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You had to ask: Harley-Davidson X440

What motorcycle do you like that everyone seems to hate?

by Ujjwal Dey

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Author’s Confession: Originally assigned to write a road test review about the latest localized venture of Harley-Davidson-- the reluctant rider and long-time collaborator did not seem to know where to begin or how to present it to a predisposed, unhappy American audience. Well, the product is good and the sales are well...

Harley-Davidson X440-- There I said it and don’t regret admitting it.

Ugly Duckling Syndrome
It is not ugly nor a poor person’s substitute. It is actually a wonderfully designed and ingeniously engineered motorcycle. Moreover, it showcases adaptability for climate and terrain for a motorcycle. Besides, wasn’t Harley-Davidson always meant to be a motorcycle for the working class and not a fancy fashion accessory for some billionaire to park in his 50-acre garage?

The motorcycle is available in three variants and the top one is called X 440 S which only comes in a deep black color. All of them carry only the Harley-Davidson badge and branding. It is built on a tubular trellis frame which packs all the power and performance tightly between your legs. This is the only motorcycle in the segment offering auto-illumination and hazard lights. All LED lights, dual-channel ABS, USB charging, GPS navigation are some other features. Only the top-variant can get you a HOG membership though.

The oil-cooled engine is a long-stroke engine that helps with low and mid-range torque. It can beat any 350cc Enfield in power as well as top-speed.

The most criticized and obviously standout feature of the X440 motorcycle is its off-putting exhaust pipe. It looks bizarre and even cheap but is it? The nation of India follows closely the EU emission norms. Along with that is the noise pollution restrictions. I guess, they made the best possible exhaust pipe that can work with the engine’s purpose as also produce a “firing” that announces the Harley-Davidson on the street. The “thump” mania of Enfield “silencers” have also been dampened by the exact same laws and regulations.

If only, the top variant had more color options, but that would drastically change the variables for the accountants at their factory. The number crunching calculator holders, do hold all production models at ransom—the return on investment and effort—a tangible number that is derived through thinning hair of these mathematical “genus”.

Hence, the perfect, targeted product called Harley-Davidson X440 has been meticulously engineered, designed and marketed with precision. You can test-ride it before rejecting its looks. Once you know what it can do, you will know what you were missing. The catch, they won't shine on stateside showroom floors.

The brief history of past few years
For those who came in late, Harley-Davidson made an exit from India in October 2020 after ten years of being the most popular “premium” segment motorcycle brand in India. Apparently, they expected to do more than just outsell Triumphs and Polaris Indians. They had hoped a nation of billion people would at least buy a million units of a motorcycle costing more than a Mercedes entry level sedan model in India.

While this nation is the largest producer and consumer of two-wheelers, it is not for the purpose of collecting and customizing that people keep buying this alleged death machine called a motorcycle. We are not weekend riders nor are we people who ride during riding season.

Indians ride all day every day. A motorcycle or a scooter is the preferred vehicle for commute as well as for transport of goods, including commercial or retail goods and restaurant takeouts. One can see an entire family of five on a Honda scooter coming back with groceries from a mall. Everyday, a steady stream of two-wheelers ride to work and back, in-between struggling, haggling and arguing for parking space.

So clearly, Zeitz and his Board of Directors didn’t appreciate the lack of desire for world’s most desired V-Twins in a nation that rides till their butts are as good as horse-hooves. They wrapped up their statistics, numbers that don’t reveal their success and popularity and HOG rides in India—and overnight shutdown their Indian offices, abandoning their dealerships, showrooms and customers.

“Don’t call it a comeback” (lyrics from LL Cool J)
How does one ever build confidence in a company or a brand that acts in such a reckless, fickle-minded and rash method of business operations? Easy! Why not win over the trust of the most trusted Indian brand in India?

So, Zeitz & Co (because that’s all there is to Harley-Davidson legacy it seems) came up with a plan to make a comeback without coming back!

