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Harley-Davidson: The Art of Custom

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Look, sound and feel. These are the defining traits of the Harley-Davidson brand as told by Willie G. Davidson. The look is characterized by simple designs that highlight the mechanics of the bike. The sound is the familiar loping idle of their V-Twin engines. And the feel is contained in the details such as finishes and riding characteristics that make a Harley feel substantial and sure-footed. More importantly, these traits are used as launching pads for owners to put their own spin on the bike. It is in this culture of customization that the bike becomes more than another mass-produced good, but a part of the owner’s life.

Customization has been ingrained in Harley owners since the very start. From small touches on the very earliest bikes – such as headlights – to fully customized examples seen today, a bike’s design process does not stop at the factory, but begins in the hands of the owner. This needing of expression from owners has driven Harley to offer more products that reflect their tastes and preferences. One way to do this is to offer bikes that display classic design cues from the past. Motorcycles such as the ‘72 and the Softail Slim do just that, reinventing them for a generation that wants to feel connected to a history that they were not a part of. “They want that feeling of something both mechanical and natural,” as Willie G. Davidson describes it. These products are machines that grow with you instead of being disposed of within a year or when the contract expires.

But offering more bikes is just the first step in a customer’s relationship with the brand. After the bike is bought, owners have access to an extensive list of parts and accessories (P&A) to customize their bike. A variety of finishes, parts and equipment are available. The part offerings include things from grips to exhausts and everything in between. Also, dealers have the ability to work with you on a personal level in order to get parts that fit the exact look you're going for. Of course, there are enough chrome items to fill the Bible, but there are also a variety of parts that you’d be surprised to find.

For instance, every year Harley produces a color scheme available for a few bikes. These tanks are hand painted and pinstriped, and are limited in number. Once the run is finished, the color is not available for purchase. And these tanks are not simply painted one color. Deep metal flake and hand-applied pinstripes and lustrous colors are used to give the tanks a truly custom look and feel. Plus, a person, not a machine, applies the pinstripes on the tank.

The final step in factory customization process is the CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) offerings. These bikes take the process from the factory one step further by offering even more custom touches with paint and parts unavailable through the normal Parts and Accessories catalog. This process has more in common with building luxury sedans than it does with most motorcycles. It is the apex of factory customization, but of course, the customization probably continues after these bikes roll off the lots too.

The common thread from standard bikes, the parts and accessories selection, and the CVO offerings is Harley owners’ unique need to express themselves. From East to West, it is this mindset that resonates with people from different cultures and creeds as described by Harley’s Chief Marketing Officer Mark Hans Richer. It’s not all leather and bad attitudes, but a need to both express individuality and become part of a larger group. Through offerings such as the Blackline, the Parts and Accessories offerings, and the CVO program, Harley-Davidson enables everyone to put their own spin on their products, regardless of who they are, how much they spent and what bike they bought.