From the saddle of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, you not only get a view of the open road but a glimpse into a manufacturing world where parts of the American-made bikes could be from Asia, Europe or South America.
Harley, the world’s largest manufacturer of heavyweight motorcycles, doesn’t disclose where most of the parts are sourced, but industry sources say the company gets them from the U.S., Japan, Italy, Mexico, China, Australia and other countries.
For years, Harley has used Showa-brand suspension components from Japan. Brake and clutch parts have come from Italy, wheels from Australia and electronics from across Asia.
Increasingly, this is the world of manufacturing for everything from airplanes to home appliances. Global companies seek the best deals they can find on parts shipped to their factories; in some cases, it can be a way to sidestep import tariffs that add to their costs.
Harley says it uses U.S. suppliers when it can, but that for some components there isn’t an American source that makes what the company wants in the amounts it needs.
“Sourcing decisions are based on quality, component availability, supplier reliability and cost,” Harley said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The company assembles most of its bike lineup in Kansas City, Missouri, and York, Pennsylvania. Its V-Twin engines are made in Milwaukee, and there’s a small factory in Tomahawk, Wisconsin, that makes fiberglass and plastic components for some of the company’s most expensive touring bikes.
Monday’s announcement by Harley was in response to the European Union slapping a 31 percent tariff on motorcycles made in the U.S.
Last week, the EU began rolling out tariffs on American imports including Harleys, bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice. The tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. products are retaliation for duties President Donald Trump has imposed on European steel and aluminum.
Harley’s move triggered a slew of angry tweets from Trump, who scolded the company, revered by many for its American heritage, for shifting production overseas.
Industry sources say the percentage of foreign-based parts on a Harley varies by bike model and year, but the company, like most manufacturers, shops globally for the best deals.
Motorcycle makers squeeze nickels and dimes, per part, to save dollars on the finished bike, said Robert Pandya, a veteran of the industry who has worked for Polaris Industries, the maker of Indian Motorcycles.
Most consumers care more about value and price than where something comes from, according to Pandya.
“These days it’s a matter of pride to have a Lexus or a Honda Acura or a BMW in your garage parked next to your Harley,” Pandya said.
“We are a global-trade society, whether we want to admit it or not,” he added.
But having an all-American Harley matters to some riders, such as Monte Whiteaker, who heads up the Oconomowoc, Wisconsin-based Rock River chapter of the Harley Owners Group.
He has owned Harley-Davidsons for 18 years.
Whiteaker says it’s critically important to him that the bikes are made in America.
“I want a quality bike, but I would also like to see all of the components made in the U.S.,” he said.
He believes many Harley riders feel the same way.
“It does come up in conversation. The ability to have what you are riding be an American bike means … a lot to someone – to be proud that this bike was made in the United States.”
Every two weeks, Bike Night in Paris raises money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Grand Eerie.
The event brings out thousands of motorcyclists in an effort to promote Paris tourism, combat stigma around bikers and raise money for the charity—over $23,000 since it began.
For all of its 17 installments, Myles Rusak, the CEO of the Big Brothers Big Sisters branch, said the event has gone very smoothly.
But recently, he received a complaint about the event—from the Ontario Provincial Police.
Rusak said that police approached him about Bike Night In Paris having attendees who are part of motorcycle gangs , such as Hells Angels, and have asked the event to ban logoed vests.
Of the 3,000 to 4,000 weekly attendees, Rusak admitted five to six people could be affiliated with such groups. Still, he said that they’ve never had any issues at the event—which he said the OPP corroborated— and he refused to impose the rule.
“Our stance on it has always been that, if they are in our event, and keeping themselves together, they’re having a good time, they’re supporting the cause, they’re welcome to be here,” he said. “This is a public space and a public event.”
Rusak said uniformed police officers have begun attending the event and hassling people, possibly to dissuade them from attending.
Bringing tape measures to check seat and handlebar heights, checking helmets, signals and licenses are examples that he said make the event less fun to attend.
They have even set up road blocks in Paris, allegedly waving through cars and stopping motorcyclists on their way in.
Since these checks began, the attendance of the event has dropped by half, and revenue by even more.
“I like the community safety aspect and I like that they’re doing their jobs, but I don’t think they need to go to the extreme of actually forcing people to respond to things when they haven’t done anything to provoke that kind of behavior,” he said.
Rusak is calling for police to stop profiling the motorcyclists that attend the event, and to consider the impact it could have on the kids who rely on Big Brothers Big Sisters’ services.
Brant County’s OPP detachment did not offer any comment.
Bikers for Trump say it’s OK to park Harleys and back the president
It may be heresy, but the South Carolina man who founded Bikers for Trump is sticking with the president in his feud with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Chris Cox of Mount Pleasant has been a faithful Harley loyalist but thinks Donald Trump’s battle to win the global trade and tariff war will keep his biker buddies supporting Trump over their Harley allegiance.
“Harley-Davidson has been kept above water because of the blood, sweat and spit of the veterans and the blue collar,” Cox told Palmetto Politics.
Those are the same veterans and blue collars who helped put Trump in the White House, he said.
“All the bikers are behind the president on this,” Cox added, pointing to comments on his Bikers for Trump 2020 Facebook page.
Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson announced recently that production of its motorcycles sold in Europe will move from U.S. factories to facilities overseas. The move was prompted by the retaliatory tariffs the European Union is imposing on American exports.
Company officials said the EU’s levy on its motorcycles jumped from 6 percent to 31 percent, adding about $2,200 in cost per average motorcycle exported from America.
Trump tweeted he was surprised the iconic brand was first “to wave the White Flag.”
Cox, who has a busy national schedule stumping for candidates Trump supports, said one biking option for some is switching to another American motorcycle brand: Indian.
“They are the Coke and Pepsi of the motorcycle industry,” he said.