Harley is nothing if not observant.
Over the past decade, several models have reflected custom bike show trends.
There was the short-lived Rocker that was inspired by American Chopper – and died alongside it – plus trends toward rat bikes, grunge and minimalism that spawned the Iron and Fat Bob, and the LA metal-flake trend that delivered the 72 and Hard Candy paint option.
So what’s next for the American icon?
Judging by the custom bike show at the Harley 110th anniversary in Milwaukee, we could be seeing big front wheels, long tail pipes, chin spoilers, low windscreens, mini mirrors, extended and slammed rear ends, solid colours, pin striping, mini ape hangers and more elaborate audio systems. They’re called streamlined customs.
Gone are fat front tyres, bobbed rear ends, matte paint, flames and skulls.
The 2014 Touring range already reflects some of these trends with their new audio systems, low windscreens, aerodynamic fairings and slammed rear ends.
A 30-inch front tyre for Harleys was launched at the recent Sturgis rally and they are already hitting the custom bikes we saw at the Harley rally and on the streets of America.
Harley is particularly keen to tap into the youth market, so they should be checking out the number of young riders with streamlined custom bikes with big-ass front wheels.
Milwaukee local, 23-year-old Rayce Fleisner is typical of these streamline owners.
“It’s the new thing with baggers,” he says.
“Choppers have died out. Custom baggers are the new thing.”
One of the leaders in this new trend is Chicago customiser Dave Dupor of DD Custom Cycles (click here).
Many of his bikes feature most of the new trends and are lowered by up to 7cm.
Dave says the trend may look impractical, but the reverse is true.
“Baggers are a hot commodity to customise because you can turn the key and go,” he says.
“Choppers have no functionality and are not roadworthy.
“These are roadworthy. You’ve got panniers, a windscreen and air suspension that you can change on the fly to raise and lower the bike.”
He says the big front wheel is not impractical.
“So long as you get the rake and trail right, it handles better than the stock bike,” Dave declares.
His shop ships parts around the world, mainly to Europe, but he says he has also had many inquiries from Australia.
“Harley is taking notice of this trend. We’ve already seen them start to pick up on the audio trend with (accessory) pannier speakers,” Dave says.
“They take a lot of ideas from custom builders.”
He says flames and skulls are ancient history, while solid colours with subtle pin-striping will last “forever”.
“They will always be in style.”
Most of the many custom bikes at the show were shod with a low-profile, 23 to 30-inch Monster front tyre from Vee Rubber.
They may look like a skinny tyre, but they are still 120mm wide and several owners reckon they handle better than the original.
The Harley-Davidson judges spent a long time perusing the 130-odd bikes at the show and no doubt the executives and factory designers are also paying a lot of attention.
Radical customs weren’t the only bikes on show.
There were plenty of other bikes, including the last remaining 1913 Forecar three-wheeler.
Owner Mike Schuster says the bike has been in his family for 95 years and kept in mint original condition all its life.
Among the themed bikes was a pistol-packing Heritage Softail “Cowboy” bike with no fewer than five guns, a horse saddle seat and a whole lot of ammunition.
Owners Frank Fedler and Yoland Lozoya rode it up from San Antonio, Texas, but he says there is no need to be concerned.
“The guns are all replicas. However, if you put a firing pin in them, they’d work,” Frank says.
Harley is nothing if not observant.