By Amos Kwon
on 9.23.11
Photo by AK

Conventional wisdom erroneously perceives that most Harley riders are over 40, beefy, peppered with tattoos and leather, with a preponderance of facial hair. Though a fair share of riders fall into that category, it’s also absolutely true that the pre-WWI motorcycle manufacturer has made serious inroads to the younger, hipper crowd. In case you didn’t know: Harley-Davidson is the #1 seller of motorcycles in the U.S. to men 18-34. To learn more, the fun way, we embarked for Milwaukee, WI to the Harley-Davidson Headquarters to ride some of their latest creations, more specifically the Harley-Davidson Dark Custom line, conjured up as a throwback to simpler times. More after the jump.

One of the benefits of visiting the new headquarters is the beauty of Milwaukee, itself. Craft beer, clean streets, a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and plenty of good motorcycle riding pavement made for a surprisingly pleasurable trip. Harley-Davidson put us up at the four diamond, Iron Horse Hotel, just across the river from the 20 acre Harley-Davidson Museum. Geared specifically toward bikers, the hotel is both tastefully industrial and uniquely sophisticated, with black and white vintage images of beautiful women emblazoned on each room’s wallpaper. Bike parking and on-site mechanics add to the motorcycle-friendliness of the hotel. After dropping luggage off, the first segment of the trip was to the relatively new and colorful Harley-Davidson museum, located on a former public works facility. On my tour, I discovered Harley-Davidson’s pervasive international influence, with strong markets in China and India and with a #1 motorcycle sales position in Japan. From the market details to the impending ride, I inquired about their new Dark Custom line and the minds behind its creation.

Less chrome, basic colors, more black trim and a simplified aesthetic, coupled with affordable pricing, are what makes these bikes unique.

To my surprise, I was told that the inception of the Dark Custom line sprung out of motorcycles in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when young men were returning from battle in World War II. They had seen and ridden the military motorcycles and longed to make them their own. Stripped down and modified, these young veterans created simple, personal and iconic bikes that were born from ideas of freedom from the difficulties of war and of everyday life. It was this mindset that led to Harley-Davidson’s dark modification of their current line to create the Dark Custom bikes. Less chrome, basic colors, more black trim and a simplified aesthetic, coupled with affordable pricing, are what makes these bikes unique.

Transferred off-site to pick up the 2011 Blackline, this author anticipated the best part of the trip with the excitement of a school kid. Low slung and clean, the Blackline ($15,499) is a remarkably comfortable bike and the four hour ride seemed like a blip in time due to the relaxed riding position and the smooth and powerful torque that enabled for easy starts and gently powerful and very noticeable throttle. I weaved through the streets of Milwaukee with a perfectly cool breeze penetrating the opening below the helmet visor. Along Lake Michigan, rounding the perimeter of the beautiful Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee Museum of Modern Art, I experienced that oft-spoken feeling of freedom that motorcycle riding imparts.

Those who might ordinarily be intimidated by the whole Harley-Davidson mystique shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the size of the bikes or the monster V twin engines that dominate the Harley line. The size actually makes the motorcycles easier to ride and they become more nimble when speed increases. The nice but not overly done chrome touches compliment the the simple blackness of the fenders, fuel tank and body. It turns heads without hurting your eyes. This new rider felt comfortable, confident and frankly, very cool on a bike that he ordinarily wouldn’t consider purchasing, largely due to the conventional wisdom surrounding Harley-Davidson riders. It changed after just a half day ride. Sadly, we had to head back to drop off the bike. It was easily not enough time, at least for this writer.