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Silverdale Harley-Davidson hosts Dark Custom party Aug. 15
Walking on the dark side of declining sales and a daunting generation gap, Harley-Davidson reaches out to a new age of riders.
The Dark Custom Series is something Harley came up with a few years back to reach out to its younger rider — a rider who, Silverdale Legend Harley-Davidson General Manager Cory Bone says, has been in short supply.
“It’s no big secret,” he said. “You know, our core customer is getting a little bit older.”
While the new line of 2010s (released this past week at Sturgis) comes with the introduction of another trike model — "a little more stable for those older riders" — the Dark Custom Series, Bone said, goes back to the bike’s roots.
"A lot of black out bikes, not as much chrome," the Legend H-D general manager noted, "going back to the roots — that old-school kind of style."
Legend H-D will be throwing an old-school BBQ bash this weekend — celebrating both the Dark Custom generation and the new 2010s from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 15 at its Silverdale location, 9625 Provost Road. There'll be barbecue, bikes and a beer garden, live music, on-site tattooing from Tried and True Tattoo, local pinstriping artist Pappy, a skate ramp hosted by the South Kitsap Skate Park Association and more.
It's the first event of its nature for Legend H-D — though they certainly know how to party, hosting BBQ and bands almost every Saturday and Taco Thursday every Thursday this summer. Legend H-D will also, for the first time, be taking a few of its bikes to KISW's metal festival "Pain in the Grass" Aug. 22 at White River Ampitheater. It's all part of the H-D world reaching out to that elusive younger rider.
"You know, Harley used to be: You build the dealership and they will come," Bone said. "I think now, more than ever, we have to actually go to them, kind of find them and reach out to them."
Bone's dad, Dale, bought the Silverdale Legend Harley in 2006. Then, they purchased the dealership in Wenatchee in 2007 — right on the cusp of the country's economic collapse.
Following 2006, a year in which Harley-Davidson shipped nearly 350,000 bikes to dealerships nationwide, as the economy started to plummet, so did H-D sales. Reported sales were down 5.3 percent in 2007, more than 7 percent in 2008 and a further 13 percent in the first two months of 2009.
Earlier this summer, H-D announced it was cutting 1,000 jobs and reducing its planned production with the news that retail unit sales of new Harley-Davidson motorcycles were down 35.1 percent below last year's numbers in the second quarter.
"It has its ups and downs, just like anything," Bone played it cool. "But I think the motor company has reacted to the economy and it's leveling out the supply and demand curve."
In Silverdale, Bone said Legend H-D has had to cut its staff. They're also expecting to be open one less day a week this winter and see fewer bikes next year. But on the positive end, he adds, the store has seen an upward trend in used bike sales, and also an increase in internet buyers.
"That's how we consider it, we've got Showroom 1 here, Showroom 2 up at the used warehouse and the internet's Showroom 3," Bone said, noting another facet of the youth appeal.
On an overcast Saturday morning as bikes growled off from the Legend H-D parking lot for a 'Ride for the Fallen' poker run, Greg 'Sonny' Organ, president of the Silverdale chapter of the Harley Owners Group, said it tends to be an older crowd around here.
"I think me and Sam are the youngest ones in the group," Organ said. He's 43.
Still the Silverdale HOG chapter is 300-500 members strong at any given time.
It fluctuates, Organ said, but there's some 250 "active" members — those who attend meetings, help organize and attend events.
And then, there's the holy grail of Harley ownership — the rides.
All throughout the summer the local HOG chapter participates in poker runs and group rides of all kinds — many benefitting charities like Wounded Warriors, Fallen Riders, local veterans' groups, the ALIVE shelter for battered women, breast cancer causes among others — sometimes, it's just for fun.
"We'll go down to Oregon, just for breakfast, and come back," Organ said. "That's a ride."
He cited the camaraderie between chapter members, and Harley owners in general, as one of the main attractions of the bike for him. He's had well over a dozen motorcycles in his life, but he's never been part of a community quite like that between Harley-Davidson owners.
"You can pull your bike into a gas station at a place in Podunk, Idaho, somewhere and another guy will pull up on his Harley and say, 'Where you headed? ... Well, I'm headed that way too, do you mind if I ride with you awhile?'" Organ explained. "You've always got that person who wants to ride with you."
Not to mention, there's no better way to see the country, Bone, 38, the Silverdale HOG chapter's dealership liaison, added. He just returned from an 1,800 mile ride from Denver to the Northwest, with less than 100 miles of interstate traveled on his 2008 Harley Fat Boy.
"It's a very hard thing to explain when you're out there on the open road," Bone noted. "The freedom, just the air, no worries, you're not thinking about anything except for riding ... like a zen."
That zen is part of what continues to attract riders to the Harley-Davidson experience.
For Bone, it was something passed down from his father.
For Organ it's been something he's longed for since he was a kid.
"It took me until I retired from the military," Organ said of his quest for Harley-Davidson ownership. "I've had the urge ever since I was a kid, because the neighbor had one, you know. He had the whole Harley persona with the beard, the bike, the tattoos, the long hair, the leather — the whole thing."
While that image of a mean-looking dude headed down the highway on a Harley has certainly woven itself into the fabric of Americana, the Harley-Davidson motor company is fighting against coming apart at the seams.
Along with this summer's grim news on H-D sales for the second quarter of 2009 — added to the company's age-old generation gap dilemma — industry-wide retail sales of all heavyweight motorcycles in the United States were down a grimacing 48.1 percent over last year.
TAKE A WALK ON THE DARK SIDE from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 15 at Legend Harley-Davidson's Dark Custom party, featuring Harley's new line of 2010s, the Dark Custom Series, barbecue and beer garden, plus Seattle bands The Crying Spell, Faceless and Riverbend, on-site tattooing by Tried and True Tattoo, pinstriping by Pappy, a skate ramp hosted by the South Kitsap Skate Park Association and more. Info: www.legendharleysilverdale.com.