Harley-Davidson: Wheels of fortune

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | Updated: Nov 17 2013, 16:07pm hrs
Harley Davidson Street'It?s not always the growth charts that high-flying corporate executives prefer to chase.' (AP)
Rajat Uppal, the 30-something marketing head of Red FM, literally swears by his Harley-Davidson. Whether its going to the gym, shopping at malls, hitting pubs or even commuting to office (which is unusual, to say the least, given that most high-flying corporate executives prefer to use chauffeur-driven cars), Uppal bets big on his mean machinesas much as his pie-charts and growth targets, if not more.

Biking is serious business, and enthusiasts like Uppal go the whole hog to satisfy their passion. In 2012, Uppal got himself his first Harley-Davidson, a Forty Eight, and this year, he bought another one, the Fat Boy. Starting with a price range of above R8 lakh (for Forty Eight) and above R14 lakh (for Fat Boy), these mean machines don't come cheap. But then, biking is a passion. I ride every weekend with my riding buddies and other HOG (Harley Owners Group) members. In between, I try and ride to work sometimes too, says Uppal, a resident of Delhi.

In recent years, Uppal has moved towards bikes and does not like splurging much on four-wheelers. He has even converted quite a few non-bikers in his group to regular ones owning a Harley. In fact, his wife is a pillion to most of his rides. He used to drive a Skoda Octavia VRS and loved the turbo petrol motor it sports, but moved to a regular commuterSkoda Rapidnot too long ago.

Uppal is not the only exception. Theres a growing breed of corporate biggiesmostly in their 30s, city-bred, rich and successfulwho are taking some time out of their busy schedules and riding the big machines. Youll often find them on Sunday mornings on the Greater Noida Expressway near Delhi, or the Mumbai-Pune highway, or at some HOG event across Indiariding their bikes in groups. The recent HOG meet in Chennai is one example in which members from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Indore and Kochi came together with their families to make it a milestone for Harley-Davidson in India.

For these bikers, riding their Harleys is not just a hobby, but more of a passion, and as much a mode of refreshment from their daily corporate lives. There are even some who feel that owning a Harley is impacting their professional lives.

It does raise some eyebrows, especially if you are at a senior position. But it also attracts appreciation and reflects independence. On certain occasions, it can even draw an image of someone being footloose and fancy free, says Mumbai-based Pranav Bakshi, head of NDTV Profit, adding, it does help in a certain degree of networking.

Most of them ride on weekends as a form of recreation, but there are some, like Uppal, who take their Harleys everywhere, provided there is a safe parking facility available for the machines.

Harley-Davidson is no longer just a motorcycle, it is a way of life for many of these corporate behemoths. Maybe it was this passion that led William Harley to sketch the design of his first engine in 1901. Who would have thought that a simple design would transform into the most famous machine in the biking world But whats so magnetic about Harleys that corporate biggies are now inching towards the mean machines and yearning to own one Is it having an impact on their corporate image too

For Delhi-based Keertan Adyanthaya, head, National Geographic India (NGC), also in his late 30s, owning a Harley hasnt really impacted or changed his image in the corporate world, but it has definitely been a good conversation-starter. It has also had a negative impact on some, though rarely. Sometimes people think you have too much time on your hands since you indulge in motorbiking for pleasure, says the NGC head. However, he adds, it has boosted his image as a risk-taker and someone who is adventurous.

Yes, Im a risk-taker or else I wouldnt be riding a motorbike for long distances now, would I Adyanthaya clears the air.

Uppal shares a different view. He believes that owning or riding a Harley doesnt really impact ones professional life directly, but has some indirect ramifications. It builds a perception in the corporate world that you are a biking enthusiast and would not mind indulging and spending in a luxury brand like Harley, says Uppal. Though he seldom uses a Harley as an image-enhancing exercise, he feels that being a biker does give him greater respect among his male colleagues. Biking as a passion comes with its share of risks and hazards, and one needs to be more adventurous than those who choose not to be in it, Uppal cautions.

For Adyanthaya, owning a Harley was like a dream come true. I loved riding bikes since I was 16 years of age and always wanted a bike of higher displacement. During the ensuing years, I loved watching movies about motorbikes and always had a secret desire to ride a Harley. But at that time, these bikes were not available in India, says Adyanthaya. He got his first Harley as soon as it was launched in India.

Adyanthaya rides every weekend and also ends up going for a coffee or a meal with friends on his Harley quite often. For him, riding is a kind of refreshment, one which energises him. It clears my mind and refreshes me. Its fun, passion and a whole lot more. He also takes his Harley to office once a week or once every fortnight, though it makes his colleagues envious at times. A few of them have ridden with me and many others have expressed a desire to ride. He likes to take part in as many biking events as possible and has already attended the first national HOG ride in Goa earlier this year. For him, it was such a nice experience that he is now making plans for the second edition of the India Bike Week and the national HOG ride.

For some like Bakshi, owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle has nothing to do with his corporate life, rather it is more of a personal preference. I was always passionate about riding bikes. And Harley has always been an iconic purchase for those who enjoy cruising. So when I could afford one, I got it instantly, says Bakshi, adding, Its a stress buster, but is restricted to weekends as of now. He goes for most events if they are in or around Mumbai. And for the ones held in other states, he plans it out with a group of fellow riders. Bakshi is now looking forward to the national HOG meet in Goa in the month of January next year. Apart from these meets, he goes for fun rides on weekends. We go to city rides for fun with friends and long rides for the passion of riding. The experience in the HOG meet is phenomenal, adds Bakshi.

Bakshis best experience in his Harley came in the month of August when he rode to Goa with three fellow riders. Riding in the rain with just three riders, connected through our helmet intercoms, riding tirelessly for 15 hours through the rain, muck, traffic, bad roads, hillsthats what Harley is all about. A different kind of odds compared to our corporate offices, shares Bakshi. Other than a Harley, he owns a premium sedan and a 4x4 SUV.

There are some riders, too, who got into biking purely for pleasure and not for any group activity or work-related issue. Rishab Gulshan, partner and managing director, The Boston Consulting Group, is one such enthusiast. For me, biking is a very personal thing, and I do it for the pure pleasure of riding. I prefer to ride in my small group. Harleys are not meant for routine activities like roaming, shopping, etc, says the Delhi-based enthusiast, adding that those who know him, are aware of his passion for biking, and they just treat it as an extended part of him.

Now in his late 30s, Gulshan has been riding for 18 years and has owned and ridden almost all sorts of bikessports, naked, adventure or touring. To get involved with the cult brand, he bought a Harley-Davidson soon after it was launched in India. Now, he rides every Sunday with his own group and goes for a weekend trip every three-four months. My week is not complete without my Sunday ride. Its my way to unwind and prepare for the next week, adds Gulshan. He also owns a few other bikes, besides a Harley.

Harley bikes are not cheap, and dealers everywhere have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Even the lowest range for these bikes starts above Rs 5 lakh. With over Rs 10,000 required for the maintenance of these bikes, it can often become a tardy exercise for many. Not for these enthusiasts. The bikes arent cheap nor is the maintenance, but if you measure it by the number of smiles per litre instead of miles per litre, I think you can already count yourself as a winner, says Adyanthaya.

Uppal believes in his passions and has never counted the money spent on something he loves doing.

Any automobile brand which is exotic or is a luxury item is bound to be expensive, and Harley is no exception. I believe in investing in my passions and have never actually counted the pounds and pennies spent on something that I love doing so much, adds the marketing head.