The very first day of the week I spent with the new Harley-Davidson Low Rider S, all I could think of was Low Rider by War playing in my head – not just for its lyrics but also for the upbeat and funky music. But as the time for it go back came closer, we heard the news about Harley-Davidson announcing its exit from India and the song playing on a loop in my mind was replaced by Hey Hey My My by Battleme. The year 2020 had claimed yet another sad story.
Harley-Davidson is joining a growing list of foreign companies folding their wings in India. General Motors shut down its operations in India in 2017 but continued with exports and earlier this year announced an agreement for the sale of its plant in Talegaon to China’s Great Wall Motors, shutting shop completely.
Eicher Polaris exited in March 2018, the same year Ssangyong Motor seized stand-alone operations, Volkswagen Group’s MAN Truck and Bus also wrapped operations in 2018, FCA India Automobiles pulled the plug on Fiat in March 2019, the same year US-based Cleveland Motorcycles exited, and in October 2019, it was the end of the road for UM. Ford agreed last year to move all its assets into a JV with Mahindra & Mahindra, and this year, Toyota announced that it wouldn’t expand its India business any further.
Harley pulling the plug on independent operations here is a blow to the country’s efforts to lure and retain foreign manufacturers. US President Donald Trump had stated earlier that Harley’s decision to exit India could brew another diplomatic tussle with the US with whom India is negotiating a free trade agreement.
However, the brand has struggled in India to gain stable ground even after import tariffs were slashed by 50%, owing to an extensively competitive two-wheeler market which also happens to the largest in the world. 1.7 crore motorcycles and scooters are sold here every year.
Nodding to the funky beat of War’s Low Rider, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have been incredibly popular in India. For some, they are the epitome of what motorcycles should look and sound like for the Indian motorcyclist adores the appeal of a big cruiser. Should the price tags on H-D bikes be only as big as those Royal Enfields, we’d probably ache to see other brands on the road at all.
But the fact is the opposite as Harleys remain out of reach for most. Another problem came from the fact that many are preferring a used Harley. If kept well and nurtured with some soul, these are the kind of motorcycles that can be passed down generations.
Founded in 1903, Harley-Davidson has been an icon that put American motorcycles on the world map. Having been featured on classic 1969 Hollywood movie Easy Rider, the American riding culture catapulted to young hearts around the world. Then there are the one-percenter motorcycle clubs like Hell’s Angels. Sure, no need to absorb the outlaw behaviour from them but they propagated the joys and freedom of the open road.
The concept of close-knit motorcycle clubs with their own colours and badges is carried out no better by anyone other than Harley riders and all you need is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to become a member. Harley Owners Groups are present around the world and with various chapters within one country.
The Low Rider S launched earlier this year pretty much wrote the swan song for Harley-Davidson India and a very good one at that. It delivers on that imposing personality one expects from a 1800cc V-Twin powered behemoth. I would probably have enjoyed the ride even better if I were dimensionally more ept to reach the controls. But once on the road, it turns heads, the exhaust note makes them pay attention, as you ride through nestled on a comfy saddle.
The Low Rider S makes taking a ride out around the city an event and even more so if you indulge on the throttle enthusiastically since there’s so much torque to play with and it handles surprisingly well. The placement of the instrument cluster dials and buttons for the indicators and horn seem quite awkward though but can be forgiven.
If I may be clear with my words for a bit, I never really understood the appeal of a big motorcycle with an engine bigger than most cars around me when similar power figures can be attained in a smaller, lighter package but it’s not just the machine, it is also a lifestyle you’re embracing with one of ’em Harley big bikes.
Engine – 1,868 cc Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-twin
Torque – 155 Nm at 3,250 rpm
Six-speed manual transmission
Ground clearance – 120 mm
Weight (fully fueled) – 308 kg
Fuel tank – 18.9 litres
Price – Low Rider S: Rs 14.69 lakh (ex-showroom)
Low Rider: Rs 13.75 lakh (ex-showroom)
To be fairly honest, I may have just recently finished watching two seasons of Sons of Anarchy, or maybe this talk is a result of graduation goggles. But the Low Rider S is definitely one you want to get and pass down to your son or daughter when the time comes.
Reports suggest that Harley is closing in on finalising a deal with Hero MotoCorp to import and retail its motorcycles in the country. So for the company’s run here, the Low Rider S perhaps only marks an intermission in Harley-Davidson’s California rock concert in India.
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