They franchised the Harley-Davidson badge to Hero MotoCorp, which is the world’s highest selling two-wheeler manufacturer. Originally, they had started as a partner to Honda under the brand Hero-Honda. A few decades ago, with liberalization and foreign direct investment being admitted to Indian coffers—Honda went for a solo seat and Hero decided to continue in its two-wheeler journey by coming up with their own models, designs, marketing and branding.

As recently as January 2024, Hero MotoCorp became the first Indian Factory Team to get a overall podium finish in the iconic Dakar Rally which had some grueling new stages such as ‘marathon’ stage and 48H chrono stage.

Refer Bikernet Blog

Alas, in Wonderland
So, clearly, this “Hero” was a survivor, innovator and competitor that suited the needs and ambitions of Harley-Davidson for India market. Volume sales was making Royal Enfield into a global player. Additionally, Bajaj two-wheeler brand of India had equity in global brands such KTM and Husqvarna. TVS produced BMW models in India. TVS also purchased rights to Norton while earlier Mahindra Group grabbed rights to BSA, Jawa and Yezdi. This Indian juggernaut was growing heads, wings and tails—expanding and offering a range of models for all mindsets and purposes of riding, in India and overseas.

BTW—did you know the origin of the word “juggernaut” comes from the Indian mythical God “Jagannatha’s” annual journey in the Holy city of Puri, Orissa in eastern India? “Jagannatha” literally means “Lord of the Universe”, i.e. Vishnu.

Since the Middle Ages, Europeans had been fascinated by accounts of the Ratha Yatra "Temple Chariot procession" at Puri, which claimed that pilgrims threw themselves under the wheels of the temple chariots which carried the idols of the Lord and his siblings. The gigantic chariot, its wheels and components are entirely made of wood and joined without any screws or metals.

The word juggernaut was contrived to refer to a literal or metaphorical force regarded as merciless, destructive, and unstoppable. This English usage originated in the mid-nineteenth century and was the early rendering in English of Jagannath, a very important deity in the Hindu pantheon and mythology of north-east India.

Hero MotoCorp itself probably knew that its homegrown rivals are growing at a brisk pace through technical and financial collaborations. It was a deal made in Heaven when Hero was appointed exclusive distributor for Harley-Davidson in India.

WTF Quotient
Wall Street and Americans themselves may have been vary of the deals with Hero in India and QJ Motors in China. Yet, the one in India made better noise in media –especially Indian media and that’s what matters to get sales numbers rising.

In China, Harley-Davidson released a 350cc model whereas for India, they decided that they gonna beat Royal Enfield by being neither 350cc nor 750cc (refer the formerly India-specific model called Harley-Davidson Street 750). Enfields were churned out at 350cc and 500cc engine power in fixed rigid designs, branding, sales and service. Then they stopped 500cc to promote their 650cc twin engines. Then suddenly they flooded the market with a dozen models, with multiple variants, having differing features and colors. All out of the V-Twin master’s playbook?

Well, Harley-Davidson decided, their India checkmate model will be 440cc, a weird number that Zeitz pulled out of his helmet.

Worse still, it won’t be a twin-engine, the very iconic emblem of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Why not reintroduce the Street 750 in an updated model? Well, that shite was buried with COVID dead bodies and Zeitz wanted a new playground in old territory.

Technically beautiful, soul of the bar and shield!
Okay, yes, it ain’t as pretty as a Road King or Nightster or Iron48. Well, those are still available for sale at Harley-Daivdson dealerships in India run by Hero MotoCorp. So go grab it if that’s where your heart is. They are still prohibitively expensive, but then so is a Polaris Indian Chief or the Scout or a Triumph Bonneville.

Which is why we have the brainstorming between two giant brands to develop something that satisfies multitudes in the market.

At least its not a hogwash. It turned out to be a well-researched and thoroughly tested motorcycle which became a challenger to not just Royal Enfield, but many other brands within the 350+ segment –locally called under the trade term “middle-weight” motorcycles.

While Harley-Davidson is not known for a single-cylinder engine, they have had single-cylinder models till as recently as the 1970s.

