By Rick Barrett
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Jane Schmidt wanted to join the Harley-Davidson motorcycle owners family, but wanted to avoid a big touring bike that would be more than she needed or could handle.
So the Oconomowoc woman bought a Harley Street 750, a motorcycle that’s smaller than most anything else in the company’s lineup but still has enough muscle for the highway.
She commutes to work on the bike, sometimes uses it to pick up a few items at the grocery store, and has taken day rides of 500 miles.
“It’s perfect for me until I establish what kind of riding I am going to do, until I have a full riding season in,” Schmidt said.
She’s a good fit for Harley, too, as the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles courts new customers, including women and younger riders.
Last spring, Harley said its Street Glide Special and Breakout models were the No. 1 and No. 2 top-selling motorcycles in America, based on vehicle registration data. Sales to outreach customers, a category that includes young adults, women, African-Americans and Hispanics, have grown at a faster rate than sales to core customers — mostly white men over age 35.
“Younger folks are voting with their dollars, which we think is the best way of looking at the real interest out there. … We sell more motorcycles to this generation of young adults than we did when the baby boomers were the same age,” said Mark-Hans Richer, Harley’s chief marketing officer.
Still, demand for heavyweight motorcycles stalled during the recession — with sales in 2010 less than half the volume during the peak in 2006 — and the industry hasn’t fully recovered.
Companies have adjusted to a “new normal” that may not be as lucrative as before the recession but is more rational and allows for growth, said analyst Robin Diedrich with Edward Jones Co.