The first thing you should do when you meet a Harley-Davidson rider is check the back of his—or her, but let’s be honest, it’s probably his—jacket. It might be a bald eagle atop the company’s logo to let everyone know this is a Harley guy—not a Honda guy, not a BMW guy, but a red-blooded, flag-waving American patriot. If this particular Harley guy belongs to one of 1,400 company-sponsored Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) chapters around the world, the insignia will be coupled with a second patch that specifies which H.O.G. he belongs to: the Duluth H.O.G.s, the Waco H.O.G.s., or, today, the H.O.G.s of Long Island.
Pellegrino, who got his first Harley for his 65th birthday last year, is about to spend this cloudless summer Sunday exploring 100 miles along the back roads of New York and Connecticut with about 25 other Harley guys.
Harley has been selling bikes overseas since 1912 and today has 800 international dealerships, more than in the U.S. Still, its image and reputation remain thoroughly American. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are one of those rare products, like Coca-Cola or Mickey Mouse, that have become shorthand for 20th century America.
“From a practical perspective, riding a Harley doesn’t make sense,” Courts says. “It’s heavy. It’s expensive. But when you talk to Harley people, they don’t talk about how the motorcycle performs. They talk about what it represents.” As Michael Abiles, a Harley owner from Brooklyn, says, “You don’t get a tattoo of Honda.”
Trump embraced the motorcycle’s mystique. Two weeks after taking office, he invited Harley executives to the White House and held them up as an example of American manufacturing at its finest. “In this administration, our allegiance will be to the American workers and to American businesses like Harley-Davidson,” he said in February 2017.
During the 2016 election, some of Trump’s most vocal supporters belonged to a 30,000-member group called Bikers for Trump. As the president said recently, “I guarantee you everybody that ever bought a Harley-Davidson voted for Trump.”
See also: Trump and automotive tariffs
While ridership has declined in the U.S., it’s growing in Europe and Asia. People in crowded Asian cities are turning to small, lightweight motorcycles for daily transportation. According to the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of households in Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam own a motorcycle or scooter. Europe is similarly promising. The number of motorcyclists there is larger than in the U.S. That’s good news for Harley, because Europeans use bikes to commute and for long-distance touring. Today, Europe accounts for 16 percent of the company’s business, and that number is growing. Last year, Harley’s sales in Europe rose 8 percent.
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