Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Porsche vs. Harley-Davidson

There are, of course, people running around out there who both ride Harleys, and drive Porsches. Mostly, though, there are two dedicated groups and they are light-years apart. Let's discuss this. I have to point out that this post, in a different way, extends the ideas found in the 'Sublime' post below.

A CNC engine cover on a Harley.
Porsche Engineering designed the V-Rod engine for Harley.
© = ?
For some time Porsche AG has claimed that the average age of a Porsche owner is around 35. I can't dispute this, but an age like that would fairly easily fit into a duality of ownership model - meaning that they could also ride a bike - but let's start with a discussion of Harley. Porsche says what it says, but I don't believe that H-D can claim an average owner who is 35 years old. Harley's poor sales numbers at this time are due, in large part, to the stern fact that Harley owners are getting old and vanishing, and aren't being replaced by younger riders. Harley will only survive if it can attract an entirely new audience. Other bike makers have a head-start in this, offering as they do, smaller and 'easier' bikes to what is a shrinking audience for them, too.

It will take a while for H-D to see big changes, but for now owners of their bikes remain fiercely loyal, and it is easy to heap stereotypes all over them. This is a bit disparaging, I admit, but we've all seen the pot-bellied guy with the beard, and no helmet but with a bandana, rumbling along as he airs his pits hanging onto ape-hanger bars, showing off rude tattoos by wearing a sleeveless tee shirt. Loud pipes save lives, and all of that. This doesn't sound like a Porsche owner's persona at all. And yet, in many ways they are remarkably similar.

To be more objective about it, not all Harley riders fit the illustration I mentioned above. Nevertheless, that type of cliché exists because so many of them actually do fit it. I'll let you judge that, because there are hackneyed notions out there that describe Porsche drivers, too. The worn out joke about the difference between a Porsche and a porcupine exists for a reason. . . When a friend recently told someone that he was a member of a Porsche club, that someone asked, "The Porsche Club? Aren't they a bunch of snobs?" My friend said, "My response was almost immediate. 'No, Ron, the people who buy Porsches and don't join PCA are the snobs!'" That's an old truism, also - too often both parts of it.

This guy doesn't get the Harley mystique at all.
"Porsche, the world's greatest automobiles," says the president of Porsche owner clubs everywhere - then those presidents go into rhapsodic swooning about why this claim is so. Greatest for what, I have to ask. Praiseworthy things can easily be said about these cars, no question, and these things are fervently believed by the faithful. Same thing over at the Harley-Davidson clubhouse.

This loyalty to one marque of machine, bike or car, makes little sense. There are too many interesting vehicles out there to be so restricted. But, it isn't fully about the Porsches, or the Harleys.

Both of them have baggage, by which I mean there is no way that H-D can easily get rid of it's V-twins and general styling, and Porsche isn't about to dump the 'iconic' shape of the 911 or rear engines, either. Porsches keep getting faster and more gadget laden, while Harleys keep getting blacker, and/or just the same, having a challenge to extend their personality. For Harley, the state of affairs is already dire, and Porsches can't keep going preposterously faster forever - there are rational limits, even on the Autobahn.

Porsche, or Harley? © Swedzi Wojownika (?)
It's tribalism. There are other marques of cars and bikes that do things marvelously, but they don't have the personas built on decades of consistent identity. This is not only about Porsches and Harleys, as I've mentioned. You might say that Leica cameras have a similar cult following. Sure, they are good in most regards, but as with cars and bikes, there are other excellent products to be had, too. Tribalism again, which drives prices and loyalty: people latch onto a product/political idea/sports team/etc. and devote great, staunch allegiance to it, rationality be damned (this part seldom is admitted).

When I recently listened to a German auto commentator, who's remarks were recorded while he drove a Porsche at 300 kph on the Autobahn, he pointed out that the Germans cannot understand why people who do not live in Germany buy 400+ horsepower Porsches - or other cars - because they can never legally (or sanely) drive 300 kph in them anywhere, other than on the German Autobahn. That's true, so what is the point of ever more powerful, and faster cars, that have to be festooned with nanny devices to prevent those fast (in their minds) drivers from killing themselves, or others, due to their exuberant incompetence? In fairness, naturally, this can also be said of other drivers of fast vehicles, but the Porsche Club of America is the world's largest single-marque automobile club. . . Anyway, I drove a Porsche for eight years and I often drove too fast, too.

Then there is Harley. I rode a Harley for a number of years, also. However, I never joined the club, so to speak. No all-black clothing, no loud pipes, no 'colors', no $5 helmet for a $5 head, never went helmetless, either. But, I came to understand the loyalties, by association and osmosis. Many of those dedicated guys torture themselves. They go deaf, ride in extreme discomfort, get killed by various means, and often butcher their pricey bikes with goofy, but rigidly observed modifications. Why? Tribalism. They like to belong, and they like to convince themselves that they are having an ultimate experience in the process. Just like the Porsche guys.

Analogue racing. This I can appreciate.  © = ?

This is not a totally exhaustive list of people who do silly things in the name of wanting to be included and feel 'special'. I have also ignored those Porsche types who race, or who collect interesting ($$) Porsches - but never drive them, and the like. They have their unique worlds to live in. I'm writing about my own experiences.

And, naturally, this is not a broad and fair examination of all Harley owners, nor all commonplace Porsche owners, either. Such people come in many flavours, some wonderful and fascinating (in a good way), others, not so much. That's life. At the same time, stereotypes and clichés exist because there is a measure of truth to them, as I have said. Better to avoid those pitfalls. What you read here is a suggestion to be a decent and balanced human being, rather than one who wallows in a fiercely narrow, or haughty mindset for no good reason.   

In the end, I am in favour of genuine, analogue Porsches. Old ones that make you do the driving. Porsches that are (relatively) slow; that you have to shift for yourself; that have no power operated gadgetry of any kind, at all. I like them raw, and I have no interest in the latest digital whatever. Possibly my tribe isn't fully fledged yet, but I don't care about that. All Porsches are interesting cars.

Go for a drive, or ride; that's all you need, and don't worry about your image. Never be a snob just because you have a Porsche, please. But, if you are reading this, you are likely not one of those. Good. 

An afterthought: This post is dated March 27; today's date is April 24, so I reread what I said.  Some comments might be flippant, in some people's opinion. I don't have a reason to annoy anyone, but if you were annoyed, try to think more broadly about where you stand relative to all of this. It's just a car, and it's just a bike.

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