I don't normally get too heavily involved in this stuff, but there's a massive movement on-line to boycott Esso and BP fuel stations in an attempt to bring prices at the pumps down, and I'm tired of getting my email box clogged up with them.

It's a well-meaning campaign, with a laudable goal, but sadly this won't do diddly: most people already buy on price - and with 5p as litre and more between service stations, that's plain silly at more than 20p a gallon (I remember holding out to save a couple of pence per gallon, riding around on fumes) - so those wonderful benevolent supermarkets are already getting a massive amount of trade at the expense of the big fuel companies, who could well supply it to them in the first place somewhere down the line. I don't know whether there is still an argument raging as to the quality of the fuel from supermarkets, or indeed whether there was ever any foundation to it in the first place.

It's the tax on fuel that needs to be sorted out, and until that happens we're destined to have high fuel prices regardless of what the oil companies do.

The government increases the taxation percentage under the auspices of encouraging a greener lifestyle: it presupposes that people use their vehicles by choice and will use them less if they can't afford the fuel, but with a piss-poor public transport system and out of town shopping, housing and employment (different directions out of town, obviously), they are promoting an infrastructure where workers need personal transport to be able to survive. Yes, some of us do use vehicles for pleasure: the remains of the UK tourism industry relies on that: and the increased cost of fuel will impact them, as well as any industry that needs to transport goods, the hauliers and ... well, basically everyone not living in a self-sufficient commune.

For the rest of us, the message is simple: high fuel tax costs jobs.

If you want to do something constructive, remember that we're in an election year. This needs to be an election issue as part of an overall clarification of the tax package. Move to get the government to set taxation on fuel at an absolute figure, not a percentage. That figure then needs to be transparent because currently it is hidden behind BS: 1p a litre more with this budget, 2p a litre last April based on the pump price, where it gets lost in a complicated tax structure.

If the chancellor - whoever the next one is - puts up duty, it should be on that base figure (and enshrined in law) and we can hold them to account for that.

What we then need to know is whether VAT is charged on that duty - apparently it currently is, so you pay 17.5% on top of the fuel companies' take plus the duty - and there are moves to suggest that is illegal. It's certainly immoral, and is not transparent. Give us the unspun information and let us decide if it's fair. Currently it doesn't seem like it is, which is why people are justifiably angry, and every delay in publishing the figures feeds that dissent.

Then we'll know what the fuel companies are making and can concentrate on making them accountable for their costs.
Amanda's been out playing with the Police again, this time on their most intensive course taken by our local force's chief motorcycle instructor, organised with the county council, and has seen a massive improvement to her riding.

To make that all the more impressive, it was undertaken in the pouring rain on a bike that she'd only ridden once before - the previous day on the way down from Preston Harley-Davidson, who made the V-Rod Muscle demonstrator available to her at short notice.

More details on the lessons she learned and the course itself - as well as how she fell in love with the V-Rod Muscle, but probably very little about getting hideously lost in Preston when she took it back - in American-V 40, out in mid-April ... yes, we are running a week late, and if some of the promised bikes don't turn up soon, that might have to be deferred again.
You're going to hear it somewhere, so you may as well get it here: as-yet unsubstantiated rumours of a private equity giant, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, being interested in buying Harley-Davidson are running round the web, with doom-mongers and the disaffected having a field day.

There's a lot of parallels being drawn between how the family-owned business was absorbed into the evil AMF empire and what a potential new owner might do to The Motor Company, but before clarifying a few details, it's worth reminding people that these are UNSUBSTANTIATED RUMOURS at this point.

Clarifying a few details?

