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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Messin' with Milwaukee

A Tweet from a Trump, as posted by USA Today’s Journal Sentinel:

Harley-Davidson should stay 100% in America, with the people that got you your success. I’ve done so much for you, and then this. Other companies are coming back where they belong! We won’t forget, and neither will your customers or your now very HAPPY competitors!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 27, 2018

There’s a popular adage that was made famous by Tip O’Neill: “All politics is local.” As a person who likes to mangle things (you should see the carburetors on my ’83 Magna), I shall mangle this famous saying by stating, “All politics is loco.” My change is defensible. If only the consequences weren’t so grave, it would be an amusing thing, too. But here we are, and the politics has left loco at the first turn and gone straight to bad chaos. The Donald’s statement was motivated by Harley’s announcement that, thanks to tariffs imposed on the EU by the US, they (the European Union) were launching some tariffs of their own that would target companies like Harley-Davidson and their exports from their Milwaukee homeland. To counter this, Harley announced they’ll move some production overseas where the 30+% tax could be avoided, hence insuring profitability in the European market. Harley-Davidson has had some plants outside the US for years, something Mr. Trump seems unaware of. As far as I can tell, the plan appears to be just to move additional production to these facilities.

The cause of this whole debacle is about as clear and conspicuous as the roaring of a straight-pipe Big Twin in a small bathroom (I have witnessed this. Long story), but that’s not the point of this piece. Instead, I have a question that has always vexed me: why is it when it comes to tariffs motorcycles always rise from their normal place of complete obscurity in mainstream political discourse and become incredibly symbolic? As America’s premier motorcycle manufacturer (and a true American Icon, especially among conservative politicians) Harley has found itself in the middle of international trade dilemmas before. In April of 1983, Ronald Reagan increased tariffs of imported bikes over 700cc tenfold, to try to keep a struggling Harley-Davidson from going under as they only sold bikes over 700cc. So what happened? Well, the Japanese OEMs turned 750s into 700cc bikes, and in fact the tariff was a completely dubious action. Harley survived and later thrived primarily because they dramatically improved every aspect of their business with better bikes, better production techniques and even better marketing, and they even got some technical help from the likes of Honda who saw the

importance of the company’s survival to the marketplace as a whole. This all came about when the likes of Willie G. Davidson changed the direction of the company to focus on heritage, and they looked overseas for a few components to improve quality because some items (like carburetors) were better than US-made counterparts. Since that period, the Motor Company has thrived and come through the odd depressions in the industry well, thanks to periods of sales success where they literally couldn’t keep up with demand. Apparel and accessory sales have also been a huge source of revenue, and the company has really been a true, and well-earned, American success story.

But the last few years haven’t been kind to the motorcycle industry, and Harley has had their share of troubles. Naturally, politicians that have never ridden a bike in their life have still used the bikes and riders as All-American props, and Donald Trump and his Administration has praised the company (and even waived EPA fines of 3 million dollars for violations levied on parts they were selling.) All was well between the White House and the Orange and Black until this whole tariff business, and now it’s become ugly. Apparently Mr. Trump was upset that Harley’s overseas plans might make his tariff scheme look like bad business, and lashed out at the American Icon in no uncertain terms (you know, the way he does) for daring to move some production out of the country. He claims everyone’s going to build everything here because he says so, and there have been mixed results and he hates that. In response, the Harley CEO shot back on Twitter, or did he? It turns out that his no uncertain terms response was the work of trolls, or so the company is saying. Trolls? Bots? Orcs? The Internet is loaded with ‘em. We live in high-tech Amazing Times. I can’t think the Milwaukee boardroom was silent, though, when they were attacked by a politician, even if some of them probably voted for the guy.

So what will be the effect of all this tariffing, moving and no uncertain termsing? At the time I write this, all the information I have passed on to you will quite likely be obsolete by the time you read it. Things change day-by-day in this administration, and who knows if the tariffs will all still be there when the sun rises tomorrow. It’s kind of like following that old dude on the TourGlide, who’s trying to fold up a road map and weaving all over the road. Wait, that was me. I still say GPS is the devil.

Anyway, what Harley (and everybody else) needs is to just sell more bikes, and things will ultimately be OK, I think. But how do we get that to happen? That’s the real question, and trade wars are just another pothole in what has become a very challenging road. Hopefully we can all ride it out, and popularity of two-wheeled transportation will increase enough to makes sales Great Again. As for me, I wonder what this Brexit business will mean for Triumph parts. . .