Refer Making of Harley-Davidson X440 on YouTube

From 1903 to 1948 S-125 model to Model 165 of 1955, then Ranger in 1962, or Sprint which lasted from 1961 to 1973, and lastly SX250 of 1978, there are over a dozen single-cylinder Harley-Davidson motorcycles to have fond memories of.

Neither of the newly engaged business partners rushed to rehash a product of theirs for volume sales under the famous badge. It took three years of partnership to finally announce Harley-Davidson X440 to the world. Pre-bookings were surprisingly higher than expected –the price had suggested a low powered, poorly equipped motorcycle.

All that changed with the launch and media and fans getting to ride and post their reviews, video-logs and comments online.

I have to admit, launched on July 3, 2023, the motorcycle is not yet a common sight on urban roads which ply an Enfield at every end of the street. Once bitten, twice shy.

Buyers here buy for a very long-term. Then they also consider re-sale value. In-between it all, there needs to be assurance and consistency for maintenance, service and parts. All this is not very convincing from the better-half, Harley-Davidson, who upped and flew the cuckoo’s nest called Indian automotive market.

Hero MotoCorp is bearing the brunt of the crucifix, carrying the burden of past Karma of its partner, attempting to develop faith in the born-again brand and deliver a second-coming for its American friend in the improving economy & infrastructure of India.

How does this compete with the rapidly spreading, government-aided gospel of electronic vehicles?

Put your money where your future is?
Well, there have been explosions of EV scooters in India and fires on EV cars reported in the past. The EV subsidy was revoked and then re-evaluated. Stricter standards and demands were placed on EV manufacturers. While it is common to see EV two-wheelers and cars on the street, their penetration is solely urban. Why? Well, electricity is as much a privilege here as gasoline.

The nation imports 86% of its crude oil requirement, losing precious foreign exchange for it. Hence the push for sugarcane derived ethanol in petrol and solar power generation. Self-sufficiency is the motto but just as seen in Europe, it might ‘backfire’ and slow or stall the pace of industrial and economic growth of India and its people.

Will petrol and diesel disappear? Will there be a riot? Will all the billions of ICE vehicles in the world be collected and burnt in heaps reminiscent of book-burning mania of the Gestapo?

YOLO – you only lose once
Hey, live or die, loss is the seemingly eternal feeling we have with possessions and people. Are you a person that cherishes what you buy or are you a modern brat who buys, breaks, throws away and buys again?

Don’t lose your dreams and ambitions! Only lose your cash once! Ride a vehicle that matters to you, that you can visualize riding free forever. The motorcycle offers cashback in terms of thrilling experience and epic memories.

Just as the Chinese made Harley-Davidson X350 was denied sale on American soil, ironically by Harley-Davidson USA, in the very same disembodied spirit, X440 is not allowed to be sold in USA. 

While Americans are not allowed access to this vehicle, I believe the rest of Asia and even South America and Africa would love to ride this into new horizons, making record profits in the history of sales charts of nerds at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Well, they can’t all be square at the top brass, if they made this concept to rock and roll. As for segment leadership—no dice. That’s gonna take a while. Hero MotoCorp is rapidly re-hauling its existing showrooms and service centers to cater to X440 and other possible collaborations including the recently launched Hero Mavrick 440 which uses the same engine and trellis frame as X440.

Slowly but surely, people are getting interested in the X440. There is no widescale advertising and motion picture placement gimmicks. The only way to win over riders is to get them to ride. They need more test-ride vehicles is what I recommend from personal experience.

Next Stop
Will there be a second model from within this price and displacement range by Harley-Davidson? We are eagerly awaiting the next 4th of July hoping pre-bookings for something is announced by Harley-Davidson as the festive seasons starts from late August in India.

Buy it? Reasons? One, for the money’s worth. Two, for the show you will put on. Three, to get ready for your best riding experience for years to come. Now, go, cash it, go!

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Reader Comments

Just returned from a nice trip to Italy. I could not help but see that for in-city travel this x440 would be perfect. Light a small enough to throw into tight corners and lane splitting which is the norm. But also possessing the power when needed to skip around slower traffic and tour buses.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024
Editor Response Perfect, but they're no for sale in the US.

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