Still Not a Fan of H-D Footwear and Gear

rp_Meride.jpgReaders of this blog know by its title and numerous posts that I ride a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. My bike is well-made, runs well, and is a joy to ride.

But I am not among those who have drunk the “brand koolaid” and wear everything with the well-known Harley-Davidson brand image (what they call the “bar and shield”*) on it, especially the boots. Why?

Simply, I am not a billboard for a brand. Harley does well enough to market its products, so I do not need to be a walking display ad.

Further, in my own opinion based on 38 years now of riding experience, there are other manufacturers of motorcycle riding gear that make as good or better products for a more affordable or competitive price.

Examples:

* Leather or mesh jackets: Harley jackets look good and solid. But while I was in a H-D dealership recently, I looked in the jacket for the COOL. (Country of Origin Label.) What did I find? Pakistan.

* Boots: Wolverine Worldwide has had been licensed by the Motor Company to make boots using its iconic brand logo and name exclusively since 1998. Wolverine was founded in the United States. However, their boots are made in China.

H-D, like any other major company that wants to make a profit, works with third-party companies to produce products that use their licensed name and images that build and maintain the brand. I get it. And I commend Harley-Davidson for great brand marketing. As I began this post, there are a LOT of people who subscribe to wearing the brand name and logo to affiliate with a “tough brand image.”

But wearing “tough-brand imagery” does not necessarily mean that the products displaying it are any better, safer, or more durable than products made by competitors.

Langlitz07If I want a leather jacket, I look for where the leather is sourced and then where the garment is made. Heck, if I am going to pay hundreds of dollars for a leather jacket, I want a good one and get value for the price paid. And that’s where I have a beef with H-D labeled gear. Their gear is made by third-world vendors who source their leather from who-knows-where-sickly-pock-marked-cows, and assembled with short-cuts such as single-stitching, non-reinforced stress areas, and fewer features that provide warmth, comfort, and a good fit. That’s why when I consider a leather jacket, I’ll lean toward wearing my Langlitz, sourced in the U.S. or Canada and made in Portland, Oregon.

GarrfullRegarding boots — having a collection of hundreds of pairs — I am discerning of quality. Boots made in China don’t cut it. While I see that some of the higher-priced H-D branded footwear are welted (meaning the sole is stitched on, not glued), I do not see a value in paying US$280 for a pair of plain old 11-inch (28cm) boots. I estimate that the mark-up on these boots is close to 90%. I do not mind that a company wants to make a profit, but when the mark-up margin is that excessive, the value for what you get is poor. Unless you consider it is a value to have a pair of boots with the Harley-Davidson name on it. (And, my friends, that is what they are selling — not quality boots, but the brand.)

In summary, I choose not to be a roving billboard for an American iconic brand. I ride one — that’s enough advertising for me. I will wear riding gear and boots that provide good quality and value, rather than pay significant mark-up just to have clothing with a certain brand name on it.

Life is short: know how to determine value and not be a free ad for a profit-making company.

* I am not displaying the image of the famous Harley-Davidson bar-and-shield because that logo is trademarked and copyrighted. The Motor Company’s attorneys are well known to be aggressive in protecting their iconic brand logo. But you know what it looks like; I don’t need to post an image of it.