There's something about Harley-Davidson riders, a couple of things actually. The first is they're fiercely loyal. To their bikes, their country and each other. The second is they don't like to be messed with.
And these days, Harley riders feel the company is messing with them. It's not so much major defects that get their pipes rumbling. It's little things that just never seem to get fixed -- like the radio.
Harley riders tell us that no matter what they do, they just can't keep their Harman Kardon stock radios working. And they don't want to defect to a Japanese radio. That just wouldn't be right.
"When I first got the bike, the radio would cut out. HD replaced the radio under warranty. Now out of warranty the radio is cutting out again!" said Nick of Barstow, Calif., who bought his brand-new Tri-Glide as a retirement present for himself a year or two ago.
John of Richmond, B.C., has had similar problems.
"Stereo failed after one year. Dealer replaced radio head, didn't work so put stock unit back. Replaced amp and unit worked for most of next riding season but when failed again dealer stated warranty was up by two weeks so no repair," he said.
John sent the radio head to a New York repair shop, which said the problem was caused by vibration (hey, these are Harleys we're talking about). Since then he has replaced both speakers, which also failed.
"Fingers crossed it keeps working, so far out of pocket $600 for this junk," John said.
"Mad as hell"
Junk it may or may not be but Ron of New Jersey, who by the way says he is "mad as hell and not going to take it any longer," says the H-K radios are tops when they work. They provide not just AM/FM but also weather, CB, navigation, MP3 and other options. There are replacement units available from other manufacturers but they don't have all those features.
And besides, Harley riders want Harley gear. As Ron puts it: "I am not going to buy another radio [from] Sony or other. I want the one I have -- original equipment -- to work as it should."
Ron, like many other Harley riders we've heard from, thinks there's more at stake here than running down the road listening to J.J. Cale.
"I don't want to see Harley go under, as I support USA manufacturing. Let's bring it back -- we are good at what we do when we do it right."
A few riders have muttered under their breath about "going Indian." We weren't initially sure whether this was a veiled reference to sending out a raiding party to attack the H-D encampment or perhaps buying a bike made in India.
It turns out it's a reference to Indian Motorcycles, a new Harley competitor that builds its engines in Osceola, Wisconsin, and assembles its bikes in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Indian, which calls itself America's first motorcycle company, was recently revived by Polaris Industries after being out of business for several decades, much as the Mini Cooper sports car was brought back by BMW.
Although Indian doesn't have as many models as Harley, it seems to be building a loyal following. And as the H-D/Harman Kardon episode shows, once bikers bond with a company, a country or their buddies, it's pretty hard to get them apart.
Anybody listening at Harley-Davidson? The company did not respond to a request for comment on this story.