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Harley-Davidson hopes to attract younger riders with smaller, sportier, and less expensive bikes

The Milwaukee-based company has made a big push in recent years to build the next generation of riders, both locally and globally.
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Posted at 10:36 AM, Jul 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-14 11:36:36-04

MILWAUKEE — Harley-Davidson’s homecoming and 120th-anniversary celebration this weekend is expected to bring tens of thousands of riders to the streets of Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee-based company has made a big push in recent years to build the next generation of riders, both locally and globally.

Let’s go in-depth on Harley-Davidson’s strategy to inspire young people to get on two wheels — and whether it’s working.

You don’t have to convince Sara Genske to hop on a motorcycle. She’s been riding her own bike for more than a decade.

"I'm the first in my family,” she said. "It's very therapeutic along with that all the friends you make."

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But she says it’s been a struggle to get people younger than her to be a part of the Harley community.

"As the years go on, I think the median age of our chapter is 72 years old,” she said.

Kevin Carpenter is the assistant director of that Milwaukee riding chapter.

"A lot of the younger riders are either afraid of the Harley culture, the legend, or the cost of the bikes."

Carpenter knows the company has put a major focus on changing that narrative by selling a variety of smaller, sportier, and far less expensive motorcycles.

“A lot of people are finding the fun it is riding one, finding out how exciting they are,” he said.

Harley-Davidson hit peak profitability about a decade ago, but that was followed by five years of declining sales. Milwaukee Business Journal senior reporter Rich Kirchen says the brand has evolved since to reach a larger audience of both riders and non-riders.

"It's absolutely critical and crucial and I don't think the company's quite there yet,” he said.

While Harley-Davidson has different models and a new retail strategy to attract younger customers, Kirchen says the company’s biggest profits remain with their larger, traditional motorcycles.

"Do you think Harley has been effective at attracting millennials?" TMJ4 reporter Ben Jordan asked.

“At this point, I really haven't seen much of that,” Kirchen replied.

Genske hopes the ongoing rebranding efforts lead to a new wave of riders so her Harley chapter can grow in the decades to come.

"Eventually people are going to get to the point where they're not able to ride anymore and we need new generations to come in and kind of rebuild the chapter and the riding community,” she said.