Hey, you guys want to hear the Harley-Davidsonest thing ever? In an extremely on-brand move, The Motor Company has teamed up with dadrock powerhouse Aerosmith to release a line of branded apparel based on the band’s back catalog. You heard that right, friends, Aerosmith—a band that hasn’t released an album since TYooL 2014 and hasn’t been culturally relevant since the mid-90s. That’s exactly the kind of forward-thinking initiative we’ve come to expect from a motorcycle brand that’s been desperately struggling to attract younger customers for years now.
I just… I mean… wow. Oof. Yikes. Yikers island. This is some powerful Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock energy here from the old Orange and Black. When the press release for the new collection crossed my desk, I was flabbergasted. Its arrival on March 31, 2021, even prompted me to reach out to Harley to make sure it wasn’t an early April Fools joke. I was enthusiastically told that it was not. Huh. Okay, then!
So, here I am sitting at my desk trying to square journalistic integrity and my deep, abiding love of Harley with my complete and utter contempt for this whole Aerosmith partnership thing. I can’t do it—well, more like I won’t do it—so it’s op-ed time.
Aerosmith. Aerosmith? Who the hell is this collection for? Don’t answer that, it’s one of them there “rhetorical” questions. I know who it’s for—it’s for the same pack of boomer podiatrists, CPAs, pirate cosplayers, and opinionated, twice-divorced uncles that Harley’s been catering to since the mid-90s. The guys who are now aging out of riding and selling their blinged-out, low-mileage garage queens at closeout prices on Facebook marketplace. It’s certainly not for the people we actually need to attract to motorcycling to help it survive. You know, people under 50?
Also, also, what does Aerosmith have to do with motorcycling at all? Like, if the band had a long track record of riding, advocating for motorcycling, writing songs about motorcycles and bikers, and featuring bikes on its album covers I’d be more understanding. Hell, I’d even be into it. If, say, Ford or GM teamed up with ZZ Top due to the band’s association with classic hot rods (Eliminator and Cadzilla, respectively) and Billy Gibbons’ obsession with fast cars to sell cross-branded merch you can bet your ass I’d own every single thing in that collection. Aerosmith, though? Nah.
We know that the popularity of motorcycling as a hobby and/or lifestyle is already fading among younger generations. You know why The Youths™ aren’t getting into motorcycling? It’s not just that bikes and all the necessary accouterment are eye-wateringly expensive for a generation facing unprecedented wage stagnation, debt, and social immobility. It’s not just because OEMs have spent decades selling their products as luxury toys for grown children rather than as essential and practical tools for navigating modern life. It’s both of those things, of course, but there’s something else; something that legions of middle-aged, corner office bigwigs and yammering PR flacks cannot or will not get their brains around—motorcycles aren’t cool anymore.
To a lot of younger people, motorcycles are square. They are dreadfully uncool. Motorcycles are something your dad is into, or even worse, your granddad. How do we, as an industry, expect to attract new blood and survive when we’re still looking backward? How do we create the next generation of passionate motorcyclists in the current environment? It’s sure not by selling lazily-designed t-shirts and hoodies plastered with the titles of songs that were played on classic rock stations when I was in high school 30 years ago. Harley, here’s some free advice: the people you need to attract as customers do not give a shit about Aerosmith. Boomers and early-stage Gen-Xers aren’t your target audience anymore. They simply can’t be, not anymore.
Look, I respect Steven Tyler a lot. He gave us Dream On, his two extremely rad daughters, and a stand-up arcade shooter called Generation X that I fed an embarrassing amount of quarters into in the mid-90s. He’s a legend, and the band he helped form loomed large in the public consciousness and stomped on the terra for five decades. He belongs in the Smithsonian, though—up there on the dais between Fonzie’s bike and Archie Bunker’s chair, not on merch sold in Harley dealerships in 2021. Harley, you need to get your act together and figure out how to actually attract young new riders or you’re gonna end up there on the dais with them, just another relic of bygone Americana.