Harley-Davidson is the Gin of Motorcycles

harley davidson demographic

Harley Davidson demographic does not mean what you think they mean

There are more preconceived notions about the Harley Davidson demographic than almost any other company, but much like gin, most people who hate it base their disdain on old stereotypes.

The gin connection seems like a strange one to make given that drinking and riding is frowned upon, but as a spirits writer who was invited to the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary weekend, it was glaringly obvious to me. Ask a young guy what he thinks about gin, and there’s a decent chance he’ll say, “it’s what dad drank; it tastes like a Christmas tree; I hate it.” While I can’t speak for his dad’s drink of choice, the other two are most likely untrue.

A similar and equally invalid thought process exists for Harley-Davidson, most notably in regard to the makeup of their riders. It’s clear the core is still comprised of middle-aged white guys with beards and the few remaining Sons of Anarchy, but what many don’t realize is that core riders no longer solely represent the brand. I saw a more eclectic group of people in just three days than I ever have, and the only thing many of them had in common was their love of Harley-Davidson.

Just like gin brands cut back on the Douglas Fir for a new audience, The Motor Company has made changes to expand the Harley Davidson demographic and lure in new riders. They made a major outreach to minority riders, which has been incredibly successful if the fields of bikers I saw is are indication. It’s not just the Hispanic and African-American communities either. The first person I met while waiting for the train up to Milwaukee was a woman who flew in from Australia for the weekend. Typical Harley rider? And as for age, it certainly wasn’t just a bunch of baby boomers sitting around clinging to their 1960’s rebellion.

The age of rider in the Harley Davidson demographic has always been assumed to be their eventual downfall, but they’ve been aggressively working to reduce the average age of their rider. H-D is one of the biggest sponsors of the UFC, and they’ve teamed up with Rockstar Energy for events. Not to be equally as stereotypical, but it’s safe to say those are both young men’s brands.

Taste of Freedom Day 2 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 2 at the Harley Davidson 110th

Their big push this summer was the “Taste of Freedom Tour,” which followed five social influencers (Independents) as they went from having never ridden to full-fledged H-D lovers. The five were comprised of Astronautalis (rapper), Greg Lutzka (pro skateboarder), Ray Frenden (illustrator), Cole Rise (photographer), and Michael Chiesa (UFC fighter). They’re all masters of their craft, each of which demands next level free thinking. While there are a few beards in the bunch, they certainly don’t fit the image of what many might see when they sit back and trying to picture the Harley Davidson demographic.

What could have just been a clever marketing ploy ended up proving what H-D seemingly knew all along. Show someone what Harley-Davidson is really all about, and they’ll love it. I met all of the guys on the last stop of their Freedom Tour, and it was clear that each of them was now a full-on fanboy. There wasn’t a single person there just to fulfill their obligation. These are young guys who are, quite literally, as cool as it gets, and they love Harley-Davidson. And who was leading this group of Independents around all weekend? Dana, who is a young, beautiful blonde woman. She’s not there for show though. Dana is could ride circles around just about everyone I know. Typical Harley rider?

In the words of the defunct MTV show, Diary, “You think you know … but you have no idea.” I went into the weekend with plenty of preconceived notions of the Harley Davidson demographic and the types of things I’d see, and most of them were way off. There is no typical Harley rider, and if someone dropped a few thousand bucks in my lap and demanded I spend it on a motorcycle, I’d be a Harley rider. I’d be on the H-D website customizing my second bike right now. There might even be some money left over to get some of the gin that inspired this article.

In the words of icon Willie G. Davidson, “Be loud. Be proud. Go like hell.”

Photos below are by the amazing Josh Kurpius.

Taste of Freedom Members riding from Juneau Plant to the HD Museum during the 110th
Taste of Freedom Members riding from Juneau Plant to the HD Museum during the 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 2 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 2 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 3 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 3 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 3 at the Harley Davidson 110th
Taste of Freedom Day 3 at the Harley Davidson 110th

Colin Joliat
About Colin Joliat 329 Articles
Colin Joliat is the brains behind this rinky-dink operation. He covers the alcohol industry with two parts information, one part comedy, and one part WTF is wrong with this guy. He's written for Brobible, Guyism, Thrillist, CoolMaterial, Craft, and more.