by Elena Gorgan from https://www.autoevolution.com
Harley-Davidson may arguably not be the best or most affordable motorcycle maker in the world, but it is a strong contender for the title of most recognizable brand out there. Throughout its 117-year history, it is not without hit and misses, though.
Today, Harley sells a wide array of bike-related merchandise, from clothes and footwear, to accessories and other assorted riding gear. It also puts its name on other, perhaps more surprising stuff, like home decorations, holiday décor, garden gnomes (biker style!), and the usual range of cups, mugs and drinkware.
This is nothing compared to some efforts the company has made in the past to become more relatable, more popular and to effectively shake off that bad biker boy image and / or association with Hells Angels criminal activity. Here are three of the most surprising and strangest items Harley sold under the Harley-Davidson name, of which you may or may not have known about.
You think of Harleys and you immediately see a leather-clad biker. Whether that biker is male or female isn’t even of relevance, because he or she will be wearing black leather from head to toe, perhaps with studs, fringes or the occasional chain.
Yes, this is an over-generalization of the image of the Harley rider, but it’s meant to serve a point. The last thing on your mind when you think of a Harley biker is the image of a man in a suit with a necktie.
Back in the ‘90s, HD was struggling, both financially and image-wise. In an appeal to expand its reach to include new segments of the market, it started selling ties. These sold until the early 2000s and were discontinued following tepid response. You can still find them on eBay, though: they sell for anything between $10 for a used one and $40 for a 2-pack with the original tags still on.
The ties came with comic book-inspired patterns, or variations on the HD logo, or even in patriotic colors with the bald eagle. Some were funny, others quirky, and many just tacky. Only someone with a vivid personality and a strong sense of humor could have pulled them off, even in the funky ‘90s fashion.
Harley-Davidson Beef Jerky
In 2007, Harley-Davidson and ConAgra Foods announced a partnership that would mark the bike maker’s first and only foray into the food market: beef jerky. Starting from the premise that bikers too get hungry and are reluctant to cut their rides short just so they can grab a bite, the Harley-Davidson Beef Jerky came to be.
“Harley riders live for the time they spend on their motorcycles, and beef jerky is a convenient food for the open road,” Tom Parsons, Harley-Davidson acting general manager of General Merchandise at the time, said. “It’s a great way for riders to grab a snack and keep on rolling.”
Selling at $5.99, it came in three flavors (Original, Teriyaki and Pepper) and became so popular that dealers would include it in the purchase of a new bike.
Back in the day, smoking was the “cool” thing to do. Before its health effects were fully revealed and the war against the tobacco industry started, smoking was everywhere, from music and movies, to ads, magazines and, perhaps more importantly, a fixture to the image of the Harley biker.
So, at the start of the ‘80s, Harley-Davidson decided to sell Harley cigarettes, as part of a limited-time partnership with Lorillard Tobacco Company. The decision was perhaps prompted by a 1985 Lorillard study that showed that, while people had a positive image of the Harley bike, they had a negative one of the Hells Angels members who rode it.
The goal was, as with the other two items on this short list, to broaden the Harley appeal, present a softer and more relatable image, and capitalize on the existing Harley image. The cigarettes were a hit among the bikers, but it’s not known if they helped Harley reach that stated goal.
In the early 1990s, Harley and Lorillard had a major falling out, which saw both companies sue and countersue each other. By then, the image of the good Harley biker was on the rise, so the maker wanted to distance itself from the tobacco war that had started. In court documents unsealed years later, it was revealed that its biggest concern was that cigarette ads would appeal to minors, and it would get dragged into tobacco litigation.
Lorillard was granted the right to sell the cigarettes until 2001, but in 1998, decided to rebrand them as Maverick. The Harley-Davidson Cigarette officially died then. Empty packs are still sold as collectibles online, if you’re the nostalgic type.
In addition to these three items, Harley also sold lampshades, beer, table sets and novelty phones – shaped like Hogs, of course.