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The Business That Refuses to Die

Harley Davidson is celebrated for identifying and building itself as an “Iconic Brand”. Faced with mounting losses and bankruptcy in 1985, it was in real trouble. However, through attention to detail, performance improvements and knowing who it was trying to reach it rose to become what the average citizen identifies with everything “motorcycle”. Demand for Harley Davidson Joyrides began in the early 1990's, and so a business was born - one that refuses to die.

Harley Ride with friends

As a young man, like many others, I aspired to Harley Davidson ownership. In his book BE Brands: Creative Brand Revolution, Simon Hammond writes, “Harley is one of those brands that people with absolutely no knowledge of bikes or no desire to own the brand still appreciate. People line up to pay hundreds of dollars for a ten-minute rush of freedom. They get off having felt the rumble and sheer mystique of one of the world’s truly great BE brands.” While Harley Davidson focused on selling motorcycles to their dedicated factory workers and customers through its tribe of nurtured, crafted and manicured by its leaders through highly target communication, at the same time it opened up parallel markets for many other businesses. Simon goes on to say, “The thing Harley understands the most is the Belonging factor for its tribe. It goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure people feel part of the tribe. The language is for them, not us. The communication is all about tem and if you want to enjoy it, join!......This is the ultimate Belonging brand.

Birth of Harley Joyrides Rides Industry

It was sometime in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that the Harley Davidson brand took on a personality of its own. Not many owned one, yet many aspired to have one of their own to ride. This was a time where a business opportunity appeared. First recognized by a group of enthusiasts was recognition of the fact that people were prepared to pay for the experience of sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle or being taken for a ride on one as a pillion passenger. For many it was a dream, a goal – something their mothers told them they weren’t allowed to do as kids. For some it was an experience, for others it was the beginning of the path to ownership (more about that later). This business became known as the Harley Ride Industry.

In the early days the first area to be tapped was School Fetes where riders attached sidecars to their machines and charged per head for short five or ten minute rides. This was perhaps a time when many young children first came into contact with a Harley Davidson motorcycle (some of who 30 years later would be adult Harley Davidson owners), But it wasn’t just for kids, many adults wanted the experience and demand for Harley Rides began to peak every Spring and Autumn, in “Fete Season”. As word got around that people could actually purchase a Harley Davidson Ride for themselves, the industry quickly morphed into more than just a short ride at the local school fete. Demand quickly increased for longer rides and tours. In the 1990’s several companies appeared offering rides for one hour or even an entire day. Almost every weekend in the late 1990’s dozens of people booked rides, sometime for themselves and more often for their friends and family. Tourists arriving in Melbourne were quickly tapped as a source of bookings. From 1998 to 2008 was the Golden Age for Harley Rides.

The Golden Age

During this Golden Age for Harley Rides the market grew into more than a Joyride activity. There was no end to the types of activity which the industry was called on to perform. Film and Television opportunities where the Harley Davidson was required as a prop, or Travel Documentaries where the Ride was part of the activities in which a visitor to Melbourne could choose to participate. Corporate events that required speakers to be ridden in and onto the stage to set the mood for a conference, Incentive and Reward groups where the Ride was part of the activity which participants were treated to. TV and film credits include: Supplying bikes for a Kia ad for the World Cup.

China's Next Top Model A Bollywood Movie

Celebrity rides became another source of business. One that springs to mind is Australian Open Tennis. They identified several up and coming players who aspired to Harley Davidson ownership and deciding to leverage that fact as a TV promotional tool. On two occasions the call came to take Rafael Nadal from Rod laver Arena, back to his the Grand Hyatt where he was subsequently interviewed sitting on a Harley and which was aired on TV many times over the following days. Two years later we received the same request for Caroline Wozniaki, again someone who loved Harleys, and she too was given the same treatment.

Rafael Nadal on John's Harley Davidson

This image was taken after I received a call from the Australian Open Tennis. Evidently the very young Rafael Nadal (who couldn't speak English at that time) aspired to Harley Davidson ownership. So they organised a media ride with us for him.

But, just using Harleys for promotional activity was not the only requirement. Various TV Sport shows identified that they need a way to quickly transport their commentary staff from the end of an AFL match back to the studio. Driving through heavy city traffic a taxi couldn’t perform the task in a short enough time, and therein arose demand for a Harley Ride that could do the trip in 5 to 15 minutes. A taxi would have taken double or triple the time.

Many of the people who went for a Harley Ride as children or young adults have now gone on to become motorcycle riders or proud owners of their own Harley Davidson motorcycle. This has resulted in a lessening of demand and subsequent slowdown in the Harley Rides industry, However, it in no way has led to a complete end for bookings. The frequency of bookings has slowed, but the perennial booking for a mother’s birthday surprise and the like continues. Calls for large tour groups, visiting from Asia appears to be the next growth segment. In 2018 alone this has accounted for almost 500 individual Harley Rides in one form or another. Taking a trip down Memory Lane is one continuum that has never died over the years. “My father rode a motorcycle in his youth, we would like you to take him and mum out for a ride,” is an all too frequent request. For a group of residents in a retirement village an hour or two taking them out for sidecar rides was a request. The activity was filmed by a Melbourne TV station and went to air that night. For the residents it was a highlight which they enthusiastically took to and for which made great interviews. Another time, a family organized a surprise for their 85 year old mother who had always lamented the fact that she had never managed to achieve her life time goal of riding on the back of a Harley Davidson. They took her out to a High Tea, where a TV news crew located themselves, giving her the impression that they were there for another reason. At a predetermined moment, in strode the rider booked to take her out for a ride. It was a “song and dance routine” performed to a very surprised and excited woman.

As we approach the year 2020, the allure of the Harley Davidson brand is beginning to diminish. Today, many of those we took for a Birthday Harley Ride when they were kids, or who went for a side ride at a school fete, have now aged and achieved a state of wealth that has allowed them to purchase a Harley Davidson of their own. Yet for many, who don’t have time to fit a motorcycle into their busy day-to-day lives, the experience is one that is still available.

Emerging Markets

The other emerging market comes from Asia. An influx of wealthy middle class tourists from China and Indonesia in 2017/18 has generated demand for several Group Rides, in particular from the Team Building and Corporate Reward/Incentive category. In 2018 we hosted groups in this category from Indonesia, Japan and Hong Kong. These groups differs from the conventional Australian market. Due to the larger numbers involved calls for us to design Harley Rides that don’t fit the conventional One Hour Tour. Giving 300 Chinese customers a Harley Ride in the one day with only 15 to 20 bikes requires a different activity design and an understanding that our Asian clients don’t necessarily need to be on the bikes for long, but are rather more interested in capturing photographic moments. In conclusion, this is a business refuses to die. Our customers continue to come searching for us. We aren’t going away.

Call John on +61 0419359628 and he will happily share his experience with you and give you advice on how to book a Harley Ride.

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