Harley-Davidson went into the AMF deal because they needed AMF's money to turn the small - in global terms - manufacturer producing 15,575 motorcycles (excluding the Italian models), into one producing more than 50,000 in a dozen years. There were some major changes in production methods to accommodate this, and changing the source of some of the components to off-shore suppliers, both of which didn't go down too well with some, but the company that the management bought back in the 1980s was a stronger and more viable one than went into the AMF deal, and was the foundation of the Motor Company we know today. They are cited as the days when quality suffered, which can be seen in retrospect as growing pains, but in that time period, the XR750 was created, the FLHT frame was developed and much of the development of  Evolution engine was done. Rubber-mounting was introduced together with belt drives, 5-speed gearboxes and a range of motorcycles of infinitely more variety than the two FLs, two XLs and the Servicar that were produced in 1969.

And there's no saying how much of the passion of that original management buyout group remains in the higher ranks today: business strategies have changed since 1981 and the company has grown massively in the thirty years since buyback: against that background, how much difference would a change in ownership have?

There is a worst case scenario, which is that squabbling money men cream off the profits, but anyone with an idea of the history of motorcycle manufacturing the in the USA will know how that story ends, and there is a positive story with regards to the recent influence of Private Equity in the US Motorcycle industry, in terms of the passion that is driving Harley's long time rival, Indian, forwards.

Until the dust settles, and either Harley-Davidson or Kohlberg Kravis Roberts breaks their silence, there's little point in speculating as to what is happening behind closed, but there is every reason to be confident as to Harley-Davidson's future.

It might even be a positive next stage in The Motor Company's evolution.
The FLSTC's facelift model might not have been as radical as the Street Bob's – but it underlines the Heritage of Harley's Softail soft tourer beautifully.

We found:
  • It's an excellent alternative to the Road King Classic for the more traditional rider.
  • Its QD removable screen almost gives you two bikes for the price of one.
  • The QD removable pillion seat is irrelevant without a QD backrest.
  • The smooth-running Twin Cam 96B motor is strong and economical in stock trim.
  • The new half-round footboards reduce the cornering clearance, or else the frame has been stiffened improving the bike handling.
  • It's a proper comfortable two-up motorcycle, with almost as much consideration given to a pillion as the rider.
  • If you don't get your head round how the self-cancelling indicators work, you can get in a knot.
  • The wide-band whitewalls, new dash, increased use of distressed leather and the new footboards make for a natural and logical progression for the Heritage Softail that will be welcomed by existing owners and makes it more attractive to new ones.
  • Fitting the massive leather faced, preformed backed panniers to a QD system, along with a QD backrest, would make the bike even more attractive to a broader market sector - and would make it easier to clean.
For more details, see American-V issue 39: on sale in all good newsagents and most WH Smiths with a strong motorcycle section, by mail order or in a digital on-line form.
The time to be a new broom in an established company like Harley-Davidson is not at a time of a recession, charged with discontinuing a brand that turned out to have far more, and more passionate support than Harley could have imagined, and set against poor performance figures - indeed the first posted quarterly loss in sixteen years.

But then you've got to wonder whether beleaguered Keith E Wandell was brought in as a hatchet man with the unenviable job of taking the slings and arrows while Harley repositions itself for the Twenteens, and ready to bale when things start to look up, leaving a bright, time-served Harley insider to take the company out of recession with a clean slate as the saviour of The Motor Company.

If so, the following report from the Associated Press will be water off a duck's back - I'd be thick-skinned enough to take that for $6.4m - but if this was a long term career choice, I'd guess that he'll be getting wistful for his lower profile past right now - and for a more sympathetic press when his remuneration package was filed.


NEW YORK, NY – March 12, 2010 – (Motor Sports Newswire) – The CEO of Harley-Davidson Inc., who took over the motorcycle maker part way through 2009, received a pay package valued at $6.4 million during his first eight months on the job, according to a regulatory filing.

Keith E. Wandell received a base salary of $650,025 from his start date of May 1 through the end of 2009, according to proxy a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He received a bonus of $780,030 and stock and option awards valued at $4.9 million at the time they were issued.

He also received other compensation worth $22,515, which includes a cash payment of $19,733 instead of perquisites.

Wandell, 60, replaced James L. Ziemer, who retired last year after 40 years with Harley-Davidson and four years as its CEO. Before taking over Harley, Wandell was chief operating officer of the car battery and building ventilation systems maker Johnson Controls Inc.

