Then it all changed. Indian mangoes became a no-no in pesticide-wary America, and in import-restricted India, Harleys became an elusive, aspirational bike central to cyborg duels in The Terminator, and something Martina Navratilova could ride into her tennis sunset.
Ultimately, it took mangoes to let Harleys back into the country. In 2007, America agreed to lift its 18-year-old ban on mangoes if India would open its doors to Harley Davidson motorcycles. Not long after this, HD set up a small India office in Time Towers on MG Road, Gurgaon, and sales started in 2010.
Business has been brisk and there’s hardly any major mountain road today where you won’t find Harleys munching miles on the weekend. Last year, the team of 55 relocated to Vatika Towers on Golf Course Road, and this new office is a treat for bike lovers. From way down the street you can see a tricolor Fatboy (the model used in the jump scene from Terminator 2) parked behind the glass front of the first-floor office.
“It was designed especially for our India launch,” said Pallavi Singh, director marketing at HarleyDavidson, India. She has been with the company since its India foray and says they had to work hard at first to get Indians to look beyond the brand’s old Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix associations. Seven years later, she says, their fan base of leisure bikers is growing, and it starts right from the office where everyone on the team flaunts Harley merchandise. “We love our brand and hence we wear it on our sleeves,” said Singh.
The reception area arrests visitors with a black model of the recently launched StreetRod bike and a ‘wall of fame’ opposite it. Another wall displays bike tanks bearing the brand insignia in a variety of badges and painted fonts. “This installation is just a glimpse on the level of customisation which is done at the individual level,” said Singh.
There are Harley t-shirts, mugs and calendars everywhere, and even the desk partitions are ‘shield-and-bar’ screens representing the HD logo. The meeting rooms are named Jafter the brand’s motorcycle families, such as Sportster and Touring.
The lone cabin on the floor is reserved for the managing director, and right outside it stands a Street 750, in the form of a cafe racer conceptualised by motoring journalist Aspi Bhathena as his tribute to Calvin Rayborn, a famous Harley rider of the late 1960s.
“From the very first time Aspi rode the Street 750, he was impressed by the bike’s character and saw potential for it to be transformed into a cafe racer. He requested Harley if they would let him customize, and it was obviously a yes,” said Singh.
There’s country music in the background and the vibe of a relaxed country town. It’s hard to ignore the call of the three big bikes to set out on a long ride, especially when the office motto, painted on a wall, reminds you: ‘Freedom—it is a way of life’.