurus and it will probably produce enough info to make an educated decision. If they just wish to gamble and forge ahead blindly they could call it Rocker #2.

  4. 4 Greg Turley Sep 28th, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Maybe current Harley execs don’t know about 1978! If they do a motocross bike and it saves the company, they should name Cyril VP of design.

  5. 5 BigWave Sep 28th, 2010 at 7:52 am

    “The AMA Hall Of Fame Website has a very interesting article”

    Yep, very interesting, but unless I missed it, it doesn’t give a clue as to why H-D had a factory team for one year, a production bike for one year, then abandoned the whole deal.

    According to Peter C Reid in “Well Made In America” when AMF/H-D went to the International Trade Commision to get relief from the dumping of Japanese motorcyles in 1978, some disgruntled H-D dealers testified that the Aermacchis were obsolete and that they couldn’t compete with the Japanese lightweights. The ITC then ruled that H-D had injured itself by failing to keep its products up to date. The MX250 was cited as evidence that it was at least partially H-D’s own fault that they couldn’t compete against the Japanese.

  6. 6 Sep 28th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I don’t think light bikes are a good choice for Harley at all. I believe a variation of a few street models however, might work, such as:
    A Buell powered 883/1200 Sportster engine on a softail frame to provide a power cruiser model allowing a lower introductory cost with good looks would appeal to younger markets…
    Re-vamp the V Rod with a more aggressive style, (the aluminum Euro Look hasn’t been very successful), something with good power and racing style to appeal to the superbike market…
    Keep the Glides and trikes for the old farts and eliminate the boring models like the Deuce, Rocker, etc, and focus on only one model Sportster that is fast, light, and very powerful, instead of the gazillion models that are just paint and chrome options and not real models anyway.
    In short, just focus on genuine models of just a few bikes that cater to each age market and demographic and do them VERY WELL. Good engineering, high style, great performance, and quality. They already have the name, the heritage, and brand recognition… it really could be just that simple.

  7. 7 Capn Neal Sep 28th, 2010 at 8:39 am

    The MX effort died because Harley sold Aermacchi to the Castiglione brothers(Cagiva). The first Cagivas, including their MX models were rebadged Aermavcchi-HD’s or bikes that had been on Aermacchis drawing board when HD owned it.
    HD has been rumored to be getting into the dirtbike arena for years(rumors about buying KTM, Buell’s effort at developing an MXer, recent rumors about buying ATK,etc) I think they would have done it , but the current economic environment and the current CEO’s direction to concentrate on “core business” probably precludes this happening anytime soon.

  8. 8 Grayhawk Sep 28th, 2010 at 9:13 am

    It was not a one year deal, maybe one year model referenced. HD bought 50% of the Aeromacchi company in the 1950’s, later bought full control and sold it to Cagiva at the start of AMF era in the mid 70’s. Many models 2 and 4 stroke over the years.

  9. 9 Sep 28th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Something along the lines of the Buell Blast would probably be better, or a lowered 883 with “big bike” styling like the Riddley. There’s already a ton of good dirt bikes out there, and I think the lack of starter bike for street riders should be addressed first. Dirt riders don’t “move up” to an Ultra, and those wanting a street machine already have the skills to ride whatever they want. ‘course they seldom seem to want a H-D anyway but that’s another story. If they want to make a drastic new bike addition, maybe something to compete with full-sized dual sport bikes. A 1200 V2 Paris/Dakar?

  10. 10 Shawn Sep 28th, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Probably. But they would have to create a bike that stepped completely away with what we currently view as a Harley. Even the Buell’s attracted mostly older men who wanted “real world” power and control. Younger guys don’t care about “real world” power. They care about hard core race bike power. That’s why you see R1’s and GSXR 1000’s all over the place. If Harley wants to really pull in younger buyers…. they’re going to need to step out of the comfort zone. Imagine a Harley Davidson inline 4 750cc sportbike. Could be cool. Of maybe something along the lines of a KTM RC8, V-twin, 1000cc sportbike with tubular frame and “NOT” based on the damn sportster engine.

  11. 11 Whiplash Sep 28th, 2010 at 11:26 am

    You have got to be kidding me!!!!
    The idea sounds good on paper but HD would probably just release a product just like they had…in 1978!! Innovators they are not.