During his final four months as CEO, Ziemer received a pay package valued at $2.9 million. That includes a base salary of $455,144, a bonus of the same amount and stock and options valued at $1.9 million when they were granted.

He received other compensation worth $44,221, including $14,800 in cash instead of perks and $22,521 in contributions to a deferred compensation plan.

The Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker has hit hard times recently as consumers put off buying its high-end bikes. The company ended the fourth quarter with a loss $218.7 million, its first quarterly loss in 16 years.

The company has been laying off workers, closed factories and shuttered or sold unwanted brands.
The AP’s total pay calculations include executives’ salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards granted during the year.

The calculations don’t include changes in the present value of pension benefits, and they sometimes differ from the totals companies list in the summary compensation table of proxy statements filed with the SEC.

SOURCE: The Associated Press
There's never been a better time to trade-up to a Harley-Davidson, with  between £300 and £900 above the book trade-in price on any 500cc+ motorcycle – whether a Harley or not – against almost any 2010 model if you order before the 30th March 2010: the Sportster Iron, XR1200X and CVO models aren't included in the offer. THIS HAS NOW BEEN EXTENDED TO 30 APRIL 2010

The actual figure will depend on the bike traded-in and the Harley selected - you're not going to get an extra £900 on a CB500 against an 883 Sportster - but it brings a surprisingly affordable range of bikes within even closer reach; or else it might provide that last push for those looking to upgrade their existing Harley. Either way, visit www.harley-davidson.co.uk to book a free test ride online to help you decide which model is right for you: it will be too early to be entered in to the draw to win a bike, but roadtests aren't rationed.

“This is a great opportunity for riders who have always wanted to own a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, as well as those wanting to upgrade for a different ride,” says Stuart Farrell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson UK, Ireland and MEA.

Visit your nearest Harley-Davidson dealership to find out how much additional trade-in allowance you could receive for your current motorcycle, and to find your local dealer, see www.harley-davidson.co.uk

Terms & Conditions apply: see dealer for full details
So says Alan Cathcart, writing in world renowned trade journal AMD this month.

The first bid, for the manufacturing rights and tooling for the 1125cc Helicon-engined models, which they would have produced under the Can-Am name alongside the 3-wheeled Spyder - and which can easily be seen as an opportunity to protect jobs at their Austrian subsidiary, Rotax - was turned down, and was followed up by a second to buy Buell, retaining the branding and even the East Troy production facility.

The purchase of Buell itself would again have focussed on the 1125 models, and it's suggested that the plant would either have been downsized with closure of the XB lines, but the spare capacity possibly used to move Spyder production to within the US national borders to give it a "Made in the USA" tag that wouldn't hurt its American sales.

Either move would have saved Harley-Davidson millions of dollars in the closure of the marque, and it's said that some Harley-Davidson stockholders are said to be questioning that decision, adding their voices to the world's Buelligans whose dismay at the loss of a bike they were passionate about has not done Harley-Davidson's reputation any favours with new markets and the younger riders who they are currently trying to court.

Cathcart adds that Harley's CFO, John Olin, has revealed that Buell wasn't separately accounted for on Harley-Davidson's books, which is cited as a possible reason why Harley chose to close rather than to sell Buell, but I can't imagine Harley not knowing exactly what Buell's profitability was at any point since they bought the company from Erik Buell, and while it might have taken a while to have surgically separated a deeply entrenched Buell from H-D's accounts, I don't think it would have cost anything like the quoted £125m that Harley set aside to close Buell.

My money is still on Harley resurrecting the marque - or at least keeping its options open to do so when the economy stabilises: they've spent way too much money not to have bigger plans.

