RALEIGH — Motorcycle racing hall-of-famer Ray Price is about to violate an unwritten code of honor at his Harley-Davidson showroom in Raleigh. His dealership, one of the largest in the country, will soon sell foreign bikes alongside the all-American Harleys that have gleamed here since 1982.
Next month, Ray Price Harley-Davidson will receive its first shipment of English-bred Triumph bikes, the continental classic born in 1902, a year before the Harley rumbled on America's soil. Today, Triumphs include the popular "crotch rocket" sports design that Harley-Davidson doesn't deign to imitate. Price sees the aggressive style as his entree to a younger, hipper market.
The mighty Harley, a menace of chrome and leather, can take a heck of a beating, but the Great Recession is putting this proud road hog to the test. The Harley corporation recently reported its first quarterly loss since 1993, and Price's operation is down by about a third, from 65 people employed a few years ago to 46 today. During the economic tailspin, motorcycle sales in this country have plummeted by 43 percent.
Before admitting Triumph into his empire, Price checked with customers to see how they'd react. They gave him the go-ahead.
"The British motorcycle is more accepted by Harley riders than Japanese brands," Price said at his showroom on Thursday. "Right now, we want to corner as much of the market as we can."
Price, 72, is a homegrown legend in the cycling world. The Johnston County native was a speed demon who flew along drag strips on 600-horsepower machines powered with a high-performance fuel known as liquid dynamite. He raced bikes from 1966 until 2003, when an accident forced him to retire.
He overshot the finish line at 218 mph in a Las Vegas speedway drag race. The crash cost him the use of his left arm.
He still rides, but now he gets around in a three-wheeler. He does it by putting his bad hand into a Velcro-lined glove and attaching the glove to the handlebar.
Triumph has five dealers in this state, the closest ones in Fayetteville and Greensboro.
Price's shop will be the first Harley dealer in the state to sell the Triumph.
That's OK by Howard Arrington, the director of the Harley Owners Group chapter of Raleigh.
"I grew up with friends who had Triumphs," Arrington said. "The two [brands] have always been accepted by each other."
Price said the corporate office acquiesced to his decision.
"Harley-Davidson normally tries to prevent dealers from blending another brand," said Rick Campbell, editor and publisher of Motorcycle Industry magazine in Nevada. "Harley [pushed] dealers to build monoliths, high value, high visibility locations ... which has backfired to some degree."
Now Price's racing teams will compete on Triumphs. One of the team's star riders: Jordan Richardson, Price's 24-year-old grandson.
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