The Harley Mystique

What is it about a Harley... Mystique? Nostalgia? The Stuff? The Love Affair with a Steel Horse-Riding Cowboy? The way you can feel the hoofbeats of the engine in your chest? The Options, the Models, the big Dealer Showrooms? The way they love you back by reaffirming everything you love about Harley through their marketing?

Somebody at the Harley-Davidson company knows how to market The Old West. Do they show old westerns to the young guys? Or is there anyone on the planet who didn't grow up watching Roy Rogers and John Wayne? Or is being a cowboy so synonymous with being an American that we inherit the gene like we do our eye color?

Being American means being the best, and having the best. We're confident, powerful, independent, successful, and tough. We love being around other people who are confident, powerful, independent, successful, and tough. Whether you operate better within a posse of tightly knit friends or a larger circle of non-stop partying family members, H-D has the bike, the stuff, and the image to sell you.

You want to feel the love? Buy a Harley. There is a Harley model to appeal to any riding style or physique. If you're short or tall, like to bar-hop or ride 1,000 miles in one day, H-D has the bike for you. We're diverse, they're diverse.

Are you longing for the old-style '50s bikes? Harley makes 'em brand new. You want something to show off how much money you make? H-D is there for you, and how. Think you're confident? Any motorcycle that sounds like it's gonna blast off to the moon will make you confident when you ride it down the road.

You want power? Riding down the road with the engine pounding in your heart will make a man feel like Superman. You want to feel special, like you belong to something bigger than yourself, which accepts you unconditionally? Get a Harley brand, I mean, tattoo; or better yet, buy a whole bunch of Harley stuff. They've done the branding for you, and it's painless, except to your wallet, so even that's a measure of toughness.

What is it about a Harley, really? What really makes a Harley different from most other motorcycles? Some say they're the only "real" American bike. Not true, anymore, but does that matter? They're still assembled in America, by American hands, aren't they? They've been around for a long time, like an old cowboy who's weathered and tough. If you can't lean on an old cowboy, you can be like him just by being around him.

Everybody needs to feel like they're surrounded by love, power, loyalty, and security. Harley surrounds. H-D loyalty morphs into Harley's non-Harley elitism. H-D power gets in your veins. The massive amount of stuff you can buy spreads the message of consumer security. The owner's groups provide you with instant family. They even have party rooms, party buildings, and even party stages.

Harley has been very successful at taking motorcycling to the next level. People who don't even have Harleys buy Harley stuff. Does the company exploit your imagination? Of course! That's their job. They have reinvented the American Hero and made him into you. What could be more enticing to a human being than a bunch of powerful and independent people? You are the Lone Ranger, you are Superman, you are Ronald Reagan, you are John Wayne, Steve McQueen, Joe the Plumber, Pat Tillman.

Harley has been around long enough to not need an explanation of who they are. If you ride a Harley, you don't need an explanation of who you are, either. Harley does it for you. Is it ironic that a company that uses international parts makes us feel like we've circled the wagons against all enemies, invaders, aliens, outsiders, non-Harley owners, and foreigners? Yeah, but what else does that so profoundly for us anymore?

Carol Watkins lives in Knoxville's Cedar Bluff area in a condo with a one-car garage—make that one-motorcycle garage. Been married and divorced three times, one son. Had a cat once. He died. If you want to know anything else about her, read it in her column or take her out to dinner. She can be reached at