“We are rabid Americanists. So we believe that our industry should remain in our country. We love our Harleys. We love the whole spirit of the whole thing. It would break our hearts to have to condescend to an inferior motorcycle.” This is Sturgis. It’s a motorcycle rally that attracts half a million bikers to South Dakota every year. “It’s like a pilgrimage of misfits, blue collar, evangelical bikers for Christ and veterans.” And while it’s not an exclusive Harley-Davidson rally, their presence is overwhelming.
“Harley-Davidson has attitude.” “It’s the sound, the feel.” “The rumble and the shake.” “It’s in my blood.” “If I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand.” “It’s American made. Or, was.” And that’s what makes this year a bit more political than usual. “Harley-Davidson, please build those beautiful motorcycles in the U.S.A., please. O.K.? Don’t get cute with us. Don’t get cute.” After Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum, the E.U. responded with tariffs of its own, targeting American motorcycles, and Harley said it would have to move more of its production overseas.
That did not sit well with some Harley owners. “This is my last Harley-Davidson. I’ll go to an Indian next time unless they change their mind and wise up. We know that there are parts on here that don’t come from America cause America don’t make them all. But that’s not moving the whole factory over. We’ve been loyal to them, and we just want loyalty back.” This is the Fab 4. Jawbone, Bent, Scrapper and Stinger. They founded the Dirty Old Bastards Society five years ago, and they own Stinger Saloon in downtown Sturgis.
For them, this recent move by Harley crosses a line. “The reason why people move to foreign countries is because they’re greedy bastards. I’m not saying that Harley’s a greedy bastard, but usually when people leave this country it’s because they want to make more profit. They don’t want to pay the common man a fair wage.” It’s not that Harley hasn’t moved jobs abroad before. They have factories in India, Brazil, Australia and Thailand. But Trump has put the company at the center of the political stage.
“Made in America!” At the State of the Union, Trump said Harley was a victim of unfair trade practices abroad. “They weren’t even asking for a change. But I am.” And those politics have trickled down to Sturgis. “We want Harley-Davidson to survive this storm, but the person they’ve got steering this ship is way out of touch.” Chris Cox is the founder of Bikers for Trump. He takes aim not at the brand, but at the company’s C.E.O., Matt Levatich, for moving things abroad. “They’ve been planning this for a long time and for him to suggest that it was because of Donald Trump and the tariffs is absurd.
” But some people feel that this is what Harley has to do to survive — as long the bikes they buy remain American-made. “Well Harley owners are feeling betrayed because it’s ‘U.S.A., Harley!’ But if I owned Harley I’d do the same thing.” “If they’re going to go abroad to save money, hopefully they’re only going to do that for the motorcycles that they’re going to sell abroad. Hopefully us in America are going to be able to buy what’s made in America. You know, but I support them.
I love their motorcycles. I love their brand. I couldn’t let them down. There’s no way.”