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High on the Hogs

Through good and bad economic times, sales of Harley Davidsons roll on.

There are certain constants in life: death, taxes, the growl and gleam of a Harley Davidson and a motorcycle aficionado following close by with checkbook in hand.

For 15 years, after climbing out of near bankruptcy, the motorcycle maker has been on a joy ride of uninterrupted growth, culminating last year when it overtook Honda as the leader in the heavyweight motorcycle market with a road-hogging 49 percent of the market.

Locally, the rise to the top has been just as steady and a little speedier. According to John “J.W.” Winslett, vice president and general manager of Cycle City Ltd., distributor and dealer of Harley Davidson bikes, Harleys account for 60 to 70 percent of all street-legal motorcycles sold in the Islands, a rate that is near double the national average. The bikes range in price from $7,000 to almost $30,000. “People buy Harleys during good times and in bad times,” says Kaina Huddy, general sales manager and insurance agent at South Seas Cycle Exchange Inc. “We’ve had 10 percent increase in sales every year for over a decade and that time period covers some lean years in this state.”

The most popular model in Huddy’s shop is the Fat Boy, which accounts for about one quarter of his Harley sales and retails for about $19,000.

Road Hog:South Seas Cycle's Kaina Huddy with his best-selling model, the Fat Boy.

According to Winslett, Hawaii dealers get a total of approximately 1,000 bikes a year from the factory and they typically sell all of them at the end of the model year. He attributes his strong sales performance to Hawaii’s ideal weather (conducive to motorcycle riding), the bike’s high resale value and the Islands’ military personnel. Military customers account for about 50 percent of Cycle City’s Harley sales, says Winslett.

What servicemen and women and other customers familiar with the motorcycle market on the mainland discover when they walk into a Hawaii showroom is that the Islands may be one of the best places in the country to buy a Harley.

Although it receives about the same number of bikes as a similar geographic area, Hawaii gets a wider sampling of the company’s 24 different models, a fact that Winslett attributes to the distributor’s almost 40-year relationship with the company. While mainland customers are placed on months-long waiting lists, Hawaii customers can ride their bike off the showroom floor. Huddy, who sells both Harley Davidsons and Kawasakis, says that more than half of the approximately 50 bikes a month he sells are Harleys, amounting to about $500,000 to $700,000 in annual sales.

“It’s the bike itself, it’s prestigious, basically it’s a macho thing,” says Don Casil, a loyal rider. “You can’t be bad ass on a Honda.” Casil is somewhat typical of Harley’s following. He had owned two bikes before, both Yamahas, and although he was perfectly happy with them, always had his eye on a Harley. “I’m 44, I can finally afford it now,” he says.

Casil bought his first Harley in 1999, an entry-level model and upgraded a year later to a pricier Heritage Soft Tail at $20,000. Like many customers, he visits South Seas’ Waipahu dealership two to three times a week to pick up parts and accessories for himself and his circle of riding friends and to just talk story.

“The person who can figure out the Harley mystique will be a very rich person,” says Winslett. “It’s amazing. It’s a way of life. I don’t know too many people who have ‘Chrysler’ tattooed on their arm.”

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