    If someone seriously thinks they should attempt a MX bike stop-take your head out of your ass- and take a look at what is on the market. It would be a most humbling experience to say the least.

    I do not think the Electra-Dirt Classic would compete with KTM, Honda etc.

  12. 12 Sep 28th, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Shawn, a major reason the kids run the screamer I-4 metrics is the performance at such a low price. H-D has consistently proved to be incapable of either, and to try now from scratch would be an expensive (and losing) experiment. No sense fighting the sportbikes on their own turf, Buell proved that doesn’t work with a V2 and and the I4 market is bloated with great choices already. Since they’re already heavily invested and an known for V2 power, why not find a niche that could work with that type of high-torque/low rpm powerplant instead of sportbikes like the doomed Buell?

  13. 13 Taco Sep 28th, 2010 at 3:11 pm


  14. 14 Sep 28th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    I agree with D Blevins, It could be that simple! peace

  15. 15 Delski Sep 28th, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    What color will they use black and orange is spoken for……

  16. 16 Delski Sep 28th, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    You wanna get at the younger crowd make your product affordable

  17. 17 Scot Sep 28th, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    This is worse than a bad idea. Look at what happened to Cannondale when they decided to build a motocross bike. They went bankrupt. I Harley decided to build a motocross bike that could compete with the likes of Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha, and KTM, I bet it would take them 10+ years to build something competitive from a performance standpoint. They sure as hell would never be competitive with price…

    Harley had a product that was starting to attract a younger crowd but they pulled the plug on it.

  18. 18 ragingbull Sep 29th, 2010 at 1:49 am

    I think they were just about there with the Buell 1125cr – a sporty 145hp street racer. Had they improved and refined that theme they would have attracted younger, metric sportbike buyers. But no, they screwed it up 🙁

  19. 19 Sep 29th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    D Blevins, your spot on. HD should invest in thining out thier models such as the Rocker and re-tool for a product that would appeal to Gen Y by keeping it simple with a more cost effective model utilizing the VRSC power train, and or a more aggressive street fighter version of the Sporty. Hell ill go as far as to say HD should make a scooter, or electric motorcycle. Gen Y that is all about green, low cost, and stunt riding. That is what I have observed they are into.

  20. 20 HIck Sep 29th, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Harley already has a ton of research on the Moto X bike Buell had developed and was close to releasing and from my understanding with many Buell ideas integrated into it and they thought they had a contender and had a major rider ready to compete but as with most exciting Harley projects….. it was just too exciting and they canned it.

  21. 21 Sep 30th, 2010 at 2:49 am

    “Could A Harley-Davidson MX Attract New Young Customers?”

    Not unless it was much cheaper than similar oriental bikes, and we all know that ain’t gonna happen. Today’s youth don’t care about America or its future, they only want Asian products.

    Over the years Harley has offered just about every type of motorcycle there is from 50cc up to 1,800cc and every single time they stray from the Big Twin formula (because they’re told they must), sales suffer.

    So the MoCo only sells 200,000+ bikes this year. Big deal, fifty years ago in 1960, which was their best sales year for a decade, they sold 15,728 bikes.

    Why worry about the MoCo? Are they worried about us? Harley will continue as they always have, through fat years and lean. If we’re very, very lucky, the fadsters will lose interest entirely and leave motorcycling to people who actually ride.

  22. 22 Oct 2nd, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    Tell me again, why did they crapcan Erik Buell? He had the bikes, or they were ready to go, HD needed to get the youth and sport rider customer in the door.

  23. 23 mike Oct 4th, 2010 at 8:54 am

    you need to get the youth before the get old enough to buy a over priced crotch rocket hd. build brand loyalty leading to big bike purchase loyalty in the future.. ktm of austria ( little country ) is taking serious notice in american mx. seems that americans have no faith in americas ability to produce world class products at a fair price. sad, it would take a 10% effort in tooling and engineering to build a competetive bike compared to a v-rod massive multi-year design. most technology is there already to be brought up to speed. and yes the youth would love the skulls and bones.

