Archive for Sunday, June 11, 1995


June 11, 1995


Hopping on a bike -- a Harley-Davidson bike, that is -- and roaring off into the sunset is catching on with the upscale crowd.

Maybe it's the feeling of freedom. Maybe it's the distinctive "potato-potato-potato" cadence. Maybe it's a particularly powerful mid-life crisis.

Whatever the reasons or attractions, white-collar Baby Boomers are increasingly handing over thousands of dollars to motorcycle dealers and riding away on Harley-Davidsons. These men shatter the stereotypic image of "bikers."

But they're having a great time. And their purchases of Hogs -- Harley-Davidson's nickname that stuck because of the bikes' size -- helped breathe life into a company that 15 years ago was headed the way of the dinosaur.

For Brian Kubota, the Harley bug bit, and bit hard, about the time he turned 50.

"It's addictive," said Kubota, now 52, president of Lawrence-based Landplan Engineering. He owns a soft-tail custom Harley. "I want to see the United States on my bike within the next eight years."

So how did a guy who never had much interest in motorcycles end up buying into Hogmania and gushing about Harley-Davidsons?

A friend, car dealership owner Jim Ellena, bought one in 1993. "I told him he was crazy when I found out," Kubota said. But then Kubota went along on a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks.

"I was just surprised how quiet and neat these bikes are," he said.


His Harley fits his lifestyle well. A ride around Perry Lake after work provides relief from office stress. A boat is too much work, he said, and golf takes too long.

"You get to places that you never dreamed of going," said Kubota, who last year logged 14,000 miles on his highly customized bike.

Besides, he said, it's the only hobby he's had that he's made money at.

"My bike, all of our bikes, are worth more than what we paid for them," Kubota said. Several CEOs of Lawrence firms said their machines had increased in value by $3,000 to $4,000 in the couple of years they'd owned them.

Indeed, the interest of affluent baby boomers in the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. of Milwaukee has driven up prices. The company's stock, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange, has done well since its offering in 1986.

Harley-Davidson, which currently is making fewer than 15 models, will produce 100,000 bikes this year, according to James Edwards, owner of Central Harley-Davidson in Shawnee.

"There's a two-year waiting list, as far as dealers are concerned," he said of the bikes, which range in price from $6,000 to $22,000.

In August, Kubota and a number of other Harley riders from Lawrence will drive the nearly 1,000 miles to Sturgis, S.D., to the annual Harley-Davidson rally.

The rally is a true melting pot. Chuck Hardman, president of Jayhawk Bowling Supply, said that last year about 400,000 motorcycles converged on the town. But few locked up their bikes, said Hardman, 57, who's owned Harley-Davidsons for a number of years.

"This is the biggest common denominator in the world," said Ellena, 47, who at one time owned 13 Hogs and now owns just five.

Safety's important

Joe Baker, president of Calvin, Eddy, Kappelman Insurance, will make the trip to Sturgis on his soft-tail custom. Baker admits he bought his first motorcycle two years ago without ever having ridden one. The man who sold it asked if Baker wanted to test-drive it.

"I didn't want to tell him I didn't know how to start it," the 49-year-old Baker said.

But he did learn. And he's acutely aware that safety is a real issue with motorcycles.

"I think it's very difficult to learn how to ride one safely and to ride one effectively," he said. "I'm still learning every day."

Harley-Davidsons, with their low center of gravity, are major machines. Riders sit straight up. Their elbows jut out.

A year ago, the Harley Owners Group boasted 250,000 card-carrying members in 848 chapters worldwide. The group offers tours throughout the country.

Rock chalk Jayhawk

Kansas University head football coach Glen Mason doesn't own a Harley and said he rides very, very occasionally. But he enjoys it. His across-the-street neighbor, Laird Noller, bought a Hog, but Noller didn't know how to ride it.

Mason did. In college, he'd swapped his car a number of times for a friend's motorcycle whenever the friend had a date. So Mason helped Noller figure out the bike.

"The next thing I know, Laird had two of them," Mason said. "He told me, `I needed someone to ride with, so I bought two of them.'''

Unlike a lot of the baby boomer bikers, Mason doesn't go in for Harley-Davidson gear.

"I wear a sweatshirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes," he said.

Many white-collar bikers do buy into the paraphernalia. For example, Kubota has four helmets. Baker's valve-stem caps are small, pink pigs. "Hogs, get it?" he said.

As Kubota said, "You can have a lot of fun with them because you can customize them to your own taste and individualize them."

Even though socializing with other riders is fun, scenery and solitude also are attractive. And for some people, Harley-Davidsons deliver those like nothing else.

"It's just the most peaceful thing I've ever done," Ellena said.

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