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The Classic

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Amid the cars and the chrome, the flash and the sizzle, stood Harley- Davidson.

For headbangers and latter-day nomads seduced by its imagery, the thought of rumbling Harley’s tearing down a highway is akin to an apparition. It inspires a tremor of excitement, that fleeting taste of divinity and release. From Rob Halford to Sons of Anarchy, Harley’s are steeds for misfits.

This writer had the privilege of finally getting his hands on a Harley.

It was during the 2013 Manila International Auto Show. Harley- Davidson, which just opened shop under the umbrella of Cats Motors Edsa dealership in March, displayed several of its most coveted models. Each had a handwritten note its seat scrawled with “no sitting,” so fans could only caress the bikes.

Among them was a dark and brooding Forty Eight. It’s a proven city cruiser ideal for zips across rough asphalt and tight corners.

The Forty Eight dates back to 2010, when Harley-Davidson released a new Sportster—an iconic lineage that dates to the 1950s for its Dark Custom product range. Its official name was the XL1200X Sportster Forty Eight. The Forty Eight, described as a “low-slung urban brawler ready to rip through any scene,” has toned down chrome for its shiny parts and a deep black finish. Appearance-wise it’s a retrogressive throwback to the Harley-Davidson heritage that appealed most to unruly bikers.

It’s this same postwar subculture that has imbued the brand so powerfully that few recall Harley’s origins as a crackerjack motorcycle maker with major industrial clout. For there was a time when the initials H-D had more to do with mailmen than antisocial elements. That was then.

For the here and now, the reinvented Forty Eight bears distinctive flourishes setting it apart from the rest of Harley-Davidson’s current offerings.

It’s compact and built for clam shell riding, with short drag bars and under-mount mirrors. Its buxom front is balanced by a curvaceous rear-end with an ergonomic mid-section. At just 576 pounds, it weighs below the usual Harley mounted by a gruff rider, and its rubber mounted 1,200 cc air-cooled Evolution engine doesn’t exactly score high compared to rival brands.

What it does have though is a US$10,599 price tag for a beautifully designed frame topped by an iconic peanut fuel tank that was first introduced among Harleys in 1948.

Here in the Philippines, one of six certified dealerships in Asia (excluding China), the Forty Eight goes for Php790,000 with limited options for either a coloma gold or flesh-red paint job on the fuel tank.

Most importantly, the Forty Eight bears the signature throaty rumble. The unmistakable Harley-Davidson engine sound that throbs with virility, more so when a female is straddling it.

But since Harley-Davidson’s corner of the market is secure because of its legacy and fan base, the true underlying attraction of the Forty Eight is how it teases younger customers while maintaining the ethos of old ones.

Considering its design and specs, the Forty Eight is a motorcycle for the city. No wonder it’s been described as unfit for those long treks across empty highways leading to nowhere; as often seen on television. Such odysseys seem romantic but are impractical without careful planning. Another selling point of the Forty Eight is how much it can be customized with parts, accessories, and even personal builds. Harley-Davidson encourages its bikers to take their tools to their rides.

Harley-Davidson sells its culture, most of all. It’s why its outlets feature a huge variety of toys and clothing to complete fans’ immersion. Leather jackets are de rigueur. The website also proclaims: “For every soul there’s a Harley.”

Its downloadable brochures come with an apt quote from Willie G. Davidson celebrating wild freedom, “There’s a little outlaw in all of us” that goes hand in hand with other Harley- isms like “your ride is stripped for the pure you.”

The twin focus on modern, sexy individuality, and open-source tinkering is a subtle marketing approach that Harley-Davidson has all but perfected. Its content-rich website (harley- davidson.com) does offer more than products. “From bike basics to gear that fits your style—we’ll get you up to speed,” it promises.

Included are access to the HOGs (Harley Owners Group) and schedules for riding courses. The latter’s promo video features an instructor lecturing to prospective bikers. “[When] you get on a Harley-Davidson it creates a feeling like no other,” he says.

Few brands enjoy a community dependent on it. For Harley-Davidson, it’s this intense connection that has ensured its survival. Their newest bikes celebrate the very best its storied past has to offer.

And the Forty Eight?

A seductress begging for satisfaction. It’s undeniably one sexy beast.

Guess who got to touch it.

Print ed: 05/13


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