The suggestion that they wouldn't sell to Bombardier to protect the reputations of senior management, in the event that BRP achieved what Harley failed to do, might have more credence if it was a couple of million dollars at stake and the entire board was implicated - as would the decision to buy exclusive rights to the engine of a bike that they had no intention of building again, as a leaving present for Erik - but we're talking about $125 million at a time of financial crisis, and that is at the conservative end of the figures bandied around. How much is the reputation of a board member worth? I'd argue that it's much less than the value of a brand, prioviding that brand has a future.

If Harley-Davidson are planning to resurrect Buell - and you might notice that no Buell branding has been dropped in any corporate context - they're playing a dangerous game and really need to calm the market down before the decision in October, which is seen as anything from a pragmatic calculated business decision to an act of corporate vandalism, threatens to de-rail Harley's own recovery.

Some of the above is educated speculation, but one thing isn't open to interpretation: Harley does need new blood like every other motorcycle manufacturer in the world, and they either need something like Buell as it existed or an entry level range of motorcycles that will introduce the next generation of riders to motorcycles generally, and the Harley-Davidson brand specifically, which could be another use of the Buell brand ... although I still reckon an enlarged XR brand and single-cylinder model based on XL/XB technology would be the better route to getting to a younger audience.

But hey! It's not my money.
Having a busy week: checked out Craig Jones' stunt XR1200 in Northants; had a gander round the 8-Ball Vision that will be our second long term test bike for the summer, and hurtled round Berkshire/Oxfordshire on a couple of Thames Valley Harley-Davidson's 100+HP Stage IV specials: that blew the cobswebs away!
We put one of the new Indian Chiefs – a 2009/2010 model from the Kings Mountain factory – through its paces in American-V 39 and came away very impressed with both the bike and the company's attitude to getting it right, and consigning almost sixty years of false hopes and heroic failures to history.

We concluded:

  • Its high price was justified by the sheer quality of materials and engineering: from the double-stitched leather to the steel, whether chromed, painted or powder-coated.
  • The twin Brembo front brakes were reassuringly capable.
  • The Powerplus 105 engine is strong, and looks stunning.
  • It reintroduces a sense of exclusive exotica to American-made motorcycles in the UK, using a different business model to Harley-Davidson.
  • The minimal vibration of the hand-build, unbalanced, solid-mounted motor isn't a barrier to using the motor properly: smoother and more sophisticated than the Gilroy Powerplus 100 but more character than Harley's Twin Cam 96B.
  • The QD system for the rack, backrest and panniers is very well designed, allowing the bike to run undressed without any aesthetic compromise.
  • It could be improved by self-cancelling indicators with more visible tell-tales, and a fuel gauge.
  • The same switchgear as previous generation Victorys – including a trigger to control the digital element of the clever speedo – will be more familiar to recent converts to American motorcycles than Harley's traditional switch clusters.
For more details, and the chequered history of Indian from their days as America's dominant motorcycle manufacturer to the present day, see American-V issue 39: on sale in all good newsagents and most WH Smiths with a strong motorcycle section, by mail order or in a digital on-line form.
 The XR1200 makes headlines again, providing the vehicle to take US Daredevil, Seth Onslow, into the record books as the longest distance jumped on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle: a distance of 56 metres – or 183.7ft.This broke his previous record of 53.34m/175ft that had stood for a few minutes, which had shattered the ten year record of Bubba Blackwell who had jumped 157ft in Las Vegas in 1999, breaking the record established by Evel Knievel in 1975.

Don't go looking for any of these in the Guinness Book of Records, because there isn't one that specifically identifies a make of motorcycle: maybe Guinness is sensitive about letting commercial interests and branding detract from the honour of the achievement ;-)

There is no mention of the modifications made to the XR1200 used, which looks like it was stripped for weight savings, but I'm sure that any aftermarket suppliers will be quick to capitalise on the opportunity if it arises.

Next up to the plate will be Evel Knievel's son, Robbie, who will be attempting to jump 16 London buses in May, at Battersea Power Station, exactly 35 years after his father failed to clear 13 buses in a career threatening crash. Robbie normally jumps using a Honda CR500, but for this monumental tribute to his father, he will be swapping that for an iconic XR-750, as used by Evel.