  24. 24 Pat H Oct 4th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    I think HD could build a badass little 4 stroke motor or do a JV with KTM, but they will need another color besides KTM’s orange. MX is big worldwide, with X games, extreme jumping, indoor, outdoor, etc. The top riders are on the late night talk shows, I’ve heard them on different major news networks. I think the American mx market is sick of just 4 brands of mx bikes, but HD would have to make a long term commitment for success and have a plan for other models to grow with the youth demographics until they are old enough and have money to buy the big bikes. Why didn’t HD not build a true touring road bike with the VROD engine? It doesnt make sense. I rode one, but it’s impractical for a long road trip.

    FYI: I have recently ridden a 1978 HD 250MX and I now know why there were not competitive, 20-30 lbs heavier than the Jap bikes of the day and an extremely narrow power band, worse than any 125 I’ve ridden. Having said that, I think they were one of the nicest looking bikes or the era.

  25. 25 Stephen Oct 4th, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Brand loyalty can be seen with the Japanese OEM’s. XR 50’s, XR70’s…..back in the day it was QA ll of them built/build entry level units. When Harley had the Buell Blast on the market, they couldn’t give them away. The future of the sport be it for Harley or anyone else is to capture the customer as young as possible. That effort begins with the parents of the up and coming youth. You can’t take little Johnny/Janey out on his/her own slammed 883 turd when he’s 7 years old. The best you can do is to put him on a 50 or 70 cc dirt bike and train him and get him or her hooked on riding. That’s the key. A modern MX bike is really not the way to go either. They all need to start earlier then the teenage years.

    Given the current market conditions, the outlook for the economy and other related factors, there is no proven game plan that could be put into place now that would save the future. Brand loyalty is tough any more. The Japanese companies have loyal customers due to there quality of product. Harley has brand loyalty due to “it’s not just a motorcycle….it’s a life style” motto.

    The youth of today seeks gadgety, hi tech stuff. The Dennis Hopper, Then came Bronson, basic black with facial hair HA wannabe image is lost on current youth. The modern MX bike may reel in a few but certainly not enough to justify the expenditure. Harley needs to release a line of off road bikes designed with the family in mind. 50’s, 70’s, 100’s…. then a couple of MX bikes. They already have “entry level” street bikes, cost is a big issue too. Even the Japanese are suffering in that aspect.

    It worked for Honda and all the other manufactures albeit from Japan or Europe. Time for Harley to shift gears and step up to the plate. Their future depends on it. This time hopefully they won’t rebadge junk from a different manufacturer and think that no one will notice.

  26. 26 mike Oct 4th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    If the hd atvs,mx minibikes are quality then the dads that have the big harleys will tend to buy hd for the kids and bring them into the fold beacuse the dads will fid it cool .

  27. 27 Daddi Oct 4th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I ride an Electra Glide MY ’06…but the kick start of mine AMF HD MY 79 is too cool!

  28. 28 Oct 4th, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I covered the AMA National Motocross Championship during the 1970s where Harley-Davidson entered a factory team team in the Nationals in 1977-78 with riders Marty Tripes and Rex Staten. I also had the opportunity to test the team’s Aeromachi sourced factory H-D motocrosser for Cycle News and found it to be the worst handling and powered motocross bike of that era. The bike never came close to winning a National.

    Harley-Davidson has shown repeatedly over the years from the failure of the 1970s Aeromachie sourced motocross bike, to their failure of the Porsche engine designed Superbike of the 1990s, to the mismanagement of Buell and MV Agusta in the 2000s to when they divested themselves of those already proven and popular brands…. the Motor Company has neither the Intelligence, Desire, Engineering Ability or Skills to effectively market a new motorcycle line to a new and different market.

    Harley needs stick with what they know best: marketing 1950s technology to an unsophisticated and undemanding audience based on a perceived image for coolness and nostalgia.

    By the way, I just returned from riding the new Ducati Multistrada MTS 1200 street sport/touring bike across Europe. The Ducati V-twin 1200cc desmodronic 4-valve watercooled engine makes 150 hp and gets up to 170mph. It offers anti-locking brakes, adjustable traction control, electronically adjusted ride height / damping / throttle / power that is on-the-fly adjustable for Sport/Touring/City/Off-Road applications with or without passenger and luggage.Retail: $14995 Base – $19,995 S model with Luggage. Dry weight 420 pounds! One bike that out performs and out handles most single focused sport, touring or off-road bikes. Back in July a stock Multistrada broke the motorcycle time record at the Pike Peak’s Hill Climb on mixed its asphalt and dirt sections.

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