The unmitigated success of the inaugural Iron Run rally in Queenstown seems to be the clincher for Harley-Davidson to turn future national HOG rallies into open events.
Harley-Davidson Australia and New Zealand boss Nigel Keough told those assembled at the official VIP HOG party last night that the open rally was “showing us the way”.
“You are about a year ahead of us with an open event,” he said.
The Iron Run rally has been organised by New Zealand’s six Harley dealers as an open rally for all to attend.
While previous Kiwi HOG rallies have attracted about 1200-1300, the Queenstown rally has attracted a record 2000-plus.
Nigel declared the NZ rally the best of the past 25 years and says future Australian rallies should follow suit with an open-rally format.
However, he says there will be special closed events at the rally for HOG members.
“We will still protect the sanctity of what it means to be HOG,” he says.
“We want to make our HOG members have that special bond with the brand.”
Nigel says his experience with Latin America showed that Harley could host open rallies, but with special HOG-only sections.
Harley is expecting to experience an influx of younger non-traditional owners with the sales success of the novice Street 500 as well as the LiveWire electric motorcycle if and when it is released as a production bike.
Consequently, HOG rallies are expected to change complexion.
The company is also hoping to reach out to new customers with open rallies, rather than “preaching to the converted”.
It is also believed that an open rally will attract more outside sponsors which will yield better entertainment for rally-goers.
While Harley’s move to open rallies is expected to receive a backlash from some traditional Australian HOG members, it doesn’t seem to have deterred New Zealand HOG members who have turned out in record numbers for the Queenstown rally.
More than 2000 have registered and about 95% are Harley riders, according to unofficial assessments of the crowd.
It is believed the Iron Run will continue as an open rally next year, but be shifted to a city on the North Island.
Similarly, Harley insiders have rejected a return to Tamworth, even though it was a highly successful venue this year with more than 2350 HOG members attending.
A decision on the 2016 national HOG Rally will be made in the next couple of weeks.